Dead Zone

So last year I began experimenting with sheet mulching and had very high hopes. Now, 6 months later I am reporting back. Unfortunately it is with mixed results. The partial success is that the sod is, in fact, dead. The partial failure lies in the fact that the mulch material is not decomposed-or at best only partially. That was last week and I found it frustrating, but it got sidetracked as I began Orchard Prep in full force.

But tonight I spent the final hours before sundown after work preparing about 100 sq feet of soil that I had pulled the sod off this weekend. For some reason that fact that I hadn’t seen a single worm finally sunk in. Let me say that again-in turning 100 sq ft of lawn-organic lawn-to a depth of about 8″ I did not turn over a single worm. My conclusion, based solely on anecdotal evidence without soil tests, is that my soils are as dead as I had once feared. This is why the sheet mulch is just sitting there-one needs decomposers to decompose coffee grounds and cardboard. This lawn has been there for almost 3 years now, but our subdivison, like most, had its soil stripped off and sold, and then post construction had hundreds of yards of backfill trucked back in-in our case it was quarry waste: a stable and cheap mix of sand, clay, and stones. That backfill came from a subsoil or lower level in the soil strata-a strata dead to the soil ecosystem.

Into that layer-with a thin veneer of topsoil (2-3″) crushed to oblivion by my spreading it with a skid steer- I am trying to create my Eden. I recently wrote about inoculating the soil with benifical fungus, but this goes deeper. I need to literally rebuild the entire soil ecosystem. Luckily I am not treading on virgin soil as it were-my trusty texts on Edible Forest Gardening speak of technique to do just that. The long and short of it is that I will be taking some 5 gallon buckets to nearby woods-as old growth as I can find-and scoop out some soil to mix into my orchard plantings. This is a broad base inoculation that will hopefully start to cover the gamut of bacteria, fungus, nematodes, and critters that I need to balance (or in this case create) my soil ecosystem. There is an abandoned farm about a mile from here with standing timber-I plan on making a foray next week to make some very significant progress on righting the wrongs of my site.

Be the Change!


4 Responses

  1. Okay, so no worms. Any evidence of worms? Like tunnels? Sometimes they tend to go deeper into the soil or to shadier spots this time of year, mainly to keep from drying out.

  2. I saw nothing-the strip of top soil looked like it had some microbial life, but nothing big enough to see. No holes or tunnels.

    In today’s excavations for 2 more of the forthcoming trees I came across about 4 holes-and they were dozies easily 3/8″. This is about 16 feet away, but the topsoil is deeper there and it was moister which lends credence to your moisture idea. The good news is that the plantings under the trees will have abot 18″ of topsoil and another 4-8″ of mulch. That should allow what life I have managed to attract to live rather well.

    Thanks for the comments

  3. Sure, and I don’t think things are hopeless, and I doubt your soil is dead. It’s great that it killed the sod—sometimes that’s hard to do. Keep this in mind when you’re battling crabgrass…

    Part of the thing with using corrugated cardboard for sheet mulching is that it prevents a certain amount of water from reaching the ground. More importantly from a worm’s perspective, it prevents them from getting to open air when the water goes into the soil. You’ve noticed how they come onto pavement when it rains? Well, I can’t say exactly what’s happening under the cardboard, but they may not like it or may not be able to escape in a timely manner.

    How did the coffee and leaf mixture break down? Did you get good organic matter out of that?

    Another thing you might try is punching holes in the sheet with a bulb planter and planting something to help loosen the soil and bring up nutrients. Something with a taproot (besides Comfrey! 😎

    I think that attempting to innoculate your soil is a good idea, but you might want to be careful where the material comes from and what undesirable things might come with it. I transplanted something from my parents’ garden and introduced Galinsoga into mine. Ooops. Also remember that the critters from that ecosystem may not be as happy in yours…

  4. Good point about tracking in undesirable weeds, etc. Taking that to heart I instead trucked in about 2 yards of fresh steaming leaf litter from our villages municipal yard to apply under my mulch. Hopefully it will do the trick!

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