Hello, looking for hope, long horror story follows...

Discussion in 'Introduce Yourself Here' started by Gourmet Garden, Dec 19, 2014.

  1. Gourmet Garden

    Gourmet Garden Junior Member

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    Hi,

    I'm completely new to Permaculture, but I'm afraid I've started off very, very badly...

    I moved into a new house a few years ago. The soil in my back garden was very good, but the soil in my front garden was completely compacted (probably by heavy machinery as the house was being built). Nothing would grow there. I dug a small hole into the ground, and found that the drainage was so bad that it would still be a puddle 2 days after some heavy rain, and then when it was dry, the ground would crack open. I tested the soil and the pH was 8.5!

    I hated this front garden soil with determination and I have spent the last 2 years digging it all up (I couldn't build raised beds as the garden beds were adjacent to driveways and off-street car parking spaces, and any car doors would bang against raised garden bed walls). After 2 years of back-breaking digging, I had dug out the soil in all my front garden beds to a depth of 45 to 60cm. My front garden looked like an open mine with pits everywhere instead of garden beds. But, by the time the digging was finally all finished, weeds had grown up in the pits that I had dug out earlier. So, I sprayed (?bombed?) the whole area every weedkiller and herbicide I could lay my hands on, including so-called yearly garden path clearers.

    In hindsight, I may have been somewhat over-zealous.

    As the weeds died, I filled in the garden pits with sulphur (to lower the pH of the underlying soil), lucerne straw bales, composted cow manure, composted pine bark, more composted cow manure, and covered everything with tea tree mulch. I didn't add any actual soil because I've heard too many horror stories of garden supply stores delivering nasty, toxic stuff as "loamy garden topsoil".

    So, my garden beds are now finally "looking" ready to plant something, but now I'm afraid to plant anything expensive eg, the magnolias, camellias, roses, gardenias, etc, that I had originally planned to grow, because of all the weedkillers/herbicides I had sprayed at the bottom of my garden beds a couple of months ago, and because as I did more research, I realized that my "soil" would keep subsiding as the organic matter would decompose, and if I just keep adding more mulch as any perennials I've planted subside together with the "soil", eventually they would just suffocate. I also realized that there may not be sufficient actual rock mineral content, eg, silica, in my "soil", for proper plant growth. So, as I did more and more research into soil improvement, I came across Permaculture, which seems to be at the cutting edge of soil science.

    I'm now investigating adding biochar, rock dust, introducing deep burrowing worms and growing green manure crops for the first couple of seasons, before I plant any permanent perennials.

    Do you think there is still hope out there for me and my front garden?
     
  2. 9anda1f

    9anda1f Administrator Staff Member

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    Greetings GG and welcome,
    Yes, I would say there is hope but let's look at the ramifications of your over-zealous chemical application.
    While the weeds may be gone (for now anyhow), all of the biological life in your "soil" is most likely also gone ... it's those soil critters that make dirt into soil!
    My opinion is that while adding rockdusts and biochar will be helpful over time, the most important thing to do is re-establish your soil microbiology. This is best accomplished by quality composting.
    Check out this video series from Elaine Ingham for the composting process: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZErvvweM5s0&list=PLJKRaR_MRTJQb9TmBkTqckhi0P9U9X_fD
    Good luck! Let us know how you're doing.
     
  3. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    All is not lost, GG :)

    Sounds like you have clay soil! Clay soil that has been abused by the previous owner!! I love my clay soil. It has minerals that other soil doesn't have. It holds water when other soils don't (so less watering). It is like cooking with wheat flour (much more nutrition) rather than white flour (lacking in nutrition).

    **The one crucial thing I have found with clay soil is never......never let it be exposed to the sun, so it won't dry out. When clay is damp is has all of the soil critters and composting abilities it needs. So if you make sure there is always at least a finger's depth of leaf mulch (or mowed grass, mowed weeds, or all of the above) over the top of it, it will turn into Soil Heaven.

    You are headed in the right direction to add composted ingredients. Just to make a clarification, compost is different than "composted manure" or "composted pine bark" . Compost is a stew of ingredients, weeds, grass, kitchen scraps, etc. Pine or any wood takes sometimes more than a year to make nutrients available to teeny, tiny root hairs of plants, so don't get discouraged yet! If you have a lot of it, mix it liberally with compost made from grass/leaves/weeds until it is unrecognizable. Then use it.

    Building "lasagna layers" of organic ingredients over the top of clay, then planting into those layers, works wonderfully. :)
     
  4. Gourmet Garden

    Gourmet Garden Junior Member

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    Ok, thanks! I'm guessing bags of "compost" bought from gardening stores aren't full of live microbes either...
     
  5. Benjy136

    Benjy136 Junior Member

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    Especially if it is in sealed plastic bags. It needs (craves) oxygen and will"turn" if sealed shut.
    I don't know about the area where you are, but I'm about 11 miles from a garden supply place that has piles of both garden soil and mushroom compost that you can buy by the scoop (two scoops for my size pick-up).
    As you mentioned, the soil level will drop considerably as the composting material becomes the kind of soil you'd like for a growing medium. Meanwhile you can start your annuals in tubs or large buckets to be transplanted a year or two....or three from now. That way you can save on the cost of full grown plants when you're ready for them.

    Just a thought, Gourmet.
    Love is the answer
    Uncle Ben
     
  6. Mirrabooka

    Mirrabooka Junior Member

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    My favourite topic I raise at any opportunity is-

    Get a comprehensive soil test.

    ...and check out the website run by Steve Solomon and colleagues called Soil and Health. Steve is a leader in the science of soil amendments required to provide the right balance of minerals and nitrogen for ideal vegetable growth. He makes the point very convincingly that growing nutrient dense food requires that balance, and amending soil without knowing what the soil actually needs based on a comprehensive soil test is a waste of money and potentially disastrously counterproductive...

    ....as for all that mushroom compost...Steve points out that what is actually in it is usually a complete mystery and nutrients minerals mystery....and potentially a complete waste of money.....

    For the situation you describe deep rooting plants like comfrey, alphalfa, nitrogen fixing plants with deep taproots like tagasaste which can be killed and mulched later all make sense to me...
     
  7. Gourmet Garden

    Gourmet Garden Junior Member

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    Thanks for all your helpful advice and encouragement!

    I'm quite scared by the idea of making my own compost. This is because I live in a highly urbanized environment, and I cannot quite get over the idea of letting lots of cockroaches and other insects fly and crawl all over a pile of rotting organic matter, hmm...I've thought about getting a compost tumbler, but I suspect that a compost tumbler will just hide the creepy crawlies from open view...

    But, I'm going to have to start recycling more of my household organic matter. Besides, bags of lifeless compost bought from garden centres just isn't going to cut it, I'm afraid. My plan is: I am going to keep some earthworms in my front garden beds, using some in-ground worm bins, ie, like lidded buckets with holes drilled into the sides, buried into the garden beds with the lids at the surface level, and feeding them all my fruit/vegetable pulp that I get after juicing. From what I've researched, I can put a layer of soaked coconut coir at the bottom, mix it with some rock dust, then put in the worms, then add some shredded newspaper with the fruit/vegetable pulp on top, and then add some sawdust if/when it gets too wet. Does this sound like a plan to you? To take some baby steps into recycling and get some life back into my front garden beds?

    I am going to plant some annuals in 2015, just as a living mulch, to keep the ground covered. Maybe if the annuals survive 2015, I will plant some lucerne in 2016 to send those taproots down to see if the weedkillers have all gone, and hopefully, to break up the clay subsoil some more.

    I was planning to get a soil test done maybe in 1 or 2 years, but not right now, because I thought that a soil test done right now would only give me the analysis of all the lucerne straw, composted pine bark, composted cow manure and tea tree mulch that I've added over my garden pits to a depth of 45 to 60 cm, and since none of this 45 to 60 cm actually contains any real earth, I'm not sure how useful any "soil" testing done right now would actually be...
     
  8. Gourmet Garden

    Gourmet Garden Junior Member

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    Do pesticides in non-organic foods kill earthworms?!? Sorry if I need so much hand-holding, all this composting/organic/sustainable permaculture thing is completely new to me and I'm just clueless...
     
  9. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    No, they don't. I buried all sorts of waste in the garden and they were fine. I doubt there is that much pesticide on the food you eat.

    I'd convert your method into compost worms anyway and really concentrate your nutrients and waste streams into something you can use and apply at will.
     
  10. Mirrabooka

    Mirrabooka Junior Member

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    That is Steve Solomon's point,
    Why put effort into adding Nutrients to a garden unless you have a soil test to guide you as to what nutrients are actually missing
     
  11. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    Because every garden needs organic matter, no matter what deficiencies.
     
  12. Mirrabooka

    Mirrabooka Junior Member

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    Then again, as our colleague who started this post has pointed out, his plot has no shortage or organic matter. The unknown issue is, what is the mineral composition of all of that organic matter? I cannot see how adding more organic matter addresses the issue of mineral/nitrogen composition clarification....that fundamental Permaculture principle, "for one to exert oneself obtain a yield". If the plot requires calcium, nitrogen, magnesium, boron, or whatever, why waste resources adding even more 'organic matter' of unknown productive value...
     
  13. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    Added organic materials of a dubious nature, out of plastic bags. As well as sulphur, as well as a high oil, low nutrient mulch.

    I still have never heard of any gardener or agriculturalist saying that too much OM is a bad thing but I suppose you're the first.

    I'm not advocating against tests BTW. Just that it's not the only thing stopping one from good gardening.
     
  14. Mirrabooka

    Mirrabooka Junior Member

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    No, I am not the first.

    Take a look as Steve Solomon's 'The Intelligent Gardener' book, or at the website 'Soilandhealth.org'
    Steve is very clear on this point, and is, in my view, the preeminent permaculture organic soil and compost authority when it comes to growing vegetables...having worked in the field for decades. His discussion group is very accessible, he is very generous in sharing his wisdom.

    Also, on a recent visit to Meliodora, David Holmgren's property in Hepburn Springs, the paucity of organic matter throughout most of the orchard area of the property was very striking.

    i am not opposed to organic matter, just cautious about devoting resources to unproductive and unnecessary activity in circumstances where a new colleague is already honest about excessive input into a treasured project.
     
  15. milifestyle

    milifestyle New Member

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    Steve Solomon makes some good points, but i'm not a fan of all of his suggestions... or it might be the arrogance of the deliver in person. His books make interesting reading.
     
  16. songbird

    songbird Senior Member

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    after reading the initial post i don't think it would hurt to mix the organic materials you've added into the surrounding soil making it more uniform overall, that way if you do have shrinkage due to further decomposition it will not make pits which gather water. you're overall design may need adjustment to include better drainage if the whole area is low and will collect water.

    as for pesticides/herbicides... mixing the soil with the organic materials will help disperse the toxins and allow the wider soil community of microbes, fungi, etc. to help break them down.

    worms will do fine in clay, some species actually prefer it (because once they have their burrows made it holds up) and you won't find them much in sandy soils.

    composting worms will be the surface and near surface dwellers, doesn't hurt to encourage them and or to add them if there aren't any around already. just make sure that if it gets hot that they have some piles of moist organic materials to hide under.

    it doesn't sound like from your description that you are planning on doing intensive organic vegetable gardening as much as growing ornamentals. roses and clay or waterlogged soils are probably not a good combination. most perennials are going to lean towards an acidic or more highly organic material soil where the fungi dominate. build the garden bed up with a mix of soil and organic materials and that way it will not sink as much as it would if it were all organic materials and then keep topping off the mulch as it degrades. you generally should not disturb the soil for such plants after they are put in, but add your materials on top and let the worms do the work for you.

    composting veggie scraps can be done with worms in bins and doesn't need anything particularly fancy or expensive. cover the bin with a fine mesh cloth to keep the fruit flies out and adjust the moisture content as needed. saw dust is ok, but shredded paper scraps work ok, shredded cardboard is something they really like. i dry a lot of my chopped veggy scraps because then i can store them until i add them to the bins without having extra liquids and some veggy scraps break down much more quickly when they have been dried first (root crops and big stems of things like brocolli, potato peels especially as otherwise you may find mini-potatoes taking over your gardens).
     
  17. permasculptor

    permasculptor Junior Member

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    Or you could apply Biota booster and support it. Direct application of beneficial microbes is the quickest easiest cheapest resolution.
     
  18. Mirrabooka

    Mirrabooka Junior Member

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    Hi Eric,

    Say Hi to Nick and Michele for me.

    My forum photo was taken at the front of a tiny cabin at the Lorinna Buddhist retreat, where Nick was one of Rick Coleman's teachers for the PDC there..one of the most enchanting experiences of my life....chook dome in the background...

    Are you going to the Penguin convergence? You can give me the inside story on Steve ( I think he was one of Good Life Permaculture's teachers earlier this year??) What aspect of Steve's "soil test guided" amendment approach do you have concerns about?

    Best wishes
    Peter Heffernan
    Flinders
     
  19. Curramore1

    Curramore1 Junior Member

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    MMMmmmmmm, interesting discourse re organic matter and can you have too much. Depends on so many things, for example some coarse and woody chip OM can leach out harmful phenols and terpinols etc. into the groundwater, some can rob the underlying soil of nitrogen and other inorganic nutrients to feed the growing population of decomposing organisms trying to convert the OM to inorganic, plant available nutrients and lead to a temporary soil deficiency. One of the main benefits of adding OM is to raise the levels of soil carbon and stimulate microbial and macrobiotic activity and revamp the organic to inorganic and back again cycles, both in speed and in quantity. Some organic matter, if low in inorganic nutrients, particularly nitrogen, can benefit from the addition of soluble inorganic nutrient additions to feed the decomposers. The key thing we are trying to do really is to improve the soil Carbon levels and stimulate nutrient cycling and soil biota, which in turn affects water holding capacity and soil structure and ultimately plant available nutrients. All soils and plant production systems benefit from increased soil carbon, increased inorganic nutrient supply and increased biotic activity, but we have also have to watch if we have altered the soil pH too much and if we have exacerbated any soil micronutrient deficiencies such as boron and molybdenum etc. which can come about when the biota break down the OM. Some OM such as wet, green, mushy grass clippings can create localised, microclimatic anaerobic conditions and hot spots which kill soil biota in the short term. One other consideration is if the OM can be leached, or washed away as a result of overland flow and affect the BOD Biological oxygen demand of the surface waters close by and further downstream. I suppose if the microsystem you have already has adequate soil carbon, inorganic nutrients, soil biota etc. and there is no net nutrient loss from your system and everything is cycling away, why add more than is needed to the system?
     
  20. Mirrabooka

    Mirrabooka Junior Member

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    So yes, let's conduct an experiment,

    Let's put an infinite amount of organic matter into our system and see what happens with plant growth. If there is no boron, no calcium, no molybdenum, no magnesium, no selenium, no iodine, no phosphate, etc etc, what prospects do any soil biota have of feeding the crop we grow? (Rumour has it mushroom compost, and pine woodchip based 'organic compost' is such an input)

    Add worms...plants of any description...chooks....goats...pigs....cows....no matter what organic system one applies to such a situation the nutritional value of the crop will continue to reflect the never identified mineral deficiencies....

    Alternatively, get a soil test and amend the soil according to soil science principles, and save time, effort, and resources....and have nutrient dense food, with the, and this is the key point...the associated health benefits
     

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