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A garden is only as good as the ground that it's planted in. Discussion forum for the many ways to improve the soil where we plant our gardens.

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Old March 18, 2018   #1
SteveP
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Default Soil conditioning help

I built my raised bed ( 9'x36' ) 6 years ago. It is my first veggie garden so I just winged it and filled it with with topsoil. i have been doing no til the last 5 years and my garden soil is now seems like it is mostly clay and compacted.

Here is what I am thinking of doing and would appreciate feedback or a better plan if you have one. I am planning on tilling it about 6-8" deep and add about 3" of cotton burr compost and til it again. Is there anything else I should add? Is the cotton burr compost the recommended treatment to loosen up the soil? I appreciate your help.
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Old March 19, 2018   #2
SteveP
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Beuller?



Bueller?


Bueller?

Anyone?
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Old March 19, 2018   #3
eyegrotom
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Hi Steve. Since I had never heard of cotton burr compost i had to look it up. Sounds like some people say it is really good stuff others warn about it having Herbicides in it, so I don't think that I would use it. Do you have access to lead type compost or check with a local nursery to see what they suggest Mike
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Old March 19, 2018   #4
Goodloe
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Hey Steve,

I had to look up "no-till". I'm gonna research the topic further, but, at first blush, "no-till" makes no sense to me. It goes against every notion of "soil conditioning" that I have ever heard of. What's the purpose/attraction? No offense intended, but I just don't get it....

Jon
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Old March 19, 2018   #5
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No till leaves the biota intact. You don't mess with the good bacteria, you don't rototill the worms into pieces, etc. You put amendments on top each year: compost, leaves, other organic stuff. Your worms & good bacteria & other microherds come up and help it all decompose.

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Old March 19, 2018   #6
Goodloe
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Hmmm...I'll look at it more closely. Seems counterintuitive, tho....
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Old March 19, 2018   #7
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Used leaf compost, washed river sand in fall, adding promix compost to beds with ground cotton and soybean meal to beds. Adding taller 12"-16" to downhill sides of 4' x 45' beds to retain amends (monsoon season down here) . Used old composted cotton seed hulls years ago and was great to break up the clay, but quit due to fears what chemicals are in there. Using a heavy hay mulch this year, and will be working it in when it breaks down . Had hay on top of a couple of Hugelkultur beds last year that did great and the soil is really great there now.

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Old March 19, 2018   #8
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Spagnum pear moss would be an excellent choice to help water retention and soil composition.

Top soil - there are virtually no guidelines on what can go into top soil that is purchase so steer clear from it unless you know where it’s coming from and what it is.

Could also add in some organic materials - alfalfa pellets, leaf mold, vermocompost to give them a shot of life.

You should be fine either double digging the beds or just amending the top 4-6 inches and not disturb the no too environment.

I’m using a similar no till setup and my composition is 1::1:1 peat; compost: and aeration material. I use pumice but it’s pricey if you’ve got a lot of area. Sand or lava rock would work also.


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Old March 20, 2018   #9
SteveP
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Thanks you for the feedback and info. I have been reading online for about a week about cotton burr compost as it was recommended by the local nursery I frequent. I have read about all of the chemicals used in cotton production in the south and that concerns me. I have also read very little chemicals are used in cotton production in NW Texas and it is the good stuff to use.

I also grow in containers with ProMix and using the previous years mix in the garden, mainly focusing it in the planting rows. I have about 3 bails worth from last year to apply this year. There is also a lot of mushroom compost available locally, but the nursery people said the cotton burr compost would work better at breaking up the clay. I am really not sure of what I am going to do, but I need to do something this year. I really appreciate your input into this. No till worked great for me for several years, but last year was very disappointing.
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Old March 20, 2018   #10
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I to do no till,I have been putting in a winter cover crop the last 5 or 6 years of hairy vetch and winter rye.The rye has such a thick root system that took longer than I wanted to break down after I mowed it down to kill it in the spring so it was hard planting through the roots doing no till.I used tillage radishes this year and it looks like the soil is very loose with lot of holes left over from the radishes that have decomposed into the soil.I also have plenty of worms and hope this will help keep the soil loose.I will not know how loose the soil is until I start planting my tomato and pepper plants in late May.I'm going to spread alfalfa pellets throughout the garden in a few weeks,the rain we get after in the spring will break down the pellets and should get the worms in action.I still see some radishes that need to decompose but the worms will help with that.Look up tillage radishes and see if you like the idea,it may help you this fall.Just a suggestion.
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Old March 20, 2018   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Goodloe View Post
Hmmm...I'll look at it more closely. Seems counterintuitive, tho....
Better yet tell us why you feel this way then we can give better answers.
There are reasons for tilling and then there are reasons not to.
It really depends on the soil and your long and short term expectations.
Tilling/plowing caused one of the greatest environmental catastrophes known to man.
What took many thousands of years to make was blown away in less than a decade.

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Old March 20, 2018   #12
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Bummer SteveP I have to deal with clay soil too. I've never used compost burr, but my nursery recommends tilling it in.

If your soil is in really badly compacted, I agree some manual intervention is necessary unless you have a few seasons to wait for natural processes. I have tried many but none is a once and done quick solution.

Clay soil does need some type of maintenance to counterbalance settling. I've done the cover crops as in post 10 and it is my best bed. The roots were too difficult for me to turn over. I had to cut it down and wait a year for the roots to decompose.

I've added Black Cow compost just by layering and it was wonderful in moderation. Too much just sitting on top and it adds to the compaction. I dug deep planting holes to mix the compost in and now it is good. I didn't see any benefit to just topping it to a 12 inch raised bed, it gave me another layer to chisel thru.

One year a friend thought I should use pretty wood chips as mulch, so I bought pine bark nuggets for the tomato bed. I had to lay it on thick to tame the weeds. At the end of the season I scraped off the top layer to save it in the garage for the next year. What was left behind partially decomposed over the winter and by season two left a very nice crumbly layer that was folded in at the next planting.

Leaves (mostly shredded) just sat on top and didn't compost in a very dry winter. Again, folding them in was key. It does take a season to decompose or you will have a very crunchy top layer to work with that year. If you have normal moisture , they will decompose if they are shredded. Large leaves are a mucky mess.

A local friend scoots around on a ride on and adds bags of sand to her clay soil when she plants and has a wonderful yard. On the opposite side I have a bed filled with purchased topsoil that was very sandy and it is a concrete mess now so approach with caution.

A mix of amendments imho will be much improved over a singe ingredient .

- Lisa
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Old March 20, 2018   #13
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Try digging in gypsum if you can get it, then work in and layer some of that mushroom compost on top. Make the top layer good and thick and basically plant into that, then at the end of the next season work that in as well. May take several years to rebuild the organic matter levels in your soil.

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Old March 20, 2018   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SteveP View Post
Is there anything else I should add?
Not should, but could add, grass clippings, shredded leaves, home made compost, shredded paper, shredded cardboard like pizza boxes, sphagnum peat moss, straw, yard trimmings from stuff like shrubs and hedges, Coarse Bio-char (charged). The Bio-char really adds tilth.
Rabbit manure/and bedding if you can get some. Coffee Grounds from Starbucks.
Compost directly in the garden with vegetable scraps.

I'm not a fan of tilling but you may want to get some organic stuff tilled in then start using lasagna type gardening to build the soil. Thin layers is best so each layer doesn't become compacted.

Leaving the roots intact from the prior years harvest will help keep the soil from compaction.

If you weren't planting this year I would say add some mulch/wood chips.

Another thing to do to avoid compaction is, in the fall, either plant a winter kill cover crop like Crimson Clover and Oats.
Or at the least top dress the beds with mulch or cardboard.

Pictures would give us a better idea.

I'm a fan of Hugelkultur and Lasagna Gardening, I like tossing everything in there.
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Old March 20, 2018   #15
brownrexx
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I do what I call Limited Tilling which means that I till in organic materials once a year in the fall. I do not have raised beds so my soil gets very compacted during the growing season by walking on it.

No Till has a lot of people who love it but No Till does not mean that you never do anything to the soil. You still need to be adding amendments such as compost and other organic materials routinely, you just do not till them under, you allow nature to do the work for you and you should not be walking on the garden since it will cause compaction. Many no till people have raised beds.

If your soil is becoming compacted I would say that you have probably not been adding mulch and other amendments to the soil and it is probably time to do that. At this point if you have compaction, then you will probably need to till some organic materials into the soil to fluff it up but if you decide to remain no till after that then you should be adding layers of organic material to the top of your soil routinely.

Last edited by brownrexx; March 20, 2018 at 02:44 PM.
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