BML
Full Member
Posts: 44
Joined: Sat Jun 17, 2006 9:10 am
Location: The village of Steventon In Oxfordshire England

Best way to deal with clay.

I want to turn a part of my garden into a vegetable plot. It started with my wife suggesting that the rose garden was getting difficult to keep clear of weeds informing me that if I became unable to perform that task she did not want to inherit it. At the same time we had just enjoyed one row of potatoes and the crop from a dozen runner beans which I had planted on the edge of the rose garden for fun.
I dug the roses up and as I’m to tight to pay the prices asked for turf I dug it up from the top of the garden and used that to cover the now defunct rose garden.
That left a potential vegetable, my wife’s ambition to ensure that I took regular cardiovascular exercise and the thought that it would not take long to dig it over.
It was then that I found the ground composed of a top three inches of good soil and then solid grey clay so as a novice I immediately took to my books to seek advice only to come away from them confused.
Half of my gardening books sugested I just scratch about the three inches of good soil and plant in that and the other half sugested double digging it and using manure so I started and its killing me. I don’t mind the clay but I’m also blessed with loads of old roots.
I have unlimited access to well rotted manure and I have discovered that I can hire a tracked digger for a very reasonable sum and I maj just use one to dig the trenches. So far I have dug one trench by hand about eighteen inches deep and moved the soil/clay to the end of the plot. I dumped about nine inches of manure into the trench and am in the process of digging the next trench dumping the soil/clay from it on top of the manure in the first trench. When I have finished the plot I intend dumping three inches or so of manure on top of it and forking it in.
Although my books inform me that clay is actually quite nutritious it doesn’t look that good to me so my questions are as follow:
Is what I have done so far acceptable and if not what should I have done?

JONA878
Greener Thumb
Posts: 1014
Joined: Thu Aug 13, 2009 6:14 am
Location: SUSSEX

Sounds good to me so far BML.
Remember that clay is such a problem because it has the smallest particles of all soils and when it is wet they become stuck together so solidly.
It helps an enormous amount if you can get these particles to seperate and once there keep them apart.
This is where if you can get some form of grit into the soil to keep drainage and allow air into the soil.
Double digging was the traditional way of getting the soil to its best...but boy is it hard work.
Try and add a good layer of washed grit to the top layers and along with the manure this should start to break the clay apart.
By the way....never touch clay soils when they are very wet if you can avoid it.
There is one other thing that I found very handy on my heavy clay soil.
Rough up the soil in the autumn so the frost can do its job of breaking the surface down, then in the late winter / early spring put a good layer of manure across the surface of the soil, then covour with a canvas or old rugs.....anything that will keep out the rain and the light....
In the spring you will find that the worms have done a great deal of the work for you and the surface is in a much better condition for early planting.

Jona.

BML
Full Member
Posts: 44
Joined: Sat Jun 17, 2006 9:10 am
Location: The village of Steventon In Oxfordshire England

Many thanks for that but I have one more question. I know about soft sand, builders sand and sharp sand but have not come across Washed Grit. Where would one find this?

JONA878
Greener Thumb
Posts: 1014
Joined: Thu Aug 13, 2009 6:14 am
Location: SUSSEX

I would have thought that most builders yards would be able to get you some form of grit.
Sharp sand would not be course enough to really do the job so it would still clog.
You can buy it in small quantaties from a lot of garden centres for potting soil drainage but that would be an expensive way for any large amount.

Jona.

User avatar
Pineville
Senior Member
Posts: 102
Joined: Sat Dec 19, 2009 10:50 pm
Location: Bucks County, PA

If you go the sand/grit route - use caution. I have seen clay and sand mixed together and the finished product is like concrete. You may be better off with lots of manure/compost. If you use the sand, you still need the manure/compost. I'm not sure what ratio of sand to use (maybe 1/3?), but too little will turn the clay into concrete.
You can buy sand-blasting sand from some building supply houses. #0 is the coarsest (#00/#000 are finer).

User avatar
rainbowgardener
Super Green Thumb
Posts: 25303
Joined: Sun Feb 15, 2009 11:04 pm
Location: TN/GA 7b

Agree with pineville that the best thing for your clay soil is tons of organic materials, compost, leaf mould, manure, etc. Gypsum is also said to help break down clay soils.

Also you can consider building up your soil. You can make raised beds where you just pile good enriched topsoil on top. Then you don't have to worry so much that you have clay underneath (I have a couple raised beds sitting on my concrete patio).

User avatar
freedhardwoods
Senior Member
Posts: 253
Joined: Mon May 18, 2009 1:32 am
Location: Southwest IN

As many already know, my choice of organic material is sawdust, mainly because I have cheap and easy access to as many tons of it as I want. I don't really think much of adding sand, but some people say it works. My formerly hard packed clay soil is loose and rich with just the sawdust added. 8)

User avatar
Kisal
Mod Emeritus
Posts: 7648
Joined: Tue Jun 24, 2008 5:04 am
Location: Oregon

Pineville wrote:If you go the sand/grit route - use caution. I have seen clay and sand mixed together and the finished product is like concrete.
This is what happened when I put down sand and gravel to create a dog run along one side of my house. It's like aggregate now. In fact, I use it as a patio.
"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?" - Douglas Adams

User avatar
Ozark Lady
Greener Thumb
Posts: 1862
Joined: Tue Jan 05, 2010 10:28 pm
Location: NW Arkansas, USA zone 7A elevation 1561 feet

I have heavy clay, and yep rocks and roots...

It isn't much fun to dig awhile, and get the hatchet and chop awhile, then dig some more is it?

But, good news once done you are good to go for several years, then my trees have roots there again.

I would shy away from sand. I tried kids play sand, just dumped on one bed... hoping to grow root crops that don't like heavy clay...
And it sets right on top... does not mix with the clay. I mix it up, and apparently cars driving by jars it enough that soon I have a couple inches of sand on top of the clay... It stays nice and soft, like a beach... hasn't mixed well enough to make cement... it separates on me...

But, organic matter, that works on clay, and it releases lots of the goodies that are in clay.

I read about a wooden box to grow radishes, etc. and am thinking about simply container gardening, with sand and organic soil in boxes or containers... not in the ground at all.
Talk to your plants.... If your plants talk to you... Run!

Return to “What Doesn't Fit Elsewhere”