Whenever earth is moved it is wise to plant and / or seed as soon as possible. In other words, where earth disturbance is planned it is important to also have organised what species and methods (strategies) will be used to stabilise the area.
With our initial earthworks at Tillellan there was a LOT of disruption to the block, both in cutting out sand, changing the slope and placing large amounts of fill and timber on temporary areas. So with summer encroaching it was enough to let the land lie and water it to keep sand and dust down. This hopefully prevented much of it blowing to neighbours houses and losing some of the fine soil that we could do with.
By watering the area, the grass also came back quickly. Especially since it had been disturbed by the machinery and runners had been spread around. With the onset of autumn weather where we had decent, regular showers amidst fine – hot days, the grass and other plant species came back thick and fast. We were harvesting bunches of purslane that had established itself and cutting it up for early autumn salads.
The curious thing is, I don’t recall purslane growing on the block prior to this disturbance. Nasturtiums were present and thankfully came up and started spreading themselves around. I like nasturtiums for their rampant growth and good cover, plus they are easy to pull up once I am ready to clear an area or introduce other plants.
The next major stage of earthworks involved the levelling of the lower garden area for the vegetable beds and cropping beds and also the burial of the lumber that will be used to feed fungal species for future tree groupings. This area was not levelled enough so there will be soil to move eventually, but in the meantime the process of breaking down the buried timber and building top soil with our vege beds is underway.
Over the last few years I have put aside little quantities of extra seed such as pumpkin seeds from kitchen scraps and parsley seeds from the abundance offered in the garden. Such seeds have been placed in jars alongside nasturtiums and linseed and buckwheat and the seeds that have been thinned out from seed saving disciplines (roguing and saving the best). Some of these seeds we have broadcast out over the newly established vegetable beds and we may even get a crop of pumpkins, tomatoes, melons and green manure out of the effort.
Other plants such as sweet potato were propagated into slips. These were planted out in the warmer weather on sand banks with a little horse and cow manure under them to help them along.
Soil Creation – Building Soil
In A Permaculture Designer’s Manual it is stated that the techniques to build soil are rather simple. The implications and strategies that can be used for each of these stages are many and add particular depth to the process of building soil. These stages are used to create soil anywhere.
1) Raise or lower beds by shaping the earth to facilitate watering or drainage depending on requirements of the site. This may also involve carefully levelling the surface of beds.
2) Soil amendments can be added along with the bulk of soil conditioning which consists of incorporating humus or composted material into the earth, or in our case, the sand. Additions of clay and nutrients are also used to create a balanced soil.
3) Reduce water loss by methods of mulching. This also has varying impacts on soil erosion and the effects of the sun (it can either cool the soil or be used to warm the soil). Dark soil absorbs heat better in spring!
The overall rehabilitation of soil and the introduction of pioneer green crops (ie cowpea) should precede other plant species and their establishment.
Other notes on soil creation:
The way I look at soil creation is that I am a steward of the plot of earth I am farming with. In this context the soil is something that should improve over the passage of time as it matures and soil web diversity increases. It should be better when it is handed over, than when I received it. So to me, the earth I farm is also looked at in its entirety as an heirloom in and of itself.
- Timber from cleared trees before earthworks started had sat for nearly two years ready to be buried under sand.
- Compost piles will be used to make up initial, quick compost that will be used to set up grow beds for vegetables and to inoculate the swales.
- A wide diversity of base materials (largely ‘waste’ from other sites) has been collected to add bulk to vegetable beds and growing areas.
- Small additions of bio-char are planned to occur over time.
- Containers of waste materials have been managed at our previous property to become worm farms. These will be transferred to the new site and ‘released’ into areas to inoculate the sand base with soil life along with materials for their feeding and thriving. Our initial vege beds are effectively, long worm farms.
- Heavy mulching will occur in particular areas, for example the food forest area where grass will need to be restrained.
- High, initial planting of nitrogen fixing species such as legumes and acacias, tagasaste and honey locust. This I plan to do extensively, so that as plants grow they can be thinned out at certain times, probably as a chop and drop addition to the soil. This is why I have not hesitated to use ‘pest’ species as they will be sacrificed.
- Use of seaweed as a soil additive where possible.
- Spreading of rock minerals over established garden areas to feed the soil.
- Use of bamboo when and where possible as a local source of silica. I have planned to have a border of bamboo along the top boundary to provide growing stakes, animal feed and mulch.
- General use of comfrey both as a plant to improve soil and through using the leaves applied directly to soil and indirectly via comfrey tea. This has already been planted our in various areas and will be used to propagate into multitudes of plants for utilising when the swales get created.
- Liberal use of acacias as stated above both planted as seedlings and directly sown as soaked seed.
- Use of earth mining species such as comfrey, radish and Lucerne.
- Corrugated cardboard and newspaper where required to add bulk to soil and living and breeding habitat for compost worms.
- Look at the addition of various gels to create humus in the soil.
- Addition of old leaves from various spots.
- Addition of bone meal in vegetable growing areas to feed soil life.
- Addition of sugars to feed soil life such as molasses and fresh sugar cane mulch.
- Hugh quantities of green matter and twigs from garden tidy up jobs at other properties around the place.