Soil—along with water and sunshine, it is a building block of life. Yet desertification blows our soils away into the ocean and development paves over our access to this necessary ingredient for food sovereignty and security. The Cascadia Education Project collaborated with the residents of Fostervillage, an eco-village in both the Mt. Scott / Arleta and Foster-Powell neighborhoods along with several CEP projects: the Foster Green Eco-District, the Cascadian Neighborhood Farm Guild, Activate PDX, Reinhabit, and Mushroom Jordan to demonstrate how large amounts of fertile soil could be generated quickly and affordably through a method of layering everyday carbon and nutrient sources. Many thanks go to the Garden Spout, the neighborhood indoor garden shop for their generous donation of both coco/vermiculite mix and their incredible compost tea.
Our day began by going over some soil-building theory. Jordan Fink of Reinhabit distributed material that ranged from how microorganisms interact in the soil to the kinds of soil preferred by different types of plants. We realized that in order to get our annuals growing well, we’d need to restore some fungi in the soil. Jordan Weiss, otherwise known as Mushroom Jordan was on hand to offer his knowledge of the myco-world. Jonathan Brandt of Foster Green Eco-district had put the announcement out to the neighborhood of the upcoming workshop and we also promoted it through Activate PDX. Volunteers came and went throughout the day but mostly it was a committed crew of 6. I, Elona Trogub, represented the Cascadia Education Project and worked with Jonathan and Jordan to source the materials for the lasagna bed.
The dance of ingredients was agreed upon, with a focus on balancing pH and creating the right conditions for maximum microorganism hospitality.
On hand at the ecovillage were a few wheelbarrows full of chicken compost and plenty of humanure compost (aged at least one year) along with wood ash from the fire pit, wood chips, and volunteers.
Free sourced materials included coffee grounds, coffee chaff, coffee sacks, and cardboard (unwaxed).
Donated materials included king stropharia (Stropharia rugoso annulata) inocculated woodchips provided by Mushroom Jordan, coco-mix and llama manure tea provided by the Garden Spout.
Purchased materials included straw bales and agricultural lime, a total that came out to about $12.
First we dumped several loads of well-composted humanure onto the area. We then laid down two layers of cardboard and sprayed it all down real well. It was important to rip the cardboard layers back. Listen to Mushroom Jordan explain why.
Then we scattered soaked wood chips and more woodchips that contain fungus of the king stropharia mushroom, an edible and resilient strain that will help keep water in the soil for years to come as well as support the plant growth.
Each additional layer was also sprayed down to lock in the moisture and promote decomposition. The layers kept on coming: straw, coffee chaff, coffee grounds…
The coco-mix (coconut husk fibers and vermiculite) were added to really hold in the moisture. Maximizing moisture retention in garden beds is essential here in Oregon during the summer where long periods of summer drought are a regular occurrence. Some people think we have an abundance of water, but I say, “why work harder when we can work smarter!” Compost tea was sprayed over the entire bed to inoculate the bed with a diverse mix of microorganisms which then help break down all the complex layers.
The final layers of chicken manure compost and straw were added and the whole operation was given a thorough soaking.
The bed was covered in cardboard and allowed to sit for 1 1/2 months without disturbance. About three weeks before squash, peppers and tomatoes were planted in the bed, we pulled off the cardboard and forked up the soil to discover it teeming with life. Worms and fungus were visibly abundant and judging from the heat that the pile was putting out there was a bustling world of microbial activity just below the surface. Three months later the winter squash, heirloom tomatoes and peppers are flourishing…actually more like bursting at the seams. The bed has yet to be watered and we’re creating at least 180 sq. ft of soil in a very short period of time. This experiment not only proved to us that soil building can be fun, inexpensive and rewarding, we also experimented with synergy and the results are fantastic.
If you’re interested in learning more or getting involved, be sure to contact us.