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gixxerific
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Getting beds ready for spring or let it grow?

I need some insight. I have, as some of you know, a new house. It's 2 years old and so is the garden as you would expect. My soil is clay and rock, some pretty nasty stuff, though getting better.

I still have some greens growing though not very prolific by any means. We have had so much rain lately I couldn't get my beds ready even if I wanted to. But the next couple of weeks are supposed to be 60's-+ and no rain. So now is the time to do or not to do. I also don't want to take out whatever I have growing.

I put 2 yards of compost and H manure on my 200+ sq ft garden most of it in the newest addition a few month's back. The original only getting marginal amounts. I plan on getting more of both at least another truck load of compost and tilling it all in once more than letting it sit till spring. This is normally how I would do it. Though this site has opened my eye's of other venues to fertility.

What do you think, what would you do, how would you go about it?

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jal_ut
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Be careful with manure. A little goes a long ways. Any more than an inch deep on the whole area may be too much. I have seen people ruin their garden soil for a year when putting on too much manure. Nothing will grow there, and the only thing they can do is let it lie fallow for a year.
The compost will probably be ok. The trouble is one never knows what might be called compost. Good compost made in a hot pile is almost as "hot" as manure. If it is something that has been just let rot in a pile for a year or more and the rains have leached out the goodies, then you can put lots of that on.

Yes, its a good idea to add the goodies in the fall, and let the worms and microbes work on it over winter.
Gardening at 5000 feet elevation, zone 4/5 Northern Utah, Frost free from May 25 to September 8 +/-

TZ -OH6
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The problems I had with my clay-rock soil was 1) digging deep enough, and 2) breaking up clods.


With heavy clay the roots do not penetrate well so however deep you till is about it for root depth/water availability.


As for clods and mixing in ammendments, if you can mix them in spring and fall it really helps even out the soil, and gives you more chances to pick out rocks that come to the surface. Winter freezing and rain etc help break up big surface clods. Root penetration by your crops help too. I added a huge amount of ammendment the first year (wood chip compost two years ago) so have been mainly redigging the soil spring and fall to even out the texture.

I used all the rocks from my soil (sandstone shards) to pave walkways around my garden.

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nes
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Okay this spring/fall tilling thing has been driving me so crazy I had to go back and try to find my agriculture notes (one year in university, many years ago) and I failed miserably. I'll have to keep looking.

From my recollection then: (which is dangerous)
(1) Although that's allot of manure, you've done exactly what you should for a second year clay garden. Adding it in the fall will give it lots of time to decompose (especially with horse manure, it goes quick if there are no bits of straw in it) & you're going to help the soil hold in allot more water & nutrients next year.

(2) There really is no reason to till in the fall :?. The frost will help break up the soil as it is, and you're just aiding soil erosion even if it makes your bed look all nice & pretty. Till in the spring BEFORE it gets wet (especially because you've got so much clay). I riped out all my plants & prepped the soil so I could add more organic matter, but I'm leaving it with the small amounts of clover growing on it until they die from frost.

I definitely wouldn't go in there now, even if the surface is dried you're going to do more harm then good compacting it down.

If you're clay is REALLY bad I'd inter-plant carrots everywhere next year. They don't cause allot of shade & a clay-soil variety will help break up the soil (I can't believe what a good job my danvers did this year! and we're on a clay/loam).

JMHO, fields are a little different then home veggie gardens though!
Vanessa raising organic vegetables, livestock, wildflowers, and family in zone 5A.

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gixxerific
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The horse manure I use and have been for a long time (same place) is usually partially composted and contains quite a bit a straw and sawdust. So its not straight fresh manure. I have used it several times very early in spring before with no problems as far as growing. Though I won't be this year.

Nes said something about fields and backyard garden not being the same. In my case you are very right. A field is usually fertile. My "backyard garden" is in a subdivision that is 4-5 years old. When they developed (or should I say underdeveloped) the land, the scraped off all the lovely virgin topsoil and sold it to finance there "under-developing". :evil:

Thanks for the replies. I have been gardening for a long time, but I never knew about "No-till" till I came on here. So I'm kind of wondering what other people would do in my case. Or in general for that matter. I'm very open minded so I am open to new ideas always. Maybe I have been doing it wrong all these years, well not wrong but different.

Feed my brain. I'm hungry.

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gixxerific
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Thing is I want to get my soil strong and fertile, along with all the micro/macrobilogy that goes along with it. I don't want to ruin my garden with unnecessary or even destructive methods.

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jal_ut
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I add leaves, and manure in the fall. I also leave all the remains of plants from the season on the plot then till it deep to chop the organic matter up and mix it into the soil. All that organic matter is now worm and microbe food. They will reduce it to plant food and humus.

In the spring, I avoid deep tilling. I will plant the early crops without tilling. When it is time to plant the warm weather crops there may be some weeds coming. I will till shallow, an inch or two, to remove weeds and make a seed bed. Deeper down it will be too wet, and if tilled when wet it will go cloddy and remain cloddy all season. Yes, I have a soil that is heavy in clay.

Deep spring tilling causes too much moisture loss. I like to keep the moisture in the ground for the plants. If you till an inch deep you actually build what is called a dust mulch and it keeps the moisture from wicking to the surface and being evaporated.

This works very well for me.
Gardening at 5000 feet elevation, zone 4/5 Northern Utah, Frost free from May 25 to September 8 +/-

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rainbowgardener
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What works best very much depends on your situation. I have a small city lot, the back half of which is my woodland shade garden hillside. So my area for growing flowers/veggies/herbs is small. It's mostly all in raised beds. Part of the point of raised bed is that you NEVER disturb the soil. You don't till it, you don't walk on it, and it stays fluffy and crumbly. In the spring I turn in all the leaves I'm laying down now with a trowel and the soil just falls apart.

But if I had a farm, I might have to rethink the no-till thing.

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gixxerific
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Rainbow I am working on the raised beds. I just can't afford the lumber. Now let's not have everyone say "it's not that much if you do it like......" I just can't afford it, I may be losing my job in near future if the economy doesn't pick up.

I don't want to disturb my soils biology but I have bad soil to begin with. Than again my whole life I have tilled my gardens in the fall and the spring. After layering them with everything under the sun leaves grass plant matter etc etc. I did all this without any problems that I know of.

So this is more of a moral dilemma. :?

I keep reading this and it makes sense:
[url=https://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/Better-Garden-Soil.aspx]Tips for better garden soil[/url]
Last edited by gixxerific on Wed Nov 04, 2009 12:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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applestar
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Here's another wrinkle to no-till vs. till as well as pile organic matter whether you till or not (and I wrestle with this dilemma every fall/spring): SELF SEEDING.

In the fall, I let some plants go to seed. The idea is that they do their thing naturally: drop/scatter seeds on the ground, and the seeds will sprout and grow in spring. The trouble is, if you mulch heavily or till, those seeds won't grow. (If you till, other seeds from the "seed bank" will be brought up to the surface and *they* will grow, but that's another matter.)

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applestar
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Gixxerific, I have two kinds of raised beds. The expensive kind with metal raised bed corners and extenders and cedar lumber, and the FREE kind with edged with 4~6" diameter branches and logs cut from a 15 year old Bradford pear tree, grown from a volunteer, that I had cut down when I found out that it was a wild fruiting invasive.

This experimental "free" bed was also sheet mulched by layering the bottom with freshly cut thinner branches and their healthy green leaves, then with homemade compost and a heavy layers of fall leaves, grass clippings, and straw (only thing purchased except for the fence surrounding the extended garden area.). That's where I grew the bumper crop of Cranberry red potatoes, and that's where the Edamame took over this fall (Also grew cukes, Swiss chard, Lettuce, Bush Beans, Peppers, volunteer Tomato, Birdhouse gourd, and Pole beans; all of which did very well. Only things that didn't do so well were watermelon, honeydew melon, and eggplant. It's also where that little Brussels sprout is valiantly trying to grow under the towering Edamame.)

Some of the branches are still under there -- I can't dig deep or mess around with a fork, but boy are there worms everywhere! I fretted that if I had a chipper shredder, I could have turned those branches into mulch, but it really doesn't seem like it was necessary.

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nes
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The very first year I started my veggie garden (2 years ago now - I don't really count it...). I had the farmer till the garden beside our home. Now I had a new baby at the time, but I could NOT fight off the weeds!!! This year he came back and bush-hogged that field twice to cut down the 5' tall+ weeds because we just let it go wild! We're doing pumpkins in there this year, I'm insisting he not come anywhere near it with the tractor :twisted:.

This year I have my own little corner of our backyard (the re-claimed former dog-pen) and although there were some weeds with an active toddler running around an only about an hour in the garden a day I was able to control all the weeds with just a hoe.

Tilling has it's place, especially when trying to incoperate fresh organic matter, but what was drilled into us in Unversity - you are doing more harm then good by tilling in the fall. I know the old-style farmers love to make their fields pretty - but it's allot more work at the end of the day!

And I totally hear you on the cost of raised beds - especially because it is NOT a necessity! I can tell you our local lumber yard had rough-cut go on sale once a year for $1.25/2x4 - I don't know how many people have real lumber yards near them any more though!! :)
Vanessa raising organic vegetables, livestock, wildflowers, and family in zone 5A.

TFA303
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I built my raised beds with scrap (non-PT) lumber I scavenged from construction dumpsters; the nails I had left over in the garage. It ain't pretty, but it works.

Back to the original question, I'm overwintering lots of stuff, but I'm a bit farther south than you are. I say, mulch it good and give it a try.

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rainbowgardener
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great article, gixx, thanks for the link!

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gixxerific
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Thank you Apple for your thoughts on SFG. I have thought about that myself. But I don't have any trees on MY property to use and not really sure if I know anyone that would let me take enough to do me any good. Though I have thought about it. I'm an outdoorsman at heart, though not so much in practice any more (shame on me). I like the rough wood and stone look. I am a bit of a perfectionist as well. If I could find enough perfect 6 in trees that would be totally awesome. But If I had to cut them down for my garden wouldn't that be negating the whole premise of organic gardening?

Nes I do have few REAL lumber yards around I will look into that for rough cut lumber. We work on million dollar houses and the rough cut they get is NOT CHEAP IN WAY SHAPE OR FORM!!!!! But you never know. It's worth a look

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gixxerific
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rainbowgardener wrote:great article, gixx, thanks for the link!
Any time rainbow. :D

I think I have figured out what I will do. I will shed my old way of doing things. Though it may not seem right to me, only because of habit. I'm going to get another truckload of compost (class A, what ever that means). Before I put that down I'm going to get another truckload of leaves and put them down first than the compost on top and let it sit with no tilling. Even with my bad soil it has greatly improved with my tedious care. Come spring I may till it all in we shall see. This would be evolution for me if it works.

Funny thing is I have been tilling 1-2 times a year my whole life. I have always borrowed my grandpas tiller, which was a pain in the sense that I would have to wait some times cause it might be at the farm or someone else had it. He passed away last year and wanted me to have have it. So now it's mine to use whenever I want and I'm not sure I want to use it anymore.

Thanks everyone for bearing with me.

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