:) I am about to move to an area in the Dallas/Ft. Worth
:) metroplex where the soil is a hard black clay. I have a neighbor that
:) also recently moved out there and has a small tractor with a
:) tiller/front end loader. Earlier today we made a few trips and brought
:) in two trailer loads of top soil from a sand pit. We tilled it into
:) the clay soil and it seemed to loosen the soil and make it more
:) workable. They also have, "Padding" sand that is used by construction
:) workers before pouring concrete slabs... the guy at the sand pit
:) couldnt tell me which would make a better clay additive. He seemed to
:) think that the top soil had more plant nutrients, but would be less
:) likely to loosen the soil as well as the Padding Soil. We are both
:) pretty new to gardening and I was hoping someone could give us some
:) advice on making the clay soil more of a viable mix for growing a
:) vegetable garden. I really need something that when mixed with the
:) clay will prevent it from becoming so hard and compacted... I dont see
:) anything growing in that soil - without some sort of improvement.
Here is a helpful link for you. http://froebuck.home.texas.net/toppage4.htm
Also check the Texas A&M site...should be plenty of help there too.
It is said that the early bird gets the worm,
but it is the second mouse that gets the cheese.
Compost, compost, compost. Organic matter. Clay soil appears to have
good nutrition -- it's the texture that's the problem. Real "topsoil"
is essentially compost/humus -- the top 1-3" of stuff covering a
relatively undisturbed site where plant matter has been accumulating
and decaying for some time, and migrating a bit into whatever kind of
dirt is underneath. "Topsoil" from a sand pit sounds like somewhat of
a contradiction in terms, although possible. Clay plus sand usually
produces something like cement. Clay plus sand plus organic material
produces 'loam' -- a good diet for plants. Compost doesn't provide a
great deal in terms of nutrients, but *greatly* improves water
retention/drainage, aeration, and general happiness of plants.
Go visit your local cooperative extension agents and talk with them
about your particular yard. Perhaps take up a section of soil by
cutting around it first with a shovel or whatever will penetrate it,
disturbing the natural lay of the soil -- otherwise don't turn it
over, and put it in a box just as an example of what you're dealing
with. Through the example, talking about what you want to do with
your ground, the extension agent should be able to give you some
While you are there talk to the agent about the proper methods for
taking a representative soil sample for testing, this is different
than taking in the chunk of soil I suggested to begin with. When
taking a sample for testing, you take it from various places in the
yard, and the instructions for taking the sample will tell you at what
Getting the results of the soil test will tell you what's there,
what's missing, and will give you suggestions of how to amend your
I know gypsum is recommended for our clay soils here in Idaho to help
in breaking it up, making it more workable. The soils here tend to be
more alkaline than acid overall, but those pockets of clay soil aren't
quite as alkaline as others. I personally have not used gypsum, and I
think you should talk to someone in your area who does not have a
monetary stake in whether you buy it or not, such as your extension
agency. If there are garden associations/clubs in your area which
aren't ones that are all snooty, they may be a resource. Another
place to ask, if your soil is pretty representative of the city's as a
whole is the parks and recreation folks if there are public plantings
around town in parks and on the grounds around public buildings. I
suspect they will tell you add as much organic matter that you can lay
hands on though.
Clay soils overall are more desirable in the long run than light sandy
soils where added organic matter just burns out over a season. I
suggest making the collection of organic matter your new hobby for
awhile, particularly if you have a pickup or larger vehicle and some
strong family or friends and pick up lawn trimmings (from places which
have not used weed & feed recently) if you 're close enough to some
rural areas where you may come across spoiled hay or straw, bedding
from the race track stables can sometime be had, and in the fall, get
every leaf you can lay hands on and mow them up or if you have a
shredder, shred them.
Before I'm shouted down, I should warn you that hay and to a lesser
extent, straw (you might get some wheat or oats if it's oat straw),
but to me the need for organic matter outweighs the weed issue, I had
weeds to begin with, I'll always have weeds, seeds are everywhere and
I have flood irrigation so I get exciting new weeds every few years
that way ;-) If you balk at the weeds, then do a real compost layer
green grass and dryer materials, toss in some of your clay soil here
and there, and let it heat and turn it. I'm too lazy though.
My dad read Ruth Stouts book years ago something like the no dig or
lazy person's garden (look up ruth stout and gardening in google
you'll find it) which is basically what they're calling lasagna
gardening now. It's sheet composting. Lay down your organic matter,
whatever it may be in sheets, toss a bunch of red worms night crawlers
or whatever the best worm varieties you have there in your area, and
they will go to work on it all. Night crawlers here come up and get
organic matter and try to pull it down into the ground and succeeds
most of the time. I've seen them trying to pull dandelion leaves,
which are still attached to the plant into the ground. LOL
Worms and organic matter will improve the soil, but if you want to
garden soon, the sheet composting will allow you to just pull the
compost apart and place transplants into the soil, and over time push
it back. The fertility zone is in that top few inches of soil, the
added layers of compost as it decays keeps the top of the soil in that
fertility zone, but as you keep gardening keep adding more compost,
the worms will gradually pull the compost down. And you'll dig some
of it in from time to time.
My mother said they raised a big garden on old blue adobe clay in
southern Utah, They added manures from the farm for organic matter
and fertilizer and plowed it up, planted it, and the kids hoe hoe hoed
a lot, which is why she was never much of a gardener later in life,
she got sick of all that hoe work ;-)
Ruth Stout's books are:
No-Work Garden Book
Gardening Without Work
I own them both. She says to lay a thick layer of hay on the soil, make way for
the seeds, plant seeds in soil, let plants grow up through the hay mulch. It's
not the same as sheet composting. It is sort of the idea, not the same. The
hay shades the soil keeping weeds from germinating, it cools the soil, and
provides a very slow nutrient base for plants. I recommend the use of alfalfa
hay. I use it all the time and I've yet to see an alfalfa plant.
Ruth's books are long gone, but she was brilliant. I'm glad you brought her up.
There are some books out there on the web for sale. Just have to plug
her name into the search engines, although some are kind of high
I used to go looking for spoiled hay stacks, alfalfa is the most
prevalent, and it's supposed to have about the same fertilizing value
as horse manure. I covered my entire yard with hay. Don't know if my
neighbors liked it, at least at first, but there were squash vines
covering it in the front yard by the end of the summer. They were
pretty lush looking, nearly tropical.
But all that hay was gone, disappeared into the soil in a few years
time, worms and chickens worked it into the ground over time. Tons of
I bought mine at antique shops for a few dollars. I collect antique and old
garden books and was amazed at the price of these. Both still have the jackets
(in rough shape).
Today it's raining, which is a great thing where I live...
Besides www.amazon.com, a great place to get used books is
http://www.powells.com/ which is Powell Books in Portland, Oregon. They
have over a city block of used books and have an excellent internet site.
Pardon my spam deterrent; send email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit my Rhododendron and Azalea web pages at:
On Mon, 23 Feb 2004 23:51:22 -0700, Janice
You just have to know how and where to look for books. I
didn't beat the bushes too hard, but try this link:
Prices start around $6.00 US
HomeOwnersHub.com is a website for homeowners and building and maintenance pros. It is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers or service providers discussed here.
All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.