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Soil nutrients - how to avoid robbing Peter to pay Paul

Mike Turner


Joined: Sep 23, 2009
Posts: 154
Location: Upstate SC
    
    1
One of the things we all try to do for our permiculture gardens is increase the amount of nutrients in our soil, often by importing hay, leaves, or manure to compost and add to our soil.  But isn't this just robbing the nutrients and potential productivity from another parcel of land to benefit our own.  Organic matter we can generate on our land via green manures and soil nitrogen via nitrogen-fixing green manures, but how can we increase the levels of the other elements needed by plant life in major, minor, or micro amounts without robbing another piece of land of its nutrients?  The main source of these elements is from the slow decompostion of the bedrock that underlays your soil and a small amount comes in with rainfall, but both of these are very slow processes for increasing the nutrient levels in the soil.  I have a few ideas about solutions to this problem, but will wait to see what the experts have to say on the subject.
                          


Joined: Apr 02, 2010
Posts: 6
Location: Northeastern USA
doesn't bracken (ferns, I think)  create something similar to pot ash and distribute it to the soil?
Aljaz Plankl


Joined: Feb 18, 2010
Posts: 310
    
    4
Living habitat that goes full cycle is my ultimate goal.
Matt Ferrall


Joined: Dec 26, 2008
Posts: 555
Location: Western WA,usda zone 6/7,80inches of rain,250feet elevation
    
    4
Thanx for bringing this up.Taking from one place to subsidize another is totally unsustainable.Growing and accepting plants that do good where you are at is the best solution.Moving stuff around has developed as a technique in civilized cultures.eventualy they deplete the resource base (or switch to oil/coal)as the caloric return on such activities is negative.Dynamic accumulators are a great way to take inorganic minerals and transform them into an organic available form.I have debri piles within throwing distance of wherever I am working so as not to take too much from one spot.I like to think the worms and mushrooms redistribute the wealth and I never have to stand up to haul stuff.Pulled weeds are my compost but I dont have to have a `pile`.When people ask me if Im weeding,I say "actually fertilizing".Its annoying when people say how great their garden grows but then you find out they are importing nutrients(often lost in the tansaction like importing hay for their animals then using the poop like its a local product)


There is nothing permanent in a culture dependent on such temporaries as civilization.

www.feralfarmagroforestry.com
Jordan Lowery
volunteer

Joined: Sep 26, 2009
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
    
  11
you cant as far as nutrient go, its just the natural way and its impossible to create most things out of thin air( though some you can). even in nature elements move from area to area around the globe. transported by animals and the weather. deserts become forest over time and forest becomes desert. it happens a lot slower in the natural system but it does happen.

this question used to plague me all the time, until i realized it has been happening for thousands, millions and even billions of years in one way shape or form.


The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings. - Masanobu Fukuoka
Matt Ferrall


Joined: Dec 26, 2008
Posts: 555
Location: Western WA,usda zone 6/7,80inches of rain,250feet elevation
    
    4
One major reason soils become depleted is because the biomass is shipped off the space so if your just subsisting and your waste goes back into the system,you should be able to create a system that is somewhat self sufficient fertility wise.I have nutrient poor soils but with proper guild planting,dynamic accumulators,and the minimal outside inputs provided by my poop,birds eating insects (attracted to my isectary plants)and pooping,road kill scraps,I feel like I wont need many outside inputs.I must admit to adapting my diet substantialy to such an endeavor wich rules out many annuals because they have been bred for high fertility.Lifestyle change is usualy the most efficient change a person can make on the path to sustainability.
Mike Turner


Joined: Sep 23, 2009
Posts: 154
Location: Upstate SC
    
    1
A quick history of my local soil provides an example of the nutrient situation that some of us face.  Here in upstate SC, the soils originally supported a mostly broadleaf forest and the soil was a gray clay-loam.  It was chock full of organic matter and had its full complement of the major, minor, and micro elements required for plant growth.  These elements had originally been liberated by the decomposition of the bedrock underlaying the soil and was kept recycled with minimum loss by the continous forest cover and fallen leaf cover on the soil.  Well, along came the settlers, who cut down the forest and planted cotton.  The soil was left bare during the winter when the cotton wasn't in place and was kept weeded during the cotton's growing season, leaving lots of bare soil exposed to the elements.  The hot summers quickly oxidized away the organic matter in the soil, converting it to red clay, and soil erosion washed away much of the remaining  topsoil.  Since the major, minor, and micro elements weren't tied up in plant material for much of the year, the rains steadily washed them away (they eventually ended up in the oceans), leaving a red clay soil impoverished in many of the elements needed for healthy plant growth.  At this point the settlers cut down another stretch of forest for growing cotton and relegated this property to non-arable uses (pasture and second growth forest).

So here is where I came in.  Since my first job was to retrieve the elements lost to sea, I looked to that source to bring them back.  Seaweed, since it grows in a medium that has all of the elements needed for plant life, has incorporated all of the elements needed for plant life, so I started applying seaweed emulsion as a foliar spray to my plants.  This greatly improved their growth and greatly increased their resistance to pests such as the Japonses beetle.  That, combined with green manures (mostly managed weeds) has been converting my soil back to the gray clay-loam that is used to be. The way I see it, I am bringing home back some of the nutrients from the sea that originally came off my land.

My other efforts at building up the nutrients in the soil include setting up a purple martin colony uphill from my garden so their feces adds nutrients from the insects they catch over and away from my property.  I have also been intercepting some of the nutrients passing across my land, lost from land uphill from here, and which is on its way to the sea.  Some of these nutrients are caught in the muck at the bottom of my dammed lake, which I can dredge up and add to my garden soil.  The other source of intercepted nutrients and organic matter is on the uphill side of various fences on my property, which in 10 years have trapped and accumulated several inches to feet of leaves and topsoil along their lower laying stretches.

So hopefully eventually I will be able to return this soil's fertility back to some approximation of its original state and it will have the high fertility that originally attracted people to this area to grow cotton.
Travis Philp
volunteer

Joined: Dec 28, 2009
Posts: 951
Location: ZONE 5a Lindsay Ontario Canada
    
    8
Using human urine as a fertilizer is one way to contribute on a small scale. Oh how I wish I could set up a urine collection...

I think there is an aspect of off farm inputs that is being overlooked in this thread, which is that a lot of these are unwanted/unused by the people who had them before.

For instance, I know a farmer who's barn is about 1/5th full of old hay that he has no want or need for. Yes, I could try to convince him to use them in some way but the guy is probably not going to listen to a young upstart like me. He also doesn't want to deal with the raccoon poop on some of hte bales.

Also, think of all the massive manure piles out there that people don't use up. Such concentrations are extremely bad groundwater polluters and so I don't feel bad about taking some and spreading it on my land if the piles owner isn't going to use it up otherwise. Same with woodchip piles. There's a municipal woodchip pile a few roads from my farm that would be better used on my gardens than just rotting down in a big mound.

Bagged leaves/yard clippings are another example that comes to mind.

And yes, I would be using fossil fuels to collect these items but for the most part I do so on the way to/from doing other things like coming home from work, or errands etc. I also hope to produce my own fuel some day soon.

http://www.greenshireecofarms.com
Zone 5a in Central Ontario, Canada
                              


Joined: Feb 25, 2010
Posts: 63
Location: North West PA, USA
I try to make humus not compost. Compost isn't as stable as humus.


Jeff


Jeff Davis

Less is more...
Matt Ferrall


Joined: Dec 26, 2008
Posts: 555
Location: Western WA,usda zone 6/7,80inches of rain,250feet elevation
    
    4
I suppose if Peter is getting robbed anyway by someone else than a person could pay Paul without too much karmic.When you think about how much energy is wasted in our culture on other things ,its hard to care anyway.Peters been getting robbed for awile now and hes still alive so why stop now!
tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3080
Location: woodland, washington
    
  52
where I'm at, dirt was historically enriched by fish carcasses.  there aren't so many salmon around anymore or bears to drop carcasses in the forest, but using smelt in gardens is still relatively common.  roughly the same idea as using seaweed, basjoos.


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Joined: Mar 14, 2010
Posts: 41
Humanure has to be the #1 source because whether you are or you aren't 100% self-sufficient, you are still alive which means you are taking in 2,000 or whatever calories of food from SOMEWHERE.  If it's coming from off-site, then you are in effect importing organic matter as you go along "for free".  No trips to Home Depot necessary.  People understand this already with table scraps going into the compost or a worm bin, but not humanure.  Besides that, Sharon Astyk takes it one step further.  There are 6.7 billion people on this planet, and although the population is still going up, there is a steady stream of organic matter being wasted in the form of corpses.  Yep, you heard that right.  Soylent compost.  That is the final frontier in the circle of life, my friends.

Aljaz Plankl


Joined: Feb 18, 2010
Posts: 310
    
    4
"Ecology starts with shit!" my friend said. "Where, what and how you shit."

Really good points mos6507.
Paul Cereghino
volunteer

Joined: Jan 11, 2010
Posts: 844
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
    
  13
Absence of micronutrients can affect plant growth and reduce human health.  Oceanic sources for replacing micronutrients is a no-brainer if you can do it.  I figure we should be sourcing from as many waste flows as we can find.  This points to the potential value of soil test so you can be strategic about how and where you choose to dip into the flow of Peter's stolen goods in order to rebuild nutrient pools.  When we can no longer find Peter to rob then the game really begins.  Also... it points to maximizing primary production on site... absolutely essential if you are in a tropical climate were decomposition is zipping along.  Us northerners can get away with being sloppy because our bacteria take 5 month naps.


Paul Cereghino- Stewardship Institute
Maritime Temperate Coniferous Rainforest - Mild Wet Winter, Dry Summer
rose macaskie


Joined: May 09, 2009
Posts: 2134
basjoos idea of using the weed in lakes is good, as we get lakes too full of mutrients that run off from our highly fertilised fields usign the weed from them would  sort of right the over nutrients imbalance we have created were our rivers go.

      It true that there are people not using their organic matter and the first job is to get people aware of the healthier ways of treating land and so take all the stuff they don't want and show them what they could do with it.

    I think natures systems were pretty strong except bordering deserts and even there we h ave been pummeling them for centuries in europe and less time in america, it wasnot easy to do for them we have put our backs inot it for ages maybe the problem was that they were strong, they seemed incorruptible so we just did our damndest. This is all to say once we have restored a peice of land maybe we can produce from it and help some other bit of land handing out mulch in our turn we can take something from it we just can't smash it too hard.
      Jane Down, Somerset girl as i am in part, Somerset is lovely, Lady Muck the author of "Magick Muck" says you can buy as much peat as you want to mix with your manure, that there are big reserves of it and that there are still places where it is acumulating much faster than we can use it so in some parts of the world there is still more vegetation accumulating than we can handle and than the ground nedds though if humans really get into  something i bet they can do for anything.
  It is important to reflect on how strong these systems can be, it gives hope when trying to better things again . You have to have a mixture of fear for the future and optimism to get people working enthusiatically. Like at the moment it s terrible but a bit of work makes thigns go very well, it is well worth trying, the rewards will be great. I believe that is so i am not just saying it to build up those who try, though I also believe in building them up. agri rose macaskie.
rose macaskie


Joined: May 09, 2009
Posts: 2134
Paul Stamets in his book Mycellium Running says something about the mycellium of mushrooms absorbing the carbon that gets released into the soil during the breakdown of organic matter, you can see how absorbent mushrooms are. If you have lots of fungi hypha in the ground to reabsorb the carbon as it gets released that must help to keep carbon in the soil.
  I believe that humus has to start as normal compost sort of humus on the way to turning into scientist humus i don't know how you make sure that more of it turns into scientists compost and less back into gass and water. some part of scientists humus is made of tiny microscopic bits on insect shell mite bits and such so how important is microbial life in the soil for creating scietists humus?
    they say that vegetable matter turns into humus scientist humus more in bogs than on dry land or less carbon gets out gassed again but then there is a lot of methane in bogs and that is a worse green house gas than carbon dioxide so i don't know how that all adds up. agri rose macaskie.

   
Travis Philp
volunteer

Joined: Dec 28, 2009
Posts: 951
Location: ZONE 5a Lindsay Ontario Canada
    
    8
I live in the 'City of Kawartha Lakes' and have a cottage on the water. This gives me access to a lot of lake weeds which I suppose would be similar to sea weeds in their phosphorus and micronutrient content. Most of the growth is due to human use of septic systems and dish soap containing phosphates so its a way to keep the cycle closed in a more beneficial way than a lake full of milfoil
Wyatt Smith


Joined: Feb 19, 2010
Posts: 111
Location: Midwest zone 6

My personal favorite is mob grazing.  This increases soil life incredibly fast.  You have to see it to believe it. 

http://www.holisticmanagement.org/index.html
rose macaskie


Joined: May 09, 2009
Posts: 2134
  Mangudai I dont know what mob grazing is but i like the photos of the sight you have given, it is incredible to see the sight before holistic farming al dry and bare and a year after already much improved, it make trying seem worth it.
By the way what is mob grazing and what is holistic farming, I suppose holistic farming has many points in common with permaculture as all modern methods are influenced by each other.  agri rose macaskie.
Joel Hollingsworth
volunteer

Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
A couple sources I've read stress that deepening the topsoil helps in several ways. Some of the nutrients that leached out in the past are still lodged in the subsoil, and can be brought back into circulation. Also, the soil ecosystem can speed the decomposition of native minerals.

There are also some flows and stockpiles of nutrients that are moving anyway, and might otherwise be wasted. Spawning salmon, migrating birds, and erosion from neighbors have already been mentioned. Byproducts of quarry operations (especially "fines" are reportedly a good source of trace nutrients. There's also a lot of calcium (both silicate, as concrete, and sulphate, as gypsum), iron, and zinc that goes to the landfill as demolition waste, and industrial cultures' waste stream includes smaller amounts of just about every other element, if you know where to look.

In the extreme long run, including some ocean products in your diet, and maybe importing a few byproducts of food harvested from the ocean, should be enough. But while unsustainable practices are so widespread, I think it's a really good idea to rescue some fraction of what they're wasting.


"the qualities of these bacteria, like the heat of the sun, electricity, or the qualities of metals, are part of the storehouse of knowledge of all men.  They are manifestations of the laws of nature, free to all men and reserved exclusively to none." SCOTUS, Funk Bros. Seed Co. v. Kale Inoculant Co.
tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3080
Location: woodland, washington
    
  52
Joel Hollingsworth wrote:
In the extreme long run, including some ocean products in your diet, and maybe importing a few byproducts of food harvested from the ocean, should be enough. But while unsustainable practices are so widespread, I think it's a really good idea to rescue some fraction of what they're wasting.


you're right, of course.  just have to make sure we don't end up becoming advocates of wastefulness while we're reaping its benefits.
 
 
subject: Soil nutrients - how to avoid robbing Peter to pay Paul
 
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