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BEST Cheapest soil Fixes for growing food

 
Posts: 94
Location: Las Vegas, NV
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I got a Community Garden with no money I gotta repair soil as fast & as cheap as possible to start growing yesterday !
I know more expensive methods both time wise & monetarily speaking $$$ but how fast & cheap can we go while still getting best growing conditions as the garden has to perform as it's right next to a weekly Farmer's Market.
I have access to worms so a few beds I could set some experiments in motion which will pay off in the very near future but most beds need to be planted ASAP
as our last freeze here in the desert happens this week !!

Thanks in advance for any & all attention to this matter. It is much appreciated !!
 
gardener
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In this case trenching and filling those with kitchen scraps and covering with the soil would be the fastest and cheapest method, add some red wiggler worms to those finished off trenches so you are turning the kitchen scraps into worm castings.

Depending on how deep you plant the scraps (no more than a foot for using composting worms (red wigglers)) you can plant immediately in the soil that you put back into place.
If you are planting corn, fish remains (raw) are the Native American standard, the hole is dug and the fish parts go in the bottom, soil goes over those then you plant the seeds in the top inch of replaced soil.

Redhawk
 
Enrique Garcia
Posts: 94
Location: Las Vegas, NV
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"kitchen scraps ... add some red wiggler worms"

That is my usual cheapest method but not fastest.
Have you got great & immediate results using this method ?
 
pollinator
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Many people will give away collected leaves from their yard, if you ask them after they rake in the fall(use as mulch).

You also may be able to get free wood chips from local tree trimming companies or your city's disposal service(the tree trimmers may even deliver/dump them for you).
 
Dustin Rhodes
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The fastest is finished compost/manure or bagged soil from the store, which both cost.

a modification of the standard phrase:

Cheap, Good, or Fast - pick any two!

Good luck!
 
gardener
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For "next years " garden, just pile up grass clippings and any organic matter you can accumulate into the beds.

This year? Be reasonable about expectations if you are starting from nothing.

I always come back to potatos.  Plant potatos shallow then as they sprout, start covering with hay, compost, whatever you have. You will get a good harvest and all that decomposing goodness will give you great soil next season for other crops. Its a way to grow and improve at the same time.

Other items like tomatos you can do the same, just not as deep as with potatos.

 
Bryant RedHawk
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Enrique Garcia wrote:"kitchen scraps ... add some red wiggler worms"

That is my usual cheapest method but not fastest.
Have you got great & immediate results using this method ?



Ok, instant results only come from using the methods of the modern farmer (ie. chemical fertilizers), everything a permacultureist would want to use will take some amount of time to work at it's best.

My ancestors used fish when they planted corn, the fish was under soil beneath the corn seeds planted, the corn grew very well and produced full ears, that means it works for the immediate crop.
I have used the  trench method for scraps and not added worms (my land has plenty of worms already so I don't add any) the vegetables planted over the buried scraps do quite well and produce for over 4 months at full fruiting.

Redhawk

 
pollinator
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My experience with wood chips (even pretty fresh, just to get next year with something growing this year) is that squash and sweet potato will both survive, as long as the roots have access to the soil. The squash may even really go crazy. You can get stropharia your first year with this method too.

Then next year you have really pretty good soil, and year three you can grow almost anyhting.
 
pollinator
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Does anyone have experience with urine over top of wood chips for getting a fast/cheap/easy/no big pitfalls start to a garden?

On the topic of easy/cheap/maybe better than nothing, has anyone tried collecting the left over charred remains of beach bon-fires to throw in the compost as "lazy person's biochar"?
 
master steward
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When I'd needed to make a garden bed fast, Dr. RedHawk advised me to put down as much organic material as I had on top of the soil (compost, duck bedding) and make a mushroom slurry (blend up some mushrooms in a blender with water and drizzle on the soil). I might also have added some expired multi-vitamins I had lying around (another one of his great suggestions). Then I covered that with paper sacks and a thin layer of mulch, pretty much to keep the paper down. I cut Xs into the paper and planted there. It worked great!

Here's the thread where we discussed it (https://permies.com/t/40/85595/health-issues-Sit-soil). Dr. RedHawk's threads are awesome!

Bryant RedHawk wrote:hau Kola Nicole,  In this case I would put down the paper sacks over a spreading of compost and duck bedding, then I would cut X's to plant the corn seeds through the sacks, lay on mulch leaving the seed holes uncovered so the seeds can come up through the paper X then you could mulch closer to the new corn plants.

This will give some good microbes the chance to establish under the sacks and hold moisture in place. I would not bother trying to dig the area, just where you want to plant the seeds.
Water the first few times with  water then make a tea and use that, (to really boost the microbes use tea once a month and maybe one or two waterings with mushroom slurry.

Redhawk

 
pollinator
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"repair soil fast and cheap" = commercial fertilizer. That's not a repair by any stretch of the imagination, but it will give you a crop this year. Of course, it's not permaculture.

In my own experience on my own farm, it takes at least 3 years to repair soil to any degree. Depending upon the soil and the amount of amendments & work you put into it, it can take many more years before the soil looks and acts healthy to an acceptable degree.
This first year I start working a new garden area, the crop yield is poor, but I usually harvest something. The next two years get better. But that is only if I keep working to improve the soil.

Worms won't help if there is no organic material in the soil for them to eat. They will simply die or migrate away.

You sound like you want a marketable crop ASAP. If that's the case, then non-permaculture methods are the only way I see that it will happen. That's a method I abandoned years ago.
 
Enrique Garcia
Posts: 94
Location: Las Vegas, NV
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Thanks Redhawk !

Someone suggested steer manure at $1.50 a bag + Wood chips + Worms  .. any experience with this ?
 
gardener & hugelmaster
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Excellent advice so far. This might sound like a weird suggestion but it's about all I can add that might be feasible. Assuming you can market comfrey. Plant the whole thing in comfrey & other accumulators. Then take some week long hikes in the Grand Canyon & desert. Come back once in a while to chop & drop half to start building soil. Sell the other half. Havasu Falls. Try that. It will help put time in perspective.
 
Su Ba
pollinator
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Per the topic's title.........Best Cheapest soil Fixes for growing food.

Of course it depends upon a lot of factors......the soil you're starting out with, the climate, availability of water, availability of resources. What I'd do for sand might be different for clay & rock. Hot desert might be different from cold climates. Arid soil might be different from boggy soil. Windy areas might be different than for balmy locations. I think that Bryant RedHawk could give better specific advise on the various factors.

Based upon my own experience, the best thing to fix soil for food production is compost, and repeated applications of it. Second would be mulch as long as the soil isn't boggy.

The cheapest would be to make your own compost. That means lots of labor if I don't intend to invest lots of money. It would mean collecting organic materials, processing it, creating and maintaining compost piles to produce hot piles, working those piles to produce quick compost. When I hear "doing it cheaply" I also hear "investing lots of labor". The more "cheap", then the more labor.......or time. I could save on labor if I had lots of time to spare, such as letting Mother Nature decompose a large pile of organic debris over several years, vs me chopping, mixing, and turning that material to make useable compost quickly.

To me, "quickly" = money. Such as:
...buying bagged manure vs collecting it
...using a backhoe to turn compost piles vs hand turning using a shovel
...chopping debris with a hammermill shredder vs hand chopping with a machete
...buying a truckload of mulch vs collecting leaves or grass clippings yourself
...hiring laborers to do the work vs doing it yourself
etc.
 
Tj Jefferson
pollinator
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Genevieve Higgs wrote:Does anyone have experience with urine over top of wood chips for getting a fast/cheap/easy/no big pitfalls start to a garden?

On the topic of easy/cheap/maybe better than nothing, has anyone tried collecting the left over charred remains of beach bon-fires to throw in the compost as "lazy person's biochar"?



Genevieve,

I have done both. I plant my wood chip beds the next spring, but they get peed on by as many people as possible the first year before planting. You need t be careful with seedlings as has been mentioned many times on here. The char seems to be either neutral or negative, and I haven't been doing it long enough to say what the turnaround is. Years probably. Chips with urine are a relatively short term investment (loads of worms after 3-4 months) while any char needs to steep and will soak up things way beyond chips due to the internal surface area. Depends on your horizon. I am gradually trying to install more and more char, but much more slowly than I was initially, and always embedded in composted chips. I let the worms take the char underground.

Su- you are spot on. Very succinct. <hat tip>
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
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Enrique Garcia wrote:Thanks Redhawk !

Someone suggested steer manure at $1.50 a bag + Wood chips + Worms  .. any experience with this ?



Manures are not instant feed products, they are more slow release, which is what we really want, no big glut of anything, that tends to turn the microbiome topsy-turvy.
I have used the manure/woodchip/worm setup but I did that as a compost heap not a direct soil amendment.
 
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Location: Berkshire County, Ma. 6b/4a. Approx. 50" rain
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Nothing really new to add here, just thought this process might be useful. It might not apply to your climate, where I am we have super wet springs.



Last growing season I covered grass with inoculated burlap sacks (requires a little foresight, I set up the inoculation for the bags about 5 weeks before I used them). Covered the burlap sacks with "weeds" when I had them.

Covered those sacks with anywhere from 3 to 12 inches of wood chips.

In those wood chips I made soil plugs, to the depth of the grass, and maybe 6 inches in diameter. The soil was a mix of big-box-store bagged soil and purchased compost.

Planted in soil plugs.

Materials:
Wood chips-free
Burlap sacks--free from a local roaster (check whole foods stores, coops, etc, bulk grains often come in giant brown paper bags).
Bagged soil: 1.79 per 40 lb bag. Bought 10
Delivered compost: $50 per cubic yard bought 1
Mushroom spawn: 20 per #5 bag from Fedco (I wanted known spawn of edible mushrooms, maybe try store bought mushroom slurries?)

Total cost: 90 bucks for about 1000 square feet of bed space, but again I only planted into those "soil plugs". Took about a week to go from grass to planted beds, working 2-3 hours a day.

Squash, sunflowers, various herbs, bare root strawberries, lilies, scarlett runner beans, all flourished for me. All brassica lagged, they were planted too deep into summer and not watered enough maybe. Cucumbers looked promising until they wilted to cucumber beetle pressure.
 
pollinator
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Here are my instant gratification thoughts:

--forage.  find it where it already is.  Tree nuts, etc.  I have no idea what grows in Nevada, but I'm sure there's a lot.
--for greens, weeds are wonderful
--get compost that's already compost--some cities have huge piles of decomposing leaves that no one is going to miss, and if you dig down a bit you can get to stuff that's already broken down.  Careful, though, it's hot enough to scald you.

meanwhile, do other strategies to prep the garden bed for next year.
 
Enrique Garcia
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Thanks everyone for your excellent advice !! I do practice permaculture but adopted this community garden where they just want something to grow as it is on same property as Farmer's Market, to promote growing in the desert. It isn't a commercial venture by any means. And many things grow here in the desert !! We get plenty of sun so we just gotta take care of the irrigation & great soil & we are all set !!
 
gardener
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I have had excellent results with carpet. covering the ground with free material that will feed the soil and then protecting it from the harsh sun and wind makes the soil building possess fast.
here are the advantages I have found with carpet. Air and water pass through it. Sun is blocked and it reflects much of it plus has some insulation value. Most colors in carpet are photo degraded so the carpet turns white. When planting in rows it can cover the path and over the mulch to the edge of the plant. It protects potatoes from turning green and squash/pumpkins from sitting on a rot inducing surface.
I planted pumpkins in rows 4 feet apart and they covered the carpet. So you can make the area look and be productive while building soil for next year.
 
pollinator
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I also manage community gardens in challenging sites, though our difficulty is often too much water, which I bet is uncommon for you in Las Vegas. Korean natural farming is a very cost effective approach. Along those lines, compost teas are very cost effective, especially if made with your local weeds and roof-caught rainwater (when you get it), with the only cost being aeration. With your heat and light abundance, you could likely get a good amount from a floating mini hoophouse over a  1/3 of the water and a heavy shade cover (like a slab of stone) over the rest to create a circulating thermosyphon.

Another step is to locate abundant waste streams of organic matter. Here we get immense amounts of wood people just want to set on fire to get rid of.  I make hugels and fill trenches with it. Where you are it will likely be a different resource, but I bet that anyone living in an urban or suburban setting can find some undervalued or discarded organic matter, compost it, and make it live again. The permaculture designers manual also has a great deal to say about accomplishing your goals in a high desert like you are in.
 
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Enrique Garcia wrote:I got a Community Garden with no money I gotta repair soil as fast & as cheap as possible to start growing yesterday !
I know more expensive methods both time wise & monetarily speaking $$$ but how fast & cheap can we go  


Cheapest way to produce a crop asap is with chemical npk fertilizer, but I'm guessing that's not what you had in mind. How big a garden are we talking about? Got a truck? In most communities you can buy a pickup truck load of good compost or manure for $20 at the place that sells compost, wood chips, gravel, sand, etc... Often times even certified organic options are available. They'll load a truck for you too with a bulldozer and you'll be out the door in minutes. Just shell out the 20 bucks and get started. Have a look on Google... Many people don't know these places exist. Anyone buying perlite, gravel, sand, steer manure etc in bags at the hardware store is way overpaying compared to buying by the truckload at the place contractors and landscapers all go to to buy the same stuff by the truckload.
 
pollinator
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One thing we did at our committee garden in Phoneix was to add juice pulp. A friend was picking up the pulp from a large juice bar. We spread that pretty much on top of the soil and it really helped.

If one could only get free coffee grounds and compost, then we like the trench method too. Just dig a trench, add compost and cover back up.
Happy growing
 
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To start our soil building project, we collected as much free organic matter as we could find:  coffee shop coffee grounds, eggshells and coffee grounds from breakfast diners, grain waste from craft breweries, produce scraps from the grocery store, and we collected it all in recycled deli or frosting buckets from the grocery store. Covered this in a layer of cardboard and then 6” of arborist wood chips. In our humid climate, this broke down very quickly (about 2-3 months.)
The absolute fastest soil makers are the chickens—only one month and they transform all the above into gorgeous compost.
 
Su Ba
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Kimberley, welcome to Permies.com!  

Chickens are great at helping to make compost and soil.
 
gardener
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Enrique,

There is a LOT of good information here.  I would like to add to it, but this is pretty comprehensive considering your time, labor and resource limitations.

What I am going to suggest is to categorize what has already been stated in order of the speed that they will work.

1). Urine.  Adding urine is likely the fastest, cheapest way to improve your soil.  The advanvtages are that it is free and very fast acting.  On the downside, it is not terribly different from adding chemical fertilizer (but don’t be dissuaded, much organic gardening/agricultural relies on urine in some form), and it won’t really alter the soil structure by itself.  Still, it is a very fast acting free natural resource.  I use it myself by peeing into a 2.5 gallon cat litter jug.  I pee in perhaps 1 gallon in 1 day and dilute with water and pour.

2). Mulch!  Grass clippings are quick, easy, free and will give your ground a nitrogen boost (all this assumes the grass is not treated with pesticides, herbicides, etc.).  Leaves are a quick second place, breaking down only a bit slower and also leaving behind a nice collection of nutrients.  Straw can help but will probably cost you.  Woodchips are a great resource, but their breakdown definitely takes time, but done properly, their compost is top notch.

3). Burying scraps.  The scraps are probably free, can do wonders for soil, but will cost you time and labor.  But you have worms, so I bet they will love the scraps.

By all means, you can combine any or all of these methods.  Personally, I aim to always have some type of mulch, both for the nutrients, but especially for their tendency to moderate and buffer soil moisture/evaporation.  I also always try to get some type of organic cover for my garden, even if I just dump a pile of grass or leaves on the surface.

Good Luck and please keep us updated!

Eric
 
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