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Soil Amending for Raised Beds

Saturday, October 8, 2016 21:01
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(Before It's News)

In our latest venture we prepped a backyard raised bed at Jenny Pell‘s home in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle.  We had an incredibly knowledgeable crew, together we assessed what seemed to be a troubled bed from the get go when Jenny moved in 3 years prior. For your educational pleasure, I’ll outline our process of assessing and re-mediating the soil to prep it for direct sowing!

We (Jen Gilda) determined a main factor to be a calcium deficiency as evident by one brave (or stubborn) little radish that was scrunched, stubby and stringy, and fibrous when broken in half. Two main causes for this are:

  1. Insufficient – needs more calcium. We’ll be adding comfrey “tea” to increase calcium.
  2. Unavailable – related to presence or absence of other elements. Excess iron, especially, can inhibit calcium absorption. We can increase bio-availability of calcium by improving acid/ base balance.

The soil was rather alkaline to the taste, which presents as flat, dull, sweet or smooth. Alternately, if sour, sharp, intense like a pine needle it is acidic. It was also quite sticky, probably a result too much compost from the kitchen (greens = nitrogen) and not enough rough structure (browns – carbon). Jenny did mention the only thing that had grown well were beans which are nitrogen fixers! Soil analysis can be tricky and these ladies were well above the curve, determining this yourself can take some research and help from a friendly neighbor.

So, to re-cap our trouble spots are not enough calcium, potentially too much nitrogen and a lack of adequate structure (ie sticky soil). Soil, after-all, should be 50% air, fluffy and moist.

Let the amending begin!!

  1. Twigs and evergreen needles for roughness and acidity. These will open soil structure, increase oxygen aeration, buffering and drainage (thus enhancing bio-availability), this also provides some phosphorus (bonus!). Twigs also provide long-term mineral slow-release to your garden, think of it like mini-hugelkultur 🙂 It will lower nitrogen which is good when there has been too much green compost. A bit of sawdust to provide the same benefits of twigs on a smaller structural level. Research what evergreen you choose, if you are planting from seed especially. Some will inhibit seeds opening. (Note the pic of them picking out what we added after making this discovery… It wouldn’t be educational if you didn’t have SOME homework!)
  2. More compost! In our case it turned out to be anaerobic, but we’re not trippin’. Check out Jen Gilda’s quick explanation on why it don’t matta.
  3. Finally some comfrey tea for it’s high calcium availability. We harvested this from the garden, along with a couple other plants that seemed to cry out “ADD MEEE!!”, tore them into bits, boiled it in a couple big pots (like pasta) then blended the tea and the green leaves in the blender. When cooled enough we added a mycorrhizal inoculant and ladled it into the bed.

We mixed these all up and fluffed with a pitchfork before direct sowing our seeds and covering the bed in a hoop house. Stay tuned later this summer for results and what we continue to learn along the way!

Thanks to Seattle Urban Permaculture design course teacher Jenny Pell, and her interns that led this one, Jen Gilda and Melissa Rasmussen (and Melissa’s mom Demi Rasmussen who was incredibly helpful in allowing me to pick her knowledgeable brain to ensure I was getting this all about right 😉

Plants and starts along with many other locally produced permaculture based goods will be available for sale in the Wallingford Neighborhood of Seattle.  Swing by Om Culture for more info and check out SUPPER this Fridays open forum about Local Economy and “Thrivelihood”, Barter Fair (bring things to trade and sell), and Socializing. Potluck too!!

Steady State Revolution explores the ideas of a sustainable economy. In order to have a sustainable society we must create an economy that develops within the limits of the ecosystem instead of growing beyond them: a “steady state” economy.


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