Posted by & filed under Animal Forage, Food Forests, Food Plants - Annual, Food Plants - Perennial, Plant Systems, Soil Rehabilitation, Trees.

Local legend around here has it that at some point in the past a guy by the colourful name of the “bush bandit” removed most of the topsoil from the land hereabouts and sold it off to householders in Melbourne for their gardens and lawns. Whether this story is true or not, I can only state for the record that when I purchased the block it had virtually no topsoil. The land had a hard baked clay pan with the strength of structural concrete where water would run off during heavy storms and any organic matter that did collect on top of that clay wouldn’t break down for years.

The wikipedia article for topsoil states that one inch (2.54 cm) of topsoil can take 500 years to form naturally. Now, I’m all for natural processes and am also fairly patient, but I don’t have the patience or time to wait 500 years. Also, most of the fruit trees that I want to grow — right here and now — have shallow to medium root systems which depend on that top soil.

This means that over the past seven years I’ve had to put a lot of thought, experimentation and activity into building top soil. Also, as I hate waste, I have implemented systems to ensure that anything, and I really mean anything, that gets brought onto the property and that was once alive or can otherwise be of benefit ends up in the soil.

Organic matter and minerals can come onto my property in a variety of forms including:

  • Food for humans, dogs and chickens;
  • Manure from humans, dogs and chickens;
  • Mulch and compost;
  • Rock crusher dust;
  • Field mice that are trapped and fed to the chickens;
  • Introduced plants and their soil;
  • Paper and cardboard; and
  • The manures of birds and animals that come onto the property from elsewhere.

The ultimate aim of collecting all of this organic matter and minerals is to build topsoil which improves overall soil fertility and allows me to grow healthy plants.

If I gave my green waste to the council to recycle, or was connected to the mains sewerage system, these nutrients would be lost from my property. By closing the nutrient loss loop it simply means ensuring that more top soil is built than is lost or utilised in growing plants. Once you are collecting more organic matter and minerals than you are losing from your property, you become a net importer of soil nutrients.

A simple guideline as to what plants require when building top soil is:

  • Vegetables require a soil made up of manure, some minerals, and mainly leafy green plant materials (ie. ex-vegetables and leafy green material) which is compost; and
  • Trees require a soil made up of some manure, some minerals, and mainly woody plant materials (ie. ex-trees) which is mulch.

To begin building top soil on my block, I realised that I needed a variety of the soil nutrients listed above. With the exception of human manure, I could simply add most of those soil nutrients onto the surface of the soil.

In building soil, I rarely dig, as I don’t wish to disturb the existing soil structure and it is just hard work. A lot of people involved in gardening and agriculture like to dig soil for some reason, but I’m not one of them. This may mean that in the application of soil nutrients to the surface, some small plants may get smothered, but experience has shown that they mostly tend to grow back.

Let’s talk about poo

At a time when food stuffs (and hence soil nutrients) are being shipped all over the planet and fuel costs are increasing, we need to begin thinking about a local resource that we all have access to, but has a very high yuk factor — human excrement.

Fortunately for me, my house is not connected to any mains sewerage services, so I had several choices about how my household human wastes (black and grey water) could be dealt with. In the end I chose a worm farm system which takes all of the human wastes from the household and processes them in a worm farm. This system produces treated water, worm tea and vermicast (worm poo), all of which are released into an 200m2 herbage pasture.

The worm farm is gravity fed so it requires no additional inputs of energy, and it quietly goes about its job of turning human wastes into soil nutrients.

The herbage pasture stays green even over the hottest summers and is for the benefit of the local wildlife (kangaroos, wallabies and wombats) which in turn keep the pasture cut down, bring in all sorts of seeds and spread their scats (poo) throughout the rest of the food forest, thus spreading soil nutrients randomly about the place.

It’s a real dilemma for me when I’m at another location, having dinner, visiting friends etc. Do I hang on, or go there, knowing that some soil fertility is lost to my systems?
Most urban areas process human wastes using centralised local treatment plants, most of which ends up in the ocean. Not only do they use quite a bit of energy in the processing, but sometimes during floods they can release untreated human wastes into local creeks, rivers and eventually into the ocean. Given how quickly top soils are being depleted worldwide in the production of food for humans, animal feeds and biofuels, wouldn’t it be great if some of our human wastes were composted and converted back into topsoil to assist with future food production?

Mulches and compost

I really enjoy bringing either composted woody mulch (mostly) or compost (occasionally) onto the property and spreading it around by hand and wheelbarrow. With over 300 fruit trees, a number of vegetable beds and a deep mulch litter system for the chicken run, my place eats mulch! Spreading mulch and compost around really means either placing it at the bottom of fruit trees out to their drip lines or throwing it around so that you get a thin, random top coating which disappears down into the soil over a few weeks.


Heavily mulched cottage garden

In Australia, mulch and compost are treated as waste. Local governments in urban areas collect green waste from householders, chip them, compost them and produce mulch and/or compost (or a combination of the two). These are then delivered in bulk to sand and soil suppliers who on-sell them to the public. Sometimes, a council has so much of these materials that you can purchase directly from them at reduced prices.

Over the past 7 years I have probably brought about 200m3 (about 7,063ft3) of mulch or compost and spread it around the place.


Mulch and its water holding capacity

Green manure crops

Another method that I use to build top soil is to plant green manure crops. These green manure crops extract nitrogen from the air and the nitrogen is then stored in the soil as nodules on the plants roots with the help of beneficial bacteria. Once the plant dies off or is somehow removed, the nitrogen becomes available to soil flora and fauna and as a fertiliser to other plants. The leaves and branches of these plants can be used as mulch too.


Green manure crops, pea and vetch, as ground cover

Some people dig those green manure plants into the top soil, however not wanting to dig anywhere if I can help it, I simply let them go to seed, die back and then mow them. I’ve found here that they readily self-seed and you’ll get a larger crop of the same plants the following year.

There are quite a lot of green manure crops to select from. In my food forest, I grow a mix of vetch and sweet pea in places and they grow very well together.

There can also be quite long lived nitrogen fixing plants too. I also grow around the perimeter of the food forest, many acacia melanoxylon (Blackwood) and tagasaste (Tree Lucerne).


Three year old blackwoods

Concentrate on growing rather than killing plants

Some people get very fixated by weeds. Even worse, sometimes they start telling me about some glyphosate based herbicide which would be just perfect for despatching my weeds. Wouldn’t it be far better for the soil if those same people put their energy into growing plants rather than trying to kill them?

Years ago, I read Peter Andrews book, “Back from the brink – How Australia’s landscape can be saved”. His ideas were simple, yet very effective:

  • Store water in the soil rather than letting it flow across the surface, and if it does, slow its progress so that it starts to infiltrate the soil;
  • Allow weeds to grow for a season rather than spraying them with herbicide (or digging and exposing the top soil to the sun) and then slash / mow them so they become part of a mulch which starts or enhances the building of top soil (this is called ‘chop and drop’); and
  • Encourage nitrogen fixing trees or deciduous trees (particularly willows along creek beds) which drop leaf matter during the cooler months. Leaf matter is a form of mulch which also starts or enhances the building of top soil.

The last point is particularly applicable to Australian conditions, because in most parts of the continent, native trees will grow for most of the year depending on water availability. Yet, it is during the warmer, drier months of summer that eucalyptus trees drop their leaves due to water stress. Those leaves are usually already dry because of the summer heat which adds to the fire fuel loads on forest floors. In addition to this, their dryness and high oil content means that it can take several years before the soil flora and fauna have broken these leaves down into top soil.

Here, I let a huge diversity of plants get a chance to grow and seed as a ground cover (herbage). About twice a year (Spring and Autumn), I mow the entire ground cover using a small Honda push mower on a medium height setting. The mower tends to mulch all of the plants and the results fall where they will. As well as providing mulch to the surface of the soil, the plants that have been cut with the mower, self-trim their roots below the soil surface which provides further organic matter and enhances the soil building process. After a few years of this process, the ground cover plants tend to grow back quicker and healthier than previous seasons.

Diversity

To grow, every plant requires its own unique and individual requirements from soil.

In ecology, there is a concept (Liebig’s law of the minimum) that states that growth in a system is ultimately limited to the scarcest nutrient. For example, Australian soils are generally accepted to be phosphorus deficient. As phosphorus is essential for the growth of commercial crops (among most other plants), then it is a serious limitation to the growing of commercial crops in this country.

A monoculture farm would eventually deplete some element or mineral and this will be evidenced by declining yields. Most large-scale monoculture farms generally bring in fertilisers to apply to their crops, yet plants don’t simply require NPK (nitrogen, potassium and phosphate) to grow. As well as those soil nutrients, plants can also require: boron; calcium; cobalt; copper; iron; manganese; molybdenum; sulphur; and zinc, to name just a few. Once one of these necessary nutrients has been depleted for a particular plant, Liebig’s law kicks in and yields are reduced and/or the nutrient density of the particular plant declines.

I’m unsure if a large scale monoculture farm, even if farmed on an organic basis (ie. no fertilisers, herbicides, fungicides or pesticides), could be sustainable. Only a polyculture agricultural system with nutrient inputs and outputs like a food forest can hope to avoid this limitation.

Animal systems


A wombat enjoying the herbage

In commercial agriculture, animal systems are not usually combined with plant systems as growers tend to specialise in particular areas because of commercial necessity, however, with a small scale food forest both systems can be combined.

Here, I have chickens, and apart from their entertainment value, they also provide eggs, pest control and manure. The best outcome for both the chickens and the food forest would be for the chickens to be able to freely roam all day throughout the food forest. However, it is a difficult life for a chicken here because of the number and variety of predators (eg: foxes, eagles, owls, dogs, etc.) day and night who would love nothing more than to dine on a juicy organically fed chicken.

The chickens here do live in a fully enclosed shed and sealed chicken run but they free roam through the food forest for an hour or two per day under supervision. Living in an enclosed chicken run means that their manure must be removed regularly otherwise the health of the chickens will quickly suffer. I mentioned previously that I bring in composted woody mulch as a soil additive. Some of this woody mulch is added to the chicken run as a deep litter system. The chickens will, over a week, scratch and turn over the woody mulch and also excrete into it which adds nitrogen (amongst other nutrients) to the woody mulch material. It is then removed from the chicken run and applied to any area of the property that requires it and new woody mulch material is brought into the chicken run.


The author spreading chook-processed mulch about the emerging food forest

Animal systems don’t have to be hard work or cost you anything either. Over summer, I always ensure that there is water available in a secure spot above ground for the native birds in the area and I now have families of magpies, kookaburras and eastern rosellas amongst other larger and smaller birds living in and around the food forest. These same birds also scratch through the ground cover, eating pests and spreading manure and seeds about the place. Most native birds here aren’t interested in the fruit (except for cherries and berries) and only tend to eat the fruit if they are thirsty.

Animal systems don’t have to look like cows grazing in a fenced paddock either. As the food forest is located within a larger native forest, I tend to get a lot of animals browsing through the food forest. The herbage previously mentioned is provided for their benefit and most nights kangaroos, wallabies and/or wombats will be grazing in this area. Not only do their activities reduce the need to regularly mow the herbage / ground cover, but they also spread their manure through the food forest and surrounding forest for the benefit of the soil at no expense or effort to myself.


Mum, joey and adolescent kangaroos enjoying the herbage

Conclusion

Recently, I had to dig a hole to place a post for a climbing frame for kiwi fruit and received a pleasant surprise. After 7 years, the photo below shows the results of all of this soil building work here. The hole was about 500mm (about 20 inches) deep and you can clearly see that between the measurements of 300mm (about 12 inches) and the top of the hole at 500mm (20 inches) was topsoil, where previously there was none!

35 Responses to “Food Forests, Part 3: Closing the Loop”

  1. SOP

    That top soil creation appears excellent. Congratulations. I’ve planted in many a ‘developed’ soil and what you describe is familiar.

    How are you managing the grass in your food forest? Are there other layers in there not apparent in the photos?

    Reply
  2. Barbara Schanel

    Excellent work! Just yesterday I started chopping and dropping ragweed, poke, and other problem weeds on our place. These weed patches have always seemed like a problem for me, now I look at them as a savings account for soil nutrients. They will add several inches to my mulch layer from now on.

    Reply
  3. Bexar

    I would like to hear more about your grey/gray water and humanure operation.
    Thanks, nice informative article.

    Reply
  4. Jennifer

    Thanks for the article about your property. Lots of great information and tips there!

    Reply
  5. nbovve

    Re Removal of topsoil,
    It was a very common practice around Melbourne,
    I used to drive to work along Warrigal Rd in the Mentone/Cheltenham area during the late ’60s. and watched as
    all the topsoil was carted away AFTER the market gardens were ,sold, subdivided and built on.
    This practice was further confirmed by friends who purchased blocks and houses in this area.One of their reasons for purchasing in this area was the quality of the soil,both being keen gardeners.
    They then had to purchase soil for their gardens

    Reply
  6. Tom Anderson

    Very interesting. I am most interested in your humanure work. Please publish it. I’m here from JMGs blog. Thanks

    Reply
  7. Roger Mitchell

    looks and seems great keep up the good work my chooks roam all over my one acre block the block is fenced wityh boundary fencing covered with 50mm netting and has a barbed wire runing at ther boittom as well as the top and is gaurded by my dog so my chooks are completely free range never shut up and along with the native birds I have no bug problems nor weds. Roger

    Reply
  8. XHMKO

    Hi Chris, I also followed your link from the Archdruids Report and also want to hear more about your worm farm humanure setup. I’ve recently started to hang on to my excrement for later use but am still deciding how to process it.

    Reply
  9. Chris McLeod

    Hi Yee,

    Thanks.

    Hi SOP,

    Most observant. The grass is usually a pioneering species, I know this sounds counter intuitive especially in a food forest, but please bear with me. If you look at the photo of the kangaroos, you will notice a brown band of disturbed soil behind them which has now been kick started. When I start building pasture / herbage on bare soil like that, I firstly sprinkle a light covering of compost over the bare clay soil and then throw on a layer of rye grass / tall fescue seed mix. This seed will germinate here 9 months of the year (except for summer) within about two to three weeks. The grass then establishes roots into the compost and starts to break up the clay soil and the whole web of soil life begins. New species enter the herbage through the actions of the local wildlife in both their fur and scats, plus from uneaten grain seeds from the chook pen. Native birds are constantly in this area also digging for worms and insects. As the entire herbage gets mowed twice a year, I simply let the cuttings fall where they will and the soil life consumes the end product and builds top soil. I took me years here to understand this whole process. Has any one species taken over the herbage? No, there are a huge number of species in it.

    In the food forest, I also plant herbs, berries and flowering plants all about the place. They are hard to see in the photos but they are there. Just to put the first/top photo into some context, the background trees are eucalyptus obliqua and the saplings are about 30m tall, whilst the regrowth after clearing in the 1860′s are about 50m tall.

    Hi Barbara,

    Nice work. You’ll find that the more that you chop and drop plant matter over a few years, the quicker that the dropped plant matter disappears into the soil. In the oldest, most established soil areas here that plant matter disappears within a week or two and the trees are also the healthiest and most productive. Keep up the good work and much better than glyphosates!

    Hi Bexar and Linda,

    I love that worm farm! If you’d like I can write the next article on this worm farm and show some photos? The description of this system is a bit beyond a comment. Drop a comment here and let me know if you’re interested, as I can show photos which are probably easier than any explanation I can come up with. FYI it has EPA approval here in Victoria and also uses no power whatsoever and to my knowledge never has to be desludged.

    Hi Catherine, Dean and Jennifer,

    Thanks, I enjoy sharing it too with the readers here.

    Hi Odin,

    Nice to see you here. Thanks again!

    Regards

    Chris

    Reply
  10. Pilar from Colombia

    Beautiful way of sharing with Mother Nature Chris. Like Bexar, I would also like to hear about the worm and humanure operations. Amazing, Awsome kangaroo family!!! Thanks and congratulations!

    Reply
  11. Chris McLeod

    Hi nbovve

    Yeah, it’s a bit of a waste. That sand belt area had some of the best soils in Melbourne and I was reading recently that bullock drays were used by the producers to bring the produce up to the city markets. Apparently the bullocks knew the way so well, that the drivers could have a sleep on the way!

    Still, Doncaster and Templestowe used to be orchards (Pettys orchard is worth a visit). The area around Cranbourne used to be market gardens. Koo-Wee-Rup is under development threat. Bacchus Marsh out my way has had huge residential pressures + a new open cut export coal mine of all things. How does the song go, “you don’t know what you got till it’s gone.”

    Hi Fred and Mary,

    Awesome, well done. The plant roots and soil life all work together to break up the clay soils. It should be better drained and aerated as time goes on too.

    Hi Tom Anderson and XHMKO

    Thanks and nice to see you here. You can treat humanure in a worm farm or a compost pile. I don’t want to get ahead of the next article instalment, but with either form of processing don’t use the resulting product to grow root vegetables because of the risk of spreading human diseases. On the other hand, and in a historical context people used to bury it in cottage gardens and plant flowering plants and herbs. Oh yeah, a good tip with worm farms is to put them on the ground in an area that doesn’t flood so that the worm tea can seep into the surrounding soil. You can just plant around the worm farm. It also allows the worms to get in and out of the worm farm when there are temperature extremes – particularly hot weather. The worms will always come back and they’ll do some good in the garden in the meantime. Above ground worm farms always tend to cook the worms in a warm to hot climate (Melbourne can get well over 40 degrees Celsius over summer and the worms die).

    Hi Roger Mitchell,

    Your chooks have a lucky life! Out of interest what sort of dog do you have? One of the farm dogs here is a miniature fox terrier, great dog, but seriously obsessive compulsive and quite understand that the chooks are not there for her entertainment!

    Hi Pilar,

    Looks like a worm article may be the next instalment! I literally do share with nature too as some of the output here goes towards the native animals. An old timer from around here said that I’d turned the place into a supermarket for the native animals! I’ve read somewhere long ago – I can’t remember where and it would be nice if someone could let me know – that the English farmers used to tithe some of their produce to the native animals as part of the life cycle of a farm.

    Regards

    Chris

    Reply
  12. Carl Hutchins

    Hello Chris. Another follower of JMG here. Great job of building topsoil. Here in western Arkansas, my problem isn’t clay, its rock. Although I live within a stone’s throw of the Arkansas river, my position is too high to benefit from any of the residue of alluvial deposits. Couple that with the subdivision developer’s urge to scrape everything clean before pouring a slab and you’re left with rock. I’ve been importing organic material in for a few years but not anywhere near the volume necessary for good topsoil development. Thanks for the corrective on that. A question. Can you bring in too much of any one type of material? I have access to a decent amount of shredded newspaper which I use for moisture retention around the nightshades. I could bring in more but I worry about upsetting what little balance I have in my existing soil. Any advice would be appreciated. I would also like to hear more about your worm composting system. Many thanks for sharing the work you are doing.

    Carl

    Reply
  13. Jeff

    Here through JMG’s blog. The energy is spreading!

    The worm farm composting set-up sounds great (do please post about it) and what you have going is wonderful.

    We, wife and I, try to let part of our small back yard go wild for the birds and critters; no kangaroos yet though ;) here in North California but we’re keeping an eye out.

    Reply
  14. Pete

    Excellent work, inspiring and thought-provoking. Thanks so much for this. I’ve been giving much thought to soil-building here on my semi-suburban city lot in Minneapolis; one step: tripling the size of my compost bin, since I collect bags of leaves from no-herbicide yards in the neighborhood. (I too followed over from Archdruid Report, where I’ve been appreciating your comments for some months.)
    Cheers,
    Pete (Moss)

    Reply
  15. Bernie Edwards

    An excellent article some of which mirrors my own soil building experience over the last twelve months or so. I also have followed the principles that everything which grows on the land is utilised and as much water as possible from natural run-off is captured, calmed and put to use. The no dig principle I have found to also work well for me and the only digging I have done in order to produce a small proportion of my food in recent months and a growing proportion in the future, has been for water capture works.

    I haven’t got to keeping chooks yet but I do have a wombat living under my house and judging by the amount of fresh poo scattered around the yard on a daily basis there must be more than one around here. That, together with the little gifts the rabbits leave, also helps.

    I am not here through links from the JMG blog but I have for some time been following the Archdruid’s very perceptive writings with interest, from an initial contact through his reports on the Energy Bulletin web site. I recently read his book ‘The Blood of the Earth’ which I can thoroughly recommend to anyone interested in understanding the manipulations shaping mainstream events today and how to not be influenced by them.

    Reply
  16. Helen

    Hi Chris, great work with the soil building! I’m also here thanks to your link on JMG’s blog. I too live in an area (in southern Tasmania) where topsoil was carted off from farmland that was being subdivided for housing. Luckily, we have a block just across the road from that area, but we have very sandy soil and so I am constantly trying to build topsoil. It’s amazing how many people cart off all their ‘green waste’ to the tip, and then bring in processed mulch which they purchase at the garden centre. Talk about dependent on fossil fuels! I am now using all my weeds and prunings as mulch, which I break up by hand or with hand tools. The pieces are much larger than the average pine bark mulch, of course – hey I dont have THAT much time on my hands – and I guess many people would think it looks untidy. But, after 5 years of this treatment, I am so happy with how well the land is responding. Native plants are coming back by themselves, in the now wild (previously mowed) area, and in my food production area, like you, I make good use of chook-processed mulch and compost. By the way I also enjoyed your series on solar power, I tried to comment on it but the internet ate it, so please accept this as belated thank you.

    Reply
  17. Robert Beckett

    Hi Chris, I follow your comments on Archdruid Report, thanks for the link to your site. I’ll enjoy diving into it in future, and I expect the principles you are working with apply to my land in Ontario. I have about 8 to 10 inches of decent topsoil over about another foot of subsoil containing fractured stone, this over bedrock limestone. A drainage challenge there, quite a different starting point from yours. Keep up the great work and excellent writing! Robert

    Reply
  18. Ali Moussa

    Great work & thanks
    that picture,the hole,proves that permaculture can speed up the work of nature in recovering our soil,maybe beter than forests.

    Reply
  19. Chris McLeod

    Hi Carl,

    Great to see you here. Ha! The developer was probably trying to found the houses on rock to avoid problems builders get with reactive soils over rock with subsequent house movement and cracking (and litigious claims from the owners) in the future.

    As to your question about too much of any one type of material, I don’t worry about that particularly, but I reckon that you should observe over a period of time to see what happens after the material has been applied. If you’ve applied lots of shredded newspaper (i.e. carbon) to an area of your garden and after a month or so, it still looks the same and is dry on the top layer and also underneath, then you should consider adding a good quantity of compost (i.e. nitrogen). You’ll need to mix the compost in amongst the newspaper though.

    Given that you are on mostly rock with very shallow soils, you might want to also consider starting a worm farm in amongst the shredded newspaper and put all of your kitchen scraps in there too. This will do the same job as adding compost particularly if the worm tea leaches into the area.

    As an alternative suggestion and if don’t mind a bit of excitement in your garden you could just put kitchen scraps and green waste in amongst the shredded newspaper, chuck some worms in and watch what happens! The only down side to this is that dogs, mice, rats and birds will get into it. However, they will save you the job of aerating it and the whole process will be massively sped up. PS: Use your nose. If it smells anything less than a mild earthy smell, turn it over and mix it up to put more air in.

    Hi Jeff,

    Welcome. Nice work with your yard, it is amazing how much wildlife can get into an area if given the chance. What? No kangaroos, we’ll have to do something about that, hehe! Seriously though, I can’t remember where but a couple of years ago, I remember reading about some kangaroos that either escaped or were let out of a wildlife park somewhere in the UK and have inhabited a national park and there was also another roo on the run in Germany last year, which the police eventually cornered and captured (I can’t make this stuff up!).

    Hi Pete,

    Good to see you here. Fallen leaves (excluding eucalyptus species) are really an amazing source of nutrients for your garden. Very canny picking them up too. You can compost pretty much anything that was once alive. Good work.

    Years back, someone around this way drove over a massive brush tail possum and left it on the road. I felt that this was bit disrespectful to the possum – it was a massive possum after all – so recovered it and fed it to the worms. Better here in the soil than elsewhere.

    Hi Bernie,

    Good work. Capturing water is crucial in the Australian landscape – and any other landscape where water can be scarce. Slowing the movement of water down across that landscape is so important too. The original settlers completely stuffed the water cycle up. Plus you are recycling everything back into the top soil and not exposing the soil to the harsh UV we get here over summer. A model farm!

    Yeah, it is amazing that if you grow a good cover crop and feed the soil, the native animals (plus the rabbits of course) will turn so much of that into scats and then top soil over time. I’ve read that around here as in other parts of the country, dung beetles are being released (and have been for many years now) to speed up the cycle of building top soil. The more effort you put into building top soil, the quicker that it develops and the more resilient that your farm becomes.

    Chooks punch well above their weight producing both poo and eggs plus they clean up pests through the food forest. I thoroughly recommend them, although they only free range whilst supervised because of all of the predator species around here.

    Yeah. I too enjoy the Archdruids essays and books. He is exceptionally insightful whilst also being very accessible.

    Regards.

    Chris

    Reply
  20. Chris McLeod

    Hi Helen,

    Nice to see you here. You are definitely on the right track with your soil improvements. You’re so right too about cutting the mulch into larger chunks, as they do eventually break down into humus and the process gets faster as time goes on and the soil life becomes more diverse.

    People often buy the dyed mulch too (I’ve seen black, green and brown pine chips)! Can’t imagine what they used to dye the stuff…

    Thanks for your comment about the solar article series.

    Regards.

    Chris

    Reply
  21. XHMKO

    Hi Chris, Thanks for the tips. That’s how I worm my soil anyway. I can’t be bothered catching and spreading the worm castings. I just give them the tucker and let them come and go as they please, like a bird feeder which is also a good way of bringing wild manure into a garden area. I look forward to your next article.

    Cheers Mick

    Reply
  22. Joel Caris

    I’m a little late to the party, Chris, but absolutely wonderful article. You did a great job providing a clear and comprehensive summary of your soil building activities, some of which are familiar to me and some of which provided a new perspective and new information. I have to say, pretty inspiring.

    Now I just need a plot of land of my own to start creating similar systems. I might be able to do a bit of this where I’m at right now, but a real systemic set up would require more control. Still, it helps give me ideas about a future set up.

    I’m of the same frame of mind in being interested in keeping things simple and easy as much as possible. Granted, I’m about to go digging for this year’s garden, but long term I like minimizing the digging as much as possible. If I’m here next year, I’m hoping to plan things out a bit better and have some of my beds in place to a degree that I can do more passive soil improvements.

    Would you consider doing a write up on your humanure system? It sounds very interesting but I couldn’t quite picture the way you have it set up based on your description. I guess I’m curious if the manure gets into the system automatically or if you dump it there and then how it goes from there into the pasture. The farm I lived on last year has a system in place using five gallon buckets that get dumped as they fill, with the manure then left to break down and, eventually, added back to the soil. From what you wrote, though, it sounds like your system is much more functional.

    Reply
  23. Chris McLeod

    Hi XHMKO,

    Nice work and thanks. What a good system just giving a little bit of a feed and letting nature do its thing. Plus with the birds, feed them and they will come.

    Hi Joel,

    Better late than not at all. Ha! You get the best of both worlds in that you can practice, observe and learn on other peoples land (plus possibly at their expense too) and when you get your own land you can implement the systems that worked best for you.

    You’re spot on though as it is about having systems and processes to deal with all of the expected and unexpected things that you encounter – after a while they do become a bit systemic especially if you try to reduce the amount of work around the place.

    I wish you well with your vegie patch.

    Yeah, I’ll do the next article on the humanure system here. My dirty little secret is that it is one of my favourite systems here. It is entirely automatic and requires no external energy and if I don’t tell people who visit, they don’t have a clue. I do check it every day however, but it’s not necessary and I’m only chucking in the food scraps that neither the dogs or the chooks will eat. It’ll be interesting trying to work what photo’s to include!

    Regards

    Chris

    Reply
  24. Joel Caris

    There is some definite benefit in the amount of knowledge and practical experience I’m picking up without risking, so to speak, my own capital. It’s also been great seeing different ways of doing things and getting experience in completely different areas, such as now learning the animal side of things whereas I started out just with veggie farming.

    The warm days and veggie gardening have conspired to bring me a certain joy and contentment. I keep finding myself amazed at having found this life. I’ll be writing a bit about that hopefully in the next day or two over at my blog. I’ve really been slacking off on the writing of late.

    Anyway, I’m greatly looking forward to the humanure article. I’m really curious about how you have it all automated. It sounds like it would be about my favorite system, as well. I suppose that may sound odd to some, but it’s an issue that we’re all going to have to deal with in the near future and a nicely automated system that doesn’t involve hauling around five gallon buckets of waste sounds pretty great to me.

    Reply
  25. Chris McLeod

    Hi Joel,

    I both enjoy and look forward to your future writing. Again, you are lucky to be able to observe what works well with other peoples farms. As long as you observe with a critical eye (although it is probably good advice not to share your observations with them as some don’t appreciate hearing this) you are getting an excellent education.

    On to humanure!

    Regards. Chris

    Reply
  26. Gordon

    Excellent article Chris :) Our chooks are in part of the cherry orchard full time, and now we have the 1.8m high fence with the electric fence 7000 volts in the top wire, we haven’t seen any fox attacks since early last year. It cost a packet to give them that protection though!

    With only 2 of us here, we only spread the goodness from our Clivus Multrum every year or so, but its amazing how fast it disappears into the soil.

    We have a couple of old cast iron baths full of water next to the house, the wallabies, wallaroos and kangaroos use them as a regular watering hole, and lots of birds use them for a morning bath too. One of the wallabies jumped into one of them last summer, probably to cool off!

    Reply
  27. Roger

    Hi Chris my present dog is a staffy cross but what the cross is I do not know but before that we had a kelpie and another dog that was a bit bigger than a kelpie but what breed it was I do not know as all our dogs are rescues from the pound but I know for shure that a dog about one hundred mtrs up the road from our place sets of the alarm if anything should pass along the road at night as its enclosure is next to the road and our dogs go out to check whats desturebed him and they all let any preditor know to stay away so we are well and truely protected.

    Reply
  28. Chris McLeod

    Hi Gordon,

    Your chooks lead a charmed and well protected life. The protection is definitely worth it as so many things want to eat them. The photos on your website look great and I hope that you sell all of the roosters.

    The Clivus Multrum is a good unit and very well tested by time. The soil will really appreciate the results too.

    Thanks for the suggestion about the bath tubs as I wouldn’t have thought of this and will implement that here before summer. I would have loved to have seen the wallaby jumping into the bathtub to cool. Great!

    Hi Roger,

    Well done with picking up a dog at the pound and even better to get a good working farm dog. I still don’t trust the miniature fox terrier with the chooks (it’s been proven that she is no good), but small, yappy dogs often make the best watch dogs.

    Regards

    Chris

    Reply
  29. Tamrat Sinore

    i would like to thank you; because of you were announced a number of things to us.

    Reply

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