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Must you add new nutrients to no-dig gardens?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 131
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I read articles by conventional and organic farmers that always say you need to keep adding more nutrients (fertilisers, compost) to soil because your harvested crops deplete the soil's nutrients.

Does no dig gardening also need this? I don't generate enough waste to make compost, and don't want to buy anything. All I have available are worm tea and horse manure tea, but as they're spread with a watering can they're not time efficient.
 
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It seems inherently logical that if you are harvesting something from a space and not returning the waste (manure) from its consumption then you are removing something that the plant used to grow. What that is, and how much of it, would depend entirely on the crop I would think. Seems like some kind of liquid extract of plants and/or manures would be more than adequate to replace specific minerals. The other common ingredient would be rock dust, but that will probably require purchase.
 
gardener
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If you're eating all of the harvest, then your own manure should logically equal the nutrients you remove from the land. If you don't want to go for full on humanure, you could at least use diluted urine, which has a lot of the nitrogen but only some of the other nutrients. Be careful not to use it on small plants, seedlings, or water stressed plants, and do use it, diluted, on established plants when they are growing. Try a system where it goes straight onto the soil or mulch, not the foliage
 
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at some point all gardens of any type are going to run out of nutrients, so you have to replenish it.
by adding: examples:
new dirt from either some other area or the store
your left overs from the garden or animals (compost)
liquid chemical fertilizers from a store or natural tea
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gardener
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Tim Kivi wrote:I read articles by conventional and organic farmers that always say you need to keep adding more nutrients (fertilisers, compost) to soil because your harvested crops deplete the soil's nutrients.

Does no dig gardening also need this? I don't generate enough waste to make compost, and don't want to buy anything. All I have available are worm tea and horse manure tea, but as they're spread with a watering can they're not time efficient.



IF you have worm tea, where are the worm castings? worm castings are a rich nutrient supplement for soils.
IF you have horse manure tea, where is the manure and how well composted is it before you make the tea?
Again, if you have the product to make the tea from, you also have the soil supplement available and you can still make the teas before using the tea source to amend the soil either by mulching with it or by incorporating it into the soil.

If you don't let the refuse materials rot in place, you are indeed depleting your soil, This is the main reason the original 13 colonies started the westward expansion and stealing lands from the Native Americans.
The crops they grew and the methods they used cause the soils to be completely depleted of nutrients, today we have huge corporations that promote this wasteful method so they can sell you their fertilizers and other chemicals, not the best way to improve soil by any stretch of imagination.

If you have a worm farm, you are creating one of the best amendments for soil that can be made.
If you have manures that you compost to make teas from, then you again have good soil amendments available.
No dig gardening is not actually "leave it alone" soil tending, you do plant seeds right? that is a  form of digging isn't it? While it is localized, it is still defined as a disturbance of the soil surface.

If you are growing vegetable crops, you are not actually using the no till ideal, every carrot or beet you pull (harvest) is a soil surface disturbance, so when you do your harvesting simply toss enough manure or casting or a blend of the two to fill the hole you just made.
That will keep the soil replenished somewhat and it will be doing it without need of an overall "mass" disturbance of your soil surface.

Redhawk
 
pollinator
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Location: North Carolina, USA Zone 7b
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I've wondered about this myself.  After 5 years of haphazard digging, planting, amending,   this is my official system starting this year based on everything I've learned from all you learned people :)

- The vegetable beds already are teeming with earth worms and other bugs
- Leaving the roots of dead plants and patches of live clover in place,  only disturbing the small hole where I'm planting a seedling with a quart-ish of new compost
  Seeds go on top of the soil with new compost sprinkled on top
- Chopping and dropping copious amounts of green material (lots of comfrey and plantain) directly onto the bed all year round.
- Making compost with chicken manure, straw, sawdust and oak/maple leaves and kitchen scraps with coffee grounds

- Then the only thing I should need to supplement from outside is minerals?   How much and how often will require annual soil testing.

Still working on the Sea90 project Dr. Redhawk (mulberry query last month).   I finally bought a small bag, have applied some in my veg beds and let it sit for a month before fall planting - hoping I'll get tastier and more nutritious veggies :)   Planning to buy a bigger bag (budget is tight!) to put around my trees in November.
 
pollinator
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I recommend looking into the Biointensive method which describes how to maintain fertility by growing compost crops.  After initial deep digging to prepare the bed, the soil is not dug except to aerate it with a broadfork.  All vegetable waste (and humanure) is composted to be returned to the growing beds.  This method is relatively high-maintenance but probably one of the more sustainable methods for growing a lot of food in a very small space.  Based on techniques used by the Chinese, French, and other cultures.

http://www.growbiointensive.org/grow_main.html
 
Tim Kivi
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I better start to create compost then. I thought leaving the roots in the ground would be enough but I see I better start getting creative to create more compost. Time to take the compost bin back out of the garage. Oh how I dislike living in suburbia, where everything's so artificial.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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I have usually done sheet composting (mulching) rather than composting in a bin, because I am lazy.  I also have worm bins in which I put kitchen waste, and then put the worm castings into the garden.  Presently my worm bins have become Black Soldier Fly bins so I have to clean them out and start over (husband not happy with all the Black Soldier Flies in the kitchen!)
 
pollinator
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As most people have pointed out, nutrients need to be replaced. It is my understanding that true no-till agriculture replaces nutrients primary via composting, be it chop & drop mulching or compost made elsewhere and transported to the growing beds. And some growers are also using liquid supplements, such as urine, liquid manures, etc.

It has already been demonstrated that certain crops can be commercially grown via no-till, where nutrients are supplied via roller-crimping the field overgrowth prior to sowing seed into the stubble. Corn, soybean, some grains, and sunflowers have been growth this way, though I don't know how good the production is compared to traditional fertilizers. But the crops do grow and are harvestable.

Orchards can be supplied with nutrients the same way. On my own homestead I have fruit trees producing good crops via compost & mulch top dressing, plus the use of liquid nutrients (diluted urine and manure liquids). I also have pineapples, sugar cane, chaya, lilikoi, and pipinola growing this way. They are all very productive.

My long season crops (plants surviving close to a year or more).....turmeric, taro, sweet potatoes, gourds, pumpkins, paste tomatoes, parsley, celery, chard, kale, Okinawan soinach, cholesterol spinach, various herbs.....I consider semi-no-till. The initial ground is traditionally tilled, then further nutrition is applied via compost/mulch and liquid supplements. But these crops tend to fade over time, some lasting a full year, others a few years before dying or becoming non or less productive.

I have not seen good examples of annual crops being grown productively via no-till, but I'm sure in many cases it could be done. I suppose it depends upon soil condition, soil starting fertility, the availability of compost/mulch/manures, availability of irrigation water.......plus what one's definition of productivity is. For example, if I were growing cabbages to sell at the farmers market, I might consider 70%-80% good sized sellable heads as good productivity. While a homesteader growing for his family might be happy with 25% large heads, 50% of the plants small headed, the rest non-headed.

I've travelled around my own region looking at what people claim is no-till gardening. But I see evidence that it is really low-till, not no-till. Gardeners are using garden forks to loosen the soil, thus actually bringing bottom soil to the surface. Others are tilling or raking compost into the top 3"-4". Others are mixing compost into each planting hole as they transplant out their seedlings or sow their seeds. Yet others are creating trenches along side a plant row, filling it in with compost. The only common denominator is that they call themselves no-till. But some degree of tilling is actually taking place.

Probably because of the low fertility and poor soil that I started out with, plus being located in the tropics where leaching is a problem, I have not been able to develop a successful no-till system for annuals. Most annual crops are demanding feeders that need loose soil for root development, and my soil just doesn't provide for them in a no-till situation. I really do need decent production because I rely upon my gardens to feed us. Thus I can only set aside a small area for no-till experimentation. Most of my garden areas rely upon compost being tilled in between each crop and mulches being applied monthly. But at least I have come up with successful no-till methods for my orchards and long season crops. Replacing those nutrients is an important part of it.

Tim, even though you don't have enough material to make classic compost, you can use what you have as a top dressing, as a mulch. Weeds. Fallen leaves. Bush trimmings. People around my area that do not have vegetation at all (they live on lava), will collect kitchen waste from their neighbors, pull weeds and cut grass alongside the side roads, have people drop off bags of green waste. If none of that appeals to you, then you could grind up your kitchen waste in a blender and apply that as a top dressing in the garden. Plus use your own urine, diluted, to supply nutrients.
 
gardener
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Hi Tim. 

According to Elaine Ingham, there is an infinite amount of minerals in your soil, so you can't deplete them unless you are sheet mulching heavily and so deeply with organics that you are only growing in that instead of having a mineral base.  Even then, since you are using seaweed and those tree leaves as your mulch you are adding local trace minerals in quantity that is going to be bioavailable in the surface layers.  Not only this, with the way you are gardening, with random polycultures and by chopping and dropping weeds and leaving the root systems in place, you are also leaving your soils microbiological system mostly intact.  <---This system is what provides nutrients to your garden.  The primary reason that people feel that they need to amend their soil is because tillage agriculture and monocrops have been the norm, and those systems require inputs in order for the plants to gain nutrients, which has been discussed by Bryant Redhawk here: 

The crops they grew and the methods they used cause the soils to be completely depleted of nutrients, today we have huge corporations that promote this wasteful method so they can sell you their fertilizers and other chemicals, not the best way to improve soil by any stretch of imagination.

  When the indigenous people harvested root crops in this province, they disturbed the soil with their digging sticks, but the root crops took over the space again, replacing any weeds as years progressed as this was their prime growing territory.  No additional fertilizer was needed, so long as they didn't disturb an extensive area all at once. 

Anything you add to your system is a bonus to the microbial system, but from what I've read of your fantastic garden, I'd say that worrying about it too much is unnecessary.  Worm and Manure tea would be fine, as would sprinkling worm castings and manure on your garden (preferably under mulch and moistened).  Composting the manure would be better, especially as it will reduce weed seeds, but I doubt it is necessary in your case.  The microbial community in your soil is likely doing very well.   Even when you harvest by pulling up a root crop, such as a bunch of carrots randomly from your bed, there is far more that is left in your garden already in the form of fine hair roots and all of the microbial life and death which have associated with them, that you are generally left with far more nutrients (dead microbial bodies, exudates, excrements, et cetera, that make up plant food)  if you are not digging or tilling, or disturbing your soil extensively.

You can, of course, make compost and I encourage you to do so, but I can't say that it is for certain necessary.  Masanobu Fukuoka didn't think so.     
 
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