Soil trouble in wet New England

I have a new 8x10x1 ft raised bed this year in a higher and dryer part of my yard because my previous (not raised) beds got washed out by our recent flooding in this area. So now that we're finally drying out I got 3 trucks of soil from our landscaping place, and that was fine except it was pretty wet when we got it. Like cement wet. But I busted my hump and got it all broken up and raked in and figured I'd give it a few days to dry out and then break it up and rake it in some more. Well you know what happens to cement when it dries? It's as hard as a rock! I now have a garden full of rocks! The average is about an inch or 2 in diameter and no amount of raking will break them all up. I spent about an hour last night busting them up by hand and only got about 1 square foot done! The trouble seems to only be on the top exposed layer, underneath is nice and dark and rich and loose. Does anyone have a better idea to break up those rocks of soil? I was thinking of wetting it down again but was worried that might make it worse. Any ideas? Thank you, Jane
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jungle_ snipped-for-privacy@webtv.net (Jungle Jane) wrote:

Rototiller, probably.... Sounds like the new topsoil has a lot of clay in it. Not necessarily bad, but the timing didn't help. Can you just stick plants in between the lumps and mulch? The earthworms will do the work for you.
I'm thinking of planting rice....
(30 miles due west of Albany, NY, and a couple hundred miles west of the land of the bean and the cod.
Gary Woods AKA K2AHC- PGP key on request, or at home.earthlink.net/~garygarlic Zone 5/6 in upstate New York, 1420' elevation. NY WO G
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Jungle Jane wrote:

Did you consider wetting it down again and adding lots of organic material in while it's loose?
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I think Pete is right, although I'd wait until I had the crumbled the soil before forking in the organic matter. A few inches of dried grass clippings worked into the top couiple inches will do wonders to keep the upper layer friable.
Wet the top few inches of soil on Day 1, then on Day 2, go out and bust the clods by swinging the end of a spade or potato fork at them. If the clods are too wet to break apart, try again on Day 3.
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"TQ" <ToweringQs AT adelphia.net> wrote:

I'd complain to the garden center that sold the stuff. Clay is not "soil." I can tell horror stories of New England clay, which is like rock when dry and an unstable mud when wet. If someone sold me that as garden soil, I'd be more than upset. Let them rototill some organic matter and sand into the mix on their own dime.
Here in Florida, I have the opposite problem. The "soil" is pure sand on top of limestone. No clay at all, and any soil with organics is likely to have nematodes.
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so how do you manage to garden if you don't mind me asking? restrict type of veggies, use only certain super resistant hybrids, daily irrigation, monthly fertilization?
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The main trick is to garden in the winter, when the pest levels are lowest and the heat doesn't stress the plants. The second trick is regular (read automated) irrigation, as you suggest. And yes, fertilizer can get leached out quickly, depending on the plant, monthly fertilizing may be needed. Sterilizing (solarizing) the soil is supposed to help with nematodes, but I never had great luck with that. My experience is that once there is an area of soil that won't grow stuff properly, I might as well give up on it. We had some muck brought in one year, which should be great for gardening, but even the grass has a hard time growing where it was deposited - this after over ten years.
I was stunned the first year when I put out heavy mulch, and within less than a year it was all gone as if it had never been there. The decay of cellulose and conversion into carbon dioxide is amazingly fast in the heat and humidity, and adding organic material to the soil has only short term effects.
Some plants do much better in garden boxes with hardware cloth over the top. DW does the gardening here. After my having a prolific large garden in Vermont that was ammended each winter with a couple of spreader loads of manure, I don't have much interest in gardening here. Asian weevils eat at a lot of the leaves and have no real predators. Coons, possums, squirrels, iguanas, feral cats, various birds, and canal rats are all active most of the year, so the safer plants are broccoli, collards, peas and beans, and kitchen spices. Anything that becomes fleshy or sweet rarely survives to the table.
Fortunately, many fruit trees and vines can do fine, so we have mangoes and passion fruit, and are growing lychee, loquat, and finally some citrus again.
I'm sure other people have better luck, and know better how to garden here. These are just one set of experiences.
I do know one thing though, I don't miss digging in the New England clay and hardpan.
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It does not sound so bad. You have fruits, greens, herbs and pulses most of the year, if I read your post right. I suppose I'd give up tomatoes for such an arrangement, and the year round availability is, I think, a great advantage. It sounds very healthy too. Though I would miss fighting only a handful of pests: mice, cucumber beetles, cabbage moths and vine borers are 99% of my troubles. Of course I limit my wildlife losses by, for example, not growing corn, and by promptly replacing the missing cabbage plants with unpalatable (to them) radicchio.
I have heard how difficult tropical soils are (amending clay there is not any easier). I have two gardens in very sandy Michigan soil. After ten years and three feet of mulch, garden 1 has lost memory of its sandy past, all loam and fairly firm. Garden 2, now in its third year, has at least changed soil color from beige to dark brown, and does not need to be watered daily anymore. The difference, as you say, is that here organic matter eventually washes into the soil and fills the sand pores, whereas there it goes mostly in the air.
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Harry Chickpea wrote:

Yeah, but a nice load of compost would break the logjam of all that clay not being able to suport anything, for the time being. But you're right, you have to take the long view and keep adding more organic matter (and, frankly, just better-composed soil) each year. I'm not an expert on soil structure, but I've tried gardening in a variety of soils, and I know that hard clay. It doesn't even hold grass well without a lot of work.
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