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Old January 8, 2013   #61
ArcherB
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There was about 1/2 to 1 inch of "stuff" on top of the clay, which I scraped off and used it to back fill the holes I was digging, and on occasion, I would run across a nice pocket of material from when I had dug a hole to plant in years past, but for the most part, there was nothing beyond that half inch.

I think the problem may have been the red clay. This clay does not wash away. That's why they make bricks out of it. So when the monsoons came last winter, the clay stood firm while all the good stuff on top simply washed out from under the mulch.

You have red clay in Oklahoma, don't you? I know they do in the southern half of the state. Lay down some weed block to kill the grass and stack six inches total of compost from grass clippings, dried leaves and wood mulch on top, in that order. After a full year of sitting out in the weather, you'll find most of it gone. The problem is that nothing can penetrate the clay, simply doesn't stick. It must be worked into the soil or it will simply wash away... or blow away, or taken by garden gnomes... or maybe it's possible that six inches of material simply broke down to half an inch of silt. All I know is where it isn't.

So, now, after 30 years, you have heard of such a thing.

As for now, I've given up on the idea of a raised bed and gone with my new brilliant idea of a "sunken bed". It's like a raised bed, but rather than put good dirt on top of bad, you dig the bad stuff out and fill it back in with good stuff. Sure, when it rains, it will fill up like a bathtub, but in our dry climate, that's not really a problem.

Oh, and what to the Sooners and marijuana have in common? They both get smoked in bowls. :-)

**EDIT**
I don't mean to come off as a smart a... alec, but after reading it, it sounds that way. My point was that in all my brilliance, I appear to have screwed up more in five years that you have in 30. It should take hard work to make that much compost vanish, but to me, that level of incompetence simply comes naturally. I am an over achiever at doing things that make people say, "wait... you did what!??! How did you manage that?"

Last edited by ArcherB; January 9, 2013 at 12:07 AM. Reason: Tone wasn't right.
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Old January 9, 2013   #62
Redbaron
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Originally Posted by ArcherB View Post
There was about 1/2 to 1 inch of "stuff" on top of the clay, which I scraped off and used it to back fill the holes I was digging, and on occasion, I would run across a nice pocket of material from when I had dug a hole to plant in years past, but for the most part, there was nothing beyond that half inch.

I think the problem may have been the red clay. This clay does not wash away. That's why they make bricks out of it. So when the monsoons came last winter, the clay stood firm while all the good stuff on top simply washed out from under the mulch.

You have red clay in Oklahoma, don't you? I know they do in the southern half of the state. Lay down some weed block to kill the grass and stack six inches total of compost from grass clippings, dried leaves and wood mulch on top, in that order. After a full year of sitting out in the weather, you'll find most of it gone. The problem is that nothing can penetrate the clay, simply doesn't stick. It must be worked into the soil or it will simply wash away... or blow away, or taken by garden gnomes... or maybe it's possible that six inches of material simply broke down to half an inch of silt. All I know is where it isn't.

So, now, after 30 years, you have heard of such a thing.

As for now, I've given up on the idea of a raised bed and gone with my new brilliant idea of a "sunken bed". It's like a raised bed, but rather than put good dirt on top of bad, you dig the bad stuff out and fill it back in with good stuff. Sure, when it rains, it will fill up like a bathtub, but in our dry climate, that's not really a problem.

Oh, and what to the Sooners and marijuana have in common? They both get smoked in bowls. :-)

**EDIT**
I don't mean to come off as a smart a... alec, but after reading it, it sounds that way. My point was that in all my brilliance, I appear to have screwed up more in five years that you have in 30. It should take hard work to make that much compost vanish, but to me, that level of incompetence simply comes naturally. I am an over achiever at doing things that make people say, "wait... you did what!??! How did you manage that?"
Yes we have clay. And when I moved here that clay was solid as a rock. I saw no worms at all. Not a single worm in the tiny part of my garden that I originally tried to dig before I gave up and just laid paper and mulch over the rest. Now on my 5th year here the good soil is about 6-10 inches deep and full of worms before reaching that hard pan clay. The top 3 or 4 inches is REALLY good. I can dig it with bare hands. Just walk up, pull away the mulch and poke my fingers in it almost like you would potting soil.

HMMMM maybe the difference is sand? Because we have sand in our clay. Makes it even harder when it is just clay and sand. Really like a rock. I actually have mistaken lumps of clay in my garden as rocks before... literally. But once some organic material mixes in it by worm action, I think the sand makes it even better and more crumbly.... I'll have to think about that one.

What I don't get is why even the worms couldn't get into your clay to turn it into good soil? Did you ever put a garden fork to it to break up the hardpan? Ever grow a crop or companion on it with penetrating roots like carrots or Purslane?

There has to be a reason for your experience. Things don't happen by magic. I have had epic failures on the scale you are talking about..not that particular fail....but things happen. That's how we learn.

I guess my best advise is to try and figure it out. Since the technique brought better results for a few years before failing.....if you can figure out the fail, you can figure out something to improve your knowledge and experience and produce better long term.

Your "bathtub" technique I am not so sure about. Sounds good... almost like a double dug bed Whether it works as good as it sounds I have no idea!Double dug beds work well, so maybe you'll be fine. Lets hope so!
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Old January 9, 2013   #63
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Did you ever put a garden fork to it to break up the hardpan?
DINGDINGDINGDING! I think we have a winner. I believe that is the difference. One the side with the now-good soil, I tilled it in. I think that mixing the red clay in with the "good stuff" kept it there and prevented it from washing away. It took a few years as the tiller would just bounce on the clay. Where there wasn't red clay, there was black gumbo. I've literally stood on top of a shovel and jumped up and down on it like a pogo stick. When it's dry, you are not breaking in.

On the now-bad side, I didn't do anything to work it in. I was told that the worms would do that for me. They didn't. There were worms there, but evidently, they are the kind that prefer red clay to compost as I rarely saw them near the surface.

As for carrots, I grew those for the first time last year. I made a new bed, dug down about two feet and filled with compost (not enough, evidently, but that's another story). The carrots did OK in that, but the stray seeds that ended up on the red stuff actually did better! Now that I've reworked that bed so that the level is higher than the surroundings, maybe they'll do better. Garlic, on the other hand, didn't like the red stuff at all. Same for onions.

I think the bathtub will do find as long as my "good soil" level is higher than the surroundings. It may fill with water, but the stuff on top at root level can stay dry. That's my ingenious thinking anyway.

Either way, tilling has worked well for me. Maybe turning with a pitchfork will do the same, or better, but it's just not the same workout as fighting the Mantis that just hit a rock and wants to do a jumpy dance. It's like my personal rodeo. As for the worms, I have an endless supply of rabbit poo about five miles away that I can get a yard at a time. So, I have worms, they are just outsourced to my compost pile.

Last edited by ArcherB; January 9, 2013 at 02:07 AM.
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Old January 9, 2013   #64
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Default Ok, a little about the worms...

Folks, I've been gardening for 25 years, and only now am I getting into the Vegetables. I've grown Bonsai, flowers, hot peppers, herbs, and water plants all along but never had the chance for food plants as I never had enough sun until now.

I've been sheet mulching for around 3 1/2 years now, and think it's brilliant. In the 80's, after reading about what I think was square foot gardening, I had the idea of putting out the compost instead of buying potting soil but it was an awful lot of work with a rake. I know what I'm doing with compost now.

I also raise Eisenia Fetida and E. Hortensis for castings. THESE ARE NOT GARDEN WORMS! These worms are as different from the earthworms you find stirring your soil as you are from a marmoset or spider monkey. We may eat the same foods, but we don't live the same way.

Eisenia are Epigeous or litter worms. That means they live in the top 4 inches of their ecology, or the litter deposited on the surface. E. Fetida is famous for colonizing manure piles after they've cooled, and are economically valuable for their voracious habits.

Most of the worms we are familiar with are actually invasive species that came over in the dung piles and flower pots when the Europeans came to the western hemisphere. In some cases the natural diversity of forest is being threatened by these species.

The garden worm everyone is most familiar with is Lumbricus. I can't really say which ones, but probably the garden worm, Lumbricus rubellus, and Lumbricus terrestris the Nightcrawler. These worms live in burrows up to 9 feet down, churning soil and building channels they pump air through by crawling.

Putting the "Red Wigglers," probably Eisenia Hortensis, that you buy down at the bait store will NOT work in any garden soil, unless there it's mostly organic material, because their habitat is litter rather than earth. Since annelids are primarily omnivores, eating the stuff that grows on the organic matter as well as the matter, when the nutritive content drops the worms will either move out or die as a result.

Earthworms are what you will need to loosen the mineral content of the systems being described here. In nature the burrows are somewhat spread, but with enough foodstuffs the populations increase, burrows being much closer.

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Old January 9, 2013   #65
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ArcherB,
If you had success with carrots, you might look into tillage radish as a cover crop to break up your clay. Some growers are now cover cropping tillage radish and turnips together to get maximum air space in hard soils.
Capt Chkn, thank you for the explaination on litter worms vs. earth worms. I am going to be giving a talk on composting later this winter and that will be a good info to pass along to the class.
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Old January 10, 2013   #66
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ArcherB...I think that before no till becomes successful is only after the virgin soil is broken up especially in red clay and gumbo types. To paraphrase Worth 'Once the garden is in place and the weeds gone I see no reason to till. Heavy mulch for weeds and no tilling is the best way to go.' Personally I first used a spade fork and tiller to ammend the soil initially both when I lived in Texas gumbo and Georgia red clay soils. But after the initial work I just kept adding wheat straw and chopped leaves year after year especially in the fall and after 3 years it started to be the type soil we all want. Loose and crumbly with worms. But it takes time. Nature doesn't work fast, patience grasshopper.
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Old January 30, 2013   #67
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I found a great webinar on YouTube on improving conventional no-till farming with many of the principles developed in organic permaculture. This isn't 100% organic and it is geared towards farmers instead of gardeners. But they do such a good job explaining in detail what is actually happening in the soil, and with the plants, I think any gardener, conventional or organic, could apply the principles and understand better how to achieve their goals.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjI2zWf4uMI
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Old January 30, 2013   #68
Crandrew
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Originally Posted by CapnChkn View Post
Folks, I've been gardening for 25 years, and only now am I getting into the Vegetables. I've grown Bonsai, flowers, hot peppers, herbs, and water plants all along but never had the chance for food plants as I never had enough sun until now.

I've been sheet mulching for around 3 1/2 years now, and think it's brilliant. In the 80's, after reading about what I think was square foot gardening, I had the idea of putting out the compost instead of buying potting soil but it was an awful lot of work with a rake. I know what I'm doing with compost now.

I also raise Eisenia Fetida and E. Hortensis for castings. THESE ARE NOT GARDEN WORMS! These worms are as different from the earthworms you find stirring your soil as you are from a marmoset or spider monkey. We may eat the same foods, but we don't live the same way.

Eisenia are Epigeous or litter worms. That means they live in the top 4 inches of their ecology, or the litter deposited on the surface. E. Fetida is famous for colonizing manure piles after they've cooled, and are economically valuable for their voracious habits.

Most of the worms we are familiar with are actually invasive species that came over in the dung piles and flower pots when the Europeans came to the western hemisphere. In some cases the natural diversity of forest is being threatened by these species.

The garden worm everyone is most familiar with is Lumbricus. I can't really say which ones, but probably the garden worm, Lumbricus rubellus, and Lumbricus terrestris the Nightcrawler. These worms live in burrows up to 9 feet down, churning soil and building channels they pump air through by crawling.

Putting the "Red Wigglers," probably Eisenia Hortensis, that you buy down at the bait store will NOT work in any garden soil, unless there it's mostly organic material, because their habitat is litter rather than earth. Since annelids are primarily omnivores, eating the stuff that grows on the organic matter as well as the matter, when the nutritive content drops the worms will either move out or die as a result.

Earthworms are what you will need to loosen the mineral content of the systems being described here. In nature the burrows are somewhat spread, but with enough foodstuffs the populations increase, burrows being much closer.


thank you for this.
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Old February 10, 2013   #69
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thank you for this.
You're welcome!
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Old September 6, 2018   #70
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RedBaron,
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Old September 6, 2018   #71
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RedBaron,

Were you successful in scaling up your gardening techniques?
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