I didn't check all the responses, but it sounds like your friend has sub-soil
after the builder scraped off the first horizon of soil. This is virtually dead
soil and it will be very difficult to grow much of anything in it this year.
I suggest you find a source for pelletized gypsum. This will not change the pH
of the soil, but it will help with the soil texture. Also, do NOT till this
soil or you will further its clumping and it will be virtually impossible to
break up the clumps.
After you put down the gypsum, cover it all with a layer of compost no less than
4 inches thick and on top of that put at least 3 inches of mulch (shredded
hardwood is best do not use cypress). That will have to be it for the entire
summer, sorry to say.
In the fall, stick a fork in it and see what it has done. See if there are any
worms in it. If the texture is more friable. If it is still soaking wet and
clumpy, it is not going to change and I suggest your friend build planter boxes
12-14 inches deep and use them as raised beds.
All soils can be amended, but it is not a fast process with the stuff you are
Yeah.....I know ("difficult"). I can't believe she even bothered planting
carrots in it. The homeowners before her apparently made a checklist of the
100 stupidest things you could possibly do to the garden beds, and completed
the list. Example: In the vegetable area we're discussing, they installed
really tough landscape fabric about 8" below the clay. WTF??? I know that
stuff passes water, but still....it slows it down. No wonder the substance
above it is permanently wet.
Not that I've ever looked for it, but in 30 years of gardening, I've never
noticed pelletized gypsum in stores. Is it likely to be a garden center
product, or more likely found at a farm supply?
I'm going to send her a condolence card. :-(
This whole episode makes me realize how lucky I was in my previous house,
where I began gardening many years ago. The soil was passable the first
year. Not fabulous, but passable. My ex-wife bought a couple of books which
explained what should be obvious to anyone who's poked around a nice, rich
forest floor with years' of composted leaves. We immediately began making
the layers you described above, and within 2 years, the soil was amazing.
Also learned NOT to turn over the soil every spring, and walk all over it
I'm starting the whole process over in my new house, but I'm already 80% of
the way there. Wish I could say the same for my friend.
Every now and then I've found it at a building supply store (box store), but yes
it is more likely to find it in a garden center. A really good garden center
which sells soils and compost is the most likely to stock it.
When we bought this house I came with a digging fork. In other words,that was a
deal breaker! Here in Texas, especially in the Hill Country, there can be as
little as one inch of soil on top of limestone. We have very deep, very
delicious smelling soil. I actually smells like frankincense.
I'd buy some inexpensive planks and build a few raised beds. Fill them
with topsoil, compost, composted manure, etc purchased from the local
garden center. Grow in the raised beds this summer. This autumn, if
desired, the planks can be removed and the soil worked into the
underlying clay along with some additonal amendments.
Buy Schultz Clay Soil Conditioner in 10 or 40 pound bags. Also sold as
Profile and Vole Blocker. It is a heat expanded and then crushed mineral
product and is a permanent fix for clay soils. I have used for 4 or 5 years
and the clay soil continues to be loose. Schultz recommends using 1 part
conditioner to 4 parts soil or a 1 inch layer mixed with the soil. I found
to be better. It would still be good to add organic matter for the nutrient
Over the years I have used perlite, vermiculite and small pea gravel which
also improve the air, water and solid mix.
....with a qualification: This is for a friend who hopes to grow a few
vegetables NOW. Onward: Went to a friend's house to help her put in a bunch
of plant seedlings before she left on a trip. When I went to weed the
planting area, I discovered clay like I've never dealt with before except in
a pottery class. You know how you try and break bad news gently to friends?
Not this time: "S, you have to be f~~king kidding me! How long have you
known about this?" Well, she's new at it, and not familiar with the wide
spectrum of possible soil conditions. To her, this was within the range of
acceptable. She'll find out otherwise when her carrots stage a rebellion. It
hadn't rained in a week, but a small handful of this stuff weighted about
300 lbs. :-) I made some nice figurines and a bowl out of it.
I know how to add improvements that will benefit her NEXT season (alfalfa
cover crop, etc). But, is there anything at all that'll lighten this stuff
up even a little, right now, assuming our backs are capable of turning over
more than 4 square feet of it per day?
The plot thickens. My friend's dad is a farmer. We got a local suggestion
for adding shredded hay as a "semi-sorta-kinda-part of the whole plan"
solution. And, I'm leaning toward explosives. I'm so glad I'm not going
through this on my property......I actually insisted on poking the earth in
about 50 spots before I signed the purchase offer on this place. The place
is an earthworm resort. Life is good.
Anything organic. We have awful clay soil here in the area, and I've found
compacted sphagnum peat to be the most economical, and really works to break
up the clay structure. Don't ad it on top, as you will still have that
barrier of clay below to prevent good drainage, unless you plan to use
raised beds. Otherwise, mix it in with the existing soil (or clay) to a
depth of 6-12". Don't add uncomposted organic material (leaves, etc.)
before growing, as the decomposition process will tie up nutrients and make
them unavailable to your plants. In fall, after you're finished for the
season is a good time to add that sort of thing or plant a cover crop such
as winter rye. Keep doing this every year with as much as you can afford
until you have soil as good as the farmer's!
Suzy, Zone 5, Wisconsin
A friend just called from over the border (Pennsylvania) to say he'd stopped
in a small town for coffee, and located a source for M-80s, a firecracker
(understatement) which is supposedly illegal all over the place. I'm
thinking these could be an interesting short term solution to the soil
I had heavy clay soil... it was unfired pottery with grass growing on it!
I started with peat and gypsum sold as soil soft at wallmart.
I got 3 large bales of peat a tiller and the gypsum amd tilled ia all in.
5 hp tiller OVERLOADED on my soil push back up push back up ect to be fair
it was a 15 year old tiller from my dad.
All that peat started to rot and sucked all the N out of my soil sick
looking yellow plants and M grow only helped for 5-7 days.
That fall I got leaves from everyone I knew and just dumped the on top with
chicken wire around it to keep it from blowing away.
Tilled it all in and got a bagging lawn mower and started a compost heap
4 YEARS later its great I just mulch with grass clippings and the giant
worms do it all for me. Soft soil eazy digging happy plants.
I didn't see that whole thread, but I was sure happy to see yours!
I'm in West Tennessee and I too have many many moonshine jugs out there that
have not yet been fired!
I will keep your message for future reference.
:I had heavy clay soil... it was unfired pottery with grass growing on it!
: I started with peat and gypsum sold as soil soft at wallmart.
: I got 3 large bales of peat a tiller and the gypsum amd tilled ia all in.
: 5 hp tiller OVERLOADED on my soil push back up push back up ect to be fair
: it was a 15 year old tiller from my dad.
: All that peat started to rot and sucked all the N out of my soil sick
: looking yellow plants and M grow only helped for 5-7 days.
: That fall I got leaves from everyone I knew and just dumped the on top
: chicken wire around it to keep it from blowing away.
: Tilled it all in and got a bagging lawn mower and started a compost heap
: 4 YEARS later its great I just mulch with grass clippings and the giant
: worms do it all for me. Soft soil eazy digging happy plants.
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