I wasn't sure where to post this, I hope this is the right place. Where I live right now, there's a small 5x10m strip of hard compacted clay+rocks where I wanted to plant some edibles, ornamentals and grass; half of the space will be for recreation and the other half for edibles and a small pond. The problem is the soil is hard clay, rocky, and compact with no organic matter at all! So being the permie I am, I thought about finding an easier solution than having to manually till the rock-hard soil, break up clay clumps, remove rocks and then mix in organic matter / compost. I wanted to build some great soil with sheet mulching and compost but my wife did not approve of the mess and said that a compost pile would attract pests and be too large. But at least she said she'll settle for wood chips or gravel as mulch. I also forgot to mention that, my budget is very limited and I don't have a lot of time.
After considering all these limitations and conditions I said, heck! Forget it, I'm just going to observe and experiment since I don't have much to start with either way.
So to begin, I let our washing machine flood this whole space with greywater a few times and then i started seeing what weeds grew. The first one I found useful, was a wormseed plant that I use for cooking, so I let it be. That area will be used for adding other edibles.
Then came an iceplant and a scarlet pimpernel, they have nice flowers and are good groundcover so I also let them be in their corner and added some more hardy flowering plants there.
Then, I noticed this small patch of grass that was growing in the middle. I forecefully stepped on it a few times with boots and it didnt even wilt, it just grew without any water and stayed green. So I thought, well we want some grass but I don't want to put any grass with heavy maintenance needs so I'm wondering if I can successfully put it on some loose substrate and make it grow so I can place it wherever I want. I have no idea what type of grass it is but here's a photo of how it compares to crabgrass (which I definitely do not want) and another one of what Im trying to do.
I got rid of any diseased or unwanted weeds by cutting the stems and letting the roots decompose and aerate the soil. Also since we have a lot of veggies and fruit waste, I've been trench composting in an area that frequently gets wet with water from the washing machine. I constantly make holes in them with a thin stick so they can get some air. I made a small raised bed with leftover wood and planted some mint around where we normally fill up buckets, wash our hands and etc so it can get some of that residual water and thrive in that constantly wet ambient. The interesting thing is that ever since I started doing all this I've been noticing more visits from birds and butterflies, even though there really aren't that many plants and most of the ground is still bare. I also dug up some dirt from one of the trenches and noticed a worm here and there. While there aren't that many worms in general, it's amazing how there's actually something alive in the soil now!
Later on I would like to add some rosemary, spicy peppers. oregano, prickly pear and other low maintenance perennial plants that can thrive in this poor soil and at the same time help with improving it. I will also put some tomatoes on top of the trenches once everything in them is well decomposed. Eventually, I do want to make some pathways and mulch with a lot of wood chips to avoid further compacting the soil and to help it retain water. I feel like I went full on crazy in this post and I know that it's not a very well-planned garden but well, Im trying to let nature do it's thing, work on a tight budget and see what happens.
When i lived in the city and was obligated to do the front lawn thing, i would place the clippings in the backyard where i wanted to plant veggies the next year. This worked great for me. Today if i had a lawn i would not bag it, but thats another story.
The clipping should decompose quicker than woodchips so it will be available to the plants quicker. They are also more readily available than chips as you can collect them from friends and neighbors. I say friends cause you can ask about herbicides, pesticides, etc.
That is great progress! I think your dirt needs help to become soil. Fortunately our resident soil scientist can help you out! Doctor Redhawk has a collection of threads here on permies to help us build our soils.
That list is rather overwhelming, so I grabbed some excerpts... He has taught the need for fungal and good bacterial growth in our soils for good plant growth. In this threadhttps://permies.com/t/86117/Bacteria-Fungi-Nematodes a mushroom slurry is recommended for fungal growth. Recipe: Whatever fungal growth you can find in your surroundings, or perhaps a package of mushrooms from the grocery store chopped up by a blender with water and poured out in the area you wish to improve.
“…Vegetables, we now know, are more bacterial oriented plants except for some of the root vegetables which seem to call both bacteria and fungi to their root systems.
We know that plants use photosynthesis to build sugar compounds and that these sugars can be simple or complex molecules.
We also know that plant exudates are comprised of these simple sugars and the complex sugars and that each one calls into action different organisms (either bacterial organisms or fungal organisms and or flagellates, springtails and nematodes via the activity of the bacteria and or fungi).
If the plant is in need of the items a certain bacteria strain eats, the specific exudate will be injected into the soil by the roots that will be taking up that nutrient. The bacteria get busy but the nutrient is held inside the bacteria, this extra activity by the bacteria stimulates the predator of that bacteria into action.
Lets say it is a beneficial nematode that eats that bacteria, the nematode comes in and devours the glut of bacteria, it eats so much it can't use all the nutrient so it poops out the extra amount and that makes the nutrient available for the plants roots, which suck up all the nutrient that the plant needs at that time, f there is any extra amount, it remains in the soil and the bacteria again gobble it up, storing it till the next time. The same occurs with fungi, unless bad, root predatory nematodes come in for a feast of roots. When that happens the roots send out the exudate that tells the fungi hyphae to trap and destroy the nematodes.
The fungi wrap around the bad nematodes and gobble them up, this releases nutrients since there are more nutrients than the fungi can use and once again the roots suck up those nutrients needed, leaving the leftovers behind and the bacteria and fungi gobble those up putting them in storage.
This is why there is little leaching away of nutrients in living soil, it is also why the addition of chemical fertilizers don't stay in the place they were put for use by the plants, an event we term as leaching, where those false nutrients aren't taken in by the soil biology and then rains wash those false nutrients away and into streams and lakes…”
“…Compost teas and extracts are the most efficient method of adjusting the numbers to our favor and we will be getting into the best ways to make these along with formulas that are proven later on….” By Redhawk
Back to my own words…
On the quick and cheap level, you could take any unwanted weeds you have, or snag some from a roadside, mush them down in a 5 gallon bucket or another container, covering the weeds with water. Let that sit for 3-4 days fermenting. I use a fish tank aerator in my bucket to keep my ferment in the aerobic spectrum. This can be found in my area for $5 to $10. Drain the ferment off the plant material into another container.
Without the aerator, this would be an Anaerobic concoction. We want to encourage an Aerobic product. If an aerator is not in the budget, to add air/oxygen, pour this liquid back and forth several times between the two containers. Now it is ready to dilute into a tea. I read somewhere to add one part concentrate to 10 parts water. I’ve read conflicting articles as to whether this should be sprayed directly onto the plants. So in perhaps excess caution, I toss this tea on my garden paths, so as to not shock the plants, but the microbes, in theory will multiply and travel to the root zone.
I have seen soil improvement since I started doing this.
Thank you both for your reply. Joylynn, Thanks for your detailed response, it seems I definitely have a lot of reading to do then! I have a leftover aerator from a fish tank so I think that will work AOK. Just a question about the compost tea you mentioned, does it need molasses or something to feed the bacteria? This is considered compost tea right? Thanks!
Location: Officially Zone 7b, according to personal obsevations I live in 7a, SW Tennessee
The term to use seems to depend on how concentrated the liquid is. I am not certain if my initial liquid is an extract or a tea. I am sure the diluted IS tea.
I have not yet used molasses in this tea/extract thingy. I don't think it would cause a problem though. Check through Redhawks stuff. There was something about anaerobic tea and not using molassas... I think.
Diego Footer on Permaculture Based Homesteads - from the Eat Your Dirt Summit