"On a small scale, broad-forking could work, though perhaps using a spade to prise small V-shaped trenches on contour would be more effective – backfilling the trench with compost would further benefit silty/sandy soils."
Apologes for the delay, I've been ruminating on a couple of your suggestions...
The area I will be prepping come spring will probably be too big to use the prising & backfilling technique over all of it. However, you've made me believe it is worth the additional time and effort to do it over the areas that I eventually plan to convert to food trees.
As for the methodology, I think it might be easiest to lay the composted organic stuff down first, then lever the soil open with a broadfork until it (the compost) falls down into the cracks...if I have time, I may even make two passes over these areas to get an extra shot of OM into the soil and working right away.
Heck, now I'm excited. =] Thanks for this idea!
"I have an urban backyard and a rural property and plan to do small keylines on the urban, keyline AND swales on the rural...haven't been able to do either yet as we're experiencing a severe drought (...) With the on-gong bushfires at least I won't need to use potash because it's falling from the sky!"
Are the fires upwind of your place, then? Yikes, I haven't had time to follow the news... All I can say is stay safe, brother. I know bush fires can move quickly in your kind of country when the wind picks up.
"If I'm guessing correctly, your silty loam would be like fine sand with organic matter holding it somewhat together?"
Texturally, this is a loamy soil with a high silt / low sand / moderate clay content. (It falls out at a ratio of roughly 70% silt - 10% sand - 20% clay.)
Ksat (i.e. speed at which water is able to permeate the soil) is projected by our USDA to be low-moderate (no perc or permeameter testing done yet).
Organic matter is roughly 3% within the top 12", but drops off quickly after that.
I don't think it's a sandy soil, per se - that would imply that it's a faster draining soil, no? From what I can piece together, it's more like a slowly-draining, dense, silty soil that (barely) falls within the parameters of a loam.
Building the organic matter (with as little disruption as possible) and improving drainage are two of my top priorities in the next few years. Down the road a piece, I'm hoping the irrigation guidelines you've posted for establishing & drought-hardening trees will prove applicable within my soil + climate situation.
Thanks for replying to this...pro'ly an oddball question.
I just keep thinking to myself that if broadforking frees up moisture to move between wet and dry areas, then (assuming the tine furrows left behind by this type of cultivation become the paths of least resistance) these should follow the Keyline for maximal effect.
The effect could well be too small to notice, of course (and would undoubtedly fade away as soil particles get moved around, etc.).
Wow, F Agricola...great post. (And great news, too - for the past ten minutes, I've been wondering how I was gonna supply all those extra liters...)
"It's important to only do deep watering at the drip line of the tree (...) Though, it is dependent on soil type, we mostly have heavy red and grey clays with a very thin overlay of friable soil and leaf litter."
Would this also be the recommendation for silty loams with moderate clay content? (Do you happen to know?)
First-time poster in the Rainwater Catchment forum - hope this thread is on-topic (or at least, I hope it's less off-topic here than it would be elsewhere).
After reading 'The Keyline Plan' by P. A. Yeomans recently, the impression I have of the Keyline system of water conservation is that it is mainly applicable to large, open tracts of land which are tilled or mechanically cultivated on an annual basis. (I.e., it wouldn't be possible to implement Keyline techniques within, say, polyculture guilds which are mainly composed of perennials.)
Okay, then, here's a question... Would broadforking the soil along Keyline contours in an open meadow-type environment help to equalize soil moisture levels between the wetter and drier areas (at least over the space of a single wet/rainy season)? I'm specifically thinking about silty loams which do not have much organic matter and have low Ksat/saturated hydraulic conductivity.
I came in here to post last night (before RedHawk had posted his reply)...unfortunately, the computer I use for internet did its crashing thing.
Posting this now while things seem to be working -
"My speculation is that the data has not been collected, as I think it would be quite costly and labor intensive to gather tens of thousands or more samples and then run the tests."
I guess that makes the most sense....it's just an empty value set. Confusingly (if this is the case), they included an option in the database to "Interpret nulls as zero". Even when this option is left un-selected, the values returned for the above parameters are 0 (or 0.0).
"The missing data you listed is data that would come from a "complete" analysis, not the normal testing that most people are satisfied with, that is why items show 0.00, there isn't any data from the soil test."
Aha - then, the data for these parameters is obtained from local soil-testing. That would lead me to believe that these data may only be available for areas where Order of Soil Survey is listed as either 2 (Intensive) or 1 (Very intensive), and zero-values can otherwise be disregarded.
"Most folks don't want to spend the extra money for complete testing and for most folks it really isn't necessary for their needs."
Well, being that I'm a relative newbie to soils-related stuff, I wasn't sure if these parameters were among the most important ones to consider when evaluating land - except I can see that one of them has a bearing on the salinity of the soil, which sounds like it could be an important variable to pin down.
I've noticed something odd while using the WSS (Web Soil Survey) portal...
Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3) is often - if not always - rated 0% in the top 48 inches of soil (and this will be true across all soil units present)
Electrical Conductivity (EC) is likewise rated 0.0, across all depth ranges and soil units
Sodium Adsorption Ratio (SAR) is also rated 0.0 across all depth ranges and soil units
I've just looked back at a number of previous soil reports, and (in every case where this info was collected) these parameters returned zero-values.
I am very grateful to everyone who has taken the time to add suggestions to this thread. Marco - I am indebted to you for your detailed and informative response, sir. Let me turn over what you and RedHawk have said (here and elsewhere) regarding wood chip mulches for a day or so before responding.
What does the term 'Piping' refer to (when used in the context of composting)? When looking up soils in the USDA's Web Soil Survey database, I've occasionally seen this listed as a limitation under the 'Composting Facility - Surface' parameter without any add'l information provided.
My efforts to find explanatory links on the topic have yielded nil.
"...you will have issues with compaction, it comes from the clay content of the soil."
Good to know, Travis. I will keep that info on file moving forward.
Your description of a tree as a solar battery and nutrient storehouse creates a striking mental image. What an awesome way of looking at it.
"... if you are able to bring in truckloads of mulch from the outside (tree trimmers dumping their chips onto your property for you to spread), you'll be able to build soil much faster than if you are dependent upon what you're able to grow on your own."
Ahh... Now you've piqued my interest. 'Building soil quickly' is the focused task.
(My mind races to questions - how fast do wood chips break down into usable soil? Does this tend to move the soil pH up or down? What's the a risk of obtaining (along with the wood chips) tree-diseases that aren't already present on the site?)
Hel-lo! I just noticed one of the final sections in RedHawk's Epic Soil Series (which I'm currently assimilating in a hurried manner) is called 'Great-Wood-Chips The good the great and surprise there is no ugly to wood chip mulches'. No doubt many of the questions I would automatically fire off have already been answered by the good Dr. RedHawk.
"Loamy soil is really prone to compaction. We do minimal tillage, and that works pretty well."
You strike the best deal you can with Mother Nature - on terms that you're comfortable with. =] In my planning, I'm placing an emphasis on reducing organic matter depletion (one of the downsides of tilling) to minimize the need for offsite-sourced OM inputs in the future. Here's my downside: I'll have to limit the size of my planned production areas to what I can do manually myself without heavy machinery. Trade-offs...
"...our soils tend to be highly erodible."
I wonder if it's a common attribute of very silty soils? The soils in my area frequently have a high susceptibility to sheet and rill erosion by water. (Wind doesn't seem to be as much of a factor there, for whatever reason.) Sheet and rill erosion seems like a problem one can lick - though you might have to 'permaculture-it-up', hah. (Much depends upon the slopes present within your farming areas, of course.)
"Do you have access to some non-pine/coniferous wood?"
For lumber, you mean? I have Western Red Cedar & Alaskan Yellow Cedar for raised beds (but those are both coniferous). (I would be hesitant to build raised beds out of anything that wasn't going to last me a good long while. My current boards & fasteners are good for 10+ years (and that's in a climate with roughly twice the annual precip.).) What's the basic methodology for growing mushrooms in raised beds (if you don't mind going into a little more detail)? I was under the impression I would need deep shade for mushrooms.
"Do you have any weedy brush that needs to be cleared up?"
The woody-stemmed shrubs/trees in the area I'm targeting are mostly confined to gullies and areas where water is channelized by topography (and those I don't plan on disturbing unnecessarily). I can probably source free wood chips locally, if that's why you were asking (though I would have no control over the mix of species if I went that route).
"Mushroom compost" sounds intriguing. Where can I learn more about this?
"The soil you describe is well suited to being used for growing."
"As you lay on mulches, the organic matter in the soil will increase..."
I have to admit to an inadequate understanding of soil building programs/timelines. The mulching you're talking about is accomplished through chopping and dropping cover crops, right?
For my first planting(s) of cover crops, I'm looking at a mix of Amaranth, Buckwheat, Cowpea, Daikon, and Sorghum-Sudangrass (on the advice of other Permies members). I'm thinking these species should work to build soil organic matter at various depths throughout the soil profile, reverse compaction, and fix Nitrogen - while slowing soil erosion by water and reducing weed populations.
Starting in the second year, I have a notion to switch over to Comfrey & Cardoon in areas I want to convert to food production (or forest). What do you think? Cardoon is supposed to have some drought tolerance and grow in heavy and/or nutritionally poor soils.
Thank you for your words of advice.
Food-wise, I'll be relying on the grocery store for the first few years. (Though, if Daikon grows successfuly in the area set aside for the vegetable garden the first year, I might be able to start my main vegetable rotation as early as the second year.)
I've been scouting different pieces of land in a new area (the western Rockies) for a few months now.
Although the region's climate has some shortcomings (short growing seasons and dry summer months seem to be the main limiting factors where agriculture's concerned), there's good green earth. I'd like to use some of the information that I've picked up - both on permies and elsewhere - to conserve (and improve) the land wherever I end up.
The soils in the area I'm currently looking at are predominantly silt loams underlain by silty clay loams, with low sand / high silt / moderate clay content - and very low organic matter after the first foot. I haven't taken a shovel out there yet, but it's a good bet I'll need to start with a soil-building program to ameliorate one or more existing problems with the soil (low organic matter, compaction, etc.) before switching gears.
One thing I could use some input on: are the types of soils I've described above generally suitable for the kinds of agriculture discussed on these forums (i.e., organic gardening, polyculture guilds optimized for minimal irrigation and fertilizer inputs, no till farming, sustainable & regenerative agriculture, etc.)? As a relative newbie (and as this is sort of a 'meta-question'), I'm not confident in my ability to abstract the pertinent info in the USDA Web Soil Survey database.
Question #2: Are these types of soils (i.e., loamy-textured soils with very high silt content) relatively easy to drain in the event that I find an otherwise-appealing parcel of land with a high seasonal water table (or seasonal perched aquifer)?
Bedrock maps: (...) It also tells you dip and strike of the exposed bedrock in the area, so play connect the dot, and a lot of vaulable information arises.
That could be helpful when evaluating land for food production. There've been times when a chunk of land had exposed (or shallow) bedrock in only one soil unit... If the strike and dip of the bedrock layer were known, one could make better inferences about usable soil depth of adjacent areas.
The type of probe you are looking for is constructed of steel rod (in school we used rebar that was 1/2 inch diameter for the rod and 3/4" rebar for the T handle which was welded to the 1/2" rod.
The tip of the rod was then sharpened with a grinder, there were two flat sides and the tip was then shaped to a 35 degree point, this was stuck into the soil being tested and twisted down into the soil.
We also made one with a spiral twist (like a drill bit) at the tip end, it was found to not work quite as well as the straight, flat sided bit.
When it stops going down, even with a great deal of force, you have found the practical end of the soil. (it may or may not be bed rock)
That's exactly what I was after, Redhawk. Many thanks, brother!
It's possible this info will save me the laborious task of digging all my test holes with a post hole digger & San Angelo bar.
I could easily make this tool if I knew the type and diameter of steel rod needed. The "probe" part would need to be slender enough to penetrate relatively deeply into the soil with a push (or a series of taps), yet rigid enough not to bend under the load.
"...you will only get down to the compacted depth... Even in areas not tilled by humans, this is the compacted layer typically."
I'm not sure I get your meaning. Are you saying there's a compacted layer at this depth separate from the restrictive layers catalogued by the USDA (i.e.: fragipan, lithic & paralithic bedrock) which a probe wouldn't be able to get through, but which doesn't otherwise restrict the growth of food crop and tree roots?
The parcel I'm currently looking at is rated 20 to 46 inches to fragipan. That is quite a large range, and is why I wanted to take a shovel and/or probe. If the usable depth is toward the shallow end of that range, I'm gonna be forced to look elsewhere. If it's 46 inches, on the other hand, I'll probably be jubilant.
"A T shaped rod with somewhat pointed end will tell you how deep the hard pan is, if there's a hard pan."
That's what I was thinking - have you tried this before?
It seems more and more people are turning toward the old ways... Help is greatly appreciated.
Let's say I have a research subject - season extension/the creation of microclimates. Let's say I've developed a crude outline of "the basics", and I'd like to compare my outline with a knowledgeable person's outline before beginning research (gimme the basics, I'll research 'em).
Normally, I scour for previous threads before I post, then (assuming my questions haven't been answered) create a new thread in the appropriate forum.
What forum do you recommend for this topic (microclimates/season extension)?
I discovered this forum while using DuckDuckGo to look into a USDA soil survey.
I'm a small-time organic gardener/outdoorsman - currently hailing from the (metropolitan) Pacific Northwest.
A simpler lifestyle seems to be calling me lately, and... well, I need to learn things. Hoping to consult with any soil science-oriented folks here regarding the interpretation of USDA soil surveys, permaculture practices, etc.