How to Make Dirt Out of Heavy Clay Soil

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How to Make Dirt Out of Heavy Clay Soil

Post by Stercutus » Sun May 04, 2014 9:50 pm

If you are planning on bugging in during the longer term PAW and you do not already have a lot of good dirt you may have issues.

Most people will need at least 4000 sqft of growing area in a garden with average yield to meet minimum dietary requirements for the year. A family of four this works out to about a third of an acre. Realistically even this isn't enough but so few people even have that much arable land that it serves as a starting point. Even if you have the land with some really pretty grass growing on it you could be looking at years of work to have a large sustainable garden. Most have houses have a thin layer of sod that is unsuitable for vegetable gardening.

Much new construction is built on clay soils or soils that have been terraformed down to the clay base. Some parts of the country are more prone to this such as where I live in Alabama. The big problem with clay is that it will not drain and while it is rich the nutrients they are locked up in the soil. If water sits on your yard after a long rain there is no drainage whatsoever.

You might think that adding sand to your soil and giving it a good till would be a good idea and help with drainage. What will actually happen is you will make a compound similiar to concrete the next time it rains and you will be miserable.

For heavy clay soil:

Items you will need to make a lot of dirt:

- Quarter acre of clay soil
- Heavy Rear Tine self propelled tiller 5HP+ (don't bother with a front tine or light tiller with clay soil it will never penetrate)
- Fuel for the tiller
- A garden hoe
- Lots and lots of leaves
- 4000lbs of aged manure (about 250lbs per 100 square feet) Horse, cow, llama (can be fresh) work best, goat is ok but smelly.
- Heavy pair of work gloves
- Wheelbarrow
- Shovel

1. Wait till everything dies in the fall/ winter and safely burn off everything on the surface of the area. If burning is in no way an option you are going to have to figure out a way to kill it all. Round up works but can take a while and several treatments. Covering with a large completely opaque tarp might work.

2. After the fire is out break out the tiller and make a pass over all of it. If it has been a while since the soil has been worked this will be bone crushing. If you have a friend with a plow trade favors for the plow. Work every inch of the surface. You may only get down two inches with the tiller but it is start.

3. Get the hoes and create the initial set for how you want your garden. You will be making rows only where you want them. Scrape down to where the tiller would not reach down to the hard pan.

4. Fill the entire area with leaves about an inch+ thick. Use other light vegetation if leaves are not available (possibly grass clippings), avoid using weeds.

5. Wait three months and burn off all the dead vegetation again.

6. Break out the tiller and till between the rows where you had bottomed out to hard pan. Scrape this up to your rows.

7. Top all of your rows with manure about 2 inches thick.

8. Run the tiller over the rows until it is well mixed. You should end up with a mixture of charred vegetation, manure and loose clay. You want the soil to be able to clump together in your fist and break apart easily not too tacky.

9. If your manure is really old and dry you may benefit from adding about a pound of sand per square foot. DO NOT USE PLAYGROUND sand or BEACH sand these have salt in them.

10. The final product will have a nicely built up row with hard pan clay in between the rows. You will need to make sure you have a way to drain between the rows to keep your mounds from deteriorating.

Your first garden will be in just the rows. Deep root crops like carrots will likely be stunted the first year due to the poor penetration in the soil.

The next year I would add half the amount of manure and till deeper between the rows until you get a fairly high mound.
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Re: How to Make Dirt Out of Heavy Clay Soil

Post by Cedar » Thu May 08, 2014 7:03 pm

Instead of burning, you can intentionally overgraze it.

Cedar

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Re: How to Make Dirt Out of Heavy Clay Soil

Post by Stercutus » Thu May 08, 2014 9:06 pm

Cedar wrote:Instead of burning, you can intentionally overgraze it.

Cedar
It won't get all of it but that will work too. Of course you need animals for that.
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Re: How to Make Dirt Out of Heavy Clay Soil

Post by ineffableone » Thu May 08, 2014 9:07 pm

When working landscaping in AZ, the first step to improving heavy clay soil we would do is add lots of sand. This stops the clay from becoming a barrier to water draining, the sand gives the water a path through the clay as well as it makes it easier for roots to penetrate the soil. After the sand was added then we would begin working other materials in to the sand and clay soil.

We never had a problem of it becoming like concrete or any other such issue.
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Re: How to Make Dirt Out of Heavy Clay Soil

Post by Stercutus » Fri May 09, 2014 4:24 pm

We never had a problem of it becoming like concrete or any other such issue.

Different kind of soil. With desert hard pan clay you already have a firmly packed rock hard soil that is not very permeable to water. Adding some sand to it will will improve it to a degree.

The problems occur when sand and clay are mixed in incorrect proportions. An ideal soil has 50% pore space (with the remainder consisting of minerals and organic matter). The pore spaces in a clay soil are all small, while those in a sandy soil are all large. When one mixes a sandy and a clay soil together, the
large pore spaces of the sandy soil are filled with the smaller clay particles. This results in a heavier, denser soil with less total pore space than either the
sandy or the clay soil alone. (A good analogy is the manufacture of concrete, which entails mixing sand with cement - a fine particle substance.)
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Re: How to Make Dirt Out of Heavy Clay Soil

Post by vahtryn » Sat May 10, 2014 6:42 am

Never, ever use round up. It's a monsanto product and they are a huge part of our agriculture sucking so much right now. Plus why use any form of pesticides when you can do companion planting..

Other things to note, put as much vegetative matter as possible over winter. Grass, leaves, straw. It don't matter just put as much of it as you can so it will rot down and be tilled in after winter.

Things forgotten:
[*]worms, lots and lots and lots of worms
[*]mycelium inoculation, trust me, the more fungus the better.
[*]rock dust. Get three 25 pound bags for about a quarter of an acre. Spread over everything as this will add vital minerals to your soil for your plants
[*]after spring tilling and planting mulch with wood chips and let start to decompose. After harvest till into soil, keep this up for years.

One way I like to break leaves down comes from my experience with aquaponics. Bust out the ammonia and dilute it with water. After you've put your vegetative matter over the entire thing to break down spray over all of it. This will attract very beneficial bacterium in two different stages, by the time it gets tilled into the land you'll have a much better and healthier soil echo system.

Adding these to the creation of soil will also attract a healthier nematode population which will help in the break down of nutrients.

-edit

I also never weed any of my gardens. Many weeds that I've always had have been food for me. If it gets to be a bit too much I'll just go in with a hoe and take out the problems but that's very rare in my experience. I also don't mind my gardens having grass and what not in them. I know my soils and mulching techniques can support any plant life no matter how much it is. Plus certain weeds, such as chickweed, can act as yet another type of mulch to prevent evaporation of water.

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Re: How to Make Dirt Out of Heavy Clay Soil

Post by Stercutus » Sat May 10, 2014 9:48 am

vahtryn wrote:Never, ever use round up. It's a monsanto product and they are a huge part of our agriculture sucking so much right now. Plus why use any form of pesticides when you can do companion planting..

Other things to note, put as much vegetative matter as possible over winter. Grass, leaves, straw. It don't matter just put as much of it as you can so it will rot down and be tilled in after winter.

Things forgotten:
[*]worms, lots and lots and lots of worms
[*]mycelium inoculation, trust me, the more fungus the better.
[*]rock dust. Get three 25 pound bags for about a quarter of an acre. Spread over everything as this will add vital minerals to your soil for your plants
[*]after spring tilling and planting mulch with wood chips and let start to decompose. After harvest till into soil, keep this up for years.

One way I like to break leaves down comes from my experience with aquaponics. Bust out the ammonia and dilute it with water. After you've put your vegetative matter over the entire thing to break down spray over all of it. This will attract very beneficial bacterium in two different stages, by the time it gets tilled into the land you'll have a much better and healthier soil echo system.

Adding these to the creation of soil will also attract a healthier nematode population which will help in the break down of nutrients.

-edit

I also never weed any of my gardens. Many weeds that I've always had have been food for me. If it gets to be a bit too much I'll just go in with a hoe and take out the problems but that's very rare in my experience. I also don't mind my gardens having grass and what not in them. I know my soils and mulching techniques can support any plant life no matter how much it is. Plus certain weeds, such as chickweed, can act as yet another type of mulch to prevent evaporation of water.
There is a lot to be said for this looser gardening style and I have tried it in the past. I find the grass is troublesome to maintain but is great for keeping out of the mud when tending the garden. I find it tends to lead to a healthier garden but with smaller yields.

I was unaware our agriculture "sucked". I was under the impression we were somewhere near the peak in all of human history. Roundup is a herbicide not a pesticide. It is controversial in certain circles and certain weeds are tolerant of it. It is also the commonly used herbicide in the US by a wide margin. Just about everything we get from the store has been grown using it.

When adding mulch to soil you need to be careful. The decay of freshly produced chips from recently living woody plants consumes nitrates. Bark chips if you can find/ afford them are much better and will put nitrates back into the soil.
These days of dust
Which we've known
Will blow away with this new Son

But I'll kneel down wait for now
And I'll kneel down
Know my ground

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Re: How to Make Dirt Out of Heavy Clay Soil

Post by vahtryn » Sat May 10, 2014 1:16 pm

Stercutus wrote:
vahtryn wrote:Never, ever use round up. It's a monsanto product and they are a huge part of our agriculture sucking so much right now. Plus why use any form of pesticides when you can do companion planting..

Other things to note, put as much vegetative matter as possible over winter. Grass, leaves, straw. It don't matter just put as much of it as you can so it will rot down and be tilled in after winter.

Things forgotten:
[*]worms, lots and lots and lots of worms
[*]mycelium inoculation, trust me, the more fungus the better.
[*]rock dust. Get three 25 pound bags for about a quarter of an acre. Spread over everything as this will add vital minerals to your soil for your plants
[*]after spring tilling and planting mulch with wood chips and let start to decompose. After harvest till into soil, keep this up for years.

One way I like to break leaves down comes from my experience with aquaponics. Bust out the ammonia and dilute it with water. After you've put your vegetative matter over the entire thing to break down spray over all of it. This will attract very beneficial bacterium in two different stages, by the time it gets tilled into the land you'll have a much better and healthier soil echo system.

Adding these to the creation of soil will also attract a healthier nematode population which will help in the break down of nutrients.

-edit

I also never weed any of my gardens. Many weeds that I've always had have been food for me. If it gets to be a bit too much I'll just go in with a hoe and take out the problems but that's very rare in my experience. I also don't mind my gardens having grass and what not in them. I know my soils and mulching techniques can support any plant life no matter how much it is. Plus certain weeds, such as chickweed, can act as yet another type of mulch to prevent evaporation of water.
There is a lot to be said for this looser gardening style and I have tried it in the past. I find the grass is troublesome to maintain but is great for keeping out of the mud when tending the garden. I find it tends to lead to a healthier garden but with smaller yields.

I was unaware our agriculture "sucked". I was under the impression we were somewhere near the peak in all of human history. Roundup is a herbicide not a pesticide. It is controversial in certain circles and certain weeds are tolerant of it. It is also the commonly used herbicide in the US by a wide margin. Just about everything we get from the store has been grown using it.

When adding mulch to soil you need to be careful. The decay of freshly produced chips from recently living woody plants consumes nitrates. Bark chips if you can find/ afford them are much better and will put nitrates back into the soil.
I've used that method to amazing results in the clay soils of North Carolina as well as Virginia. I stand by my words.

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Re: How to Make Dirt Out of Heavy Clay Soil

Post by vahtryn » Sat May 10, 2014 1:17 pm

As for using round up, and yes I was wrong it is an herbicide, is that monsanto makes it. Monsanto is also the reason we have GMOs which are linked to pollinator deaths. Sorry I don't buy into the usage of either herb or pesticides. Nor do I believe in the use of GMO. I try to stick 100% as organic as possible. Though usually when you get compost from your local municipality it cannot be considered "organic" according to USDA standards.

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Re: How to Make Dirt Out of Heavy Clay Soil

Post by Tater Raider » Sat May 10, 2014 2:09 pm

GMO's are a political mess where I'm at so I'm going to avoid it. Meanwhile, back on topic...

I'm attempting to turn my loamy clay soil into loam and am using similar methods.

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