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ideas for useless 'fill' area

 
Sylvia Bloom
Posts: 4
Location: upstate NY
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Oh more experienced folk, perhaps you can help out this newbie to the forums... My husband and I bought a little under 14 acres in upstate NY (zone 5a) last year, and have been slowly owner-building a straw-bale house on it. Our first location failed the septic perc test, and before we moved cross-country to the land some contractors spread rocky, clay-y fill on top of a couple thousand sq ft. to "remedy" the test. And then we went and changed the location of the house, so now we have our own personal useless quarry of crappy fill dumped on top of our lovely south-facing pasture by the driveway. So, does anyone have any idea what we can do with it? It's a great location, and we were thinking of planting various trees there, but I don't want to kill them! All that's growing right now is some mullein, shepherd's purse, etc. Is there anything that doesn't care about those conditions? Should I give up and sheet mulch it or cover crop it? After tossing the money away to have it put there, we don't have the money to get rid of it... Our 4 year old named it "Rock Island"- here's a photo of the situation. (on the left is a Coleman style horse manure/haybale composter...)
rockisland2.JPG
[Thumbnail for rockisland2.JPG]
 
Hanley Kale-Grinder
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Location: Mountain West of USA, Salt Lake City
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How deep is the back fill?
 
Craig Dobbelyu
pollinator
Posts: 1208
Location: Maine (zone 5)
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forest garden hugelkultur
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It might be worth while to watch it for a year or so. Make notes of what grows there during the year and then try planting similar edible plants in place of the "weeds" next year. You could also try some cover crops like clover or buckwheat to get things going. As you add biomass to the rocky soil you have now you'll gain fertility and stabilize the ground for other long term plants in the future.

If the "topsoil/fill" isn't too deep you could probably plant trees right through it. They might be able to access the old soil that was covered up during construction.

I would also recommend a soil test to be on the safe side. That's always money well spent.
 
Cj Sloane
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Sylvia Bloom wrote: All that's growing right now is some mullein, shepherd's purse, etc.


The mullein just indicates disturbed soil. Plant trees. If you can build some hugelkulturs and plant trees on those, all the better.

But... might be a good idea to plant out the whole property.
 
Jeanine Gurley
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Location: Midlands, South Carolina Zone 7b/8a
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Just two days ago I watched a sepp holzer video where he talks about the rocks in the soil. He has planted pumpkins and all other sorts of things between the rocks and they benefit from the radiant heat and apparently some moisture? After watching Sepps video I would just tuck a bit of compost in with a seed and plant every thing.
 
Sylvia Bloom
Posts: 4
Location: upstate NY
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We think it's 8-10"? We can't see much of any vegetation, so he might have scraped off the top. (Ugh.) It was put there December 2010, we got to NY in June 2011 and then hoping to salvage some of it we asked the guy putting in the driveway in July if he could use some of the fill for the driveway. He tried, but he said it wasn't good enough, and in trying, of course, he drove all over it again- so it's been like this since then. We at least know that it came locally- from the land of a neighbor with horses just down the road, so it should be free of anything industrial. The ground is of course warmer and drier in this spot, because of all the rocks and bare soil. Do you think tree seedlings could get handle it? I can definitely drag some branches and other material out from around the property to dump there, maybe make little piles around where each seedling goes, to hold in some moisture. Any particular type of tree that doesn't mind- like pines vs fruit? I originally thought of building a bit of orchard guild there- great location-wise, but of course not so great if the soil conditions will be too bad for them, or if it requires more prep than there is time for before the trees show up late this month. If we're not planting there, then we have to dig out spots and put down mulch to kill the grass for the trees in the pasture, so of course, we haven't ideally planned and prepared the site in any case...

We're definitely planting all over! My husband is in the middle of a pdc course, but he's also the gen contractor/labor/electrician/plumber for the house project, and goes away on business a week or so at a time to try to earn some money as well, so we're totally overwhelmed... (Did I mention the 4 yo boy as well? We are new to life in the country and fairly new to gardening so the scale of acres is very daunting! We've got 100-200 seedling trees/plants coming, and I'm nervous about the timing messing up and accidentally killing them... I know life will be crazy this year, but since neither of us is working full-time, we are trying not too make anymore mistakes on too grand a scale (like flushing $5000 down the tube to dump fill on perfectly nice land!)
Here's a closer look at the ground of our personal quarry. Hey, I can save the rocks to make some more stone wall!

Thank you for your thoughts!
rockisland1.JPG
[Thumbnail for rockisland1.JPG]
 
Hanley Kale-Grinder
Posts: 112
Location: Mountain West of USA, Salt Lake City
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I would take all of the big rocks you can find/dig up and make large piles of rocks. This will act as a heat sink and create little microclimates. It will also provide habitat for lizards (not sure if you have those), spiders, and the like. As for planting trees, if you have other places with good soil, plant there first. I would jump on ever opportunity to lay down mulch, wood chips, leaves, and whatever else you can find. Maybe there is a tree trimmer or someone with a lot of horses who will bring a few dump truck loads of carbon. Plant annuals and pioneer species for a few years before risking trees (especially if you have other places to put trees). With diligence I think you should be able to rehab this spot in a few years time.
 
Jeffrey Hodgins
Posts: 166
Location: Yucatan Puebla Ontario BC
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I would run animals on it for a year and then see about planting stuff.
 
Brendan Getchel
Posts: 23
Location: North Alabama
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I'm a fellow newbie, so feel free to disregard this entirely, but...

Wouldn't it seem best to get some biomass in there? As much as possible, whether you do it "naturally" or artificially -- dump as much manure as you can acquire, or maybe truck in some tons of Leonardite, or some other high-carbon biomass that will get down in there.

Maybe run some heavy equipment over it to try and break and grind it up more as well. Then seed with some of this Organic Nitrocoated or something similar. It's pricey, but you're talking about a relatively small area, so $200-300 worth should do. Seed with a large varietal mix of hearty, nitrogen-inducing forage. That should establish a good sward that can spread over time and conceal your current eyesore.

Again, I'm newer than new at this, so this could be bad information. It seems like you're looking for a way to "beautify" that area with a relative minimum of expense and inconvenience. I would think biomass and a hearty, mixed cover crop / forage would be the quickest path to that goal.

 
Sylvia Bloom
Posts: 4
Location: upstate NY
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Thank you guys. I think I will combine a couple of suggestions- I'll pull the big rocks I find out to use for microclimates, get as much manure as I can tossed on there and try starting to build it again, with a green manure. But out of curiosity and to experiment, I'll also try the idea of trying something like the Holzer pumpkin or other heat-lovers idea with the handful of compost, just to see what happens! The trees will just go somewhere else in the meantime...
 
Cj Sloane
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Sylvia Bloom wrote:... starting to build it again, with a green manure. ...The trees will just go somewhere else in the meantime...


Plenty of nitrogen fixing, soiling building trees and shrubs to choose from:
Alder, Elaeagnus, black locust, Siberian Pea Shrub...
 
Brenda Groth
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Location: North Central Michigan
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there is a book ..old one, that I have on gravel gardening, and they really highly recommend gravel gardening..so you might check out and see what might grow.

planting might be difficult but prunus trees generally like gravelly soils, that would be cherry, plum, peach, nectarine, apricot, almond, etc...also possibly pear trees..lots of other plants like gravelly soil as well.

I'd try digging in the trees first..and doing a food forest around them..

around each tree make a habit of sheet composting ..using lots of mulch too, but leave a small space around the trunks of the trees so that they don't become mice nests and protect the baby trees really well..from chewing.

put in some spike plants with deep roots like diakon radish, swiss chard, if you like horseradish put it in but remember it can become invasive..also put in some nitrogen fixers and dynamic accumulators around and under each fruit tree..

you might make a hedge around of brambles or other berry bush/plants as a windbreak as well..

some ground covers that might do well are strawberries..

pick up this book from the library if you can find it:

American Weekend Garden by Patricia Thorpe
 
Hanley Kale-Grinder
Posts: 112
Location: Mountain West of USA, Salt Lake City
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Thinking about this again.... If you have 14 acres to work with, you could just dig some swales and pile up the rocks then observe/ignore it for a few years. Don't graze it and let nature do its thing. Why use all your time and resources on a piece of land that is going to be infertile for a while when you have tons of good soil to work with? Over time local plants will establish themselves and build the soil without any intervention on your part. Go for the low hanging fruit of already fertile soil in my opinion. Just a thought...
 
Paul Gutches
Posts: 88
Location: Taos, New Mexico
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This is what I plan to do with my land. I'm at altitude. 7k feet. And the temperature swings can often be 40 degrees + between day and night.

I don't have the luxury of having a lot of stones on the premises, but I have access to a few sources that I don't have to pay for.

I've also considered making my own thick blocks on the cheap by purchasing inexpensive gravel and sand and binding it in molds with thin cement slurry.

I've thought about doing this for Amaranth... and also have considered creating a faceted cup facing south to act as a heat trap, and grow the plant in the center of the trap. Kind of a solar concentrator, for certain trees that may be marginal where I am.

I'm curious if any one here has any real world data on just how much one can influence a microclimate in this way (using stones)... and how much one can hope to ameliorate temperature extremes.

What would you say is the best case scenario vs typical? 10 degrees?

Thanks

I can totally vouch for the general concept of stones. The darker and denser the better. Everything here does better when it is planted near stones.

I had Favas with bean flowers here on May 1 and some eggplant seedling varieties planted outdoors in a huegelbed with plastic cups over them surrounded by stones. They are doing just fine there so far, to my surprise. Normally you wouldn't dare plant a solanarum outside here until the first week of June at the earliest.


Hanley Kale-Grinder wrote:I would take all of the big rocks you can find/dig up and make large piles of rocks. This will act as a heat sink and create little microclimates. It will also provide habitat for lizards (not sure if you have those), spiders, and the like. As for planting trees, if you have other places with good soil, plant there first. I would jump on ever opportunity to lay down mulch, wood chips, leaves, and whatever else you can find. Maybe there is a tree trimmer or someone with a lot of horses who will bring a few dump truck loads of carbon. Plant annuals and pioneer species for a few years before risking trees (especially if you have other places to put trees). With diligence I think you should be able to rehab this spot in a few years time.
 
Sylvia Bloom
Posts: 4
Location: upstate NY
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As an update, I did a combo of things- planted a few mounds of pumpkin and squash, a couple trees (pecan), and left most of it alone. It's kind of like a weed specimen garden right now, with some of them flowering at more than 5 feet tall but separated from each other by gravelly "mulch"... Very pretty, actually (although I'll mostly cut them down soon, so the seeds don't invade the pasture- stuff like milkweed, cinquefoil, etc). I have some amaranth seeds- maybe I'll try planting them there and making some rock mounds around them! Part of the reason it's so appealing to fool around with this area is that it's right off the driveway and very easy to get to.
 
Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more ...   2016 PDC and Appropriate Technology Course at Wheaton Labs http://richsoil.com/pdc
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