Tuesday, 22 December 2009

How to make soil / Como fazer o solo?

How exactly do you get food to grow in depleted or poor quality soils? I've tried with little success in Scotland, Kenya, Liberia and now Portugal. What's the trick?

Now settled in one place for more than a few months, a village where people grow vast quantities of amazing-looking things in their gardens, I have seen a few seasons pass and have listened to their stories about what they do to make it all work. Also, we have Paulo on site much of the time: our very own walking permaculture encyclopedia, who's always keen to see the theories into practice.

Although permaculture design covers far more than the growing of vegies I can't help notice the huge differences between the two systems (local's gardens and permaculture growing). Here are a couple of major ones:

Normal gardeners dig their soil over each year, usually use this opportunity to add in some manure of other fertiliser. Heaps of work, happily avoided in permaculture's no-dig method: just cover the soil with loads of mulch (described below), avoid walking or compressing the soil and ecourage loads of soil life to develop: bacteria, fungi/mycellia, insects, worms, and millions of other mini-actors we barely understand but are responsible for making great soil if they have the right conditions. Digging the soil wrecks their world (and is way too much work too).

Weeding: another reason I always avoided gardening - loads of boring work. Instead, put down sheet mulch (shown below) and the weeds are denied light and can't live. Replace them with plants you want. Easy. OK, supposed to be. I'm sure there is more to it, but it has worked for us so far.

Couple of test sites here.

This is a South facing terrace that bakes in summer. Trying to build up soil there to plant berry bushes and small trees and kiwis to shade the whole area.
Neighbour's dog, Pinnochio (our dog's best friend by far) tramping all over it already the swine. We had just pruned a large bit of the mimosa (acacia) tree planted last year, for nitrogen mulch...

This is the next terrace up, the "chicken terrace". Here we want to build up an edge, to keep water on the terrace a bit longer, but also build up soil quality to grow things in. So we started with cardboard, then some nice looking soil with old manure on top, then forest leafy stuff, then newspaper, well soaked. then straw. We found 35 tiny strawberry plants in the shop and punched holes through the damp mulch bed and popped them in. Oh, we installed some micro irrigation pipe below the cardboard too, to avoid the drudgery of summer manual watering...

Teuru, admiring our handiwork. Next stop: strawberry heaven.

And here is the first garden patch we started this Spring (09). We chunked it full of tomatoes and squash and green peppers. As they started withering into winter, we planted in some lettuces, cauliflower, brocoli, onions and any other winter thing we could find. Where we found weeds we covered them with more cardboard and straw. It seems to go OK, and the soil is imroving a lot, but slugs have chowed through a good share of those new leaves. So next up is how to deal with slugs. Any ideas anyone?

Star of this show: Teuru all the way over from Cook Islands

Paulo in his element with new trainees (James from Tasmania and Teuru)


Cath said...

Wish I could send you an Aussie blue tongue lizard for the slugs.

Happy New Year to Moncao tribe!
May you continue to flourish in 2010 (and may the slugs flourish less).

Love Cath

mediamorocco said...

Hi Magnus, thanks for the visit, you might find some of the posts on my new blog interesting.

Here is to whatever life brings in 2010, recieved with gratitude.

Another blog of mine which I give some time to is www.virtualworld360.blogspot.com
it might twist your head a bit but nothing more than normal after a visit to me.
Take care and speak soon

Anonymous said...

Make hay while the sun shines...................................................

Anonymous said...

Slugs are attracted to beer and will drink as if there is no future.
It would be nice if it could be something you could grow yourself but I don't know about that.