Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Soil Reclamation

"Soil Reclamation" is what I'm calling the soil rehabilitation process Chrissie and I are undertaking. On the surface, the soil around our house looks fine (it's amazing what someone can cover up with some bark dust and sod). Dig a little deeper and you find that it is totally unsuitable to sustain vegetation.

See the stuff right under the bark dust? It's dirt mixed in with rocks. It's packed in so tightly that you can't break it up with a shovel, you have to use a pick-axe or a similarly pointy thing. We use a triangular hoe. It'll take a long time for a plant to establish any sort of decent root system in this dirt.

I would rather have soil that is black and crumbly, like you stuff you find in a bag of potting soil. That's the sort of stuff plants love to grow in. I would also like to see a layer of it an inch thick. To achieve that here will take years. This was definitely one of the downsides to buying a brand new house.

Before I go on, I should mention that I could grow stuff with soil like this and probably quite successfully. I need only copy the formula that large, commercial farms use: bombard my crops with fertilizer. That's not really my style though. Using, and more importantly, relying on that stuff isn't sustainable. I don't want to be stuck looking for fertilizer when it's all gone and that's why I have soil reclamation.

What Chrissie and I are essentially doing is returning nutrients and organic matter to the soil any way we know how. I've already mentioned sniper potatoes and how they work in a previous post. We've started other things too. Composting is probably the most important action we're taking.

I talked Chrissie into allowing me two full size garbage cans in the back yard to fill with compost. I'm working on convincing her to let me have a third. You don't need to compost in a container, but we decided to do it this way to keep the critters out. The plan is, when the compost is ready, dig a big hole and dump the compost in. Then, slowly and surely, we have a bunch of patches that we can grow food in.

Another little project was planting lupins the back yard. Lupins are native to the Pacific Northwest and they are one of the first plants to grow places that have experienced a massive destruction, like a volcano or forest fire. They are essential to the healing process because they reintroduce nitrogen into the soil, making it possible for new plants to inhabit the soil in the future. I figure if it's good enough for a volcano, it's good enough for my back yard.

These projects don't mark the end of the process for us. They're just what I've heard about so far. Also, soil management isn't a process that ends at a certain point, it's something we'll always have to tend to. But it's a start.

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