Category Archives: Permaculture

Permaculture is a system of agricultural and social design principles centered around simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems.

Goats on Pasture

The Goats are almost three months old now and fully weaned, its time they go to pasture and be trained on the line.
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Part of the purpose of our goats is weed control and sustainable grazing. Grazing animals can be very destructive to the land if their grazing isn’t focused and managed.  On the flip side, land that isn’t grazed by herbivores will become over grown and unhealthy, quickly pulling more from the soil then adding back.  They synergy between the grasslands and its herbivores is slowly becoming recognized and honored.
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When a herbivore eats the grass the roots of the grass die back a little, leaving organic matter and open channels in the soil for beneficial microbes to feast on and water to run down.  Then there is a flush of new grown, invigorating the grass, making it stronger and producing more roots to break up the soil and provide for those microbes I love so much.  In turn the herbivore leaves its manure, full of nutrients and seeds to further bless the land.  A pasture can be easily over grazed, if animals are kept on it continually with out a rest period, it becomes distressed and can’t sustain new growth. That is where management comes in.  We no longer have vast prairies with massive herds of buffalo and birds doing the job, we now have to facilitate the process, by using rotational grazing and letting the pasture rest in between grazing.
IMG_6694Here on our farm we don’t have vast pastures, we have small meadows and paddocks, but that same principle applies, just on a smaller scale.  We set the goats out daily to graze, watching carefully so as not to over tax the land and then move our animals so the plot can rest and rejuvenate, making it more fertile and productive.

Comfrey Harvest

When the comfrey starts blooming it’s time to harvest! I so love the pretty purple flowers of the comfrey plant. When the comfrey produces a long stalk and flashes her blossoms its time to start cutting.  Through out the season I do pick the big, broad leaves for infused oils, but it is that long stalk that I look for to dry.  The stalk has a concentration of the healing compounds that comfrey is so well known for.
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Comfrey-the-comforting, also known as knit-bone, strengthens and heals the bones, the skin, the ligaments, the tendons, and the mucus surfaces of the intestines, the lungs, the sinuses, the throat, the vagina, and the anus. It contains two alkaloid groups: alantoin and PAs. Alantoin is responsible for comfrey’s ability to heal any injury – from bedsores to vaginal tears, from lacerations to piercings, from abrasions to severe burns – quickly and thoroughly. Comfrey leaf infusion (not tea, not tincture, not capsules) is very high in protein, macro- and trace-minerals, and every vitamin needed for good health – with the exception of vitamin B12.
Drinking comfrey infusion has benefitted me in many ways: It keeps my bones strong and flexible. It strengthens my digestion and elimination. It keeps my lungs and respiratory tract healthy. It keeps my face wrinkle-free and my skin and scalp supple. And, please don’t forget, comfrey contains special proteins needed for the formation of short-term memory cells. Comfrey (Symphytum) leaf is free of the compounds (PAs) found in the root that can damage the liver. I have used comfrey leaf infusion regularly for decades with no liver problems, ditto for the group of people at the Henry Doubleday Research Foundation who have eaten cooked comfrey leaves as a vegetable for four generations. Comfrey is also known as “knitbone,” and no better ally for the woman with thin bones can be found.. Its soothing mucilage adds flexibility to joints, eyes, vagina, and lungs. Comfrey leaf infusion used internally and as a sitz bath is excellent at easing hemorrhoids .

IMG_6417Comfrey is quite easy to dry, but there are some considerations.  The leaves are quite big and hold a lot of moisture, therefore they need to be dried loosely.  Typically a person will gather a large bunch of plant materials, tie it in a bundle and dry.  This won’t work with comfrey, I have ruined many batches by doing it this way, the comfrey will mold, and we don’t want that.  Instead I have found that it is just as easy to hang each stalk on a nail and it drys very quickly this way, with out the mold.

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My herb drying racks, I love it when it is nice and full.

IMG_6419IMG_6420After a couple weeks the comfrey will be nice and dry.  At this point I will chop it up and store it in brown bags in a dark dry place.  The reason I use brown bags is so any moisture that is left can be wicked out, instead of growing mold. I will use this through out the year in herbal infusions and poultices.  Comfrey is one of my favorites for the garden, and for the body.

You can read more on Comfrey here: Comfrey 

Planting Permaculture Style

One of the hallmarks of permaculture is using deep mulch to build fertility, slow down weed growth and preserve moisture. We’ve spent many hours gathering yard waste, chipping and shredding it and spreading it in the garden beds. In some of the beds we already had plants growing, in those beds we piled the mulch around the seedlings. But in other beds, that hadn’t been planted yet we covered the entire thing.
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Which makes things a little different come planting time.  In the past it was fairly straight forward, hoe a little row, sprinkle seeds, cover and water.  Done.  Simple.

When using deep mulching the trick is to get the seeds in the soil, to dig past all the mulch to the actual dirt.  People do this two different ways, some people dig down, and some people dig a little hole or row and fill it with compost for the seeds to grow in. I used the “dig down” method.  Having ten 50×4 foot beds to plant, that is a lot of compost to haul around and add!
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Using a hoe I dug down, a good six to eight inches to reach the soil for my little seeds.  I was amazed at the difference in the soil already, after only having prepared the beds a few months ago.  It makes me excited, I am looking forward to seeing how great the soil will be next year and the next!

Building our own soil, building our fertility, growing food for our family and for others, making the world beautiful and productive all the while honoring the natural systems that have been here from the beginning.  That is the goal of Quail Run Farm and one of our greatest labors of love.
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Spring Medicinals for Winter

Late Spring and Early Summer are great times for harvesting WEEDS!  (Have I ever mentioned how much I love weeds?) In late spring there is a burst of growth, plants are getting ready to harvest the heat and sunshine of the summer time. This year I found several curly dock plants in my garden isles between the beds.  I was terribly excited, although I don’t think anyone really shared  my excitement over another weed. I waited for the leaves to get nice and big and then harvested it to make herbal vinegar.

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Curly Dock with seed heads

Young Curly Dock

Dock, also called yellow dock, curly dock, and broad dock is a perennial plant, which my Native American grandmothers use for “all women’s problems.” I dig the yellow roots of Rumex crispus or R. obtusifolius and tincture them. I also harvest the leaves and/or seeds throughout the growing season to increase blood-levels of iron, reduce menstrual flooding and cramping, and correct hormone levels.

Susun Weed 

I coarsely chopped the leaves, tightly packed them into a quart jar and them filled the jar to the top with pasteurized apple cider vinegar. The vinegar will help break down the cell walls and release the minerals and other beneficial constituents. A tablespoon of vinegar daily will help with iorn levels and “all women’s problems”.  After six weeks I will strain the plant matter and store the vinegar in a cool dark place.
IMG_6406Another plant I have been harvesting a lot of is the Common Mallow. We eat mallow fresh, cooked, we dry, tincture and vinegar mallow. I wrote an article about the medicianl properties of mallow here: Not So Common Mallow .
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This batch of Mallow I made into an infused vinegar for use in the winter time when coughs and colds sneak in.  I find a tablespoon of vinegar with honey in warm water much easier to get down the throat of a child than an infusion.

Mallow and I have become good friends and ally’s through the year and I hope to discover more of her.
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Bamboo, the Experiment Continues…..

Earlier this spring we spend a Saturday preping an area along the south side of our house for bamboo(read about it here).  We like that bamboo will grow quickly, prolifically and tall, covering and shading the south, hot side of our house.  We are also anticipating many other benifits, bamboo creates a lot of biomass to use in the gardens, poles for garden structures and food.

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We ordered our bamboo from a company on Amazon, Maya Gardens Inc.  When the bamboo arrived it was beautiful and green with strong roots, it also came with a few pages full of instructions.  We decided to pot the bamboo up, instead of putting it directly in the ground, it was early spring and still quite cold, in a pot I could easily bring it inside at nights and give it extra loving care. In April we finally got around to planting it in its spot, and one plant promptly went brown and appeared dead, the other plant lost a few leaves, but seemed to be limping along.

I honestly thought we had lost one of them, the instructions said it may happen and it would still live, but still…..

 

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The bamboo that had “died”

 

Then just this last week i was walking past the bamboo beds and something caught my eye.

Something small, and green was poking up among the brown stems of the struggling bamboo plant, then I looked over at the other bamboo and there were several healthy shoots, happily growning, happily green and happily expanding!
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The grand experiment continues, I am excited and optimistic that this might actually work.  One hurdle over come, a few more to go and we have an established bamboo bed.

Gathering Fertility, Making Top Soil

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“For all Hobbits share a love of things that grow.” is a quote from one of my favorite movies.  I agree with Bilbo, there is something about things that grow.  But in order to grow, you need soil fertility and top soil.

Quail Run farm is in the middle of the Utah High Desert.  Yes, we have access to water, and can change our environment some to help encourage plant growth, but our biggest hurdle is soil fertility.  Soil fertility is the part of the soil that allows for plant growth.  In the desert you have a hard time growing things because of the lack of soil fertility.  For plants to thrive, they need to have nutrients, minerals, organic matter, and moisture.

Because of the lack of vegetation in the high desert, it is hard to build the top layer of Organic material that plants need to thrive.  We have started to use a few techniques on the farm, from hugelkultur, permaculture, and Back to Eden Gardening.  In short,  Back to Eden Gardening, is the process of allowing the land to take care of itself, by mimicking the way that nature preps the soil for plants.  Basically God set the Earth up so that it could take care of itself, and we are just trying to mimic the way God has setup fertile areas in a not so fertile area.  And to do that, we need a lot of mulch.  It is suggested to have a deep mulch, and by deep mulch we are talking about 6-8 inches of mulch.

Mulch has several different purposes.  Mulch is used to conserve moisture, improve soil fertility and health, reduce weed growth, and increase the visual appeal of the area.  If you go into the forest, and look at the soil horizon, you will notice that the forest has a nice layer of mulch on top of the soil.  This layer is what we are trying to reproduce.  The mulch layer can be made from a lot of different materials.  You can create mulch from leaves, grass, peat, woodchips, bark, straw, pine needles, or most paper products.  One of the most common forms of mulch used in the urban setting is that of not bagging your lawn clippings.  A lot of people use a mulching mower and don’t even know the benefits it is giving their lawn.  On a larger scale, you may even see what is called Forestry mulching.  A lot of farmers do this by cutting and chipping trees, and brush and the leaving it where they chipped it.  You may have even seen them do this along roadsides to clear brush as well.

The problem we have, on Quail Run Farm, is that there is not a lot of tree litter.  Because there is not a forest on the property, we don’t have an abundant source of mulch to use for our gardening.  So we have decided to create our own.

First, we have to spend some money and buy some equipment.  We use Big Blue (our 1973 Ford Tractor, that has a bucket) to haul the mulch around and do any heavy lifting that may be needed.  We purchased a 5 X 10 foot utility trailer so we could collect the material that we are going to convert to mulch.  And we purchased a chipper/shredder to be able to convert the material we gather into mulch. (We looked into renting or borrowing the chipper and trailer, but after crunching the math, we came to the conclusion that it would be cheaper in the long run to just purchase the equipment.)

The chipper/shredder.

The chipper/shredder.

Second, we needed to collect the material that we wanted to turn into mulch.  So I put the word out on a local community on Facebook.  I basically asked for anyone who was going to throw away leaves, trees, bushes, and like to give us a chance to come collect them before they threw them away.  We had a lot of people respond.  (And we still have more to go collect and to get back with.)

A bunch of juniper trees a developer removed. The resident said we could haul them off.

A bunch of juniper trees a developer removed. The resident said we could haul them off.

Loaded trailer with the juniper trees.

Loaded trailer with the juniper trees.

Kids helping secure another load from several different houses in Eagle Mountain.

Kids helping secure another load from several different houses in Eagle Mountain.

Pile of trees, and branches ready to mulch.

Pile of trees, and branches ready to mulch.

More stuff waiting to be converted to mulch.

More stuff waiting to be converted to mulch.

This bark was left over from some trees we had cut into firewood. We will also be converting it to mulch.

This bark was left over from some trees we had cut into firewood. We will also be converting it to mulch.

Third, we need to convert the material that was collected into mulch.  To do this we used the chipper/shredder we purchased.  It works really well.  I would usually do a bag of leaves and then either the bark or the branches we collected.  Once the shredders bag was full I would then dump it into the bucket of Big Blue and then transport it to the garden area.

Chipping some of the big stuff.

Chipping some of the big stuff.

Shredding a bag of leaves.

Shredding a bag of leaves.

Emptying the bag into Big Blue.

Emptying the bag into Big Blue.

Forth, we need to use the mulch.  Once we have the mulch created, we then would put it on the garden beds, and in between the rows of already planted spring crops.

Mulch over garden bed, getting ready to plan.

Mulch over garden bed, getting ready to plan.

Mulch between rows of plants.

Mulch between rows of plants.

Mulch between rows of plants.

Mulch between rows of plants.

As a note…  Sometime things don’t go as you plan.  For instance, don’t let the chipper/shredder run out of gas in the middle of chipping a large tree branch.  Parts of it will get stuck in the chipper, and it will require you to remove the blockage before you can use the chipper again.

Cleaning the chipper after it ran out of gas in the middle of a large branch.

Cleaning the chipper after it ran out of gas in the middle of a large branch.

 

Red and Wriggling

Back in March I stared a garden bed in which I was going to experiment with composting in place. You can read more about it: here.  So far things are going well.  From my investigating and poking around it seems like everything is breaking down nicely, although a bit slowly. I decided to give it a little help in the form of red wiggler worms.

Yes worms, did you know that you can buy worms by the pound? Yes you can, and I have, many times before and I have been so happy with the results of adding worms to my compost, thereby adding fertility to my soil.

Part of having fertile soil is protecting, maintaining and facilitating a whole ecosystem under the surface.  All those little microorganisms, bugs, grubs and worms work together breaking down organic matter and turning it into nutrients that plants can use.  Soil devoid of this secret ecosystem cannot optimally support life.

Worms are an irreplaceable piece in this puzzle.

Red worms in a natural ecosystem feed in the leaf litter — the surface of the soil that contains dead plants, leaves and animal remains. As red worms gorge on decomposing matter, they leave behind castings — excrement or fecal matter — that is highly concentrated in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. All of these are important nutrients that fertilize living plants. During the feeding and decomposing process, red worms help aerate the soil, creating pockets of air that allow for water and nutrients to flow more easily among plant roots.

“The Importance of Red Worms in the Ecosystem”

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Adding worms to the garden or compost is quite easy, you just dig a little hole or create a small trench, add the worms and cover, then water in well.  The worms will soak up the water and become active, eating everything and pooping a lot, helping the garden to grow.

It Begins

Along with all the pretty little vegetable, herbs and flowers the weeds are coming up in abundance. We are a no/low spray farm, and with a few exceptions we never spray chemicals on our land.  The one exception is for Field Bind Weed, it is taking over, and there really isn’t a good way to get rid of it other than spraying. Our weed management consists of two main approaches: pulling and covering. We pull and pull and pull weeds all summer long.  We also cover our weeds in a few different ways. Sometimes we will put down a weed barrier and mulch on top of that, that is my least favorite way of using cover, its limiting to me, plants can’t naturally spread and its difficult to add new plantings.  We also use deep mulching, laying down 4-6 inches of chipped wood and leaves, this not only has the advantage of choking out weed seeds and seedling, it also helps retain water and adds fertility and the weeds that do come up are easy to pull.  The last covering method we use is black plastic, we lay black plastic over large areas that need to have invasive grass and weeds cleaned out and let it sit for a couple weeks, the sun heats up the plastic and basically cooks the weeds and their seeds, this is quick and effective.  IMG_6131
When ever we pull weeds we keep them in place, its a method of deep mulching.  The weed is pulled and laid down right in place. It is important to pull these weeds before they go to seed. it acts like the wood chips or leaves, choking out weed seeds and seedlings, but it also keeps the nutrients from the weeds in place.  Weeds in and of themselves are not bad, they are only bad because they keep the plants we want from thriving.  Weeds are place holders, the are land restorers, land cleaners.  Weeds come into disturbed land, pulling nutrients from the ground and the sun, depositing them on the surface, allowing for long term native plants to eventually come in and repopulate the land. Understanding this, I have a hard time pulling weeds and hauling them off, they have a purpose too, and I like to honor that by pulling and using them to nourish the plants that I want to thrive there.
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Comfrey

Comfrey is one of my all time favorite herbs, ever. It’s uses are numerous. We use this plant for permaculture, animal feed and herbal healing. Comfrey is a vigorous plant, it grows easily in all types of soil, and while it doesn’t’ spread, the clump gets bigger and bigger each year and it is easily divided and grows quickly from it’s woody roots.  I will go over the various ways we use comfrey on the farm.

Comfrey is widely used in permaculture landscapes.  Comfrey is a bio-accumulator, it has very long deep roots, they can grow to a depth of ten feet.  They collect minerals from deep in the earth, bringing them up into their leaves where they can be used by other plants, animals, microbes and us. Comfrey leaves have calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iorn, magnesium and iodine, to name just a few.

Comfrey is the only land plant that takes vitamin B12 from the soil. The entire plant is a good source of vegetable protein, and the green leaves contain vitamins A, C, E, and several B vitamins, including choline, the fat-emulsifying vitamin that helps fight cholesterol deposits. Other ingredients are folic acid, the anti-anemia vitamin, and some B12, which controls the deadly pernicious anemia. (www.herballegacy.com/ThesisChemical.html).

We grow comfrey in one big patch, those are what I consider my stock plants, and I harvest from them in all but the coldest months. We use the leaves as green compost when creating dead-fall swales and huglekulturs.  We also add the leave to our compost piles, they are great for activating the composting process and adding all those wonderful minerals to the compost.  I also take small roots from these plants and plant comfrey in our orchard meadow and other various places on the farm.  Several times throughout the growing season we slash back the plant letting the leaves fall around, mulching and composting in place, thus creating bio-mass and top soil.

 

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Because of the incredible nutrition captured in the leaves of the comfrey plant we use them as animal fodder. a few leaves a week are fed to our rabbits, along with their other forage.  We will throw leaves to the chickens, along with the comfrey they nibble on when free ranging our in the meadow.  When the goats come this spring, they too will get comfrey.
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We also use comfrey medicinally.  There is some debate on its use. The root of the wild comfrey plant has been found to contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which can cause liver damage if ingested in large amounts.

 In the 1980s there was a research paper that reported liver damage in laboratory animals that had varying doses of these alkaloids injected into them intravenously. This came as shock to the Herbalist community because comfrey has long been regarded as one of the safest herbs…..
…Naturally, experts rushed to the defense of comfrey. One expert pointed out that the rats had been fed the equivalent of twenty-four times their body weight in comfrey leaves. (Green Pharmacy Barbara Griggs 305) Fred Fletcher Hyde argued forcefully that a plant is not only a physical dilution of its chemical constituents:

Teas, almonds, apples, pears, mustard radishes, and hops, to list only a few items, all contain substances which, if extracted, can be shown to be poisonous when tested under conditions similar to those used in the comfrey experiments. Must we then ignore our experience of the usefulness and wholesomeness of these foods because controlled trials and scientific evidence have not been published to establish their safety? (Green Pharmacy Barbara Griggs 305)

THE BENEFITS OF THE USE OF COMFREY
IN HERBAL PREPARATIONS

 

Perhaps it starts with confusion, aided by imprecise language. There are two species of comfrey: wild comfrey, Symphytum officinale, and cultivated comfrey, Symphytum uplandica x. (The “x” means it is a hybrid, a cross.)Wild comfrey (S. off.) is a small plant–up to a meter tall–with yellow flowers. Cultivated comfrey (S. uplandica x.) is a large plant–often surpassing two meters–with blue or purple flowers.

Everyone I know grows uplandica and that is what is sold in stores. But gardeners and herbal sellers alike usually mislabel it, causing no end of confusion.

To complicate the situation even more: the roots and the leaves of comfrey contain different constituents. Comfrey roots, like most perennial roots, contain poisons. Wild comfrey (officinale) leaves have some of the same poisons. But cultivated comfrey (uplandica) leaves don’t.

Susun Weed

Comfrey is generally reguarded as safe when used topically, and you can find commercially prepared topical application of comfrey. Comfrey, also known as “Knit-bone” is the great healer of all bones, muscles, connective tissues and skin.

Comfrey ointment heals wounds, cuts, burns, bruises, itches, and most skin problems. But it is most amazing when used to stop friction blisters from forming when you over use your hands or feet–walking, raking, rowing, hoeing, whatever. Even after the blister has swelled and filled with fluid–though better at the first twinge of pain–frequent applications of comfrey ointment will make it disappear as though it was never there. I apply the salve every five minutes for the first hour if I can, then 2-3 times an hour until I go to sleep.

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We use comfrey leaves (never roots) in salves, oils and poultices.  We do also choose to use comfrey internally, although it is illegal in the United States to sell commercially prepared comfrey for internal use.  We dry and chop our own comfrey and use it in herbal infusions.  One of my favorite ways to use comfrey for injured and painful joints is to prepare my herbal infusion, pour one quart of boiling water over one once by weight of dry comfrey, place a tight lid over the hot infusion and let sit for four hours or longer.  After at least four hours (I make mine at night and drink in the morning) strain through a cloth and drink at least a cup.  Then I take the strained leaves, place them in a pot and pour two cups cold water over them and bring it to a boil, let simmer for a few minutes, let cool, once it is cool make a poultice and cover the affected area and let sit as long as you can.  I have found this to be powerful herbal nutrition for strained and sprained joints, and use it often with my teenagers, who are runners and have injuries from time to time.  This year I will be making comfrey oil and salve, I would like to try and see if it is as effective as a poultice. Otherwise I will be spending a lot of time harvesting and drying comfrey leaves to make herbal infusions throughout the year.

 

Soil Types

soilSoil is defined as the top layer of Earth that allows the growth of plants.  All areas have a different soil horizon, and that profile will change over time, and can contain all of the different types of soil discussed in this article.  You can find out what your soil horizon is by digging a hole in the ground and then observer the cross sections in that hole.

Permaculture is not about changing one type of soil to another type of soil, but is about creating a top layer of soil, in your soil horizon, that plants will thrive in without having to change the underlying soil profile.  BUT, it is very important to know what the soil type is that you are building your permaculture soil on.  The underlying soil type will effect the temperature, water drainage, water retention, and the depth of your plants roots.  Typing your soil can be very complicated.  You will hear people classify soil by color, weight, and other measurements.  I hope that this article helps in clarifying some of the different types of soil, and terminology used.  Over time as you build your permaculture top layer, the underlying soil horizon will change.  It will take years, but eventually the changes  you make on the top layer will percolate down to the lower layers of the soil horizon.  That is a great side effect of doing permaculture gardening, but it is not the ultimate goal.

According to the Unified Soil Classification system (USCS) there are 5 different types of soils.  They include Gravel, Sand, Silt, Clay and Organic.  But I would like to add an additional type, and that is of Peat.  There are different grades of those types (poorly graded, well-graded, high plasticity, and low plasticity), but I will leave that for another post.

 

GRAVEL

Gravel is composed of rock fragments.  These fragments can be in a lot of different sizes.  It is pretty easy to identify gravel.  There is really not a good test to verify it is gravel besides the look and texture.  Because gravel has an inferior ability to retain moisture, nutrients, plant life in gravel soil is more sparse.  One advantage to a gravel soil is that it does have a very high water drainage rate, so it can be good for plants that need a dryer root system.  But it also does not retain nutrients.

 

SAND

Sand is more granular than gravel is, and is comprised of finely divided rock particles.  It is finer than gravel, but is coarser than silt.  Water drains rapidly, and also does not store nutrients for plants very efficiently.  The nutrients are carried away usually to quickly for plants to be able to use them.  You can test to see if your soil is sand by picking some slightly wet sand up.  If you try to create a ball with it, it will not form one, will leave particles on your hands, and crumbles easily in your fingers.

 

SILT

Silt is finer than sand, but not as fine as clay.  Silt is fine enough that it may also be found in suspension in bodies of water.  Silt is usually what makes rivers, and lakes have a dirty look to them.  When silt is wet, it will have a slippery feel, but when it dries, it will have a floury feel.  Silt drains poorly, and is usually cooler than sand.

 

CLAY

Clay has the smallest particles.  Clay can be easily molded in your fingers when wet, but when it dries, it becomes hard or brittle.  If clay is wet, it forms into balls easily if rolled in your fingers, and feels sticky.  Clay soil is cold, and takes time to warm, because it does hold moisture well.  Clay also stores nutrients well.  The downside is that when clay becomes dry, it becomes very hard and plants have a hard time growing in dry clay.

 

ORGANIC

Organic soil is soil that is primarily made up of matter composed of organic compounds.   It usually contains the remains of plans, animals, and their waste products.  Organic soil is usually created by the organic matter being broken down by bacterial or fungal action.  Soil holds water, and nutrients, giving plants the capacity for growth.

 

PEAT

Some people classify peat with organic soil, but I feel it is in a class all of its own, because of how unique it is in its formation.  It only forms in peatlands, bogs, and mires.  Peat if rolled will not form a ball.  It is spongy to touch and will release water if squeezed.  Peat can be added to the other types of soil to increase its ability to retain water and nutrients.

So, which soil is the best?

The answer to this question is all of them in a mix.  When you have some of all of the soil types mixed, you get what is called Loam.  usually the composition is 40%-40%-20% (sand-silt-clay).  The best type of soil to plant in is loam with the inclusion of organic matter.  This way you get the best combination of draining, nutrients and moisture.  But because it is almost impossible to create loam, permaculture may be the answer.  It is impractical to create loam on a large scale in most environments.  Loam is ideal for starting plants that then can be moved to your permaculture garden.

Loam is considered ideal for gardening and agricultural uses because it retains nutrients well and retains water while still allowing excess water to drain away. A soil dominated by one or two of the three particle size groups can behave like loam if it has a strong granular structure, promoted by a high content of organic matter. However, a soil that meets the textural definition of loam can lose its characteristic desirable qualities when it is compacted, depleted of organic matter, or has clay dispersed throughout its fine-earth fraction.

Loam is found in a majority of successful farms in regions around the world known for their fertile land.  Loam soil feels soft and crumbly and is easy to work over a wide range of moisture conditions. [Source]

Besides doing the ball test, as motioned in the different soil types, you can do jar test.  The jar test is explained at the end of this document: Soil Types and Testing.  It will help you find where your soil fits, if it is sandy, clay, or loam soil.

Below is a video that explains loam a little better, with details on how to mix it.

 

Other Factors

Soil color can also tell you a lot about the soil, dark soils have high organic matter, aeration, available nitrogen, fertility, and a low erosion factor.  Moderately dark soils have medium organic matter, erosion factor, aeration, available nitrogen and fertility.  Light soils have low organic matter, aeration, available nitrogen, fertility and a high erosion factor. [Source]

Soil Temperature also has a lot to do with growing plants, and the type of soil you have under your permaculture can effect that as well.  For the fastest growth, you want to try to keep your soil temperature at 65-70 degrees F.  Above or 85 degrees and below 40 degrees you have no growth, and little to no bacteria or fungi activity.

References: