Follow up to 'Gardening on Really Poor Soil'

Discussion in 'Fruit & Vegetable Growing' started by ClissAT, Oct 20, 2019.

  1. ClissAT

    ClissAT Valued Member Premium Member GOLD

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    Here is the link to my original thread.
    https://www.selfsufficientculture.com/threads/gardening-on-really-poor-soil.832/

    Now for the follow-up.

    Recently I had a friend visit who I hadn't seen for several years.
    She's a scientist, a forensic ecologist! Now there's a mouthful!
    We took a tour around my garden because things were not adding up for me re all the tests and experiments I've done.
    The first thing my friend talked about was the relationship between ants and earth worms.
    Apparently its either one or the other, they don't cohabit very well in the soil.
    Here of course it's ants, many types invading every nook of soil and eating everything thats not clear of the ground (including the house!).
    They steal the compost before the plants can make use of it in the soil.
    My friend explained the difference between when ants and earth worms eat plant matter otherwise known as organic matter in the soil.

    Worms eat whats infront of them while creating a channel through the soil. Everything goes through their digestive system and comes out all mixed up as castings which hold a good amount of moisture as long as it is covered with other soil or mulch.

    Ants, on the other hand, selectively eat the organic matter in or ontop of the soil and separate the fibrous cellular material from the waxy outer layer which repeals moisture off the leaves and stems. They digest and utilise the cellular material but deposit the wax as lining around their tunnels through the soil and in their nests.

    My soil is made up completely of small crumbles or beads of hard soil that water does not penetrate. Its completely hydroscopic (it repells moisture). There is so much wax in my soil, it coats every bit. My area has a lot of a particular type of gum tree Eucalyptus Grandiflora or Spotted Gum, a large drought tolerant gum tree that hosts white ants easily and delivers a toxin to the soil via the bark and young dead leaves that prevents competition under the tree.

    So it hosts the white ants which eat all those dead leaves that fall in thick drifts every dry season. Plus every second year (this year) the trees shed their copious bark in great long shards of leather type material that litters the ground for months. Finally the bark dries to a crisp and decomposes whereupon the ants take over thereby adding yet more wax to the ground.

    WOW!!! Now I understand!

    So this is what I am trying to grow a garden in. And of course the top soil is only <>10cm thick under which is yellow schist rocky clay that also repells moisture mainly because its so hard packed.

    No wonder I've been failing to make sense of the tests and experiments I've been doing.

    "Soooo how do I fix this mess?". "Not easily" she said. I could poison the soil to kill the ants but that would also prevent any earth worms living in it for years and any of the other miriad of biological live important and necessary for organic gardening.
    Or I could embark on a program of adding particular organic elements such as copious fresh cow manure and weed teas. The fresh cow manure has an acid in it which acts as a wetting agent bit for my soil I would need to add in the ratio of 50/50 which is a LOT of fresh cow manure and really heavy as well!
    Weed tea also creates an acid that acts as a soil wetting agent but more slowly as it doesn't have the huge volume of organic matter that manure provides.

    If I was much younger or had help, I would attempt to get a load of fresh cow manure. Although finding organic manure would be next to impossible since it would have to come from a dairy farm. But once rain starts again, the weeds will grow profilically and I can use them along with a small amount of cow manure from the adjoining beef cow farm over my back fence. I can make weed 'tea bags' each with a few cow pays in as well and soak those in a big blue drum then water that onto my gardens.

    So that's my next set of experiments all set out for the coming year.
    It was great to have my friend visiting right when I was giving up on the gardens completely. This gardening game here is too hard for me now that my arms don't work so well anymore. But if the weed tea works, I'll scale up the whole thing. I'll start with just the few new beds I started this season in the new food forest area.

    My soil in new raised beds. A new vegie bed in food forest. Plants grow well first year.
    2019-10-20_12.48.00.jpg 2019-10-20_12.44.05.jpg 2019-10-20_12.39.14.jpg


    When I set out the area for my new shed early last year, I got the excavator driver to set aside all the top soil. It was my intention to do this work during winter of 2018 bit I got sick and only now getting back to it.
    I make berms and swales or beds along the contours using the saved soil. To each tractor bucket of soil I add 20% soaked coconut coir fibre, a bit of compost, various other components (whatever is laying around really) along with organic pelletized chook poo fertilizer, minerals, trace elements, then hoe it through. I've been waiting for rain but couldn't wait any longer to begin planting.
    With the drought biting so hard my horses have run out of grass so they are getting soaked hay each morning. The soak water goes on a garden bed. You can see the results in the far right photo! Excellent growth! Hay has a lot of sugars in it which have to be removed by soaking for older horses otherwise they get diabetes just like people.
    But the sugars are excellent food for plants. A win, win really!
    This soak water can sort of be compared to weed tea. It's not quite the same but close. With weed tea, the plants are soaked until they rot away to make a rich fertilizer whereas the hay soak water just has some sugars in it.
    Bit considering that I only pour the water through the hay for a few minutes, its a quick way to add nutrition to garden beds. And utilise the water as well.
    In the photo showing my new fruit tree raised beds, I've thrown the shower runoff hose onto it to utilise that water as well. No wasted water at my place!
     
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2019
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  2. DTK

    DTK Active Member Premium Member GOLD

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    Thank you for sharing this update. I did not know that it is ants or worms. I used to see quite a few worms but much fewer these days. There are ants around; perhaps that is why! Your post is very interesting and informative. Thanks again for sharing!!!!! Dan
     
  3. ClissAT

    ClissAT Valued Member Premium Member GOLD

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    Thanks Dan. Go back and look at the post again because while you were replying, I was adding the photos.
     
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  4. DTK

    DTK Active Member Premium Member GOLD

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    Thanks, just went back and looked. I learn so much from these threads. Every day is a school day - even in retirement. :)
     
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  5. Matthew Duke

    Matthew Duke Member Premium Member GOLD

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    I've never thought of ants as a negative influence on an ecology, interesting info.

    Cheeky buggers
     
  6. Wedgetail

    Wedgetail Active Member Premium Member GOLD

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    Hi ClissAT thank you for putting up all that info I will certainly be looking a bit harder at how things are working in my veggie patch. Dave
     
  7. Raymondo

    Raymondo Active Member Premium Member GOLD

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    Hi Clissat once again very informative post on ants , I have used Borax in the past to get rid of ants in our caravan. I was wondering if this might work in garden areas. I just made up a solution with water and a little sugar and soaked cotton wool on a saucer, A few hours later swarming with ants , a couple of days later , no ants, this might help control the abundance you have in your garden and I believe it is quite natural and harmless to humans .
    I wonder if your forensic ecologist would be interested in posting any other interesting titbits that might help us understand the relationships within our self sufficient journey . Just an after thought not sure how earthworms would react to Borax maybe a few experiments needed hear cheers Raymondo
     
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  8. ClissAT

    ClissAT Valued Member Premium Member GOLD

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    Yes Ray, borax is fine in the house but as a broadscale repellent in soil it will kill most other beneficial microbiology.
    Its ok to use it in small doses for a trace element fix for boron deficiency because thats just a pinch in a watering can.
    Which is unfortunate really because it does a good job around the house.
     
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  9. Raymondo

    Raymondo Active Member Premium Member GOLD

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    Hi Clissat I wasn't proposing broad scale use of borax just a luring trap which could control the ants without spraying or watering on the garden ' in my follow up research there have been test on earthworm and yes there is a detrimental effect on populations not anialation but a decline in numbers that's why I suggested the cotton wool idea
     
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  10. ClissAT

    ClissAT Valued Member Premium Member GOLD

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    Oh yes Ray, much later I realised my misinterpretation of your suggestion.
    But I've been too busy to get back to this board and also my internet has been positively snails pace. Its this nbn at umm....what speed did they promise?!?!:sarcasm:

    I could set up an ice-cream container with a small bowl of mixture inside it so any rain or critters don't upset it. But I have a house yard of 1.5ac with a 50 tree orchard and with 4 separate vegie garden areas. And then there are the multitude of shrubery and small trees in every direction. The balance of the 16ac property is also infested with ants. They strip the organic matter from the soil so quickly its frightening. In the paddocks, and dead grass is removed from the surface very fast so no mulch layer ever builds up. Therefore no soil is built up.

    From time to time I buy this expensive commercial product of sprinkles that I apply around the house and cabin areas. In reality its just fancy borax because my place has always been organic. It does control the ants for a while then slowly they move back in. When they get too territorial and bite me too much, I get even!
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2019
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  11. Raymondo

    Raymondo Active Member Premium Member GOLD

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    Hi Clissat , yes we need to get even sometimes it keeps us sane , I was just thinking after your post , have you ever tried diatomaceous earth for ants ?
     
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  12. ClissAT

    ClissAT Valued Member Premium Member GOLD

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    I did once give DE a bit of a trial for ants in some pots I was growing tomatoes in.
    But since I only buy food grade DE for use in the chook pen, it was a bit expensive to use on the garden.
    The other thing I need to be worried about here is regarding pH where DE can raise it even more and my soil can already be up around 8 and in occasional places even higher.
    Of course its the actual activity of the ants that helps make the pH that high in the first place, purely because they strip all the organic matter out of the soil. The organic matter is integral in holding the pH at a more neutral value. It can be used to either raise or lower pH unless you've got an ant problem.

    But I'll give some bait stations a go using closed icecream containers with a little hole in the side. Interestingly, some rain has finally made its way past the glass wall to my place, whereas for the previous 3 mths there's been barely a drop! So now I'll have to be careful to not let the liquid get diluted.
     
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  13. DTK

    DTK Active Member Premium Member GOLD

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    So happy to hear some rain has made it to your place, ClissAT
     
  14. ClissAT

    ClissAT Valued Member Premium Member GOLD

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    Yes in two days there's been 14.5ml which is more than the previous 3mths!
    The drought had been really bad here this time.
    Only the third time in 13 yrs I've had to set up the bathtub troughs for horse water.
    On Friday morning I checked the garden tanks and was down to only 12000lt left for all gardens and horse waters.
    Considering that the 3 horses drink 100 gal daily, I didn't have much left!
    The grass will grow really quickly now right when I've gone and bought extra Lucerne for the horses which I don't usually feed to them because it's too rich for old horses.
    Oh well at least I could still get some hay. Parts of Australia are actually running out of hay now due to hay producing areas also being in firm drought.
     

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