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Compacted soil for garden area  RSS feed

 
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Hello! It's my first time posting in the forum, although I've been reading threads for months.  Nice, big place y'all got here!  I'm hoping to get some direction on how to best go about fixing my soil.  I just had a large (40'x40') pad built for my 14'x36' greenhouse to sit on. The GH will have 3' wide beds running the length of the GH on each side. The base and the beds are being built using 1'x6" so the beds aren't necessarily fully "raised", more just defined. Thus, I will need to use much of the existing soil to grow in, while also adding more dirt/organic matter.  The remaining ground on the pad will accommodate at least 3, 3'x36' rows that I plan to use for summer vegetables.  The soil is clay, so good in terms of nutrients, but the building of the pad (bobcat) left it very compacted and it's not draining well.  The soil is very wet right now, so it needs to dry out before I can work it at all.  

To start, I'll list what I have to work with. I'm not opposed to purchasing amendments like lime, if needed, but want to stay organic, so no chemicals. We have 23 acres of heavy woods. That means I have all the leaves I could ask for. I have a leaf vacuum and shredder. I also have a large pile of 1 year old wood chips, a large pile of composted cow manure, and compost (food scraps, leaves, straw, poo, bedding) from the chicken coop that I'll clean out this spring.  

First issue: the GH beds. I intend to start growing in them in the fall of 2019. October/November would be ideal.  This gives me 8-9 months to prepare the soil. My considerations are:
1) dump manure and till in, then mulch with shredded leaves and wood chips. But I fear creating a hard-pan and just pushing the drainage issue deeper.  
2) dump manure, do NOT till in, then mulching with shredded and wood chips. Cross my fingers and hope that by fall the soil is improved enough to plant in.
3) dump (less) manure, plant a green compost crop, such as red or crimson clover. Add manure and turn in around September.

Second issue: the garden rows. I intend to use these rows for asparagus, blueberries and (this year) tomatoes. I would like to be able to start planting in these rows by May 1st at the latest. I can hold on the asparagus until next spring if needed. Considerations are:
1) till rows using tractor box blade/ripper, add manure then mix in using garden fork. Plant and mulch heavily.

I've attached a pic to give y'all an idea of the space.

I'd love to hear your suggestions or considerations, given my aspirations! Thanks!

20190115_111426.jpg
[Thumbnail for 20190115_111426.jpg]
 
pollinator
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I would till a lot of manure and a little leaf, then mulch with something that breaks down quick like hay or lawn clippings . But all your options seem plausible. I'm not keen on woodchips in my garden. I use them in the pasture.

On asparagus, most will say to make darn sure the ground is prepared because it will be there for 50 years. I plant shallow and add 1 or 2 " on top every year. This constantly improves the soil and they have adjusted to this. I am not in a hi freeze area, which is why they want the roots planted so deep? Idk.
 
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Hi Heather, welcome to Permies!!
A thought: if you have a tractor, does it have a PTO? If you can run a post hole digger to make holes, then add your mulch on the surface and in the holes, then add a bunch of worms, the worms will do a LOT for the area. The post holes will let water, nutrients, and worms down into the subsoil. Worms are nature's excavators  and soil aerators, and will get some depth going. If you can't post hole, rip as deep as you can before adding mulch and worms. I took a ripper to a welder and got them to put an extension on it, kind of made it a subsoiler or a keyline plow, cheap version. Once the worms and mulch are in you won't want to dig that deep again, this is a one time thing to jump start the process.

I'm sure people will chime in with the best order to put your mulches. :)

And incidentally, rereading what you wrote, tilling probably will turn the subsoil to hardpan, if you till, do only the top layers, stir things in, don't dig down. Dig down with a post hole, or ripper, and worms. The shape of tiller blades generally packs the clay tighter.
 
garden master
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Dr. Redhawk's soil series

Leaves, cow pies, & chicken straw are certainly good ingredients. The articles above might help decide which methods to use.

Asparagus does require deep loose soils. Well worth the effort. Asparagus also needs a dormant period in winter. If it doesn't freeze just cut the stalks down late fall/early winter.
 
Heather Ulrich
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Pearl Sutton wrote:Hi Heather, welcome to Permies!!
A thought: if you have a tractor, does it have a PTO? If you can run a post hole digger to make holes, then add your mulch on the surface and in the holes, then add a bunch of worms, the worms will do a LOT for the area. The post holes will let water, nutrients, and worms down into the subsoil. Worms are nature's excavators  and soil aerators, and will get some depth going. If you can't post hole, rip as deep as you can before adding mulch and worms. I took a ripper to a welder and got them to put an extension on it, kind of made it a subsoiler or a keyline plow, cheap version. Once the worms and mulch are in you won't want to dig that deep again, this is a one time thing to jump start the process.

I'm sure people will chime in with the best order to put your mulches. :)

And incidentally, rereading what you wrote, tilling probably will turn the subsoil to hardpan, if you till, do only the top layers, stir things in, don't dig down. Dig down with a post hole, or ripper, and worms. The shape of tiller blades generally packs the clay tighter.



Thanks, Pearl. I do not have an auger for the tractor. I do have the box blade with tines tho, that will go about 15" deep and rip.  I could then dump leaves, manure and mix well - adding worms once complete. I have serious reservations about using the tiller, so that will be my last option.
 
Heather Ulrich
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Mike Barkley wrote:Dr. Redhawk's soil series

Leaves, cow pies, & chicken straw are certainly good ingredients. The articles above might help decide which methods to use.

Asparagus does require deep loose soils. Well worth the effort. Asparagus also needs a dormant period in winter. If it doesn't freeze just cut the stalks down late fall/early winter.



Thanks, Mike. I've read a lot of Mr. Redhawk's series over the past several weeks. I think I just want someone to say "do this"! LOL

With asparagus, I'm willing to wait to get the right soil. I have another area with already perfect soil for asparagus, but it's at the top of my slope and will shade too much of the remaining garden beds during late summer, so I can't use it.
 
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First:  

Looks like you will have good drainage since you are on a slope. However you are going to deal with a run off problem from ground above the retaining wall. I'd ditch it somewhere to funnel the water away vs trying to deal with it. Your greenhouse will mainly be in use in the wet winter months.

The "beds" in the greenhouse:

I'd dig out the beds just like you were digging out for a footer, maybe 18"-24" deep.  I'd take the soil that was removed (or better soil you saved during making your pad) and I'd amend it with compost/composted manure.  Even if you have to go buy a few truck loads of good soil or compost it will be worth the effort to start with good soil. Then I'd fill my trenches I dug back up with good amended soil.


I started with rocky heavy clay on my 3K sq ft "traditional garden".  I deep tilled over 2 years and threw all the amendments at it that I could...loads of composted manure, compost I make here, mushroom compost, etc.  I then threw all that stuff at it again by the truckloads for 3 more years but only tilled lightly. I also cut a small 8" ditch on the back of the garden to get rid of so much runoff. My entire garden has a slope above it and there was just too much runoff entering my garden, so I ditched it and funnelled the water away from the garden.

Hindsight is always 20/20.  I should have done things entirely different. With all the effort I put into it I wish I would have just excavated down to 18" or so over the entire garden, tilled it, then hauled in dump truck loads of compost and manure to fill the 18" of depth back up. It took a lot of effort and money over 6-7 years to turn this clay into acceptable soil for gardening.

Treat your planting areas like raised beds:

I put in 800 sq ft of raised beds around my place. I was not going to extend my regular garden but wanted/needed more growing space.  I built my raised beds out of cedar, they are roughly 3.5 ft x 7.5ft x 20" tall.  I made a pad for the ones I put right out our back door for "salads" and specialty stuff. I then marked out the area that each bed would sit on. I then dug down 12-18" and used that nasty stuff as fill around my place.  I then went back in my woods where I had something that resembled topsoil. I hand dug it by the wheelbarrow loads, hauled it down to the house and mixed it 50/50 with composted wood chips /chicken litter  I had accumulated over  a year + about 50 bags of compost I bought at Home depot ($1.80/bag) and 10-15 bags of masonry sand.  I placed a single layer of wood that started to rot that I had originally split for firewood in the bottom of the trenches, placed the raised beds I had built over the trenches, then filled them to to the top with the new amended soil.  

Here's a pic of those 4 raised beds:



The soil in these raised beds is perfect...I wish I would have done my entire 3K sq ft garden like this from the start.

Asparagus:

I'd pick a place outside of the greenhouse. Asparagus needs to be viewed as a long term crop like apples, grapes, blueberries, brambles, etc. It will produce for years and will be perfectly content somewhere outside in your climate. Save your greenhouse space.

Do it right from the start and moving forward you will be able to spend more time growing and tending to things vs spending all that time trying to get your soil up to what you consider acceptable.

Good luck.


 
Heather Ulrich
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Lon Anders wrote:First:  

Looks like you will have good drainage since you are on a slope. However you are going to deal with a run off problem from ground above the retaining wall. I'd ditch it somewhere to funnel the water away vs trying to deal with it. Your greenhouse will mainly be in use in the wet winter months.

The "beds" in the greenhouse:

I'd dig out the beds just like you were digging out for a footer, maybe 18"-24" deep.  I'd take the soil that was removed (or better soil you saved during making your pad) and I'd amend it with compost/composted manure.  Even if you have to go buy a few truck loads of good soil or compost it will be worth the effort to start with good soil. Then I'd fill my trenches I dug back up with good amended soil.


I started with rocky heavy clay on my 3K sq ft "traditional garden".  I deep tilled over 2 years and threw all the amendments at it that I could...loads of composted manure, compost I make here, mushroom compost, etc.  I then threw all that stuff at it again by the truckloads for 3 more years but only tilled lightly. I also cut a small 8" ditch on the back of the garden to get rid of so much runoff. My entire garden has a slope above it and there was just too much runoff entering my garden, so I ditched it and funnelled the water away from the garden.

Hindsight is always 20/20.  I should have done things entirely different. With all the effort I put into it I wish I would have just excavated down to 18" or so over the entire garden, tilled it, then hauled in dump truck loads of compost and manure to fill the 18" of depth back up. It took a lot of effort and money over 6-7 years to turn this clay into acceptable soil for gardening.

Treat your planting areas like raised beds:

I put in 800 sq ft of raised beds around my place. I was not going to extend my regular garden but wanted/needed more growing space.  I built my raised beds out of cedar, they are roughly 3.5 ft x 7.5ft x 20" tall.  I made a pad for the ones I put right out our back door for "salads" and specialty stuff. I then marked out the area that each bed would sit on. I then dug down 12-18" and used that nasty stuff as fill around my place.  I then went back in my woods where I had something that resembled topsoil. I hand dug it by the wheelbarrow loads, hauled it down to the house and mixed it 50/50 with composted wood chips /chicken litter  I had accumulated over  a year + about 50 bags of compost I bought at Home depot ($1.80/bag) and 10-15 bags of masonry sand.  I placed a single layer of wood that started to rot that I had originally split for firewood in the bottom of the trenches, placed the raised beds I had built over the trenches, then filled them to to the top with the new amended soil.  

Here's a pic of those 4 raised beds:



The soil in these raised beds is perfect...I wish I would have done my entire 3K sq ft garden like this from the start.

Asparagus:

I'd pick a place outside of the greenhouse. Asparagus needs to be viewed as a long term crop like apples, grapes, blueberries, brambles, etc. It will produce for years and will be perfectly content somewhere outside in your climate. Save your greenhouse space.

Do it right from the start and moving forward you will be able to spend more time growing and tending to things vs spending all that time trying to get your soil up to what you consider acceptable.

Good luck.




Thank you for your post! The asparagus will definitely not go in the GH. It will go outside in the garden rows.. I had to go double check my post to make sure I specified that! LOL

In regards to the run-off from the ground above the retaining wall, so far (and we've had a good bit of rain lately) the yard design is working as intended and water is running off away from the wall. It's very hard to tell from the pic I posted, but we planned for that when building. The pad is very flat and slopes about 4' at the back (again, can't really see that in the pic) so the pad itself is not draining well. I've attached another pic, which is the best one I have but still not great. . Important to note that the dirt used to build the pad was the dirt already there - it was just moved by digging down in the front, putting in retaining wall and adding the dirt up in the back to level the pad. The pic will help describe this, I think.

I like your idea for the beds in the GH. That will definitely be the quickest way to guarantee good soil, ready for immediate use. I think I like that idea for the outside rows, as well. I want to stay away from building more raised beds, as this is where I intend to grow tomatoes (along with another large ground area, for rotation) My cages are 6' tall and I used raised beds last year and found it difficult to reach everything without stepping inside them or on the edges. I had one plant over 14' tall last year and it was very difficult to train it when I couldn't get in the middle of the beds.  The good news is that I have an excavator attachment and can dig down those beds easily.

Your beds are very beautiful, btw!



IMG_20190105_145517_857.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_20190105_145517_857.jpg]
 
Lon Anders
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Heather Ulrich wrote:

Thank you for your post! The asparagus will definitely not go in the GH. It will go outside in the garden rows.. I had to go double check my post to make sure I specified that! LOL

In regards to the run-off from the ground above the retaining wall, so far (and we've had a good bit of rain lately) the yard design is working as intended and water is running off away from the wall. It's very hard to tell from the pic I posted, but we planned for that when building. The pad is very flat and slopes about 4' at the back (again, can't really see that in the pic) so the pad itself is not draining well. I've attached another pic, which is the best one I have but still not great. . Important to note that the dirt used to build the pad was the dirt already there - it was just moved by digging down in the front, putting in retaining wall and adding the dirt up in the back to level the pad. The pic will help describe this, I think.

I like your idea for the beds in the GH. That will definitely be the quickest way to guarantee good soil, ready for immediate use. I think I like that idea for the outside rows, as well. I want to stay away from building more raised beds, as this is where I intend to grow tomatoes (along with another large ground area, for rotation) My cages are 6' tall and I used raised beds last year and found it difficult to reach everything without stepping inside them or on the edges. I had one plant over 14' tall last year and it was very difficult to train it when I couldn't get in the middle of the beds.  The good news is that I have an excavator attachment and can dig down those beds easily.

Your beds are very beautiful, btw!





Thanks for the compliment on my raised beds. They are from rough cut cedar that I harvested off our property and a neighbor milled for me. I wasn't going to stain them until the wife got involved...lol. She wanted them to match the rest of the cedar around here (House, guest house, chicken coop, rabbit hutch, shed, etc).

I'd say that since you have an excavator then it would be real simple to put in french drains to control your water pooling/setting problem with your pad.   Also since you have the equipment I am sure you are familiar with doing dirt/construction work.  With this said, spend the time, do it right and then you can forget about it for years to come, you know that and I know that. If you have the resources do it properly now. Sure don't paralyze yourself from making a decision but also make sure you make those decisions based on it being right with little maintenance for the next 20 years. Nothing worse than having to redo it/fix a problem.

I don't know what type of budget you can or can not afford but we can afford to do whatever we want at a cost of $1K-$5K at about anytime we want and not even worry about it. So many times I have said to myself "Self you are an idiot, you should have spent the extra $500 and done it right the fist time because it's cost you a lot more than that dealing with it later".

The new picture def helps me see the situation with the pad/run-off issue better. Thanks for posting it.

Good luck and make sure you keep us updated with the progress. Always like when folks start a thread about a project they are starting but hate it with all the guessing of "I wonder how it turned out for them" when they do not do any follow ups.
 
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Uhmm, lots of possible ways to deal with this.

THE GOOD
I would encourage worms to aerate the soil by giving them food.
I would also plant daikon radish/dandelion/ etc to aerate the soil for me.
I would cover the entire 40ft by 40ft area with 3ft of shredded leaves/woodchip/manure, and let it compost in place going down to 1ft of rich compost. the worms and critters will then mix that at least 1ft down into the clay. so you will have 2ft of wonderful soil. and over time the worms will bring that down even more.

THE BAD
Pretend that the clay soil will always be compacted and grade it so that it sheet water away quickly.
6inch of rich compost is more than enough for pretty much all vegetables that aren't root vegetables.
So just make 6+ inches of compost and add it to the raised bed, and "ignore the clay bare soil.
 
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