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Thought I would start a new topic to explore the idea of building soil.

I was listening to the radio on Saturday and heard Chris Perry on talkback gardening explaining how important it is to get fruit and nut trees off to a good start and what could be expected in the first three years (if you get it right)

The thing I noticed is that he didn’t talk about the "near death phase" that I see when I plant anything.

 

It got me thinking that the conventional idea of planting garden trees (find a clear space, dig a hole, adding fertilizer then mixing compost with the earth, plant the tree, water it in and add mulch over the top) just won’t cut the mustard in soils that spend a good portion of the year dry and without plants growing. The soil seems to go into a death spiral, ends up nonwetting or the water just runs straight through and takes all the nutrients with it and is bone dry 4 hours after a good soaking.

 

What I thought I would do is this.

I am going to pick out some areas for tree planting in the next three years(2014-16), install the watering systems now and see if I can build four inches of good quality living topsoil by simply gardening on it before the trees go in (and perhaps afterwards as well).

 

I'm open to opinions, theories, techniques and criticism. Although I would prefer examples of evidence based innovation and trial and error rather than vague anecdote's of failure and sweeping statements of impending doom. I'm getting plenty of that in person.

I have trialed a couple of things in the last few months, saved some plants I thought were going to die and had some encouraging results but nothing that looks remotely like a layer of new topsoil yet.

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Sounds like it's worth a try to me.  We're planting some fruit trees this month.  I've got some good amended soil for the hole, but I'm considering putting a handful of worms and a feeding station near each tree.  I figure it can't hurt and might help. 

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What is your soil now (clay, sand, loam), and is there anything growing (grass, weeds, etc.) on the spots where you plan to set the trees?

 

I have a few inches of topsoil throughout the yard with eco-lawn, over a clay sub-base. I've been working on improving the soil in the spots that I converted to gardens for a few years, and the soil has been steadily improving. Here's what I've done:

 

  1. Starting either late fall, or as soon as the soil can be worked, remove the sod, and loosen the soil underneath with a pitch fork down to one foot then return the sod with the grass side down (double-dig method)
  2. Add a few inches of compost from the chicken run
  3. Cover with newspaper/cardboard and wet thoroughly
  4. Cover with a few inches of mulch from the deep litter in the chicken coop (pine shavings mixed with manure)
  5. After a few months to allow any hot manure to cool, open holes in the cardboard and set plants
  6. By fall, the newspaper/cardboard is mostly decomposed and a good portion of the mulch has worked it's way into the soil
  7. Set the chickens on the plot for a day to clean up and to mini-till the area
  8. Plant cover crop (rye grasses, clovers, legumes), cut and drop the grass as it gets tall or give to chickens for winter greens
  9. Come spring, turnover the top few inches of soil, partially burying any remaining cover crop/bio material, or just set the chickens on the space to do the work for me
  10. Smooth out, sow/transplant and mulch

This year I'll be adding worm castings now that my worm bins are humming along nicely. The most important rule that I try to follow is to never have bare soil.

Edited by edmolina (see edit history)

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What is your soil now (clay, sand, loam), and is there anything growing (grass, weeds, etc.) on the spots where you plan to set the trees?

 

HI Ed,

It's mostly clay with some areas of imported sand, I don't think that is going to be important I will work on top of the existing earth for the first 12 months at least.

 

The most important rule that I try to follow is to never have bare soil.

 

I think continuous growing and cutting is going to be the key rule for me. Plants growing 12 months of the year cycled back onto the beds. I am going to allow myself about 6 kg/m2 of imported material to kickstart the process (not including added water) at this point there is not enough organic fertility to grow anything IN the existing earth like grasses or legumes.

 

I am looking at doing something along the lines of "strawberries in straw bales" but with a few tweaks.

 

 

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post-3002-0-15869900-1389947441_thumb.jppost-3002-0-05113000-1389947471_thumb.jp

 

This is what I will be using as a growing media.

 

It's aged barrel medic hay, which is a dryland alkaline soil version of clover.

 

The other photo is obviously cow dung chips. I plan to make a manure slurry and tea in a 205 litre drum and use that on the bales to change the nitrogen to carbon ratio to something a little more microbe friendly than the 1:30 that it is now.

 

I will place 3 bales on their edge tightly together add the slurry and fit the dripper line then wait for things to start working and after a few weeks plant the bales out with seedlings or seeds (oh, and fence the rabbits out)

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Well, I have my first little unexpected hiccup.

 

I dropped 4 bales in a little stack where I am going to make one of these bale beds and give it a good soak to wet them up while I brew up some slurry.

 

post-3002-0-57106300-1390055912_thumb.jp

 

57.8o C :blink: :blink: :blink: :blink:  It's started composting!

 

Oh well, I guess it will stop soon enough.....or catch fire!

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or grow funny lookin -shrooms!

post-3002-0-38133100-1390601149_thumb.jp

 

Quote from the Angry Beavers cartoon:

"We dont want no figure-skatin' mushroom-lovin' wierd-ar&ed ranger runnin our forest"

 

No Idea why that popped into my head, I must be running low on caffinated stimulation. Time for a not-so-early morning coffee.

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or grow funny lookin -shrooms!

attachicon.gifIMG_1643_2_1.JPG

 

Quote from the Angry Beavers cartoon:

"We dont want no figure-skatin' mushroom-lovin' wierd-ar&ed ranger runnin our forest"

 

No Idea why that popped into my head, I must be running low on caffinated stimulation. Time for a not-so-early morning coffee.

 

Hehe, Did you eat one ? (a lot of things can popp into ones head if so) Looks like a variation off http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psilocybe they grow like craysy here, in cow manure and open compost.

 

cheers

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They are really strange, no caps just the little gills and they grow and shrivel up before dawn, I lifted the top bale and the underside is covered in them, along with the mass of hyphae.

 

No I dont think I will try one.

 

When I used to dump piles of stubble for sheep feed. I had a mushroom looking ??? thing? growing that was almost a metre across with a thick layer of oozing sticky slime on the top, that one made me twitch just looking at it.

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I think Gabriella in the video is making the same mistake I have in the past.

 

That is, seeing the improvement of the soil from the added material as the end point. something to grow my plants in. really it should be the first stage. Her own garden should be able to supply her with compost, mulch and chips from now on. As well as extracting minerals from the existing clay and bringing them to the surface. It is what is done with the improved soil from this point on that really counts.

 

I have tried this technique myself with pine and gum, they are extremely difficult to get the breakdown processes started. More like 7-10 years rather than 3-5 years with cedar, when there is a significant dry season to deal with and the nitrogen tie-up for that whole time is huge.

 

She has got the process bang on with the perfect balance of water, microbes, living plants and organic matter. that's the key I think.

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I have added some nitrogen an regular water to my bales and am still waiting for some of them to cool down so that I can plant them up.

 

I also slipped 2 little rows of bales into my veggie patch and have just run out of patience and decided I have some seedlings that would die in the punnets so I have nothing to lose by planting them.

 

post-3002-0-56464300-1392767835_thumb.jppost-3002-0-52322800-1392767885_thumb.jppost-3002-0-03123000-1392767937_thumb.jp

 

brussel sprouts, cauliflower, pink flowering thyme this is their fourth day. Drippers are switched off due to 2 inches of rain one watering of diluted kelpak and maybe a water with a compost slurry today.

 

random green leaves in the photo are the result of a viscious hedge pruning with a chainsaw. Take that star jasmine!

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For a while they were just white with mycellium, (looked like they had been rolled in dessicated coconut like giant marshmellows) the added nitrogen has slowed that down a little and the composting microbes have taken over. As soon as some of the composting microbes have started to die they should provide food for the microbes that live around the plants roots. The insides of the bales are black with a hot core now so I am probably a week too soon with these plants.

 

Yes, there are wafts of steam drifting up first thing in the morning.

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The insides of the bales are black with a hot core now so I am probably a week too soon with these plants.

 

Yeah……I can see the heat being rather more useful once the weather cools off a bit.  In any case, it should be a nice place for plants to grow.

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Back to those mushrooms, we have been double digging all our gardens and first laying a bed of spent Oyster Mushroom substrate at the bottom, nice blend of worm processed rabbit compost and then soil- ending up in a nicely layered aerated bed. The results have been unbelievable and the pleasure at finding the odd Oyster mushroom between some beans is a bonus.

I have absolutely no doubt the mycellium innoculated substrate producers some of the healthiest veg i have seen in my twenty years of food production.

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thought it might be time for a couple of updates.

 

STUNTED CITRUS

I am pretty sure this tree is 8 years old, I dont know what it is, it has never set fruit. The tree has been on a soaker hose irrigation system all this time and is roughly the same height as when it was planted.

 

After the "before" photo was taken 4 months ago the new shoots that look wilted died and I pruned them off.

 

A bale of hay was placed next to the tree 40 days ago and  a dripper was fitted to the pipe WATERING THE HAY BALE with the soaker hose shortened to keep the water level the same.

 

I have tried to get the photo from the same perspective but it is not easy, there is more growth in the last month than the previous 8 years.

post-3002-0-88116900-1394759777_thumb.jppost-3002-0-28970700-1394759802_thumb.jp

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No, the old bales are composting and leeching goodies into the poor ground, looks like it is just enough to kickstart the tree into growth. I have some others I am trying it on where I tip a bucket of water on the bale, the liquid that comes out started as a bright yellow and is getting progressively darker as the weeks go on.

 

edit: The growth of this little tree has staggered me, I could see there were fresh new tips but I didnt realize it had grown so much until I saw the first photo.

Edited by yahoo2 (see edit history)

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post-3002-0-20342500-1396767802_thumb.jp

Guess its time for an update

After some initial drying out and uneven watering stunting a few plants things have settled down and the brassicas I planted in the bales are kicking along. I am wondering if the cheap and nasty compost I used around the seedlings was the cause, it seems to not hold water at all!

the only real setback has been SOMEBODY leaving the gate open last night and a cuddewy bunny has stripped the leaves off 5 plants (orright I admit it was me)

 

post-3002-0-39580400-1396767821_thumb.jp

 

My jap pumpkin vine has finally stopped sulking and is powering on. Two plants are covering 30 metres by 10 metres and I have to chop one side back every day so I can pick eggplants chillies capsicums and tomatoes. the honey bees and the native bees are not working in the early mornings so I am having to pollinate them myself. Interestingly the blue banded bees are charging into the honey bees and driving them out of the garden, I can actually hear them hit

This is pumpkin I pollinated less than two days ago alongside one I left unpollinated, I reckon it doubled in size in about 8 hours.

 

Some of the other bales I have down as preparation for planting fruit trees need a bit of a rethink. It looks like stacking them two high will not work. After the response of the citrus I might try a variation on that.

Not a lot of time to get it organised, I have 5 apples ordered for mid May and I am considering a pair of pears. Pearish the thought!

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Update from one of my experiment patches.

This is a small clearing amongst trees that has been unfarmed for 40 years due to the soil being declared unfit for production.

 

I spread two bales of rotting hay on the ground in February and just left it, apart from a few kangaroos having a pick, most of it stayed where I placed it.

 

So now it is the middle of winter and I can do a side by side comparison with the untreated soil. Coffee cup is to judge the scale.

Hay applied on the left of the cup, untreated on the right.

post-3002-0-51153900-1405058255_thumb.jp

 

 

post-3002-0-88724500-1405058272_thumb.jppost-3002-0-88115900-1405058287_thumb.jp

 

 

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layer of material just 5 to 10mm thick over the existing soil.

 

On the weekend I will chuck the lawnmower in the ute and go back to mow the green growth down.

I will leave about 10 cm of the existing plant to regrow and the rest will hopefully add to the composting process.

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