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Restoring agricultural land

Patrick Storm


Joined: Jan 03, 2010
Posts: 38
Location: Malmö, Sweden
Hi

I've been looking for prime land for a while, but there is very little available here (south Sweden) so I started thinking of what it would take to buy land previously used by common agricultural practices, since it is much more widely avilable.

Obviously the soil has been heavily damaged by tilling and all sorts of "-cides", so my question is really if it can be "healed" well enough to set up a more sustainably producing lot (permaculture). What would you do? How would you eliminate recidual "-cides" in the soil? What would you plant?

Is it doable at all, or should such land be left well alone? I find it quite depressing if there is nothing one can do to heal such soil, after all we need to start reversing the damage that has been done, somewhere.

Patrick


There is no box.
Josiah Maughan


Joined: Apr 28, 2010
Posts: 42
Location: wellsville, utah
that is the whole aim of permaculture!

well, not the WHOLE aim.   the fortunate thing about -cides, is that they dont' necessarily stay in the soil. that's why it has to be reapplied.

the best answer for this is mulch. have you seen the "greening the dessert" video by geoff lawton on youtube? it's the same basic thing.

one thing that has had a lot of success to my understanding, is compost tea. it restores the bacteria, and bugs that are good for the ground. that mixed with actual compost should be wonderful.

also, keeping animals on the land does a lot. chickens specifically, because then not only break weed cycles, and pest cycles, they toss the mulch, and fertilize the land.
the best answer for this definitely is permaculture.
it has the ingrediants to fix it.

putting organic materials, and bacteria is step one.
planting plants that fix the soil is step two.
not just some that have  nitrogen, but "weeds" that will fix the soil as well.
eg: tapping roots for hard soil because they break it up.

the hardest part is spreading the mulch over such a large area. even if that "large area" is one acre. unless you use a tractor of some sort.
which is why chicken tractors are very good for this.
the problem with a chicken tractor, is it repairs the land so slowly.

my property right now what i've done is fenced it in, and raise a lot of chickens and a lot of rabbits. the rabbits eat what the chickens won't. i also sheet mulch the garden because i need it soon.

also, when i plant a tree where i don't think it would grow, i dig a huge hole, and fill it with organic material, then sheet mulch over it, then plant the tree... it's worked so far for all the tree's/vines i've planted...


good luck
Kirk Hutchison


Joined: Feb 05, 2010
Posts: 418
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Generally that land should be fine. Get the soil tested before you buy to make sure it is not contaminated by something not easily removable.


Paleo Gardener Blog
Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4432
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    4
i have been reforesting and reclaiming an old celery farm for the past 39 years..and i've made some really serious headway here..

You do what you have to do.

the rear part of our property had a small aspen woods on it..but where we put our home had only a couple of trees when we moved in, one large ash, one medium size maple, one large oak, 2 box elders that died and we cut down, one pear and 2 apple trees that were ant infested and had to be removed..and a few lilac bushes..that was it..all..

i have since reforested or reclaimed nearly the entire property..


in that photo you can see the one large ash and maple on the left that were original to the property..all the rest i planted myself from seedlings also one large oak from an acorn.

under all of that snow are perennial gardens..up closer to the house are more trees including a lot of dwarf fruit trees and we have now established a woods over about 5 acres of our rear property..you can see that area if you follow the link on reclaimin an old garden plot thread in this forum


Brenda

Bloom where you are planted.
http://restfultrailsfoodforestgarden.blogspot.com/
tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 2980
Location: woodland, washington
    
  49
regenerating degraded land seems to me to be a rather higher calling than starting with pristine and productive land.  it's not for everyone, but I applaud folks who tackle the challenge.


find religion! church
kiva! hyvä! iloinen! pikkumaatila
get stung! beehives
be hospitable! host-a-hive
be antisocial! facespace
Emerson White


Joined: May 02, 2010
Posts: 1206
Location: Alaska
Are you planing on bringing this land into better production, or taking it out of production? Taking even mediocre farmland out of production can have a detrimental effect from an environmental standpoint, encouraging some other farmer to cut down some wild land to grow the crops your farm is no longer making, possibly far away, encouraging a long haul to get the food to your country.

The best kind of farm land restoration happens using primarily biproducts and the land itself. It is a wash to take someone else's land and pay them to give you the goods from it, so you end up with good land and they get junk and cash.

Most abused farm land is carbon deficient, If you work in cover crops you will carry a little carbon in, if you work in some char you will take a lot of carbon in. Growing trees for biomass is a good place to start, grow them, cut them up, char them, and work them in. Add manure (especially from animals like horses, who do not digest food as completely) and you have a recipe for healthy soil in short order.
Paul Cereghino
volunteer

Joined: Jan 11, 2010
Posts: 839
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
    
  12
If you can obtain information about past pesticide application that would be nice.  My understanding is that the modern organo-phosphates tend to degrade faster, while clorinated hydrocarbons in some cases keep on killing.  I would be particularly worried about pre-emeregent herbicides used to supress weed germination in nursery or turf production situations which can be perisistant and supress seed germination.  The other worry is in old (pre 1960's ??) orchard or fruit growing sites, where heavy metals like copper or arsenic were still used for fungus control, and persist in surface soils.  If there are vehicle storage and filling areas, consider the potential for oil contamination (PAHs).

It could pay to do research, then targetted testing.  I have no basis for making recommendations for South Sweden...

Paul Cereghino- Stewardship Institute
Maritime Temperate Coniferous Rainforest - Mild Wet Winter, Dry Summer
Patrick Storm


Joined: Jan 03, 2010
Posts: 38
Location: Malmö, Sweden
Thank you my friends, for great answers.

I realize now that I should perhaps tell you more of the situation on conventional farming in my area.
The fields here are nowhere near as large as you all are probably used to. The entire 'province' is about as large as the city of Los Angeles in area, but around 80% of it is covered in fields and is the #1 food producing site in the country, and the the soil is quite famous for being especially productive. This means I could do far worse when looking for land.

My aim is to regenerate the land and make it permaculturally productive, primarily feeding myself and my family and secondarily provide a small income.

When I started looking on what sorts of horrors could have been sprayed on the land I was actually positively surprised to hear that Cl- based sprays have been banned for decades. GMOs are all but illegal and only one application for a GMO has ever been filed (GMO produce would never sell here and the application was for a bacteria with a luminescent gene to monitor it's prevalence on 3m[sup]2[/sup] of test area), so the sprays that would be used in conjuction with GMOs are not used. So the biggest problem I would have, it seems, would be persistant chemicals in the soil (that would have to have been there for decades), of which sorts I am unsure would still be prevalent but it seems highly unlikely they would be in anything but trace amounts.

Other than this though, designated farmland is just that. One may not use it for non-productive purposes, which is fine. I just hope the authorities will realize the potential of a permaculture plot as opposed to conventional methods. They are usually very conservative, but armed with the health-of-the-world argument I think I should fare well in persuading them, should it ever come to that.

If there is anyone here who is familiar with specific brands of -cides, below is a list of approved chemicals. It's in swedish but I think the brand names are universal. Far from all of these are used on fields, many are used in other industries and home gardens etc.

So, to compile a how-to and when list to your recommendations I should:

1. Test soil before buying (for Cl based HCs, PAHCs and germination suppressants).
2. Replant the bare soil ASAP. (I've got a good idea on this)
3. Heavily mulch with focus on carbon and bacteria. (what about funghi?)
4. Tractor chicken and rabbits.
5. Start setting up trees (long run producers)
6. Set up everything else and cycle.

Seems very sensible to me... Testing the soil should be no problem, and not very expensive, they encourage this sort of thing (I hear) to keep track on environmental targets. Regarding replantation of bare soil, my biology professors tell me meadow plants provide the most species rich habitat of all, so it would work as a jump start to the land. And then let the meadow stand an cycle itself while I prepare a smaller area at a time to whatever end it will have in the finished permacultural setup, and then go through the entire lot in this way. Of course I will leave areas of meadow in the final setup.

I wish I had my permaculture training already. There is a course here this summer but it's waaay too expensive for me to take unfortunately =(

Any thoughts on all this, or comments to my list will be met with open arms.
Thank you.


http://apps.kemi.se/bkmregoff/default.cfm
rose macaskie


Joined: May 09, 2009
Posts: 2134
So paul Cereghino if organo phosphates were the problem what would be your strategy and if it were chlorinate hydro carbons gthe same question. I suppose heavy metals like copper would need to have accumulators of this metal planted and be harvested and the harvests adequately disposed of. rose.
Emerson White


Joined: May 02, 2010
Posts: 1206
Location: Alaska
Unless you have wilson's disease copper in the field won't be a problem for your body. Radioactive heavy metals will however, also ashfall from a coal plant or volcanic eruption can deposit too much heavy metal on the outside of a plant for you to handle.
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
Emerson White wrote:
Unless you have wilson's disease copper in the field won't be a problem for your body. Radioactive heavy metals will however, also ashfall from a coal plant or volcanic eruption can deposit too much heavy metal on the outside of a plant for you to handle.


True, but some horticultural soils have gotten so much cooper over the past century that it will negatively affect plant growth. This is why Bordeaux Mix is usually prohibited by organic certification programs.

Copper toxicity often results in plant stunting, a bluish tint to leaf color, and leaf cupping followed by chlorosis or necrosis. When the copper concentration exceeds 150 ppm in mature leaf tissue, toxicity may occur. Cumulative copper applications of 100 pounds per acre have reduced cucumber and snap bean yields on sandy soils.                       

Copper is tightly adsorbed by most soils and will not leach. Therefore, once a copper toxicity problem develops, it may be very difficult, if not impossible, to alleviate it.     

http://web1.msue.msu.edu/imp/modf1/05209707.html                                         
Paul Cereghino
volunteer

Joined: Jan 11, 2010
Posts: 839
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
    
  12
I was mainly thinking about the answer being to detect a problem and to not buy the land.  I've never had to face living on heavily contaminated soil - and have come to accept a certain level of exposure because of the society I live in.

If I were trying to restore contaminated land for the purpose of feeding myself I suppose I would do lots and lots of real research, resulting in some selected professional consultations.  I would do plant tissue samples to see what kind of uptake was going on.  I suspect my response would be very specific to the compounds I had and their distribution in the soil.

I figure most organic compounds degrade most rapidly where there is intense biological activity and oxygen...or wash into groundwater... So add organic matter, meadow crops, ripping, etc.  And i'd test groundwater, and then filter (reverse osmosis or rely on rain if it is cleaner...)  I'd try more intense treatments on smaller areas where most of my food came from.  I'd avoid using animals which may bioconcentrate.

There are some folks developing mushroom-based remediation, as they are good and deconstructing complex organics, and have been useful for oil-based contamination (PAHs).  A local lab has been working with our local fungal superstars, Fungi Perfecti
http://www.battelle.org/environment/publications/EnvUpdates/Fall00/article4.html

I suspect arsenic is a bigger health problem than copper from old orchards and vinyards.  We have lead and arsenic plumes down wind of smelters around here.  Last time I checked the only arsenic accumulator was the tender Chinese Brake fern (Pteris vittata).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phytoremediation

Yuck.




                        


Joined: Jan 28, 2010
Posts: 175
paddy:  I would agree that a (1) soil test is the first thing you should do so you know what you have.  If there is a toxic situation, then you will have to decide if phytoremediation is worth your time/money.

The next thing to do if you buy the land is to (2) sit down with surveyor's copy of the site and start thinking what you want to do with it.  Site the house and then start zoning out to chicken yards and orchards, or whatever you want there.  Do you need to plant for wild life?
Make lots of copies for changing your mind down the road.

(3)  If you need to convert damaged land to production, the best and fastest way is to put in a sequence of cover crops.  Here --in the South US -- I am doing sunflowers then buckwheat then annual rye which makes a nice mulch for spring planting when it dies back over winter.  The best cover crops may be different for your area.

Do you need to privacy screening, shade, or protection from noise?.

Then you should familiarize your self with the native plants of your area and try to incorporate those into your plan.  Native plants are more likely to behave and rebuild some kind of ecological balance.
Fred Morgan
steward

Joined: Sep 29, 2009
Posts: 961
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
    
  11
Speaking of restoring land... we focus is restoring forest using plantations as an inbetween step. I said that to say this - often you need to have a long term plan, with in between steps.  Most of the trees of a mature tropical forest won't grow in a field (I have tried!), they need to have a nursery of fast growing trees - which just happen to be good plantation trees. So, we can pay off the land by growing the nursery trees and raising sheep at the same time to help keep the grass down. This results in a forest in say 30 to 40 years, instead of 300.

Think the same way - if you just left the land only, it would naturally regain its health, but it would be longer than you could wait (or perhaps even live) - so examine the process and then look on how you can accelerate it by human intervention.

Conceptually, this is what you are trying to do.


Sustainable Plantations and Agroforestry in Costa Rica
                        


Joined: Jan 28, 2010
Posts: 175
Fred Morgan:  I agree with your concept but I don't think he wants to have a tropical forest in Sweden.  (!)

I just have 3 acres here, but I wish after 15 years or so now, that I had done more visualizing and worked out some goals that could be accomplished:  Like a 2 year plan, a 5 year plan, etc.  Its always going to be a work in progress anyway, but goals are a good strategy.
Fred Morgan
steward

Joined: Sep 29, 2009
Posts: 961
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
    
  11
wombat wrote:
Fred Morgan:  I agree with your concept but I don't think he wants to have a tropical forest in Sweden.  (!)

I just have 3 acres here, but I wish after 15 years or so now, that I had done more visualizing and worked out some goals that could be accomplished:  Like a 2 year plan, a 5 year plan, etc.  Its always going to be a work in progress anyway, but goals are a good strategy.


Now why wouldn't anyone not want tropical forest....

My point is that you have to take a long view, and it might have inbetween steps.
                        


Joined: Jan 28, 2010
Posts: 175
Well, for one thing you can't get maple syrup from a tropical forest.

You are right, though, most of us don't spend enough time planning so there usually is a lot that has to be done over.  Its easier to throw away a sketch on paper than it is to realize you have planted the wrong plants and have to rip them out.
Nina Jay


Joined: May 19, 2010
Posts: 64
Location: Southern Finland, mean annual temp +4 C, rainfall 700 mm, growing season 180 days, clay soil.
Emerson White wrote:
Are you planing on bringing this land into better production, or taking it out of production? Taking even mediocre farmland out of production can have a detrimental effect from an environmental standpoint, encouraging some other farmer to cut down some wild land to grow the crops your farm is no longer making, possibly far away, encouraging a long haul to get the food to your country.

The best kind of farm land restoration happens using primarily biproducts and the land itself. It is a wash to take someone else's land and pay them to give you the goods from it, so you end up with good land and they get junk and cash.


Very interesting viewpoint, though I'm not quite sure I get it , can you explain a bit more?

We have a small farm, 3 hectares, in Southern Finland. I've just gotten started on the idea of permaculture and looking for ideas and views. One of our fields was rented to our neighbour who grew wheat on it. Last year we took this field back - the idea was to get more grazing land for our horses. So we had it sown with pasture plants (timothy, clover etc) last summer. Unfortunately I had to put my two oldies (the horses) down last autumn and I don't want to take new horses at this point in my life. So, I'm looking for ideas on what to do with all this land...

About this land that was on rent to the neighbour. Yesterday I planted two hazelnuts on one corner of this field. I just want to see if they survive there! It's a windy spot with the neighbours huge wheat fields adjacent to it. Anyway, when digging the planting holes I noticed the land was terribly compacted, digging it was a nightmare. Also I noticed the grass was not growing very well and there were bare spots and the surface of the (clay) soil was cracked in some places.

In your opinion, which is more ecological, letting the neighbour continue growing wheat on this badly compacted soil or me trying to restore the land and possibly grow something on it one day...?

Emerson White


Joined: May 02, 2010
Posts: 1206
Location: Alaska
Ninajay wrote:
In your opinion, which is more ecological, letting the neighbour continue growing wheat on this badly compacted soil or me trying to restore the land and possibly grow something on it one day...?


That all depends on the how. If you plant the field with green manures, then work them into the soil so it has organic matter and can hold nutrients and is not compacted and then grow a crop on it it will be better. However, if someone in your position took a marginal wheat field and turned it into an overgrown patch of weeds that seeds their neighbors fields and lowers their production while increasing their use of herbicides all while trucking in ecologically questionable soil amendments from far off places and healthy top soil from a farm on the other side of the district then there soil might be very healthy but the net effect on the earth would be negative.

Do you understand what I was getting at? 3 hectares isn't that much land, but there are plenty of people who think they want the "farm life" and buy up small farms at 60 acres (24 hectares) that were producing food or fiber and then give up on them, and let them turn into thistle farms, and buy their food from the super market. It's been a huge problem in England, people buying up hobby farms in the country side only to realize that they really love to watch television more than anything, then the land goes out of production and doesn't even go to restoring the natural state of the English countryside (which would probably be more work than running a farm) and some odd acres of Brazilian rain forest are cut down to make up the difference in food production.
Nina Jay


Joined: May 19, 2010
Posts: 64
Location: Southern Finland, mean annual temp +4 C, rainfall 700 mm, growing season 180 days, clay soil.
Thank you, Emerson White! Now I think I see what you're getting at. It's a very good point. I was thinking you meant that (applied to my case) the neighbour would go and cut down some forest to get more land but thought that's not going to happen for various reasons one of them being it's illegal in Finland to turn forest into farmland (at least it used to be at some point I'm not really up-to-date on farming legislation). But of course you had a broader perspective and indeed, if we do not grow enough food here in Finland it will be imported from somewhere and it can lead to deforestation somewhere else.
On the other hand, if I succeed in my goal to grow a significant proportion of our family's food then this will lessen the need to import food. I guess all depends also on how much I'm able to produce and what the farmer was producing before?

Yes, I agree that 3 hectares isn't a lot of land and whatever we do one this tiny plot will not make much of a difference, which is a relief.
But as an idealist I like to feel that what I'm doing would be sensible if it was done one a larger scale as well.
I had a huge dilemma with the horses re this. I mean, to use fossil fuels to grow hay for horses that are really just pets. And a horse eats A LOT, 10 kg hay per day per head is a standard amount fed here... This was not the reason I put the horses down (they were old and ill) but this is one of the main reasons I'm not planning on taking new ones. I love horses but the contradiction with my other values is jus too big 

So I guess it's an improvement from an ecological point of view that we now try to grow food instead of just using the land as pasture for horses that do not do much anything useful.

In under no illusion that it will be easy to restore this land. But we're used to working hard - keeping horses is a lot of work too!! - and do not like to watch tv that much 

                        


Joined: Jan 28, 2010
Posts: 175
Ninajay:  Perhaps you could convince your neighbor to rotate his wheat with some other crops that would restore the soil.  A summer crop of buckwheat for example would let a lot of air into that soil.  The best thing to do would be to leave the residue.  Perhaps he could just mow it when he wants to plant the wheat and plant his wheat crop in the stubble.

Another factor is going to be how much clay is in your soil.

Here is an article on soil compaction.

http://www.uwex.edu/ces/ag/issues/soilcompaction.html
Fred Morgan
steward

Joined: Sep 29, 2009
Posts: 961
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
    
  11
wombat wrote:
Well, for one thing you can't get maple syrup from a tropical forest.

You are right, though, most of us don't spend enough time planning so there usually is a lot that has to be done over.  Its easier to throw away a sketch on paper than it is to realize you have planted the wrong plants and have to rip them out.


And I think at times we try to be too complicated. I tend to look around and think, "what resource am I throwing away right now?" Then I try to make use of it somewhere.

                        


Joined: Jan 28, 2010
Posts: 175
Complicated is right!  Most people need to learn to edit their landscapes --- and their lives.

Maybe you would good person to ask this question since you are doing permaculture in the tropics.  As you know the permaculture 'food forest' model is based upon the tropical forest's tendency toward layering.

I grew up in the woods myself, but it is in the Northern Temperate forest--Northern Michigan.  It seemed to me our woods was more horizontally organized.  There were spaces of open meadow -- then groves of maples, or serviceberry along the edges.  And open spaces where only the bracken grows under open spaced pines.  Now our woods was used as pasture and it was regularly cleaned up by lumberjacks.  ( In those days--lumberjacks cleared out the dead wood and made room for the best trees -- they didn't clear cut).  But I think the temperate forest is of quite a different character than the tropical forest with respect to layering.

This is the north woods where I grew up:  http://www.wildlifegardeners.org/forum/feature-articles/3864-food-forest-example-northern-michigan-forest.html.

Do you have any thoughts on that issue Fred Morgan?
Nina Jay


Joined: May 19, 2010
Posts: 64
Location: Southern Finland, mean annual temp +4 C, rainfall 700 mm, growing season 180 days, clay soil.
Thank you, Wombat!
I don't know about advising the neighbour on farming practices... he's not exactly the type to take advice from "young city folk" like us  (We've lived here for two years now and before that in the city.)

wombat wrote:

Another factor is going to be how much clay is in your soil.



I don't know the exact percentage, but there is a lot of clay. To me it looks like it's clay only and nothing else, but that's of course not true.
There's also a lot of iron in the soil here.
Emerson White


Joined: May 02, 2010
Posts: 1206
Location: Alaska
Take a scoop of dirt and put it in a big jar, add water and shake the snot out of it, then set it down and leave it for a few days, come back and it should have separated out into layers of different materials.
rose macaskie


Joined: May 09, 2009
Posts: 2134
    If its clay your on there is an incredible article i can't find anymore on the internet but have kept on my desk top, by a person  from -www.Jahn.com.au/ - that is something i can find on internet i can't find the article any more. The article is of  "Future Designers" and called Mimicking Micro Climates Create Productive Ecosystems .
    It is about the Jimbour plain which it describes as having been a clay soil that was full oforganic material  and so the air spaces that plants need and clay soils don't normal have, and incredibly good at retaining and taking up rainfall and covered in good grass. it says grass can restore organic matter better than trees. It makes you want to get clay back to the old state of the jimbour plains in Australia before they were spoilt.
    It says that ploughing that shakes up the ground and too many animals, compact soils and lack of vegetable matter too of course. I am spouting off with out checking up on what i remember. rose macaskie.
        The article stuffs a lot of information in to a little space. I have had to read it often to get the information out of it, its dense like much poetry is.agri rose macaskie.
rose macaskie


Joined: May 09, 2009
Posts: 2134
  i think that Paul Stamets would put oyster mushrooms on land that had been covered in herbicides but it seems Paddy88 land is pretty good in that respect. Pual Stamets seems to think these mushrooms are very agressive and will digest almost anything. He probably has a  packet of a mixed bunch of fungi that would deal with herbicides and pesticides that you coudl buy from  his fungi perfectri business. 
      I have just seen a program about a man who decided he would make a garden in the Outer Hebredies where its meant to be impossible to garden, very cold with tremendous winds and he managed it.
    It looked as if he had made berms around the garden to hold the wind off and walls round plants within the garden. He said he had had to drain the soil which is bvvery wet there and it looked like there were some raised beds that would hold the soil off the wet ground. You are in Sweden which is Northerly isn't it, so this garden might help you.
  emerson white if you want to get the young who aer worth it you have to let them all try or you wont find out swhich ones really farm and which ones just let thistles grow. Permacultuer is meant to cut down work so that you can farm and whatch the television.
    Maybe thistles would better the land, you could keep donkeys to eat them. agri rose macaskie.
rose macaskie


Joined: May 09, 2009
Posts: 2134
Permaculture just says get lots of plants in, seven levels of plants, canopy trees, under canopy  trees, bushes, shrubs and ground plants, roots, carrots and such, and climbers.
    With the trees and other layers in you get protection from the usn in hot climates the prescribed permaculture mulch does that for the earth too, and under the muclh that geoff lawton put in in the deswert that made things damper he got fungi, mushrooms.
    In cold countries the trees would give protection from the frosts and from winds. Decidiouse trees dont give shade in wihnter some put them on the south of their houses to give shade in summer but to let the sun heat the house in wihter as they lose hteir leaves then.
  different sizes of trees means different depth of roots and the soil worked at lots of levels and water brought up from the depth to shallow roots that get dried in the sun. In a cold country they would increase drainage helping the waer find pahts into the ground.
  permackultuer teaches making swales that hold the water so it doenot run off the land in some places you need drainage not water retention.
they say you should put in lots of legumiouse plants bushes and trees to provide nitrogen an dsome animals to do likewise and to eat bugs hens or geese.
  hte large amount of vegetation an droots that alway leave some daed roots in the soil will also provide nitrogen. these are the ways permackulture tries to speed up recovering land.
  you plant a large variety of plants not monocrops in permaculture because of the nkjnown an dunknown benefits diferent plants hold for other plants an dtheir differing abilities to deal with pollution and such .
  you don't use chemicals . and you look for independence you grow all you need and in a small space to prove wha tthe poor as well as the rich could do with alittle.  I shall correct this tomorrow
Nina Jay


Joined: May 19, 2010
Posts: 64
Location: Southern Finland, mean annual temp +4 C, rainfall 700 mm, growing season 180 days, clay soil.
Emerson White wrote:
Take a scoop of dirt and put it in a big jar, add water and shake the snot out of it, then set it down and leave it for a few days, come back and it should have separated out into layers of different materials.


Okay, I'm back with results, if anyone is still interested Took "a while" cause been too busy gardening 
It appears that the field I'm talking about is app. half clay and half sand.  At least so it looks to me in the sample that I took as suggested above.

As summer goes on the situation just looks worse. Lots of cracks, stone hard ground.

It's a tough spot this field. I tried planting hazelnuts in on corner of it.  Dug large holes for them and tried to make things nicer for the roots by adding horse manure and peat plus ash to the soil in the planting hole. I also built a wind break all around the hazelnuts as the field is very exposed and windy. But the hazelnuts did not seem to like it there and after a month of waiting I rescued them, ie. dug them out.

I've also sown a few rows of a robust bean species (Vicia faba hangdown, don't know what's it called in English), few rows of a certain pea species and a small area of "green manure" seed mixture. The Vicia faba hangdown is doing reasonably although looking quite thin in comparison with the huge ones I have in my garden. The green manure clover mixture and the peas are growing really slow despite regular watering. But there are no weed problems either as this spot is too tough for weeds too!

Now I'm wondering what to do with this land. The neighbour does not want it back on rent (I asked) so I won't have to worry about taking this field out of production 

There are too main problems: the seriously compacted clay soil and the exposed location. The latter being maybe the more difficult to fix. It's too large an area to plant a living windbreak. There aren't many wind break trees that would do well there anyway. I tried Siberian pea but out of 10 only 1 is alive at the moment... I did leave the planting rather late so that might explain this. But anyway the area is 140 m x 50 m. I would need at least 190 meters of wind break (north side 140 m, east side 50 m) and it would probably be best to have a wind break also on the west side, another 50 m. It is VERY windy and the prevailing winds are from north and from west. The field is also on a slope. The eastern side tends to dry out as it's the highest point. To the north there are the neighbour's huge wheat fields. The western end is near a river which floods every spring so this end of the field is under water until May. Oh and the location is Southern Finland in case I haven't mentioned before.

Okay this was quite a long post, sorry... But if anyone has any ideas what useful plants might succeed in this place, I'd be very grateful! Unless I think of a better idea I'm thinking of ploughing this field one last time this autumn adding horse manure simultaneously. Then covering it with mulch (luckily I have vast amounts of spoiled hay!). And next spring planting ground artichoke, potatoes and Vicia faba hangdown.  These three I HOPE will make it there without a wind break or a wind break on only the Northern side. They also have strong deep penetrating roots which I hope will make the soil better. But still, only three species on this large field... feels like a monoculture to me... Could there be a better use of this land? After all we can only eat so many potatoes...Half of this field would be more than enough area for potatoes, beans and ground artichokes for one family.
Emerson White


Joined: May 02, 2010
Posts: 1206
Location: Alaska
Ah, half clay, half sand, the recipe for brick! Under ideal conditions you'd have a layer of silt in there to let the clay and sand mix with out forming a solid mass. To an extent organic matter, especially woody matter, can help make up for the lack of that effect. I suspect that you do have some silt in there, any chance you could post a photograph? If I remember tomorrow I'll shake up a jar of soil for you and post a photo of my own.

Some other things:
*Have you tested the soil pH yet?
*What color is your clay?
*Have you thought at all about biochar?
Monica Hatfield


Joined: Jun 11, 2010
Posts: 19
Location: Alberta, Canada
I see that you have lots of help here with all the complicated stuff I am still learning.
But for basics with hard clay that doesn't grow anything but an odd weed and I do have some experience. 
1. Don't plow it again, with the high winds you don't want your soil blowing away.
2. Pile on as much plant clippings as you can lay your hands on. Grass, wood chips, leaves, straw, hay, manures. I mean "ANYTHING" compostable (uncontaminated).  Collect from your neighbors, lawn care companies anyone you can think of.  The more you can get the better.  I would aim for at least a foot or more of cover. Leave it compost in place.  It will help your soil stay in place and help conserve moisture and start building humus in your soil.
3. For a wind break I would dig up anything you can get a hold of and transplant it to your borders (toss on some non green mulch when you transplant them).  Where I live we can dig up anything that grows between the property lines and the roads, because it just gets mowed off every couple of years anyway.  Be careful not to bring in noxious weeds!  Ask your local government agency, I would start with the highway and road department.
I have noticed that raspberries don't "need" awesome soil to grow.  They multiply themselves readily, provide fruit, and the old canes don't necessarily have to be pruned out right away so they make a living hedge easily. Lots of people who have them already don't mind giving away shoots that grow where they don't want them.  I would incorporate anything I could get my hands on specially if its free.  Lots of willow trees varieties will grow almost anywhere as well, and grow quickly. Where I live shelterbelts consist of three rows.  First row is evergreen trees, second row is deciduous trees and third rows is some type of bush plant.
I am sure that once you have some compost/mulch in place that there are lots of plants that are suited to your climate that you can grow.  And I will leave that to the experts to help you with.  Good luck to you!
Emerson White


Joined: May 02, 2010
Posts: 1206
Location: Alaska
It seems like the permaculture community is dead set on not ever turning soil over at all. Mulching in place will leave you with a good layer of humus on top of the clay hardpan but outside of a few enterprising earth worms nothing is going to be carying the humus down into the earth. If you got 12 inches of organic matter for three hectares that would be 12,000 cubic yards 2531 cords if you used wood. And that is all going to have tremendous exposure to the oxygen in the air so you are going to loose most of your carbon contant. One of the benefits of tilling is that the organic matter gets better soil contact and you form more complexes with the various and sundry minerals and various and sundry biopolymers and it helps slow the decay rate, and leave you with more in your soil than you would have gotten from simply composting the organic matter down.

I was thinking biochar because you could jumpstart a pulp plant like willow with an NPK, and then year by year work across your field pulling out the willow and charing it then putting it in the soil, and moving on to the next bed. The one big upside to having lousy soil is that you don't really have much to fear in turning it because if it blows away there is just more like it under that, and wind takes the clay away faster anyways (and clay is harder to make into something useful than sandy soil is). A good upside to clay soil is that it is easier to build a pond in, which can be a good excuse to get yourself some ducks, maybe get some Azolla growing to capture more N.
Monica Hatfield


Joined: Jun 11, 2010
Posts: 19
Location: Alberta, Canada
I am not saying don't till or turn over, I am saying don't plow a fallow and barren field  AGAIN without a purpose.  If he has the means to add organic matter of sufficient volume and the tractor and implements to do the job right then "cross plowing" it again would have a purpose, but the tool to use after a plow would be to disk it in.  A plow leaves long ridges and turns over large chunks while a disk would further break up the existing ridges from his stated previous plowing, chop and mix in the mulch through the top 6 to 12 inches depending on the disk used.  If he doesn't have access to the larger agricultural tools then he would be better off adding the organic matter on top rather than doing nothing but plow again.
Doing nothing is how the field got in the sorry condition its in already from what I understand.
I am sorry that I was not more clear, and that I assumed, which I should not have done, that he wasn't a "farmer" with the big tools at hand.  I would rather someone used the "big tools" to help heal rather than to use them in futility.
Nina Jay


Joined: May 19, 2010
Posts: 64
Location: Southern Finland, mean annual temp +4 C, rainfall 700 mm, growing season 180 days, clay soil.
Thank you so much, Monica and Emerson White! You've given me a lot to think about.

Biochar sounds very interesting, will look for more information on what it actually takes. One limitation is that I cannot plant any trees or bushes too near the Northern or Eastern borders of this field, because there are the neighbour's fields there and their underground drainage systems (sorry, again I don't know the correct term in English). We have to be careful that the roots of trees/ bushes do not block the tubes.  But there is enough land and we can leave the borderline areas be and plant trees/ bushes further away. This is what I would have had to do with the Siberian peas and hazelnuts that I already tried.

I will try and post a picture of the glass jar if my hubby helps me with this 

The pH is 6.20
Ca 1150
P 7.50
K 142
Mg 175.

I can ask if the neighbours have the kind of disc you suggested, Monica. It's certainly a good idea not to disturb the soil any more than necessary. Some disturbance however is necessary here and I agree with Emerson White that mulch only isn't gonna be enough here though might very well be in many other places on our property.

We are not farmers but my husband can drive a tractor   and we have an old tractor of our own.
Other resources that we have are horse manure (sawdust based) and spoiled hay. Both of these we probably have enough to last a lifetime... and should we ever run out there's plenty of horse stables nearby that will only be too happy if they can get rid of theirs.
Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4432
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    4
i can see where if it is zoned agriculture that you might be running into some thoughts of how to go about dealing with the zoning..I believe how i would approach that is to tell the zoning commision that you want to put it to orchards (fruit and nut) ...and that would be considered agriculture..and then start the background of your new plantings with your food forest of baby  orchard trees, setting them up in a U shape form with the U open to the south and surrounding the outside areas of your property..putting the taller of the trees on the outside edges, esp the north and the west (if your prevailing winds come from the west)..if you want windbreaks you might try pine nut producers for the windbreak area that will also be considered a food producing crop. then you can under plant your orchards with your understory of dwarfs and food producing shrubs and vines and perennials and herbs.. leaving an area open in the center for your home and any animals.

as long as it is zoned as a food producing orchard ..there shouldn't be any problem with your permaculture plans..and your orchard should produce enough for more than you and your family, so you should be able to make some money off of the trees in the future as well.

you are probably in about the same zonea region as i am in Michigan USA..I'm i zone 4/5 here..so you should be able to grow easily apples and pears, maybe peaches and plums and cherries with a little more protection..and of course bramble berries as well as walnuts and hazelnuts..so i would lean toward that way as my starting foundaiton for my food forests..and then go from ther
Nina Jay


Joined: May 19, 2010
Posts: 64
Location: Southern Finland, mean annual temp +4 C, rainfall 700 mm, growing season 180 days, clay soil.
Thank you very much for your suggestions, Brenda!
I have thought of something like you suggested. But I see I must explain a bit more about our property. We have a little over 3 ha (hectares) land altogether. This land includes a large garden where I grow vegetables, a small orchard (3 plums, 3 sour cherries, 3 apples, 1 pear) situated in a favourable spot between the house (South side of it) and a natural forest. It's warm and sunny and we get huge amounts of plums almost every year. In the orchard there's also blackcurrants (about a dozen), redcurrants and gooseberries. The berries are old and not producing as much as they could but as there's so many of them we get enough. But I am thinking of buying some new gooseberry and blackcurrant plants in the near future. We also have an old barn the South wall of which is a very warm place. There's one fan trained apple there and I grow tomatoes and herbs there as well.

In addition to the above, we have the already mentioned natural forest (birch, we try to keep it as a deciduos forest by removing the pines and spruces). The forest is about 1 hectares. We have wild blueberries and raspberries too, though not very much, everything is eaten already in the summer 

And then we have the fields. They surround the house on the West, East and North. The fields on the East and West side are more or less natural meadows. They have been pasture for at least twenty years. The previous owner had sheep and we had a few horses for a couple of years. We are thinking of keeping these meadows in their natural state as they are very beautiful and useful for the butterflies etc. wildlife. They do need maintenance which is now done with machines. When we have used all the manure we already have we might consider taking grazing animals again. Maybe goats...

Then there's this one field that I have the problems with. As I probably already mentioned, it's been for rent but we took it back to get more pasture. But the next winter I had to put my horses down so we don't need more pasture anymore. And it's in terrible condition after twenty plus years of the neighbour growing wheat there and using heavy machinery.

So, to sum it up  We already have an orchard but we don't have hazelnuts and I would really love to grow some nuts!! I know hazelnut is at the Northern limit of its natural range here but there are a few favourable spots (one about 30 km from where we live) where it grows in the wild.
The field I'm talking about is definitely not a favourable spot but the reason why I thought of planting the poor hazelnuts there is that it's 150 m from the nearest tree: we have grey squirrels! So I thought that the hazelnuts would be safe from the squirrels which I don't believe would want to cross the open fields.

But it seems that even with an overall wind break this place is too much for the hazelnuts and they would probably never produce anything there. So I'm thinking of transferring the hazelnuts to the orchard. Then I have to solve the problem with the squirrels if the hazels ever produce anything.
Emerson White


Joined: May 02, 2010
Posts: 1206
Location: Alaska
well if you've got a bunch of space in the middle of the field perhaps you could try a hugleculture bed in a U shaped souther facing sun trap.

If you don't need the land to produce anything right away you could probably dig a square shaped pond and pile the excessdirt in the center (basically a big moat) then make yourself a U shaped raised bed with all of that recovered dirt and with a few dozen cords of woody debris from your woodlot (like what you see in pauls last video, only much taller) and then plant your hazel nuts in the center and work on making the pond hold water like Sepp does.

I cannot remember the name but I recall seeing a large estate house on television where the owner put in a very large pond long ago in order to moderate the temperature for grapes. Fenching the island and running pigs in the ditch until it becomes a pond might be a good idea. perhaps the project is too big in scope and scale however.

Back to more reasonable things, a mouldeboard plow is a decent way to get crop debris into the soil, it's not as effective as a disk harrow, but it was the method of choice for thousands of years.

Do you heat your home with the wood from your woodlot? Even if you do I suspect that you could collect branches and odds and ends (and maybe some leaves too) and make enough biochar too improve the soil a bit.

I am assuming European grasslands are like those in America, which would mean that they take pretty well to fire, if it is legal where you are you might consider just burning the grass when it gets dry, assuming you aren't afraid of taking the neighbors field with it (maybe just after they harvest).

one last thing, goats don't graze, they browse. If you leave them to graze you end up with very high parasite loads.
Nina Jay


Joined: May 19, 2010
Posts: 64
Location: Southern Finland, mean annual temp +4 C, rainfall 700 mm, growing season 180 days, clay soil.
Here's the soil sample. The more I look at it the less sure I am what it is...Clay, sand, silt, whatnot... ops:

Pam Hatfield


Joined: Jul 07, 2010
Posts: 508
Moldboard plows are generally given credit for CREATING hardpan conditions..I wouldn't ever suggest using them.If you do, perhaps discing and better, harrrowing afterward might help to break up any new hardpan forming. It sounds as though in spring the land isn't too rocklike, but that it dries out through the summer. so if you mulch in the spring to give the seeds a chance to get established,and spread seeds of tough long rooted plants in it, you can let the plants break up the hardpan for you.

Some plants that come to mind are some forms of alfalfa, dandelion and burdock, all of which are useful in themselves. You might need to make sure the burdock doesn't get the chance to self seed too vigorously though. Not only will the roots penetrate the hardpan, if you mow the mature plant, when the roots dies and is turned into soil by those busy microroganisms doing their job, it will help provide a pocket of space in the hardpan, which future plants can then utilize and expand upon.

If you think how plants can establish themselves in crannies of the sidewalks it is easy to imagine how they can deal with soil, even if the soil does resemble concrete more than soil in July.

In Canada we have various "reclamation" projects for times when mines close permanently or oilfield projects or where new roads have been cut and so forth, and there are a number of plants used according to the site. If you have anything like that in your country, you might get in touch with people who look after that sort of thing and see if they have any suggestions as to which plants might help with the problem.
Jordan Lowery
volunteer

Joined: Sep 26, 2009
Posts: 1527
Location: zone 7
    
  11
im with emerson, id go with the biochar and lots of organic matter. the char works wonders on clay soils. also be sure to try and inoculate with some micro organisms ( compost tea or some other microbial inoculate) if you dont need the land asap, letting that sit will help a lot. in a situation as yourself, i would till in the organic matter as deep as you can once then from then on go a no till route. nature would work down in a mulch, but not in the time frame we would like.


The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings. - Masanobu Fukuoka
 
 
subject: Restoring agricultural land
 
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