Clay Soil Solution

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Ooops. I meant gypsum (not dolomite).
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opined:

I didn't check all the responses, but it sounds like your friend has sub-soil after the builder scraped off the first horizon of soil. This is virtually dead soil and it will be very difficult to grow much of anything in it this year.
I suggest you find a source for pelletized gypsum. This will not change the pH of the soil, but it will help with the soil texture. Also, do NOT till this soil or you will further its clumping and it will be virtually impossible to break up the clumps.
After you put down the gypsum, cover it all with a layer of compost no less than 4 inches thick and on top of that put at least 3 inches of mulch (shredded hardwood is best do not use cypress). That will have to be it for the entire summer, sorry to say.
In the fall, stick a fork in it and see what it has done. See if there are any worms in it. If the texture is more friable. If it is still soaking wet and clumpy, it is not going to change and I suggest your friend build planter boxes 12-14 inches deep and use them as raised beds.
All soils can be amended, but it is not a fast process with the stuff you are describing.
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Yeah.....I know ("difficult"). I can't believe she even bothered planting carrots in it. The homeowners before her apparently made a checklist of the 100 stupidest things you could possibly do to the garden beds, and completed the list. Example: In the vegetable area we're discussing, they installed really tough landscape fabric about 8" below the clay. WTF??? I know that stuff passes water, but still....it slows it down. No wonder the substance above it is permanently wet.

Not that I've ever looked for it, but in 30 years of gardening, I've never noticed pelletized gypsum in stores. Is it likely to be a garden center product, or more likely found at a farm supply?

I'm going to send her a condolence card. :-(

This whole episode makes me realize how lucky I was in my previous house, where I began gardening many years ago. The soil was passable the first year. Not fabulous, but passable. My ex-wife bought a couple of books which explained what should be obvious to anyone who's poked around a nice, rich forest floor with years' of composted leaves. We immediately began making the layers you described above, and within 2 years, the soil was amazing. Also learned NOT to turn over the soil every spring, and walk all over it constantly.
I'm starting the whole process over in my new house, but I'm already 80% of the way there. Wish I could say the same for my friend.
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opined:

Every now and then I've found it at a building supply store (box store), but yes it is more likely to find it in a garden center. A really good garden center which sells soils and compost is the most likely to stock it.

When we bought this house I came with a digging fork. In other words,that was a deal breaker! Here in Texas, especially in the Hill Country, there can be as little as one inch of soil on top of limestone. We have very deep, very delicious smelling soil. I actually smells like frankincense.
V
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Doug Kanter wrote:

(alfalfa
stuff
turning over

I'd buy some inexpensive planks and build a few raised beds. Fill them with topsoil, compost, composted manure, etc purchased from the local garden center. Grow in the raised beds this summer. This autumn, if desired, the planks can be removed and the soil worked into the underlying clay along with some additonal amendments.
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Buy Schultz Clay Soil Conditioner in 10 or 40 pound bags. Also sold as Profile and Vole Blocker. It is a heat expanded and then crushed mineral product and is a permanent fix for clay soils. I have used for 4 or 5 years and the clay soil continues to be loose. Schultz recommends using 1 part conditioner to 4 parts soil or a 1 inch layer mixed with the soil. I found 3 inches to be better. It would still be good to add organic matter for the nutrient value.
Over the years I have used perlite, vermiculite and small pea gravel which also improve the air, water and solid mix.
....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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Thanks for the tip - I spotted that yesterday at a garden center. It's on the list of "possibles".

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except
of
rebellion.
about
(alfalfa
stuff
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Doug Kanter wrote:

Gypsum is the standard solution to breaking up garden clay. Home Depot sells it. Rent a power tiller.
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The plot thickens. My friend's dad is a farmer. We got a local suggestion for adding shredded hay as a "semi-sorta-kinda-part of the whole plan" solution. And, I'm leaning toward explosives. I'm so glad I'm not going through this on my property......I actually insisted on poking the earth in about 50 spots before I signed the purchase offer on this place. The place is an earthworm resort. Life is good.
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Anything organic. We have awful clay soil here in the area, and I've found compacted sphagnum peat to be the most economical, and really works to break up the clay structure. Don't ad it on top, as you will still have that barrier of clay below to prevent good drainage, unless you plan to use raised beds. Otherwise, mix it in with the existing soil (or clay) to a depth of 6-12". Don't add uncomposted organic material (leaves, etc.) before growing, as the decomposition process will tie up nutrients and make them unavailable to your plants. In fall, after you're finished for the season is a good time to add that sort of thing or plant a cover crop such as winter rye. Keep doing this every year with as much as you can afford until you have soil as good as the farmer's!
Good luck! Suzy, Zone 5, Wisconsin

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A friend just called from over the border (Pennsylvania) to say he'd stopped in a small town for coffee, and located a source for M-80s, a firecracker (understatement) which is supposedly illegal all over the place. I'm thinking these could be an interesting short term solution to the soil problem. :-)

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I had heavy clay soil... it was unfired pottery with grass growing on it! I started with peat and gypsum sold as soil soft at wallmart. I got 3 large bales of peat a tiller and the gypsum amd tilled ia all in. 5 hp tiller OVERLOADED on my soil push back up push back up ect to be fair it was a 15 year old tiller from my dad. All that peat started to rot and sucked all the N out of my soil sick looking yellow plants and M grow only helped for 5-7 days. That fall I got leaves from everyone I knew and just dumped the on top with chicken wire around it to keep it from blowing away. Spring Tilled it all in and got a bagging lawn mower and started a compost heap repeat....... 4 YEARS later its great I just mulch with grass clippings and the giant worms do it all for me. Soft soil eazy digging happy plants.
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I didn't see that whole thread, but I was sure happy to see yours! I'm in West Tennessee and I too have many many moonshine jugs out there that have not yet been fired!
I will keep your message for future reference.
Thanks!
Kate
:I had heavy clay soil... it was unfired pottery with grass growing on it! : I started with peat and gypsum sold as soil soft at wallmart. : I got 3 large bales of peat a tiller and the gypsum amd tilled ia all in. : 5 hp tiller OVERLOADED on my soil push back up push back up ect to be fair : it was a 15 year old tiller from my dad. : All that peat started to rot and sucked all the N out of my soil sick : looking yellow plants and M grow only helped for 5-7 days. : That fall I got leaves from everyone I knew and just dumped the on top with : chicken wire around it to keep it from blowing away. : Spring : Tilled it all in and got a bagging lawn mower and started a compost heap : repeat....... : 4 YEARS later its great I just mulch with grass clippings and the giant : worms do it all for me. Soft soil eazy digging happy plants. : :
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