Carmen
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Turning a red clay area into good planting soil

We have an area up against our house (about 6 ft x 30 ft) where I'd like to plant veggies next spring. There are lots of roots there, from bushes we removed. I have available plenty of horse manure (fresh) and old rotted leaves, not to mention things like shredded paper. IE plenty of great things to add to a compost pile. I have a compost pile working but there's not much in it. Is there a way to add these uncomposted ingredients to the soil NOW that will make the soil suitable for planting next spring? Or is there something I could buy that would help? I hate the idea of buying a bunch of top soil b/c that would get expensive. Is this doable? If it is, should I mix the ingredients into the soil, or layer them on top, or what? Or, is it too difficult to amend red clay?

Also, is there any problem with growing veggies up against the house? It gets tons of sun, and the foundation of the house is concrete block, so the moisture wouldn't be a problem.

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Rogue11
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We have a lot of clay in the ground too and someone recommended the use of a soil conditioner called Amend. According to the bag it breaks down clay and turns it into soil.
I am not positive yet if it works and how fast. I replaced the clay soil from the areas where I am planting this year with new top soil, but dumbed it into a corner of the garden and mixed it with Amend soil in hopes that the clay will break down so that I can use the mix next year for potting etc.

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soil
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i don't see how anything can break down clay even further. its pretty far down the line of being broken down.

what you want to do is get some living organisms in the soil. they will "spit out" natural glues that will form soil aggregates which basically are little clumps of soil. which will help increase drainage and loosen the soil.

amending things like the horsemanure and rotten leaves will help get that biology in the soil and the organic matter for them to work with.
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!potatoes!
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sounds like you've got almost all you need to do a sheet (aka lasagna) mulching. there's info around here somewhere about it; basically a layer of manure at the bottom, cleaned corrugated cardboard (or brown paper bag), and good, thick leafmulch on top (all layers watered in well)...putting something like this in now should give the worms and smaller critters time to work things out under there, should be pretty decent soil (with maybe a few root hanging around) by next year.

easier than manually mixing a bunch of amendments into the soil, anyway. let the invertebrates take the workload.

tomc
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Fully breaking up and incorporating organic material can be done by simply layering it on top of a raised bed. I'm sure just laying mulches on top of clay will be in excess of a three year deal.

Oh, you will get a yield out of it the first year. And each year there after if you continue to liberally apply mulchs the garden will get better.

Most americans have romatic ideals of what fertile soil looks like, and are very impatient to see that evoked in their garden.

If you are feeling impatient, plan on digging and blending your clay with a whole lot of finished compost or manure. Each year, every year, for like three to five years running.

Will top loading a raised bed work as fast? No. Is there a bagged material that will replace all the work of digging or additions of compost-mulches? No.

Can you do this with power tools? Yes, but in small spaces rototilling becomes impracticle (for me).
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Carmen
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Can I use the fresh horse manure? Will a year be long enough for it to break down (with the sheet mulching)?

tomc
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Carmen wrote:Can I use the fresh horse manure? Will a year be long enough for it to break down (with the sheet mulching)?
The standard is 90 days or more between application of manure and harvest. Practicly this means apply, let cool, plant. I find some just plan old dirt mixed in with that manure makes for a better first year.

I don't plant root crops into fresh manure because its too rich and they come out damaged-deformed. Tomatoes caged or staked like a pretty rich blend like this sort of first year garden.

Start collecting leaves and stuff for mulch...

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dirtyfingers
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When I bought my second house, the front yard was mostly clay and hard as a rock! I mulched it with dried leaves from the street fall out and the dirt eventually turned into a rich soil for a new lawn. It was a lot of back breaking work though.

My GF's garden is the same thing. Her lot is made out of clay and rocks! We eventually mulched in a lot of organic stuff and worm casings and the garden is now very fertile.

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