I'm have 1/2 acre lot which has mostly clay spread over it that was dug out
from the basement when the house was built. In some areas the construction
machinery packed the clay very hard for about 1-2 inches on the top. This
weekend I had 2-3inches of aged cow manure spread over the top and tilled in
as much as possible. The hard areas would not till as it was too hard.
I want to seed grass but I was told that the manure is too rich (I don't
know how to tell) and that it will burn the grass. What can I do to loosen
up that top clay? Will manure do that? What do I need to do before I seed
grass? How old does the manure have to be so it's not too rich?
I bought a few bags of composted cow manure from Meijer. My area is
much smaller, I just poked holes with a pitchfork to aerate before
spreading the compost. I seeded on top of this. The seeds sprouted
fine and are growing nicely despite our sometimes chilly weather this
fall. This is in an area with existing grass, I hand-pulled most of the
It doesn't stink that bad at all and it's fluffy. Very easy to spread with a
rake. Does that mean that I can seed right in it? Even if I don't have much
dirt tilled into it? Like I said before I have at least 3" of manure on top
of the clay.
Worms -- lots and lots o' worms -- organic material, and time. :)
There are a few different species of worms that will work well for you,
including the good ole fashioned nightcrawler. Red wigglers (eisenia
fetida) will be good for the upper 12 inches or so and breaking organic
material down. The other worms will work their way down and carry good soil
with them, plus their tunnels aerate of course. With attention and lots of
organic material, you can transform a good chunk of the clay (pardon the
pun) into good soil.
As for seeding your grass, give the manure some time to settle in before
seeding and it will be fine. You can add topsoil and till as well. (For
that matter, I'd start raiding the neighbors leaf bags on trash day -- lots
of good organic material in there and it will do wonders for your soil.)
One question comes to mind -- did you basically just spread the manure over
clay or was their some measure of topsoil there?
The intention was to spread the manure over existing dirt/clay and then till
it all together. I'm no expert but the land had wild grass and weeds growing
on it before I started the project. It all went south once the machinery
packed the top layer too hard (approx 50% of the area) so the tiller could
not mix the manure with the dirt anymore. Even when the tiller managed to
break some test areas the chunks are very hard. Will I have any luck
breaking up the hard shell in the spring once the ground is more moist of
will watering help?
Do you figure I will have any luck if I seed in the spring on the manure?
To develop and maintain a healthy lawn, you need a seed bed of at least 6
inches of loose, rich soil. If a rototiller cannot break through the
compacted clay, new grass roots certainly cannot. I'd spread as much aged
compost/manure as you can manage - 6-8 inches - leave it overwinter and then
till it into the clay in spring. Between the activity of the worms and other
soil organisms overwinter and rainfall, you should be able to till it in
well next spring.
pam - gardengal
I agree with Pam. I had a very heavy clay patch to rototill once. I was
able to chop up about 2 inches of the clay on each pass, with passes being a
couple of weeks apart. Eventually I loosened it deep enough to plant.
So there's good soil beneath the clay? That bites -- what commercial
contractor digs out a basement but doesn't haul off the excavated materials?
How deep is the clay layer that was placed over top of the soil? Any idea
how deep the soil below the clay might be?
I'm tellin ya -- the best thing you can do is buy a BUNCH of worms and just
spread them over the area. Eisenia Fetida (http://www.happydranch.com )
needs 50ish degree weather to do its thing but if you get them down now they
should do a good bit of work before it gets too cold and they'll likely
overwinter fine (not sure where you're at). Earthworms/nightcrawlers will
dig down well and there's one worm in particular that goes down to around 12
feet. As they dig through the soil and the clay, they'll take nutrients
along with them and help convert the clay to good soil the old fashioned
You also need to mulch up leaves and grass to spread over the area for
composting. Now is a perfect time as everyone is throwing their leaves
away -- a pickup truck on trash day is a good way to go. I know it sounds
crazy but you'll get all sorts of good organic material this way. You can
hit your neighbors up and ask them to save the leaves for you as well --
makes it easier and ensure no mix of trash with the leaves. You can buy a
leaf mulcher for around $100, mulch the leaves up, and spread them about.
The worms will love that as well.
If you do this and keep it up, maybe add some more compost and/or top soil
next year, working it into the existing, then you will not have to worry
about tilling the clay.
It should be fairly well broken down by then but I doubt it will be quite
enough. Just how deep IS the doo-doo? (Sorry, couldn't resist. :-P )
Grass will need about 6 inches or so to do well.
BTW, the following came over the CrazyGardeners1 Yahoo group recently --
since it may have value for your situation, I thought I'd cross-post it for
Yuuupppp! Green manure is a great way of building topsoil when all
you have is clay, sand, or other nasty soil. The most basic of all
green manure rotations is BOP-BOP-RYE, which is Buckwheat Oats and
Peas, followed by Buckwheat Oats and Peas, followed by winter rye.
The buckwheat adds TONS of organice matter to the soil, the peas add
nitrogen, and the oats gives structure. The winter rye holds the
soil in place and also gives excellent structure to the soil due to
its rather tough stems. But there are better choices once you have
started investigating, and are willing to work out what your
particular soil needs.
Red mammoth clover, for instance, not only gives tons of organic
matter, but nitrogen as well, and sudan grass can not only give
organic matter, but feeds the beneficial bacteria and fungi as it
repells and kills bad nematodes. Daikon radish is GREAT for digging
in deep and when tilled in will rot and creat an ideal spongy mass
underground for sandy or clay soils. Organic matter right where you
need it...Down deep. Alfalfa is also great at digging deep into the
soil where you need it, fixing nitrogen farther down than clover, and
loosening clay and binding sand. There are even cover crops for
shade, subterranean clover, daikon radish, peas, vetch, Lotus
uliginous (Mako lotus) is excellent for shade, but hard to find.
I like to simply mow the crops just as they begin to flower, and then
seed the new crop right into the fresh chopped matter, to leave the
roots and the beneficial fungi and bacteria web alone so it can
spread effectively. Another thing you can do is to use the green
manure crops as forage for your rabbits, goats, horses,
cows...whatever, and let them add to the organic matter with their
droppings. I actually plant a couple of hills on my property with
browse cover crops for the deer, so they will give me the droppings
and STAY THE HECK AWAY FROM MY HOSTAS! So far it works. Even the
woodchuck would rather eat the nice fresh oats and barley than invade
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