twinbabies2000
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How to Prepare Clay Soil for Gardening? Compost Pile?

Hi everyone,

I just moved into our home and will be starting a composte pile, however getting my garden planned and the ground ready is my top priority... so no composte till later this year.

I'm fairly new to this and would like to know what I need from the store in regards to mulch, soil, nutrients for the ground... I need to go get the soil tested, but have a couple feet of snow right now... I can tell you it's quite a bit of clay.. .everything clumps together in the wet season and is pretty soft in the dry season.

Anything helps me get going in the right direction.

Thank you
Wendy

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rainbowgardener
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Seems a little backwards to me... not much you can do in the garden while it's under feet of snow, so you might as well go ahead and get the compost started now. You will want it later! :)

All you need to start composting is to save your kitchen scraps etc and then look around for some browns to go with them (see the sticky on Greens and Browns at the beginning of this forum). I collected a whole bunch of fall leaves for that. If you don't still have any fall leaves around, torn up cardboard, shredded paper, torn up grocery bags, woody stems of any dead plants still around, etc, will do. You can supplement the kitchen scraps with coffee grounds free from Starbucks type places, gas stations that serve coffee, etc. Just need some kind of bin/ enclosure to hold it all in. Since you are in a cold, snowy area, your pile will likely just freeze (mine does), but that's ok, all the freeze/ thaw stuff just helps break everything down. It will start cooking again in the spring and you will already have some finished compost at the bottom of your pile by then.

Soil testing in early spring, once your ground is unfrozen, is a good idea. It will help you know more about what to do for your soil. But if you already know it is heavy clay, then you know you will need to add lots of organic matter to help lighten/ loosen that up. The compost is the best thing for that, but composted manure, and other organic material is good too. What else you might need for nutrients depends on the soil test results and what you plan to grow. Different plants have different requirements.

Mulch is really helpful, keeps weeds down tremendously as well as eventually breaking down and helping enrich, lighten your soil. A variety of choices, wood chips, grass clippings, straw, etc, some of which can be free. Since I have a lot of brush on my property, I have a little chipper shredder to turn it into my own homemade wood chips.

twinbabies2000
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Location: Appleton, WA

Thanks

Thank you for the input.. I actually grabbed a temporary bucket and started throwing scraps and newspapers in it tonight.. figured I better get started.
Can ash from burning tree limbs be put in the compost?

Thank you for the advice.
Wendy

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And Wendy?

That [url=https://www.adn.com/gardens/story/550298.html]snow adds nitrogen back to the soil[/url], so I keep telling myself that as I gaze out on the winter wasteland (Jeff Lowenfels is a really smart organics guy; I love his book [url=https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0881927775/102-7738423-7733722?redirect=true&v=glance&n=283155]Teaming With Microbes[/url]. If you are going organic you should read this...)

HG
Scott Reil

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rainbowgardener
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Here's a thread we have going talking about using ashes in your compost:

https://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=20540&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0

Within that discussion is a link to a different one talking about using ashes directly on the garden....

TZ -OH6
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I have tried to ammend clay soil with bags of compost, mulch, and peat moss, and it is difficult and expensive to get enough into the soil to change the consistency for any period of time. For the longest time it seemed that each spring I started out with the same compact clay soil I ammended the year before. When I broke ground for a new plot a few years ago I decided to hit the problem with a big hammer and am very happy with the results. This is what I learned.

For 30x30 garden with clay soil I wouldn't try to make a perfect garden the first year via purchased bags of ammendments etc., but rather do some major bulk work for long term soil improvement that will pay off in the second year and beyond.

This would mean adding a large quantiy of cheap/free bulk organic material, which is rarely fully composted. Wood chips, which are high in lignin, break down into long term stable humus, which will really help your clay. The rough texture also helps mix with the clay and break it up, while fine-grained bagged compost and peat moss tend to just coat chunks of clay.

There are many sources of bulk material. The guy I get to chip my brush also trims trees and keeps his own piles of composting chips, more than he needs, and he keeps offering it to me. Many areas have local municipal composting facilities (many counties take yard waste and tree trimmings and provide the mixed chipped mulch free of charge). You can also check out local race tracks and fair grounds for big piles of free manure mixed with lots of straw and sawdust bedding material. If you can find one of these sources you can get much more raw material by hiring/renting a truck and/or trailor to load up bulk material compared to what you could buy in bags at the store. If you have a mushroom farms nearby you may also be able to get bulk mushroom compost cheap.

Starting a new garden from crappy residential soil is a lot different than rejuvenating an existing garden or working with deep rural soil. House construction strips off topsoil, compacts the clay subsoil and then puts on a thin layer of topsoil and sod for the new lawn. This results in a garden that is only one shovel blade deep before hitting a clay pan that roots can't penetrate. It doesn't much matter what your soil test tells you if you are only working with a thin layer or topsoil.

Digging a short trench two feet (three shovel blade lenghts) deep will give you an idea of what the roots have to work with, and how much bulk organic material you need. If you have easy digging then plants will have no trouble and you can get away with adding a little bit of compost and your choice of fertilizer based on a soil test for a good first season, but if you have to hack down through clay, doing some serious ground breaking and rough ammending would help in the long run. You might have to add a bit more nitrogen fertilizer (organic bloodmeal, or inorganic urea lawn fertilizer) when adding uncomposted woody material but the organic material will hold onto the extra nitrogen and make it available in the following years.


One of my new garden plots was bad clay, and for a 20 x 15 ft area I added a 5 inch layer of half composted wood chips (two pickup beds full) and mixed that into the top 12 inches. It didn't grow everything well the first year, but at the end of the first year what once was yellow clay was now chocolate brown and the consistensy of potting soil. Soil texture nd plant growth just improved after that. This was a lot of work with a shovel (too rocky for a tiller) but well worth it. If I had more money and less enthusiasm for hand digging I would have done it right and brought in a back hoe for a half a day to break all the way through the clay layer (down to about 18 inches) so that roots could get to the water table, or bought some lumber to make raise beds. In either case a great deal of organic matter would still have had to mixed into the soil.

Twenty feet away past the original construction zone, I have a plot that is topsoil all the way down, and soil that has been growing grass/weeds is naturally high in organic material from roots so it didn't really need to be amended right away. The first year it didn't get any compost because it didn't need it yet, and that gave me time to gather compost material and let it mature. From that point on I could simply add the recomended thin layer of compost (2") every year to maintain organic content.

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rainbowgardener
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TZ mentioned raised beds in there. If your soil is really heavy clay and your garden area isn't huge, that is one way to go. Saves all that work he was talking about digging and amending your soil (substituting the work of building the frames for the beds, but that's a one time thing). If you make your raised beds at least 12" deep, filled with good enriched topsoil, it doesn't matter much what your underlying soil is. I have a couple 16" deep beds that I built on top of a concrete patio. Tomato plants and all kinds of things grow very nicely in them. Here's a picture of how I did mine:

https://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=101664&highlight=raised+beds#101664

rot
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Ooh

..
Thanks for the raised bed/container gardening tip rainbowgardener. I've been wondering about just such a scheme and how deep it would need to be.

The saw cut grooves in the concrete is another interesting idea. Cut all the way through?

Thank you thank you
..

rot
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residential soil

..
TZ -OH6,

Thank you for sharing that insight on residential soil. You've confirmed my own thoughts on the matter.

We planted trees out front and man that was like working concrete. We're hoping that the trees will do the trick in the long run while I add compost on top.
..

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Ooh

rot wrote:..
Thanks for the raised bed/container gardening tip rainbowgardener. I've been wondering about just such a scheme and how deep it would need to be. I think people do them with as little as 8"; mine are 16" - 4 4" X4" posts stacked. I feel better growing heavy feeders with more soil and it makes a nice height to sit on! :)

The saw cut grooves in the concrete is another interesting idea. Cut all the way through? No way. My concrete patio is minimum 6" deep, a lot more in places (to have a level patio on a slope, the thickness has to vary). Just cut 1/2" groove.

Thank you thank you YVW
..

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