Soil help



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  • Soil help

    I started digging around in a pile that is in my backyard and I think it might be old sawdust dump. It looks like it has been there at least 6 years because there is a five year old tree growing out of it. It also has ash mixed in with it. Would this be ok to mix in with soil for my garden. I am starting my garden from scratch. My house is new construction with no topsoil. I appreciate any help.
    That's what she said...

  • #2
    Both items in excess can be trouble. Wood ash, depending on age and exposure to the elements, is often fairly alkaline. While it can add notable amounts of potassium and micro-nutrients to soil, it can also be fairly harsh, and the nutrient values tend to be fairly mobile and water soluble; temporary benefits compared to other organic sources.

    Also, if the ash incorporated brown paper/carboard it will potentially have higher than desirable levels of boron. Likewise, if the ash included burned laminates, or plastic wood, etc. such as plywood, laminated fake trim, etc., then it's potentially not a good thing for your garden.

    I use organic-only wood ash in my more fresh beds, to address the acidity here, and to add the nutirents, but it needs to be done with caution.

    Sawdust, while assisting in drainage, also harbors mold, and is often acidic in nature. Great to line the walking paths with in a garden, especially atop weed-blocking materials, for accent, etc., but I stay away from using saw dust in my beds/gardens.



    • #3
      Thank you for the respose. I'm not sure what to do with all of this stuff. If it is sawdust, it pretty well degraded. It is probably much older than 5 years old due to the layers of leaves, moss and roots growing through it. I'm thinking about taking some of it by a greenhouse to see if they have any ideas.

      Maybe I could use it to fill in some of the low spots in my woods or like you said, use it to line walkways.
      That's what she said...


      • #4
        If it's thoroughly littered with other organic matter, then it might indeed be usable. But I would need to see it before lending a concrete opinion.

        If you're still able to identify clearly defined pockets wood ash after 5+ years, then I'd guess that at some point in time, there was a LOT of wood ash in there.

        Lamotts makes/markets/sells a quick and easy soil ph test kit. It often comes with a good booklet that elaborates not only re. liming, but also preferred ph for MANY MANY plants, as well as NPK preferences for those hundreds of plants.

        If you're in the valley, there's a store near you that sells (or used to sell) these specific kits. They're reasonably-priced the last time I picked one up (roughly 10 years ago), and the test liquid is replaceable, being able to buy more liquid when the first bottle runs dry.

        The one I have in mind includes a white-colored plastic tray with two larger shallow wells for soil samples (about 1" in diam. each +/-), and very shallow troughs attached to those two wells, running to two smaller wells where the color of the liquid establishes itself after 1 minute. I prefer these to the Rapid Test capsules, and have found it to be at least as accurate.

        I'd start with one of those. It's a seriously good investment for the money.



        • #5
          Growing up we would take sawdust from the old piles at a local sawmill and till them into the garden. Our garden out prodused our neighbors every year. Iwould say try a test patch where you use the composted sawdust and see how it compares to the rest of your garden. If it has been there for 5 years one more year will not hurt.
          It ain't about the # of pounds of meat we bring back, nor about how much we spent to go do it. Its about seeing what no one else sees.


          • #6
            I would be reluctant to use if you don't know what it was from. If you know it all came from clean wood then it would be fine.


            • #7
              Not much time so here it is in a quick run on sentence.

              Make a round pen out of welded wire 48" tall put a couple inches of soil in the bottom add some of your "material" throw some blood meal on it then some more material and any dry leaves you can find from last year, as you cut your grass this year alternate five inch layer or so with your sawdust/ash stuff or go out and get a couple hundred pounds of horse or steer manual well goat rabbit or chicken will work for that matter and layer that with your stuff untill you pen is full.

              your pen should be a good four or five feet in diameter compost all that up properly adding anthing else you want to the mix keep it moist but not soaking making good soil takes time.

              will try to post a pic of mine later.


              • #8
                I didn't want to bring the "starting compost in winter" thread back up to the top but I wanted to share what I did early in the spring.

                I was trying to start my compost but it was too cold. I realized that it was warm enough I didn't need my battery heater anymore so I stuck it between two flat rocks at the bottom of my pile. I only heated it for a few hours at a time because I was afraid it would catch on fire. It worked great. It seemed to kickstart it when everything else was still frozen. My heap has been cooking on its own for a while now.

                I have mostly horse manure and straw in my pile. A lady at Lowes told me this would burn my plants. I'm not quite sure what she meant my this. Horse manure and straw has worked fine for me in the past.

                The sawdust (or whatever it is) is still in a pile. I figure I should test it's pH first. Maybe I should check it for arsenic. Don't they use that for treated wood? I have so much of it and it is free, I figure I should do something with it.

                Anyway thanks for all of the advise.

                I'll post some photo's of my sawdustorwhateveritis later.
                That's what she said...


                • #9
                  I've used both composted and fresh horse dung. The fresh often comes with lots of chick weed, and takes a bit longer to become active than the composted horse manure. In my experience, you'd have to add a LOT of horse manue to 'burn' your plants ('burn' typically referring to nutrient burn, esp. nitrogen, or ammonia burn).

                  Most older treated wood has some (varying) amount of copper napthenate (spelling). Nasty carcinogenic stuff. Whether or not arsenic is a part of this or not, I can't say right now (you may be thinking of a different chemical that's often used to preserve both human and animal carcasses, instead of arsenic..).

                  Copper napthanate isn't your friend when it comes to contact with living creatures of most any kind. That's why they treat wood with it. Typically, nothing can live in it. It's one reason that I try to avoid treated lumber of -any- kind in my garden, even if it means replacing bed poles/rails more often, due to rotting.



                  • #10

                    I just use moose poop! We collect the stuff from our yard, after the snow melts and just throw it in the mix. Compared with horse manure there are no weed seeds from wintering moose. Plus it is really entertaining to watch the kids fill up their toy dump trucks to deliver the goods to the grow beds.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by ruffle View Post
                      I've used both composted and fresh horse dung.
                      Can you use fresh horse dung for a vegetable garden? Does it have pathogens that you need to get rid of or can you just put it on straight?
                      That's what she said...


                      • #12
                        There's a primary parasite/bug that folks warn of (can't think of the name right now, perhaps later), but when I researched fresh horse manure's use in Alaska, in reality, the life-span seemed very brief, especially due to our climate..

                        I wish that I could think of the name of the 'bug' right now.

                        In a brief search, I found these comments this evening (mostly at a couple opf organic gardening sites. There are many others.):

                        ""I too use exclusively horse manure haveing 8 of them contributing! If fresh is added to living plants you probably will burn them and get too much nitrates, but putting it on fresh from the stall in the fall after you've stripped the beds I think is fine. Esp. seeing how far north you are. The cold will kill many of the "bugs" that may be in the droppings and if you can live with the weeds and volunteer oats and timothy raised bed multipurpose garden is almost entirely out of very old composted horse manure, fresh and very old cow manure and I always have an abundance of veggies, and I refuse to weed more than 3 or 4 times a season. NO TIME, remember those 8 horses? ""

                        and this:

                        ""There is a pathogen that can be passed from horses to humans BUT you must eat a freshly deposted hot horse bun The pathogen does not live once the bun cools Basic prevention, DON'T EAT Hot Horse ****.""

                        and this:

                        "" Horse manure is one of the only manures that perfectly composts itself. It has an ideal moisture content and a 25:1 carbon:nitrogen ratio, which means that it will compost itself without interference as long as it is protected from the elements (i.e. covered so it doesn't dry out in the sun or get soaked by rain) and not mixed with other materials, such as wood shavings.
                        With all manures, the ideal application method is to lightly incorporate it into the soil in fall. Overwintering takes care of the final breakdown and integration with the soil.""
                        There's LOTS more information available, with some sources being more technical than others. But back when I researched it, I determined that at least up here, it is fairly safe.

                        Composting won't hurt it, but using it fresh has been found to be safe by myself and many others.

                        Also, the rumors of risk of nitrogen burn are largely exagerated; I've used fairly stout amounts in my beds, both raised and ground level root crop areas, and not seen any burn develop at all. Bear in mind, I'm not talking about planting in straight horse manure, but rather tilling it ion thoroughly at what I wold guess to be about a 2% to 5% ratio, depending on needs in the bed.

                        It's great as a soil conditioner, for drainage, etc., too.

                        But if you're concerned, either compost it for a year, or let it winter in the beds, as others have advised..



                        • #13
                          Also, bear in mind that to some extent, we live in two very different climates; you're practically coastal, if not coastal, and I'm in the Interior.. You may or may not want to condsider that in your decision.

                          I just know what's worked for me.

                          An additional note for my research last year had to do with having knowledge of the animals that your manure came from. If they're well taken care of, regularly wormed, in good health, etc., then the manure's apt to be safer than a poorly tended animal, for obvious reasons.


                          • #14
                            That's good to know. I think I'll compost the first load I got because I'm not sure if she takes good care of her horse. It didn't look very good. I found a place on Vine that has some for free too. That's much closer to me.

                            That's what she said...


                            • #15
                              The folks whose horse manure I've used in the past have their animals in corrals that are lined with gravel/river rock, and have almost zero weeds growing there, due to that fact.

                              That means that the primary remaining source of chick weed involves that seed which has been contained within the hay that the horses ingest. The chick weed seeds are excreted by the horses, remaining fertile.

                              Their horses are in fine health, though some of them are the result of a sort of 'horse rescue' program. Nice folks, too.

                              Steer/cow manure obviously involves the bovine critter, which are rumenants, meaning that they have a 4-chambered stomach. typically, by the time they excrete their digested matter, any seed that they may have consumed in the pasture or hidden in hay, is sterile.

                              I will say that in terms of mushrooms (not sure of variety), I never in my life saw such a bumper crop of what looked like shaggy manes. Wall to wall, sliming in the sun's heat each mid-day, and blooming/sprouting up from their mycilium each morning. Incredible! And a little gross, too... ;^>)


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