In my last post on my Permaculture Design Certification course, I had taken three soil samples from three different points on my site. I performed a simple jar test to assess the soil's physical structure, and also used a ph tester. Here are the results.
Sample 1: Nearly equal layers of sand, loam and clay. This was taken from an area where the soil was undisturbed, and the grass mowed occasionally (okay, seldom). It is in the lower part of the garden, and I suspect from the amount of sand, that it is a flood deposit area from times past. It is, after all, along a flood path from Thicketty Mountain to Thicketty Creek. This was demonstrated about seven years ago when we had a heck of a gullly washer. The garden I had tilled and sown with mustard was completely washed out. That is why we have been focused on raised beds using the square foot method. However, just as permaculture has lots of tricks for making water stay in the landscape, these same methods can be used to make the landscape resistant to flood damage. More about this later. The ph was about 6.8, if the cheap, crappy tester was correct, that is.
Soil Sample 2: This is taken from one of the raised beds. There was initially a lot of duff floating on the top, and it is no wonder because this bed gets annual applications of compost containing well rotted chicken manure. The ph was also 6.8. I do not know why algae grew on this one and not the others. It is probably more fertile. There is only a thin layer of clay and the rest is loam.
Soil Sample 3: Here we have mostly clay and the ph test showed higher acidity at 6.6. This sample was taken from a more recently prepared garden bed. But after using cover crops and grazing chickens, this was my most productive bed this past summer. I grew flour corn, pole beans and pumpkins. After enjoying several batches of corn bread, eating beans till we were sick of them and after many pumpkin pies, I still have some large ones to cook. I also have plenty of seed saved for an even bigger crop next year. I grew local and Native American heirlooms so they were well adapted to the climate. I plan to continue the practice of rotating the beds with grazing pigs, then chickens, then cover crops, then food crops to help the soil build even more fertility. I am also adding small amounts of crushed charcoal, a byproduct of our wood burning stove, and compost. The charcoal will raise the ph slightly and provide surface area for fertility creating microbial life. It also prevents leaching of nitrogen and other nutrients, so the soil holds it's fertility longer (as in centuries). Oh, and a tiller never touched it. I only used a spading fork to loosen weeds. And pig schnozes. And now I have a beautiful new broadfork to work it with from Gulland Forge, a Christmas gift from hubby.