creepycrawley
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Soil breaking.. When???

Hi there everyone.. Um, I'm really sorry, cuz this'll sound like a REALLY dumb question, but since I'm a total newbie, I really dunno what to do here..:oops: Y'see, summer's here, and I water my garden everyday but the soil keeps drying up by the next morning.. I break up the ground once every week, but it gets hard-packed in about three days again, so whenever I water it, the water stands for awhile before sinking over the course of the next hour.. should I break up the soil more often, or is once a week good enough?? I have a grapevine, some mint, a couple of rosebushes and a jasmine shrub, if it's any help...

Thanks!!...

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Kisal
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I recommend that you water your garden thoroughly, and then immediately cover the ground with a thick layer of some kind of mulch. There is a lot of information on this site about how to mulch, and the pros and cons of various types of mulches. Try using the search function. You'll find a search box at the top of each page. Just type in the word mulch in the search box, then click the box where you see "Search." :)

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freedhardwoods
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Location: Southwest IN

Although it sounds like your soil could use some improving, I would not be excessively worried about the soil crusting if your plants are looking healthy. As long as the water will soak in, even if it takes a little bit, the plants will be able to get it. Kisal's suggestion of using mulch is a good way to retain moisture in your soil and is very popular with many people. Below is an example how I created one of my garden spots using extreme measures to improve basically worthless soil.




I had a 30'x30' area that was covered with basement clay subsoil (next of kin to concrete :lol: ) from when we built our house. It was a pretty barren spot because even weeds had a hard time gowing there. I got a dump truck load of sawdust from my local sawmill and covered the entire area 8"-10" deep. I scattered 100 pounds of urea fertilizer granuals (46-0-0) over it also to help speed the decomposition process. I then made several passes with my Troybilt tiller to mix it with the subsoil. During that summer, I turned the soil with my tiller every 2 or 3 weeks. The following year I did plant some things, but since the decomposition process was still ongoing, the soil would not release enough nitrogen for the plants to do well. It was after the second year that it really shaped up. It has been many years since I improved that little spot and it is still the best soil I have with the least amount of surface and in depth compaction on my property.

You might think adding as much organic matter as I did was excessive. It takes at least 10 pounds of organic material to decompose to 1 pound of organic matter. Clay subsoil has almost no organic matter in it, so it needed a very large dose to transform it into usable soil. Also adding nitrogen is very important if you add a substantial amount of organic material because the organisms that break down the material use nitrogen as fuel.

There are many references to the fact that you should compost material before adding it to the soil. That is good advice if you want to continue to use your garden every year. Since I have so much garden space, I have the option of just letting an area lay idle while the soil is being improved. As I mentioned above, it took 2 years for the process to be completed. When you consider that I started with something that was basically worthless for growing anything and compare it to the rich, fertile soil I have now, that was actually a relatively short space of time.

If you want to improve your topsoil using this method, 2 or 3 inches of sawdust (or other organic material) should be plenty, and the decomposing process should be completed in 1 year.

One note of caution. If you use sawdust you may want to get a soil test after this process because some types of wood are slightly acidic. Also, many plants are severely allergic to walnut sawdust. Walnut sawdust will also kill horses by being absorbed through their hooves. I used poplar sawdust because it is fairly bland for this type of application.

creepycrawley
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Joined: Sun Mar 22, 2009 2:51 pm
Location: S. E. Asia

Aw man that's an AWESOME idea!!. :D .. But I can't do it now, cuz its got grown plants and all now :( .. Anyhoo, I'll save this idea and use it perhaps in another garden.. I really do intend to.. And mulching? Well, I did mulch the soil with manure at the beginning of spring.. Does it mean I should do it again??

And many thanks for all your help, by the by.. :)

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freedhardwoods
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Location: Southwest IN

I will admit that I don't have much experience with using mulch in garden situations, but I do have several years of farming experience. Anytime a farmer spreads manure on a field they work it into the soil because the plants can't get the nutritional value if it is laying on top. 8)

The Helpful Gardener
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FHW, even topdressing with good compost adds innoculations of bacterial, fungal and protozoal life; even bigger critters like nematodes, springtails and soil mites can make the trip in topdressed compost and form larger colonies, especially if we pay attention to moisture and temperature (which mulching helps 8) )

That said FHW is correct that introducing it to the root zone ofers a quicker culture, but disturbs thge existing fungal net; there is a lot of talk of no-till, lasagna gardening systems nowadays and I know I've ijmproved my soil with only one tilling five years ago. I pushed a 1/4 inch bamboo stake three feet into rocky New England soil today in what was compacted lawn five years ago; only tilled 8 inches down when I did it. Where did that other two plus feet of compaction relief come from? Fungal nets, worms, detritus breakdown and humic addition from predator prey interaction, a whole heap of differnet things that happen you stimulated natural systems. Same with FHW's sawdust; he has added humus and carbon; all the creatures I just discussed need humus for habitat (and our soils are notoriously poor as we deplete humus by carting away every leaf and blade to dispose of it :roll: ), and fungus makes much of it's structure from the carbon (well, most things do).


And CC, I mulch around planted plants all the time. A little hand work in tight, but it's still worth it...
Scott Reil

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