Jacobus
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Setting up soil for veggies. What layers, in what order?

Hi there,

This year I'm not only starting a veggie garden, but it should be a permaculture too! The vegetable garden is about 1300 square feet (120m2). Unfortunately, I already tilted the soil last year, when I was still under the assumption that putting in much physical effort would eventually be repaid by mother nature, lol.

So, at this point I have 1300 square feet of bare soil. It's quite sandy. There used to be grass on top of this land for the last 100 years or more. I burried the top soil about 8-10 inches below the surface (again, before I discovered permaculture).

I have gotten my hands on 12m3 (about 144 wheelbarrow's) of composted wood chips, 6-7m3 of fresh wood chips and I have about 1m3 of homemade organic compost. Also I have some blood meal.

Question: what layer should i start with and when should I add the blood meal?

I was thinking of the following: 1. first my own organic compost (I only have enough for 0.4 inch), 2. put the blood meal on top of the organic compost, 3. add 4 inches of the composted wood chips, 4. add 2 inches of fresh wood chips.

Am I doing it right?
:?

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rainbowgardener
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I tend to think much of the stuff is better off and more effective, mixed in to the soil than sitting on top. So the compost, (well) composted wood chips, and blood meal can be mixed and then mixed in to the soil. If you don't want to till it in, you can just turn it in with a shovel (less disruptive to the soil micro-life).

The fresh wood chips would be for mulch on top of the soil, after everything is planted/ sprouted. You don't want to bury the fresh wood chips, because they can suck Nitrogen from the soil in their decomposition process.

Ideally for veggies, you would want a greener mulch like grass clippings, hay, pulled weeds, etc. You can "green up" the wood chips by mixing grass clippings with them. The wood chips alone are great mulch around shrubbery and trees.

I think you will do yourself a favor if you lay out some paths first. Divide your plot into 3-4 foot wide, wide rows/ beds. Dig some of the topsoil out of the paths and pile on the beds. Then put your soil amdendments just in the beds. It will be less work, the soil amendments will be more concentrated where they are most needed, and you won't be encouraging weed growth in the paths as much. You can mulch the paths heavily with the fresh wood chips (and/or burlap, used carpet strips, cardboard/ newspaper, or whatever you have on hand).

Best Wishes in your new endeavors!
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Jacobus
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Thank you rainbow gardener for the reply!. I'd rather not mixed anything in the soil. I'd love to try the 'Back to Eden' way of perma-mulching. So only adding stuff and not mixing.

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rainbowgardener
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I don't really understand the Back to Eden thing and I have had a hard time finding any info. I have done some searches on Google and Amazon and everyone just refers you back to the film/DVD. Video is NOT my preferred method of learning. I want someone to write a good article (or even book) about it that I can read, but haven't found any.

So in my limited understanding, they are just laying down a big layer of wood chips. So mulch is always good, but are they planting into the wood chips or in to the soil underneath? Do you have to wait for the wood chips to break down, which would be several years?

It still seems to me that mulching only with wood chips creates a very carbon heavy, fungal oriented soil, not necessarily the best for veggies. It seems like it would need a lot of nitrogen supplementation. That would be the point of the blood meal and compost you were talking about.
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MObeek
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Here's the How-to instruction on doing the Back to Eden method of gardening. Read down the Physical column and go to no. 3 for detailed instruction on what layers to apply.

https://backtoedenfilm.com/how_to/index.html

Dillbert
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I have to giggle at most if not all of this stuff.

see the recent posts - there's this "thing" called hydroponic gardening.

that uses some inert media to "hold" the roots but supplies "nutrients" via chemically 'perfected' liquids.

this whole thing is just another rehash of growing plants in something other than dirt.

what pray tell is to any significant degree different between "Eden" gardening and Ruth Stout?

is a three inch layer vs a four inch layer of magic component X really going to make a difference?

is it easier?
more practical?
require less water/fertilizer/attention?

and whatever happened to lasagne gardening?
did that go pasta up?
perhaps it became different from "Eden" gardening?

we see similar questions every spring - people looking for a "microwave solution" - i.e. set the time to Y and power level to Z and everything will turn out right.

this is not even remotely true. some experience required to sprout and grow on plants - flowers or vegetables.

nature does not work on "magic" solutions or fad techniques

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rainbowgardener
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The difference between Back to Eden and Ruth Stout is that Ruth used hay and other greens for mulch and fertilized with cottonseed meal. Makes much more sense to me for feeding soil for veggies, than wood and other browns.
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gixxerific
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rainbowgardener wrote:I don't really understand the Back to Eden thing and I have had a hard time finding any info.
I have seen that video a few times I don't buy it. Adding all those wood chips will increase microbial activity due to decpomosition but in return it totaly kills your available nitrogen as it is being used up in the the aforementioned increased microbial activity. This is basic soil science here, though he attributes it all to a higher power.

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gixxerific
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rainbowgardener wrote:The difference between Back to Eden and Ruth Stout is that Ruth used hay and other greens for mulch and fertilized with cottonseed meal. Makes much more sense to me for feeding soil for veggies, than wood and other browns.
Yes very true as Ruth added higher green (N) mulch and not straight up carbon which is what wood chips are. Ruth also did not mix it in. Wood chips are fine on top of the soil as a mulch but when they are mixed in the soil that is where the problems begin.

To the OP and other talking about layers. Why? would you want to do layers. What is the benifit in that?

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applestar
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When I start a new veg bed, it's usualy over a patch of established lawn.

So I start by using the garden fork to make holes as deep as possible and fracturing the soil by tilting the fork. Then putting down unfinished compost and amendments and weed suspect mulch, then cardboard or layers of Kraft paper and newsprint, then weed free materials like finished compost, reconstituted alfalfa pellets, spoiled hay, straw, leaves, grass and weed cuttings.

Emilia Hazelip used wool and wilted weeds, Ruth Stout advocated spoiled hay and wilted weeds, Masanobu Fukuoka recommended living clover mulch, chopped up rice straw and chicken manure.

I don't use wood chips except as mulch around ornamental trees and shrubs. I AM trying composted pine bark mulch around blueberries.

If I ever get around to obtaining fresh wood chips, I'm going to try spreading them on a garden bed and inoculating with garden oyster mushrooms a month or so before planting.
:idea: back burner NEW PROJECT! :wink:

Jacobus
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Thanks all for the replies.

I have no gardening experience whatsoever so I have no personal experience to base upon my urge to go the Back to Eden way.

After watching the film it simply sounded logic and natural. It may not be 'very scientific' but I haven't seen anyone on this forum quoting a randomized controlled trial stating tilting soil is the way to go.
We just copy each other all based on 'expert' opinions. Also, writing a 'scientific' paper on gardening doesn't mean it is any good by ways of methodology.

So since any solid evidence-based meta-analysis on vegetable gardening is lacking we are left with whoever seems most convincing in his/her stories. Which is quite sad, but it's all we have.

So yes, I'm just someone trying to do something different, since doing it the old-fashioned, back-breaking, soil tilting way may be just totally idiotic. Or it may not... :D

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applestar
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Each garden has own idiosyncrasies -- native soil, existing biology, climate.... So we can only try what may work and learn from experience as well as gardening style that suits our personal capability and philosophy.

I'm haven't tilled my garden ever. I have experimented with other methods. I didn't get into details in this thread but I have done so numerous times in the past, and the method that I use which is a mixed adaptation of different styles and techniques works for me.

I'm working towards self sustainability -- i.e. I,m looking for self renewing options and trying not to import materials if I can make it on my own, and I have no way to make wood chips, so that woudn't be a material I would readily choose. But I like the idea of inoculating with/using edible mushrooms to help break down fresh wood chips to nutrient rich state that plants can use. (this is from ideas described at Fungi Perfecti).

Dillbert
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by all means give it a try.

there are "studies" of till / no till. however there are so many variables involved that it is just not possible to extend the results from a test plot in X to the whole world. what worked in one area may not work in different climates / conditions. and, unfortunately, the assumptions / conditions / etc in rather a lot of the "studies / tests" have been slanted to prove the desired outcome. basically they take a couple of vegetable types they already know "do well" in specific circumstances - run a "test" which surprisingly proves Method Z is the best and then produce the recommendation that entire world should change. and almost to exclusion the tests are conducted by an organization with an agenda - which makes it suspect from the start.

and the nagging question remains: if it's so great, why has it not been widely adopted?

and I can point out a very practical problem: sourcing the amount of organic material - repeatedly - to maintain a garden of any size is going to be a challenge for most urban gardeners. if the garden is 10 square meters, not such a problem. for a 100 square meter garden, you'll need stuff by the truckload and probably some machinery to move it around.

all that said, "gardening in compost" - which is the basic premise - is not impossible. for years I grew potatoes in a heap of leaf mold (autumn leaves, chopped up, let rot for a season) it worked great - but I can't say if it was better/worse than 'traditional' because I'm not one to weigh every potato I dig out of a patch and keep long records....

but I can tell you from personal experience - tilling in significant quantities of organic matter spring and fall, over a period of 4-5 years you'll have a light, fluffy, extremely rich soil / boden - that's I'd put up against any of the 'pure compost' gardens. and at that point, there is no "back breaking" labor involved simply because the soil is no long so dense and compact. in my current garden, about half has been worked for 10 years; then 5 years back, I doubled the size. there is a very noticeable difference in "working the soil" / planting / weeds / digging / etc between the two areas.

imafan26
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I am confused if you want a permaculture or no til garden.
They are not exclusive but they are not the same.

In a no til garden, there can be some tilling (at least once). No till, lasagna, biointensive are synonyms. Clear and weed the selected site.
You would double dig (you have already done that). Create the bed length x width and layer with cardboard, newspapers, greens, browns, soil manure. whatever you have available to you. Here are some links that explain it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUp8XOsA2q4
https://www.green-talk.com/2009/06/22/ho ... arden-bed/

Permaculture is a philosophy based on three ethical principles. Nurturing the land, nuturing people, and sharing with community.

It is a design plan.

It is really a way of life that embraces self sufficiency and making the smallest carbon footprint. The plan is to recycle and reuse as much as possible and minimize waste and using no or very few outside inputs, and nurturing the natural environment encouraging beneficial insects, using animals natural instincts to help weed, till, fertilize, eat pests, and thrive.

It means really looking at how you live to make the garden and your life more self sufficient. It means doing things like using materials that are gathered from your environment. Stones to make garden beds, grass, and tree clippings from your garden.
Saving kitchen scraps, making your own compost. Using chicken tractors, Raising fish like tillapia, recycling the water through the plants and return clean water to the fish (aquaponics). Reusing gray water from outdoor showers, recycle water used in an outdoor sink to wash vegetables back to the garden. Sharing what you grow with the community. Making the smallest carbon print. Solar power, composting toilets, water catchment/recycling water. Select and plant what will grow best for that location.

https://permacultureprinciples.com/
Happy gardening in Hawaii. Gardens are where people grow.

Az sunshine
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Answer to layers

When I started my lasagna garden, our soil was so bad, that my husband removed the clay by using a bobcat loader to dig a trench 4 ft wide by 20 ft long. I then layered the trench with the following: Cardboard in the bottom, Leaves, manure, leaves, manure, leaves, manure (the trench was 2 ft deep). I wet down each layer and then sprinkled Azomite and a product called Soil Secrets, which includes Protein crumbles and terra pro on top. This layering can be done on top of level ground as well or in an established raised bed. I then covered the bed with a 6 inch layer of good top soil and planted right in it. The same year my tomato plants were 5 feet and and produced 5 gallon buckets of tomatos every week.

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prettygurl
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Re: Setting up soil for veggies. What layers, in what order?

Almost all of the methods are basically the same. The only difference is what they are called. I believe that you will have to pick and choose what is good for you and go for it.

I used to be anti-till but I have recently changed my mind on that. I also discovered that wood is not the best organic matter for every location. In my case, it was the pill bugs from hugelkultur that have turned me off from even thinking of trying to put wood chips in my garden.

There has been a wave of "new" methods introduced by permaculture over the last year or so. When it comes down to it, these are only recycled ideas. I've pretty much done a full circle and gone back to the same way my grandfather gardened.

imafan26
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Re: Setting up soil for veggies. What layers, in what order?

Permaculture priciples and biointensive are very similar.

What Paul does is not quite either one. He still imports tons of wood chips so his garden is not really self sufficient.

If you want to go truly biointensive and permaculture maybe you should be looking at Jon Jeavons biointensive gardening instead.

1. Design your garden to take advantage of what you have. If it is on a hillside a terrace garden works best and run the irrigation lines down hill.

2. Collect and divert water. Use rain barrels, rain gardens, divert some gray water from outdoor showers and sinks to the garden.

3. Compost and recycle whatever you can.

4. If you have the space raise your own chickens. Chicken tractors.

5. Invite nature in. Establish and maintain nectar and host plants for beneficial insects.

6. Reduce your carbon footprint. Solar power, walk and bike more and drive less.
Use a shovel and a rake not a tractor if at all possible

7. Build the soil, add organic matter, but with minimal tilling so as not to damage soil structure and disturb soil organisms large and small.

8. Select the best plants and cultivars for your area so that they will be less susceptible to bugs and disease.

9 Mulch and use drip irrigation to reduce water loss.

10. Share with community get your family and friends involved. Share the bounty.
P.S. Get their leaves and kitchen scraps for your compost pile while you are at
it. Reduce, re use, and recycle.

11. Lasagna your garden to reduce tilling. Keep adding layers brown, greens, compost and fertilizer. Plant, and then mulch. Harvest, and REPEAT.
Happy gardening in Hawaii. Gardens are where people grow.

estorms
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Re: Setting up soil for veggies. What layers, in what order?

I have mostly stones with a little dirt. I put on anything I can get anytime I can get it. I am building some raised beds this year. There is a place close by where I can get topsoil mixed with peat moss; half and half. All the stones are screened out. I'm putting that in my raised beds with a little 10-10-10 and some compost.

imafan26
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Re: Setting up soil for veggies. What layers, in what order?

Soil and peat moss should work. I would add some cinders or vermiculite myself. I would also mix in compost, about 20% by volume of the soil mixture. I choose to add a starter fertilizer on a freshly made bed since it has not had time to decompose yet. You may not have to if the soil is rich enough or you could supplement later if needed.

Put the brown layer down first. Straw, dry leaves, shredded paper, or composted wood chips. Add green layers kitchen scraps and coffee ground. Scraps you can get from the grocer and neighbors, grass clippings, fresh trimmings, composted manures (make sure it is not fresh). Repeat layers till you get about two feet high, then put on the soil mix and a layer of mulch.

The bed is best built in the fall so it can compost itself and be ready to plant in the spring. That way the materials will have had a chance to breakdown.

Plant in the soil through the mulch.

I have very heavy clay and need cinders to help with drainage. Cinders don't breakdown and pack the way that compost does. Compost and red clay together hold too much water. If your soil is sandier you don't have to do this. Vermiculite is hard for me to get in quantity and very expensive. Crushed cinders are heavy but readily available here.
Happy gardening in Hawaii. Gardens are where people grow.

estorms
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Re: Setting up soil for veggies. What layers, in what order?

I don't like the feel of cinders. Too much like little stones. I have never seen them in my area, so it is a moot point. I do have some shredded paper I can put in the bottom. I intend to use this bed this summer. I am tired of losing all my tomatoes to the blight. I hope new soil helps. The raised bed should also drain better.

imafan26
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Re: Setting up soil for veggies. What layers, in what order?

You don't need to use cinders. Many people get great results just by continually adding organic matter to the soil. It can take several layers but it gets better over time.
Happy gardening in Hawaii. Gardens are where people grow.

estorms
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Re: Setting up soil for veggies. What layers, in what order?

Thanks. I filled a raised bed today. I did not put any brush or sticks in the bottom. (I work so hard to get rid of that stuff) I did put in some half finished compost. Then a few more pitch forks full as my husband shoveled the dirt in. I plan to put strawberries in it as soon as I can.

imafan26
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Re: Setting up soil for veggies. What layers, in what order?

estorms wrote:I did put in some half finished compost.
Remember compost that is half finished is still using up nitrogen. You will probably also need to add some blood meal, fish meal, bone meal for added nutrients particularly nitrogen.

Usually lasagna gardens are set up in the fall so they have the fall and winter to decompose to be ready to plant in the Spring. Sheet composting is a slow process and it is cold composting so do not use diseased materials.

If you want to plant sooner. finished compost + organic fertilizer or topsoil 50% or more + compost (good quality) 20-50% + organic fertilizer should be the top planting layer covered with a final layer of mulch. You will plant through the mulch into the compost/soil layer. Over time the lower layers will continue to decompose and provide "soil" for the plant roots. Add additional organic matter annually.
I have links below to two sites explaining sheet composting.

https://extension.oregonstate.edu/lane/s ... osting.pdf
https://bloomington.in.gov/media/media/a ... f/4905.pdf
Happy gardening in Hawaii. Gardens are where people grow.

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