New to permies and learning heaps already! I wonder if anybody can please help us with our predicament?
We have been afforded a beautiful parcel of land approx 50 metres x 40 metres where we wish to grow soft fruits, vegetables and fruittrees for our familys future. The problem is how to go about clearing/cleaning it by doing the least harm possible to soil structure and soil life.
The area in question was once a 'dumping ground' for horse manure, mucked out stables etc. This was 30+ years ago so what was once an enormous compost heap covering much of the area, is now a medium sized hump along the length of one side (5 metres x 30 metres and 1.5 metres high), and numerous very small humps and troughs throughout the remainder. It has all mostly sank back down to ground level at this stage, except for the humps and bumps. Unfortunately, as well as horse manure, straw and other organic material, there came with it A LOT of rope, string, netting, plastic (heavy duty silage covers I think) and other undesirables from the farmyard. As the huge compost heap sat and stewed all these years, it sank lower and lower, presumably as much of the uncovered pile was washed away in the wet Irish climate. It is now covered in grass and lots of perennials like docks, stinging nettle etc. What remains in high enough concentrations just under the soil surface are the netting, ropes, plastic, even some pieces of metal! Aside from the main compost pile, I would say the material are buried up to 1 foot depth in places.
The land is incredibly rich, packed with earthworms and other soil life, and is almost ready for planting right away (once I tackle the weeds of course). I have already begun digging and removing by hand what I can - the heavy duty black plastic comes up the easiest, but the netting and string material is very difficult to remove. It has all knotted and intertwined itself with the vast perennial root system and it tears and rips when I try to pull it out - it basically won't budge without A LOT of man hours.
Ideally I would have loved to put down a cover for some time to kill of what is there and then plant directly into it, but I obviously do not want to leave all of this rubbish in the ground. I also want to level out the land by bringing down the humps and filling in the troughs.
So my question is this, should I hire a small 3 or 6 tonne mini digger in to make the job easier, cleaner and significantly faster? Or would it perhaps be OK to leave much of the netting, rope etc in the ground and simply start my raised beds over it? Would this impact on anything negatively in the short/long run? One thing we have no shortage of is beautiful nutrient rich compost. I'm not worried about the compression caused by the mini digger, as the abundant earthworms should have it decompressed in no time. Also, I will be doing raised beds so shouldn't impact on root growth. Despite the wet temperate Irish climate (hardiness zone 9), the land here drains very well. It is also on a lovely soft East facing slope, and there are springs under the land here (yet it still drains very well). Are there any negatives I haven't thought of by using the mini digger? Can I avoid all of this by just leaving the stuff in the ground? Personally, I want the waste material gone from the soil as it feels dirty and messy.
My primary concern is the soil life and the damage/death a mini digger will cause to the soil life such as the earthworms - I don't wish to cause them any harm if possible. But weighing it all up, it might be the quickest path which will then allow the soil life to recover quickly once I'm finished. It is basically 2-3 days mini digger work versus 2-3 seasons by hand!
I have similar issues here in France ! Only without the manure :-( plus burnt plastic :-( .
I do not know what you intend to do with the digger as you would be just transferring rubbish from one pile to another .
My suggestion -hard graft unfortunately .
But you never know what you will find and what you can recycle . I have a premier league level collection of bailing twine for example plus enough wire to use for my raspberries brambles vines etc etc I also found a whole wheel barrow but since it looks like your soil is full of health , probably nettles too :-) , I would expect it to bounce back and be
abundant in no time . You will have cleaned up a spot of this limited wonderfull earth we all inhabit a great achievement.
Worthy of doing for it's own sake I think
Living in Anjou , France,
For the many not for the few
Thanks so much for the reply. Makes me much clearer on things already. Interesting to hear you found a similar situation where you are. I guess some people just don't value the Earth and are happy to dump onto it what they won't take responsibility to reuse/recycle.
The mini digger would only be to speed up the process so that I could get planting in to the entire area right away - I would use it to basically scrape off the top 6 inches or more, rope, netting and all, and then clean this pile separately. Then I could get on with laying compost and planting into the newly cleared area. It's just about man hours, and physical work - I'm concerned it might take aaaaages. The netting is really tough to get up too, and it slows me down.
What sort of netting is it ? I have that green plastic covered fencing - soon to be incorporated into chicken house , wire for beans and peas , chicken wire ditto , bags of bailing twine . I think you will find a song on YouTube Irish/country section saying that there is nothing you cannot fix on a farm with bailing twine :-) ( big Jim and his JCB I think was the band )
For me in this situation the issue is not what you can see but what you cannot see :-( lumps of concrete for example I know someone who found a car ! If you wreck a machine trying to find out what is there .,,,
To quote Bilbo Baggins it's the longest job the one that is never started
Living in Anjou , France,
For the many not for the few
Ah yes sorry David, forgive my incorrect use of vocabulary! The netting and rope are indeed just baling netting and baling twine respectively. Love the suggestions on how to reuse them. The bailing twine is ridiculously strong so I can see why it can be used anywhere and everywhere! Every time my shovel hits an immovable 'obstruction' an inch or two under the soil, I know it's that bailing twine! It just slows me down to such a degree that I wondered whether scraping the top 6 inches off with a mini digger would be preferable (faster and easier) to doing the same with my shovel and labour, and save my back the effort! I would sort through the removed sod, take out the twine, netting, metal and plastic, and replace the sod/soil. Then cover with something to let it sit for several weeks, then prepare the raised beds for the veg with compost. I will continue with the shovel and fork this week anyway and see how progress goes. It might prove easier than I fear.
A buried car? Now that is something!
Thanks again for the reusing advice, I shall certainly take heed.
For me, the biggest problem you have is not the work it will take to get the rubbish out of your soil. The bigger problem is what the decomposing rubbish puts into your soil. "Rotting" plastic enters the food chain. You will eventually eat what the plastic was made of. I'm not scientist enough to conclusively say that will harm you. I don't know. But it seems to me to simply be a bad idea. Someday that plastic will effect your soil, plants and you.
So, to your problem. I don't know what tools you have there. But in my locale of the American Mid-west, we have tractors, spring tooth harrows, and sub-soilers. Depending on your exact situation and what's available, I might try pulling a sub-soiler or harrow through your plot to break up the soil and pull out the trash. Or, ..you could do less at a time. Lay down some heavy soil cover to block the Sun and kill the plants and roots, then turn the soil by shovel as you have time to clean it. It'll be a lot of work, but in the end, somewhere down the road, it will be worth it. Because, --Raising a garden is not so much about putting plants in the ground. Gardening is really about nurturing the soil to bring it to its greatest potential and ability to grow what's planted in it.
Creating sustainable life, beauty & food (with lots of kids and fun)
hau Marcas, If you aren't willing to just let the stuff lay where it is (an I agree with the others, removing plastics is a good idea) the best tool to use for removal with machinery is a key line plow drug through at about 1.5 feet deep, that way you will grab and pull out almost if not all of the "strings and other items".
If you need to use hand tools then I'd look into a pick, that can be worked through pretty efficiently but it will take a long time.
Since you have good soil don't worry about this disturbance, the soil will recover within a year of you completing the work and what a treasure the nettle is to have already growing there.
I've used a pick on our land in several places to pull out debris left by the house fire that happened seven years before we got our land.
I've even used the pick with a strong rope attached to my bumper hitch and with the wife driving slow, we have ripped out sumac roots that were many meters long.
I have another area where I've got a ton of roots of a spreading wild rose that has taken over part of an area where I need pasture, so it will be getting the same treatment.
Thank you for highlighting the plastic issue that's a very good point. I suppose I could take soil samples and send them somewhere (laboratory) to have them tested for any nasties. I had hoped that the abundance of earthworms and 30 years of nettles etc would somehow be consuming the bad elements in the soil, but that is probably just wishful thinking!
As for the advice on simultaneously breaking up the soil and pulling out the twine and netting etc, a tractor with the correct attachment is a fantastic idea. So much more logical and job specific than the mini digger! I'm certainly in it for the long run so any time I put in to it will be worth it.
Thank you for the link that attachment looks ideal. I should be able to borrow the use of a tractor from a farmer across the road. Had no idea there were attachments that could shape the beds as I go! Love it!
Bryant thank you so much for the advice. 1.5 feet would actually be the sort of depth I feel I may need to get down to as some of the stuff is buried deep! I looked the keyline plough up online and it looks perfect for the job. It would certainly make fast work of it as it's not a huge area for a tractor but monumentally huge by hand tools!
Thanks ever so much for taking the time to write. Will post progress with pics as I go.
Thanks S. Bengi that's a great idea I had no idea oyster mushrooms could do that. My only concern with the wet Irish climate would be the straw making the perfect breeding ground for slugs. I tried using straw last year as an experiment in one of my beds and it really presented a problem with slugs. This year I was hoping to source and use wood chips as mulch and for paths etc instead. Was going to get started on mushrooms this year too but use logs for them.
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
Yeah, straw and woodchip will increase the soil life (which includes slugs). Now you need ducks, chickens will work too but chickens tend to eat more vegetables.
So now with the same amount of land you can get mushroom, duck/chicken egg and also meat, and you can still get your regular vegetables.
Woodchips will harbour slugs too? Damn. I guess it's time to adopt some ducks then. We've actually recently become vegan ourselves but we would absolutely love to bring some ducks in to the family for some quality symbiosis, the eggs we can always feed to our dogs! Plenty of foxes around here but I'll read up on the forum about proper housing and fencing etc to keep them safe. Thanks again for the great advice.