Fixing soil

Marie2020

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I would start with a soil test, so you can know what you need to work on. My soil is terrible, and I have been shooting in the dark to improve it. I just did my first soil test a couple of months ago. Surprisingly, the PH is fine, but the rest are either expended or almost absent. That means I needed to be more aggressive in improving it and start developing a long-term goal.

Like right now, I am adding things like coffee grounds and food scraps to the garden to break down directly into the soil. Normal composting lets things break down slowly over months/years. I know this is going to take years. I plan to plant a cover crop starting next summer; I tried this year but got the seeds too late. That can really help as well.

I am dealing with soil with a lot of clay, so I need to direct my actions on using the benefits of clay soil with the detriments. I know it will take years to balance it out, and I will keep working on it until I get the right balance. I read an article about a person in my area who spent 11 years in his garden to get the right soil. Now he can grow almost anything. It took him that long. I will see if I can find that article.
Due too my disabilities I'll have to try and work from my raised bed and buckets. I'm sad to say it's about all I can manage
 

Jane23

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My garden is closed for the next four to six months. That means it is time for planning and reading.

My soil is terrible, I took soil samples in October before everything froze and found that Ph is high, but everything else is almost non-existent. I have mostly clay soil. I have seen problems with that this last year. Because there are few air pockets in clay, it means it is harder for roots to become established. It also makes it more difficult for plants to find nutrients as anything I add to the soil generally gets stuck at the top and will take ages to sink in, or it will run off first.

I am debating on spending this next year working on the soil instead of growing anything. Without soil improvements, I will continue to face the inevitable extra month for plants to emerge during the summer or not emerge at all. This means a delay in any above-ground growth and development.

I can either spend the year adding compost to my reproducing soil and products like meal, can grow a cover crop, or do some combination and work to improve the soil with the hope of planting food crops in 2024.

After working the soil in the spring with blood meal, compost, etc., I can also plant like I would like and hope for the best in the coming season. What do you think? I could also take a couple of my older beds out of use and improve those with the intent of planting those in 2024.

I don't want to waste time or materials, but I wonder if the time taken now can lead to better growth and production later. Any thoughts on my soil problems?
 

heirloomgal

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My garden is closed for the next four to six months. That means it is time for planning and reading.

My soil is terrible, I took soil samples in October before everything froze and found that Ph is high, but everything else is almost non-existent. I have mostly clay soil. I have seen problems with that this last year. Because there are few air pockets in clay, it means it is harder for roots to become established. It also makes it more difficult for plants to find nutrients as anything I add to the soil generally gets stuck at the top and will take ages to sink in, or it will run off first.

I am debating on spending this next year working on the soil instead of growing anything. Without soil improvements, I will continue to face the inevitable extra month for plants to emerge during the summer or not emerge at all. This means a delay in any above-ground growth and development.

I can either spend the year adding compost to my reproducing soil and products like meal, can grow a cover crop, or do some combination and work to improve the soil with the hope of planting food crops in 2024.

After working the soil in the spring with blood meal, compost, etc., I can also plant like I would like and hope for the best in the coming season. What do you think? I could also take a couple of my older beds out of use and improve those with the intent of planting those in 2024.

I don't want to waste time or materials, but I wonder if the time taken now can lead to better growth and production later. Any thoughts on my soil problems?
I understand your situation because the area where I put my garden in was VERY much clay to begin with, as in I could dig out a chunk and make pottery out of it with some water and kneading. The good news is clay is one of the more nutrient dense soil types even though the accessibility of those nutrients to the plants is tricky because of the particle structure. But there is a lot of easy stuff you can do to turn thigns around.

Now my soil is the total opposite, extremely workable, fertile and the tilth is really great considering where I started. And I get all the benefits of the clay nutrients so never need to fertilize in ground. I did import some soil, and used the tiller to combine everything well. But I did other things that made a huge difference, the two biggest being mulching the whole garden with straw every year and then turning it under in the fall fall. This added a great texture over time, and helped to break up the tight clay clods. The other thing was mass planting legumes, beans and peas. I don't know what magic these crops work under the surface but they can really be game changers. DH grew up on a farm that had very clay soil, and they had acres, so how they converted the fields to usability was two or three years of field peas, and then tilling under, and he said it was incredible how quickly the soil structure changed.

No-till is popular right now, but IMHO with clay as a base soil I don't think it's possible to re-work the soil well without tilling. It's the cat's meow for rebuilding garden soil, becuase of the vigorous mixing action. It isn't so much adding more nutrients that is going to help so much as making the nutrients you already have more available. Of course, compost never hurts.

In the beginning I did have a pH test done on my soil, and it was on the acidic side but I abandoned that angle to focus on tilth, because in the end what you want is productive vegetable plants not a certain pH. You could add bags of lime for alkalinity if you wanted to, but I don't think it would make a dent in the basic growing issues a problematic soil structure creates in regards to heavy clay.
 

Jane23

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I understand your situation because the area where I put my garden in was VERY much clay to begin with, as in I could dig out a chunk and make pottery out of it with some water and kneading. The good news is clay is one of the more nutrient dense soil types even though the accessibility of those nutrients to the plants is tricky because of the particle structure. But there is a lot of easy stuff you can do to turn thigns around.

Now my soil is the total opposite, extremely workable, fertile and the tilth is really great considering where I started. And I get all the benefits of the clay nutrients so never need to fertilize in ground. I did import some soil, and used the tiller to combine everything well. But I did other things that made a huge difference, the two biggest being mulching the whole garden with straw every year and then turning it under in the fall fall. This added a great texture over time, and helped to break up the tight clay clods. The other thing was mass planting legumes, beans and peas. I don't know what magic these crops work under the surface but they can really be game changers. DH grew up on a farm that had very clay soil, and they had acres, so how they converted the fields to usability was two or three years of field peas, and then tilling under, and he said it was incredible how quickly the soil structure changed.

No-till is popular right now, but IMHO with clay as a base soil I don't think it's possible to re-work the soil well without tilling. It's the cat's meow for rebuilding garden soil, becuase of the vigorous mixing action. It isn't so much adding more nutrients that is going to help so much as making the nutrients you already have more available. Of course, compost never hurts.

In the beginning I did have a pH test done on my soil, and it was on the acidic side but I abandoned that angle to focus on tilth, because in the end what you want is productive vegetable plants not a certain pH. You could add bags of lime for alkalinity if you wanted to, but I don't think it would make a dent in the basic growing issues a problematic soil structure creates in regards to heavy clay.
You mention one of the other ideas I had for the garden, which is mass planting peas, beans, and legumes. I notice my oldest garden is getting better where I planted the beans two years in a row. I like beans and peas and was already thinking of doing a mass planting. The key is how. I would like to continue with my potato and onion planting for staples and focus the rest of the garden on soil improvement and peas/beans would be the way to do it.

I am looking at it as sacrificing a year or more to soil improvement to gain the future plantability of my garden, which would be infinitely better than watching the ground and seeing nothing or going through a packet of seeds and getting maybe 1 plant.
 

flowerbug

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weeks ago would have been a good time to plant winter-wheat and winter-rye so it could grow through the fall and then continue in the early spring. turned under several weeks before planting it will help break up the clay. now, it's probably a bit too late to do any cover crops.

any time you can grow peas/cowpeas to turn under or any time you can source free organic materials to compost or bury in a garden, it's well worth it.

it may take time to get things to improve but eventually it will. i've gardens here that i've been working on for quite a long time and they're getting to finally look like decent garden soil, but they are also still primarily clay so that means at times i have to avoid working on them because it can be a mess and the added compaction never helps clay.
 

Dirtmechanic

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I have acidic clay in my garden and have found great improvement and efficiency in hauling all the leaves over and letting them compost in situ. I also burn dropped sticks and spread the ash and coals in the garden. Tilthe equals drainage in clay and that equals available Oxygen, one of the big 3 from the primary COH nutrients. In your case I would add sulphur in small amounts because it brings down pH and is a minor nutrient. Not to much at a time because without a lot of rain it will be slow to sink into the earth. You could also use acidifying organic fertilizers like espoma holly tone. If you notice the labels they are not far off tomato tone ingredients. You could then supplement calcium for example. You could also spread sugar in water over time for the composting effect such a food source will begin to leave behind. Sugar is made of COH. Many use molasses for the extra micronutrients. Also magnesium sulphate may help your plants take up nutrition if you do not already use epsom salts. The most important thing is flowers to then be pollinated. Those fertilizers for blooming usually have very high P and moderate K and N. Starter fertilizers have low N and high PK. In a garden you pull out a lot of P with the plants so I would suggest understand that relationship in the context of your planting and harvesting activity.
 

Jane23

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weeks ago would have been a good time to plant winter-wheat and winter-rye so it could grow through the fall and then continue in the early spring. turned under several weeks before planting it will help break up the clay. now, it's probably a bit too late to do any cover crops.

any time you can grow peas/cowpeas to turn under or any time you can source free organic materials to compost or bury in a garden, it's well worth it.

it may take time to get things to improve but eventually it will. i've gardens here that i've been working on for quite a long time and they're getting to finally look like decent garden soil, but they are also still primarily clay so that means at times i have to avoid working on them because it can be a mess and the added compaction never helps clay.
I expect to be working on this for the next several years. What I think I will do is plant my staple crops of onions/potatoes and make the rest peas and beans. I can turn the peas and beans over when the season ends and plant a fall cover crop. A couple years of this should start me on my path to better soil.
 

Jane23

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I have acidic clay in my garden and have found great improvement and efficiency in hauling all the leaves over and letting them compost in situ. I also burn dropped sticks and spread the ash and coals in the garden. Tilthe equals drainage in clay and that equals available Oxygen, one of the big 3 from the primary COH nutrients. In your case I would add sulphur in small amounts because it brings down pH and is a minor nutrient. Not to much at a time because without a lot of rain it will be slow to sink into the earth. You could also use acidifying organic fertilizers like espoma holly tone. If you notice the labels they are not far off tomato tone ingredients. You could then supplement calcium for example. You could also spread sugar in water over time for the composting effect such a food source will begin to leave behind. Sugar is made of COH. Many use molasses for the extra micronutrients. Also magnesium sulphate may help your plants take up nutrition if you do not already use epsom salts. The most important thing is flowers to then be pollinated. Those fertilizers for blooming usually have very high P and moderate K and N. Starter fertilizers have low N and high PK. In a garden you pull out a lot of P with the plants so I would suggest understand that relationship in the context of your planting and harvesting activity.
I don't have any trees with leaves on them around me. I do have ponderosa pine, which drops its needles in the fall. I layered my garden beds with those pine needles and plan to continue that layering next year. The pine needles will slowly break down into the soil and protect it as the temperatures rise next year.
 

Dirtmechanic

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I don't have any trees with leaves on them around me. I do have ponderosa pine, which drops its needles in the fall. I layered my garden beds with those pine needles and plan to continue that layering next year. The pine needles will slowly break down into the soil and protect it as the temperatures rise next year.
Do not use pine for compost, rather burn it for char carbon. This has to do with the lack of Lignin in pine since lignin is a very basic food structure with unique properties for both the forest floor and the white fungi that Alice must have followed down the rabbit hole. Lignin is a none pine thing. You can lay it on top, oxidation is the same as burning, but pine is not the breakfast of champions for the biodome.
 

ducks4you

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Although my property used to be part of a 50 acre farm in Illinois, north of where the glaciers stopped, so loess soil, over 100 years of use had made every bed I created a clay pit, and I had a lot of trouble.
I would recommend that you dump every good material you can find on top of your probably now frozen garden beds and wait until spring to work them into your soil. You mentioned that wild horses dump on your property. It only takes 4 months for horse manure to break down to usable and that means in the winter, too.
If your neighbors have any spoiled hay that can be your browns.
Compost piles break down faster when you turn them frequently with shovels or a fork or a rake. Mine take about 2 years bc I don't have the time to turn them.
Any snow will help them to break down, too.
Next year there WILL be shortages and agricultural businesses are shoring up for them. The biggest grain storage facility in our county, I have been told, plans to hoard wheat in order to make a killing in 2023.
I live around farmers and nobody yet has said that they are growing winter wheat, although I did see a field about 20 years ago, 6 miles up the road.
YOU WILL NEED YOUR GARDEN NEXT YEAR!
Composting isn't really hard to do, you just do it. Don't throw ANYTHING in the trash that you cannot compost. I don't recommend burning bc it's just too dry where you live, but I BURN all of my paper trash. Alabama is often pretty wet, so @Dirtmechanic can burn pine needles when they have a rainy season. I try to remember that others here cannot burn, but I use a 4' x 4' fire pit surrounded by 16" x 16" cement pavers. I never burn when it's windy, and I monitor my fires.
Save your cardboard. After you work in your compost cover with cardboard--you overlap them--and cut holes for transplants next spring to keep weeds from sprouting. Weeds will LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your richer soil and I have to dig out weeds that have gotten too big bc they become PERENNIAL weeds.
Top mulch with your pine needles to keep moisture in. I have 5 pine trees north of my house, and eventually the needles that fall on my "sidewalk to nowhere" become soil.
 

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