Eric Hanson

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since May 03, 2017
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Recent posts by Eric Hanson


If I had read your post more closely I would have realized that your predicament was different that what I imagined.  I was thinking about placing wood chips on top of soil, but you did exactly the opposite.  So with that in mind, I am going to review what I think you have.

1.  you have a 30" tall bed that is now settling a bit.
2.  16ish inches were filled with local wood chips
3.  5ish inches were filled with big-box mulch
4.  The next 9 inches were filled with a combination of bagged topsoil and bagged manure

Does all of this sound about right?

If this is about right, I might have a different answer than what I suggested in my earlier post.  Actually, I am wondering about how well-watered the plants were.  The reason I ask is that soil sitting on top of a whole lot of chips and mulch will--before decomposition--act much like gravel in a French drain and simply drain away water easily.  Did your plants show any signs of water stress?  Did you water frequently (meaning daily)?  

The other thought I had was that perhaps they roots were getting started and then outgrew their topsoil layer.  If the roots got into the wood chip zone prior to significant decomposition and without any soil, they might not have had many nutrients to gather (including water).  If this is the case then they would indeed look stunted.  9 inches of topsoil is really not a lot of soil for a plant to live in and whenever I dig into my plants at the end of a season, I find that my roots go VERY deep, even for things like peas.

With all of that in mind, I am thinking about ways to get soil and decomposition into the wood chips below the soil.  My thought is for you to dig those holes and really bore into the wood chips and maybe take the combination of wood chips and top soil/manure and mix them all together and put them back into the hole.  Maybe consider amending that wood chip/soil mixture with blood meal, bone-and-blood meal, kelp meal, etc. just as long as you can get some nutrients into the deeper layers of the wood chips to encourage root growth into those zones.  Root growth will really help promote further decomposition.

BTW, using the organic fertilizer is perfectly legit in this stage as you need something to get the initial burst of plant growth going.  But continuance of fertilizer will tend to break the relationship between fungi & bacteria and plant roots.  So I am certainly not saying don't do it, just consider what repeat applications tend to do.  Once you get the biology going in all those wood chips, will provide you with all the nutrients you will ever need.

Also, maybe consider growing something that will grow a really deep root to help mix the layers together a bit and also further promote decomposition at the deeper levels of the wood chips.

Hopefully all of this will make sense and better yet, be helpful.

Please let us know how things work out.

22 hours ago
Hi Russell,

Life has taken me away for a couple of days so while I have been following this thread I have not had a chance to respond till now (5 days late!  Sorry.)

My thinking is pretty much in line with what others have already said.  I would try to get as much plant life growing in those beds as possible--which is what you already tried to do, but maybe we can try a couple of different approaches.

Approach #1.  When I plant my tomatoes in a newly made bed filled with fresh wood chips, I always cheat just a little and I actually plant the tomato plants in fertile holes about 12" in diameter and 6-8" deep.  Those holes are backfilled with either bagged manure (the only type I have easy access to)  or some topsoil.  Either way, giving some organic fertilizer is not a bad idea--I like to use Blood meal as I think it lasts a pretty long time.  It is only natural to think that my tomato plants will become root bound in a sort of manner, but actually the roots grow well outside of the fertile hole, meaning that there must be some type of life out in those chips for root interaction.

Approach #2.  I would still use the fertile holes, but maybe try to include some chunks of topsoil about the size of your fist throughout the chips.  The point is to make little reservoirs of healthy soil microbia that can then spread into the chips.

Approach #3  You can still do all of the above, but maybe consider planting large numbers of legumes like peas or beans.  If inoculated, these plants will fix their own nitrogen, and as they grow, their roots will spread into the chips and continue spreading soil microbes.

Approach #4.  Of course, you could try to use fungi/mushrooms.  Wine Caps are amazing, but maybe also consider something local to your region.  Either could be a winner.

Approach #5.  If you have it, consider mixing high quality compost with half of that topsoil in the fertile holes.  Also, if growing peas/beans, consider growing them in fertile trenches.  Again, compost can be amazing if you have it.

So there you have 5 different approaches that are all to some degree compatible with each other.  Feel free to mix & mash them together or make changes of your own.

Good luck and please keep us informed as to your progress.

5 days ago
Julie, welcome to Permies!

It sounds like you have quite a challenge in front of you.  While I have no practical knowledge of growing in arid environments, I was thinking that Black Eyed Peas/Cowpeas might be a start as they thrive in hot, dry, sandy conditions.  They could give you a viable food crop, give a decent cover crop and fix nitrogen at the same time.

You might also consider looking at putting in swales and starting either with mulch or biochar if you can find the material, though you seem to be headed in that direction already.

At any rate, congratulations on your new adventure and please keep us updated with developments!

1 week ago
Timothy has a great idea.  Maybe add/augment that with raised beds and containers.

2 weeks ago
While I hear that it is very difficult to grow, Indigo sounds very interesting to me.  I imagine that it would be beautiful.

3 weeks ago
I don't know if this counts, but what you are describing is exactly what I am trying to do anytime I am sowing mushroom spawn into wood chips.  The mushroom compost is wonderfully fertile, not because the mushrooms themselves produce NPK, etc., but rather that the resulting sea of microbes harvest the nutrients already in the soil and bring it to my plants.  So while I don't specifically add any microbes, I do my best to attract them.

3 weeks ago
If I could have just a little bit of cleared space to park a truck and get started, I LOVE the idea of all the wood chips, firewood, timber and basic resources that comes with an overgrown lot!

Though I have to admit that I have a hard time cutting trees in the first place and I am drawn to the blank slate.

I am going to have to go with the overgrown orchard.

3 weeks ago

I decided to post this as a follow-up to this thread HERE:

I ran into my friend a couple of weeks ago and haven't gotten a chance to reply until today.  Basically, his plans have been modified a bit.  He no longer plans to put in a 1/4 acre straw bale garden right away.  That was going to entail buying, transporting and placing something like 650-700 straw bales and he just was not up to that.  His current plan to drastically reduce this plan and start much smaller with something more like 50 straw bales just to get him started.  This number is enough keep him busy but not enough to overwhelm him just as he gets started.  And more to the point, he plans on using all-organic sources of nitrogen to get decomposition started!  He is still looking at blood meal, fish emulsion and other forms of nitrogen, but he mentioned that the fastest and cheapest source of nitrogen for him is probably urine.  Personally, I think this is a good idea.  While I liked his idea of the huge garden, I know that amount would overwhelm me, especially if I just jumped into it.

Aside from that, his plans are pretty much unchanged.  He plans to get legumes and grasses to establish some real fertility in the mine tailings.  He does have some water on site in the form of a strip-cut that has filled with water.  He has some filtration system so that he can use this water.  He does have access to some degree of trees--mostly autumn olives along the edges of the property, but a few other fast-growing silver maples as well.  Perhaps he will get some more trees planted soon.

At any rate, I just wanted to update that previous thread.


At any rate
3 weeks ago
OK, most definitely not a corset, but I commonly wear something whose function runs parallel.

I have mentioned before that I regularly wear compression garments (shorts) for my restless leg syndrome which snapped on in 2018 and affects me all day--not just at night.  Starting in the 20-21 school year, we were on a strange hybrid of a (very) few students being in class and the rest of the students attending remotely.  As a result, my classroom got changed to a room that was regularly cold.  I ended up ordering a couple of compression shirts from the same company that I bought the compression pants.  The reason was that I simply wanted another layer under my regular shirt and the fabric would not cause my regular shirt to bunch up.  It did provide for some nice insulation.  Fast forward to last year and our HVAC in the school was wonky in early fall.  Some days it would not work at all and other days it was literally in the 50s in my classroom.  Despite it being very warm outside (90+), I wore my compression shirts simply to keep warm in my classroom.  

At the same time, I injured my back while moving a couch.  I really had my back out of alignment and I needed to go to physical therapy.  Some days I went straight from school with my compression shirt still on and other times I removed it.  I noticed that my back problems were significantly better when I wore the compression shirt.  I mentioned this to my physical therapist and she said that she was not at all surprised.  She further stated that the degree of compression was helping to put my spine back into place.  I continued to wear the compression shirt till the weather warmed up.

Now I wear the compression shirt whenever the weather allows.  My back is better than it has been in years.  I can definitely attest to the benefit of having something to help give your back some structure.  I am certainly a believer now.

4 weeks ago