New to permies and learning heaps already! I wonder if anybody can please help us with our predicament?
We have been afforded a beautiful parcel of land approx 50 metres x 40 metres where we wish to grow soft fruits, vegetables and fruit trees for our familys future. The problem is how to go about clearing/cleaning it by doing the least harm possible to soil structure and soil life.
The area in question was once a 'dumping ground' for horse manure, mucked out stables etc. This was 30+ years ago so what was once an enormous compost heap covering much of the area, is now a medium sized hump along the length of one side (5 metres x 30 metres and 1.5 metres high), and numerous very small humps and troughs throughout the remainder. It has all mostly sank back down to ground level at this stage, except for the humps and bumps. Unfortunately, as well as horse manure, straw and other organic material, there came with it A LOT of rope, string, netting, plastic (heavy duty silage covers I think) and other undesirables from the farmyard. As the huge compost heap sat and stewed all these years, it sank lower and lower, presumably as much of the uncovered pile was washed away in the wet Irish climate. It is now covered in grass and lots of perennials like docks, stinging nettle etc. What remains in high enough concentrations just under the soil surface are the netting, ropes, plastic, even some pieces of metal! Aside from the main compost pile, I would say the material are buried up to 1 foot depth in places.
The land is incredibly rich, packed with earthworms and other soil life, and is almost ready for planting right away (once I tackle the weeds of course). I have already begun digging and removing by hand what I can - the heavy duty black plastic comes up the easiest, but the netting and string material is very difficult to remove. It has all knotted and intertwined itself with the vast perennial root system and it tears and rips when I try to pull it out - it basically won't budge without A LOT of man hours.
Ideally I would have loved to put down a cover for some time to kill of what is there and then plant directly into it, but I obviously do not want to leave all of this rubbish in the ground. I also want to level out the land by bringing down the humps and filling in the troughs.
So my question is this, should I hire a small 3 or 6 tonne mini digger in to make the job easier, cleaner and significantly faster? Or would it perhaps be OK to leave much of the netting, rope etc in the ground and simply start my raised beds over it? Would this impact on anything negatively in the short/long run? One thing we have no shortage of is beautiful nutrient rich compost. I'm not worried about the compression caused by the mini digger, as the abundant earthworms should have it decompressed in no time. Also, I will be doing raised beds so shouldn't impact on root growth. Despite the wet temperate Irish climate (hardiness zone 9), the land here drains very well. It is also on a lovely soft East facing slope, and there are springs under the land here (yet it still drains very well). Are there any negatives I haven't thought of by using the mini digger? Can I avoid all of this by just leaving the stuff in the ground? Personally, I want the waste material gone from the soil as it feels dirty and messy.
My primary concern is the soil life and the damage/death a mini digger will cause to the soil life such as the earthworms - I don't wish to cause them any harm if possible. But weighing it all up, it might be the quickest path which will then allow the soil life to recover quickly once I'm finished. It is basically 2-3 days mini digger work versus 2-3 seasons by hand!
Thanks so much in advance for any advice.