How To Make Soil – Faster

Good soils do vital work. They sequester carbon and nourish the plants. And therefore they nourish us. Here’s how to make soil faster.

There are five components of soil topsoil. Firstly the soil needs air. Secondly, it needs water. Water to get into it – not just to sit on it or run underneath. It needs nutrients. it needs organic matter or OM as some people call it. And it also needs organisms. The organisms allow the good soil to continue to grow – to continue to cycle and make the organic matter into nutrients. Poor soils can offer specialist niches so maybe there are some native plants or adapted food plants that prefer poor soils, particularly poor soils. So, before you set about creating the perfect soil, investigate the value of the existing unusual soils.

macadamia seedling
macadamia seedling

Ground-braking Threats

To make good soil we need to think about the threats or the barriers. Whatever effort we make we don’t want it to be undone. So, we need to consider erosion from flood, wind, and the damage caused by too much sun. T

he next step would be to identify your resources. Look at the vegetation that’s already there perhaps that’s valuable vegetation or perhaps you can take some of it to create better soils. Look for tools that you can repair or borrow. Or are there some tools that you can create? And then, use your waste the waste is a valuable resource. And find ways to build the organisms that are on the site.

The Guardians of Good Earth

Fungi and glomalin are critical to holding soil particles together reducing erosion and supporting the plants. So, if you have young plants. And they don’t have the beneficial fungi and glomalin from their parents, you might need to bring a little bit of that to the site.

Most people will notice the weeds on a site. Some people say a weed is simply a plant out of place. Because a permaculture system works to create a diverse collection of food plants, a weed would therefore be a plant that dominates the food forest and doesn’t support diversity.

And weeds can be indicators. For instance, flat weeds on the bare ground can indicate compaction whereas lush green weeds can indicate an abundance of nitrogen.

Weeds are generally willing workers. They’re pioneer species. They do three main things: They mine poor soils searching for minerals. And then they shelter the earth because nothing else will grow. They go in there first and they shelter the dirt from erosion. And thirdly they do create habitat for animals, especially insects.

a common weed - petty spurge, contains skin medicine worth $130 per script
a common weed – petty spurge, contains skin medicine worth $130 per script

The Good Weed

There are medicinal weeds for instance this common weed that I know is petty spurge. It contains a chemical that my family has been prescribed to reduce their skin cancers. Many weeds are the forefathers of ancient foods. The reason why we don’t eat them now is that humanity has modified many of these foods so that they’re easier to harvest, more palatable and they have less defensive chemicals in them. So, be careful some of them are highly toxic. But some of them are fine.

Sprouting seedpod of Illawarra Flame Tree
Sprouting seedpod of Illawarra Flame Tree

The 5 Components of Good Soil

To create soil we need to think about those five components. These are 1. air, 2. water, 3. nutrients, 4. organic matter, and 5. organisms. By creating those five components we will have good soil. So how do we aerate the ground to accelerate soil creation?

Giving air to your soil

Air needs air. Air lets the micro-organisms breathe and allow water to penetrate. There are loads of ways to add air to the soil. We could dig it – but don’t turn it. Because the minute you turn the soil (especially on thin soils or poor soils) what you’re doing is you’re killing the microorganisms. And their dead bodies become fertilizer. But we can’t afford to do that in thin soils like Australian soils.

Alternatively, we could rip the ground which is like slicing a cake. But not plow it. Because plows can turn it. You could use a keyline plow which just rips like a comb going through the hair. Another way to aerate the soil is to spike it like little stiletto marks all over the surface. But a quick and easy way to start the aeration process is to use earthworms. And you can build your earthworms with no-dig and mulching to hydrate the earth. That is, to put more water into it. We can use keyline irrigation, plan to contour the garden paths. Or use swales and wicking systems. Ultimately mulch reduces evaporation. This includes edible living mulches like sweet potato.

self replenishing living mulch
self replenishing living mulch

Nourish your soil

The easiest way to nourish the soil is to use compost. Compost will help acid soils become less acidic bring them to neutral and it will help acidic soils to become neutral. In some cases, you might want to apply rock dust or ash if the soil is particularly acidic. Adding organic matter creates the compost. And that creates the nutrients anyway. We can add organic matter by mulching the area with prunings or using pioneer plants and then harvesting them.

no dig gardens at Permaculture Visions after 2 years. using waste to create soil - Silk Farm Mt Kembla NSW
using waste to create soil – Silk Farm Mt Kembla NSW

Waste not

The easiest way to add organic matter is to use waste. Any biodegradable waste can be applied to the soil even if it’s just added to the top to feed the organisms. You have two choices you can try and build up what’s already there to support the existing organisms. Or you can add food and organisms from nearby forests. This is quite a typical traditional method by the French. The French farmers would go into a nearby forest and harvest worms and organic matter from mature trees and bring that into the fields.

In fact, soil organisms are a vital part of the nitrogen cycle. In order to use and continue to generate nutrients, we need organisms. If we do nothing the soil that we are stewards of will most likely erode. Although, in some areas, doing nothing might be the right thing to do! It could allow the earth to heal.

If we follow traditional advice, the soil will grow at about a centimeter every five years. And that’s too slow!

enhanced growth and soil creation in just 2 years - Silk Farm Mt Kembla NSW Australia
enhanced growth and soil creation in just 2 years – Silk Farm Mt Kembla NSW Australia

Ways to make soil grow faster

The easiest way to build soil is to use our own biodegradable waste either as mulch or in the compost or worm farm. Also, use the weeds. If the weeds are particularly tough you can turn them into liquid manure also known as compost tea. Next time you have a fire make biochar. Biochar is an amazing way to support the microorganisms, After this consider using animals to provide fertilizer weeding and waste conversion. And finally, start a forest with pioneer plants and use them to build your supply of organic matter.

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