1. We are sorrowed to report that one of the Founding Members has passed on. Dee (Righthand) is well remembered as contributing much to the operation of SurvivalMonkey, and is already greatly missed. Little lady, big person.

Making a garden in vacant area- advice needed

Discussion in 'The Green Patch' started by Motomom34, Mar 3, 2015.

  1. Motomom34

    Motomom34 Monkey+++

    Background on our property:

    Our soil has clay and is not very healthy. About 6 years ago we brought in a load of amended topsoil, tilled it in really good into the area where our lawn is. The soil is back to being hard. The soil is not easy to aerate and grass is hard to grow. Every other year I bring in bags of compost and work it into my flower beds. My berry bushes are struggling to thrive. @Mindgrinder posted a thread last year about using Coffee Grinds as Permaculture | Survival Monkey Forums so I worked coffee grounds into the soil and am hoping it will help feed my plants. My wild choke cherries grow pretty well and I don’t try to amend the soil near them but they were established when we bought the house. Fellow Monkey @Elessar had a great crop of amaranth (Amaranth Test Plot - Planting | Survival Monkey Forums and I was hoping for similar results. So last year I planted some amaranth directly into a flower bed and it only grew to about 3” high.

    My Goal:

    I have a patch of land that I would like to turn into a vegetable garden. I want to place the plants directly in the soil. I know that treatment is needed to make the ground ready for planting. The area is near a large pine. If I dig in the ground I find the dirt is dark but I find lots of needles in various state of discomposure. I read this:
    So needles seem like they would not be an issue.

    I assume I will need a load of manure. I have a place to get free horse waste but what else would be best to add to the soil? Also, once things get planted and things start growing, IMO the soil gets stripped of nutrients fast. I have thought about adding sand hoping that would help the water to soak in. I would like to turn this area into a nice garden but I would like to do it without a lot of cost. What can be placed in the soil to combat the clay?
    Tully Mars and Yard Dart like this.
  2. Gray Wolf

    Gray Wolf Monkey+++

    Horse manure is great for feeding your plants, but it will have a lot of weed seeds in it. Sheep manure is much better, lots less weed seeds.
    Motomom34 and Yard Dart like this.
  3. HK_User

    HK_User A Productive Monkey is a Happy Monkey

    Clay soil needs a product to keep the clay apart. Best done with an additive from your home ag supply. Gypsum is what you need as well as organic matter. "Gypsum is another thing you can add to clay soil to help improve it. The gypsum helps to push the clay soil particles apart, making room for proper drainage and water retention."

    I used this method in some of the heaviest Gulf Coast soil you'll ever see, works like a charm.


    How To Easily & Organically Improve Your Clay Soil

    Image by Soil Science
    By Heather Rhoades

    There are some patches of earth that seem to have been made for gardens. The soil is loamy, rich and dark and crumbles just right in the hands. This is the type of garden that gardeners with clay soil are insanely jealous of. If you live in an area that is plagued by clay soil, you know how that feels. You sigh when having to put a shovel to the ground because you know that if only your soil was better, that the task of digging would not be nearly so hard. Yet, it is possible to organically improve your clay soil. Keep reading to learn more.

    Clay Heavy Soil
    How can you tell if your garden has clay heavy soil? One of the biggest indicators is if you take a handful of damp soil and squish it in your hands for a second, when you open your hands and that soil ball you just formed does not crumble, you most likely have clay heavy soil. Some other indicators are a greasy or slimy feel when the soil is wet, a dusty but hard appearance when the soil is dry or if you have drainage issues. All of these things are signs that your soil has too much clay.

    Clay heavy soils can create several problems for a gardener. Clay soils have drainage problems that can literally drown your plants during times of heavy rains, and then when the weather is dry, the soil has a hard time retaining moisture and your plants will shrivel up.

    But having clay heavy soil is not a reason to give up on your garden. With a little bit of work and a whole lot of compost, your garden soil can be the source of jealousy for your fellow gardeners as well.

    How to Organically Improve Your Clay Soil
    One of the best things you can add to your clay soil is a compost of some kind. Whether the compost is well-rotted manure, leaf humus or many of the other options out there, you simply can not add too much to your clay soil.

    • Place the compost on the flower bed that you want to improve the soil of and dig it in with either a shovel or a tiller. Make sure you work in some of the existing soil into the compost, as it will help any flowers you plant acclimate to the surrounding soil both on the side and below the bed.
    • If you have more time (and you want to do less work), you can simply lay the compost on top of the soil and let it sit for a season or two. This works best if you place the compost on the clay soil early in fall and let it sit through to spring. The compost will work its way into the top few inches of the clay and will give your bed a good start.
    Gypsum is another thing you can add to clay soil to help improve it. The gypsum helps to push the clay soil particles apart, making room for proper drainage and water retention.

    Both compost and gypsum will also help attract worms to your clay soil, which then helps even further as the worms will burrow through the clay soil. The burrowing action of the worms will aerate your clay soil. As the worms burrow through the soil, they will also leave behind their castings too, which will help add nutrients to the soil.

    As you can see, you can easily improve your clay soil with just a few steps. In no time at all, you will find that your garden will have the kind of soil that you only use to dream of.
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2015
  4. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member

    In the short term until decomp of organics loosen the clay, stirring in some sand will help quite a bit. Might start with an inch or so, tilled down to about 6 inches. The fine particles of clay are what are compacting for you.

    I've heard of stirring in vermiculite, but never seen it done nor talked to anyone that has.
    Motomom34, Yard Dart and Tully Mars like this.
  5. tacmotusn

    tacmotusn RIP 1/13/21

    Any type of green or dry organic material can be used to add organic humus to soil for water and nutrient retention. Often municipalities have some sort of recycling center where shredded tree and yard waste is composted and available if you have a pickup truck or open trailer to haul it. Some will even deliver 9 to 20 cubic yards at a reasonable access delivery point, all for free or a very some nominal cost. This is not finished compost, but I have moved and used 50 cubic yards of similar wood mulch / compost in the past. I would put this down on virgin sterile sand to a depth of 2 to 6 inched, and till it in. I would do the same with manure from cattle, horses, rabbits and chickens (although in a 1 or 2 inch layer). Shredded paper is another possibility for beneficial humus. Peat and vermiculite is just too expensive to be of much use. jmho
    Motomom34 and Yard Dart like this.
  6. Pax Mentis

    Pax Mentis Philosopher King |RIP 11-4-2017

    When we were putting in a garden where there was clay, we had good luck with the straw that was cleaned out of the horse stalls the same place we got the horse manure. We put it down and tilled it in before we added the manure...I actually objected at the time because it seemed to me it would just make adobe but I was proven wrong (it happens on rare occasions). I think the key was thoroughly tilling it in.
    Motomom34 likes this.
  7. tacmotusn

    tacmotusn RIP 1/13/21

    If acidic soil is the problem. sorry about the spelling, dolomitic lime dust will help to adjust the PH to a desired level. Soil testing is usually free at county extension office, and will let you know if soil PH is a problem.
    Motomom34 likes this.
  8. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member

    Come to remember, when I lived in Richland WA, there were several places that sold sterile cow manure as a good amendment. Why sterile? The weed seeds were killed, and I do not know how. Several neighbors used it in small gardens.
    Motomom34 likes this.
  9. chelloveck

    chelloveck Diabolus Causidicus

    Sterilised by heat treatment....cooking it will kill the organic vegetable matter...it will also kill beneficial microbes too. Use worm castings, worm tea and/or weed tea to innoculate the soil with a healthy mix of beneficial microbes.
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2015
    oldawg and Motomom34 like this.
  10. Tully Mars

    Tully Mars Metal weldin' monkey

    Moto,I had the same problems at the 1st home I had in your AO. Like @ghrit says sand helped a lot. I got truck loads of compost from the waste treatment plant in Longmont CO for free. I built their dust collection system years ago, and they have free giveaways a couple times a year-at least when I lived there. That stuff worked GREAT. Looked like fine, dusty mulch. I completely covered the ground with it about 4" deep working it into the soil every spring for a few years. Few years later(can't remember exactly how many) I put in a sprinkler system. After trenching I was amazed at just how deep the sand/ compost had worked in to the soil. The top 18-20" was deep rich soil and below that it was that Colorado clay again. Also, I used Ironite on the lawn and garden with plenty of water. ALL the neighbors wanted to know how I got the grass so green and my roses so big. My lawn was always green close to a month before anyone else's in the area. Hope this helps ya:)
    Motomom34 and Yard Dart like this.
  11. Witch Doctor 01

    Witch Doctor 01 Mojo Maker

    consider a worm farm... and place some of your spare worms in assist in your soil prep along with some of the worm by products listed above... I like to amend my soil with chicken manure... fewer weed seeds and will grow grass on a bowling ball...
    Tully Mars and chelloveck like this.
  12. Mindgrinder

    Mindgrinder Karma Pirate Ninja|RIP 12-25-2017

    Lots of good advice here already....
    Can you get free truckloads of wood chips?
    DO NOT TILL into your soil...just use PURELY as cover.
    Even buy just a couple bags of chips, spread them out fairly thick on a small square patch, water it heavy when first laid...come back in a month and see what the clay looks like under the chips.
    Bet you'll be surprised.
    Motomom34 likes this.
  13. tacmotusn

    tacmotusn RIP 1/13/21

    I forgot completely about use of a leaf mulcher and leaf mulch. Cheap ones with electric motor and cord go for around $100. They can turn several bags of leaves into one bag of fine leaf mulch that looks like coffee grounds. I did this a few times, but my problem was not having enough leaves. I was even using my big utility trailer and picking up 10 to 30 bags of leaves curbside in town. Whole leaves really take a while to break down. Not so with fine grind leaf mulch. Spread and till in for instant humus.
    Motomom34 and Tully Mars like this.
  14. chelloveck

    chelloveck Diabolus Causidicus

    You're on the right track, HK, with regard to using Gypsum as a soil amendment to improve the soil structure of heavy clay soils. However, not all clay soils may respond to Gypsum treatment; and even clay soils that are responsive to improvement with Gypsum, will, over time, revert to a more clay structure when the soil chemistry eventually changes back to what it was before the Gypsum was applied.

    There is a relatively simple field test to establish whether a clay soil will respond to Gypsum treatment:


    Methods of improving soils with a heavy clay structure include:

    Adding compost,
    Adding organic matter via green manure,
    Adding well broken down animal manure,
    Adding worm castings and worm tea,
    These will add humus to the soil and improve the soil chemistry which will increase the spaces between particles for air and water penetration.

    Adding coarse river sand will help by improving drainage.

    Understanding and Improving Clay Soil

    Gardening Australia - Fact Sheet: Soil Improvement
    Motomom34 likes this.
  15. Motomom34

    Motomom34 Monkey+++

    I was reading about using manure because I have put horse in my planter boxes. I did get some strange weeds growing in them. On my researching manure I came upon the word- e-Coli. I ran across many warnings of e-coli and the use of manure. I find it alarming because there is no way to know if it is safe.

    I have heard of gypsum but never in conjunction with adding to soil.How much gypsum? Could you ever add to much?

    Some say newspaper but then I have heard that the ink they now use on newspaper is toxic. Also, in you opinion how long does it take to break down?

    I put some old straw I had into my planter boxes. Does age of the straw matter? Is it best to go get a fresh bale? What about hay? I know it is grass but how long do the seeds stay alive? Does that make sense? Hay seems softer then straw and would breakdown quicker.

    You know the soil out here well. Was this like a true waste treatment plant? What about germs and all the other stuff. I read about antibiotics in the water so if this is human waste are other matters something I need to be alarmed about?

    Once again- e-coli worry. I think I read that chicken manure has a higher risk. Maybe if it is from a neighbors coop. Did the chicken manure come from you personal coop?

    Not free but I can get chips cheap. But much of the cheaper chips are pine. I know that the needles become less acidic but I will need to look up regarding pine chips and if they lose their acidity.

    I will look up river sand vs. sandbox sand.

    You have all given me great advice but I want this area to be basically organic and e-coli free. If I put in the straw, manures and chips in your opinions could I plant this year or next?

    Also- the dirt in my Aspen grove is different. When I dig in it is dark almost grey. It is like cottage cheese, little balls with what looks like worm holes. I was hoping to plant apple trees staggered in the grove. This strange dirt it is real dry. Anyone ever experienced dirt like this?
  16. Mindgrinder

    Mindgrinder Karma Pirate Ninja|RIP 12-25-2017

    If you mix the chips in with the soil it will be years before they break down and nitrogen leech the whole time. Easy enough to add nitrogen I suppose.
    As far as your fear of manure and e coli goes....cure it with colloidal silver.
    Expensive if you buy it...near free if you make it yourself.
    ***NOTE*** I have never watered my plants with silver water...though now that we're having this conversation....I will select a few tomatoes and peppers and try it this year.
  17. kckndrgn

    kckndrgn Monkey+++ Moderator Emeritus Founding Member

    Depending on your timeline for having an easily workable garden patch, consider planting thing that have a long tap root. The tap roots will help break up the soil over time. Also consider a cover crop in the off season (annuals that you plant in the fall then till into the soil in the spring).
    Clover, Hairy Vetch, Buckwheat, Rye, and Oats are all options (along with many more).

    For the dry areas start covering with a mulch to help hold in the moisture.

    Mixing wood chips into the soil will create a nitrogen sink, after a year or two the nitrogen absorbed for the decomp will be released to the plants (like a heulgleculture (sp?) bed), you can plant legumes in the area which will help add nitrogen to the soil.

    You can compost the chicken manure to kill off the e-coli, providing your compost gets hot enough. I put my chicken manure into my compost bins, but I know they don't get hot enough, but I still use the compost on the garden. I haven't had any problems with it.
    chelloveck and Pax Mentis like this.
  18. Tully Mars

    Tully Mars Metal weldin' monkey

    It was human waste. At that time at least, it was a state of the art facility with reps from major cities coming to visit to observe its operation. This was a solids only plant that processed the material from regular waste water treatment plants. They have a process/procedures to insure the safety of the end product.IIRC, it took a month or better from start to finish. I worked there a couple of months as the contractor installing a dust collection and a auto load out system my company designed.We certainly didn't have any issues with the compost I used, and I used quite a bit of it over the years,nor have I ever heard of anyone else having any problems with it. There is the stigma of what it started out as and for many that is a problem I guess.
  19. HK_User

    HK_User A Productive Monkey is a Happy Monkey

    First you need to have a complete soil sample report and also purchase a high quality home test set for later so you can watch the improvements. Rodale Press had the best at one time. Right now you are working in the 1500s a soil sample lab report and a soil sample kit will bring you into the present.

    Managing Sodic Soils

    I have a bit of experience in that industry. Black ink is still mostly carbon black, paper is the cheapest on the planet and breaks down quickly. I have used it in shredded form as compost material and mulch. Better than whole papers. Newspaper industry as a whole use some food grade products. The reason is the ability of children to obtain the product and ingest it into their digestive system.

    I used this and other sources. First I never apply any droppings directly on a producing garden. If you apply fresh manure then it should only be applied (to be most safe) in the late fall. Till well through out the winter as well as early spring even if the soil is frozen, break the crust and till. Another reason for this is that it can slow down growth by stealing nitrogen from the plants.

    The only way I will apply any manure during the growing season is to have it fully composted. Fully composted to me means at least a year old and have record keeping proof and documented of a 160 degrees compost pile. Not much real work in this for if you turn your compost pile then you should take its temperature to know its health at that point. I just kept a metal thermometer at the compost pile and a piece of paper and pencil in a fruit jar so I'd not forget this part of compost pile health.

    ALL products you harvest in a garden must be washed before use. E coli is all about us and just has to be removed. You should also wash your hands before you enter your garden.

    Trying to have a productive garden without your own soil samples is like driving a car in the dark of night without lights. Except that you will have more misses with the garden.

    Last edited: Mar 4, 2015
  20. Witch Doctor 01

    Witch Doctor 01 Mojo Maker

    Once again- e-coli worry. I think I read that chicken manure has a higher risk. Maybe if it is from a neighbors coop. Did the chicken manure come from you personal coop?

    We used to be commercial growers with 60k chickens every 8 weeks so we used our manure but place it over the winter and disked it in... sowed a cover crop (wheat) and went from there...
    Motomom34 and chelloveck like this.
  1. TnAndy
  2. Dunerunner
  3. ditch witch
  4. Catullus
  5. TnAndy
  6. T. Riley
  7. Dunerunner
  8. Sojourn
  9. DKR
  10. john316
  11. Dunerunner
  12. Dunerunner
  13. Ganado
  14. Gator 45/70
  15. Ganado
  16. Yard Dart
  17. Dunerunner
  18. Dunerunner
  19. Thunder5Ranch
  20. Motomom34
survivalmonkey SSL seal        survivalmonkey.com warrant canary