I am Steven: to till or not to till?

Discussion in 'Introduce Yourself Here' started by devijvers, Jan 5, 2012.

  1. devijvers

    devijvers Junior Member

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    I live in Belgium and I'm currently designing the food garden for our newly built home. It's been built on a pasture. Up until about 10 years ago animals were regularly grazing here. The grass is very rich and thick, there's a lot of animal life in the grass. However, I don't see any worms in the soil.

    There's a 10cm layer of loam about 1 meter deep, underneath that is sand. The top soil has a little bit of clay but I can't roll a sausage with it. There's also sand but it must be very fine grained because I can hardly feel it.

    I think our top soil is too much compacted. There's very little weed growing but the weed that is there has a taproot that I can't pull out. This according to Geoff Lawton means the soil is too compacted. During summer when it hasn't rained for a couple of weeks that top soil becomes as hard as a stone.

    Our pasture must be very fertile. During summer the grass grows very high, it's been regularly cut down (and removed) by a local farmer. However I'm not sure about the lack of evidence that there are worms.

    I know that if I would till I would loose ~30% of the organic matter in the soil. My question is which one is worse: compacted soil or loosing organic matter?
     
  2. permup

    permup Junior Member

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    Neither are ideal. I think the remedy for your land is to slash the grass every 3-6 months and let it rot into the ground, therefore adding the organic matter back into the soil and attracting the worms. You may consider ploughing the land with a key-line plough, which does not turn the soil but rips a thin deep line into it, allowing greater moisture absorbtion. You will find that you probably condition your soil within 12 months this way, given the conditions you describle. Compaction will dissapear and organic matter will increase dramatically.
     
  3. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    Paula nailed it but to answer your question; No organic matter is worse because it exacerbates compaction.

    You could put grass clippings on top of some compacted soil and worms will still get to it. I've dug out compacted clay and can visibly see holes through the clump made by some sort of soil fauna, assuming worms. Roots will exploit those holes.
     
  4. devijvers

    devijvers Junior Member

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    The soils absorbs water very well. There's no drainage on this pasture. When it rains heavily some water or mud might remain for a couple of days but then it disappears into the soil. When there is mud it's very shallow, maybe a few centimeters deep.

    I'm still confused about the fertility. How can this soil be fertile and compacted at the same time?
     
  5. pippimac

    pippimac Junior Member

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    Hi Steven,
    It shouldn't bet an either/or: you can reduce compaction, get worms moving in and not lose organic matter. I'd try mulching an area straight onto the grass. Maybe cut it first, but just to make it easier. I've used cardboard or whole sections of newspaper straight onto grass, then piled on an enormous amount of bark chip. That was to kill running grass, which is very hard to get rid of. Does your grass grow in a clump that can be pulled out, or does it have 'runners' growing everywhere? Clumping grass is very easy to kill just with thick mulch. Perennial plants like dock and dandelion will have to be dug if you want them out. I'd get them out of the garden beds, but they're valuable plants, so I'd leave them everywhere else (I'd take the seed-heads off dock though).
    I made my beds about 150cm wide, edged with old timber, and just covered the native soil with about 15cm of seaweed, manure, grass clippings and straw.
    That's on a pretty small area though. What area do you want to improve? Whatever you plan, I recommend designing the whole place but starting small, practicing, getting it right before focusing somewhere else.
     
  6. devijvers

    devijvers Junior Member

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    The grass it not clumpy at all, in fact the grass is very thick. If I want to expose a small area of soil I really have to do a lot of effort with my hands to push the grass aside. The bottom section of the grass layer is very dense.

    I think @permup's suggestion makes the most sense to me: cut the grass and leave it to rot. What has happened over the past 10 years is that a local farmer has consistently cut and removed the grass. Obviously some mulch must have remained but probably not enough to prevent the soil from compacting.

    After 12 months I will probably be able to make the beds the regular permaculture way as you describe.
     
  7. devijvers

    devijvers Junior Member

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    I've done a more thorough survey of the pasture. I've cleared the soil at 10 different locations and found worms at 3 of these locations. They are small and white but they are definitely there. I've also smelled the soil at all locations, it smells very earthy so the organic content must be high.

    I'm still confused on how to get started with my beds. I don't think I'll need compost since the soil is fertile. I will need to do something about the compacted soil but I'm not sure what. May I'll plant some perennials that can deal with compacted soil. On other beds I can apply @permup's suggestion, no harm doing that.

    I'm also reluctant to dig out paths (and throw the soil on the beds). That soil is fertile and will loose its organic material. So I guess my beds will be pretty low.

    Is there any formal guidance on how to start a permaculture garden on fertile soil? Most content I found assumes your soil is horrible.
     
  8. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    There is an exception to every rule but you can be safe to say you can never have enough compost and organic matter. Nutrients and soil fertility are finite, you need to design, borrow, steal nutrients into and onto your soil as often as possible. Not only for plants but for soil life. Organic matter also holds a lot of your water too.

    Throwing down 6 inches of mulch and waiting will soften your soil at the bare minimum. You could try green manure, daikon radish, deep-rooted plants and n-fixers or a combination of all. Keyline plow on large areas, rocking a garden fork back and forth on small.

    Easiest is putting lots of organic matter down and basically burying your compacted layer for now, growing something on top and letting the roots and soil fauna that move in do the work.
     
  9. Pakanohida

    Pakanohida Junior Member

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    This is what I am doing, the easy way... and it works great with my heavy clay soil. I stopped tilling completely due to the clay. Daikon and clovers are amazing work horses along with my "Serfs" aka the worms I have added all over.

    After seeing Bill Mollison in this series, it became important to work my soil with worms from the top down.
     
  10. mischief

    mischief Senior Member

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    "White worms"????
    are you sure they are earthworms and not some sort of bug?
    I ask because I have never seen a white worm.
     
  11. devijvers

    devijvers Junior Member

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    Good question! I went back to the site and I could get hold of one little guy. It moved more like a caterpillar than a worm. It was coming out of the soil, I'm not sure caterpillars do this. However, I could find a real earthworm, so they are actually there!

    What I'm most confused about now is whether or not I should build beds. I know beds create more surface area and without beds I don't have much protection against the wind. But in this kind of soil digging beds is quite cumbersome. Also, digging is equal to tilling and will affect the fertility of the soil.

    I think I might have to come up with other means to break the wind than beds.
     
  12. eco4560

    eco4560 New Member

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    Have a look at No Dig Beds. Best of both worlds...
     
  13. relishproductionsinc

    relishproductionsinc Junior Member

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    Have you heard of the Back to Eden Process? It is very simple and excels at starting a garden in any soil. Simply lay down a layer of newsprint several sheets thick or cardboard for the more persistent weeds and cover with six inches of tree mulch, not bark chips but mulched branches and the like as can be acquired from a tree service, often for free. Do not till it in, simply allow it to sit over winter or for a few months to allow the grass and the like to die and decompose. Worms will be aplenty. When you are ready to plant simply furrow down to the soil and plant your seeds or seedlings etc and when sprouted recover the furrow around the plants with the mulch. Best of luck!
    Official website:
    https://backtoedenfilm.com
    Trailer:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGZ1Wy0WES0
    How to:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTQszGt54bI
     

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