Sheet mulch planting time frame, and sandy soil improvement

Discussion in 'Planting, growing, nurturing Plants' started by NJNative, Dec 12, 2011.

  1. NJNative

    NJNative Junior Member

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    Hey folks,

    I had two questions regarding sheet mulch, one of which I'm sure has been asked a million times.

    The first is regarding the time frame in which it will be able to be planted into. I've heard varying reports. Some people say you can plant into it immediately, others I've heard say you should let it decay for a bit. If I were to lay a sheet out in January or February (assuming there's not snow on the ground, and also assuming I can get the materials together), that should be enough time, correct? If it's not possible to do that early, if I were to wait till march or april, would that be too short of a time for it to be ready for planting? I would think that the material laid down is not decayed enough, and would result in poor plant growth, and possibly even plant death. I'm not sure though, so your thoughts/experiences on this would be helpful.

    The second question requires a bit of a backstory. I will be doing this sheet mulching on my parent's yard, which is almost 100% sand, since they live close to the beach. I was able to do liquid sedimentation to confirm this percentage, but have not been able to get nutrient/pH tests done yet, although that is high on my list of things to do, and will definitely be done before I do the sheet mulching so I know what amendments to add into the mix. What I'm wondering is if I should do some double digging of aged manure/compost/leaf mold before sheet mulching, since the soil is so poor, or will sheet mulching be enough to improve the soil? I don't want the nutrients that I add to immediately leach away, so I'm thinking the incorporation of high CEC humic material dug into the first foot of existing sandiness would be beneficial. Your thoughts on this? Also, any tips for further improving this sort of poor soil, or is what I have outlined above sufficient?

    Thanks in advance for your input!
     
  2. matto

    matto Junior Member

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    https://rodaleinstitute.org/20090806/gw1

    Plenty of companies out there making stable spores of mycorrhizae available, and make use of when planting new trees/shrubs/perennials. A layer of biochar will also aid nutrient catchmentin the soil profile.
    Sheet mulching is done at most permablitz' now and they have done well over a hundred in Melbourne and are still happy with the technique. I guess there could be problems if it gets too hot close to plants, but preparing over winter can only help (maybe too late now).
     
  3. Pakanohida

    Pakanohida Junior Member

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    A lot of that depends on what part of New Jersey. The times to plant are different for people near Lake Hopatcong off of I-80 vs say the people down by Wildwood (Southern Jersey Near Delaware) or even Teaneck (Northern Jersey) off of I-95. (Can you tell I know the state pretty well?) You have a lot of microclimates around you that impact this such as the amount of heat energy trapped by Northern NJ from say Elizabeth area towards NYC. I would check with the USDA or local nurseries with your current USDA climate zone, and being near the beach you have the added problems of winds & salt spray, even if a bit inland.

    There are things you can do to plant in Winter, however I know you are having also the most screwed up climate this winter. You haven't had snow since what... October and it is half way through January currently. However, I would advise against starting a winter garden of things like Fava Beans, beets, lettuce, peas, radish, spinach or turnips. You would be better off preparing for spring. Set up your beds with heavy mulch so that the winter storms (heh) or Spring ones will help break the stuff down into soil of sand & help to further your soil and in turn your production come time to start planting in & around April.

    Personally, I have always found double digging to be a waste of time. Sheet / lasagna sheet mulch and let the soil do its thing from the top down.
     
  4. tricycleacres

    tricycleacres Junior Member

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    I did a 80 ft sheet mulch bed in March (a couple years back), let it settle and brew until June when I planted into it (mainly transplants due to time and travel), each planting spot I bored a little hole using a gardeners awl and filled it up with some lovely finished composted I moved cross province with. The first year the yields were pretty good. The following spring all of the sheet mulch area was rich with diverse soil, worms and lovely black soil!

    My thought would be not to double dig, but if you have all of that nice organic goodness make your sheet mulch layers good and thick! Seems everyone (including me) is too skimp on a good sheet mulch.

    I too had really sandy soil, and my thought is to build the organics up without double digging.
     
  5. Grahame

    Grahame Senior Member

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    NJ, if your life depends on it, plant into it straight away by placing little pockets of good compost around the plants. If your life doesn't depend on it and you have some time, take the time to incorporate the organic matter into the soil. Allow it to rot, allow it to build the soil, keep adding compost, grass clippings etc into the soil. Continuously protect it with a mulch layer on top. Add a bit, cover it with mulch, keep it moist. Every week or so rake the mulch back, incorporate the old compost into the top layers of the soil (spade depth at the most), add a bit more and put the mulch back. When you have a nice chocolatey soil, then start planting.

    The longer you can spend building the soil the better. If your life doesn't depend on it, take the time.
     
  6. pebble

    pebble Junior Member

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    Location:
    inland Otago, NZ
    Climate:
    Inland maritime/hot/dry/frosty
    What is under the sand? I'd consider building raised beds. From what I've seen of gardening on sand is that organic matter just travels downwards and disappears. But it may depend on what is underneath the sand - if it gets solid soon you may not need to raise the beds.
     
  7. Pakanohida

    Pakanohida Junior Member

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    Honestly, in my mind if I went back to Jersey this is what I would do, with a bit of Grahame thrown in. Specially super sandy areas like Long Beach Island, or Sandy Hook.
     
  8. eco4560

    eco4560 New Member

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    Sorry I missed something - are we composting Grahame this week? I thought we were still working on Kimbo.
     
  9. matto

    matto Junior Member

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    Take one for the team, Grahaeme. Its all in good humus
     
  10. Pakanohida

    Pakanohida Junior Member

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    I cannot confirm nor deny events that may or may not have taken place, nor / or may take place in the near or distant future. MUAH HAHAHAHAHAHHAHA
     
  11. Grahame

    Grahame Senior Member

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  12. NJNative

    NJNative Junior Member

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    Thanks all for your replies.

    This is great information! I already had planned on doing bacterial/mycorrhizal inoculations, but now I will absolutely make sure it happens. Thanks!

    I'm not sure of the exact composition, how far down bedrock is, etc, but I believe there is a largely clay layer at the 3-4' level. This has been confirmed by both soil data maps and my personal experience as a kid digging holes in the backyard. It slowly turns from pure sand into a red/orange/grey/purple clay. Not sure what happens after that though, or how high the clay percentage is in this layer. From my experience with gardening in it so far, it does not have very much of an impact on the rapid drainage and organic matter decomposition that is characteristic of sand soils.

    In any case, I've recently realized that Hugelkulture would be a perfect tool for dealing with the drainage issues of sand, creating a highly absorbent layer and nutrient/humus bank. I plan on digging to around where the clay layer starts and building the bed up from there, replacing the sand I've dug in various mixtures of compost, lasagna layers, etc. What I'm unsure of is whether I should make every bed hugelkulture, or only do it for certain beds, like melons, tomatoes, and other extra thirsty things. Advice on that?

    After I do the hugelkulture beds, I plan on mixing up the sandy soil I've displaced with mushroom compost/composted manure, and then making a lasagna bed/instant garden bed ala geoff lawton in "permaculture soils" on top of that mixture to protect it from rapid decomposition/sun.

    Overall, I will be taking into consideration/utilizing all of your ideas, i.e. raised beds, lasagna mulching, mycorrhizae and mineralizing/nitogen fixing bacterial inoculations, etc, but in the main kitchen gardens, will be doing hugelkulture as well, since those areas require the highest levels of watering. For the less managed forest garden areas, I will be looking for plants that are naturally tolerant of moderately/highly sandy soils, so that the effort in establishment and maintenance will be minimal, and hopefully the improvements I make to the soil will increase their success rate and yields many fold. Of course I will have nitrogen fixers as well, so maybe as a later on addition to the plantings, once the soil has been substantially improved, I can add more nutrient demanding perennials, shrubs, and trees, but at this stage, I'll be sticking with the tougher species.

    Your thoughts on this plan is yet again appreciated.

    A couple other questions that have been pressing on my mind:

    1.) I would like to create a pond to add to the microclimate aspect, but again, our soil is extremely sandy. I've seen the video of Sep Holzer making ponds without using plastic. I know that there is some way to do this in our soil types, because there is a large man made lake near our house, as well as a number of cranberry bogs out in the pine barrens, but I'm wondering if anyone has any suggestions for making a pond in highly draining soils without the use of plastic liners.

    2.) Anyone have any or know where to obtain a list of sand tolerant species? I know there are many perennial flowers and a few edible berries that are adapted to sand, but I have yet to come across any sort of a comprehensive list.

    Thanks again for your help!
     
  13. Pakanohida

    Pakanohida Junior Member

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    Try contacting the visitor center at the Gateway National Recreation Area (Sandy Hook) during summer about your 2nd question, other then that, I don't remember any edibles from the beach habitat other then maybe coastal strawberries.
     
  14. Joel

    Joel New Member

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    I've always been happy with the results of commencing planting straight away with rootstock/transplants and decent sized seedlings. It's essential, as Grahame said, to add a couple of handfuls of good compost (or worm castings) with each of your plantings - this provides soil organisms, nutrients, water holding etc, giving them support as they settle in. If you don't have compost/castings ready, you would need to import some in. The beauty of this is that you very quickly get lots of green leaves capturing sunlight, feeding your biology and doing the soil building for you.
    If you include in your sheet compost ingredients some old pumpkin and melon scraps, bean seeds and sweet potato and potato tubers (whatever would normally grow well there in spring), the big seeds and rootstock will often push through your sheet mulch as they germinate in that rich environment, giving your garden a head start.
    Re sand - I wouldn't double dig, sandy soils generally don't benefit from this as the main reason to do it is to open up the structure. I'd reiterate the main thing is adding lots of organic matter, an extra thick bottom layer of whatever organic matter you can get your hands on would be indicated. If the sand is as poor as it sounds, you may not get as good results planting straight away, but in my opinion it's worth a try if you have readily available planting material.
     

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