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Tips for getting soggy spring soil to dry out faster?

 
Posts: 87
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Each spring it's the same - I eagerly await the time when I can start planting, waiting for the last average frost date.   This year, I've purchased many bare-root plants for my food forest.  They arrived when there was still snow on the ground.   I put them in a mix of sawdust (as suggested by the vendor) and wood chips (because I ran out of sawdust).

My last average frost date is May 5th, and the temperature forecast looks good. I'm eager to get them into the ground, but most of the target locations are still a gooey, sticky mess!  

It's pretty weird, because in one 20'x20' section, the area right close to my very large Douglas fir is somewhat sandy and fairly dry.... but that's not where I want to plant these.   10 feet away, it's impossible.  I might as well be in art class with clay that someone put too much water in.

This is a new area that has not been amended yet, which is one reason it's so gooey.    To try to alleviate the problem and let it dry out faster, I've cleared the area of weeds and fallen pine cones.   I've taken a broadfork to a few places and just lifted the soil enough to allow air to get around and under (not totally sure that's a good idea, but it worked on another garden area last year).

Any other ideas for trying to get it to dry out enough that I can plant?

We're starting to have nice days with high-50's, but not a lot of sun - high clouds.   Just when I think "just a couple of more days of sun, and I can plant" it drizzles or sprinkles.
 
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This is one reason I built raised nursery beds atop bedrock, so I could put plants in them during our 12-20” of rain per month winter-springs. I plant them out as the weather allows until it gets hot (in May here), and what I don’t get around to can make it happily through the summer for fall planting, which is better in many ways anyhow. Being atop bedrock in a 50-50% mix of river sand and compost, the whole root system is easier to remove.

For many things like strawberries I also see the drainage benefits of hugel beds as being as beneficial as the water retention.
 
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Something that dear hubby and I did every year after buying our first house was to have a load of sand brought in.  We lived there 2 1/2 years and that was our spring routine every year.

I would suggest making a map of where these soggy areas are so at a later date you can repair those areas.  

Not know what kind of land you have my suggestion is related to land with trees.

This will also be a long-term goal if I were doing this.

When the weather is better and I could get out into those areas I would collect any leaves I could find, from whatever source is available.  Then I would start filling those areas with those leaves.  On top of those leaves, I would put wood chips to keep them from blowing away. Over time the leaves will break down and turn into finished compost aka leaf mold aka black gold.

I understand that you are wanting to do something now.

If I wanted to do something now I would call up my local dirt hauler and have a load of sand brought in.  If I could have them dump it in those spots I would do that though probably those spots may not be accessible with a big truck so I would use a wheel barrel to put sand in different locations.

Best wishes for getting those plants planted and for your food forest.
 
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Anne Miller wrote:Something that dear hubby and I did every year after buying our first house was to have a load of sand brought in.  We lived there 2 1/2 years and that was our spring routine every year.

If I wanted to do something now I would call up my local dirt hauler and have a load of sand brought in.  If I could have them dump it in those spots I would do that though probably those spots may not be accessible with a big truck so I would use a wheel barrel to put sand in different locations.



Is sand really a good option to put over clay? No risk of making "concrete" as I've read warnings about? Is that only if you mix/till it, while just laying it on top creates a good drainage layer between the eventual organic layer above the sand?

On top of the sand you want to create an organic layer or bring in some quality growing soil so that you can grow stuff, right?
 
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Until plants break their winter dormancy and start drawing water up into their roots, the soil will be soggy.
 
Loretta Liefveld
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Ben Zumeta wrote:This is one reason I built raised nursery beds atop bedrock, .



I do have 3 large raised (2 feet tall) beds, and another one is planned.  But I just don't like raised beds that much.   I like a more natural look.
 
Loretta Liefveld
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Kris Nelson wrote:

Is sand really a good option to put over clay? No risk of making "concrete" as I've read warnings about? Is that only if you mix/till it, while just laying it on top creates a good drainage layer between the eventual organic layer above the sand?

On top of the sand you want to create an organic layer or bring in some quality growing soil so that you can grow stuff, right?



If you have a lot of organic material mixed in, sand doesn't hurt.  But just sand and clay isn't a good mixture.
 
Loretta Liefveld
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Anne Miller wrote:
When the weather is better and I could get out into those areas I would collect any leaves I could find, from whatever source is available.  Then I would start filling those areas with those leaves.  On top of those leaves, I would put wood chips to keep them from blowing away. Over time the leaves will break down and turn into finished compost aka leaf mold aka black gold.

I understand that you are wanting to do something now.



Once I can work the soil, I have a huge load of compost I plan on working in.    From then on, it will be much easier to work every year.   Sand just isn't an option for me.  I have an entire riverfront beach I can get sand from, but I prefer using organic matter.    Plus, even if I did get sand, I wouldn't be able to do anything except let it stay on top, because of the current condition of the soil.   I wouldn't be able to work it in, and letting it just sit on top doesn't help.

But thanks for the thought.
 
Ben Zumeta
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“Clay on sand is money in the hand, sand on clay will never pay” is an old saying I’ve heard from wiser gardeners than I. That said I have clay and rocks to work with at my place. I am using small earthworks, biodiversity and biomass as my primary tools.

I sympathize with your preference for a natural look, and on flat ground I generally do not frame raised beds. I have also built a lot of terraces and effectively terraced raised beds working along the contour on slopes with local native materials like rock and tree trunks as the frame holding up the soil, which I am afraid is the only way I know how to really mitigate your drainage problem. I did a lot of trailwork in my younger days and this has informed my techniques and aesthetics, which rarely include straight lines.
 
Loretta Liefveld
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Ben Zumeta wrote:

I sympathize with your preference for a natural look, and on flat ground I generally do not frame raised beds. I have also built a lot of terraces and effectively terraced raised beds working along the contour on slopes with local native materials like rock and tree trunks as the frame holding up the soil, which I am afraid is the only way I know how to really mitigate your drainage problem. I did a lot of trailwork in my younger days and this has informed my techniques and aesthetics, which rarely include straight lines.



Thanks, Ben.  I've started a few hugel beds in a few places, and that should help.  This worst area is about 8 feet away from the bottom of a very slight slope.  Can't do any kind of raised earth, because that's where our fence is, and I don't want the fence to deteriorate.  

I'm sure that once it get amended, it will be OK - it's just getting to that point that it's a problem.  And there's such a short period of time between 'a-little-bit-too-wet-but-workable' and 'dry-as-a-bone-and-cannot-be-worked'.  

To give a little background....  we purchased this place 5 years ago.  It had been partially rented out, with the owners only visiting once a year.  Primary soil texture is clay.  A significant portion of the back yard has river rock on top, then about 4-6 inches of gravel and then black plastic under all of that.  Under all of that are basalt rocks and schist/sandstone/limestone.    Beyond the back yard is a hay field.   We expanded the back yard about 8 feet into the hay field - the fence used to be right at the top of the slope mentioned above.  

Each year I've been amending different areas so I can actually plant something in them.  Of course, the 'smart' thing  would be to dig up and amend an area for planting the NEXT year.  But somehow, I always manage to buy plants for THIS year's planting before I've actually amended the soil for those plants.   Hence, they are still in moist sawdust, while I desperately try to get their new homes set up in a very short amount of time
 
Anne Miller
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Loretta Liefveld wrote: I prefer using organic matter.



I prefer organic material, too.  That is why that was my first suggestion.

The sand was only a quick fix, for now, to help you get to places to plant those bare-root plants.

I hope someone has made a suggestion that will help.
 
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Here's a thought, dig temporary ditches on either side of where you want to plant. I have areas that were so wet in spring that anything transplanted there would rot. This spring the water is in my new dug out paths. Maybe dig rings around the planting spot, near the projected canopy of the two year old size, allow the water to drain enough. Once things dry out a bit, fill in your trenches with sticks and the dug out soil for mini hugle kultres. The rings may hold more water where you need it during your dry season.

I dug portions of these paths while my clay was sopping wet. I put the dug soil in reclaimed pots, and set them under my porch. Time passed, the so drained without forming the cement clods that happens in my garden.
 
Loretta Liefveld
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Joylynn Hardesty wrote:Here's a thought, dig temporary ditches on either side of where you want to plant. I have areas that were so wet in spring that anything transplanted there would rot. This spring the water is in my new dug out paths. Maybe dig rings around the planting spot, near the projected canopy of the two year old size, allow the water to drain enough. Once things dry out a bit, fill in your trenches with sticks and the dug out soil for mini hugle kultres. The rings may hold more water where you need it during your dry season.

I dug portions of these paths while my clay was sopping wet. I put the dug soil in reclaimed pots, and set them under my porch. Time passed, the so drained without forming the cement clods that happens in my garden.



Wow!  Great ideas!  Interesting that the soil in the pots under your porch didn't form cement.  Today is supposed to be sunny... and then the next several days, rainy.   I'll give it a try today.

How deep are your 'water paths'?  They look like maybe 4-6 inches??
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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Yes, about that deep. I need to get back to them, to make them level. They are not on contour... for reasons... so one end may be 2 or 3 inches higher.

I'm hoping that during our seasonal drought, what little rain falls, will soak in better. But it's just 2 months, and not without any rain during it. Much different than California. I hope to not need to water my gardens in the future.  But we're not there yet!
 
Anne Miller
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Where I live now the soil is sandy so when it rains the soil drains very fast.

When we had our homestead, the soil was called "black gumbo", it was horrible to try to walk in it after a rain.

What I really found helpful was a pair of rubber boots, similar to these:



Rain/Muck Boots

Muck boots

These also come in various color, even like these:


source

Also, we made a quick and easy path out of roll roofing, though that was before folks knew about the danger of roofing and ground contact.

I would like to suggest a boardwalk or a log walk like I have read about in Louis Lamour's books:


source


source

Even leaves or mulch, if mulched heavily might work well:


source
 
Loretta Liefveld
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Anne Miller wrote:When we had our homestead, the soil was called "black gumbo", it was horrible to try to walk in it after a rain.



haha - mine is like that, if it really rains hard/long or when the snow is melting.

What I really found helpful was a pair of rubber boots,



OMG - I have a pair of those, and they do keep your feet dry, but the mud clumps to the bottom of them until your walking on stilts, or those 'platform shoes' so popular in the 70's.

I would like to suggest a boardwalk or a log walk



I love that first boardwalk!  I've been wanting to do that from my covered patio to my chicken coop.

Even leaves or mulch, if mulched heavily might work well:



Once it dries out, I'm planning on mulching heavily.  
 
Anne Miller
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Loretta said, "OMG - I have a pair of those, and they do keep your feet dry, but the mud clumps to the bottom of them until your walking on stilts, or those 'platform shoes' so popular in the 70's.



I have a suggestion for this problem.

Carry a bucket of water with you which can be used to water the plants you are planting.

When the rubber boots get clogged with mud, stick you foot into the water to wash the mud off.
 
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