LeoJ
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Help! Clay soil?

Hello!

I've always been lucky enough to rent places that had a garden patch already there and ready to rototill and be on my way. I've moved to a new place with only a lawn, but i am really wanting a garden. The landlord has allowed me to kill some grass to make a garden. Yippee! :D

I have already decided to suffocate the grass for several weeks/months, and then rototill right over the dead grass. Of the many ways I've read to do it, this just seems like the best to me. Now my concern is, if all I have under there is clay, will I have done all that work for nothing and be stuck with a big pile of useless clay, or can I still grow? (I have read about adding organic material to clay to make it better over time, but my concern is I will probably only be here for this one year)

I thought about making a couple raised beds out of some old pallets but top soil is so expensive, especially for the size I want.

So what does everyone think? Am I taking a huge risk by destroying the lawn or will I be able to grow no matter what the soil type?

PS I've always been a very uneducated grower, basically just sticking seeds in the ground and watering every day (yes...I thought you had to water every day until this winter :oops: ) but I've done so much reading and research over the winter, I feel like I've learned years worth of knowledge, and am very excited to get in the garden so I am hoping you can help me find a way to make it work :D

Thanks so much!!
Emm

imafan26
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Re: Help! Clay soil?

Clay soil holds water and is usually sticky and hard to work. It is usually a weathered soil that is nutrient poor but can be made productive by adding nutrients and orgainic matter improves the tilth making it easier to work. Clay soils should never be worked wet as it messes up the structure of the soil for a long time.
You don't have to wait months to plants
You can remove the grass from the area you want to plant and use it elswhere or if you turn it upside down, it will start to decompose in a few weeks. I would add compost. You can get aged manure, a half inch will be good, 4-6 inches of compost and rototill it in. If the grass was good and fed regularly, you may have enough nutrients to start a first crop reasonably well. But, I would stil recommend a soil test for a new garden and before you plant, follow the recommendations for pH and nutrients.
It would be ideal to do the groundwork a month before you start, but short season people can't really wait that long. Instead of starting with the heavy feeders, go easy on the soil and start with light feeders like legumes, beans and peas. Inoculate the seeds to build up the mycorrhyzae in the soil. Herbs are not heavy feeders, Root crops (carrot, garlic, leeks, onion, parsnip, potato, rutabaga, shallot, turnip), bulbs, mustard, pepper, and chard.
Heavy feeders: Corn, tomatoes, beets, cabbage family crops (broccoli, Brussels sprout, cabbage,
cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, radish), celery, cucumber, endive, lettuce, parsley, pumpkin, cucumber,
squashes, rhubarb, spinach, and sunflower might be better as a second crop after you get your soil test and have amended so the soil will be ready for the heavier load.

Even though you will only be there a year, if you have a long growing season you can get a lot done.

http://www.co.thurston.wa.us/health/ehc ... _sglpg.pdf
Happy gardening in Hawaii. Gardens are where people grow.

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ID jit
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Re: Help! Clay soil?

I'm basically a NOOB. When I was a kid I learned a pattern that worked and have just kept repeating it.

Given what you stated, I would lift a 2' x 2' square of sod and the dig down 12" - 16" just to see what was there first.
If it looks close enough to "soil" I would proceed.
If it looks like mostly inert "dirt" under a thin layer of soil for the grass, I would look into containers and Mel's Mix.
I don't believe we can resist the things which make no sense - I believe.

gumbo2176
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Re: Help! Clay soil?

I think I'd be more inclined to do what ID jit recommended to see what your soil is like in the area you are wanting to garden. When I first turned my soil after buying the house I'm currently in, it was such a chore, even with a 5 hp tiller to help me as it kept clogging up just about every 3 ft. or so with clay buildup. It took many, many truckloads of organic matter to make it even usable the first season and over the years (20+), I've brought in tons more organic matter to be mixed with what's now there. Now my garden soil is very loose, drains well and is a joy to work with.

If you only plan on being there for a year or so, I'd go with containers or raised beds. At least with containers, you can bring them with you when you move and a raised bed or two is not very expensive to build and fill if you get your soil through a wholesaler and buy it by the truckload. A place near me sells it by the cubic yard and enough to fill a pickup bed and crown it cost me $35. That was enough to completely fill a 4 ft. by 12 ft. by 1 ft. deep raised bed. And if you're real lucky, perhaps your waste disposal company composts organic matter to sell to residents like some communities do.

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jal_ut
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Re: Help! Clay soil?

Hey if it will grow grass, it will grow garden veggies. Just till it. Tilling will kill the grass. Wait a week and till again, shallow, then plant.

Most soils are clay based. Just be careful to never till when they are too wet. If wet they will clump up and it takes all season to break down those clumps.

About watering. Best to water deeply once a week and let those roots go down deep. You know plant roots grown on the ground will go from 3 to 8 feet deep?
Gardening at 5000 feet elevation, zone 4/5 Northern Utah, Frost free from May 25 to September 8 +/- Plant a Garden

jeff84
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Re: Help! Clay soil?

yeah clay grows veggies just fine but adding some sand and organic matter would make it better. even just finding a source for a bale of cardboard (talking plain brown cardboard with minimal print, nothing glossy) and laying out layers and tilling each layer in after it is wetted will attract plenty of earthworms and give your bed a good kick start. cardboard can usually be had for free from stores, warehouses, and factories. just call around and ask.

. then I would cover it until you are ready to plant, with a single layer of cardboard and a sheet of clear platic. that way, come spring. just remove the plastic, rewet (if it isn't already wet) the cardboard, and go through and poke holes in the cardboard for the plantings.

leave the cardboard down to act as a mulch. you may want to use inexpensive garden staples to hold the cardboard down so it doesn't end up all over your neighbors yard on a windy day.

at the end of the season, source fallen leaves. these are also easy to find for free and sometimes city leaf pick up crews will gladly drop them off at your house, when they are in your neighborhood, to save them a trip to the landfill. layer that several inches thick over the bed with another top layer of cardboard. wetting first the leaves then the cardboard. replace the plastic for winter, and repeat.

then sell your tiller because you will never need it again. at least not for that garden bed

after a couple years doing this, you may not need the thick layer of fall leaves and/or cardboard every year. if you don't add any sand now, you can always layer it in later, but I would recommend getting a substantial amount into the initial tilling

you can also layer things like manure, compost or any other amendment that you want mixed in with the fall leaves or spot amend during planting, or peeling back a section of cardboard and top dressing . obviously I'm talking about an organic no till approach, but aspects of this simple and effective gardening practice can be applied to more traditional annual tillage strategies as well

all of this is assuming you at least have high ground that never has standing water in it. it sounds like you do. otherwise some grading may be in order.

PaulF
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Re: Help! Clay soil?

If only for one year I agree with containers or raised beds. A lot of work and time is needed to amend clay soil to become what you may want. It will grow garden crops but hard to tell just how much. If you do work the soil, till in organics but not sand. Remember, sand and clay make bricks.
Paul F

jeff84
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Re: Help! Clay soil?

perhaps pea gravel? I have added sand to clay soil before and it improved the texture of the soil.

imafan26
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Re: Help! Clay soil?

Usually if you add enough organic it drains better and has good tilth. Pea gravel is less ideal than coarse sand if you are going to plant roots. However, I do agree that if you are not going to be there a long time and you are not planning a very large garden, containers will do just fine.
Happy gardening in Hawaii. Gardens are where people grow.

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jal_ut
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Re: Help! Clay soil?

I would stay away from gravel. A little sand and a lot of organic matter is the best bet.
Gardening at 5000 feet elevation, zone 4/5 Northern Utah, Frost free from May 25 to September 8 +/- Plant a Garden

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