I have just had my garden landscaped (removing a massive terrace full of
rubble), however its now down to faintly yellow looking clay, all the
black soil on top has gone. It reminds me of the stuff I used at school
to make pots out of!
Having read about how to improve the soil to make it suitable for
lawn/veg/flowers, the answer appears to be I need to add a lot of
organic matter to it, and not work it when wet! (?)
I am new to gardening, and am now confused about the various types of
compost available, and what is best to use;
Organic Compost (Screened to 10mm/20mm)
Well Rotted Farm Yard Manure
Various ground up bark/wood products some of which seem to be marketed
as peat replacement.
Any help and advice would be appreciated.
(Also if anyone knows a good cheap supplier for these things as I think
I need a lorry load!)
Your garden soil shouldn't be more than 5% organic material.
Garden soil should be 30% - 40% sand, 30% - 40% silt, and 20% - 30%
clay. You can check your soil by scraping away the organic material on
top of the ground and then take a vertical sample of your soil to 12 in.
(30 cm) deep (rectangular or circular hole). Mix this with water in an
appropriately large glass (transparent) jar. The sand will settle out
quickly, the silt in a couple of hours, and the clay within a day. The
depth of the layer in relationship to the total (layer/total = % of
composition) is the percent that fraction has in the soil.
Garden soil needs a constant input of nutrients, i.e. carbon, e.g. brown
leaves, and nitrogen, e.g. manure in a ratio of C/N of 25. This is the
same ratio you will what in a compost pile.
Let it Rot!: The Gardener's Guide to Composting (Third Edition)
(Storey's Down-to-Earth Guides)
by Stu Campbell
<(Amazon.com product link shortened)94901182&sr=1-1>
Compostable Material Average C/N
Alder or ash leaves ............................ 25
Grass clippings ................................ 25
Leguminous plants (peas,
beans,soybeans) ............................. 15
Manure with bedding ........................... 23
Manure ....................................... 15
Oak leaves .................................... 50
Pine needles .............................. 60-100
Straw, cornstalks and cobs .................. 50-100
Vegetable trimmings ........................... 25
Aged Chicken Manure ........................ 7
Alfalfa ................................................ 12
A Balancing Act (Carbon-to-Nitrogen Ratios)
All organic matter is made up of substantial amounts of carbon (C)
combined with lesser amounts of nitrogen (N). The balance of these two
elements in an organism is called the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio (C:N
ratio). For best performance, the compost pile, or more to the point the
composting microorganisms, require the correct proportion of carbon for
energy and nitrogen for protein production. Scientists (yes, there are
compost scientists) have determined that the fastest way to produce
fertile, sweet-smelling compost is to maintain a C:N ratio somewhere
around 25 to 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen, or 25-30:1. If the C:N
ratio is too high (excess carbon), decomposition slows down. If the C:N
ratio is too low (excess nitrogen) you will end up with a stinky pile.
No reason to till after the first preparation of the garden (no reason
to till the first/last time but it does speed up soil development).
Spread out your soil amendments:
18.37 lb. chicken manure/ 100 sq.ft. (2.88 oz/sq.ft.)
3 lb. / 100/sq.ft. (.48 oz/sq.ft.)
How much wood ash should you use in your garden? The late Bernard
G. Wesenberg, a former Washington State University Extension
horticulturist, recommended using one gallon of ashes per square
yard on loam to clay-loam soil, and half as much on sandier soils.
Manure Chicken Diary cow Horse Steer Rabbit
N 1.1 .257 .70 .70 2.4
P .80 .15 .30 .30 1.4
K .50 .25 .60 .40 .60
Sheep Alfalfa Fish Emulsion
N .70 3 5
P .30 1 1
K .90 2 1
Sources: Rodale's All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, An
Illustrated Guide to Organic Gardening, by Sunset Publishing, and the
Rodale Guide to Composting.
Cover this with newspaper (to block light from weeds and provide a
barrier to sprouting weeds). Cover the newspaper with mulch (up to 6" in
depth). Spray the garden bed with water, and wait 6 weeks before
planting (if you can).
A dibble can help with planting. The dinky little ones from the nursery
may be of some help, but I prefer a sharpened, old, shovel handle for
making a hole through the mulch and paper for planting seedlings.
Adding drip lines takes a little time, but saves a lot of time during
That's all I know.
Sounds as if you may need to re-terrace. If so, perhaps raised beds
could form your new terraces.
Well, not when WET and not when DRY. IME, working soil when it's
MOIST is the best time to do it - clay will be like a brick if dry,
and will really gum things up if wet. With other soils, dry can lead
to loads of airborne dust.
I have limited experience with clay - I know it's down underneath our
yard soil like 3 feet or so (deep enough not to be a concern for my
gardening efforts, but shallow enough that I've run into it when
trenching utilities). We have sandy loam where I'm at, and the other
side of town, where my in-laws live, they've got adobe (which is a
form of clay).
Each year, my mother in law would work multiple bags of soil mix into
her little patch of garden space to grow tomatoes, and the following
year, it'd have incorporated into the adobe. A few years ago, I
constructed her a couple of large (4x8 foot) raised beds with a thick,
water-permeable fabric on the bottom. The plan was to fill them up
with a compost/soil mix trailered in from my property (each would
require about 1 cubic yard to fill), but a neighbour of them ordered a
bunch of compost and soil mix for their yard and wheelbarrowed over
enough to fill one. After several years, that soil level has receeded
(as the compost in it completed breaking down), but it has remained
friable because it isn't being mixed with the underlying adobe.
I'm a huge fan of organic compost (not just "organic" in terms of it
being organic matter, but organic as in pesticide free, etc). I $#!t
you not, little over an hour ago, I had a semi-trailer dumptruck
unload a pile of organic compost into my garden. Depending upon your
access to the space, just burying it with organic compost and soil
mixtures is probably your best bet.
All sorts of sources for "compost". If you have, as we call them in
the US, "green bins" for yardwaste, your municipal waste handler
probably processes them into compost, and may be anm affordable
supplier of it. Around here, we have three waste bins: grey for
debris, blue for recyclables (paper/glass/metal/plastic), and green
for compostable yardwaste. The latter two are diverted from heading
to the landfill and are processed. Many of the local landscape supply
yards sell composted soil mixes which they're actually obtaining from
the municipal waste processor and just marking up.
Besides composted horse manure and shavings I get from a local stable,
I buy trailerloads of duck manure and rice hull compost from a large
and > 100 year old duck farm. By its nature, the stuff is fine, and
greatly improves water permeation and moisture retention in the soil
(though our sandy loam does a fine job of holding moisture actually,
water has a tendancy to bead up on the surface above all the fines --
till in a load of this compost, and it turns into a massive sponge.
This could be any number of things.
This will be your cheapest source of organic material, but by itself
won't make a good planting medium.
Take a pass. Okay for pathway stuff, but ground up wood is in effect
"carbon", and in order to complete it's compost cycle, will lock up
nitrogen from your soil. I get wood chips in 8-15 cubic yard loads
from local tree services - they do a job somewhere, and want to get
rid of the wood chips. It's good as a mulch for pathways and borders,
but I don't like it in the garden proper (and as I tractor-till the
whole garden space when I amend, "pathways" in the garden are only
temporary from season to season).
Decide if you're putting in a lawn, landscaping, or growing veggies -
the soil needs (workable depth and surface cover for instance) will
vary. If looking to lanscape (pockets of plants here and there) and
just convert the soil over a long time, mixing in wood chips might be
an option. If you want grass, they really won't be (as grass wants
Raised beds sound good, but try to keep the organic material (OM) to
around 5% by weight, according to Linda Chalker-Scott
Organic matter, Part 3: Nutrient overload
The Bottom Line
? Ideal soils, from a fertility standpoint, are generally defined as
containing no more than 5% OM by weight or 10% by volume
? Before you add organic amendments to your garden, have your soil
tested to determine its OM content and nutrient levels
? Be conservative with organic amendments; add only what is necessary to
correct deficiencies and maintain OM at ideal levels
? Do not incorporate organic amendments into landscapes destined for
permanent installations; topdress with mulch instead
? Abnormally high levels of nutrients can have negative effects on plant
and soil health
? Any nutrients not immediately utilized by microbes or plants
contribute to non-point source pollution
In truth, I don't always agree with Ms. Chalker-Scott, but that's
usually in relation to the unique situations I have in gardening on the
north side of a hill (in the NORTHERN HEMISPHERE).
More information for you to chew on.
If you don't go the raised bed route, I strongly suggest you plant some
buckwheat (Fast-growing warm-season crop. Grows in most any soil
and can smother weeds.), and/or rye grass (One of the best winter cover
crops. Grows rapidly in the fall. Dies before spring in North America.)
into your garden. Both of these plants put-out incredible amounts of
roots, which loosen the soil.
I like the "sheet mulching" approach (Ms. Chalker-Scott, not so much),
which I've outlined to you in my other post. Turn the soil once to add
your amendments. After that, let the worms do the work for you.
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