I have a new 8x10x1 ft raised bed this year in a higher and dryer part
of my yard because my previous (not raised) beds got washed out by our
recent flooding in this area. So now that we're finally drying out I
got 3 trucks of soil from our landscaping place, and that was fine
except it was pretty wet when we got it. Like cement wet. But I busted
my hump and got it all broken up and raked in and figured I'd give it a
few days to dry out and then break it up and rake it in some more. Well
you know what happens to cement when it dries? It's as hard as a rock! I
now have a garden full of rocks! The average is about an inch or 2 in
diameter and no amount of raking will break them all up. I spent about
an hour last night busting them up by hand and only got about 1 square
foot done! The trouble seems to only be on the top exposed layer,
underneath is nice and dark and rich and loose. Does anyone have a
better idea to break up those rocks of soil? I was thinking of wetting
it down again but was worried that might make it worse. Any ideas? Thank
Rototiller, probably.... Sounds like the new topsoil has a lot of clay in
it. Not necessarily bad, but the timing didn't help.
Can you just stick plants in between the lumps and mulch? The earthworms
will do the work for you.
I'm thinking of planting rice....
(30 miles due west of Albany, NY, and a couple hundred miles west of the
land of the bean and the cod.
Gary Woods AKA K2AHC- PGP key on request, or at home.earthlink.net/~garygarlic
Zone 5/6 in upstate New York, 1420' elevation. NY WO G
I think Pete is right, although I'd wait until I had the crumbled the soil
before forking in the organic matter. A few inches of dried grass clippings
worked into the top couiple inches will do wonders to keep the upper layer
Wet the top few inches of soil on Day 1, then on Day 2, go out and bust the
clods by swinging the end of a spade or potato fork at them. If the clods
are too wet to break apart, try again on Day 3.
I'd complain to the garden center that sold the stuff. Clay is not
"soil." I can tell horror stories of New England clay, which is like
rock when dry and an unstable mud when wet. If someone sold me that
as garden soil, I'd be more than upset. Let them rototill some
organic matter and sand into the mix on their own dime.
Here in Florida, I have the opposite problem. The "soil" is pure sand
on top of limestone. No clay at all, and any soil with organics is
likely to have nematodes.
The main trick is to garden in the winter, when the pest levels are
lowest and the heat doesn't stress the plants. The second trick is
regular (read automated) irrigation, as you suggest. And yes,
fertilizer can get leached out quickly, depending on the plant,
monthly fertilizing may be needed. Sterilizing (solarizing) the soil
is supposed to help with nematodes, but I never had great luck with
that. My experience is that once there is an area of soil that won't
grow stuff properly, I might as well give up on it. We had some muck
brought in one year, which should be great for gardening, but even the
grass has a hard time growing where it was deposited - this after over
I was stunned the first year when I put out heavy mulch, and within
less than a year it was all gone as if it had never been there. The
decay of cellulose and conversion into carbon dioxide is amazingly
fast in the heat and humidity, and adding organic material to the soil
has only short term effects.
Some plants do much better in garden boxes with hardware cloth over
the top. DW does the gardening here. After my having a prolific
large garden in Vermont that was ammended each winter with a couple of
spreader loads of manure, I don't have much interest in gardening
here. Asian weevils eat at a lot of the leaves and have no real
predators. Coons, possums, squirrels, iguanas, feral cats, various
birds, and canal rats are all active most of the year, so the safer
plants are broccoli, collards, peas and beans, and kitchen spices.
Anything that becomes fleshy or sweet rarely survives to the table.
Fortunately, many fruit trees and vines can do fine, so we have
mangoes and passion fruit, and are growing lychee, loquat, and finally
some citrus again.
I'm sure other people have better luck, and know better how to garden
here. These are just one set of experiences.
I do know one thing though, I don't miss digging in the New England
clay and hardpan.
It does not sound so bad. You have fruits, greens, herbs and pulses
most of the year, if I read your post right. I suppose I'd give up
tomatoes for such an arrangement, and the year round availability is, I
think, a great advantage. It sounds very healthy too.
Though I would miss fighting only a handful of pests: mice, cucumber
beetles, cabbage moths and vine borers are 99% of my troubles. Of
course I limit my wildlife losses by, for example, not growing corn,
and by promptly replacing the missing cabbage plants with unpalatable
(to them) radicchio.
I have heard how difficult tropical soils are (amending clay there is
not any easier). I have two gardens in very sandy Michigan soil. After
ten years and three feet of mulch, garden 1 has lost memory of its
sandy past, all loam and fairly firm. Garden 2, now in its third year,
has at least changed soil color from beige to dark brown, and does not
need to be watered daily anymore. The difference, as you say, is that
here organic matter eventually washes into the soil and fills the sand
pores, whereas there it goes mostly in the air.
Yeah, but a nice load of compost would break the logjam of all that
clay not being able to suport anything, for the time being. But you're
right, you have to take the long view and keep adding more organic
matter (and, frankly, just better-composed soil) each year. I'm not an
expert on soil structure, but I've tried gardening in a variety of
soils, and I know that hard clay. It doesn't even hold grass well
without a lot of work.
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