Help, What have you grown in Shallow soil???

Discussion in 'Gardening & Plant Propagation' started by outofmire, Dec 7, 2003.

  1. outofmire

    outofmire Well-Known Member

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    Well, I'm frustrated. We bought this land never imagining that we only had 12" to bedrock. At first I thought we'd do raised beds, but for the size garden I want that would get expensive very fast. I guess it's still an option though. I thought about going around and collecting all the leaves people have stacked up on their curbs (after making sure they don't use chemicals on their lawns) and using that to build up our soil. We also planned to put the soil from the paths on the beds which should raise the soil level another 6".

    Anyway, my question is what have you all been able to grown on shallow soil. I've studied the weeds growing on our land....we have sunflowers (little wild ones), golden rod, wood sorrel (a little bit), plantain, and most of the rest are grasses I haven't identified yet. I was hoping they would give me some idea of what would grow, but I don't know enough about those weeds. I suspect they are hardy ones though that will grow anywhere.

    So can you all give me some hope here. I'd like to think I can still grow a big garden...maybe not with all the traditional vegetables....maybe some hardier ones. Any ideas on the types of vegetables???? Maybe I'll just have to give the plants double or triple the space so the roots have room to spread instead of going straight down.
     
  2. outofmire

    outofmire Well-Known Member

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    Oh yeah, and I don't think there's anyway to plant things that can punch through the bedrock. According to geological maps I've studies, this rock formation goes down for 1000's of feet. The oaks are all stunted and twisted about 10-15' max and they are naturally spaced far apart, indicating to me that plants won't grow with the normal spacing here. The pines are another story, they are as tall as any I've ever seen, and they are about 3' apart. I know conifers are drought resistent, so that explains how they are so vigorous and dense, but I don't know how they are so tall. It seems that in only 12" of soil, they wouldn't be very well anchored from the heavy storms we have here in the spring.......unless they are penetrating the rock....but I don't know how they could be doing that.
     

  3. Homesteader

    Homesteader Well-Known Member

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    Outofmire - remember that plants actually do not need soil to grow. They need light, water, oxygen and nutrients and something to "hold them up". For instance, think about hydroponics. Plants are grown with only nutrient drenched water. The sun or grow lights give the needed light, the water supplies the nutrients and oxygen, and the plants are physically held up by passing that water through perlite or volcanic rock particles or some such, meaning the roots grow into the perlite or rock. In some cases the root section of a seedling is simply placed through a hole in a board, or styrofoam or whathaveyou, dangling into the nutrient solution with no perlite or rock with the top of the plant growing above the hole. I've grown lettuce hydroponically this way using a plastic wash tub, aerator stone (provides oxygen in such a small unit), a "board" of styrofoam floating on top with holes in it to place the plants.

    So, if you're growing your plants in a small amount of soil, it would work if it contains enough of the oxygen, water and nutrients. Your best bet however, especially if you're aiming for any type or organic growing, is to use raised beds. It will take time, yes, but will be worth it. Also practicing intensive growing methods (sq. foot gardening, etc) will increase your yields.

    Good luck.
     
  4. Ivey NLI

    Ivey NLI Guest

    12 inches is deep enough topsoil for most common garden vegetables, given enough water and nutrients. Lots of gardens don't have a foot of topsoil anyway before it turns to clay, etc.. Raised beds are a good idea too, but if you add lots of organics and tend your garden well the first year, you'll see what does well there. Good luck.
     
  5. goatlady

    goatlady Well-Known Member Supporter

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    If you used raised beds, French intensive methods you can grow more than you need including enough to can/freeze in a relatively small space. I plant 144 green bean plants in a 4x4 square. With raised beds you space much closer together because the soil is all good and no weeds. You can make the beds out of most anything. Usual workable size is about 4' wide and however long you want/have material for. Leave enough space between the beds for your wheelbarrow. Scrape the soil between the beds into the beds and you have more dirt usable in the beds. By doing that it give you 24' of soil in the beds which is plenty deep enough for anything. Use the neighbor's leaves in a compost pile along with whatevery else you plan to use. You must have a compost pile! Every year add 2-4 inches on compost to each bed, work it in and get ready for the season. Lay irrigation hose in the beds to save time and water. By using raised beds it's easy to make hoop covers for then with PVC pipe bent over the beds and covered eith netting or row covers which extends your season front and back, but sill give you easy accessibility to the veggies. Check out trhe book Sq. Foot Gardening from your library or get your own copy. It will save you much time and $$.
     
  6. outofmire

    outofmire Well-Known Member

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    I have the "square foot gardening" book as well as the "How to Grow more Vegetables" book which explains the intensive method. However, to use this method, you have to water your plants in addition to natural rainfall and you have to supply fertilizer and you have to deep dig your beds. The "How to Grow more Vegetables" book explains that you need all these things in order to grow your plants close together and get the results they claim you can get. That all sounds good until you get to the fact that we don't have running water and we don't have even have the 2' of soil to double dig beds.

    Anyway, what I'm wanting to hear from are those who have grown vegetables and animal crops on shallow soil.....and what kinds were successful for you. I'm hoping that will give me a starting place. For example, I had heard that alfalfa and clover are good for goats and chickens respectively. However, I just learned that both are deep divers and require deep soil. Those are two crops I had intended to grow for my goats and chickens. I don't mind bringing in soil amendments and organic materials for a few raised beds so I can pamper some of my favorite vegetables, but I don't want to do that for an acre or so. Even if I grew just as John Jeavons suggests in his book "How to Grow More Vegetables, I'd need 2000 s.f. per person (for a sustainable garden) to grow all our own food. For the four of us, that's 8000 square feet. If you consider that we only have 1' of soil....I'd need to import (eventually) 8000 cubic feet or nearly 300 cubic yards of soil. My truck will carry 1-2 cubic feet depending on how heavy it is. That's 150-300 trips! If I bought my soil at the nursery 8 miles away, that's $225-450 in gas plus $2400 for the soil. If I got my soil at the river bank, it would be less money over all, but more in gas and time. If I brought in leaves and limbs and such and built up my own soil, it'd take countless trips. I just don't think any of that is the only option. I'm willing to do that for a few beds for crops I want to baby, but not all. I know this won't happen overnight. I'm aiming for 5 years to be able to grow 50-75% of our food. I just want to get some ideas of plants I can grow that would tolerate the drought conditions of a shallow soil on a hill. I have other plans to catch the natural runoff in basins and trenches and plant around those.

    Have any of you grown vegetables on shallow/ rocky soil with no addition water or fertilizer besides compost? If so, which plants did you have the most success with?

    Thanks for the Input
     
  7. Shahbazin

    Shahbazin Well-Known Member

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    Well, what I'm working with for my vegetable garden is soil where a previous owner terraced some slopes - scraping off all the topsoil, & burying it under a layer of adobe type clay, mixed with a little bit of decomposed granite. So, I have this stuff that weeds will hardly grow in, that water won't soak into, & that, 9 months of the year, you can't get a shovel into it. The other three months you can bog a pickup to the tops of the wheels (ask me how I know...) Plus, a lousy grading job was done, & the terraces slope to the back, so it doesn't drain well. I feed my sheep & goat alfalfa hay, & bed my chickens on shavings & barley straw - when I clean pens & barns, I just pile the litter, liberally mixed with manure, over the area I want to grow in, by fall, let it decompose over the winter, & plant in it in the spring. I pile it on a couple of feet deep, so there is good drainage for the excess water, plus the litter holds moisture well. I didn't dig it or anything, just piled some musty straw on top, chopped it a bit by running a lawn mower over it, & stuck the seeds right into the mulch. Sort of a modified lasangna style, mixed with some square foot ideas :) Weeds were about zilch, except for a few barley sprouts from the new straw. Unlike a previous gardening site, I was careful to not use horse manure from horses fed Bermuda hay... Didn't have to water much, either, & it just plain doesn't rain in the summer here. Any sheep/horse/goat raisers near you, that would be happy for you to haul away manure by the truckload?
     
  8. Alice In TX/MO

    Alice In TX/MO More dharma, less drama. Supporter

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    I do lasagne gardening. You just leave what is in place there, and layer whatever materials (leaves, compost, barn litter, manure, newspapers, mulch, peat moss) on the top. If you add a couple of layers a year, or if you do them all this year, it doesn't matter. Just keep adding what you can find.

    In the fall, I drive around a nearby town and pick up everyone's bags of raked up leaves. Basically, it's free mulch and compost in raw form.

    Here's a website about lasagne gardening.

    http://www.lasagnagardening.com/uof/lasagnagardening/heck.html
     
  9. Outofmire, this may be entirely beside the point, but your estimate of how much earth your truck bed will carry sounds way low to me. The smallest of trucks (like a Luv or one of those little bitty old VWs) should at minimum be able to carry a whole lot more than 1-2 cubic feet. Unless you meant 1-2 cubic yards-- that sounds more reasonable for a small truck. Anyway, I hope this changes your calculations for the better.

    Plantains aren't a whole lot different from lettuce and cabbage, and you said you have wild sunflowers so I'd guess corn, whatever grains are grown in your locale, peppers, tomatoes, and other such things wouldn't be a problem. You oughta go talk to your neighbors (even if they are ten miles down the road!) If they have gardens, they can surely tell you what grows well in your shallow soil.

    Zion National Park was at one time settled by pioneering Mormons who farmed that desolate rock-- I'm sure you'll be able to grow something on your land, too. Best of luck to you!

    Darren in TN
     
  10. kathy H

    kathy H kathyh

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    Lettuce, swiss chard, corn, tomatos. Just about every thing will adapt. Asparagus wouldnt be good though. Check at horse boarding stables and cart home free manure.
     
  11. Goat manure is great stuff....lots of humus to hold water and lighten soil. Horse manure can carry alot of weed seed. We clean barns out once a year (in the Fall) and let it compost over winter and add to garden when tilling in Spring. In two years we have greatly improved our gardens!....We also use grass clippings for mulch to save weeding and water and to add to soil (just till in come Fall). Without running water you could put up gutters and a couple trash cans to collect water from your roof(s) when it rains. And you can cut near bottom of trash can and put in a hose fitting on for convenience.....dont forget to make some manure tea! We grow the best carrots now and we have ledge outcroppings everywhere! Potatoes can be grow on top of soil with straw.... Goodluck! oh and dont forget the $5 soil test kit....it'll help you with identify deficiencies/excesses.