....with a qualification: This is for a friend who hopes to grow a few
vegetables NOW. Onward: Went to a friend's house to help her put in a bunch
of plant seedlings before she left on a trip. When I went to weed the
planting area, I discovered clay like I've never dealt with before except in
a pottery class. You know how you try and break bad news gently to friends?
Not this time: "S, you have to be f~~king kidding me! How long have you
known about this?" Well, she's new at it, and not familiar with the wide
spectrum of possible soil conditions. To her, this was within the range of
acceptable. She'll find out otherwise when her carrots stage a rebellion. It
hadn't rained in a week, but a small handful of this stuff weighted about
300 lbs. :-) I made some nice figurines and a bowl out of it.
I know how to add improvements that will benefit her NEXT season (alfalfa
cover crop, etc). But, is there anything at all that'll lighten this stuff
up even a little, right now, assuming our backs are capable of turning over
more than 4 square feet of it per day?
A lurkus interruptus ...
I have a bag of a mineral called zeolite passed on by a friend who was
moving. The bag says it is good for conditioning clay soils. It looks a
lot like cheap kitty litter. If anyone has experience with this stuff,
I was wondering if perlite/vermiculite would help. It is incredibly
light, rough, porous. It also might be expensive. I bought the biggest
cheapest bags I could find. That and peat moss come to mind to lighten
the compaction/heft of the soil--the humus/compost is of obvious
DiGiTAL ViNYL (no email)
Zone 6b/7, Westchester Co, NY, <1 mile off L.I.Sound
3rd year gardener
Having pondered this all day yesterday, I'm beginning to think that the soil
is impossible to fix quickly. Perlite would work, sort of, but the soil's so
tough that I don't think we'd be able to mix anything granular into it. I'll
found out this weekend. It's been 7 days since any rain, so the stuff should
be drier. Meanwhile, 50' away, across her property line, the farmer's field
has soil to die for, even where his machines' tires have travelled.
Actually I'm posting and reading through google at present so google
really is my friend. For some reason, I don't see most of your posts
unless you're quoted.
Thanks. I googled. Interesting stuff but not really what I was looking
for. Apparently it is used in the petroleum industry, which explains
why there is a local manufacturer. But no one in the google results
actually reported back and said how well it worked.
Reading this thread, I vote for the raised bed option. My back yard is
post-developer clay. IME a heck of a lot of compost and other
conditioner is needed to do it all at one time and just get up to
workable soil. Which is OK. Digging up one bed a year is more my speed.
Some areas of the yard are worse than others. The bed I've started by
the back step just sucks up anything I give it, but it still looks the
Ya know, I don't go around feeling other peoples' soil (although I'd like
to), but we see this type of comment here often enough to make me wonder
why. Is screwed up soil the result of compression from construction
equipment, or do some developers strip off a layer of soil? If the latter, I
have an unscientific not-enough-coffee-yet question: WTF??? Why do new home
buyers allow this to happen? Why not prohibit it, contractually in the
purchase agreement, and pace around the construction site in a menacing
fashion with a rifle?
And, why do some light beers taste better than others?
Well, this place was developed in the 1970's-80's so I wasn't involved
in the construction. They scraped everything off and then bulldozed it
back on again. I remember biking by at the time 20 or so years ago. No
one who has lived in this unit since has done a thing. For the vast
majority of homes, I suspect too few people really care for it to
become a common practise.
to a couple of poor quality trees being plopped into the yard.
Now that is a question to contemplate over the weekend.
This is where bags of "top soil" come from (for the most part). Developers
strip the soil before people are aware there will be homes built in certain
areas. If a person is having one home built on a lot, that customer can indeed
have it in a contract NOT to strip the top soil.
However, regardless, this is customary with builders today. Fortunately, our
home is in a development with only 31 other houses and nobody has less than
half acre, up to 5 acres. The top soil was still here, but they filled over it
with that dead crap they sell as "sandy loam." What it actually is, is dead
stuff. Hard to grow much in.
1. Developer clear cuts site, all dropped trees are ground up/hammered into
2. Stumps and ground vegetation are bulldozed into piles and meet the same
3. All that organic material is taken to the landfill-- totally wasted.
4. 'Overburden' is scraped off the site-- i.e., all the organic topsoil
which is unstable. Depending upon the developer and size of the lot, the
overburden is either stored on site or sold to another developer.
5. Bulldozers, graders, and other massive treaded equipment is moved in and
the site gets manipulated to meet the grading requirements of the
development. 99.998% of the time, the architect/planners who designed the
development never even saw the space in which it's going to be built, nor
do they care-- the existing terrain is an obstacle to be overcome, smashed
and destroyed in order to make the site fit the houses, not the other way
Now, somewhere around the third word of sentence 1., the equipment has
destroyed decades, perhaps centuries, of soil tilth and fertility. When a
heavy vehicle rolls over woodland terrain, the tilth is crushed right out
of the soil structure, just like an aluminum can getting crushed.
The developer's goal is to leave nothing but easily worked and stable clay
soil to use as backfill against foundations. After the homes are built,
individual lots are graded smooth by repeated passes of multi-ton
bulldozers and graders until the clay has all the fertility of portland
cement. My experience has been that few if any builders replace the topsoil
which was originally in place-- at the most they may put a thin layer of
manufactured topsoil where planned planting beds will go, but more likely
than not they simply slam the landscape plants into the ground and either
lay sod directly onto the backfill or shredded hardwood mulch around the
plants. Congratulations! You have a lovely new home!
David J. Bockman, Fairfax, VA (USDA Hardiness Zone 7)
Fortunately around here they aren't allowed to haul the topsoil away.
Bylaws state the developer needs to keep the topsoil onsite and use it
on the lots. Now whether or not they all do it is another story......
Ann, gardening in Zone 6a
South of Boston, Massachusetts
Not usually. Maybe you refer to one house being built, but in the lands of the
undeveloped like Black Prairie or the Tall Grass Prairie, the top horizon is
scraped off and sold to the highest bidder. It is then mixed with some other
unregulated crap and sold in bags, called "top soil."
I watch the land movers as they scrape off the soil. I have been watching one
particular tract of approximately 200 acres. They are building a chain grocery
store and a CVS with about 300 (what we call "zero lot line") Mc Mansions.
These houses which are all exactly alike are about 3,000 square feet, cost about
200,000 and have about ten feet on all sides with a fence. Yuk. And on top of
that, the soil is gone.
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