kfosuhene
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Help with amended clay soil

I just recently started gardening and amended a patch at the back of my home that is fairly heavy clay soil. I first turned it over manually with a garden fork and then tilled it and added a good mix of manure and quality top soil. My problem it that after watering I have noticed that the ground develops a hard surface but holds it tilled form under the hard surface. Is this a problem or should I just keep breaking up the surface the day after watering?

Any help is appreciated.
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The Helpful Gardener
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Sounds like a pretty profound clay issue that still needs addressing...

Gypsum can be very helpful in getting heavy clay soils back in tilth, but it is not a panacea and can be less than helpful if not used correctly. A soil test would help here...

Of course adding yet more compost is your safest and best bet. You shouldn't have to break up the soil once it is back in good shape, and compost will help you get that, but it sounds like some gypsum wouldn't hurt either...

HG
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freedhardwoods
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Many people here like to use composted material. I have enough garden space so that I can let part of it set out one year if I need to so I use uncomposted material. I turned worthless, hard as a rock subsoil into loose, very productive soil by adding and tilling in 10" of sawdust. Any organic material that could be composted would work. Here is the detailed explanation of how I did it. 8)
https://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=75332&sid=cfa3f388e7b8fdd784205500fd04d71d

kfosuhene
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With the long weekend coming up I should be able to remerdy this problem. fairly quicky.

Thanks for the advice.
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NRB
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We have all heavy clay soil here, too. The first two or three years, I tilled in a lot of organic material, and that seemed to help some. But what really improved the soil was not tilling. Worms are the best way to improve garden soil, why chop them up?

I have been layering on mulch thick between rows, alternating between grass clippings, straw, compost, leaves, pulled weeds, what ever I have on hand. After a few years of this and now the clay has turned rich, loose and black, full of worms.
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gixxerific
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Time and perseverance is the only way. I just moved to a new place with %50 clay and %50 rock, some real good soil :oops: .

It won't be perfect this year or next year or even the next. You just gotta keep adding stuff like you are. Think about sand and anything else to add nutrients and loosen up the soil. I just came from a beautiful garden with great soil worked by me over 7 years. My new place isn't even close but someday it will be great again. Hell it whoops anybody elses garden around here by maybe 4 times, no joke. i just tend to mine a WHOLE lot more than they do.

So just keep adding humus, compost, grass clippings, and kitchen waste to your garden every year and it will be great someday. Clay is a beast and it take some work but it can easily, though not quickly be done.

Good luck, Dono

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True enough gixx!

:D

Just noted this morning how many more worm casts in the garden this year. And staking squash plants (HUGE this year 8) ) I was able to drive a quarter inch bamboo stake almost three feet in easily. Soil is definitely better than the compacted arid lawn I started working three years ago. And it will be better next year too... :D

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Diane
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I have heavy clay soil also. It stays in clumps when I try to turn it or dig a hole. It's also very wet. More so this year with rain every day for a month.
I find lots of earthworms in my compost pile and put some near my blueberry bush and some in my veggie bed.
We saved our Christmas tree and I let it dry out and pulled most of the needles off and threw them around.
I'm hoping this helps.
Would mixing in mulch help?
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Depends on the mulch, Di...

Compost would be great; already broken into bite sized chunks fo rth esoil critters and plants. Wood chip can lock nitrogen as it breaks down and I have seen woody soils lock it up so hard perennials got smaller than the year before :shock: . Grass clippings are high nitrogen, but because of that they can go anaerobic decomposing, making bad smells (anhydrous sulfurs) and even alcohols and methanes that damage plants.

Mixing the stuff in can damage fungal nets as well; I only till a garden the first time and then try not to disturb the soil profile too much (not just to preserve soil biology , but to limit weed seed being exposed; crabgrass can stay dormant for a century, but as soon as you bring it to the surface. POW :shock: )

So I topdress a lot and use good compost to do that in veggie and prime flower beds and use my homemade stuff in my mixed and tree/shrub beds. Compost tea is a much better way to move soil biologies into the soil profile; no disturbance, excellent distribution, and nutrient releases along with soil conditioners... 8)

HG
Scott Reil

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Diane
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Scott, does compost change PH?
I added compost all around my garden. My blueberry bush and hydrangas
seem to be suffering from a lack of iron. I looked it up and high PH is usually the problem.
I've put peat all around the plants and gave them acid fertilizer about 2 weeks ago.
Can the PH change from too many plants?
These plants were very happy until this year.
I have to confess I have never fertilized much.
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Diane, no need to confess about fertilizing; I do as little as possible, letting naturally fertile soil do it's thing...

THAT can change pH. Soils are usually either bacterial (grassland) or fungal (woodland). Bacteria have a calcium shell they use for dormancy, and tend to push a soil towards higher pH's; woodland soils are primarily fungal (northern taiga forests can be 100% fungal) and fungal processes are inherently acidic. So if you are using a very bacterial compost, or stimulating the bacterial side of things, the pH could rise. Most veggies are happiest when fungal to bacterial ratios are just slightly bacterial, so if you have a compost not balnced thus, you may not be supporting mycorrhizal populations and other fungal structures that help plants derive nutrition, be it directly (symbiotic relations) or indirectly (weak acid etching of mineral nutrients from parent material).

Which is more important, chemistry or biology? I taught a NOFA on this not so far back, likening that question to the old chicken or the egg. Does chemistry follow biology or biology follow chemistry? I can make the argument either way, but think the two are so closely linked it is moot to try to decide. The best bet is to use one to influence the other...

In your case, we need to make soil more acidic, so we would want to push the fungal side. Bacteria favor nitrogen rich soils, and fungus favors carbon rich soils. Blueberry growers mulch with straight wood chips to maintain the fungally dominant soil that they love, and that is what I suspect you are faced with. Peat IS high carbon, but tends towards sterility and takes a long time to breakdown. Your compost might well be very bacterial (home compost tends to suffer from a lack of carbon, what we often call browns). Shredding paper can be a very quick and easy way to add carbon to your compost; no glossies like magazines, but newsprint and most other inks are soy based now and breakdown quickly. Leaves, bark, chopped twigs and wood are also all good carbon sources...

I use a bacterial compost I purchase for my veggies and flowers, and use my own backyard stuff (heavy on the pine needles and twigs) for mulching my shrubs, blueberries and mixed beds. I have the heaviest crop of blueberries I have ever seen on my plants this year and I am just a few weeks from ripe. NO fertilizer at all; Nature provides when you provide for Nature... :D

HG
Scott Reil

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Diane
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Thank you Scott. That makes perfect sense. I have azaleas and rhododendrons in my front yard and I mulch with chunky wood mulch. Those plants do quite well with little care.
I'll put lots of paper in my compost. With the twigs, do I use them before they break down? I put them in the compost for air pockets but they don't seem to break down.
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I generally screen my compost if I am using it for planting (my bonsai soil screen fits right over the top of a five gallon bucket) or I leave them in if I am just mulching. I have one pile of wood and sticks just rotting down in another spot in the yard, but it's only four or five years old, and houses more macroinvertebrates than micro, but in a few years we'll start throwing that in too... anything you screen out still counts as a brown usually (except for those clumps of lawn cuttings; no matter how much I turn some clumps :roll: )

HG
Scott Reil

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