David Buchan

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since Mar 26, 2013
Gent, Belgium
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Recent posts by David Buchan

Lynn Stein wrote:I'm reviving this old thread in hopes of getting some help with a confusion I have. I live in Italy and have made a tiny little Lasagna garden, in which I hope to grow peas (with some green leafies) this next spring, and later, after growing brassica during cold season, put Nitrogen fixing green manure plants the following spring. Nitrogen fixing bacteria Inoculants are not available here in Italy (and the UK company mentioned by the previous poster sells only huge farm-appropriate quantities and does not sell via internet). I think I understand that the reason these are not widely sold in Europe, as they are in the US, is because vetches, wild peas, wild medicago and wild clover grow spontaneously here, and so the appropriate nitrogen fixing bacteria are already present in the soil. (Is that the reason? Maybe not- since there IS this one company in England making them???) Problem is, I won't be planting into good old Italian soil, but into a compost pocket made in my probably still decomposing "lasagna". I didn't put any native dirt in my "lasagna", just alfalfa, straw, green herbacous plant leaves, finished vegetable compost, and a bit of organc soy flour, seaweed flakes, and rock dust. So-- the nitrogen fixing Rhizobium won't be present. (right?) Would it work if, instead of planting into a compost pocket in the lasagna. I filled the pocket with a mix of dirt from my yard and compost? In my yard, which I have always left to grow spontaneous plants, I have seen wild vetches and wild medicago, but I don't think I've seen wild peas or clovers. (so would I still have a problem if I want to plant peas or clover and have then fix abundant nitrogen?) Also, I was thinking to sow the peas under cover, in toilet paper tubes, since I have tons of snails and slugs that would eat the sprouts, so I thought I'd sow in a seed sowing medium. But maybe for peas that isn't necessary, and I could sow in the cardboard tubes filed with native dirt and compost mix? or maybe just fill the cardboard sowing containers with yard dirt, to have greater concentration of any rhizobium nitrogen fixers that may be there?

Dear Lynn,

I know of no farmer or gardener who has ever used a rhizobium innoculum for peas or beans, and yet they were always able to grow them without problem, also in pots with compost or growing medium. Although it is possible for legumes to grow well 'enough' without forming a bacterial symbiosis, my guess is that in most circumstances this is not the case. You can check this by pulling out a legume plant and observing the roots: whitish nodules should be present on root hairs, and if they exude red-orange juice when squeezed this indicates rhizobia are present. To be safe you could indeed mix some good native garden soil into your compost mixture or raised beds, or whatever it is you plant & sow in. Good soil is a great inoculant, for all sorts of micro-organisms, and it doesn't cost anything! But as a former researcher in soil ecology I did notice the following: there are many more claims made by commercial companies selling the stuff than there are independent peer-reviewed studies on the success of various inoculants (mycorrhiza as well as rhizobia) in establishing these micro-organisms AND resulting in improves plant health and/or yield.. So my question is: has anybody ever tried just adding a rhizobium inoculant to HALF of whatever they were sowing or growing, and then compared results? It's not big science but I would definitely do this before considering purchasing something of this kind!!
5 years ago

Richard Frame wrote:

David Buchan wrote:
I once took a course in soil conservation at university where we looked at soil practices such as terracing, gully restoration an, contour farming etc. It was a long time ago but this was the text book we used (I still have it), it contains some useful info on terracing, and loads of interesting stuff for permies into earthworks or dealing with steep land (unlike me):


I'll have a look around in my old notes and PM you if I find any useful stuff?


Thank you Dave,

I followed your link and ordered the book! Amazon wanted $441.00 U.S. for it but I ordered it through a reseller for $14.95! Looks like a valuable reference book. Yes, please let me know if you find any more useful stuff. Thanks again.


Wow that was a fast decision to make! At least I'm glad you didn't go for the first price you saw, who pays that much for a book?!?
In the meantime, the only document on the computer I have left from that era is a powerpoint presentation on terracing, hereby attached. All the rest is paper notes and handouts, so not likely to be scanned in or uploaded any time soon! The presentation is a bit light in terms of content but maybe interesting all the same, bear in mind I was 20 and that at the time I could hardly fit it onto a floppy disc!

Curious to know where and what you're terracing with.

Sorry it won't let me attach a .ppt file, PM me your email if you're interested

8 years ago

Richard Frame wrote:

Adrien Lapointe wrote:

Richard Frame wrote:I'm not sure if this is the place to ask questions about the video but I was wondering about the part where Mark mentions the dangers of terracing.

This is the right place to ask the question about Mark's statement.

The way I understood it, he was saying that terraces that are not properly built are the problem.

Thank you Adrien for the response. I would have been quite shocked if Mark was opposed to all terracing. I'm sure there must be many ways to build a terrace improperly. Would you have a guess as to what kind of improperly built terrace Mark might have been referring? That is, a terrace that might get waterlogged or interfere with the hydrologic cycle. I am interested because I plan to build many terraces on at least 50 acres and want to avoid building them improperly. Thanks.

I once took a course in soil conservation at university where we looked at soil practices such as terracing, gully restoration an, contour farming etc. It was a long time ago but this was the text book we used (I still have it), it contains some useful info on terracing, and loads of interesting stuff for permies into earthworks or dealing with steep land (unlike me):


I'll have a look around in my old notes and PM you if I find any useful stuff?

8 years ago

I know this brand makes quality tools where I live in Belgium, and seem to have a fairly good distribution: http://www.polet.be/indexT3.html

And I have the impression this german brand also makes good quality stuff: http://www.idealspaten.de/english/index.htm

Good luck!

8 years ago

Jose Reymondez wrote:Anyone know a good place to order inoculant in Europe?

What do you want/need to inoculate? Are you sure it is necessary? (Many leguminous plants do not necessarily need to be inoculated, as rhizobium bacteria have been present in many soils for millions of years )
8 years ago
sorry molly i meant to quote the original post only! but by the way, i think kelp will not be that acidic or help you lower the pH, as most things that come from the sea contain a lot of calcium.


8 years ago

molly jones wrote:Very interesting! I'm going to do 2 blueberries in pots in my city lot and I've just discovered that my soil is around 7+ so I've been worried about how to cheaply lower the PH. I live on the coast so maybe I'll try adding a good amount of dried kelp and old cornmeal to the soil when I go to pot them.


Paul Gutches wrote:

I bought a sophisticated pH tester last year and tested just about everything I could think of while the sensor was still viable.

They only last a year or so.

I was testing the pine needle theory, coffee ground theory, and tea theory, plus lots of other stuff.

I'd mix the material with a small amount of water. I did not let it steep long, though in retrospect I probably should have.
Still, the differences in pH readings for these materials does suggest it was working.

Assuming the results are instructive, here they are.
Note in particular the corn-based kitty litter (unused). WoW. It blew away the sphagnum for acidity.
No idea how safe it is for growies, but a selling point on the product is biodegradability.
Note also the spent espresso coffee. Much lower than I'd anticipated.

You might also want to restrict your blueberry water source to (acid) rain.


fresh black tea

fresh green tea

spent medium roast coffee grounds

spent espresso coffee from local coffee shop

fresh ground dark roast (unused)

fresh ground light roast (unused)

World's best ground corn kitty litter
4.4 - 5.2 (!!!)

Well Water (700 feet down into the Taos Plateau)

Rain Water

Diatomaceous Earth

Sphagnum Peat Moss

Chopped pine straw

Wood Ash

Ace potting soil 7.5

Walmart Steer manure compost / topsoil
8.7 (Yow!)


worm castings


I wouldn't underestimate the influence of how long you steeped the materials in water (and whether you shaked or stirred the mix), how finely ground and/or dried the materials were, and in what ratios water was mixed with (dry) material. As long as you relied on an approximately equal treatment for each material you tested, then I think at least the relative scale you found is quite reliable, and it mostly seems quite right. The pH of the kitty litter may indeed seem very low, but here there are acid rain-rinsed sandy soils that have pH values in the same range!

I'm above all amazed by the pH of warm castings, given most of their casts are organically-enriched and processed soil, it means they are hyper-accumulating calcium in their casts, which is great news for most soils!



ps: what kind of pH tester did you use? (Now that i can no longer make use of university laboratory facilities, I would like to find affordable home-scale devices for some measurements, pH is probably the most useful!).
8 years ago

William Bronson wrote: I have one blue berry bush that was gifted to me, and by kids love it. It has been struggling, and I am looking for cheap amendment.
I have good source of oak leaves, are they considered acidic?
I have also been steeping all citrus discards in a 5 galleon bucket, rather than mix them with the rest of the compost. Do you think this will be a good source of acid?

Hi William, I remember reading an elemental analysis of oak tree parts in whcih it was shown that oak really accumulates a lot calcium (and other 'basi cations') in their bark, so probably in the leaves too. And if i'm not mistaken, some biodynamic growers even use oak bark to 'activate' calcium availability in certain organic amendments or preparations. So I think it's fair to say oak leaves won't decrease your pH, although enough organic acids from decomposing wood, and maybe tannins too, will tend to lower or at least buffer the pH of more basic soil. Citrus waste will yield high amounts of organic (citric) acids, however during decomposition the pH tends towards neutrality or above even (think of compost) and I don't think they will lower the pH by much. This is suggested by the fact that citrus trees growing on Mediterranean limestone soil do not change the the Ca-dominated chemistry of these neutral-basic soils to a great extent. But concentrated in small space and mixed with other suitable organic materials..maybe?

Being trained as a soil scientist, I'm a bit sceptic about the impact of oak bark in little amounts on calcium chemistry, but I'm very intrigued about how to create the right soil conditions for growing blueberries even when you don't have the acidic type of soil they naturally grown in! Of course i'm referring to the smaller low-growing European blueberry, but as far as i can see, they have the same preferences in term of soil. We are located on a moist neutral-basic clay (didn't check fully), and tried planting some chokeberries (Aronia) with a fair amount of compost but they all failed to establish themselves..shame, I would have liked to taste! And of course I'm curious to know how your experiments turned out!


8 years ago
Hi Dave,

Many thanks for the quick reply and useful advice, I really appreciate you took the time to share your experience and insight.

I'll take the necessary time to think it through and strive to let it become and enjoyable group process!

Your proposal for undermining the mighty hogweed seems sound and thorough, I think that will be put into action very soon! but not in all places because we still want some place left to actually be able to plant; maybe we could use it on selected patches which now represent the most work. We actually tried something similar but not good enough last year: we mulched with cardboard, but not with enough overlap or layers. We then covered that with a 10 cm (yeah, sorry..) layer of freshly made mulch material we prepared by shredding all the brambles, willow, alder and other relatively young green stuff we had cleared. This rich material decomposed rather quickly, as did the cardboard underneath, which made for a nice topsoil, but did not deter the underlying hogweed in any way. so at least we learnt it wasn't enough!

I'll do my best to post some visual form of update as the garden grows

many thanks,


8 years ago



I have not had the pleasure of reading Edible Forest Gardens, although I have heard only good things about it, it certainly seems to be as complete and thorough as can be!
I am wondering how applicable it is to European conditions, as much in terms of (native) species, climate data (no hardiness zones here..), not to mention measurement units

I am part of a collective garden group within a broader newly set up social-ecological allotment scheme (i.e. making gardening and growing food without chemicals accessible to a wide range of people, irrespective of origin or income) in the very progressive but permaculture-poor town of Gent in Belgium. We have designated ourselves a permaculture garden and intuitively seem to be moving towards a fruit-dense garden with as many perennials and interesting/uncommon edibles we can fit without them shading each other out (latitude is 51 degrees here and the sky is mostly grey and moist..). None of us have yet found the time and/or money to follow a PDC, although I've had the honour of participating in a few in France to teach some stuff about soil only (I'm a soil scientist).

Although land is scarce and expensive here (as in really), I believe permaculture has tremendous potential here as a catalyst for positive change in food systems, housing systems, and all the ways we are linked to each other in this thing we call society. Unfortunately permaculture if often misunderstood here as a very hippie type of gardening with a lot of spirals and mandalas and not much order or productivity, and it's never an easy concept to explain in a nutshell. Our garden lies surrounded by walking paths where people pass by all the time, so it is in fact a great opportunity to demonstrate what a space designed according to the principles of permaculture can look like and what it can actually produce and offer.

As the member with most previous practical experience of permaculture (to a modest extent) and gardening in general, I tend to take initiative when it comes to planning and design.
We found many useful plants growing here already: a large walnut tree, an even larger ash tree, two tall pear trees, hazel, oak (young), various semi-wild Prunus trees (haven't given fruit yet), and as much willow, alder, reeds, nettle and comfrey we care to let grow back along the water edge where we are situated. However we also inherited a less fun legacy of giant hogweed (of which there seems te be a huge reserve of viable seeds in the ground) and many well-established bramble bushes. I respect the tenacity of these plants but really they take up more than their fair share!
Our soil is a a very moist heavy clay and the ground water level is not much more than a foot deep in most places - notice the use of US/imperial units for your reading pleasure In addition the soil is littered with stone, brick, glass, metal and various plastics and industrial fibres from some demolished dwellings or structures several decades ago. But I would still deem it as being a potentially very fertile soil.

We have agreed on many plants we wish to include in our garden (and have planted many already - mainly fruit bushes, but also various peruvian tubers for example), and allocated sunny spots for annual vegetable beds, nested as is most convenient between existing trees and mounds of litter-infested and bramble covered soil. We have the vision of what the system could evolve to be (paradise), and have some idea of what individual elements this could consist of, but we have trouble seeing how exactly we can combine individual plants of different sizes/ages in terms of spatial placement so we can reach this sort of harmonious continuity that the concept of (super?)guilds and food forests evokes.

So the question is: how do we best go about deciding where to put what? How can we best fill the spaces between the pear trees, the walnut tree and the various berries we have already planted, and what sort of things can we wedge into those spaces that are rapidly covered by giant hogweed? What design process do we adopt to set us on the right track towards a 'complete', integrated and efficient use of space (200-250 square meters - sorry staying metric here :-b ). What should we think of as the climax food forest x years down the road?

Of course the Edible Forest Gardens books would no doubt be an immense help in this respect (hint hint...), but any tips or suggestions would be most welcome too - from anyone on this great community for that matter!

I look forward to any replies, and to many years of delightful harvests!


8 years ago