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building healthy soil from sand in urban South Taiwan lot

Posts: 13
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I'm taking on a soil health project with little (more like none) preparation. But my husband challenged me to stop thinking about a permaculture course, or soil course and just look up what info I need. I'm finding a LOT of leads and insights here on the permies site. My first post 2 weeks ago led to powerful input in the form of videos on other Taiwan stories I'd not heard. <again many thanks and appreciation for the container of this generousity>. This is going to be a learn-by-doing project. All input welcome!

Today - first day of the year of the goat - I went out to a lot I've been given permission to tend and started a project that's been in my mind for a while.

This lot is
- located in the middle of Tainan city a short walk away from the old south gate of the city wall which collects LOTS of plant material (leaves) scrapes them off the soil, puts them in black plastic bags and into the trash.
- The house was long ago torn down, and
- the soil is full of rubble and basically all sand (1/4 mile from the traditional coastline, now with land reclamation it's a couple miles).
- a 1-house lot.
- basically on flat land with a 10+story condo on one side (blocking sun till mid-day)
- It's fenced in - though not completely - so there's lots of trash from the sidewalk on the road side of the lot.
- and interestingly it's beside a tea stand that constantly pours water onto the land. so .... instant wetland component (that could be turned off at any time).
- The lot is fully of weeds, or was until I pulled them a few hours ago.
- I have big piles of pulled weeds (single species - hitchhiker plant in the daisy family) a few places on the lot.

My wish is to build healthy soil from this sandy substrate.
I'd like to call it some sort of a "demo area" and show people how good it is to let the leaf material return to the soil.
Right across the little alley from this lot is a community farm lot with totally bare soil except for what they are planting. I figure I have a nice comparison possibility. It's a lovely and generous group of people so I'm thinking it's a possibility for lots of cross-education.

What I intend to do
- cut up the weeds into small pieces and make compost areas maybe focusing on the damp soil, which seems to be the most organic-rich right now.
- look around for ground cover I can start transplanting right away and
- plant mixed ground cover seed right away
- see what worms are here/near and encourage them (again .. not sure how to assess how many and what species. suggestions?)
- learn about a nice mixture of plants I could grow here and permaculture growing techniques that work well in this area.
- build up step by step
- create a water feature soon (without the mozzie problem ... though the guppies I've raised other places don't eat mozzies as I'd expected.)

I've got a lot of learning to do. and I love to learn from others. Anyone in this area or passing through is invited to visit and share input.

basically I want "soil armor" and then grow things that can grow through that armor ... nitrogen - fixing things
start creating canopy layers
then just ... take it from there. Judge by results. Watch what happens and engage others who find what I'm doing curious (and who offer input).

I don't know how to measure the biology or analyze the soil (help is welcome!!!) so I can monitor it over time.
figure out some parameters for health I can track.
any suggestions for wording on a sign I can put around the lot to sound semi-research or semi-official

I intend to post here now and again to keep a kind of log of what's happening.
Today I met the teashop owner and her 2 small sons. She said she was about to call the city to have them cut down the weeds to keep mozzies low. I'm giving her my name and phone number cause she's the one who lives RIGHT THERE and I'd like her interested in the project ... part of the team of people invited in for input. The gardening neighbors have given me permission to use any of their tools. Sweet!

that for now.
thanks for reading! (welcome to send me good wishes!)

Jane Lewis
Posts: 13
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Just the learning highlights so far
- elsewhere on the forum I found: 5 principles of healthy soil video. It re-focused my eyes hands and heart - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yPjoh9YJMk
- I'm becoming known to neighbors. I say "I'm making healthy soil, because when the soil is healthy it's easy to grow things. What things would you like grown here?"
- 1st day I pulled weeds up. very satisfying. Now, however, I have a respect for what the roots are doing, so I bend or cut tops back, chop n drop.
- city leaf pick-up service was suspended over new year and I got LOTS of bags of leaves to mix with greens and nitrogen for compost piles.
- found a "neglected" area of the neighboring park that has great looking soil ... it's about time to start documenting soils in my lot and nearby.

I'm falling in love with what I'm reading on
- jackfruit http://projectbonafide.com/the-jackfruit-manifesto/
- hugelkultur

Seed shops (for groundcover) open today after the Chinese New year.
- scatter a seed mix and see what likes where
- keep my 4 compost piles happy (I think they need to be bigger and I want to create a gentle "hill" where a cement platform falls onto rubble ... cover it all with compost then plantings ... gentle it up)
- add a gentle visual barrier in the area all passers-by can peek into
- locate some papayas I really like the look/taste of and prepare their beds http://www.tropicalpermaculture.com/growing-papaya.html
- looking around town at other empty lots where the owner might be up for some ground-cover / compost / plantings.

Amazed at the energy in this project - how quickly this is moving and how many people are helping - bringing compost, offering hands ... and all the rich resources on this site I'm slowly familiarizing myself with.

- clues on how to do quick/easy survey/mapping.
- somewhere was a recipe for quick soil characterization ... mixing into water and watching it settle.

I'm off to check. All thoughts welcome!
Posts: 1703
Location: Western Washington
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Hey Jane,

In my experience monking around here I've found that sand + biochar + organic mater to = best stuff ever

I've used this as a killer potting mix but the principle would hold on a grander scale.
Posts: 4665
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
hugelkultur forest garden fungi books bee greening the desert
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Jane, I love what you are doing! Sounds like you are on the right path.

For a quick soil characterization. Take a small glass jar, add your soil to about half full, then fill the rest of the jar with water. Shake for a little bit and then set the jar down so it has a chance to settle again. If you watch you will see the larger stuff fall to the bottom and the small stuff settle last. You should end up with layers that will tell you how much sand , silt and clay you have.
Jane Lewis
Posts: 13
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note to self: It helps for me to ask the right question. then the answer can show up <quickly>

How do I evaluate and document my current soil situation?

Now I've got my next week or so of focus. thanks!

(and before this post got posted, I've had great support and feedback. ... what a group!)
Posts: 2003
Location: Grand Valley of Colorado's Western Slope
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Hi Jane,
How is your project going? You were off to an exciting start, I'd love to know what happened next.

When you get soil figured out, (do you need any resources on that?) then there is a wonderful method called "SPIN", which stands for small plot intensive. There are people making a living farming small plots of ground in urban areas, or suburban areas. If you are loving this, you might move that direction.

Hope all is well with you and your bit of earth.

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