Archive for the ‘Soil Structure and Fixing’ Category

Some of you may have heard a few people making the statement: ”I am a no dig / no till gardener” what they meant about that is that they do not follow the standard of turning or rotavating their soil every year especially in the Winter.

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Woodchip Soil Amending – year 1 and 2 onwards

No Dig gardeners do a little bit of digging, but only what is necessary such as digging a hole to place a plant in it’s final outdoor location. They Do Not however, systematically dig / till the soil every year.
One of the arguments used to justify this ficticious practice is that they are bringing up nutrients which are / have leeched deep down.
Gardeners the country over, including very experienced people on Allotments have no actual clue about the sub surface bacteria and how they are exposing these beneficial organisms to the elements and also burying them too deep which kills them off!
In permaculture we call it the Soil Food Web and it comprises the entire system from soil microbes, to fungi mycelium, the plants, moisture, decomposing matter etc…

Nature does the work for us, we just need to learn to observe and only intervene by taking advantage of the observed clues, one good example is with the Austrian Farmer Sepp Holzer, he noticed as a boy that Strawberries grow much better and produce larger / jucier fruit when stones were placed beside the plants, he also noticed how White Clover also helped (Nitrogen Fixer).

The below image describes a better understanding of exactly how the different organisms in the ‘Soil Food Web’ play their roles which interact with other organisms in the system:

soil food web

If for example, you buy a house or start a garden somewhere and you find that the soil is heavy clay, you will of course need to dig and place soil amendments (preferrably natural) in the first year on a once off occasion, thereafter only an annual surface layer of mulch is needed to feed the system with fresh compostable material, nature literlaly does the rest and after a longer period of time you will have a very healthy soil system on that particular patch of land.

So, a few bags of clean sharp sand to help break up the clay, perhaps a few bags of compost and I would say as much woodchip as can be obtained, these materials should be worked into the soil up to the depth of perhaps of one spade blade. If your woodchip is fresh, you should not grow anything in this soil for at least a year, so this year you could at least use the space to host a row of pots which will hold plants for this one season, next year you will grow directly in the ground.

Rotovating or working the soil every year destroys the food web and basically resets it everytime, in the case of using a rotovator on heavy clay, the blades actually compact the ground under the bed being prepared and pretty much can cause this layer to become a water barrier, this I have seen first hand and the plot in question was always flooded at certain times of the year … In my whole opinion, using a rotovator is only necessary in the first year of soil amandment.

If you have a perennial weed problem (weeds which die down in winter and re-sprout from sub surface root networks in spring) you can use sheet mulch (aka lasagna mulch) after your soil amendment is added and then your final layer of the woodchip or mulch layer of your choice.

I challenge any skeptics to do a control experiment where they dedicate half of their beds to a no dig with mulch method and see the difference year after year …

Woodchip is a great soil amendment and adds nutrients into the soil slowly, I have observably proven this to myself last year on my Allotment where I stashed a few wheelbarrows of woodchip on a section of my plot because otherwise the communal woodchip would likely have been finished by the time I needed some.
Once I dug my pond out, I covered the mound of woodchip with the soil from within the pond, about 6 months later I finally started a new project in the place of the mound of soil where I discovered the very well composted woodchip and noticed when digging that the topsoil layer was darker within a few inches under the topsoil line, when I compared this to a section just a meter away, the soil was lightly coloured and only darker very close to the surface line…

Below is a great video proving and showing from day one to 8 years on, the soil is even dug down seriously deep to prove how far the amendment reached until the soil quality becomes poor again.

 

Important Note: If you obtain free woodchip from your local Tree Surgeons, always ask what tree/s were chipped! Basically, Broad Leaf are usually Alkaline or Neutral PH (Oak is Acidic though) and Coniferous are Acidic PH, So use Conifer Woodchip for pathways as less weeds will germinate amongst the mature rotting chips as well as a mulch for Acid loving plants like strawberries and Blueberries. Use the Broad Leaf for your beds and as a soil amender!

Video courtesy of youtube channel OneYardRevolution

So the remining Pumpkins and collectable fruits are finished picking and harvested, I will be puree’ing much of the pumpkin and placing it into the freezer, this should be good for smoothies as well as pumpkin soups in the upcoming months! Below are some pictures of the fruits as well as some tips on producing home made Liquid Plant Fertiliser further down …

My growing season is not yet over though! there are Carrots, Lettuces, Spinaches, Mustards, and Kales that were sown before the start of Autumn, these will grow on throughout Winter and there are more to sow soon including Garlic!

We are nearing the end of the best time to sow Garlic (November), Garlic is quite easy to grow and I suggest starting now as I find Spring sown don’t get as big. I shall post an article soon regarding Garlic and Succession planting with Garlic.

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9.7 Litres of Home Made Sustainable Liquid Plant Fertiliser

If you have a normal sized general purpose bucket, you can easily make just under 10 Litres of Liquid Plant Fertiliser per batch on an established mature (2+ year old) Comfrey Plant (Bocking 14 Variety).

Following these instructions but just increasing the ratio of Comfrey and water to fill the bucket to the rim, then all you need besides the bucket and a water supply etc. is a well established Bocking 14 Comfrey Plant! Do not underestimate these plants, they grow very well once established and will need annual controlling (Luckily they are bred to not set seed) yet are an absolutely invaluable addition to any Organic / Sustainable food garden or plot. They can be chopped 3 – 5 times a year without worry and come back to life in early Spring. Their deep rooting system is their secret, it harvests minerals not available to the shallower rooting plants nearby and deposits these minerals in their leaves, hence why you either chop ‘n drop or chop and make Liquid Fertiliser / Compost Tea.

I will be selling Comfrey Root Divisions from January onwards – my Comfrey is definitely the Bocking 14 variety and I have never had any Comfrey weeds growing as a result, if interested just comment on this post (Anyone can comment, not only WordPress users).

Make Comferey Compost Fertiliser once more when you do your final chop, this stash of fertiliser will last you the duration of Winter and will be the reserves for spring until the first new year batch will be ready …

Late Summer / Early Autumn is the best time to start gathering the materials you need for your planned Hugel Bed / Mound, many Herbaceous plants which can be used in conjunction with the wood logs, branches and sticks are now ready to be chopped down and composted or used in another way. Autumn / Winter is the preferred time her in the UK to create your Hugelkultur mounds mainly due to the need for the wet season to soak the beds, the buried logs will soak up the winter rains for months until the upcoming growing season.

Two pieces of advice I can definitely lecture on about in this article to ensure a successful Hugel Project are;
1: Ensure Air Spaces inside the mound and
2: Add lots of Nitrogen rich Biomass internally to offset the nitrogen locking that the logs will create during decomposition

Air Spaces:
Although there are guaranteed to be air spaces between the logs and branches / sticks, I have found that rain and the settling down of the materials can cause these spaces to fill in, often causing or risking an anaerobic result – go explore your garden or any other garden you have access to (You may even be able to make a deal with a local gardening company – they could leave a bag of said such materials for you outside one of their customers properties so as long as you collect the bag and not leave unwanted contents at the site!) remember, you can always bargain that most companies have to pay to dump their waste at commercial specialist dumps, remind them that you are helping them reduce the need to do so, in most cases they will still have charged their customers to ”remove” the waste even though you took if off of their hands, the customer will inevitably still be charged for it being dumped.

There are many herbaceous plant species which have a hollow stem and need cutting down in Autumn, cut these stems into pieces which you will spread around and in between your logs at different levels to ensure small air cavities will remain. Cedums, Ornamental Globe Artichokes, Jerusalem Artichokes (Sunchokes), Young Bamboo (and old), some Hydrangea varieties and many more have hollow cavity stems which harden enough when dry to be used in this case.

Then there is dry hard leaf ”garden waste” which takes ages to decompose, these are leaves from shrubs and trees which are more on a glossy and hard / stiff texture than a soft / decidious and most likely in all cases, evergreen. Three options I have from the top of my head as examples are the leaves of ‘Magnolia Grandeflora’, The climber ‘Clematis Armandii’ , the Loquat ‘Eribotrya japonica’ Fruit Tree, Some Rhododendrons (look for the large leaved varieties) and Laurels. We have found that most of these leaves can take up to two years in an unturned / undisturbed compost pile to break down, they maintain their structure even when pressed down so they are perfect for maintaining air spaces / gaps internally within the Hugel Bed / Mound! Practically any glossy leaved plant / shrub / tree will do but the larger and dryer – the better!
In fact, a couple of these Tree / Shrub leaves will actualy curl up to form a cilyndrical tube shape with an internal hollow gap, when pressed these are strong and bounce back right away once released.

Nitrogen Rich Biomass:
Probably one of the best options are fresh grass clippings from your lawn mowing or that of a neighbour / friend. You can even clip your grass at your home twice a week for the last 3 or so weeks of Summer, keep these clippings aside in a breathable bag until ready to add into the Hugel Bed – if you obtain clippings over several weeks, you Will need to add additional fresh greens into the mix to compenate lost nitrogen.
Horse Manure is also a great option but I would suggest it be used more as an addition to fresh green waste rather than 100% of the nitrogen source
The not-so-popular option amongst people new to Permaculture, is human Urine, which has a good nitrogen content and is often used diluted 1 part to 10 in early season liquid feed for plants
If you plan on lets say December being your target month for getting your Hugel project started, I would advise Growing a patch of Broad or Field bean green manure from Late August / Early September – these will be ready for chopping down and adding into your bed around and amongst the logs as the fresh greens instead of grass clippings which won’t be available during that month anyway

Further Reading: Click Here for an article on the step-by-step making of a Hugelkultur Mound / Bed

I have been meaning to post on the Hugelkultur method for around a year now and have finally gotten to doing it! I’ve gone through all of my own personal pictures to show you my own experience installing and now after one year, my experience with the system.

Traditionally, the Hugel system is a year on year progression whereby in the first year, you are meant to only grow shallow rooting crops such as lettuces, then follow on the second year and third with larger crops until you are growing tomatoes, peppers etc.

well, I Cheated! haha, I also got away with cheating so far with some amendments.
Ok, so a Hugelkultur bed is basically large cut tree logs placed in a small dug out trench (supposed to only be a few inches deep) which are topped with smaller logs, which are then topped with branches, then sticks, twigs, leaves and finally the layer of ‘sod’ which will then have a layer of compost or soil added over it to plant in. (sod is upturned chunks of grass and roots)

The purpose of this system is for the logs and the rest of the organic matter sitting on top of the logs to slowly decompose over a long period of time (up to ten years +) which provides a good, nutrient rich soil amendment or compost bed which you can grow edible plants / crops on.

In the above images, you see the main 7 layers, I finally had the last (8th) layer which was the rest of the Top Soil, I made the planting layer much thicker than traditional Hugel Beds so in order to be able to immediately grow the main crops I go for such as Tomatoes, Pumpkins etc. The way that I cheated includes maintaining hole cavities to ensure that air is able to penetrate deep down ensuring it remains Aerobic. My Hugel Bed was dug deeper than usual as I wanted the logs to penetrate deeper to condition the heavy clay subsoil and also counter the builders rubble that I came across after digging about half a space deep!
After 10 years my garden beds will be far far more natural and organic compared with my neighbours.

All of this was done and completed before Winter was over (2015) and a final layer of semi  mulched leaves was placed on top of the bed to encourage the worms to remain closer to the surface and condition the soil before spring. NOTE: In the photo’s you see a small three foot wide hole, due to time constraints I could only make the Hugel Bed in sections at a time, the entire bed was about 4 meters long by 80cm wide (13 ft x 2 ft 7 in) once completed.

Success? YES! I grew Pumpkins, Tomatoes, Peppers, Oca Tubers, Nasturtium and Courgettes (Zucchini) on this bed with ease!, I have also discovered a new trick to maintain breathing cavities which I will update Here in the days / weeks coming, to ensure the system stays aerobic.
The Permaculture genius Sepp Holtzer is said to be the pioneer of the Hugel Method, I have read his book: Sepp Holtzer’s Permaculture, I highly recommend this book even if you are not interested in Permaculture but have an interest in growing food on any scale!

Below I have a few images found online that will help in understanding the Hugelkultur method better, I have a very small piece of land and it is not mine, so I cannot simply cut out part of the lawn and follow the general method of Hugel Beds, hence why I stuck to the actual flower beds which restricted the size and working area.


At the end of the upcoming growing season I will definitely come back with a new post updating on what crops were grown and any observations whether positive or negative regarding my Hugel System … Don’t Be Scared To Experiment !

As with other berry plants, blueberries require acidic soil and the most common way to ensure this is to obtain Ericaceous compost … but this is permaculture! We certainly do not need to go out and buy another product since we can create the same result (or even better) merely by recycling at home!

After following this method, my One plant increased yield incredibly and I am 100% certain that the bush had at least between 300 – 450 berries, No Jokes!

blueberry mulch

Mulching a blueberry bush to increase yield

Following the above image, you simply keep all of your used tea until you think you have enough to mulch the plant / pot to about 25mm (2,5cm / 1 inch) deep (if you use tea bags, keep them aside to dry, then split open and discard the bags), if you have a plant in the same pot as it came from the nursery, there is a good chance that they gave the plant some kind of wood chip, scrape this off and put aside, then spread your tea leaves out (keep it away from the plant base though), once spread nicely, you cover again with the nursery chip and leave to do it’s thing!

This should be done around now but even autumn is okay, latest should be done in spring. Other methods to increase yield is to stuff Oak leaves with a small amount of other compost-able material such as grass clippings, couple hand fulls of soil, vegetable scraps etc. into a black bin bag, place this in the sun with some small air holes and after a few months this will be well composted and will be an acidic compost due to the oak leaves, place your plant into a newer bigger pot and use  a combination of this oak leaf compost as the pot soil and the tea leaves as a mulch … you will never regret doing this, the results are spectacular! Ensure you have lot’s of space in your freezer for the excess berries.

Only recently I came across this recipe as I usually use Comfrey as a chop ‘n drop fertilizer or thrown straight into my compost site.

This is Really Simple!!

All you need is some Comfrey leaves and Stinging Nettle, Water (Preferably Rainwater), a bucket or container and a stirring stick. There is no particular ratio of water to materials but as long as the plant material is all submerged then everything is good to go.
Cover the bucket after placing the chopped / shredded leaves inside with water, be sure to stir a little vigorously everyday if possible and wait until at least a month has passed or until the water becomes quite dark in colour. You will need to dilute this to about ten (10) parts water for every one (1) part liquid fertilizer. The Nettles provide the Nitrogen and the Comfrey provides the Potash, so use loads of Nettle in the beginning of crop growing, then switch to more Comfrey once fruit is set on your plant/s.

Nettle & Comfrey Liquid Fertilizer Tea Recipe

Nettle & Comfrey Liquid Fertilizer Tea Recipe

Nettle & Comfrey Liquid Fertilizer Tea Being Filtered

Nettle & Comfrey Liquid Fertilizer Tea Being Filtered

Nettle & Comfrey Liquid Fertilizer Tea Brewing

Nettle & Comfrey Liquid Fertilizer Tea Brewing

Nettle & Comfrey Liquid Fertilizer Tea - Final Product

Nettle & Comfrey Liquid Fertilizer Tea – Final Product

The beauty of doing this at home is, the benefit of KNOWING Exactly what your fertilizer is made of! as well as eliminating some pollution (in the production of branded liquid feeds) further, you not having to travel to a garden centre to purchase products for this purpose is an advantage almost above the money you will save too …

After filtering, make sure to throw the waste back into your composting area and keep the fertilizer in a marked / dated container.

Other known nutrient rich materials can be added in as well such as Seaweed etc. I usually make sure to toss in a small handful of Soil / compost from my garden.