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Indigenous humus and other stuff for next springs seedling mix.  RSS feed

 
gardener
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Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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It's been getting cold out.  Froze three nights this week.  It's damp and chilly all day, pretty much.  The forest fire season is long gone in my neck of the woods, and the smoke had caused our mountain air this summer to cool down enough that a lot of my tomatoes didn't ripen- even the ones in the greenhouse

I was doing some long overdue cleaning up some planting pots today, and some of them had soil in them.  It was barely warm enough to do this without freezing (or at least seriously chilling) my hands.  I dumped all the potting soil out of them in a large old plastic trash can, and I thought that it might be a good start on getting some soil ready for next spring. 

A few years ago, we had this Super El Nina early spring, and the snow left months early, and the ground thawed, and I was able to gather material for my spring potting mix in the spring.  This isn't normally the case.  Normally, when I am needing to start my spring potting regime, the ground is covered with snow, and under the snow, it's frozen solid.  I've had it in my mind to do as I did that spring, only in the fall, before the ground froze or before the snow, and this year I finally got around to initiating this plan. 

So I hauled the partially (maybe a quarter) filled trash can over by my semi-trailer where it will end up undercover for the winter.  I then went to my garden and grabbed my mini spade and two five gallon pails and headed off into the forest.  The mini spade fits comfortably in one of my pails and is quite handy to operate on one's knees. 

I have a mixed forest, made up primarily of douglas fir trees, but with many other species of needle bearing conifers as well as deciduous broadleaf trees like birch, cottonwood, and trembling aspen.  I have not done any testing of the soils to find out their make-up.  However, it is my understanding that the soils under conifer trees tend to be more fungally dominant and also acidic.  The broadleaf trees have a more balanced mix of fungi and bacteria and tend to be more alkaline (relative to the conifers).

So, with my two pails and mini spaded I sort of use my bush sense to find spots that I think might have deep rich humus underneath the broadleaf trees which I figure is going to be better for my gardens.  I  rake a small area with my fingers (usually less than a square foot) and remove to the side the dry or undecomposed material on the surface,  I get down to where any wood is soft enough that I can crumble it in my fingers or it is mushy like a wet sponge.  Often there is visible white or yellow branching fungi hyphae in it.  There are worms and beetles and centipeeds and spiders.  This stuff is really alive. 

I take out what would be about half a regular garden spade's worth or less (usually less) from the location, including some of the mineral soil sometimes.  Sometimes I also hit a layer of ash from the forest fire one hundred years ago. I'm always amazed at how deep the ash is under the humus in some of the locations.  I place this material in one of the pails, breaking it up in with my hands, and sifting it through my fingers, and pulling out any roots or rocks, or hard chunks of wood.  I then put the dry or undecomposed stuff back in the location and move at least 15 feet (5 meters) and do it again.  I do this until both of my pails are about half full (Rather than packing one full pail, it's far easier and more ergonomic to pack two half full ones).  I then go to my compost piles, and gather enough material from them to fill the pails.  I dump these in my large contractor's wheelbarrow and truck it up to the trash can.  I dump the trash can into the barrow and then mix everything up.  The mix is a bit heavy for potting mix at this point, although it does have a lot of loft from the woody mix.  This spongy material will help my seedlings by holding a lot of water, and I feel it is quite nutrient rich.   I hope to amend this with biochar to give it some porosity/air as well as to further neutralize it toward the alkaline while providing futher habitat for microbes.

I'm hoping to develop more of my own potting mix using such techniques as this and not rely at all on imported (from off the property) ingredients.  Some of my compost ingredients (organic cattle manure) is imported at this point.
 
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I thought of doing something similar from my pig field, half of which is woodland and the rest was at some time. I will get on to that and mix it with the soil from my kast bucket of maincrop potatoes.  Thank you for the reminder - lets see how if goes!
 
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I sort of do the same thing, I get soil from my forest, then use well composted sheep manure, then add in seaweed (as a makeshift perlite) and then toss everything into my cement mixer and let it churn. That not only mixes the concoction, but also lets me take out any rocks.

It seems to beat any potting soil mix I ever bought.
 
Amanda Launchbury-Rainey
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Travis Johnson wrote:I sort of do the same thing, I get soil from my forest, then use well composted sheep manure, then add in seaweed (as a makeshift perlite) and then toss everything into my cement mixer and let it churn. That not only mixes the concoction, but also lets me take out any rocks.

It seems to beat any potting soil mix I ever bought.


Love the cement mixer idea!
 
Roberto pokachinni
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and mix it with the soil from my kast bucket of maincrop potatoes

  I'm not sure what a Kast bucket is, but it seems like a good idea to me to mix something in with the forest soil.  I imagine your pigs will provide some other nutrients as well.
 
Amanda Launchbury-Rainey
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I meant last!
 
Roberto pokachinni
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I should have figured that it must have been a typo.  Sorry.  So you have a good amount of soil in your potato bucket, or is that just something to add to the mix? 

I second the great novelty of Travis' cement mixer idea.  This would save a lot of work with my hands and shovel, especially if I expand my seedling operation but also with making compost or mixing it with biochar.    
 
Amanda Launchbury-Rainey
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Roberto pokachinni wrote:I should have figured that it must have been a typo.  Sorry.  So you have a good amount of soil in your potato bucket, or is that just something to add to the mix? 

I second the great novelty of Travis' cement mixer idea.  This would save a lot of work with my hands and shovel, especially if I expand my seedling operation but also with making compost or mixing it with biochar.    


Because we were flooded out this spring and because my neighbours grow their potatoes on the same plot every year we are overrun with colorado beetle. So I grow my pots in big builder's buckets in our courtyard for a much earlier, bug free crop. The other place I grow is in swales covered with hay to avoid frosts. I should say I throw all my prunings and weeding stuff into the swales so the pots are basically planted on compost, but please don't tell Paul I do weeding!
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Now I get it.  I thought you had potatoes in storage, and they had enough dirt left over in the storage buckets after the potatoes were removed that it would be a useful amount for planting.  I was having a hard time imagining it.  :) 
 
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