Building the soil food web...in sandy Seffner..

greenepastures(9)March 19, 2014

I'm new to all this (only 2 years experience) and I'm told the best way to maximize yield and vegetable quality is to build the soil food web. I'm hoping to get this done without any contributions from anything in a bag (except maybe lime, azomite and bone meal).

I've got dairy cow manure (mostly fresh when I pick it up), lots of leaves, wood ashes, quality compost and plenty of time (well let's say six months). I'd like to plant my fall crops in this bed.

Is there some secret to doing this or can I just till all this stuff into the sandy soil and let nature take it's course?

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kitteh(6 ohio)

Trenches or hugelkultur sound like they might interest you.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2014 at 10:16AM
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greenepastures(9)

Sorry Kitten...wifey would have none of it. Too messy for our subdivision. Any other ideas?

    Bookmark   March 19, 2014 at 3:11PM
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thonotorose

Bio char. Be sure to charge it first.

Here is a particularly interesting link to 5 hours of videos. I've watched the first two and part of three and am definitely buying some activated charcoal for my fall garden.

Here is a link that might be useful: Bio char uses, history and manufacturing.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2014 at 8:49PM
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pnbrown

Fresh cow manure is hardly dense subdivision-friendly, how do you get away with that?

Layering is messy, true, but is by far the best way to build long-term fertility. We have some success in florida sand by tossing some amendments like azomite, humate, lime out on the sod, then cover with cardboard and some kind of mulch (which could include fresh-ish manure, grass clippings, wood chips, etc.). After six months or so one can start to peel the somewhat decomposed layers back for planting.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 8:24AM
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natives_and_veggies(10b)

It's not a six-month plan, but after eight years, I can say layering and mulching weeds/cover crops twice a year, along with adding our kitchen mulch, has vastly improved the soil content and structure in my veggie garden. I didn't actually put in a garden this year. But I had the need for dirt last weekend to pot up some plants for a swap and I was stunned at how black the dirt is where I once had sand. It's still well-drained because there's still plenty of sand in it. But if you're planning to do this for more than a year, for many years even, layering is the way to go. I'm going to have to abandon this rich bed soon, because of a tree that's going to shade it too much, and I'm really sad about that because it is so rich.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 10:39PM
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love_the_yard(z9A Jax FL)

After ten years of adding all the oak leaves I have (plus those of neighbors) and never throwing away a clipping or branch - other than weeds - I can also attest that you can change Florida sand into black gold! Just keep throwing all those amendments in/on there and the worms will do the rest! :)

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 9:12AM
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greenepastures(9)

Loye-the-yard & Natives&Veggies...sounds like good advice. I do have a spot about 2X8 that I've done the layering (sheet mulching) method. I'm encouraged by the results.......

Ten years? Will it really take that long? Wow!!

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 7:11PM
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pnbrown

It does take a long time in florida sand, the decay cycle is less rapid than in cooler climates with lower evaporation rates and heavier soils. I can still find chips of wood and bark in beds that were added 5 or 6 years ago.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2014 at 6:33PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Actually the usual experience is that organic matter disappears much faster in hot climates than cool.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2014 at 6:42PM
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natives_and_veggies(10b)

It takes awhile, but you do begin to see modest results pretty quickly. And there's the labor-saving aspect of it. No weed pulling in the off season. Just let it go to weeds and think of them as soil-to-be.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2014 at 9:33PM
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love_the_yard(z9A Jax FL)

No, it doesn't take ten years. You will see results much sooner. But after 10+ years of doing it, I can tell you I no longer have Florida sand as my soil.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2014 at 9:53PM
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laura1(9aTpa,FL)

...people throw those leaves away! I wish the leaves would fall 2x a year so I could replenish in mid summer. Haha!

    Bookmark   March 23, 2014 at 11:20AM
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pnbrown

Bboy, it hasn't been my experience between central florida and coastal MA. Decomposition is much faster in the latter soil. There are a lot of factors involved, temperature is obviously a big one and soil moisture is major.

Frequent freeze-thaw is another that is significant, and that is lacking in florida.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2014 at 12:03PM
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jenjad

I'm new to the forum, but not to rebuilding sandy soils, having owned a small farm with mostly beach sand for soil in mid-Michigan for 11 years (soon to move to central FL).

While carbonization is necessary, a big co-problem with sandy soil is it contains relatively few micro-organisms. I've found adding extra micro-organisms via culture soups is an excellent way to improve soils relatively quickly.

Spraying diluted raw skim milk, especially cultured milk (buttermilk, kefir, yogurt,etc), works incredibly well, and worms go crazy with it, adding their own biomass. Diluted whey also works well, and has done amazing things with my roses. If you can't get raw milk, you can add buttermilk to pasteurized skim milk, allow it to culture until thick, dilute it and spray that.

Milk is a great way to get a compost pile going, as is comfrey... a wonder plant for soil improvement. I have a 25 ft row of comfrey plants that I harvest three times a growing season, spreading the leaves on top of gardens as mulch. The soil where these plants grow is incredibly rich and black with no extra additions, other than the plant dying back every fall. Also check out IM or efficient microbes and bokashi.

Bacteria forms 99% of the living biomass in that feeds plant roots, not the inert mineral and other components of what most people think of as soil.

Here is a link that might be useful: Applying raw milk to soil

    Bookmark   March 24, 2014 at 11:10AM
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pnbrown

Compost piles behave quite differently for me in FL than up north - different enough that I don't bother with them here. I bury the kitchen scraps in holes, all other stuff is mulch.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2014 at 8:47PM
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greenepastures(9)

Ok...I get it now...apply lots of organic matter consistently over a period of years and, voila...black, nutrient rich soil..in the mean time...I'm going to try some sea minerals and this raw milk thing...especially the latter, considering I'll need so little of it.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2014 at 3:20AM
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pnbrown

The milk thing seems to have some element of homeopathy to it.

(btw, we get our raw milk at blue bayou in yalaha).

    Bookmark   March 25, 2014 at 8:24AM
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pnbrown

My experience with florida sand, over 9 years of experimentation, backs up what one reads on industry sites: it is highly lacking in some critical trace nutrients.

I mention this because no amount of mulching with native materials will be likely to correct these lacks. Raising SOM is very helpful, and inherent fertility will increase due to an increase in free-ranging N-fixing bacteria and other microbes, but unless the OM is imported from regions where the soil has adequate levels of the traces that are low, those nutrients won't be much if at all increased. It is much more effective to buy a broad-spectrum deposit such as azomite.

Refer to the Law of the Minimum (Liepig's Law). Florida sand is particularly limited by non-measurable Boron, and usually very low Mn and Cu; Molybdenum and Cobalt are also usually very low. Sulphur, an oft-overlooked macro, is always low. Though I don't really advocate using salts, the use of sulphates does help the low S situation.

I know that some people bristle at the idea that lots of compost and/or OM will not necessarily take care of all soil lackings, but I would encourage looking at this reality that I have outlined above without prejudice. For those of us who have gardened extensively in regions of better-mineralized soils as well as florida sands, the difference in crop performance and taste generally is very notable.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2014 at 10:13AM
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shuffles_gw

I bought 200 lbs of powdered feldspar when a local ceramic supply store closed. I put all of it on my 1,500+/- garden. In some areas they sell rock dust, I don't know much about it. I also have been loading up on oak leaves for a lot of years.

This post was edited by shuffles on Tue, Mar 25, 14 at 18:55

    Bookmark   March 25, 2014 at 6:51PM
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