Plaggen Soil Production, aka Plaggensol, Es, or Plaggenesche is a Ancient Way to Produce Rich Deep Soils That Grow Great Crops. Here’s How It’s Done.

Plaggen Soil, What Is It And Will It Improve My Garden? Plaggen Isn’t New But Not Many People Now Know How It Improves Soil.

What Is Plaggen Soil (Plaggensol)?

Plaggen Soil Production is a soil improvement system that was probably invented by accident. In the harsh medieval winters cattle had to be housed or they would have frozen to death. But housing them meant a dung problem. A cow produces a lot of dung and urine every day. Around 65lb (30kg) a day. Twelve tons a year!

High yielding cows drink around 35 gallons (130litres) of water every day and what goes in has to come out. So barns would have soon been awash if the farmers hadn’t taken action.

Plaggen Soils - Historic Plaggen Soils in Germany 
40-50 cm sod overlay over fossil podsol. The Plaggen area is now used for forest purposes. Location near Engter near Osnabrück.
Historic Plaggen Soils in Germany

So they cut grass, turf sods (Plaggen), heather, bracken etc to soak up some of the problem and allow the cows to stand on an island of “dry land”. The surplus liquids could then drain away but left a mix of manure and bedding that needed disposing of in spring.

The farmers spread this slurry rich bedding on the soil and each year the soil became richer and richer. Eventually the soil level increased and formed what the Germans called Plaggensesche. These were effectively raised beds on a field scale. But of course these weren’t beds with wooden sides, they were open to the elements and formed ridges in the field systems, such as field systems were.

In the Antipodes the Maori practiced a similar type of farming that increased the drainage for their kumara crops. (Kumara are similar to Sweet potatoes but are actually a form of convulvulus grown in NZ and Polynesia).

Closer to home a similar practice was carried out in the Orkneys and some of the Shetland Isles.

Plaggensol: Mediaeval Or Bronze Age?

Despite all I’ve said above, and various references to Plaggen being a mediaeval and later practice Hans -Peter Blume references Plaggen as starting in the late Bronze Age.

Plaggensol ceased as a mainstream practice, in all of the countries I mention above, on or around the time that artificial fertilisers and better cattle housing methods became available. It has is however still of interest to those seeking to better understand sustainable farming and gardening within a carbon free context. Though this is possibly to the detriment of soil carbon in some circumstances.

Essentially Plaggen is the addition of large quantities of organic matter to soils. As such it has similarities to No Dig and other organic practices including the use of seaweed as an organic product to facilitate soil amendment.

Plaggen Soil Practices In Contemporary Gardening

The Plaggensol concept can be utilised in gardens today provided there are animals to supply the dung. Most gardeners don’t overwinter cattle so the next best thing is to buy in manure from farms and to use it on garden beds. Plaggen doesn’t specify that the organic matter should be dug in. And I would suggest that in earlier times it would not have been, simply because late Bronze Age people didn’t possess spades and mouldboard ploughs. It is more likely that they left it on the surface and planted into it. In other words they practiced a form of No Dig!

Today No Dig is more likely to utilise compost made from plant materials without large quantities of animal manures. But the basis of Plaggenculture can still be followed.

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Tag: Plaggen Soil

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