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Restoring soil structure and simple farming in a wet climate

 
gardener
Posts: 1866
Location: Japan, zone 9a/b, annual rainfall 2550mm, avg temp 1.5-32 C
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Nicely done!

Now to look for poop, prints, and trails.


stoat poop, from http://www.pestdetective.org.nz/
 
master steward
Posts: 6124
Location: Isle of Skye, Scotland. Nearly 70 inches rain a year
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I seem to have succeeded in growing carrots. This is slightly amusing to me, since one of my sayings is "I'd rather fail at growing oca (or insert other unusual veg of choice) than carrots". I contemplated digging them up and replanting them, but since the objective is to let them go to seed next year, the only real reason to move them would be out of curiosity to see how long the roots are. There are one or two that are impressively thick at the top anyhow. Since they still seem to be growing happily, indeed one or two look like they may be bolting, I decided not to re-contour the not-very-lazy-bed into a solar bed at this time. Then I started fretting; what if the mice ate them over winter? In order to protect them a bit I have used some of my cut off bottles, which I had been using as (free) vole guards for the baby trees in the tree field, and put them over the top of the carrots. Some of the bottles have more than one carrot in them.

growing a large carrot vole protection
A real carrot!


I'm still hoping to improve the Northern area soil by no digging at all. Obviously part of it I have dug a bit by harvesting the potatoes, but I'd like to see if reseeding biannual roots will eventually break up the compacted soil. To this end I have been spreading some of my saved seeds around, radish, angelica, hogweed, sweet cicely, and I have transplanted some parsley into the upper of the two beds. These self seed in the polytunnel, and provide lots of biomass if you let them go to seed. I'm already seeing radish seedlings germinating.

mulching and transplanting
Mulch and parsley for tranplanting


I have also been adding what I can in the way of organic materials to the area. I've been collecting up the dried heads of hogweed, some bags of
straw that had gone soggy in the remains of the polytunnel, bracken from my plot and from over the river. I also collected several bags of fallen leaves from the lawn of the lodge gardens, where I still go and try and 'keep tidy' for them. These were spread out in both circles and especially around the remaining replant perennials.
We have had a couple of very light frosts, but the weather remains pretty mild as yet, so no cause to dig these up. I have yacon, mashua and oca, all of which will crop better if left as long as possible, since they form their tubers after the day length goes below 12 hours. They will all get damaged by a penetrating frost, and I lost almost all my oca a year ago by leaving them too long. A little extra mulch around these then will help to protect them a bit.

replant perennials Yacon Oca Mashua Skye
Yacon, Oca and Mashua in November


I've been trying to re-mulch the area that was cleared when I dug out the potatoes; covering it with cardboard and bracken. Unfortunately I have a bit of a lack of cardboard at the moment, and the dogs have dug a lot of what I had put down back up again, so I'll need to redo that. Other than that I've been buying some more seeds for the landrace mix to plant next year, but there's not much to do on the ground over the winter now the basic construction is nearly there. I'll transplant a bit more comfrey, and some more currant cuttings, do more mulching and wait for spring sowing!

 
Nancy Reading
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Just a little update, as I said not much going on in the growing area at the moment. I think I've established that the latest green manure seeds can be sown here is the end of August. The seeds sown just a week into September have really not covered the soil well, and I'm not expecting much more growth this year.
green
Sown c. 28th August

green
Sown c. 6th September


I've been cutting up some twiggy bits to create a path surface between the solar beds. The idea being that after a year the twigs will have rotted down and can be raked onto the beds perhaps (depending on the rotation)
twigs
Start of twiggy path


Some seed germination in the no dig areas:
fodder
Fodder radish new seedlings November


I think these are likely to be fodder radish. I've also spread about quite a lot of hogweed seeds. I was hoping to have saved them, but something was eating them (some sort of insect larvae I think), so I decided to just spread them about. They probably need a winter cold cycle anyhow to encourage germination.
Having has two weeks of really wet weather we now have a bit of a frost tonight, so I think it is probably time to harvest the remaining replant perennials before they get damaged by penetrating frosts.
 
Nancy Reading
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Location: Isle of Skye, Scotland. Nearly 70 inches rain a year
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Time for another catch up I think. The only real news is that I've dug up my Oca and Yacon tubers.
These both are quite frost tender and even in my mild climate can be killed off completely over winter. I nearly lost all my oca last year by leaving them too late. Luckily there were just a few tubers that survived the hard frosts that came over early January (edit - 2022), so I managed to save a few plants for this (edit) last year. The ones that survived to tuber seem all to be the more common red tuber, but I guess it's common for a reason! Not a great yield; but more than I planted and plenty to plant for next year. Like many tubers the better the soil for the growing plant the more tubers it is likely to set. Given that the soil was virtually unimproved, with just a light mulch after killing off the grass, I'm not too disappointed.
oca harvest unimproved soil Skye
Oca harvest - unimproved soil


The Yacon again would have done better with improved soil, but this is pretty much as good as I’ve obtained from outside plants (they like a bit more heat really).
yacon harvest unimproved soil Skye
Yacon harvest - unimproved soil


I’ve been filling the space at the South end of the solar aspect beds with twiggy bits to shade out the grass. Whilst doing this I realised that if I move a little spruce at the corner at one end, and a birch at the other end, I can fit another bed in at each end. This would mean that I would have a total of eight beds – which would combine to form four larger beds thus fitting the rotation plan better. It would mean that the aspect of all the beds would be the same (rather than one bed being flat/different shaped), although the ends beds would be a year younger than the others. Since this year is really the first year in the intended space, I’m not too worried if I don’t combine all the beds at this stage. I can use the smaller completed beds, together with the single combined one, as they are for different crops or polycultures. This year I hope to actually get more crops to grow, and get seed from the beans and peas even if I have to plant out some as transplants.
 solar aspect bed tree relocation Skye
twiggy mulch, and small spruce to be transplanted


Improving the soil in the currant circles (Northern beds) is going to be much longer term and may end up as perennial/biennial polycultures instead. Interestingly all the little seedlings have disappeared, maybe grazed off by slugs, which is a bit disappointing. I do have more seed to sow in the spring, and I will do a lot more transplanting too.
 
steward
Posts: 4477
Location: Queensland, Australia
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This new excerpt from our Garden Master Course looks at the significance of soil structure and includes some good information about balancing your soil. Hope you guys enjoy!
 
Posts: 100
Location: north okanagan
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paul fookes

There is some good studies showing that some worms will take nutrients down a meter or two  and more (3 - 6 feet).  They increase water penetration 10 fold.  We are very successful with planting fruit trees with comfrey and then mulching with 150 - 300 mm (6-12") wood chips. Worm information https: //www.trees.com/gardening-and-landscaping/types-of-earthworms
We then plant potatoes between the wood chips and the dirt.  Within a couple of weeks there is the most amazing little animal and mycellium activity.  The worms are also well at work.



that's a great article about worms. a real who knew moment. worms being invasive and having different places/purposes(sort of) in the soil. i quite liked the tip about wood chips and potatoes under fruit trees. i scored some comfrey this last fall and will plant some under my fruit trees this spring based on hearing about it in one of the many vids i've watched here on permies.

nancy reading
(quote]I dug a couple of pits, one in each area, down to the bedrock. The soil in the Southern patch (the smaller of the areas) is shallower than the Northern area. In the Northern test pit there was also quite a large rock making it tricky to clear the soil out. Neither area have deep soil

if i had soil that deep i'd be jumping for joy. the top soil is compacted and about 2-4" deep in most places and under that is sand, gravel and rocks. not having time on my side i rototilled everything in and added some purchased compost/top soil. not ideal but it got me started. this spring i will just broadfork my beds and add some more compost. next year i should be able to supplement with my own compost.
really like that you are able to go the slow/experimentation route with lots of observation.  as they say "the problem is the solution" i haven't quite figured it out yet so when you do please let me know

cheers   james
 
Nancy Reading
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james cox wrote:if i had soil that deep i'd be jumping for joy. the top soil is compacted and about 2-4" deep in most places and under that is sand, gravel and rocks. not having time on my side i rototilled everything in and added some purchased compost/top soil. not ideal but it got me started. this spring i will just broadfork my beds and add some more compost. next year i should be able to supplement with my own compost.
really like that you are able to go the slow/experimentation route with lots of observation.  as they say "the problem is the solution" i haven't quite figured it out yet so when you do please let me know


It sounds like you don't really have top soil at all, just a layer of turf! There's a saying that the grass is always greener. I could envy you your free draining sub soil as opposed to my solid rock too. However, we each have to learn how to make the best of the site that we have. I think you've already worked out that organic matter is the key, and I think this will be the case for me too. I dug up a comfrey plant from near my orchard today, I had just a few minutes to plant a few alder trees and decided to put one right in the middle of where I planted comfrey just a few years ago (looking it up it was 2018). They were planted in totally unimproved soil and without doing anything else but letting them grow for 5 years there is now a percievable layer of organic matter on the top of the soil and many more worms than I normally see.
comfrey plants first year growth scotland
Comfrey below Orchard - First year growth

source
 
james cox
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It sounds like you don't really have top soil at all, just a layer of turf! There's a saying that the grass is always greener. I could envy you your free draining sub soil as opposed to my solid rock too. However, we each have to learn how to make the best of the site that we have. I think you've already worked out that organic matter is the key, and I think this will be the case for me too. I dug up a comfrey plant from near my orchard today, I had just a few minutes to plant a few alder trees and decided to put one right in the middle of where I planted comfrey just a few years ago (looking it up it was 2018). They were planted in totally unimproved soil and without doing anything else but letting them grow for 5 years there is now a perceivable layer of organic matter on the top of the soil and many more worms than I normally see.



it's true we all have our obstacles to overcome. letting nature work, that's where i want to get to. the worms will come if we give them a place, like you did, excellent job.
i didn't mention that i started a compost pile with some purchased compost(wood chips and chicken manure with mycelium) to which i added worms and then all the kitchen scraps when we were renting(the landlords let me use part of their garden, it was the first time i grew anything other than tomatoes on my balcony) which i brought with me when we found our new home. i got some red wrigglers and fishing bait worms to get it started. i used most of it so now i have a small pile left to build up from once again.

in my garage/workshop i enclosed a small area that is my green space to start seeds and keep plants that can't take the cold here( sage, rosemary, probably other not so hardy herbs next year) and to see if i can get tomatoes and cukes before the season starts here.

now i want to know if red wrigglers are an imported species. a side note is that when i screened the dirt in the area donated by my landlord i did not see one worm, when i left there was a small population happening, glad i could leave it better than i found it.

skye is one place my wife would like to visit along with some of the other islands in that area, if we ever make it maybe we will stop by and check out your lovely piece of paradise. i'll even get a kilt so i can fit in you do still wear kilts, right?
 
Nancy Reading
master steward
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Location: Isle of Skye, Scotland. Nearly 70 inches rain a year
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James, It sounds like you've done well with your composting! I'm hoping to start a worm bin soon to deal with my kitchen waste. My compost bin is rather slow, and I now compost garden waste in situ and let nature deal with it. I'm not the best person to ask about worms in America. I read somewhere on the forum that they were not native, but are now pretty ubiquitous.
I personally don't wear a kilt, I'm not Scottish by birth, and contrary to family legend have no traceable Scots in my ancestry (which my husband does). Kilts tend to be a dress code for smart events for men - weddings, dances, funerals. There is one elderly gentleman locally whom I normally see in his kilt, and visitor guides will often wear them, so it is perfectly common to see. As I said elsewhere Skye had distractingly beautiful scenery and also fascinating history and geology. A tip - unless you come for other reasons, come in spring (April/May). Although slightly cooler, it's more likely to be dry, less busy and the justly infamous midges haven't started biting yet!
 
james cox
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A tip - unless you come for other reasons, come in spring (April/May). Although slightly cooler, it's more likely to be dry, less busy and the justly infamous midges haven't started biting yet!



ookaay, midges. we have mosquitos and since we moved here 2 out of the 3 years, apparently have been, according to locals, the worst they can remember.  great tip, april/may it is, as i prefer not to be eaten on my holiday, unless i'm fishing then i might endure the hardship.

I personally don't wear a kilt, I'm not Scottish by birth, and contrary to family legend have no traceable Scots in my ancestry (which my husband does). Kilts tend to be a dress code for smart events for men - weddings, dances, funerals. There is one elderly gentleman locally whom I normally see in his kilt, and visitor guides will often wear them, so it is perfectly common to see.



i will have to check with my son, he may know what our tartan might be, he did some research into our tree, scottish somewhere back there in our history. he also likes to wear a work kilt, plain, heavy fabric type. i haven't tried the style personally, skinny white legs tend to leave people rolling on the ground laughing or run screaming.

i would say good luck, but it sounds like you are making your own there. instead, happy growing.
 
gardener
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I'm curious how your soil is doing now.  Your tactics to restore soil health reminded me of some of the stuff that helen talks about in the garden master course.  She was able to drastically increase the nitrogen in her soil by adding organic plant residues and providing habitats for beneficial microbes.  Here's a little clip from the course: Soil Health with Organic Plant Residues
 
Nancy Reading
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S Rogers wrote:I'm curious how your soil is doing now.  


I'm hoping that this year the area I have prepared will be much more conducive to growing. I'm hoping to do some quantitative soil tests to show how much the soil has improved - pH, organic matter, soil life. But the proof to me will be in achieving a harvest. For that there is also more involved than soil - timing of sowing seeds, predators and pests, what the weather does, and timing of harvest. I'm hopeful that this year I will be able to save some seeds and grow some new crops to maturity. Still an awful lot to learn
I'm not happy I've been able to incorporate enough organic material within the soil. However, having improved the drainage and relieved the compaction, hopefully the plant roots will continue the good work - along with more seaweed and whatever other organic materials I can source locally.
 
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