Win a copy of Mudgirls Manifesto this week in the Natural Building forum!
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

Soil and orchard planning x drought  RSS feed

 
Posts: 10
Location: flatlands IT
chicken forest garden trees
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Greetings
I live Italy, hardiness zone 9a, lots of clay in soil, semi-abandoned property in the middle of monocrop fields.  This area is  F L A T.  I'm trying to figure out how to plan an orchard that doesn't need to much water and have read up a bit about water harvesting methods.  I'll be planting a few local varieties of plum, apricot, apple and cherry trees.  What is the best way to plan for a drought-filled future?  I have done a few hugel beds a few years ago, but realized that raising land level is a poor choice for this area.  Now I am considering digging down and planting trees in the middle of slightly sunken beds dug at a diameter of the projected mature tree canopy.  Ideally these beds would be planted with nitrogen fixers & mulched. Obviously the creation of sunken beds would cause massive disruption to the soil.   What are peoples' thoughts on this?  Any advice?  Thank you!
 
pollinator
Posts: 1595
Location: Toronto, Ontario
101
bee forest garden fungi hugelkultur cooking rabbit trees urban wofati
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Flat clay? How flat? As in, do raindrops stay where they land? Or are you talking about an almost imperceptible grade?

This matters because even with an extremely minor slope, you can trap more water nearest the source of rainfall by arranging rows and swales to run perpendicular to the direction of flow.

If it's impermeable clay, it probably needs some calcium, but do get a comprehensive soil test done, if possible.

I would get an amount of gypsum grit and dust appropriate for the size of land you're working with and apply it to the surface. I would also drop a layer of organic matter atop that, at least three inches deep.

If the soil is largely lifeless, I would suggest doing a single pass over all your amended land with a plow to get the amendments and organic matter into the soil. I would add another three inches of organic matter, maybe, after you've tilled.

After all this, I would treat it all with a compost extract. Check out the wiki on Bryant Redhawk's soil threads. They are very informative, and there are recipes for compost extracts and amendments. This will get the soil life you need into the soil.

I would then think about planting a food forest, complete with a supportive, soil-building understory that occupies all trophic levels. What you choose to plant depends on what does well in your area, and what you like to eat and/or could produce as a cash crop.

One thing you might want to look into, especially if you have loose stone available on-site, is the Talus Garland Effect. Diagrams can be found in the following thread.

https://permies.com/t/23408/Air-collecting-water-air

The idea is twofold. First, a stack of stone on the sunward side, and stones placed as mulch on the soil over a tree's root zone, shelter the soil from wind and sun dessication and shade the base of the tree. The stack of stones heats on the outside, but the inside of the stack remains cool, so that warm, humid air passes into the stack and condenses on the cool stones, drip-feeding the tree.

Airwells work on the same principle. There is some great info in the aforementioned thread.

In any case, let us know how you do, and good luck.

-CK
 
garden master
Posts: 4334
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
460
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting purity
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
hau Abelia, 
Once you get things growing, you will have soil that will start to hold onto water and the more soil life you get into your soil, the more water it will hold.

As Chris mentions, if the soil is barren or compacted from previous abuse, this would be the perfect time to lay on lots of organic material and do the one time only tilling.

Then you can make some good compost to make compost teas with and use the teas to infuse soil life in the form of microorganisms, this will also help with water retention for your land.
The more times you add compost tea (on a per year basis) the better your soil will become and that clay will become a memory.

Redhawk
 
Posts: 61
Location: Columbia Missouri
5
bike forest garden urban
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I'm just thinking out loud here. After looking at the post about the air well, why does an air well have to take the form of a stone structure above the ground.  Could it take the form of a perforated pipe in the soil. If humid air was pulled through such a pipe it would force some condensation right in the root zone.  People who use earth tubes for cooling in a humid climate have to deal with this "problem".  It could be a solution in this case.
 
Abelia Frutteto
Posts: 10
Location: flatlands IT
chicken forest garden trees
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks very much for your replies!  I'lll have a look at the stone and pipe condensation ideas.  To clarify, rain here stays where it falls; the land is flat flat flat.  It used to be marshy but a few hundred years ago drain ditches were dug around fields.  Back then all fields also had hedgerows but these were ripped out for tractoring convenience.  The property I am dealing with was a poplar tree field (planted x paper) for 30 years and that was 'harvested' about 20 years ago leaving stumps/roots to rot in place (or re-sprout).  Many stumps now produce poplar/pioppini mushrooms.  After the poplar harvest the field became a Blackthorn jungle and I am slowly taking part of that out with a few trees remaining for shade.  I will take all of your ideas for soil improvement to heart; the land here is quite alkaline so will have to think about the calcium addition.  I'm still wondering about the idea of SUNKEN beds though.  We are struggling with a well that tends to run dry before watering is finished in the summer (hand water, hose & pump) and each August seems to be hotter and dryer than the last.  I'd like to plan a small 20 tree orchard/forest for this increasingly arid zone and wonder if creating 'earthworks' as very wide & slightly sunken beds (30-50 cm deep?) around each plant hole would be a wise idea.  I do find information about sunken bed gardening but not about semi-sunken orchards.  Thanks again!
 
Posts: 81
Location: Fair Play, Northern California
2
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Abelia, when I read responses like the ones above I shake my head. Not because they are wrong (they are not wrong) but because they assume you have the means to bring in large amounts of organic material and spread it over your 20 acres using large machines.

I, on the other hand, assume you may be in a condition like myself, and cannot do any large scale landscaping.  On my  small property I was able to acquire  fallen leaves and wood chips and over time I spreading​ them under and around each shrub and tree I planted.  I did this alone and all by hand. If this is more like your own situation, you can accomplish your goals with some hard work on your part.

In my opinion, deep mulch is the best way to capture and keep moisture in a situation like yours.  Mulch will eventually change the condition of your soil.  If you are keeping your trees fairly small, you can expect the spread of their roots to be not so very wide, thus limiting the amount of mulch needed.  You may have the material you need already on your land. 

Go slowly, work methodically.  Plant a few trees each year that will receive your care and attention.  As your trees age they will need less water from you, then younger ones will have what they need to become established.

Observe rainfall on bare ground.  If there is even the smallest of movement, dig short and narrow swales to capture it, regardless how far from your trees.



 
Posts: 1495
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
16
forest garden solar
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
SWALES: Build ditches/swales/depressions every row to collect water and give it time to soak in.
WOODCHIP: This will help house good soil life, water and minerals, cut down on evaporation and run off, help aerate the soil via soil life.
BIOCHAR: If you are worried about the hay/woodhip catching on fire, this can be incorporated into the soil, and it will hold more water, aerate, house soil life, hold mineral
ROCKDUST: This will add mineral that you soil is missing vs just the usual N_P_K fertilizer, the water in your soil will now contain extra dissolved mineral so less water needed
MICROBES: Fungi have much more water-efficient "roots" and they can mine the minerals for the trees and trade it for sugar, All those microbes, pooping/peeing/decaying is manure.
LEGUMES: These guys will fix most of the nitrogen that you need and when they die/decay/chopped/eaten-poop. they will release the nitrogen that they have.
 
Posts: 76
Location: Castelo Branco, Portugal
1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi Abelia,

i am in a position like you, every year the temperatures seem higher and rain seems lesser. I did what you plan to do, sunken beds for orchard instalation are the thing to do. The rain that falls on the bed feeds that tree, in the summer the tree roots are way under the surrounding soil so a lot cooler temperature in there and also the roots live where the humidity is.
I have one thing in question though, your soil is clay (mine is sandy), rain events are getting less and less but in each event it rains more, sometimes i have trees that get a week under water so in your place it can get worst.
It's true that in time your soil is going to be great so drowning trees will not be a problem in 5 years but it is now. I chose rootstocks that are drought tolerant but that means that maybe they are not tolerant to wet feet and only i with observation trough the seasons can decide what is best for that particular sunken bed and so that applies to you. Only through trial and error will you get what you want.

But sunken beds+regional cultivares+ a lot of mulch are a great plan in my opinion, do go forth and tell us about it.
Plus what Jane said.
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
Posts: 4334
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
460
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting purity
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Abelia Frutteto wrote:Thanks very much for your replies!  I'lll have a look at the stone and pipe condensation ideas.  To clarify, rain here stays where it falls; the land is flat flat flat.  It used to be marshy but a few hundred years ago drain ditches were dug around fields.  Back then all fields also had hedgerows but these were ripped out for tractoring convenience.  The property I am dealing with was a poplar tree field (planted x paper) for 30 years and that was 'harvested' about 20 years ago leaving stumps/roots to rot in place (or re-sprout).  Many stumps now produce poplar/pioppini mushrooms.  After the poplar harvest the field became a Blackthorn jungle and I am slowly taking part of that out with a few trees remaining for shade.  I will take all of your ideas for soil improvement to heart; the land here is quite alkaline so will have to think about the calcium addition.  I'm still wondering about the idea of SUNKEN beds though.  We are struggling with a well that tends to run dry before watering is finished in the summer (hand water, hose & pump) and each August seems to be hotter and dryer than the last.  I'd like to plan a small 20 tree orchard/forest for this increasingly arid zone and wonder if creating 'earthworks' as very wide & slightly sunken beds (30-50 cm deep?) around each plant hole would be a wise idea.  I do find information about sunken bed gardening but not about semi-sunken orchards.  Thanks again!



With rain fall holding in place you might want to use a modification of the hugel bed form. Use a shallow trench and stack wood into the trench, allowing the wood height to rise above the soil level, fill in any gaps with whatever organic materials you can find, cover with the soil removed mixed with some compost or organic litter, with this sort of structure you plant trees near the base of the hugel form not on it. This allows for moisture access during the dry season and the wood sucks up much of the water that falls in the rainy season.
The hugel gives you space for more vegetables and other plants which will benefit from the wood sponge under them in the dry season.
 
Velho Barbudo
Posts: 76
Location: Castelo Branco, Portugal
1
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Bryant, there is a reason why the technic was developed in a high soil humidity place and why the same technic doesn't work in low rainfall conditions...
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
Posts: 4334
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
460
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting purity
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hugels were developed in areas with high rainfall, to adapt them to arid areas I think you would have to experiment with sub surface installation of the "wood sponge".
Several have started using the trenching method to do this with at least fair results being reported here on permies.
For almost Desert and true Desert it seems that the deeper the sponge is placed, the better it works to hold what water that falls.
In the highly arid areas a lot of work is being done on collection of dew as well.
 
Chris Kott
pollinator
Posts: 1595
Location: Toronto, Ontario
101
bee forest garden fungi hugelkultur cooking rabbit trees urban wofati
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I think it's useful to think of hugels as water storage batteries. I found mine very useful in my Toronto backyard. We get a dry season between the last of the spring rains and the first of the fall, and while we can occasionally get lake-effect thunderstorms, that only happens after long hot and dry spells.

A hugelbeet sitting in a puddle will keep the garden up out of the water, while delivering what water is needed through the wicking action of the soil and biomass. The wood becomes saturated. As the hugelbeet dries out, moisture is leached out of the wood and other biomass to feed the soil life.

I think there are lots of ways, furthermore, that ideas like hugelkultur can be adapted for really dry environments, such as exploiting the Talus Garland effect, as mentioned in my previous post.

If you had piles of rocks whose centers stayed cool enough to condense the moisture out of the hot air as it blew through (like an air well) set up on the sunward side of each tree, shading the soil around the base, keeping the soil and the root zone cool and reducing evaporation due to sun and wind, or if you had a double-layer of stones surrounding each hugelbeet, the air well features and sheltering the soil with stones will trap moisture from the air and keep what's already in the soil from evaporating.

Hugelkultur is a versatile tool. It can be structured to work in the driest desert or in a swamp. All that needs change is how the hugelbeet is structured and situated.

Yes, it can be argued that if it lacks either buried biomass or a hill shape (hugelkultur translates to hill-culture, I think), it isn't really a hugelbeet, but I would counter with the opinion that such a stance is restrictive and closed-minded, and that arguing semantics when we're trying to solve a problem is counter-productive.

If it works, I really don't care what others call it.

-CK
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
Posts: 4334
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
460
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting purity
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
If you do a gardener's tour of Europe you will find hugel structures that were designed for each specific area. Some will have wood in the center (core) others will not.
In Germany many of the old hugel structures are just heaps of soil and garden trash, others are filled with punky wood, sticks, twigs, leaf litter and soil capped (just like the modern design).
Go to Holland and you will find these structures start with a pit filled with punky wood then less rotten wood then sticks, twigs, leaf litter and the soil cap, this elevates the planting area in water logging prone lands.
In Denmark, the old ones are basically trash heaps covered with soil that were then planted with crops, newer ones follow the current methods.

I even found a few in the Austrian Alps, these were naturally formed by nature, a tree falls and litter builds up from the bottom of the horizontal trunk, fills in the limbs and eventually this covers the whole felled tree.
One farmer I talked with showed me his mounds, they were trees blown down by an avalanche to start, he noticed they had fallen (ended up) just right to stop rains from running down to his home so he left them where they lay.
After the next winter he found these trunks were holding soil on the up hill side so he planted some squashes and they grew very well. That was when he started to purposely build soil over the trunks.
He ended up with 7 long hugels that he and his wife grow all their vegetables on. It was a great story and he even said that he knew others that had these mounds that were there from the great, great grandparents time.

I don't believe there is a right or wrong way to make such structures. I feel that they should meet the needs of the builder and that's all they need to be, usable and easy to create along with fitting into the space to created microclimates for better plant growth.

Redhawk
 
Posts: 40
Location: Golden Valley, AZ 86413
6
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Along with the soil amendment ideas that others have posted, You might consider using holistic pastured livestock methods to create topsoil over your property first. Grasses make very good soil cover and will help to restore the water table of the property.

Also, you could alternate grassy swales or keylines with your food forests, and plan to use livestock to help maintain your soil health. You may need to create a slope if rainwater tends to pond where it could harm your trees.

Think about making the flat, flat, flat into something with lumps and depressions in advantageous locations for controlling excess rainwater runoff. The best place to store rainwater is within the root systems of grasses: underground.

Grasses and plant litter left over from manages livestock will help to develop the soil organism (such as dung beetles and earthworms, which will help the soil be better able to absorb and retain moisture.

I have posted these videos elsewhere, but they might be of use for your situation:

Links on pasturing livestock management:

USING ANIMALS TO HEAL THE LAND: Greg Judy VABF 2011

https://www.youtube.com/watchtime_continue=4522&v=W6HGKSvjk5Q



Raincrow Film LLC Occam's Grazer: An In-depth Introduction to Holistic Management

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtQBoMoqc9U



Ian Mitchell-Innes Interview on Holistic Management Planned Grazing

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3r2cqNfkKs



Richard Perkins S4 ● E5 Is Regenerative Ag Profitable? Looking at Return on Investments ROI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-A0uNUN9UG0



The topic title is "David Bamberger 50 yrs wasteland to lush oasis”

You can use the following URL to read it, but you may need to register on the permies.com web site (it's free)

https://permies.com/t/76886/David-Bamberger-yrs-wastland-lush#634894


Allan Savory | How to green the world's deserts and reverse climate change
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpTHi7O66pI
 
Posts: 9
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I am in a similiar situation, very tight clay alkaline soil, very dry mediterranean summers.  My land does have some slope.

Ive built rows of swales, amd filled them with horse manure and wood chips and branches.  I heavily amended the berms with gypsum, and planted trees into berms.

I suppose filling the swales with wood is effectively creating an inground hugel, adjacent to the trees.
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
Posts: 4334
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
460
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting purity
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
hau Michael,
What you are describing is more along the lines of a fungi factory, where the hyphae will originate and spread out from the manure and wood chips, this is a great thing.
Planting the trees on the berm is not really putting trees where they go in such a system, they should be just behind the berm so the berm will not be degraded by the tree roots.
Since you already have these trees in place, just watch the berms for any evidence of sinking or for roots breaking out at the base of the berm, both will cause leaks in the berm and could cause a heavy erosion event in the future.

The fungi in the chip filled swales will create great soil, you may need to add some bacteria for balance eventually but what a great fungal highway system you are building.
Bacteria like to be in the same places the fungi like to be, so you might not need to make any bacteria inoculations but it warrants a look now and again to make sure you have a nice balance of both.
The filled swales will also become great terracing for vegetables, fruits like grapes, strawberries, blue berries, etc. over time.

Great Work!

Redhawk
 
Michael Jameson
Posts: 9
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Tree placement was definately the thing I was most unsure of...it didnt seem quite right.  Attached is a picture
20180224_172835.jpg
[Thumbnail for 20180224_172835.jpg]
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
Posts: 4334
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
460
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting purity
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
A better placement would be directly across the swale on the uphill side (we call that the alley, the space between the swales and berms).
The other good spot for trees would be further to the left in that photo, off the straw covered berm, so it is in the alley below that swale.

Redhawk
 
Oh the stink of it! Smell my tiny ad!
New Job: Restoration Coordinator - Americorps
https://permies.com/t/87480/jobs-offered/experiences/Restoration-Coordinator-Americorps-Position
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!