Author Topic: Let's Talk Soils!  (Read 667 times)

Steph S

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Re: Let's Talk Soils!
« Reply #15 on: 2019-11-16, 09:49:17 AM »
I've been thinking a lot this year about moving towards something like your 'hugel-compost' , Richard, just to try again to diversify into some deciduous trees and/or anything that bears fruit or nuts to improve habitat quality for human and others.   The organic forest soil here is thin and very acidic basically made of conifer needles that break down really slowly - not abundant enough nor very useful for soil building.  But the Balsam Fir which is our weed tree has a very soft wood that breaks down fairly quickly - it is not useful to build anything because of that, but it definitely has potential in a hugel-compost situation.  For vegetable gardening I've just been building raised beds mainly of compost made from weeds, kitchen scraps, herb straw, kelp.   It would take longer to get some sticks to compost, but that would be fine for a tree planting situation at least.
Our patchy orange clay soil is rich in iron and manganese and calcium deficient, pH 4.  Besides that we have rock a plenty.  And some white clay my Dad called "pug" in places with standing water.   It's not unusual to see a tree blow over and there's nothing under it but large rocks and a little pug (which is as useless as rock for any agricultural purpose).  My first vegetable garden here (presently disused) was started in the clay... I dug in all the organic matter I could get year after year but it never really got to the point of being optimal.   I am planning to revive that patch though, and see what I can do to build it up.   Even building compost on top of it is one way to go, and let it slowly work its way down into the clay as a subsoil.

Richard Watson

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Re: Let's Talk Soils!
« Reply #16 on: 2019-11-16, 12:12:00 PM »
William -  When we bought this block of land I picked out where I wanted the garden, but it was infested cooch grass, having had previous deals with cooch or as we call it twitch I decided that best thing to do was bury it below the subsoil, I used two wheelbarrows and worked in half metre square sections, top soil in one, next layer in the other, dump the twitch infested soil on the bottom, half a load of rotten sawdust and subsoil on top. I worked square at a time in all four directions and ended up with a garden size of 750 sqm or 2,250 square foot.  The soil depth before preparation ranged from 20cm-8in to 15cm-6in but the under laying layers ranged from 100% slit to silty sand, so this was the what i had to start growing in 18 years ago. I ended up only having two single shoots of cooch come up but they soon died once pulled out a few times. The bed seen in the photo that's currently in maize I got a bit carried away and did three layers instead of two, the top soil ended up about metre deep and what ended up on top had no humus, 100% silt, as you can see in the other photo through no digging and only chop and drop with compost on top the soil structure is not to bad these days.

Changeable year round climate with warming winters - just under 500mm average yearly rainfall. 20 years of soil improvements plus sub soil top soil reversal means my garden beds are about half metre deep. Below that is 100's of metres of alluvial out wash from the Southern
alps.

Richard Watson

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Re: Let's Talk Soils!
« Reply #17 on: 2019-11-16, 12:23:47 PM »
Steph- white clay is something I think we dont have in the country. The Balsam Fir sounds like the Pinus contorta which is the weed tree I use, doesn't have much of a heart wood and is liked by our native https://www.ecosia.org/images?q=huhu%20beetle  they make short work of the logs and a lot of what goes in the compost is huhu poos, and our dogs loves eating the grubs when i'm smacking the logs apart.
Changeable year round climate with warming winters - just under 500mm average yearly rainfall. 20 years of soil improvements plus sub soil top soil reversal means my garden beds are about half metre deep. Below that is 100's of metres of alluvial out wash from the Southern
alps.

William S.

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Re: Let's Talk Soils!
« Reply #18 on: 2019-11-16, 02:07:00 PM »
Pinus contorta is native here in Montana at somewhat higher elevations than here which is the Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) and grassland elevation zone. Here its logs get used for lumber, wood products, and fire wood. I can buy generous loads of conifer bark and sawdust though and do use it in my garden. I've thought that a good way to do soil improvement with that would be to buy a load of sawdust/bark and a load of sand, and mix them together as a mulch layer. If mixed with the soil I know at least Fava/broad beans will grow in it and if added as a unmixed layer I think most plants should be able to get their nitrogen from the topsoil layer beneath. Another thing to do would be to spread the sawdust/bark/sand mix on fallow land and let it compost for a couple years before planting a garden there.

Here true fir Abies species grow at higher elevations. True balsam fir Abies balsamea grows in the northeast and in the boreal forest to our north. We have Abies lasiocarpa and Abies grandis here at higher elevations although my mother always used the common name balsam fir for grand fir for Christmas tree purposes.

Richard being an agrostology geek is the cooch/twitch grass Agropyron repens as Google tells me? If so, we have that taxon here and other similarly rhizomatous grasses like Bromus inermus and they are obnoxious in my garden especially as pocket gophers and voles harvest the rhizomes and store them in tunnels underneath my garden beds over the winter.
Western Montana garden, glacial lake Missoula sediment lacustrian silty clay mollisoil sometimes with added sand in places. Zone 6A with 100 to 130 frost free days

Steph S

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Re: Let's Talk Soils!
« Reply #19 on: 2019-11-16, 02:52:24 PM »
Our Balsam Fir is the Abies balsamea, and you're exactly right, it doesn't seem to have any heartwood at all.  I'm not sure what role beetles play but they often have blue stain in them when they go down - Chlorociboria or similar fungus which is often associated with specific bark beetles.  We had a real infestation of bark beetles some years ago when it was unusually dry for several years, what was notable was the number of larches (Larix laricina) they killed especially the big mature trees, and these also had major blue stain in them.  It is a much harder wood than the fir, golden and orange hearted, but tends to have a twisted grain so it's difficult to work with.  I have seen rotting stumps of these that had practically gone away to powder, and looked a lot like our reddish clay at that point.    The spruces (we have Black and White Spruce) are the ones I would use for structure you want to last awhile, they are quite resistant to decay.  We did have native pines here, but they were wiped out before my time - apparently they were all cut for lumber which was shipped out to Britain in the early settler days, and never regenerated. 
I have some nut pines that I started quite a long time ago, and are surviving but still small.   They need better sun and soil than I've given them.

Richard Watson

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Re: Let's Talk Soils!
« Reply #20 on: 2019-11-16, 03:29:00 PM »
Agropyron repens is the most invasive of the two types I have here, there's another finer leaf type that forms a dense mat of foliage, has thinner rhizomes also
Changeable year round climate with warming winters - just under 500mm average yearly rainfall. 20 years of soil improvements plus sub soil top soil reversal means my garden beds are about half metre deep. Below that is 100's of metres of alluvial out wash from the Southern
alps.

reed

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Re: Let's Talk Soils!
« Reply #21 on: 2019-11-16, 03:59:43 PM »
We have about a million kinds of annual and perennial grasses. In my old garden where I have improved the soil for years they are all pretty easy to just pull up, even Johnson grass.

There is one however that has to be dug up or heavily mulched. It has rather wide leaves and grows almost horizontally and puts down new roots along the stems. It often has a bluish tint and is rather pretty. Even it's seed stems grow out at an angle rather than vertically. No clue what it truly is but have to stay on top of it that's for sure.

Also lots of a weed we call Creeping Charlie, I think it's real name might be Henbit. And loads of Purslane. I used to fight them both but years ago discovered if handled right they are more beneficial than harmful so now we all just get along. 
« Last Edit: 2019-11-16, 04:10:59 PM by reed »

Andrew Barney

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Re: Let's Talk Soils!
« Reply #22 on: 2019-11-16, 04:13:16 PM »
There's some good soils discussion going on here! Keep up the interesting conversation!

From what i'm learning in my classes it seems that the general trend is that adding organic matter of any kind will help improve any kind of soil over the long term. Whether it does not hold enough water, whether it is too salty, whether it is too basic, whether it is too acidic, etc.

But, i am also learning that at least in the short term for vegetable gardens not all organic residue is equal in terms of nitrogen availability. And it seems that if you add in organic material that has too high of a carbon versus nitrogen ratio the microorganisms in the soil will actually rob the nitrogen in your soil for decomposition and cell growth and you will have none for plant availability or plant growth. So, in that regard it may be worth watching what inputs you are putting in (wood chips) and whether or not you are aiming for a long term decomposition or a short term decomposition.

Here is some info and pictures from some of my teachers slides. Photo sources might be from here, but i'm not entirely sure. (References: Barbarick, K.A. 2008. Lecture Notes for Introductory Soil Science, 9th Ed. Barbarick. K., K. Doxtader and J. Ippolito. 2010.  Laboratory Manual for Introductory Soil Science ,10th ed.)



Andrew Barney

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Re: Let's Talk Soils!
« Reply #23 on: 2019-11-16, 04:15:31 PM »
And here are some tables of some general C:N Carbon to Nitrogen ratios.

There is also an attached PDF with some useful information about this topic.

Here is some info and pictures from some of my teachers slides. Photo sources might be from here, but i'm not entirely sure. (References: Barbarick, K.A. 2008. Lecture Notes for Introductory Soil Science, 9th Ed. Barbarick. K., K. Doxtader and J. Ippolito. 2010.  Laboratory Manual for Introductory Soil Science ,10th ed.)

William S.

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Re: Let's Talk Soils!
« Reply #24 on: 2019-11-16, 05:09:04 PM »
Yes! I need the 700/1 C:N ratio material. Best bang for the buck, the Vicia faba will add in the rest of the N for free. Free Nitrogen is in the air!
Western Montana garden, glacial lake Missoula sediment lacustrian silty clay mollisoil sometimes with added sand in places. Zone 6A with 100 to 130 frost free days

Steph S

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Re: Let's Talk Soils!
« Reply #25 on: 2019-11-16, 05:24:17 PM »
That's a very cool chart.   I never think about the carbon in manures but of course there is.  ;D
I've had my lesson about wood chips, especially conifer stuff.   Had some horse manure with a bit too much of the bedding in it.  :-\   Not a helpful soil amendment!   
Everything breaks down pretty slowly here because of the cool short season, so my 'hugel-compost' will strictly be a long term project to create some soil for trees and shrubs.
Grasses really are the worst weeds in the garden!   But very useful for building new soil.   Turning sods into potatoes is a trick my dad taught me.  :)

Richard Watson

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Re: Let's Talk Soils!
« Reply #26 on: 2019-11-17, 01:11:06 AM »
And loads of Purslane. 

Love Purslane, I have a bed of it that comes up after the Saffron had died down for summer, the two work well together, I add Purslane to salads

I wonder if that 400/1-700/1 for wood clips is still that high considering that most of my logs have been reduced to Huhu poos
« Last Edit: 2019-11-17, 01:23:21 AM by Richard Watson »
Changeable year round climate with warming winters - just under 500mm average yearly rainfall. 20 years of soil improvements plus sub soil top soil reversal means my garden beds are about half metre deep. Below that is 100's of metres of alluvial out wash from the Southern
alps.

Doro

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Re: Let's Talk Soils!
« Reply #27 on: 2019-11-17, 01:43:02 AM »
I also need that 700:1 ratio material ;D and chicken poop.
Mulching with barkchip is a wonderful thing.
Fun fact is that wood chip is a big no no in a cold climate. The soil takes forever to warm up under wood chip. It shortens the growing season for a month here. The finer it is the worse it becomes for gardening. Sawdust used to be popular to conserve lake ice until summer in the old times before freezers existed.
Bark chip is dark and warms up a lot quicker.

I have started a hügelkultur area as a long term project too. Kind of. It's will not be an actual hügel, it's an uneven hole in my property. I fill it with the unusable wooden stuff (branches, needles, rotten tree parts and occasional leafs) from making firewood. Half of the branches goes to coal production for the terra preta bed, the other half fills that hole and will eventually be covered with soil and become a berry bush and raspberry area. Another two years probably until it's filled.

reed

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Re: Let's Talk Soils!
« Reply #28 on: 2019-11-17, 01:54:36 AM »
The power company gave me a mountain of wood chips three, maybe four years ago. It's mostly still in the piles out by the mail box. Yesterday I took down part of the fences and started moving it over to the gardens.

One pile was chipped up in winter and is a year older. The other was done in spring after the trees had leaves and also they had upgraded their equipment which made a finer ground product. That second one is almost not wood anymore, just loose black stuff. I'm putting the more woody in paths and the black stuff in convenient piles to use as mulch in the grow beds next year. 

(add) I don't remember how many truck loads I got but they were doing a major power line clean up and I ran out of room. They dumped at least fifty more in my neighbors unused pasture and I have permission to get it from there too. I'll never run out.
« Last Edit: 2019-11-17, 02:14:21 AM by reed »

reed

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Re: Let's Talk Soils!
« Reply #29 on: 2019-11-17, 02:07:43 AM »
I wonder if that 400/1-700/1 for wood clips is still that high considering that most of my logs have been reduced to Huhu poos
I bet the Huhu poo is good stuff. We have some kind of worm critter that lives under the bark of seasoned firewood, especially black locust. I save the powdery material that forms as I bring in wood though winter and use it in my seed starting mix. Don't know what it actually is but every thing seems to like it.