Wojciech Majda

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since Oct 02, 2014
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Recent posts by Wojciech Majda


I bought some land 6 months ago in the humid, tropical mountains. It was a coffee plantation with a (still young) few avocados planted. Where the coffee shrubs were larger, the previous owner spray herbicide on the grass once or twice a year and mowed it 1-2 times a year. Where the coffee was not as good, he only cut the grass once or twice a year (before presenting the property for sale).  The last spraying was about a few months ago.  The soil where the coffee was "taken care of"  is much poorer, and the grass growth is much less abundant. However, it is improving relatively quickly (it was cut for the first time).  so I can see the weeds and grass that are growing back now are much stronger (in a good sense).

The soil where the coffee was bad is great, easy to dig, and black in colour (in the tropics!). Coffee was not growing there because it was stunned by weeds. This area provides an abundance of mulch for trees.

This area gets about 100 inches (2500mm) of rain a year, which is relatively well distributed. The period without rain usually lasts 6 weeks to 8 weeks, so it's very short. There is a small stream and 2 small ponds on the property. No irrigation yet. Did I mention it's a steep slope? It is!

I have attached a picture for you to get an idea.

The objective of this place is to create a homestead with food forest, 2-3 cows, ducks, chickens, geese, few pigs etc. Nothing commercial scale. Just a total abundance for 10-15 people.

My question is:  Would you dig swales there, considering the abundant and well-distributed rainfall? The soil is recovering rapidly. The place that would benefit the swales the most (the coffee that was "taken care of" and harvested) had established coffee trees, so they would have to be destroyed by excavation (the spacing is about 3-4 meters/yards) apart, the coffee is not planted in rows.

I think we can use the existing coffee as a nursery for the newly planted banana, fruit, nut, and service trees.  The swales are not really needed there (due to the rainfall and rapidly recovering soil?

What are your thoughts?

1 year ago
Adding lime will often "decompact" the soil. If your soil pH is high already add some gypsum.
9 years ago
Do a soil test. In Netherlander you guys have some good labs. If not send a soil sample to Logan Labs in USA. It cost 30$ (plus shipping), but you will know exactly what your soil needs.

In general you need to lime your soil. I would use marble rock dust (if available in your area) or coarsely grounded limestone, so it will release Ca for few years. As your soil has probably low Cation Exchange Capacity that's the way you need to work with it.

To change pine needles into humus, your soil will need sulfur (you definitely have deficit of sulfur) - you can add sulfur by using gypsum (it will provide you with calcium as well).

For phosphorus (and calcium) you can use bone meal. I bet you have plenty of it in your country as your meat producing industry is well developed.

How big area are we talking about? Few hectares or more? If it's up to few hectares you can do it by hand - it's very tiring, but you can do it in few days.
9 years ago
Hi Evelyn,

most commercial chicken farmers add some minerals to the chicken feed. They do it because otherwise chickens would not be able to survive as food is not nutrient dense enough to support rapid growth or high egg production and good immune system.

What you could do it to make few soil tests to identify what mineral deficiencies soils in your regions have. If for example are deficient in copper, zinc or boron, selenium or iodine then it would be relatively cheep to add missing minerals to the chicken feed.

Obviously the best solution would be to grow food in mineral balance soil, but that might be more expense (at least initially).
9 years ago
Using urine and wood ash (only) is a bad idea as it does have a lot of Potassium and relatively little amount of Phosphorus. It's a recipe for poor quality food. If you combine it with something with calcium and phosphorus like bonemeal.
9 years ago
If you have pH above 7, then you need to do AA8.2 test. I think it's more expensive, but that's what you need to do. If your pH is below 7 and your soil is not fizzing you do standard Mehlich soil test.

"Given the ability of both the M3 and AA extractants to extract more base cations
than are actually exchangeable, which soil test can be used to extract
exchangeable cations and only exchangeable cations from a high-pH soil? The
answer turns out to be the ammonium acetate test, but only after it has been
modified to have a pH higher than the soil sample being tested.
Ammonium acetate is made by mixing aqueous ammonia NH3 with acetic acid
CH3COOH, the acid found in common vinegar. The pH of the resulting ammonium
acetate solution (NH4C2H3O2) will depend on the ratio of acetic acid to ammonia in
the mixture. If more ammonia is added the mix becomes more alkaline, more
acetic acid makes it more acidic. For soil extractant use the mixture has usually
been made at pH7 or pH7.2. Adding a pH7 solution to a soil of pH >7 will result in
alkaline mineral compounds being dissolved along with exchangeable bases. By
adding more ammonia to the solution, the pH can be raised to 8.0 to 8.5, above
the pH of most agricultural soils. For soils in the 7.0 to 8.0 pH range the
ammonium acetate extractant is commonly raised to pH8.2. This is known as the
AA8.2 soil test."

Ideal Soil by Michael Astera
9 years ago
That should be fine Danielle.
9 years ago
@Danielle Venegas

It depends... Make sure your garden is well irrigated and fertilized, then the distance will lower as teh walnut will not "send" roots far away.

Also think about the area between the black walnut as a place where you will plant different fruit trees (mulberry, seabery, gumi...). Maybe use this area to plant more nitrogen fixers, so you will not have to put as much nitrogen fixers in the area where you want fruit trees susceptible to juglone.
9 years ago
Having fertile soil will go a long way to improve the chance to have anything growing near walnut.

I've written a post about walnut guild:

On thing I think is wrong, is to recommend growing tomatoes near walnut. The plant will struggle, and there is a difference between "growing" and giving reasonable yields.
9 years ago