creating soil?

Discussion in 'Soils, Fertilizers and Composting' started by doodah, Oct 24, 2007.

  1. doodah

    doodah Member

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    Location:
    Keats Island, Canada
    I live on an island in Howe Sound, the soil here is typical Sunshine Coast soil... that is, lots and lots of stone, boulders and sand with a little organic material scattered throughout.

    The garden area is about an acre on a southern slope and has been in existence for about 4 years. There is no ferry service to the island, only barges.

    I have been gathering whatever materials I can in order to try create some topsoil and have purchased a chipper (no shortage of larger organic material here). I compost everything I can, including leaves, seaweed and other miscellaneous debris. Some of this material is also used as a mulch in the summers.

    I have had some success in growing fruit and vegetables, flowers, etc. but the depth of my usable soil in most areas is only about 6-10 inches below which is hardpan.

    The result of this situation, is soil which requires considerable amounts of watering during the hotter periods of the summers.

    My question, finally, is whether placing newspaper, magazines, cardboard and the like below the soil and above the hardpan, would enable me to retain more moisture without any detrimental effects. I understand that this material would ultimately decompose and contribute to the soil.

    Any other suggestions would be happily appreciated.
     
  2. Anne Taylor

    Anne Taylor Active Member 10 Years

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    You have the solution to your problem in that wonderful chipper! And sea weed will help ( algenic acid 'breaks down' clay somewhat if I remember correctly). But the real answer would be to get some air spaces and debris down to the hardpan..... i.e. fairly fine bark mulch, lace it with a sprinkle of blood/bone/fish meal and forget about the newspaper with all the chemicals and ink. I'm sure the bacteria, microbes and ensuing worms would do much better with the buffet provided......Actually if you keep this process up, you will be stunned at how quick you'll have deep soil, course you will be mulching on top with more of your homegrown mulch come the summer heat, so it should be a breeze.
     
  3. 1950Greg

    1950Greg Active Member

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    Location:
    Langley, B.C. Stones throw from old HBC farm.
    Adding clay to the mixture really helps contain soil erossion which can be a problem on top of a base of hardpan. If possible dig into the hard pan and mix this into the organic materials there is usually a lot of trace elements in hardpan layed down over years of erotion. Terracing your area will help hold the soil together and slow down leaching of nutriements.
    Look around and find a crew of those people that clear trees from power lines and they are usually happy to part with wood chips I remember seeing them on Keats.
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2007
  4. growing4it

    growing4it Active Member 10 Years

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    You could also consider container gardening so instead of spreading the soil that you do have over a large area, create planting beds with the right depth of soil 12-24" depth. With container gardening you could focus your efforts on those fruits, vegetables and flowers that you really, really want and leave the remainder of your property in a natural condition. As you continue to garden and build the soil base, you could expand your garden and supplement the existing rocky-clay soil.

    Adding newspaper and other 'brown' material to your compost is important and I imagine would reduce the amount of recyclable that need to be barged off. And you are so lucky to have access to seaweed.
     
  5. Karalyn

    Karalyn Active Member

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    Gee, I didn't know hardpan was worth anything except to be used for fill dirt. What actually is in Hardpan?

    When my son was helping to dig out my first pond for me, they quit when they hit hard pan. They had to start using pick axes to break it up and it was slowing going for 2 15 year old teenagers. He had a friend helping him.

    Since then I had a digger come in and dig my pond deeper years after that.

    So hardpan isn't the easiest stuff to work with and if there is any good use for it, I would be interested in knowing.

    I for one would use the cardboard, newspaper, cereal boxes, shredded newspaper to layer on top of the hardpan. And I'm jealous of your access to trees branches and algae. Heck, I'm jealous that you live close to an ocean! I grew up in the Bay Area in California until I married an Idaho boy and I sure miss the ocean. So I surround myself with fish ponds, fish streams, fountains, etc. LOL
     
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2007
  6. Debby

    Debby Active Member 10 Years

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    Shredded newspaper is a component in worm bins. I believe publishers are using less toxic/nontoxic inks these days. I'd encourage you to use newspaper as mulch or as a component in your compost. I think taprooted plants can penetrate hardpan. I don't know which plants to suggest. Perhaps others do.
     
  7. doodah

    doodah Member

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    thanks for all the good advice...

    I have followed the hydro chipper around the island in the past and loaded many pickup loads of shredded material.

    My garden is terraced, I have some raised beds, several composting boxes and many a broken pickaxe / shovel (and a cultivator) to show for my work on the hard pan. I gave up trying to break the hardpan up as my aging body just said no more.

    Still having fun though.....
     
  8. Beekeeper

    Beekeeper Active Member

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    The best thing over hard pan in my opinion is raised beds. Shallow rooted plants [ lettuce and most leafy greens ] obviously dont require much depth. Carrots and all root plants require a good deal of depth. Drainage should be your first consideration, after which moisture retention. Seem like a moot point? A gardener can usualy add water, very difficult to remove it. Gravely soils are not as bad as they have been seen to be. To be sure they need humungus amounts of organic material. Once that has been dealt with they are far better at both drainage and at retaining needed amounts of moisture. Tiny stones will hold moisture in themselves.
     
  9. Beekeeper

    Beekeeper Active Member

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    P/S wood chips are one of the worst things that you can use to build your soil. They in fact require humungus amounts of nitrogen to decompose. An Italian neighbour took over a depleted garden. He planted fall rye at the end of August and when it was a foot high dug it in and replanted. He did that three times that year. He grows great gardens!
     
  10. Debby

    Debby Active Member 10 Years

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    Sea Soil is an excellent soil builder. It's composted fish waste and bark (not wood chips). Feeds the organisms in the soil.

    Beekeeper, the hydro chipper probably has mostly green tree tops, not tree trunks, so I should think lots of good green material is being used.

    Doodah, comfrey is a plant whose roots can go deep and possibly break up hardpan. Don't know how hard it is to eradicate the plants though. Some people grow comfrey expressly for adding its leaves to their compost.

    I've seen people plant potatoes as the first crop on their land. Is that to break up the soil I wonder?
     
  11. Beekeeper

    Beekeeper Active Member

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    Debby, I would tend to disagree. I belong to the BARAGA gdns in south BBY. My wife and I have a 1,000 sq. ft. plot each. Even leaves take a long time to break down. We use them as mulch over winter and bury them under at least a foot of soil in spring. The fall grass cuttings, as any Weed and Feed used in the spring will be gone, are to my mind the best as long as they are free of moss. Moss doesnt seem to break down. If it does, it may have been treated with a moss killer. I would like your opinion on seaweed. As I grew up on the coast I watched folks layer their gardens with it year after year. Fellow gardeners insist that it has to be washed to remove salt. I follow a blog by a woman on Kodiak island, Alaska who says she has been using it for twenty years with no apparent salt problem. Japanese seem to insist that it be washed. Could it be a difference in salinity between the northern and southern latitudes? Also, before the problem in Stanley Park, I used to get it at third beach at low tide. It did attract rats as it contained mussels etc. This year I got some from beside the causeway to the ferries at Tsawassen. It has no live shellfish. Would the shipping polution which has probably killed the shell fish contaminate the seaweed? Hey I have lots of questions! What gardener [or beekeeper ] doesnt! And like most gardeners and beekeepers I tend to be opinionated. Particularly where I have had success! One thing is certain in my mind and that is that a garden must be sustainable and when we take from it we must return equal value. Otherwise there will be diminishing returns.
     
  12. 1950Greg

    1950Greg Active Member

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    Where is the nitrate going as the wood chips are breaking down? I understand that some of it is being used by bacteria in the process and more being released into the atmosphere. If the wood chips were first composted, like regular organic materials then added in the following season this should get rid of the problem. Another solution is to plant rye on top fo the chips. The rye grass will absorb a lot of the nitrate and fix it and as you said turn this over and start again. At the end of this you should have a good layer of soil.
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2007
  13. Ottawa-Zone5

    Ottawa-Zone5 Active Member

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    Look at the positive side. You will eventually have a solution to your problem and one day some day soon you will have good enough soil built up and then will hopefully have good summer crops and probably some kind of winter crop as well at Keat Island. Those with reasonable soil in zone 4b or zone 5a can't find a solution to their short summers. We can't plant until the end of May or the beginning of June and the crops most of the time end by mid September. You have a solution though slow and it should make you cheerful. It looks you are the right track and with the good advice already provided above, your soil should gradually improve. I believe that composting should be the main factor. Never give up on it.
     
  14. 1950Greg

    1950Greg Active Member

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    Langley, B.C. Stones throw from old HBC farm.

    I have been thinking about your statement (Tiny stones hold moisture in themselves)all day. Do you have any sources for this information. I am very interested, it could be cheaper to add stones and more enviromentally friendly than adding peat.
     
  15. Liz

    Liz Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    There was a TV program here sometime ago of a gardener that had a steep rocky hillside that had some clay/gravel soil fairly typical Australian soil deplete of most things except for the native plants. This person inserted the pathways , rock walls and began building a garden using the container type method. Dug out hollows and filled them with compost soil and the results after 20 yrs were stunning. Mulching was also the big secret. They had also set up a drip water system that harvested the roof water to tanks and from there around the garden with the help of a pump and a series of taps and drip feeders to plants.

    Liz
     
  16. Debby

    Debby Active Member 10 Years

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    Charlie Sales and his wife, Margaret Charlton, have a terraced garden on a North Shore (North Vancouver) mountainside. They call it Bucket Hill because they brought in buckets of soil for each plant, as Liz describes. Rhododendrons, evergreens, clematis, and woodland gems populate their beautiful 2 acres.
     
  17. Beekeeper

    Beekeeper Active Member

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    1959Greg. I have no source. I grew up on a ten acre farm south of Qualicum on the Alberni hwy. Our land rose from the hwy onto a hill with a great view and ended at the bottom land with great old lake bottom soil, great in summer!, but with poor drainage. We only grew hay on that land. My father never used chemicals nor pesticides as the most used one in those days was DDT. We made our living on fruit and vegetables and a half dozen cows. We sold milk and butter and eggs. We had a Delavalle seperator with which my mother separated the cream from the milk. We had a wooden churn with which my sisters made butter. I asked my dad once why he moved the vegetables from one side of the hill to the other. Cut worms. When we find too many we move the garden. He told me once that the best soil on our land was the "bottom". But that from the gravel near the top where the best potatoes could be grown, to the "bottom", the best place to grow vegetables was that area in between with fine gravel. As long as composted cow manure was added from the previous year.
     
  18. 1950Greg

    1950Greg Active Member

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    Beekeeper, what a privilege to grow up in a rural setting surrounded by all things natural. You must have learned many things about gardening. In my small garden I also find a problem with cut worms and so I have problem growing root vegetables.
     
  19. Liz

    Liz Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    I have found if you are able to run a couple of Bantam hens they work wonders. But be prepared for some serious scratching and cultivating. They also require some safe housing and extra feed.

    Liz
     
  20. Karalyn

    Karalyn Active Member

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    What comes with chickens, is chicken poop and that is good stuff! ;-)

    Didn't the Butchartt Gardens start with a quarry and became a beautiful garden area that now the public can enjoy. Didn't Mrs Butchartt bring in soil and wouldn't it have to have some good stuff in it such as; sea weed, ocean soil, etc. I'm not sure as I haven't been there for a very long time and that time wasn't long enough!

    I really want to go back and spend more days there, now that my children are mostly grown up and I'm able to garden so much more than in the past. So much more to learn...and enjoy!
     
  21. 1950Greg

    1950Greg Active Member

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  22. cec

    cec Member

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    This is my first post. I also have a garden plot at BARAGA. Yay!

    I heard a Brian Minter segment on 600am this morning and he said that lime should be put on in the fall not the spring. Well, we did it in the spring, darn it. What's your opinion? Should we put some on now?

    Also, since Baraga is largely peat, would adding the small stones/gravel benefit the peaty soil?
     
  23. Karalyn

    Karalyn Active Member

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    Thank you Greg, very informative.

    Lucky for me the acre we are on was farmland, but some areas of our yard you can dig down 3 ft and find hardpan, or 2 ft, depends on the slope of our property.

    My son dug a 12 ft deep pit for my Koi pond filter and pump house. It is neat to see the layers of soil, hardpan and then gravel. I have a big pile of the soil, stones and hardpan that has been sitting on the side of the pit waiting to be returned after the blocked vault is built. Unfortunately it didn't happen this sumer, ugh, but I have been taking advantage of the available stones and placing them in a ditch which I call my creek when it was dug during the time the pit was dug, to make a run-off stream on our side of the fence from our irrigation pond to go down the hill along the fenceline and then make a left turn to go down the rest of the hill to a creek that use to be open area.

    Now a subdivision was built and a house right behind me where cows and horses use to graze and drink the overflowing water. The owners took away the hairpin ditch the builders put in so instead of waiting for the new neighbors to change things, I have the benefit of the water, a sunny brook and the fun of landscaping that area which use to be a dumping ground for trailers, barrels, and what not from the men in my family.

    So since the ditch or stream has a clay soil bottom and pebbles due to the water washing away soil as well as hardpan from the dig, I've been adding nice river rock about the size of a very large Idaho Potato and smaller stones to give the stream a more natural sight and slow down some areas to make waterfalls and rills.
    Plus this holds soil and I can plant water plants in it.
     
  24. Karalyn

    Karalyn Active Member

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    Welcome CEC, I don't know much about peat, except to know that it is spongy where it grows, and doesn't have a lot of nutritional value for plants. So plants planted in a pot with peat need to fertilize.

    I wonder if very small pebbles and coarse sand would make a difference. I guess some top soil. I really haven't had that type of problem. I wonder shredded bark would make a difference as peat is a nitrogen type of plant and would need some carbon to add to the mix.

    I hope someone answers that knows more about where you are at.
     
  25. Liz

    Liz Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    Sounds like peat soils are very productive but need care. Google PEAT soil and there is lots of stuff

    "Peat Soil
    This soil is high in organic matter. It tends to be acidic, which means it will hold moisture in winter, but can dry out totally in summer and can be difficult to re-water if it is dried out. It is not commonly found. It feels bouncy and spongy.

    Plants that work best in peat soil are Azalea, Camellia, Hydrangea, and Rhododendron"
    From http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/07/13/earlyshow/contributors/charliedimmock/main708721.shtml


    http://www.ew.govt.nz/enviroinfo/land/management/peat.htm

    http://www.landviser.com/peatdeposit.html

    Liz
     

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