Calli's Conundrums

Discussion in 'Gardening' started by calliandra, Mar 21, 2017.


    calliandra Well-Known Member

    A bit over a year ago, I set out to transfer sustainable outdoor gardening practices into my first grow closet. The journey bumped me into the Soil Food Web, which in turn reminded me of the concepts Herwig Pommeresche applies in his cycle-of-living-matter way of gardening. Applying both to my grows showed such immense success that I am now thrown back into the outdoors, to begin a new round of exploration with a new perspective.

    The major focus of my outdoor gardening has been - and continues to be - the soil. For the past few years, I've been recovering the derelict soil of a veggie patch almost exclusively with resources from the garden system it's in.
    Retrospectively, I was managing succession, but not really accelerating it with my chosen methods of selective weeding, mulch, chop and drop, greencovers, and minimal disturbance aeration with a digging fork. The heavy clay soil, which initially would've made great brick material, did improve, but pest pressure (mainly spanish slugs) as well as fungi on the roses, the cherry tree, and a few others show me that all is still far from well.
    It was time to step up the speed a bit, and boost the organic content of the soil along with the microherd by adding high carbon plant matter, living matter, and eventually, compost to the usual summer mulching with high nitrogen.

    So last fall, inspired and egged on by the infamous @greasemonkeymann, I turned the garden into a leaf-analogue of those corpse decaying parks, setting up different scenarios of decomposition -
    • spread thick on the veggie beds,
    • piled and trampled in the pathways,
    • piled loosely,
    • linden only, linden mixed with maple, totally mixed leaves,
    • compacted into a 1m high fence tower, untarped
    • a pile of chipped plant stalks mixed with leaves, left untarped
    • and attempted starting a thermal pile, which however broke down under the stress of user error paired with very cold weather. :mrgreen: But tarped nevertheless.
      That stuff has been going into my wormbin, and will make up the "browns" part of the thermal compost I am going to make as soon as there are enough greens around (so May, possibly a bit later or earlier, depending on the weather).
    This thread is for documenting how all these develop as I try to apply the theory of soil food web and plant endocytosis to how I tend to the garden.
    And for discussing the conundrums that arise in the process! :rolleyes:
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    calliandra Well-Known Member

    First up, a garden tour!
    To begin in the beginning, the mothership, end of January:

    2017-01-29 13.39.43.jpg

    And where it all started, my herb corner - the first garden patch I got back in 2009 (I took over the other patches successively as they were abandoned)
    Allowed for mediterranean herbs to survive even the coldest winters, given it's south-west oreintation and being heated by the house, which has zero insulation haha
    Now that no one's living there anymore, of course things have gotten a tad harsher, especially when it gets really cold and there's no sun (like the -15°C we had for over 2 weeks this winter).
    2017-01-29 13.39.10.jpg

    I usually don't cut back anything in the fall.
    Quite honestly, it's an aesthetic choice, but a sound ecological choice too, because the dried up plant matter is also haven to all sorts of critters, who in turn are winter food for others, along with any seeds.

    And my collapsed compost and chipped browns pile, just cuz:
    2017-01-29 13.38.35.jpg

    Moving along quickly from those cold scenes... :D
    Here's the garden at the beginning of March - the herb corner now showing a little more of its magic.
    2017-03-13 12.39.10.jpg

    I'll go a bit into detail on this one, as this system is "done" and you won't be seeing it much after this :bigjoint:

    This patch has been no-till since 2010. The soil is very shallow, on the left side just a bit over 20cm depth before hitting construction rubble. I never water (in general and here too), except pots and babies.
    The main soil health maintenance feature here (besides mulch, especially in high summer when there's lots of grass clippings) has been a lovely perennial cover of ground-ivy, which starts the bed in spring & feeds the early flying bumblebees, but which I do cut back later in the year, mulching directly where it got chopped. Over the past 2 years, veronica and dead-nettles have joined in, I think it's not a case of succession, just an increase in diversity... :D

    So on the upper tier I have my hardy rosemary, she's a tad tan there because she did take quite some damage without anyone heating the house this year. Plus the ancient lavender (I think it's like 15 years old), alpine savory (which is perennial too), thyme, and saffron, besides the bulb flowers - mainly wild and tame tulips and an allium that makes big starry seed globes, they're amazing :)

    The lower tier has fennel and chives on the right, a self-sown patch of salad burnet (the mother was growing more to the back last year, so these gals are going to be wandering about haha) mixed with snowflakes, which are a pain to differentiate from the garlic chives growing in that same area :rolleyes:
    Then my tree onions, which were crazy hard to come by, a medicinal herb I forgot what it is, and a nice sorrel, which I use in spring along with 6 other herbs (it has to be 7 minimum or it's not "original") to make the famous "frankfurter green sauce", in memory of my grandma who was from Frankfurt and made it every spring. Very yummy, chopped herbs and a chopped hard-boiled egg in joghurt with a sprinkling of salt and lemon, best with boiled potatoes!
    Oh and between all that, self-sown rucola every year, basil of course, and whatever annual herb or flower may land there upon whim. Alot going on on those 2m²!

    But onwards, to the site of my soil experiments!
    2017-03-11 15.57.30.jpg

    Basically, everything covered in leaves is what I tend to - somewhere around 90m² total. My neighbors always say they love my gardens, but haven't become adopters, though they do contribute plant debris to my mulches. ;) It's live and let live here, as long as it's within the bounds of the one and only garden rule: no chemicals. I'm cool with that!

    Oh and whenever I make it before the "gardening" company does, I like to scythe the lawns there - I've made some premium hay there, and got quite a few 80 year olds reminiscing, and finding that they still knew how to handle a scythe lol
    But the reason I mention it is there's this theory that scythe-mown allows for more biodiversity than a lawnmower does, because of the way the lawnmower shreds the leaves, whilst with the scythe, you're really cutting. Of course I'd like to try that out, but would have to fence the area off, which I'm not allowed to.
    Ohwell, one experiment less out of a gazillion I've got going anyways? :bigjoint:

    So there's the basic situation and setup.
    Soil and microherd experiments coming up next :-P
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2017

    SSGrower Well-Known Member

    Like it, pics don't seem to be showing up tho.
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    calliandra Well-Known Member

    Yeah I was prolly just splitting the first post in 2 and had to re-upload them - had forgotten the 1st post is narrower ;)
    All fixed up now :)

    whitebb2727 Well-Known Member

    We have a lot of clay here. When I first moved here A few years back I did break ground with my tiller and till in a lot of organic material. It sped the process up.

    I'm not suggesting that.
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    greasemonkeymann Well-Known Member

    such a beautiful thread, in not only it's fantastic pictures but also in it's written eloquence..
    all I gotta say is your linguistic skills are some to envy..
    You don't even live in the U.S. and I guarantee you speak and write better English than 99% of us "Mericans

    BTW, that first picture with the beautiful mountain as the backdrop is amazing..
    annnnnd COLD looking...
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    SSGrower Well-Known Member

    Thanks. All snarkyness aside looks like a nice place to retire in 20 years or so.:hump::fire::hump::fire::hump::peace:
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    calliandra Well-Known Member

    Ah, coming from someone who has carved indelible images in my mind with his writing, I can only say, thank you :rolleyes:

    And yeah, very cold sometimes, though thanks to those same mountains not siberian, and not dark and murky either. So that's a plus - and not to be forgotten the water, which we get straight from up there, pretty much untreated, from the tap, and tastes delicious :D
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    calliandra Well-Known Member

    not at all! How could you know I was editing? :P
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    calliandra Well-Known Member

    You needn't, I already did it lol

    Last year, with dried lawn clippings, in a soil that was so bad it had large actinomyces colonies and anaerobic pockets in it. It totally transformed the soil in no time (complete change in spontaneous vegetation). I did notice the grape hyacinths I planted there have abnormally long leaves this year, and the tips are kind of burned? hmmmmm not sure what I'm seeing there, but I did get the thought of hi nitrogen input into my head haha :rolleyes:

    But actually, it's also part of what I'm doing right now too - the leaves that were mulched on the veggie beds are getting "massaged" into the topmost 5cm or so, as to create a "transition zone" between soil and mulch (which still goes over the mixed layer). Since it's "browns", it'll just help accelerate things a bit more. Or so I imagine it to be :bigjoint:

    calliandra Well-Known Member

    Conundrum #1:
    Can repeated treatments with microbial compost tea attenuate or even eliminate fungal "diseases" such as black spot or rusts?

    Since my garden is full of them, no better way to find out than by trying it out :)
    The plan is 2 applications now and in the next few weeks, then another maybe in May, depending on how things develop ;)
    And then see how long it takes for the treated roses to get the rusts all the other roses in the garden will have.
    Amazing would be if they didn't get it at all, but I think the soils still need some work for that kind of magic to even be possible...

    So I got my first compost tea bubbling at the new place - and I need to create a soundproofed tea brewer, as there aren't many doors. lol
    I had to keep changing where it was, and then oversaw that the perforated hose I bubble with had dislodged, making the tea get that yoghurt smell and LO
    2017-03-19_act37hrs-facultatives (5).jpg
    at 37hrs, voilá lactobacilli.
    Damn. I wanted a nicely balanced, bacterial/fungal tea, not facultatives!

    I did start thinking of KNF and fermented additives and that the facultatives might be good to get things started... but then decided to add some more food and let the tea bubble, now properly aerated, for another night. We had a warm spell that was forcast to end and I wanted the tea on the roses before that, not enough time if I'd started a new batch.

    So, with just a sprinkling of neem and a drop of agave syrup (I was out of molasses), 4 hrs later I became hopeful, as I began seeing more diversity again and a very active nematode
    2017-03-19_act-41hrs (1).jpg
    So I let the tea bubble overnight, and yes, it did turn the situation around, whereby the flagellates were still only of the small kind... but I was in a rush to get the stuff applied ahead of the weather.

    So there were parts of the sample that looked just lovely, for example a microaggregate at 200x magnification -
    to get the microscope effect, view in the album view thingie ;)
    in the first, a focus with more bacteria visible, different kinds of streptococci, just going by morphology.
    in the second, lots of fungal strands, and top right a few of those small flagellates
    Mon Mar 20 06-28-40.jpg Mon Mar 20 06-29-05.jpg

    And then there were parts that were still hanging towards the anaerobic, most clearly marked by the presence of a very active ciliate - got lucky and caught it at 400x Mon Mar 20 09-29-53.jpg

    Ying and yang, I thought, packed up the sprayer and applied that ACT to the cherry tree and the roses in my garden plot.

    2017-03-20 10.51.15.jpg
    This tree isn't even supposed to be here and I have been trying different approaches to kind of bonsai it over the years, not very diligently... Oh, when cutting anything drastically, make sure you step back occasionally to update the complete picture, is all I'm going to say here :rolleyes:
    She gets the aphids, then the rusts, every year, and she has a cancer going on at her base (though I read not to worry about that? hm).
    So the total program for her in the next months, beside the ACT, is a gooey tape around her trunk (going up soon, the ants are already exploring). And if the aphids are very bad, I may be tempted to spray them with the same canola water I've used against whiteflies on the brassicas (it does work, I've been doing this to the aphids on my chilis indoors):
    just a tablespoon of it in 2L warm water, plus a drop of (biodegradable duh) detergent or milk to help emulgate the oil & water. Spray the whole plant, and repeat when more appear.

    And the 3 roses - these "only" have black spot:
    2017-03-20 10.55.06.jpg

    I applied the rest of the compost tea (I didn't want to filter it too much, because the goodies and all) to the prepared tomato bed.
    The soil had been lightly loosened with the fork, and dry leaves gotten mixed with the top few cm of the soil - I do this with my hands, so it's like massaging the earth haha
    And then a mulch of dried greens and flowers, which I got all soaked and then tarped up to keep the blackbirds out.
    I've thought of training them to till similarly to the chickens in permaculture systems, but they're too unruly.
    And they cuss at me when I do things like tarp up. I still think they're cute, most of the time :eyesmoke:
    This mulch has been sitting there for a good week, and it got premoistened before the ACT was poured on and then watered in.

    2017-03-20 11.13.51.jpg

    Retarped of course. Because I'm soooo meannnn! haha

    This soil here is actually going to get a few handfuls of my precious VC, because the tomatoes also tend to fungal diseases - and because they're tomatoes, and hence get special treatment. (ooooo, ooo! LOL)
    Hey, it's the only tomatoes I get, as I just cannot bring myself to eat those store bought ones anymore - I'd rather go without - or actually start canning, which I did last fall - tomato sugo ready to go! very practical, I want many more of those for next winter!

    So sadly there wasn't enough ACT to go round, and the roses I adopted last year (and who were the worst looking, standing as they were in partially anaerobic soil..) have yet to get their first spraying, which will be at the next opportunity.
    It's an interesting experience in itself, juggling weather forecast with time to brew and - yeah I actually still do other things on the side occasionally?!
    Cheers! :bigjoint:
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2017
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    BarnBuster Virtually Unknown Member

    FWIW, I would not put discarded leaves/branches from rose bushes if you have black spot on them in the compost pile or tomatoes if they had any wilt diseases,. nice pics, ;)
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    calliandra Well-Known Member

    Yes indeed! that is the general recommendation, which kind of makes sense too, the underlying principle of reducing pressure from the harmful organism by reducing numbers that could infect the plant even more.

    And it's also one thing I'm taking into account for my experiment, and why I'm saying the compost tea will probably just delay the outbreak this year: I have been leaving rust-ridden plant debris underfoot, in a way that would make you shudder haha, but to my defense, that was after I spent a while trying to be "clean" and take it all out - while the neighbor's rusty leaves were just a windstorm away - pointless work, that! :lol:

    It becomes even more noticeable that this approach is actually weird when you go to "remove all infected plant matter from the garden" --- erm, where to?
    Throwing it in the trash seems to be on the same intelligence level as thinking beans grow in cans or electricity comes from the wall plug :roll: And burning is a silly and polluting destruction of resources... shoot it to mars? feed it to terrorists? or Trump fans? whatever lol

    In a thermal compost, or in a worm bin, however, the rusts and similar will get taken care of.
    In the thermal process, due to temps, in the wormbin, due to the worm's digestive process, that neutralizes pathogens.
    So that would be one possibility.

    The other one is that if the microherd is good and healthy, in the soil as well as on the plant, those rusts won't come back, even if there still is infected plant matter lying about. That would be the perfect result of my experiment - but I probably won't have enough VC yet this year to really get that soil into such top form :rolleyes:
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    dannyboy602 Well-Known Member


    calliandra Well-Known Member

    Thank you and thanks for chiming in! There can be no redundancy in this phase of my explorations, going over things again and again, there are always new aspects to catch, or gaps to fill, thus expanding our understanding. I love this adventure and everyone who joins in on it! :cool:

    The thing with the milk makes sense from the microbial perspective (it's a thing I've started doing with such "gardening wisdom", to try and understand what could be going on on that level too).
    Milk -> lactobacilli
    Lactobacilli are facultative microbes, meaning they can thrive in anaerobic-leaning conditions as well as in aerobic ones. I like to think of them as a bridge transitioning from very bad conditions to not so bad ones, in which the beneficials can start gaining more ground.

    It's funny, I just watched a live webinar with Elaine Ingham and someone asked the bokashi question haha
    That's what's going on with the bokashi too.
    Elaine concluded her explanation with "why go only halfway if you can get the right biology in right away via appropriate compost and compost teas?"
    LOL true that.

    Made me feel a bit sheepish, because I just did "halfway" this morning :rolleyes:
    After pondering the milk story, and finding that the surplus of worm food I had set aside for soilifying in the garden was starting to ferment (kiind of approximating it to the effect of milk in my mind, whereby in hindsight that may have been a bit iffey), on impulse I went and fed that to one of the tea-treated roses (I'll explain soilifying in a later post, some awesomeness coming up! :D ), as a kickstarter for the soil, which, my worms willing, may still get some VC later in the year.
    2017-03-23 13.36.04.jpg

    So there's an answer to Elaine's question too: go halfway if that's the best you can do at the mo, still better than doing nothing :bigjoint:
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2017
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    dannyboy602 Well-Known Member

    Are you any relation to @cannabineer because I only understood about half of what you just said, lol. No matter , great thread anyway.
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    calliandra Well-Known Member

    lol now I'm intrigued as to how my conundering (not a word, but it should be! haha) is similar to what Mr. @cannabineer has to say for himself :bigjoint:
    But no, I don't even know him haha
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2017
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    calliandra Well-Known Member

    Oh, here's another rose that got compost tea foliared the other day - first plant on my balcony, which will be turned into a proper garden too eventually :mrgreen:
    Since she's a little princess, she's also gotten a handful of VC - amazing how it changed the consistency of the soil in that pot overnight, got all spongey! :)

    2017-03-23 12.38.09.jpg
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    dannyboy602 Well-Known Member

    Nice^^^I used to design and build deck/balcony/terrace gardens once upon a time...amazing what you can do with small spaces.
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    calliandra Well-Known Member

    Ah that's really cool! I will want to pick your mind for sure when I finally get round to designing that space!
    Though it's south-facing, light is going to be an issue, the other day I measured the lux (only roughly, with a cell phone app), max was 3500, and the spot where I wanted to place the tomatoes originally was even shy of 1000 :shock:
    I've just officially postponed that for a year - this year I'm just going to put some pots out there and see how things do, observe light, winds... observe observe, then plan and do :bigjoint:
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