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Hydrophobic garden soil

 
Linda Depersis
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I have a garden spot picked out for my fall broccoli and cabbage. Last year it was the same area my dairy cows used while eating hay and waiting to be milked. I thought all of their manure, etc. would have added to my soil's fertility. This spring through summer I planted peas, radishes and green beans and squash in that area. The radishes did well, but everything else seemed stunted and barely produced. Except for lots of weeds. I pulled weeds all summer.

Last weekend I tilled up what was left and added about 4 inches of mushroom compost, then tilled that in. Today while I was putting in my broccoli transplants I noticed the water just running off instead of soaking in to the roots. I'm all out of mushroom compost and almost out of time for these transplants. Any ideas? I had planned on mulching with last fall's leaves and old bales of hay. But I don't know if it is even worth planting in this site if I can't get the water to soak in. I read about using a surfactant like 7th generation dish soap diluted with water. I just don't want to make the problem worse before I can "fix" it.
 
James Slaughter
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Yucca or aloe vera - saponins in the plant make it work.

https://www.thcfarmer.com/community/threads/natural-wetting-agent.45654/
 
Rich Pasto
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its like there is too much organic material in there. Too dense. enough vermiculite to loosen it up. Maybe some peat moss sweetened with some lime.
 
Marc Troyka
pollinator
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Location: East Central GA, Ultisol, Zone 8, Humid
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Probably just got compacted from cows standing on the same spot over and over. Also, my understanding is that if cow poo is left out it kinda turns into a brick before it breaks down. You might take a digging fork to it, although I don't know how much it will help.
 
Sheena James
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Location: USA
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Rich Pasto wrote:its like there is too much organic material in there. Too dense. enough vermiculite to loosen it up. Maybe some peat moss sweetened with some lime.


Yes, I agree. I guess you've planted too much. Maybe it's better to plant it alternately. Maybe two types of plants first (broccoli and radish) then after you've harvested it, then toil and let it loose for at least some time then plant another one again.
 
Marc Troyka
pollinator
Posts: 360
Location: East Central GA, Ultisol, Zone 8, Humid
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Reading over, now that you'e tilled it there's probably not much to do, but if only root vegetables like radish and carrots will do well there, then perhaps that is what you should plant!
 
Morgan Morrigan
Posts: 1400
Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
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Too much nitrogen , or nitrate?

peas, beans , and quash are all tricky about good soil.

put in things that soak it up, shallow rooted salad stuff.
lettuces , radishes, other greens.

put in slower growing veggies next fall.

the mycelium fur may be all thru the soil, and bonding to the clays, as if was peat.
you can add plain sand too, but crushed glacial stone would be best.
 
Tim Luden
Posts: 26
Location: Missouri
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I'm still a newb here and to permaculture but when I ran a PC company we also did lawn, tree and shrub care/fertilization (most of which completely goes against perm/organic) but if customers lawns/soil was hydrophobic the solution was to mix in soap which would loosen up the soil by breaking the surface tension. Applying that to my new/our current world I'd think a cheap easy solution would be to get some organic dish soap and heavily dilute (20 to 50-1) and water in.

As mentioned above, 7th generation soap will take quiet a while. Good luck, let us know what you've done and found. And take as many pics and document everything you can so we can all learn from each other. I'm trying to do the same.
 
Linda Depersis
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Pictures is a great idea. I'll do that tomorrow.

The soil is more dusty, like flour- rather than sandy. When the wind blows I can see the soil blow off.

There aren't any cow patties that you can visibly see. It was all tilled in back in May.

At first I was tilling in the mushroom compost in the row before I planted. But after seeing that once tilled in, the soil was back to looking like flour- I stopped tilling in the compost. I switched to just planting directly into the compost.

Then, I bought some organic dish soap and diluted it- a small squirt to a gallon of water. I watered each individual plant with the soapy water. Then I used crumbled leaves from last year as a mulch around the plants. Next, I watered again, each plant individually with a gentle shower. The soil that had the soapy water applied did absorb more water than the plants without the soapy water. I wanted to see if there really would be a difference.

At some point I ran out of leaves for topping off. It took me a few hours to bring back more to my garden site. By then, the plants without the top layer of leaves were already starting to wilt. And any water that I applied just ran off into the walk way. I finished up with leaves today and watered again.

The first rows that I completed yesterday are still only damp down to about an inch. But the plants themselves look perky. The mushroom compost looks nice and crumbly, dark. But an inch below that it is still the powdery soil. I'm hoping to get the soil to absorb more water by giving it regular water each day and keeping it covered with leaf compost.

This is the first time I've dealt with soil that won't absorb water. At least I'm learning a lot.
 
Varina Lakewood
Posts: 116
Location: Colorado
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I haven't dealt with that particular soil type, <sounds like some sort of chalk, perhaps?>, but I can give you a couple tips for long term improvement.
1. Keep planting in your mushroom compost and leaf and hay mulch for now, that was an excellent idea. You can use any or all of the three in conjunction with the following.
2. If you can deal with the labor, dig a hole, put in a layer of fresh garden compost, then layer in dirt>compost>dirt until hole is filled. Dry stuff like leaves or end of the season garden detritus can be layered in also. This usually is only two compost layers deep. Layering in the dirt does two things: it adds the soil microorganisms more directly to the compost, and puts the decomposing material where it'll be worked into the soil sandwich more thoroughly and quickly. You'll want at least two or three inches of dirt as the top layer to keep the smell from escaping.
3. If you don't have the time or energy for all that, just scrape back the dirt, add a thick layer of leaves, put the dirt back. you can put a thin layer of compost underneath or manure on top of the leaves if you are worried about nutrition levels. This does two things: gives you a non-burning, non-compacted layer of moisture retention right at root level, and gives you an instant raised bed effect. You only need about an inch or two of dirt to top this.
I use both of these. Neither magically improves the soil overnight, but over a few years it makes a big impact. I try not to plant over fresh compost, so the compost holes are rotating and we try to get them done in fall or the mild part of winter for the areas that are going to see the most use. The raised leaf bed can be planted immediately after making it, and I've had lovely results, the only downside is that it needs more manure or other fertilizer such as fish emulsion during the growing season for heavy feeders, since leaves are a bit low nutrition. But squash will grow like crazy on it with no extra effort.

Edit: Tilling is a long standing farming technique, but over time it damages your soil, letting nutrients escape, breaking down the overall tilth of the soil, and creating more run off and more loose soil that blows away. Particularly with fragile soil types. It you feel it is something that is integral to your garden, you might want to make sure you have a heavy layer of mulch [rotten hay springs to mind], to till in when you till, which should at least help the tilth of the soil.
 
2017 Appropriate Technology Course at Wheaton Labs http://richsoil.com/pdc
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