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Soil amendments, when to give them a shot.

 
pollinator
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In the six years I’ve grown food on this property I’ve never brought any amendments in. Good practice or stubborn, outdated dogma? I had a feeling that the weeds that grew were hear to help heal any damage. I get good yields but I have to wonder if I could do better with one amendment, lime. I’m pretty sure that my soil is acidic due to the weeds I see. Not only do they grow well but the population has exploded over the past couple of years. I’ve only seen this as extra fodder for chop and drop up until now. I want to hear how the permaculture community feels about this and amendments in general.
 
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Scott,

Given your specific concern, I would really consider getting a soil test.  You can have all of the other nutrients that you could ever want but if you Ph is radically off, it doesn't make a difference.

Eric
 
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I second the soil analysis first so a base line can be established to help guide decision making. For example, lime likely is going to be a good idea, but will 500lbs/acre, 1ton/acre, etc. be needed? A soil analysis will provide direction.

 
Scott Stiller
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Thanks guys. I will follow up on that.
 
Scott Stiller
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How do y’all feel about my thoughts of not bringing things in from other places? Stubborn or semi-stubborn 😂?
 
pollinator
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I wouldn't let that sentiment get in the way of making progress towards your goals. There are good reasons not to import material from offsite, namely and specifically in the case of organic matter, you don't necessarily know with what it may have come into contact. Free horse manure sounds great, but if the horses ate sprayed hay and had their manure sprayed with an anti-dusting agent, you might not want it. Same goes for any organic matter that may have been sprayed, and woodchips that came from arborists who deal with invasives and diseased plant matter.

I think the key is to know. If you have access to tonnes of organic matter that you know to be clean, that you might even have tested for safety, that would accelerate soil generation and water capture tenfold, I would personally have a hard time saying no on ideological grounds.

If the point is soil generation, as I think it should be for any permaculturalist in the position to make it so, I would be careful, but as with all things, a cost/benefit analysis is probably the best bet.

For the growing, the comment above about the pH is spot-on. If your pH is wonky, nothing is going to want to grow, or at least only the pioneers designed to address those problems will want to grow.

An ideological stance about not bringing amendments from off-site makes about as much sense to me as people advocating against the use of heavy machinery to do land forming at the outset of a permaculture design. It's not only about how you get there, or where you're going. It's about everything. It's about the whole system. Is a little upheaval at the outset going to accelerate your soil generation and the establishment of your system? Because if it is, it might be useful to look at what can be gained. Would accelerating your soil generation by a year be worth it? Or by five? Maybe by ten?

-CK
 
Eric Hanson
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Scott,

The Ph part you might have to import, but I personally love the idea of building up the fertility in your land from your land.  This is just a personal ethic of mine, but yes, I really like the idea.  Now if you were seriously deficient in potassium or phosphorus, then you might have to import that part--once.  Maybe if you had a terrible deficiency of trace minerals you could bring in some worm castings or some other nice, organic, long acting fertilizer, but again I would make that a one time application.

Since you have vegetation growing, you probably have the nutrients you need and now would just be a matter of properly managing those nutrients.  Nitrogen you could fix in place easily enough with legumes, but that is easy enough to do.  But overall, I like the direction of your thinking.

Eric
 
James Freyr
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Scott Stiller wrote:How do y’all feel about my thoughts of not bringing things in from other places? Stubborn or semi-stubborn 😂?



Since you asked, my opinion is semi-stubborn . I'll echo Chris' comments about being wary of bringing onsite organic matters like manures and composts as there is no real good way to know what's in them, and the risks can be high.

I bring in inputs such as lime, sea minerals and wood chips. As long as they meet my standards of "coming from the earth" then I will use them. For me this means and includes wood chips, rock dusts, biodynamic preparations (since I'm not at the point of making them myself) and things from the sea like kelp and sea salt. I have used fish hydrolysate in my garden also.

 
pollinator
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I agree with the above advice to get a soil analysis done before you choose whether or not to import anything.

As to your decision to not import anything, that is a personal choice and you have to make it for yourself and your land. I will add, for your consideration, a reminder that there is no such thing as an isolated part of this whole earth. Even if you don't bring anything from beyond the bounds of your legal property there is still mineral and biological energy being brought from near and far.by the wind, rain, birds, mammals, soil critters, etc...

That isn't meant to belittle your choice but just to give you another perspective to consider when making your choices. Perhaps you look into your reasoning and decide that, while you won't be purchasing fossilized sea bird guano from the Philippines, you can be comfortable bringing in some.ground limestone from 2 counties over. Neither is inherently "right" or "wrong" in my view, they are just different choices. And for what its worth, ag lime tends to be sourced as locally as possible because it is costly to transport, widely used, and fairly broadly distributed across the land.

You also.might be able to find a nearby, non commercial deposit of lime stone and may be able to find a way to collect it yourself and process it. Just another option that might be available to you.
 
pollinator
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I respect your stubbornness, but also think S. Lowe (just got the name pun!) has a good point as well. It seems similar to the veganic gardening ideal, which is commendable in many ways, but rigid adherence to its extreme breaks down logically when considering how integral animal life is to healthy soil and ecosystems. Similarly, good and bad stuff floats onto our properties on the wind and in bird droppings, and if we cannot think of how to benefit from that then we are missing an opportunity.

For my property and food forest sites I develop/manage, I generally consider the cost-benefit of my transporting materials for the destination, the point of origin, and to the Earth as a whole (i.e. fossil fuel use). Does my taking woody debris from arborists and homeowners benefit my site as I use it for hugels, riparian restoration and mulch? Does it benefit the site where it came from due to wildfire risk management? Would it simply get wasted and turned to smoke pollution in a burn pile or get wastefully transported many miles to our closest municipal compost facility? I also consider how pristine or degraded the the site I am working on is, and its place in the watershed. I ask my woody debris and manure sources about their practices and try to gauge the risk of potential contamination, but I am also realistic about how not everyone will be honest or informed in their answers, especially if they have motivation to unload it. For that reason, I am far pickier where I am working at the top of the watershed, at the edge of wilderness, than I am in an already and inevitably continually polluted lower basin in an urban area. Of course I won't just say f'-it and throw poison on the latter site, but I think it makes sense to try to balance risk-benefit and consider everything in context with the intent of making things better for everybody, all-around. The woody debris I use in bio-remediating, slowing, spreading and sinking contaminated water running off pavement upstream does not necessarily warrant the pickiness I may have in building a hugel bed for a kitchen garden.

On the pH/lime note, I'd encourage looking into the recent soil research by Elaine Ingham and others (Matt Powers has a lot of podcasts and writing on this). It seems like regardless of the pH of the soil, in the vast majority of cases the pH at the root interface (especially in perennial plants and trees) is surprisingly low (3-4), as this is the preferred acidity for facultative fungi. Also, where I am in coastal CA, soils commonly have a calcium deficiency but a Magnesium excess, and my understanding this is common in other wet marine influence climates/geology. So here it is not advisable to lime, as this will exacerbate the magnesium excess (to a toxic extent on one site I have worked on), which I understand to ironically lead to Calcium lockout. Therefore, I use oyster shell, which is high in Ca but has no Magnesium, and its texture can also help with soil structure and aeration. This may be one benefit of a soil test, but like you I mostly just read the weeds now.
 
s. lowe
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Ben's answer reminded me of something I've heard Gary Zimmer say many times, "biology always trumps.chemistry!". He advises large scale agriculture on a system he calls " biological farming" and tells of seeing bumper crops produced on soils with pH ranging from down near 5 to up around 8, with the unifying factor being active and healthy biological cycles. So just because you do find that you have a pH of 5.8 or something doesn't mean that you absolutely must import lime to get the yields you want
 
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