View Full Version : pioneering my soil
I will guiltily admit that I've made a start on a vegie garden at my new place, by first mowing down the thick matt of cooch grass, then rotary hoeing it to loosen it up. It is dry and hard because at the moment I would say any rain just runs straight off. This is my patch that will satisfy my urge to "stick some stuff in", somewhere to put some manure when I get it etc..
I would prefer to plant things to "pioneer" my soil and I intend to do as much of this as I can within the bounds of "opening up" enough soil to get some productive plants in.
I have heard that sunflowers may be a good candidate, are there other plants that people have TRIED AND TESTED. I would prefer plants that do not require constant water and already prepared soil.. (such as my experience with potatoes etc).
Also, I'm thinking I will still need to lightly dig the soil, to give any thing a change against the thick matt of grass and roots.. any ideas?
the soil is a silty fine sand weathered from granite, on a north facing hillside, just up from a dam and lower lying "valley".
14-09-2009, 05:56 PM
We've knocked the do dig vs don't dig around here before. I was watching Gardening Oz on the weekend and they were doing what I would call digging. Preparing a bed by going over it with a fork to loosen it all, then running a rake over it. And once the plants are established using a push hoe to weed between plants. I call that digging, but I guess it isn't like the digging I've seen in some gardening books where you dig up a line of topsoil about 2 feet deep and then put the next line of topsoil into that hole and move on.
When is digging not digging? Apart from me being bone lazy, I don't get why nature would make a biological system work better by having something as stupid as digging as a requirement. :rolleyes: I'm prepared to make a hole just big enough to put a plant into but that's about it!
Any way that has nothing to do with your question! I'm a beginner compared to you but I wonder about daikon radish. I'm yet to try planting them but they get a mighty big root that looks like it would break up the soil structure nicely and I'm told the chooks will eat 'em. Lucerne is supposed to be deep rooted as well and would probably give the grass a run for its money. I planted some into both prepared beds and also just tossed seed over the top of the mulch. It did much better where the ground had been broken, but it did grow through the tree loppers mulch.
I'm keen to hear others suggestions though.
14-09-2009, 07:11 PM
Any intervention by humans could not be considered 'natural' or random. Even permaculture involves designing, arranging and managing the garden. In this case the emphasis is to mimic natural systems as much as possible giving it human nudges and tweaks to achieve our purposes.
The dig-no dig thing sounds like a continuum ranging from regular deep ripping with a tractor to Fukuoka's method of dropping seeds into last season's crop.
The main argument I have heard against excessive cultivation includes ruining the overall structure, altering water holding or drainage characteristics and accelerating the breakdown and loss of organic matter.
I read somewhere that even Fukuoka agrees you will need some form of initial cultivation to kick things along and then try to minimise this over time as your soil improves in structure and stability.
A hard, compacted soil lacking in organic material is unlikely to support a crop without a little digging in.
Having said this I have just sowed a mixed cover crop to add biomass and nitrogen to our weathered soil embankment. The bit that I just scratched in with a rake looks like it is germinating as well with the area I dug in with a hoe. Maybe we don't give enough credit for plants to succeed.
15-09-2009, 02:06 PM
My two cents.
I once renounced digging, like all who renounce any addiction. But...
I have come to think in terms of 'the middle way'. I really do think that some digging is beneficial, in terms of turning over the soil. Especially when the soil is new or hasn't been worked before. Now I don't know the science behind any of this I am just going on what I have experienced...
In my earlier days as a gardener in small suburban vegie plots I was right into digging up a shovel full, strip all the weeds I could out of it, turn it up and chop it up as much as I could so that it looked like loose weed free soil. Then the next shovel and the next until it was all 'pristine'. On a small scale this seemed to be OK. It meant there was little competition for my vegies when it came to planting and I got some exercise away from the office and outdoors. Then I got a bit lazier and just dug it over, turning the weeds on top of themselves hoping a good layer of mulch would keep them down. I found the two were only marginally different in terms of keeping the weeds down, so it seemed mulching was a bigger factor than removing the weeds altogether. any weeds that did come through were held pretty loosely in the moist soil and pulled out as part of my evening stroll around the garden.
Then I read the One Straw Revolution and decided I would hang up my shovel for good. But I have since decided that is probably something of an ideal to move towards gradually as you get all of your systems into place. I mean my soil was pretty crappy when I got here and much of it still is, but as it improves these sort of natural systems are easier to get working for you. I mean it is one thing to slash and plant into nice soil with a bit of moisture holding capacity, but it is a lot more difficult to just drop seeds and hope they sprout when the soil seems to somehow teleport water away to another dimension the instant it touches it or at the very best flatly refuse to allow the water to go any further than the surface, making it wait outside until the sun deals with it :wink: But it seems to me with even a bit of modest digging or tilling in the early stages gives the soil a chance to make something of itself, it starts to invite water in, and with water comes lots of party friends! Pioneers love a bit of disturbance...
I watched what happened with some of the acacias I planted. Two rows about 3 meters apart. One row I sort of dug some gutters and plonked the clods on top of the beds (or row) so that the weeds were more or less smothered face to face. A lazy turn-the-soil-over sort of dig. A year later the acacias in the dug strip are at least twice as big as the row that was basically planted straight into the ground. of course there are a lot of factors that contribute to the difference such as competition from grasses near the trees, the 'gutters' perhaps catching a little more water etc. But the simple fact is that simply digging a bit has cancelled out or added a number of things that have given the trees a head-start. Similarly, I tried some clover and some lucerne experiments too. In plot 1, I spread lucerne out on some mown paddock and on plot 2 I did the 'Organic Gardening' method of turning the soil over in blocks to about 15 or 20 centimeters depth (exposing heavy clay). Both plots initially got a good amount of water to give it the best chance. The results on the turned soil is a good strong crop of lucerne out doing almost everything else. Where I spread it straight onto the paddock, predictably - nothing, not a single germinated seed. The clover did slightly better on the paddock grass but certainly not as well as in turned soil.
So, like a reformed smoker who has a handle on his previous addiction I can now dig a little bit to satisfy that urge and know that I am not over digging, digging efficiently. Surely not every shovel full is doing me damage?
I DIG and I VOTE :D
15-09-2009, 02:07 PM
I forgot to say, that the next thing I am going to try is a light rotary hoe of the 'top' soil in a paddock section to see how that goes
15-09-2009, 02:09 PM
My own preference has always been no-dig, but I've never tried the digging alternative. I suspect Fukuoka's reference was to whole fields of grain crops which you couldn't possibly sheet-mulch to begin with, but for a typical veggie garden it depends on what you have on hand.
In Sydney, I had a large vegetable garden that was layered over clay soil and kikuyu grass: thick newspaper, mushroom compost, straw. I found daikon to grow pretty well into the clay and it all became pretty usable with time. I've seen people on TV etc. using single sheets of newspaper - kikuyu grass would grow through that in 5 minutes. I was using about 10 sheets thick and that would kill it.
My new garden in Brisbane is quite sandy but not much grass. I'm trying potatoes mulched with mushroom compost, composted grass clippings, heaps of palm fronds (both hand-chopped and electric shredded), and straw. Since I've got lots (i.e. too many) of palms on site, there's plenty of palm material available to mulch with.
You've probably seen it, but Jerry's backyard thing was pretty amazing - use of rotary hoe and bulk green manure crops:
15-09-2009, 04:57 PM
There was also another study I read on using Brassicas as a biofumigant against nematodes.
The highest levels of glucosinolate / isothiocyanates levels were obtained in the soil when the material was chopped finely and turned in. When left on the surface oxidation tended to decrease the active constituent.
15-09-2009, 06:23 PM
I have heard that sunflowers may be a good candidate, are there other plants that people have TRIED AND TESTED. I would prefer plants that do not require constant water and already prepared soil.
I have had good success with leaf amaranth and yellow cosmos seed directly onto the grass,They both have weed potential but this has not stopped me yet.I need to extend this trial.
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