Recipe for Regenerating Soil

This is a recipe that I learned from Dr. Elaine Ingam Soil Microbiologist and founder of the Soil Food Web at a Carbon Farming workshop.

It is a helpful way to re-build healthy living soil, especially for damaged areas where soils are compacted, or where top soil was cleared away (I tried this on a totally compacted recycled asphalt driveway and was amazed with the results in just one year, when I opened up the new bed in the spring it was full of more earthworms than I had ever seen in one place, and white fungal hyphae nets were creeping like spider webs throughout exploring from their origin in the big pieces of bark). It is best to do this in the early fall, so it can “incubate” under the snow, over the winter and be ready to plant in the spring. It can also be done around the base of existing shrubs and fruit trees to fill-in with an understory for creating a diverse edible forest garden.

Goal: Make rich, life-filled nutritious natural and organic soil by building a layered lasagna like garden bed, seeded with soil forming micro-organisms and the foods they need to colonize your soil restoration area.

1. Start your soil building lasagna, with a layer (2-3″ deep) of rough peices of hardwood bark (like the pieces you would rake up from underneath where you had your winter fire wood stored). This layer seeds your new soil forming team of micro-organisms with the natural fungi found in the forest, so best to use bark from forests as close to your property as possible. Add small peices of cardboard 12″x12″ or greater depending on the size of your restoration area. (Cardboard makes great food and habitat for fungi and earthworms)
2. Next add a 4″-6″ layer of fresh grass-fed livestock manure. The manure should be solid and hold its shape (not liquid), slightly green-ish in color -showing it is still fresh, and with visible pieces of undigested hay intact in it (if it is cow manure). Sheep, rabbit, guinea pig, and horse manure also all work well. Do not use chicken manure, it is a bit too strong. It is important that the manure be fresh because then it has the best ability to help “seed” your area with soil forming micro-organisms.
3. Add another 1″-2″ layer of hardwood bark if you have enough.
4. Add some fresh compost if you are able to make some yourself (I recommend the Berkley 18-day hot compost method, how-to videos available on you-tube).
5. If you have some available, you can chop and drop Comfrey or Yarrow, to add micro-nutrients from these dynamic accumulators and/or from other nitrogen rich leguminous cover crops like Clover, Alfalfa, Siberian pea shrub, vetch, locus leaves.
6. Add a 3″-5″ layer on top of the lasagna, made of clean straw on top to block the growth of weed seeds and for easy planting in the spring.

Use a hose to thoroughly moisten each layer as you lay them down. A pitch fork is very helpful for adding the layers.
You can add even greater diversity by adding small amounts of raw milk and molasses and by watering in other micro-nutrients from sources like: kelp powder available form farmers supply (adds micro-nutrients from the sea), rock dust, high calcium lime (in NE many soils are slightly to highly acidic due to acid rain, check your soil pH first with a simple soil test kit).

In the spring, check for success, open up the lasagna and look for white fungal hyphae and an abundance of earthworms which will give you a signal that your re-colonization efforts are working. Over time, the newly “revved” up soil micro-organism community will create ecological connections and revitalize the natural soil building processes making your restoration area more hospitable to the plants you want to grow there. You also can take a before and after soil sample and send it out to a lab that analyizes the micro-faunal soil organisms to see the change.