Saturday, July 9, 2016

Suburban Permaculture Project: Building Soil

Chickens helping the hydrangea grow, 2015
I'm a firm believer that good soil turns out good food.  Lots of organic matter, lots of worms and other soil organisms means good nutrition for plants, and good nutrition for my family.  Since first reading about gardening, and especially after learning about permaculture, I have been working to build my soil.

Almost all organic matter on site is kept and recycled back into my soil.  I compost it, feed it to chickens (who compost it for me), mulch with it, or even just bury it (we have a veritable chicken graveyard out back).  This could be food waste or garden waste;  I even compost small pieces of (nonsynthetic) fabric and yarn.  To me, it's actually not waste at all, but valuable nutrition for my soil.  

We buy in a few straw bales a year for chicken bedding, which is a wonderful addition to the soil over winter. I noticed a big difference in plant health and growth once we began incorporating it.  A few months after a top dressing of used bedding the soil is black, soft, and full of worms.  It's an abundant resource, too--chickens poo constantly!

What's more, we have been saving our own urine for the compost pile, and occasionally (when diluted) to fertilize plants.  After all, it's mostly just nitrogen and water:  two things plants love!  Perhaps one day we may even switch entirely to a composting toilet, but for now, we collect our urine and use it in the garden, another way of adding nutrition in the soil.

I don't dig my soil, except to plant or harvest.  I don't want to disturb all those creatures at work down there, and as I don't step on it, it doesn't get compacted:  there's really no need for digging.  When I incorporate compost or chicken bedding, I simply spread it on top and let the worms dig it in for me.  If I want to replant a weedy bed, I'll sheet mulch on top of it:  chop and drop the weeds (or just flatten them), cover them with cardboard or newspaper, then a layer of compost and/or topsoil on top to plant into.   Much less work than pulling out dozens of weeds--which will only grow back bigger and better, let's be honest!

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