So, I am trying to add some organic matter to a new garden spot being developed. The current soil in that spot is heavy clay, which has been ripped and currently has a cover crop (crimson clover) on it. I am actively working on a few different approaches for soil amendments, but specifically one thought I had to jump start my organic matter and compost production would be to grow plants on another part of the property for the sole purpose of composting and incorporating into the soil of this new garden spot.
I have seen this discussed somewhat in the context of “dynamic accumulators,” but the purpose there is to accumulate dense nutrients. I was thinking instead of growing something that would create a large volume of easily harvestable produce to allow me to bulk up on some organic matter to incorporate via a “one-time-till” to break up the clay a bit.
So what if I planted a relatively large quantity of squash or similar plants on a portion of my property that is currently underutilized, let them grow, picked the squash, and basically composted all of it to be added to an area for future vegetable gardening. I don’t know that squash is ideal for this purpose, but squash are prolific and should create quite a volume of produce.
I am open to suggestions as to whether in general this idea has any merit, as well as suggestions for plants that would produce compostable volumes easily.
Adding in vegetable matter is always a good idea and since you have the ground open, now is the time to start. You could grow the squash, but if you wanted to start right now, I would try to find some fallen leaves to simply pile on the spot. Leaves are a simple and hard to beat form of organic matter to throw into the mix. And if you do so now, come spring when things start warming up again the microbes will wake up and be ready to munch their way through the leaves you provided them.
Thank you for the suggestion. I did drag home one pickup truck bed full of leaves this year, which is a start. I have a lead on many more, but that would be next year. I may have a few leaves to rake to add to the pile, but I have to leave the leaves that fall under my mature trees as a mulch/ground cover or the trees seem to die... (Its a tough life on solid clay.)
I am working on a biochar kiln and I have a wood chipper to process some dead/dying trees. Chips are probably best as a mulch, since I don't have animal manure onsite to compost them with.
I was also able to drag home a large pile of decent "dirt/soil" from neighboring family property, where a pond was dug out and piled ages ago.
I think growing growing stuff just for compost is a great idea. I don't know that I would mess with something I have to plant and take of though. I am lucky to have enoughland and access to a lot more that I find most of what I need in the form of weeds.
I've grown especially fond of some I used to hate before I discovered them to be extremely useful. European thistles, Johnson grass, burdock, giant ragweed. Used to hate all those things but now I have to be careful not to over harvest my conveniently located supplies. I let them all get big and harvest the whole plants just before flowering to use as mulch. Then I just leave it to compost on it's own. My gardens are inside fences so I rake up lots of leaves and just pitch them over the fence. The wind generally piles them up against the fence somewhere but they can't get out and I find a use for them the next spring.
Good job on the wood chips. I do make extensive use of those and they are invaluable in a garden.
I do understand how challenging clay can be—I have some pretty solid clay myself, but over the years I have turned it into something closer to a loam soil by adding in all sorts of organic matter.
If you want a long term, dedicated composting crop, it is hard to beat comfrey. Once established (about a Year), comfrey produces hefty yields year after year. There are all sorts of ways to utilize comfrey but I find the best way to do so is simply chop-and-drop.
I don't think squash is a good choice, yes they produce lots of weight but they are 95% water so most of that weight is just going to vanish. I would think about adding lawn clippings, leaves, hedge trimmings that type of "harder" material.
Good point. I looked up some numbers, it looks like Butternut squash are slightly better at 86% water instead of 95% with summer squash, but obviously that is still far from ideal. The table I saw seemed to have that most "vegetables" are at least 2/3 water or more.
Part of my plan was to grow something that would be higher in nitrogen to go alongside the carbon, since I don't presently have animals/manure. I have a few spots to grow some compostables, do I could always try a few different plants.
What is the PH of the clay? My clay patch was running about 5 and like you I planted clovers and added a little alfalfa. The alfalfa struggled for a few years because of the low PH. I planted some radishes and a mix of rye 3 years later and the worms came back and drained it. It now is growing a food forest with clover, wild radishes and comfrey for acumulators. I have noticed as the soil health improves the PH goes neutral and clay becomes loam.
The best place to pray for a good crop is at the end of a hoe!
The PH of the garden spot was 6.0 when I tested it this summer, but that was the very thin topsoil (tan clay) not the red clay beneath. I did put some small amounts of lime and fertilizer on it before I seeded the clover, seeing as how there was not much existing bioactivity to worry about upsetting and generally things are hard pressed to survive here without it. I want to build up the soil to the point that isn't true here anymore.
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