Author Topic: Let's Talk Soils!  (Read 665 times)

reed

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Re: Let's Talk Soils!
« Reply #30 on: 2019-11-17, 07:24:59 AM »
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.
That's the theory I've always operated under and seems to work although I've never had a soil test.
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.... 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.
I think that is certainly true with wood chips. But it matters whether you work them in the dirt or not. Just on top as mulch seems to be OK but worked in the soil they seem to have detrimental effect. Partly in keeping it muddy in spring and overly dry in summer. Letting them compost in heaps for a few years helps too.

We have these massive colonies of big red ants that make giant hills of loose soil free of rocks. I speculate at least some of it comes from deep down and might also have the decomposed bodies of old ants and whatever else they have discarded. In warm weather they will eat you up if you get close but on a day like today where it is below freezing in the morning and dry it is easy to get a truckload and I'v done that a few times over the years. 

Probably not a common thing that people use but I haven't noticed any detrimental effects, that's for sure. Any speculation on the qualities of ant dirt?

William S.

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Re: Let's Talk Soils!
« Reply #31 on: 2019-11-17, 07:34:01 AM »
Wood is sure not all the same. Small diameter branches habe more N. Eaten by insects it would be frass or insect manure. Composted, or attacked by fungal hyphae partially broken down it isn't such a N sink. Also matters how it is applied. If you till in pure fresh sawdust will definitely tie up soil N. If a distinct later, probably a denitrified zone where contact is, but then normal levels.

Would be labor intensive, but I bet if pure sawdust was mixed into clay subsoil and then topsoil carefully replaced it would improve subsoil structure, and the topsoil would retain most of its normal N.

Have an very old bark chip pile base. Rototilled it, and tried planting corn three years ago. Did not do well. Still taking up nitrogen. Planted favas two years ago and they did great. Then this past year grew a great patch of Cirsium arvense. Though the last was unintentional.

I bet ant hills have a lot of useful properties as the consistency is similar to potting soil. Lots of plant species have seeds with special attachments called elaiosomes that are for ants to eat. The ant takes the seed, eats the attachment, then discards it on its waste pile. Where it germinates on the ant compost heap essentially.
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

Andrew Barney

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Re: Let's Talk Soils!
« Reply #32 on: 2019-11-17, 07:49:40 AM »
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!

haha william, you are free to choose what material to use, but i would think the 700 Carbon : 1 Nitrogen ratio would be the last one anyone would want to use short term even with a legume planted as i would think the nitrogen would still be overwhelmed with excess carbon for the microbes to still eat it all up and none left for the plants. But for sure if anyone is going to use a source with such a high carbon source and low nitrogen source the best method would be to try and balance it with something that has excess nitrogen or at least a higher nitrogen to carbon ratio. i guess you could add synthetic nitrogen fertilizer if you wanted to. I wonder if adding nitrogen water to inoculated tree logs would speed up mushroom growth. I imagine they need nitrogen just like everybody else.

EDIT: Yeah i guess it depends if it is on top or tilled in. i wonder how much it robs if only on top.

But since we are talking nitrogen it seems that not all legumes are the same for nitrogen fixation either. Some apparently are better than others. I can't find a good chart right now but i know that some things like perennial alfalfas, clovers, and peas all have pretty good nitrogen fixing numbers, and although common beans do fix some nitrogen they have one of the lower numbers in the group. I think fava beans are pretty high on the list. I'll keep looking for a good chart, but if anyone finds one first, please post it. I did find a chart of which legumes like certain pH values, so that might be helpful. I think lupines are also high nitrogen fixers.

I didn't know until recently but i guess specific nitrogen bacteria and specific mycorrhizal species associate with specific plant species. So if you try and inoculate with the wrong species it wont really work.
« Last Edit: 2019-11-17, 07:52:22 AM by Andrew Barney »

William S.

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Re: Let's Talk Soils!
« Reply #33 on: 2019-11-17, 09:36:47 AM »
Yeah, I actually did get the sawdust tilled in and it definitely reduced available nitrogen. However, Favas really do grow in the stuff and they don't seem a bit fased. The nitrogen made by root nodule bacteria really does go to the plant not the soil.

Just to double down conceptually. If you want the most carbon to add to your soil, you need the most concentrated source of carbon. It might not support plant growth in the short term. However, take my situation. I have some thing like 3 acres I can garden easily of my eight. My typical garden is 1/4 acre. So a 12 year fallow rotation is possible for me. I could spread sawdust and easily let it compost for three years. Or I could grow favas in sawdust amended ground till it has composted.
« Last Edit: 2019-11-17, 10:14:38 AM by William S. »
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

reed

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Re: Let's Talk Soils!
« Reply #34 on: 2019-11-18, 08:09:53 AM »
All this soils building talk got me motivated to get some of the partially composted wood chips hauled over to the gardens. I went ahead covered next year's corn patch with about a three inch layer of the more composted stuff but it is still probably too woody as is. Layer of old tomato and bean vines and other various stuff is under that. I also hauled over a couple hundred pounds of well composted chicken poo and stored in some big tubs under a tarp. 

Early next spring I'll rake that cover off into the paths to facilitate drying and warming of the soil and then mix in some of the chicken poo and put it all back as mulch between the rows, maybe toss a little of the poo directly on top of the planting area as well.  This corn patch is about 600 sq ft and I'm not sure of proper proportions so I'll go light on the poo at first and add more through the season if necessary.

I have several of these planting areas ranging from 200 sq ft to about a 1000 and have many times prepped them separately for different things. That's one reason I don't do soil tests, I figure any one spot might be drastically different than another. For example next year's tomato patch, currently in turnips and mustard will get some wood ashes this winter and maybe a little poo next spring.

Steph S

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Re: Let's Talk Soils!
« Reply #35 on: 2019-11-18, 02:44:04 PM »
I'm interested in the anthill idea.   I have a big one in my old (disused) vegetable garden.   The grass that grows on the anthill is really tough.  It's hard to get through it with a pick at the best of times.   Underneath has a very anthill look, with tunnels and stuff that looked like eggs or incubators to me.   I felt kind of leery about spreading it.   I should just do it now in the cold - maybe the 'egg looking' stuff will be gone.
That grass on top I call "thatch grass" although I don't really know what it is.  The soil underneath it always seems really dry and deprived.  I don't think it's a good thing to have around, but ants love it because of the great shelter it provides.   These ants are small and black, I don't really know what kind they are.  But I think they killed the apple tree that was growing near their hill.  Not nice.  >:(
I have another kind of ants that occupy my sunny compost piles in the summer.  They're half red and half black and they are quite fierce biters.  But they leave the compost in good shape and it's no trouble to clear it off in cold weather.    They got into the greenhouse one year and I was surprised how respectful they were and never bit me once...  they attack the other kind of ants (picnic ants/aphid ants) even though they're smaller.  I've seen them running along with a black one held over their head. :)
We've had trouble with carpenter ants as well - they did get into a wall in the greenhouse and were eating up the house.  There's a lot of dead wood around - or there has been, it was there near the house for nearly seven years after a hurricane blew a bunch down.  So reducing their habitat near the house is important to do. They do eat up logs like crazy but I've never tried composting their work.  They produce multiple queens (as in Night of the Living Dead Queen Ant Swarm of Terror) and I'd rather not disturb them when they might be provoked to do that, and then have to chase them out the house.  :o

reed

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Re: Let's Talk Soils!
« Reply #36 on: 2019-11-19, 08:27:11 AM »
The ant hills I occasionally mine dirt from are very large. They can be 5 feet across and 3 feet high. The top foot or so is very loose and finely textured. Below that it gets compacted and hard to dig in, I think just because it is older ad has packed down. Lots of tunnel holes are exposed but I've rarely seen an ant when collecting this soil in winter, they must live deeper down. It doesn't seem to bother them as the hill is quickly recovered with new loose material the next year.

Very little grows on the hills themselves, looks like because they just keep piling it higher and bigger, nothing has a chance. All around the base of it whatever weeds and grasses are bigger than those not near a hill.

I mostly have used it to mix with dry and green plant material to make compost and it seems to work very, very well for that. I just speculate there may be trace nutrients or other beneficial properties to it but stuff does grow good when the finished compost is worked in a planting bed.
« Last Edit: 2019-11-19, 08:30:34 AM by reed »

Steph S

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Re: Let's Talk Soils!
« Reply #37 on: 2019-11-19, 12:35:28 PM »
Well maybe I should feed the anthill to my compost ants then.  ;D

William S.

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Re: Let's Talk Soils!
« Reply #38 on: 2019-12-01, 03:51:04 PM »
Just asked a question in a new thread about soil nutrients. What do you think about micronutrients? If we add in particular fertilizers like Kelp meal (organic) or Peters 20-20-20 with micronutrients (conventional) does that do anything for us nutritionally and help us grow nutrient dense foods?
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