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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 5, 2013   #46
dice
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I suggested considering tillage radish between plants or along
the edges of rows in early fall to help break up the soil and
add organic matter for next year. Here is a good thread on
it: http://talk.newagtalk.com/forums/thr...asp?tid=132180

(One of the posts says radishes don't like wet feet, so perhaps
they are not that appropriate in your garden, and something
else with a deep taproot would work better for the same
purpose.)
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Old March 5, 2013   #47
Stvrob
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If it were me, I would consider putting lots of compost right on top and gardening on that until midsummer, or even next autumn. Then, when it is very dry, work it in with a garden fork. I can't imagine the clay being dry enough to work by April, unless it is exceptionally dry.
A lot of times, decent clay soils are ruined by construction activity while building a house. Don't know if that applies here, but if it is as wet as you say, it could be an uphill battle.
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Old March 6, 2013   #48
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The amount of precipitation in Spring will really be the final factor with what I can do with this garden it seems. I can do nothing with it now for sure. I'm definitely adding the alpaca manure no matter what. I will just throw it on top and try to rototil it in. If we have a dry Spring, which is highly unlikely I will add lots of coarse sand too. If it's a normal wet spring, I might just try to grow it in the alpaca manure/clay mix or pick up a few yards of soil and dump it all on top and just make a giant grow bed with a wooden border. If it's a super wet Spring, I'll just grow it in newspapers! Who knows.

Thanks for all the help everyone! So many different ideas to work with. If it fails due to wetness, no big deal. I have autumn to fix it right. And I still plan to grow a few things in my containers that always produce for me.
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Old March 6, 2013   #49
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kevn357 View Post
The amount of precipitation in Spring will really be the final factor with what I can do with this garden it seems. I can do nothing with it now for sure. I'm definitely adding the alpaca manure no matter what. I will just throw it on top and try to rototil it in. If we have a dry Spring, which is highly unlikely I will add lots of coarse sand too. If it's a normal wet spring, I might just try to grow it in the alpaca manure/clay mix or pick up a few yards of soil and dump it all on top and just make a giant grow bed with a wooden border. If it's a super wet Spring, I'll just grow it in newspapers! Who knows.

Thanks for all the help everyone! So many different ideas to work with. If it fails due to wetness, no big deal. I have autumn to fix it right. And I still plan to grow a few things in my containers that always produce for me.
Just PLEASE don't till the clay when it is wet. You'd be better making a lasagna bed on top of everything.
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Old March 6, 2013   #50
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Just PLEASE don't till the clay when it is wet. You'd be better making a lasagna bed on top of everything.
That's the plan!
Thanks for the help.
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Old March 10, 2013   #51
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I have hard clay, rocky soil where I live. For me, unfortunately it was not a short process to get the soil to a nice condition. The first year I was a total noob and did not use enough amendments and started way too early. Yield was poor. The second year I added gypsum and LOTS of leaf compost and aged manure. We have a real drainage problem as our yard slopes down toward the house (which is hell on the foundation) and I have tried to build up the bed closest to the house with a ton of compost and mulch every year. We don't have the issue of the beds flooding anymore. Having a rototiller has really helped and now in its 5th season, the soil is pretty gosh darnoodley good, but I never do things the "right" way LOL. I was starting seedlings in a south facing window until this year when I finally had money for a proper shop light setup.
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Old March 11, 2013   #52
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I wonder how they managed to live off clay soil a 100 years ago before commercial fertilizers, amendments like gypsum, and without huge amounts of compost. I know they have always used manures but I bet it was mostly cover crops like winter wheat and plowing that under. There are no references that I have seen about making a compost bin in the 1880s that was large enough for 40 acres of corn.

A clue might be the three sisters garden. The mounds that many used would help the drainage and the beans would supply nitrogen. It is my understanding that they let nature do the cover crops and only reused a plot after three years of rest.

Sometimes I wonder if we work too hard amending clay and there might be easier and less expensive ways than to use 40 pound bags of compost from the local garden center.
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Old March 11, 2013   #53
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OldHondaNut View Post
I wonder how they managed to live off clay soil a 100 years ago before commercial fertilizers, amendments like gypsum, and without huge amounts of compost. I know they have always used manures but I bet it was mostly cover crops like winter wheat and plowing that under. There are no references that I have seen about making a compost bin in the 1880s that was large enough for 40 acres of corn.
They had hugely lower yield. I'm talking the difference between 20 and 150 bushel per acre. I think we get much more as a combination of better varieties and also more inputs into the soil.

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Sometimes I wonder if we work too hard amending clay and there might be easier and less expensive ways than to use 40 pound bags of compost from the local garden center.
Yes, but it comes down to the 2 out of three choice of you can have it quick, quality, or cheaply. You can pick any two but not all three.

If you want it good and right now it's going to cost you. If I was going to fix clay or any other soils cheaply, I'd start growing deep rooted plants that would work their way down into the soil and I'd put any kind of organic material I could find cheaply. Rake the neighbors lawn for leaves, things like that. I'd grow legumes to increase the nitrogen in the soil, even if it involved transplanting wild clover plants or harvesting seed from them. A $1 bag of pinto beans from the store planted as a cover would help. I'd also do it in sections or beds if you want. I wouldn't plant any corn for the first couple of years because it is a heavy feeder. I'd also lime the soil if it was acid. I live in the rural east and lime is cheap.

You've got the gist of it.
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Old March 13, 2013   #54
kevn357
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TerpGal View Post
I have hard clay, rocky soil where I live. For me, unfortunately it was not a short process to get the soil to a nice condition. The first year I was a total noob and did not use enough amendments and started way too early. Yield was poor. The second year I added gypsum and LOTS of leaf compost and aged manure. We have a real drainage problem as our yard slopes down toward the house (which is hell on the foundation) and I have tried to build up the bed closest to the house with a ton of compost and mulch every year. We don't have the issue of the beds flooding anymore. Having a rototiller has really helped and now in its 5th season, the soil is pretty gosh darnoodley good, but I never do things the "right" way LOL. I was starting seedlings in a south facing window until this year when I finally had money for a proper shop light setup.
We all learn through experience Flanders.
5 years is not a long time to get things right. I'm in a similar situation. Money is not appropriate to throw at a garden. It seems so wasteful. I want to save money not eating garbage corporate "veggies" that all have the same darn 4 digit code from the west to east coast.
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Old March 13, 2013   #55
kevn357
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Originally Posted by OldHondaNut View Post
I wonder how they managed to live off clay soil a 100 years ago before commercial fertilizers, amendments like gypsum, and without huge amounts of compost. I know they have always used manures but I bet it was mostly cover crops like winter wheat and plowing that under. There are no references that I have seen about making a compost bin in the 1880s that was large enough for 40 acres of corn.

A clue might be the three sisters garden. The mounds that many used would help the drainage and the beans would supply nitrogen. It is my understanding that they let nature do the cover crops and only reused a plot after three years of rest.

Sometimes I wonder if we work too hard amending clay and there might be easier and less expensive ways than to use 40 pound bags of compost from the local garden center.

They composted everything. gardens were garbage dumps. They just rotated in the seasons. Then came the industrial age....

And yes, buying 40 pound bags of compost is a waste. Manure is free. Composting your waste is also free with a compost bin made out of pallets. But time is money.
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Old March 15, 2013   #56
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You have plenty of advice to go with, but I'll add mine.

I've added gypsum and organic matter mixed with sand. My clay is acidic, with pine needles to boot, so I add lime every year. Rows for drainage help.

I'm in my second year of ammending the soil, and it's gotten better, but it will take time. This year I will be tilling in manure.
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Old March 22, 2013   #57
bughunter99
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How big is the space?

It is constantly wet not because it is clay but because the bed is at the low point in the garden. NOTHING you mix into it will fix this.

You can:
1. Build multiple raised beds on top of it. Traditional 4" wide 18" high and 8-12 feet long are good. Plus if you build a lip to the beds its a nice place to sit and work.
2. Relocate it to a higher point in the yard.
3. Make a different part of the yard lower than this part.
4. Create some sort of drainage solution.

Clay gets a bad rap. Treated right, stuff grows in it just fine.
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Old March 23, 2013   #58
kevn357
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How big is the space?

It is constantly wet not because it is clay but because the bed is at the low point in the garden. NOTHING you mix into it will fix this.

You can:
1. Build multiple raised beds on top of it. Traditional 4" wide 18" high and 8-12 feet long are good. Plus if you build a lip to the beds its a nice place to sit and work.
2. Relocate it to a higher point in the yard.
3. Make a different part of the yard lower than this part.
4. Create some sort of drainage solution.

Clay gets a bad rap. Treated right, stuff grows in it just fine.
1. Raised beds are not an option. Too much money.
2. Can't relocate due to pests. The fence is in place and not moving.
3. Or raise entire garden.
4. This is what I'm thinking.

One giant bed... Just dump as much organic matter as possible, border it off to keep it raised and create a real grade, rototil it all in.
Weather related of course. Wet spring and lasagna gardening will be the only option.
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Old March 23, 2013   #59
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It can be a raised beds without buying materials to build sides. I started my raised beds as just piled up soil with predetermined, set paths. The first sides I used were made from tree trimmings, driving in pegs made from the thicker stuff and then weaving the thinner stuff in and out around the pegs. Over time, I used whatever materials became available. Right now, my raised beds are surrounded with what used to be shelving, from a video store that closed.
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Old March 24, 2013   #60
kevn357
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It can be a raised beds without buying materials to build sides. I started my raised beds as just piled up soil with predetermined, set paths. The first sides I used were made from tree trimmings, driving in pegs made from the thicker stuff and then weaving the thinner stuff in and out around the pegs. Over time, I used whatever materials became available. Right now, my raised beds are surrounded with what used to be shelving, from a video store that closed.
I would love to do the same. I'm always looking around and browsing craigslist for some free goodies for the garden.

I'm just worried about piling up soil as a starter and then a storm hits and that raised soil flattens out in a hurry and blocks any kind of drainage I created. The drainage in this garden is just abysmal. A quick quarter inch of rain leaves inch high puddles in the paths and flattens out quite quickly.
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