Some friends and I have the opportunity to turn an empty south facing lot with clayish soil into a permaculture garden in Whitefish Montana. Awesome.
The concern at the moment is that if the topsoil is layered too distinctly on top of the clay subsoil, water and roots will not penetrate into the subsoil. The Lot is bare and tightly compacted, and water runs off into an adjacent parking-lot. Renting a tiller to mix the clayish soil with organic matter to hold moisture and house EM has been mentioned, but I was wondering if anyone here had an opinion on the matter.
additional info: lot is roughly 51' on west and east sides, and 110' on south and north sides. There is an apartment building to the north, with wooden patio fences that catch nice heat(no gates on these,no access from apartments). Lot is nearly level, draining slightly towards the southeast and southwest, where the parking lot is draining our run-off. A swale will likely be dug along the southern side to hold moisture in the lot a while longer, and will allow us to build the soil up higher than is currently possible. We also plan on doing some Hugulkultur, if that changes your opinion.
thanks for your time! peace and much much love!
Steve Solomon talks about clay soil in his book, Gardening When it Counts. I did not understand his comments at the time I read the book, but I surely do now. His advise was to truck in topsoil and put it on top of the clay. The area I am working has been mowed grass for the last 20 years, and it is hard, compacted clay beneath the grass. I have been trying to use what is available on the land to get the area into decent shape and it has been tough. I'm overseeding with clovers and rye grass this fall to try and up the organic matter in the soil. Otherwise, I am going to have to truck in mulch, compost, and/or topsoil.
Apologies, a bit of a sidetrack:
Neal McSpadden wrote: I am considering buying topsoil to get things going a bit more quickly
Maybe look at buying in the equivalent value in good compost/spoiled hay/composted free-range manure?
I'd want to be very sure I was actually getting good topsoil, as it's quite likely to be about as challenging as what's there already.
I just get this mental picture of an unintegrated layer of soil lying on top of the clay like this . Ok, that's pretty melodramatic, but you get the picture!
M Taylor wrote:I have a similar situation except that I don't seem to have any topsoil on top of my compacted clay and rock. I was wanting to try some oilseed radish and clover mixes to bust it up and add organic material, but I am afraid that they won't germinate on top of the ground. I have been looking into seed drills, but I would prefer not to have to invest in a tool that I should only have to use once or twice. Any other ideas? Will the seeds germinate better if I cover them with straw or something similar?
Maybe fukuoka style seedballs could help
You might also think about getting a broadfork to loosen the soil a bit without turning it over. I have not used one myself, but have heard great things from people who have.
We just tillled the top 3 or 4 inches and planted. Lots of stuff grows fine in clay atleast when its tilled.