Clay Soil Solution

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....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?
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Thoroughly watering/soaking for several days and then using a heavy duty tiller to mix in a few inches of compost is what did the trick for me once.
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As much organic material as you can possibly amend with. Shredded leaves, grass clippings, compost, throw it all on.
--
David J. Bockman, Fairfax, VA (USDA Hardiness Zone 7)
email: snipped-for-privacy@beyondgardening.com
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Doug Kanter wrote:

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, please comment.
Dora
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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 benefit.
http://shopping.yahoo.com/search ;_ylc=X3oDMTE2OTEzcmY4BF9TAzk2MDc5MjYwBGsDcGVybGl0ZQRzZWMDa2IEc2xrA3RpdGxl?p=perlite DiGiTAL ViNYL (no email) Zone 6b/7, Westchester Co, NY, <1 mile off L.I.Sound 3rd year gardener http://photos.yahoo.com/ph/royalfrazier /
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wrote:

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.
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bungadora wrote:

Google is your friend.
--

Travis in Shoreline (just North of Seattle) Washington
USDA Zone 8
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She asked for comments from people reading this thread, not 289 pages of google results tangled like spaghetti. :)
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Doug Kanter wrote:

I found out it's uses in a very short time. I did not see any spaghetti.
--

Travis in Shoreline Washington


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The point is she was asking for personal experience, not info from a web page.
--
Ann, gardening in Zone 6a
South of Boston, Massachusetts
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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 same.
Dora
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bungadora wrote:

I was referring to Google the search engine.

It is used in gardening. It is used in cattle/cows also.
--

Travis in Shoreline Washington

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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?
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Doug Kanter wrote:

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. Dora
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opined:

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.
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1. Developer clear cuts site, all dropped trees are ground up/hammered into mulch. 2. Stumps and ground vegetation are bulldozed into piles and meet the same fate. 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 around.
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)
email: snipped-for-privacy@beyondgardening.com
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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
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The top soil and the rest of the excavated soil is usually mixed and then spread over the site with the top soil finally mixed with or buried under the subsoil.
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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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Sand. Worked in with dolomite. And after that, horse poop.
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