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Reclaiming Gravel Pit Dirt for Permaculture Now with Hugelkultur  RSS feed

 
Caleb Larson
Posts: 76
Location: Missoula,MT
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Hello Everyone,

I live just outside of Missoula, MT.

My wife and I are in the process of reclaiming an old 3.5 acre gravel pit.  The pit was state owned through the 80's and my family purchased in the early 90's and used it as a shop and storage for logging equipment.  This is also the current home of my sawmill.  40% of property is weedy shallow soil, 5% is on the way to good production and the rest is in really bad shape.

Soil is non existent in many areas. Bare Dirt areas in many areas are compacted rock/gravel and sand.

However there is a portion that is 70% clay 30% sand.

There are a few areas that have slowly come back on their own, mostly through weed growth and then sparse grass. 

The area around the house had grass planted, but soil is compact and has very little organic material. However with the introduction of swales,  geese and some added organic matter some areas are doing incredible well.  In these areas we have planted some fruit trees, built a swale system and small pond.  This is the start of our food forest. Progress is encouraging.

My question is what is a good way to tackle the areas that have no to very little growth.  My goal is to create some good quality growth areas to use for forage and paddocks for our chickens and geese, and some goats someday.  I would like to speedd up the process as quick as possible.  Other areas I have brought in large quantities of manure and "topsoil" results have been ok but not great in the long term. They were also very labor/equipment intense.

My current thought for rocky sandy soil is to lay down a 2-3 inch layer of old sawdust, maybe cardboard, I also have a good supply of rotting straw, and hay.  I also have lots of wood scraps, and some dying cottonwoods I thought about chipping and laying down on top of ground. I would like to plant some grass and forage crops for the chickens. I have been thinking about amaranth because their are weeds that do really well on site that look very similar to an amaranth.

I know there are a lot of knowledgeable people on here and I would greatly appreciate your inputs.  The goal is to stay organic as much as possible, but the reality is I am reclaiming an old industrial site and anything is going to be better than its current destroyed state.

This is a huge undertaking. However the joys of seeing progress here lets me know I can do it anywhere.

Thanks for the site Paul. I have really been enjoying your talks at the library.
 
duane hennon
gardener
Posts: 732
Location: western pennsylvania zone 5/a
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hi rugged,

"
My question is what is a good way to tackle the areas that have no to very little growth.  My goal is to create some good quality growth areas to use for forage and paddocks for our chickens and geese, and some goats someday.  I would like to speedd up the process as quick as possible."

one way would be to put your chickens, geese and goats in confined movable fences  on the areas you want to improve .  put down your spoiled hay, allow the animals to root around, deposit their blessing and mix it in.   use intensive grazing tactics and provide supplimental feed (you feeding them anyway now) think chicken, geese and goat "tractors"
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
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your plans sound good however, the type of soil you will be building may be more of a forest type soil rather than a pasture type of soil with all the woody materials..which is  good..and nutritious soil, but might not be so great for pasture land..

you might need to sweeten it up some for pasture land..if you burn wood you might be able to add some char and ashes..if you have access to some gypsum it might help as well..

if it was a gravel pit is there some crushed gravel on the property that could be mixed in to the woody material to provide some rock powders??

also you might want to try to break up the hardpan ..maybe a chisel plow or at least stick a pitchfork in the soil and bust it up some if you can before laying down all the stuff on top of it.

hopefully this will work, but it does sound like you are well on your way already
 
Caleb Larson
Posts: 76
Location: Missoula,MT
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The rock dust is a great idea.  I have some areas which were gravel and sand mix, the stay nice and loose and do contain a lot of rock dust.  Great idea thank you.

I also burn a lot of wood to heat my shop, and from the frequent bonfires.  I have saved the ash and will spread this into the mix.

Gypsum could be used from scrap sheet rock?

I have started breaking up the hard pan. I use a backhoe with bucket teeth. Has worked fast and well.

I have also started adding more and more mulch piles to my chicken run.  The are a lot more active now in the cold weather with something to tear apart.  Results are looking encouraging.

My current plan is to start by breaking up hard pan, adding  6" wood chips and sawdust mixed with rock dust and sand and gravel along with wood ash., then I will add 5-6" of decomposing hay/straw mixed in with manured chicken and geese bedding.

I will look for some good cow or horse manure to the top 3 inches.

I think after I get the mixture done and fencing done. I will let my chickens into the new paddock for a few hours at a time to tear up the top mulch.


Thanks for your help any other ideas will be greatly appreciated.

I will add photos of the progress as it evolves.
 
Caleb Larson
Posts: 76
Location: Missoula,MT
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On a side note.

I got Geoff Lawtons new soils dvd.  I have learned a much deeper knowledge on how soil organisms thrive and reproduce.  Such a great resource I highly recomend it to everyone.
 
Dave Miller
pollinator
Posts: 416
Location: Zone 8b: SW Washington
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I would guess that certain native wildflowers would do well in an old rock quarry - it is like a mountain meadow.  We have a rock quarry near us, part of which was planted with wildflowers.  They are doing really well, better than in a garden.
 
Caleb Larson
Posts: 76
Location: Missoula,MT
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Wild flowers are a great idea. We could use some more color around here!

I spent a few hours today mulching the chicken run which has been completely bare.
(Paul's thoughts on bare chicken runs has me feeling very guilty and has really motivated me to do something about it.)

I first layed down some backcountry mix grass seed on top of the bare dirt which is very wet right now. I should note that the chickens have been in this area for around 8 months. When I built the run I put down about 6-8" of old sawdust, they have successfully turned that into the sand and gravel beneath.  Today I  layed down about 4 inches of wet straw and hay.  I kept them busy with a large dose of scratch and grains.

The chickens have spread everything out wonderfully in a matter of hours. Now if I can keep it deep enough maybe they wont eat all the seeds.  I tried this method last year but I only laid down about 1/2 inch of hay.  They tore everything apart in 2 days with no remaining  mulch in site.

Hopefully in the next few weeeks I will have an adjacent paddock I can turn them loose in so they dont eat alll the seedlings.

Has anyone else tried anything similiar?
 
Mark Vander Meer
Posts: 74
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I've done a bunch of gravel pit restoration, as well as placer mined streams.  I'll give you a call one of these days, we've come up with some techniques that work pretty well, though the low annual precip will give you some challenges. 

There are some lake bed sediments near you that might be a good way to enhance water and nutrient holding capacity.  These deposits are usually easy to get a hold of.  They are a bit basic in pH. 
 
Caleb Larson
Posts: 76
Location: Missoula,MT
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Thanks Mark,

I would really like to talk with you about what you have done.  We should try and get together soon.

I have been working on some water harvesting features which have produced really good results.  I built several small swales and ponds last year and I have plans to do some much larger ones this year.
 
Caleb Larson
Posts: 76
Location: Missoula,MT
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I just turned one of my compost piles.

This one has been by far my best results this early in the year.

I followed Geoff Lawtons method in his soils dvd. I added the best inocullom sources I had and results after 5 days are really impressive. The temperature is right aroun 120-130 degrees and the volume looks good.  I added lots of woody mulch and I am seeing lots of signs of fungi progress.

I think the biggest difference I made though was in the amount of water I added to the wood mulch.

This will be future additives to my hugelkultur beds I hope to start in the next two weeks.

We also got 6 new khaki cambell ducklings added to the flock this week.

This spring/summer is going to be a great one.
 
Caleb Larson
Posts: 76
Location: Missoula,MT
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My wife and I built the first of a three pack of hugelkultur beds yesterday.

5' wide at the base and 24' long.

I run a small sawmill and I have been looking for a creative way to get rid of scrap wood.  With the abundance of wood we have we will be making many more. 

We will add some more dirt/compost/manure to top it off.

I plan on planting some buckwheat on this one this year.  Anyone have some good ideas for companion plants.  We talked about some berrys in this location also.
In the background you can see one of shops. I am making a plan to pull the rainwater from the roof and direct it with the topography to feed water to the hugelkultur beds and terraces we will build on the hillside. 


Adding More Wood.


Cleaning up scraps for more height.



More wood. About 30 " tall with a mixture of sizes of fir pine spruce larch cottonwood.
To the left you can see the layout for the next two beds. I will fence it off and use it for another chicken paddock at times of the year.



After adding 8 inches of soil and straw w/ chicken manure. We will add another 8-12" of soil compost and manure to the top.

 
Caleb Larson
Posts: 76
Location: Missoula,MT
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My Wife and I started a new blog so people can follow our progress.

http://www.quarryrevolution.blogspot.com/

Any input or comments people have are allways greatly appreciated. I learn a lot from everyone, so please help me be smarter.
 
maikeru sumi-e
Posts: 313
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Caleb Larson wrote:
My Wife and I started a new blog so people can follow our progress.

http://www.quarryrevolution.blogspot.com/

Any input or comments people have are allways greatly appreciated. I learn a lot from everyone, so please help me be smarter.


I've really enjoyed reading your blog.
 
Caleb Larson
Posts: 76
Location: Missoula,MT
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maikeru wrote:
I've really enjoyed reading your blog.


Awesome. Thanks.

We really had little interest in sharing anything we have done because it has been such an overwhelming project, and progress to us seemed so slow.  However when we talk to people they have been genuinley interested, and are amazed that we have more food production in a lifeless gravel pit, then they have in their "lush" lawn and small garden.

We really thrive on feedback and comments, so thanks it keeps us motivated!
 
Caleb Larson
Posts: 76
Location: Missoula,MT
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Volunteers!

I put up a new post with pictures of things I have noticed growing around the property this spring. All of these plants are completely foreign to me.  If anyone has any idea what any of them are I would sure appreciate some shared knowledge.

http://quarryrevolution.blogspot.com/2011/04/volunteers.html

Thanks for looking.

 
Suzy Bean
pollinator
Posts: 940
Location: Stevensville, MT
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Paul visits Caleb and Krista's "gravel pit" (podcast): http://www.richsoil.com/permaculture/330-podcast-045-water-harvesting-ponds-alternative-energy/
 
Raven Sutherland
Posts: 163
Location: MAINE
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I'm not seeing any green matter added to your compost pile there...
you need to establish a small grass area to mow and add fresh
clippings to that pile. Maybe around your fruit trees you can grow
some green matter.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
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there are some fruit trees that really like gravelly soil..such as peach family and pear family..but also some other plants do really well in gravel..there are even some books that have gravel growing chapters in them that I have read in the past..lots of things grow really well in gravel
 
Caleb Larson
Posts: 76
Location: Missoula,MT
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Brenda Groth wrote:
there are some fruit trees that really like gravelly soil..such as peach family and pear family.


I had never heard this before.  Thanks for the tip.  We just planted a peach tree and I was skepitcal of the sandy gravel conditions doing well.

Do you remember which books you read about gravel soils, I would like to find them.

As always thanks for the tips everyone, we sure appreciate them.
 
Caleb Larson
Posts: 76
Location: Missoula,MT
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countryraven wrote:
I'm not seeing any green matter added to your compost pile there...
you need to establish a small grass area to mow and add fresh
clippings to that pile. Maybe around your fruit trees you can grow
some green matter.


Although we do have a few compost piles that big....the pile in the pictures above is actually one of our hugelkultur beds.
 
Mark Vander Meer
Posts: 74
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As you know well, growing stuff in sand and gravel is tough, but even tougher in a gravel pit, as this soil is typically a deep sub soil and relatively lifeless and very low in plant nutrients and waterholding capacity.  Soil biota is often the key to nutrient availability.  In a gravel pit situation, ground water is typically where the nutrients are.  If there is little ground water and the soil is excessively well drained, that’s where real trouble starts.  Here is what I’ve had luck with; some of it is a bit counter-intuitive:

• Add soil amendments high in organic matter and inoculated with local soil flora and fauna
• Mechanically compact a sandy gravel to decrease the macro- pore space, increase water-holding capacity, and increase capillary rise.  You have to know the relative amounts of sand, silt, clay and coarse material before trying this approach.
• Plant alder to ameliorate site conditions.  Alder in an N fixer.  It thrives in a low nutrient environment.  Other plants co-planted with alder do much better.  Not due to alder N fixing, but increases in relative humidity and wind protection and soil organic additions.
• Plant cottonwood, it can reach ground water, bring this water to the surface, and exude water into the upper soil horizons (hydrologic lift).  A good way to boot-strap an ecosystem.  This really works.  It is important to use cottonwood grown from seed, rather than from cuttings.  The root structure and vigor is much better from seed-grown.
• Know where the ground water is and where the capillary break is, then, using soil fines, organics, or commercial products, create bulge in the capillary fringe that brings water into the active root zone.  Buried wood might work in this capacity.
 
Caleb Larson
Posts: 76
Location: Missoula,MT
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Mark, as always your comments are always very informative and helpful.  I sure appreciate them. 

Mark Vander Meer wrote:
• Plant alder to ameliorate site conditions.  Alder in an N fixer.  It thrives in a low nutrient environment.  Other plants co-planted with alder do much better.  Not due to alder N fixing, but increases in relative humidity and wind protection and soil organic additions.


I did not know that alder was a nitrogen fixer.  Sounds like a perfect fit.  I will add it to the list of things to get started along with locust.  Any recommendations for buying or gathering stock?  I know very little about alder so I will have to do some research. Humidity and wind protection are going to be a huge key to success here.

•   Know where the ground water is and where the capillary break is, then, using soil fines, organics, or commercial products, create bulge in the capillary fringe that brings water into the active root zone.   Buried wood might work in this capacity.

Bringing the water table up to the root zone with capillary action was something I had never thought of until you talked about it the other day.  I think I am begining to understand it better now. What are you thoughts on Hugelkultur started at the top of the current capillary limit?

• Plant cottonwood, it can reach ground water, bring this water to the surface, and exude water into the upper soil horizons (hydrologic lift).  A good way to boot-strap an ecosystem.  This really works.  It is important to use cottonwood grown from seed, rather than from cuttings.  The root structure and vigor is much better from seed-grown.


Cottonwoods have been volunteering here since shortly after my family bought the place in 89.  Some of them are now over 40 tall, and the difference they have made is obvious.  We are really glad to have them already!  They seem to be  growing up all over the place.

We should really get together again sometime.  I would like to buy you lunch sometime and talk more about what you have going on.  Let me know if/when this would work out for you.
 
Jeanine Gurley Jacildone
pollinator
Posts: 1422
Location: Midlands, South Carolina Zone 7b/8a
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That slope looks like a great place to plant some thornless black berries.  There used to be native blackberries growing on a similar slope right next to the track where I trained race horses.  I could just stand there and pick the berries that hung out over the track.
 
rose macaskie
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    My great english book "Magick Muck by Lady Muck, a farmers daughter whose father gave her brother a farm, it seems he had variouse, but whose career suggestion for his daughter was to sell his muck, a bit of very in your face misogony, maybe he loves his daughter, as one loves ones skivvies but not enough to keep her out of the way of ridicule and put her in a favorable positoin that he considered necessary for his son. Maybe it was not a counsciousee insult maybe his uncounsciouse hasd some pretty nasty eruptions that he considered totally sensible and reasonable. She got her own back by knowing more than them, maybe it was knowing more as a necessary bit of self defense than as a method of doing for them.
    This lead to her learning a lot about muck as she learned to process it and then learned to sell it. She says that in sandy places it is so hard to grow things, that in th eold days sandy parts of England used to be  hot beds for breeding high way men. These places the moors and are covered in broom, a legumnouse bush with nitrogen fixing roots and in the north side of the mountains of gredos in Spain where the soil is granite sand, the land is also covered in broom too so if it is whatch nature then it would be plant nitrogen fixing plants in sandy soils also in my inlaws garden in this place wha tflourishes are locust trees. There is a spot on the road up to the moutain villages that is  famouse for being where bandits used to ambush people. So lots of nitrogen fixing plants seems to be one answer for sandy areas were the rain with all the plant nutrients from the soil dissolved in it  drains too easily through the soil taking the nutrients with it away to the rivers. Locust trees and prosopis and beans and peas clover and vetch and alfa alfa.
A woman who writes about her garden said that she companion planted her passion fruits with wattle trees, wattle trees, mimosas, have nitrogen fixing nodules on their roots, and this companion planting worked, or the evidence is tha tit seemed to, the passion fruit vines gave  a lot of fruit. Beans would climb right up your trees, so it could be the climber that fixed nitrogen for you tree as another way of doing this. I dont know how you pick beans from the tree tops though. this way you get plenty of nitrogen fixing plants into you sandy soil andyou do the permaculture thing, have canopy level trees and shorter trees and climbers, then you only have to have bushes maybe ceanothus, they fix nitrogen and ground plants and some root vegetable to be totally permaculture.  agri rose macaskie.
 
rose macaskie
Posts: 2134
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Mark Vander Meer the zander company sell the sludge from the bottom of rumanian lakes , and here you are talking about its benefits i think that chelle mentioned this a a product too tha had its uses too when talking of a river she was daming or some such is it the same as gley, i dont know anything about what it is used for, were it is most usefull and such do you know a lot about it. I would love to know more. rose macaskie.
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