Matthew_Alabama
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Clay/Sandy mixed soil

Good Morning,
Originally from North Dakota and now residing in Alabama, I have never had to deal with the soil conditions here in the south, so I joined to see if I could get advice on dealing with the poor soil quality I have to deal with.

I live on what they call "Sand Mountain". It is well named I am afraid. I have been tilling my garden area and it is mainly clay and sand. (I am pretty sure but cant say what kind of ratio, more clay then sand though) I am not really sure what I can do to improve the quality of my soil so that I can grow better veggies.

I have been thinking of buying bags of black soil from like Lowes and tilling that into my current soil. Will this do any good or will I need so much that I will have to get a second job to buy enough?

I have already started a "Mulch" pile for leaves and grass clippings that I am going to keep over and this fall till into the garden area. Is this a good idea?

I know some will say get some manure to mix in but my options for this are nil. Is there a good bagged substitute that I can get that will be helpful?

I was raised on garden grown vegetables and in dire need of getting information before my growing season gets too far gone. It is still early and want to have a game plan on what I can do soon.

Thanks so much for any replies!
Matthew Basaraba
Alabama

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hendi_alex
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Though I've never had the pleasure to grow crops in a clay/sand mixture, I believe that to be a much better base than my almost pure sand yard. With your clay sand mix, all you are missing on the structure side of the equation is organic matter. So you are on the right track IMO, start collecting and incorporating all of the organic material that you can accumulate. Also it would be wise to get a soil test and use that as a basis for the kind and amounts of nutrient sources and/or pH balances that you may add. Most local extension services will perform a soil test, either for free or for a modest price.
Eclectic gardening style, drawing from 45 years of interest and experience. Mostly plant in raised beds and containers primarily using intensive gardening techniques.
Alex

TZ -OH6
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My soil is a mixture of clay and sandstone shards, so there is a lot of sand in with the clay. It makes very good soil when mixed with the right kind of organic matter. I have found that composted hardwood chips work best. They are chunky and fluff up the soil, and add alot of long term stable humus. Grass clippings and leaves just seem to dissolve by the next year leaving me with compacted soil again.


You should be able to find large amounts of hardwood chips for free/cheap either by contacting private tree trimming services, the power company or phone company to find out who does their line trimming, and/or your county/municipal yard waste composting facility (the bulk of yard waste is from chipped trees. Also check with local race tracks and fair grounds. They often pile up bedding material + manure on site, and hardwood sawdust is a prefered bedding material.


In order to quick compost wood chips (ready in one season rather than three ) I add inexpensive high nitrogen lawn fertilizer, a couple of pounds per cubic yard.

Matthew_Alabama
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Thank you for both replies. I stopped at Lowes yesterday for a quick fix. I picked up 10 bags of "Top Soil", 4 bags of "Soil Conditioner" (looked mostly to be wood chips and such, and 4 bags of "Compost Manure". I Should have gotten more, and plan on picking up 10 more bags of each of the chips and manure.

I tilled all that I had bought last night into the garden area and have already seen a very nice improvement to the aeration of the soil. It is funny you spoke of tree removal chips, I was following a huge truck that was loaded up with tree branches and such and thought to myself I wonder where they take all that. I will have to look into it with my depth.

Again thank you for the advice!
Matthew Basaraba
Alabama

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hendi_alex
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The main problem with using wood chips unless they are aged quite a bit, it that they put a drain on the nirtrogen in the soil. So if you add wood chips, be sure and compensate with some extra nitrogen.

Here is a quote from one online source that gives a pretty good discussion of the use of mulches.

"Some organic matter breaks down to cause an acidic reaction in the soil; e.g. pine needles, some wood chip mulches. Don't use around lime loving plants. .........................
Many organic mulches have relatively high carbon content. This means that soil micro-organisms will take nitrogen from the soil to balance their ration. This causes temporary soil nitrogen depletion."

https://www.the-organic-gardener.com/organic-mulch.html

You may want to do a little research, online or other, before incorporating a large amount of fresh wood chips into your soil.
Eclectic gardening style, drawing from 45 years of interest and experience. Mostly plant in raised beds and containers primarily using intensive gardening techniques.
Alex

Matthew_Alabama
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We have created a "mountain" next to the garden area right now. We have 2 years worth of leaf piles we had stocked up on. Is it better to wait till the fall to till this into the soil so that it has time to further break down over winter?

I noticed we had quite a bit of hickory nuts mixed in with the leaves, I am not to happy about it and I am not real excited about separating it all but I guess it will have to be done.

Thanks for the heads up on the wood chips. I am not sure the age of what is in the bags but when I felt it, it was rather pumicey (if that is even a word). Soft and mushy to maybe better explain it. I don't want to use too much but the ground was VERY dense prior to adding anything.
Matthew Basaraba
Alabama

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hendi_alex
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The compost threads on this board would have me believe that most every approach possible is used by one person or another. Some plow leaves directly into the soil and seem to have no problem. Others set up slow compost piles and let the material age a year or longer before incorporating it into the soil. Still others set up hot compost piles and use the completed compost after just a few months. I don't believe that there is any right or wrong way, just need to do what seems to work for you, but need to be aware of potential pit falls such as nitrogen depletion, altering of soil pH, and other potential problems. The linked article from the previous post has a decent list of possible problems to consider.

Good luck!
Eclectic gardening style, drawing from 45 years of interest and experience. Mostly plant in raised beds and containers primarily using intensive gardening techniques.
Alex

mbaker410
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The key is going to be your compost and top soil as it will provide your garden the nutrients that the sandstone and clay are lacking. Believe it or not but I think that sand/clay will actually be a compliment to each other as the clay is poor in terms of drainage and water flow but the sand will help with the irrigation.

I live in Maryland and the eastern shore is loaded with Clay/Soil mix and in my area we hit a clay layer about 8-10 inches down which kills the draining nature of the ground. So just make sure that if you have this issue to till down far enough to break it up. You don't want to end up with standing puddles and poor irrigation.

You may want to keep some compost on hand for the season. As the plants grow and roots get deeper they may start to lose essential nutrients. You can side dress your plants as needed for a natural boost.

Mike

Matthew_Alabama
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Are you suggesting putting leaves and grass clippings in the garden as the season progresses? I left enough room between the rows to be able to take my tiller through.
Matthew Basaraba
Alabama

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Matt,
The sooner you get OM(grass and leaves) into the garden the longer the garden soil will have to build up a healthy supply of the microbes for digesting the OM.
If working in a traditional row garden, putting grass, leaves, or even wood chips in the paths will help keep some of the soil cool and some water retention, but this will have minimal affect at the plants root level.
What it will help with is, if you pick the mulch up in a couple months you will see fungus and little critters growing and moving around under the mulch mat. That is a good thing.
This will begin the process of building up a supply of microbes in the soil, which will help break down OM faster in the future making the nutrients available for the plants in successive years.
Good luck and keep adding compost.
IMHO

TZ -OH6
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As was mentioned, clay hardpan layers naturally form in clay rich soils at around 6-10 inches because that is where the fine particles slow down enough to stick together when they get loosened up from mechanical activity and water percolation in the surface soil. The clay layer is usually no more than 10 inches thick and you may find some very nice loam (good mixture of sand/silt/clay) making up the subsoil. This subsoil is nutrient poor, but the roots can penetrate it very deeply to get water during the summer. So you may want to dig a deep trench just to see what you are working with. The clay is usually worst right at the bottom of shovel depth so people hit it and then give up thinking that it goes to the center of the earth.

There are a couple of ways to deep mix soil to break up the clay layer. A lot of shovel work, some people use power augers, and then there is the option of having the money or connections to bring in someone with a back hoe (someone told me that you can actually rent a little one that would enable you to do the job yourself.

Matthew_Alabama
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TZ -OH6 wrote:
There are a couple of ways to deep mix soil to break up the clay layer. A lot of shovel work, some people use power augers, and then there is the option of having the money or connections to bring in someone with a back hoe (someone told me that you can actually rent a little one that would enable you to do the job yourself.
So just over turn or mix the soils between those 2 layers? I have access to a Bobcat with a backhoe attachment and can do this myself after this years season, don't want to tear it all up now that it is plant this year though...
Matthew Basaraba
Alabama

paulmetto
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Matthew

Ahhh, someone with a similar problem. I too live in Alabama and have a sandy clay loam. Like others have said, add all the organic matter that you can. The "soil conditioner" you bought is great stuff. It's ground pine bark. You can add all you want, fresh or composted, and it won't rob your soil of nitrogen because it is made of lignin, not celluose. It last a long time in our climate and soils. Get your soil tested and follow the instructions with one exception, magnesium. The soil report will tell you that low pH can be corrected with either calcitic or dolomitic lime. If your soil magnesium is already high (like mine) and you use dolomitic lime, you will glue your soil together. Trust me, I've done it. I just use the most finely ground calcitic lime I can find and use epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) for low magnesium. Once you get your soil right it will be great. Our clays hold nutrients and water very well and once you open it up with organic matter and correct the pH you will not have to work with it so hard for a while.

Matthew_Alabama
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I have been having a lot of ant issues as well. I think at the end of the growing season I will need to add about 100 bags of that conditioner, the 20 bags I added were not near enough for the size of our garden. In one row I added a bunch of leaves we had collected from the previous fall. I tilled them into the ground then planted our squash. It is the best growing row of the garden!

I wish we could get a bagger for our mower but that isnt in the budget for this year, next year I can and will mix it with my leaves over the year to be used the following year.

Our corn and tomatoes and carrots are growing great. Our peas grow for a awhile then die off at the stem near the ground, not sure if it is from the weight of the plant or what.

Our cucumbers are near impossible to get growing and this is my greatest desired veggie. Our potatoes have died and we dug up a few of the plants yesterday and got some nice sized ones and found the ground infested with ants, not sure if they are what killed them or not.

MAtthew
Matthew Basaraba
Alabama

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rainbowgardener
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veggie issues

The peas dying off at the stem could be damping off or some other fungal problem like that. For many of us, it's been a very rainy wet spring (where I am it is right this minute POURING down rain AGAIN--there is too much of a good thing), which encourages a lot of fungal problems.

The ants don't really bother veggies and shouldn't be what killed your potatoes. Not sure about the cukes except that they like hot and sunny. Here we have hardly had any of that yet.

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