Breaking Ground

Today was the official start of the no-till project. Woo-hoo!

The project consists of two areas: one large and one small. The large area is currently in blackberries and the small area is currently in sod.

Today we started soil sampling in the small area (about 24′ x 20.5′). I did this work with Melissa Iverson, a Master’s student at UBC focusing on urban soils , and in particular soils in community gardens. While I have a lot of hands on experience with soil and growing plants, I have done very little soil sampling, so today was a good learning experience.

We focused today on testing the soil bulk density and penetration. I want to be able to track how these properties change as the no-till area gets developed. This small area will not have its soil disturbed. Instead it will be mulched with a woven fabric (reclaimed lumber wraps) to block out the sun, ceasing photosynthesis in the plants below, causing them to die. I will be doing a plant inventory in this area as well.

The area is broken up into three beds that are approximately 8′ wide x 20.5′ long (ya, ya I’ll convert to metric) . Each bed will be mulched slightly differently. One will use just the fabric mulch; another will have the mulch with compost laid underneath; the third will have the fabric mulch with bokashi (I’ll try to write up a good bokashi description soon) beneath. I make my own bokashi and would be happy to share my method, and my starter, with whoever wants to know more. It’s really easy.

What I am interested here is in how quickly each mulching system breaks down the foliage beneath it and how this affects the soil bulk density, which, basically, is the ratio of solid material mass to total soil volume in a sample (Mass of Solids in Sample / Volume of Soil in Sample). But this value can change due to compaction, tillage, or other factors that affect the soil’s pore space. I will be curious to see what happens here in this sandy soil.

We also did some penetrometer testing which accompanies tests for soil water infiltration and gives us an idea about what is happening in the soil below the surface. In our tests today I could barely get the rod deeper than 15-20 cm.

The A horizon was about 30 cm thick and very sandy – the characteristic texture at UBC Farm.

I still have some more tests to do and will post the results when they are ready.

What else to say about today? It was a good day and I learned a lot. We got a bit of sunshine as well. It was nice to get more familiar with some of the tests and I already have some ideas on how to make them more efficient and accurate. I will not apply the mulch for another few weeks until my new batch of bokashi is ready to apply. I will post some pictures when I get the formatted.

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