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Grey
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Location: Summerville, GA, Zone 7a

Soil Building

Hi, I'm Grey, and I have less-than-perfect soil.

I've been adding bags of mushroom compost, bonemeal, bloodmeal, cottonseed meal, and fish fertilizer for the past year or two. Seeing improvement (I have red wriggler worms in my soil now, YAY!!!). BUT, I want to know what else I can do.

I think I can get my hands on some cow manure, from cows fed only grass ("organic" cows) though I have to go in their pasture to get it. I also have 2 & 3 year old leaf mold that I have been adding in to the soil, on top.

From there, I read in one book to just take your kitchen scraps and bury them directly in the garden. I have a couple of beds I have been experimenting with on this. I chop all my kitchen scraps up pretty small, and crush my eggshells. I'm using the trench method, putting the debris roughly 6" deep in the ground (so far, no critters have come looking for the eggshells).

I'm wanting to see if this works better than my compost pile, which tends to go cold since I haven't enough greens available to add to the browns. I thought perhaps I could just leave the leaves to turn to leaf mold and add what little grass we do mow (with the drought last year, we mowed our weeds maybe 5 times, that won't heat your pile, and it won't kill weed seeds).

Any advice?

opabinia51
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Well Grey,

as you are well aware, I have been doing something similar for several years in my main Veg garden. I use both [url=https://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=673]Trench Composting[/url], [url=https://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=6995]Sheet Composting[/url] (with several layers of alternating (varied) [url=https://www.helpfulgardener.com/organic/2006/compost.html]browns and greens[/url]), organic fertilizers (Kelp Meal, Rock Phosphate (always included in my fall sheet compost), mulching of annual plants and so on), I also sometimes use fish emulsion but, that can be considered a short term fertlizer.

What's really important is to make note of what your soil type is: ie) Sand based or Clay based. Clay based takes a lot more to ammend. However in the long run, you are that better off with a clay based soil because clay particles form soil colloids which are very resistant to weathering.

Gathering leaves from places other than your garden so that you have piles of leaf mold to cover your beds with in the spring and summer (aftern planting (and after they have sprouted) your annuals) with the leaves.

This way you are adding organic (in the truest sense of the word; organic meaning containing a carbon backbone; rock phosphate is not "organic" because it is made of silicate molecules bonded to eachother and other impurities) matter all year long.

Anyone else please way in on this excellant discussion that Grey has started here:

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Grey
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My soil is clay. Not clay based. Clay. You can make pottery with it, or play tennis on it. If you add some sand to it, you can make bricks and build a house out of it.

Lots of nutrients in there, IF you can just break it apart enough that your plants can enjoy them! Yes it holds water well, it also dries out really, really bad and can become rock hard in drought if you have not mixed enough organic matter into your clay.

When I first built my raised beds, I mixed 50/50 clay and a cow compost & topsoil mix that my local nursery sells by the truckload. For other raised beds, another nursery was selling mushroom compost and cow compost, so that got mixed in with the topsoil mix from the first nursery.

From there, I've been adding nutrients as I get them. If the grass grows well for a while and I can cut before there are many seeds, I use it as mulch around my plants. I cut up leaves before they go into the pile, or I use them directly as mulch in my beds (a friend of mine thinks this is terrible and that I should always be using pine straw... Anybody have thoughts on pine straw?)

The finding of red worms a few weeks ago really, really excited me. Before then, all summer, my new beds were devoid of any wriggler life and I knew that was another symptom of things not being right with my soil.

lillgardnr
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how can you tell how healthy your soil is :?:

opabinia51
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Yes, all the more work for you to do Grey. Clay is what my parents have as well, as does one of my friends. Needs a lot of organic matter to help break it up. The more leaves the better, not to mention greens to allow the degredation of the leaves to go faster.

Do you know what also helps to ammend CLAY? Rotted wood along with greens and of course more leaves.

And if you check out the Hugelkultar thread, you can get some ideas at to what plants do well in Hugelkultar.

You can tell how healthy your soil is by what you find living in it. A healthy soil should have a variety of worms, plants, fungi and animals living in it. You can test to see what nutrients you soil has by buying a soil test kit but, nothing beats a little hand trowel, a shovel and getting your hands dirty.

robyn514
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Location: Atlanta,Georgia

Grey,
As a fellow resident of Georgia I can sympathize with your clay troubles. People in GA really like using pine straw because it is readily available and cheap- not to mention blends well with the local landscape. It does add acidity to the soil when it decomposes. I have been putting partially decomposed leaves down and then putting pine straw over it for cosmetic purposes.
My problem is gravel and small rocks left by the construction people that built the houses in my neighborhood. Are they a problem or do they help with drainage? My Nana always said to get rid of them....

honey97
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Location: Mobile, AL

sandy soil

I live in AL on the coast and the soil in the flower beds is sooooo sandy. What should I add to them to make my plants grow better? The beds are also so big, I can see where they will be very nice when full, but after years of neglect there's not a lot there (plants). There are a few large foundation plants (that's what I call them). It's almost like starting from scratch, if anyone can help I would appreciate it.

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Gnome
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honey97,

Anything organic that builds the structure of the soil such as compost, leaf mold, rotted wood from nearby woods, rotted manure, etc. After you go to all of that trouble make sure to add several inches of some sort of mulch, this helps keep the soil cooler and slows the decomposition of the materials you just worked so hard to supply.

Norm

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Grey
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Location: Summerville, GA, Zone 7a

Robyn, I think the rocks are a problem. They don't make the soil any softer, and they aren't helping with drainage - they'd just be increasing the chances of runoff more than anything.

We have a gravel rock driveway - but the previous people didn't edge the driveway before dumping rock on it. Therefore, the driveway has slowly spread. We have narrowed it down to a comfortable width for two cars now rather than the three it could have held before, and I tell ya... my back is tired of picking rocks out of what will soon be new flower/garden beds alongside the drive. They sure don't help my plants any!

honey97
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soil building

Thanks Gnome for the reply, another question. One of these very large beds seems to have an infestation of a grass--Johnson grass type of grass. It's mean! It runs under the soil line on runners, and is very stiff. It went thru a nice pair of leather gardening gloves. We've tried digging it out but that just seems to make it mad. I really need this bed for the new plants I'm starting in the greenhouse. Help?

robyn514
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Location: Atlanta,Georgia

Oh Grey,
I was really hoping not to hear that .... but I know you are right! I guess I'll do it in baby steps so it won't be so hard on my back :lol:
Thanks-
Robyn

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Gnome
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honey97

I had never heard of that one, evidently it is not a problem in my area. The obvious thing is to continue assiduous hand weeding and never let it go to seed. Keep an eye out in the area for other stands of it. Even if you make no other attempt to control outlying patches don't let them go to seed.

You might consider using landscape fabric (or thick layers of newspaper) as a barrier and planting your desired species through the fabric in an effort to smother the offender.

[url]https://www.inhs.uiuc.edu/chf/outreach/VMG/johngrass.html[/url]

Norm

honey97
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soil building

Gnome

That is it completely. Thanks for the info. (site) Looks like it's going to be a fight to the end. But it's gotta happen. There are several foundation plants in that bed, I need to dig those up and systematically deal with the entire bed. There are a couple hydrangeas, spirea, and a "fire cracker" bush? Not sure about that one, but some of the Johnson grass has worked it's way into their root balls, any ideas as to how I should proceed with removing it? I guess I need to temporally put them elsewhere, after getting the grass removed from the root balls. Will they do alright with a temporary move? All of your help is greatly appreciated.

F0od
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Tap roots might help if you can get them established. Can break up the soil deep down, and leave a column of compost when they die ;D. Carrots, dandelion, radish, parsnip, turnip ect ect ect
We would not

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