With climate change, comes instability in a system experiencing rapid change.
When we began studying permaculture nearly a decade ago, we did so because it represented a preferred method of farming. Today, we’re applying the fundamental principles of permaculture toward survival.
In anticipation of increasing global temperatures, we’re paying close attention to methods of building and maintaining healthy soil. Healthy soil maintains moisture levels and temperatures, decreasing the need of supplemental watering and nutrient inputs.
This process may be sustained long-term with perennial polycultures planted specifically to improve soils through nitrogen fixation, dynamic accumulation and redistribution of nutrients, and broad leafed ground covers that shield top soil from a scorching summer sun and drying winds.
Why grow resource-gulping grasses when you can grow your own food?
Soil building requires little more than resourceful thinking. Most materials used in soil-building are typically available on site. Materials like newspaper, paper bags, cardboard, straw, and dead leaf matter provide sources of carbon. These layered with coffee grounds, manure, fresh leaf or grass clippings, and kitchen wastes, all nitrogen rich sources, provide for an ideal 1:1 CN ratio to begin soil-building and engage the carbon cycle decomposition process.
Planting newly developed beds in legumes inoculated with N2 fixing bacteria is a jump-start for next season. Why grow resource-gulping grasses when you can grow your own food?
To grow the very best food, you must build the very best soil. This doesn’t mean
adding copious amounts of NPK, but rather helping establish a soil climate teaming with helpful microbes and mycelium to facilitate the continued recycling of nutrients through the system.
To accomplish this task, we build soil, much as the forest does, one layer at a time, alternating nitrogen and carbon-rich sources.
Generally speaking, carbon-rich sources are brown or gold, while sources of nitrogen are typically green (though coffee grounds and fresh manure is considered a “green”).
See a general recipe below to get started building beds to support your long-term food-growing goals.
Start with digging up or tilling under the bed (this is not essential, but will help spur bacterial involvement – the bed is no-till following)
Pile 4-6 inches of chipped wood/mulch (preferably stems and trunks less than 2in in diameter)
Soak the wood with water
Overtop, layer 2-4 inches of grass-fed horse-manure (I stay away from cow manure unless I know the cows have been pasture raised)
As a weed barrier, lay down non-bleached cardboard or newsprint (most local papers use soy-based black and white ink) – pre-soak these materials
Next, layer flakes of green hay, soak
Then a layer of coffee grounds, compost, or other green rotters (coffee grounds are free and in abundance at local coffee houses!)
Add another layer of wet, heavy paper, then flakes of straw to cover the entire bed (should be appx 2-3 feet tall – will shrink down to 8-12 inches in three weeks time)
Over top the beds, add a thin layer of composted coffee grounds and plant peas that have been inoculated with Rhizobia bacteria (available at most garden centers) and leave to bake for the season
This recipe will generate a great, rich soil, but requires patience for best results. It may be used safely after one year, and will produce best after two. To maintain this no-till bed design, plant 25% N2 fixing plants and dynamic accumulators (like comfrey) that may be mulched in place.
Interested in learning to build soil for your raised garden beds? Wondering about that crazy German word you’ve heard floating around of late? What is hugelkultur, anyway? We’ll share the answer and much more as we build beds all around our new, old, old house.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll welcome people or small groups to our urban farm and illustrate the art of all things earthy, including information on indoor and outdoor composting and how to find free materials for use in building soil. These informal gatherings are FREE and open to all. Call to set up a time that works for YOU.