Author Topic: Improving Soil in the Vegetable Garden  (Read 6166 times)

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Offline WooferHound

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Improving Soil in the Vegetable Garden
« on: March 28, 2012, 08:16:37 pm »
I'm tilling my vegetable garden by hand, with a shovel. This is the 7th year that I've done this, next year I'll be borrowing a coworkers rototiller. The dirt is not great for growing in because it is dense and like clay. I have been trying to improve the dirt by digging in organic materials like peat moss, shredded hardwood, pine bark, humus and compost. It doesn't seem to be improving much, it's still sticky and will crack when it dries out too much.

What would help out the soil and make it more suitable for growing vegetables in ?

I have a fairly large veggie garden so it takes a lot of stuff added to make a difference in the soil. It is 3 feet wide and 80 feet long, divided into 4 sections.
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Offline Wolvenar

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Re: The Vegetable Garden
« Reply #1 on: March 28, 2012, 09:28:21 pm »
Know anyone with a hobby sized farm?
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Offline WooferHound

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Re: The Vegetable Garden
« Reply #2 on: March 28, 2012, 09:58:27 pm »
People talk about adding sand to the dirt but I'm not sure that is the correct Fix for my problem ?
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Offline Watt

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Re: The Vegetable Garden
« Reply #3 on: March 28, 2012, 10:47:49 pm »
Woof I don't know how in the world you move so much dirt with a shovel. I'd be tired first scoop and not to mention have blisters...

Anyway, I'd get the tiller for sure NOW.  We have really high clay soil here and we had to till in most of the material you listed as well as sand TWICE to get a nice lawn.  We tried a disk and several passes with tractor a few times throughout a few years with no success.  The tiller made the difference.  We used a Troybuilt Horse model.  They are sweet. 

Good luck!
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Offline Volvo farmer

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Re: The Vegetable Garden
« Reply #4 on: March 28, 2012, 11:06:27 pm »
You might consider getting more seriously into composting. See how many of the neighborhood houses you can collect grass clippings and fall leaves from and pile 'em all up, water it some and turn it from time to time. In a couple years you should have a nice big pile of compost to till into that soil.

I throw fall leaves on the garden beds every fall before it snows and let them rot out there all winter before tilling them in too. That clay soil is tough to get right. I don't know if sand is a good amendment or not. Someone told me that sand+clay equals concrete once so there are different opinions on whether you want to add it to clay soil or not.


Offline rossw

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Re: The Vegetable Garden
« Reply #5 on: March 28, 2012, 11:57:35 pm »
Gypsum is frequently used to "sweeten" and break up clay. Not sure about your way, but sure was here.
Our place was "high-heeled-boots" material. Walk 10 paces, and you'd have 4" platforms.

Lots of organic material - whatever you can get - and dug into the clay, along with gypsum, and we have a few patches of ground now that are aproaching useful. It's not a quick process though. :(

Offline oztules

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Re: The Vegetable Garden
« Reply #6 on: March 29, 2012, 03:06:27 am »
It can be done as quickly as you can afford ;)

Here we are on acid sand (ph4.5) (where the house is), quite coarse. I have a 10 yard tip truck, a 955l cat loader and 400 acres and am close to the beach.

In a 12m x 12m area I put about 30 meters of peat (from a different part of the property), and about 4 utes (pickup truck) of seaweed. Rotovated it all together and then built the greenhouse / garden arrangement over it. It grew like stink from the get go. Outside this area is pretty poor and just grows kikiyu grass.

The sand helps keep the peat/clay from clumping, as does the seaweed...... then a neighbour (who thought I needed some exercise )dropped off a couple of tons of sheep manure.... still digging that in bit by bit.... :-[ ( cant get the tractor in now)

I cost me only diesel (and not much of it) to make a very productive veggie garden from lousy acid sand. Your situation no doubt is different, but a few truck loads of decent soil, and ignore the original material will make it come to life instantly..... otherwise it is a long process of building up the organics I'm afraid.

Clay is very mineral intensive, and a good material to work with..... if you don't have too much. ;D

I'm just lucky I have all kinds of soils across the property, and the tools to move it.



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Offline tomw

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« Reply #7 on: March 29, 2012, 03:15:37 am »
Raised Beds
Do NOT mistake me for any kind of "expert".

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Offline frackers

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Re: The Vegetable Garden
« Reply #8 on: March 29, 2012, 03:45:40 am »
Lots of very course sand and organic material.

I'm fortunate to be on river loam but only 200mm of it
This sits on fine river sand and clay/silt mix - about 1m of this
This sits on 6km of shingle
Which sits on a faultline   :'(

Over 8 years I've built this up using everything organic I could find - kitchen waste, trimmings and prunings, weeds, llama poo and the contents of the cat dirt boxes (composted bark). Come winter my pile 2m high and 4m across will get dug into 3 beds 5m by 20m each  :)
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Offline Norm

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Re: The Vegetable Garden
« Reply #9 on: March 29, 2012, 06:40:32 am »
About like Tom says just where you are going to have plants......

My Uncle used to just spade where he was going to plant
something ....long rows with grass in between, wide enough to
to run the lawnmower .....hardly any weeding.

.....Then there is the thing of multi-tasking like 1 underground vegetable
together with 1 above ground.....less space less digging......also the
knowledge of knowing what plants will keep certain bugs away from
the plants that attract certain bugs.

 I don't do any of this stuff but I've know a lot of people that have.....

 One guy (Bob)I knew claimed that earthworms were a must was against rototillers

......kills a lot of earthworms ....he only used a spade or plow....as proof he pointed
to his garden and his neighbors almost  next to his, neighbor used a roto-tiller.....
Bob's was 50% better than the neighbor's....made a believer out of me !

Norm.

Offline bj

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Re: The Vegetable Garden
« Reply #10 on: March 29, 2012, 06:43:53 am »
  Also have very heavy/clay soil Woof, and I think I have tried all the suggestions, except seaweed.
  They all helped.  The one thing not mentioned, that I noticed, was PH.  It's very alkaline here, and
choosing amendments that helped bring down the PH helped a lot.  Things like pine needles, leaves off
the oak trees etc.  The good thing about the soil, being high in minerals, is that when you get it to
the usable state, the veggies all have awesome flavour.
  Good luck with it.
  Almost forgot,  I have a lot of cast iron filings developed in the shop, I clean them up with a magnet,
and spread them around lightly.  Not sure about the garden, but the trees really like it, and I seem to
get more earthworms.
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Offline madlabs

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Re: Improving Soil in the Vegetable Garden
« Reply #11 on: March 29, 2012, 08:30:28 am »
Oh, horsesh*t!

I have a very clay soil here too. I just fenced in 80' by 80' at my place here and planted some fruit trees. My last place was just down the road and had the same soil, perhaps even worse, and this is what worked for me.

Start with some raised beds. You don't have to put formal edges (boards or whatever) just pile some soil at least a foot deep. Till the soil beneath beforhand as well as you can. Add some coarse oyster shell. Since it's spring, have fun planting some stuff in it for this year.

In the fall, cover the bed with 6-8" of horse manure. Do a cover crop overwinter if in a mild climate. I use fava beans. The roots help add humus to the soil and add nitrogen. In early spring, weed whack the fava beans, add more horse manure on top and till in.

Horse maure has been the bomb for me. Adds lots of humus and some nitrogen. The soil just soaks it up. You'd think if you kept adding manure your beds would get taller, but they don't. The soil just eats it up. After a couple of years of the above procedure I no longer had to till. I plan on following the same routine here. Since you are established already, just do the manure and cover crop.

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Offline Wolvenar

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Re: Improving Soil in the Vegetable Garden
« Reply #12 on: March 29, 2012, 12:20:14 pm »
I said it once,, lol.
I'll try it again, but explain better.
I would look for a small hobby farm, they generally are happy to give you some sh*t.
Seriously, a mix of different animals seems to work well, but I would stay away from any concentrated bird poo, like chicken pens etc.
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Offline bvan1941

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Re: Improving Soil in the Vegetable Garden
« Reply #13 on: March 29, 2012, 01:23:06 pm »
Wooferhound,
heavy clay soils are the hardest to amend to sustain good to excellent conditions. It will take 1-2 years but can be done. All the recommendations stated here work, but the more broken up organic materials you work into the soil at first the better! get as much leaves, pine needles,shredded paper, nitrogen, some (vegeatable) garbage, etc, and old hay, to rototill in at first, that combination all adds nutrients and decreases the clay ratio in the garden.   the more the better. Remember the smaller the particles you add, the quicker it all breaks down--- and that is the point!!!! Once that's done water and cover with newspapers(3-4 sheets thick) this holds moisture in and cover that with as much hay (3-4" thick at least) as you can afford. This will add very many nutrients and be excellent weed control.

the next year just add deep layers of hay and plant your garden in that hay as you go along, you'll be surprised at the quantity of produce and size as you repeat the layers of hay on top of last years hay. there's no need to till the soil every year as you will be planting in rich soft soil enriched by the previpous year. It just keeps getting better each year by adding thick layers of hay on top, enriching the soil and keeping the weeds out of your garden. By the way the worms will love this and help you too!!!
It's a proven process,
Bill

Offline WooferHound

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Re: Improving Soil in the Vegetable Garden
« Reply #14 on: March 29, 2012, 06:17:57 pm »
You guys are So Helpful  ! !

I finished shovel tilling my garden today. It's funny that the younger beds are doing better than the oldest bed that I tilled yesterday. I'm well on my way to planting this Summers garden, but I will use Y'alls advice next year in March when planting season comes around again. Will try the cover crop over the winter this year too.

Will respond more later, but I am Used Up for the day.
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