Improve dry soil?

Our backyard garden has bad dirt. It's amazing how it can rain, yet 24 hours later, the soil is dry and cracked.
I'm thinking of renting a tiller this spring and improve the soil. What should I mix in to improve the soil? Peat? Peat moss? Compost? Something else?
Thanks!
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On Sun, 30 Apr 2006 19:09:35 GMT, "Duncan Tuna"

Compost!
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On Sun, 30 Apr 2006 19:09:35 +0000, Duncan Tuna wrote:

Good day Duncan. To improve your soil's water holding ability you will need to add some sort of organic matter to the native soil that you already have. Peat is an alright choice, but it has a low nutritional value, where as compost will add organic matter and nutrition.
Suggested action:
Measure the square footage of the lawn area in question.
Next figure out how much organic material you will need. To do this you will need to know that a cubic yard will cover 108 square feet a 3" deep (10 foot X 10 foot square). You will want to add at least an inch with 3 to 6 inches being the best ammount to have if possible.
Survey the area and see if the amount of new soil will alter the grade too much around your house, patio, trees, driveway ect.
Rototill the lawn area first, then again after the new soil/compost is layed. Rake out the lawn area after the tilling then roll the lawn with a lawn roller. This is an important step that many folks leave out. Re-seed the area and cover with hay to keep the birds out of it untill it sprouts. The hay will multch up when you mow.
Good luck.
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Aside from dry what is your soil like? Does it have rocks, sand, clay, some mix of these? What colour is it? If you wet it with a hose does it drain in an hour or two or turn to sticky mud?
As others have said organic matter is mostly what you need. Peat moss is very expensive and not that useful in this context. If you had enough money to do a whole yard with peat you would be better off giving a big cheque to a landscaper and telling them to fix it. Tilling in itself will not do much unless you also improve the texture. Tilling can make it worse in some situations as you can bring up the crap the builder buried or just nasty subsoil that is worse than your topsoil.
You need to find a cheap (you will need a lot) local (you don't want to pay big $$ for cartage) source of organic material. Unless your yard is very small think in terms of truckloads not bags. Some ideas:
- Some local (municipal) authorities compost all the trimmings from their parks etc and sell the compost very cheaply to ratepayers. - Stables (ask at the racecourse) may sell you horse manure or stable sweepings cheaply or even give it away. - Local farms or feedlots may have cheap material: manure, spoiled hay, straw, hulls, spent mushroom compost etc - Don't forget to compost your own grass-clippings, plant trimmings and vege peelings.
David
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suggestion, with either the compost or manure or prunings get stuff that is well rotted.
rob
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On Sun, 30 Apr 2006 19:09:35 GMT, "Duncan Tuna"

the top 12-24 inches of soil. If you have trees, do not rototill the soil within the trees' driplines. Top-dressing with compost is probably your best bet. Worms and insects will carry it downward for you.
Keith Babberney ISA Certified Arborist #TX-0236AT
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Hi, there!
If you're thinking about compost, good idea. Kitchen scraps work great, but don't use protiens or fatty foods - meats, cheeses, etc. - the fat will go rancid and rotting meat stinks - and attracts flies and varmints. Mix your compost with grass clippings or soil, so you don't just end up with rotting sluge in the dirt. Also, consider testing the pH of your soil - a pH kit for swimming pools will do fine. You'll be amazed what a difference it makes in the quality and texture of your soil.
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What's wrong with protein? I assume you mean meat, not protein, which is a good source of nitrogen. _________________ John Henry Wheeler Washington, DC USDA Zone 7

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I'm a dork! I should have clarified. Protien's great, meat and dairy waste gets nasty. Sorry - that was unclear.
Also, I guess it depends on where you live. I'm in the city, so my compost piles are within three yards of the house. If there are smells and flies, it's a problem for me and my neighbors. But somewhere where there's more land, I'm sure the waste would be fine - if you were far enough upwind!
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wrote:

If your compost smells bad, you're doing something wrong. Possibly, the pile is too wet or not getting enough oxygen. I've been composting for many years and the compost has an earthy, organic odor that is not objectionable at all.
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How do you arrange yours? Maybey I can do things differently...
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Add all the organic matter you can afford.
--

Travis in Shoreline (just North of Seattle) Washington
USDA Zone 8
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