new garden soil help

hi all i have just moved into a new house and the builders have left no topsoil in the garden just clay i need to make a veg patch about 20feet by 15feet how do i go about getting or mixing good soil ie topsoil/ manure for growing veg many thanks
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gundogbob

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Raised beds.
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Enjoy Life... Dan L (Garden in zone 5a Michigan)

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Dan L wrote:

SOP for builders. Check the heaps of rubbish they have left about for brickbats, nails, plastic, lumps of plaster, bottles, lunchwraps and other stuff you don't want incorporated into your garden. Check if there is in fact no topsoil or if they have just pushed it off the surface near the house when making foundations or buried the topsoil with subsoil that they have dug up when digging trenches. It is rare to find there is no topsoil at all. Reversing the damage they have done can be possible and may save you much time and money - depending on the situation.
i need to make a veg patch about

Good idea.
You need to consider whether you are going to try to make good soil of what there is or bring in new to fill the beds. Plastic clay can be converted but it will take years. Clay-silt that already has some structure can be done in a year or possibly less depending on climate. The conversion involves adding organic matter (manure, compost, spent mushroom compost, animal bedding etc whatever is available in quantity) and gypsum and whatever other amendments are required (eg lime or dolomite, maybe potash) according to the nature of the existing soil. It can be turned in (quicker) or layered (slower). With plastic clay it is good to plant a cover crop (green manure) first and then turn it in as the roots will help break up the clay and the fibre will improve the texture.
Ensure your beds have full sun or as near as possible and can drain excess water away. Align the beds north-south and don't make them wider than you can reach into the middle without standing on the soil (about 1000-1200mm). Ensure you can get a wheelbarrow down each path or at least every other path. If you want it all tomorrow you will have to buy soil.
Getting productive soil when you have poor soil is like many things in life. It can be quick, cheap or good - you can have any two.
David
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One thing that clay soil can grow is grass. It will take years to improve the soil or buy good top soil and put a foot of soil around the house. This is extremely expensive. Clay soil will leave large cracks in the yard during dry times and tend to shift during wet times. Over time those cracks will go away and the soil will improve when the grass clippings decompose and improve the soil. Dump compost or top soil in the cracks during those dry days to speed thing up slightly. Also compost teas may also speedup the soil improving process.
You will have problems growing trees. When planting trees use the clay soil. If you dig a hole and put good top soil in the hole the tree will become root bound in the hole and die about five years later. Trees take longer to grow in clay than good soil. The PH level in clay is also not kind to trees. Pine trees and maple trees tend to grow ok in clay soil.
Vegetables and flowers would be best in raised beds. In about twenty years you can remove the raised beds, maybe longer. A common look for a raised border around the home could match the border for the raised beds in the yard for a nicer look. With raised beds you also be spending more time with your string edger.
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Enjoy Life... Dan L (Garden in zone 5a Michigan)

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Dan L wrote:

I would be inclined not to dig holes at all if the clay is very heavy. All my fruit trees are planted in the top of mounds. A hole in heavy clay becomes a pond in wet weather and the roots will rot quickly.
Yes clay soils are often acidic but a simple test will tell you this. Use lime or dolomite to raise the pH if required, you will need to have some soil tests done to know which is appropriate. Often clay soils have plenty of magnesium so a better magnesium/calcium balance is obtained with lime. This is getting somewhat technical but some googling will help fill in background chemistry.

Why? The beds also provide drainage and better access.
David
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The line trimming of my beds are endless. I do use a heavy duty swisher mower trimmer around the house and beds. About 45 minutes a week. I would like someday and remove the bricks and boards edges and go with a natural ground level edge.
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Enjoy Life... Dan L (Garden in zone 5a Michigan)

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Rye grass, and buckwheat are best for developing soil texture in clays.
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- Billy
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