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sheet mulching compacted clay?

 
Angelika Maier
Posts: 709
Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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I don't know were to put this it isn't exactly about huegelculture.
We have a very compacted thin poor soil which is 10 cm deep at most and underneath is fill, some soil, concrete, pavers roadbase...
I tried to build huegelbeds on the top of this soil, because digging a trench is incredibly hard there. I would certainly dig over a week for just one bed and break several handels.
The huegelbeds did fine as long as the weather was very wet. But not it goes back to dry and they are a nearly complete failure.
Now I think of trying sheet mulch. It is easy work. But how does sheet mulch do with less rainfall? I don't want to build timber frames around as this is expensive and not practical. Am I able to build up enough soil or will I have to bring in stuff every year? It is quite clear that no root can break through concrete under the thin topsoil so the roots would mainly be restricted on what is on the top. Is it advisable to buy soil? I mean the cheap stuff which is not topsoil. I usually buy cow manure and mushroom compost in bulk and spent lucerne hay. I can buy woodchips by the truckload. I can get some lawn clippings for free. What are your experiences?
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
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Location: North Central Michigan
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i have deep clay soil..but I don't have the rubble problem (except where a houe burned and that has a lawn/drive over it.

I would try to locate where all the rubble is and put drought tolerant species there..if it was an old construction area or whatnot..if possible have a backhoe or something dig up the area and remove the rubble..otherwise if you can't..make use of it for the drought tolerant species on top of it.

then find any areas where the soil may be deeper for planting trees and shrubs or plants that need a deep taproot.

the hugel beds might need a drip irrigation system on the top of them if it is super dry up there..in order to have plants survive the very dry conditions, but use a lot of good quality mulch as well..and put some of that clay in that hugelbed..but mix it in well with the other things in there..the clay will help it to hold some moisture.

you can also grow SOME DWARF fruit trees in pots on the property..use the largest types of pots you can find..and remove the bottoms of them for drainage and for roots to get out if they can..and put ina good amount of good soil and then add your tree and soil up to the top..

lots of vegetables and whatnot can also be planted in containers..a container can be anything..but you'll still have a problem with the drought..so you'll have to water or provide some moisture holding particulate in the fillling of the pots..use a mix of some of the clay that is already in your soil with the fill..use a dripper or soaker hose if you can? hope this helps
 
Angelika Maier
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Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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I realized that the fruit trees I planted directly in our soil/fill did in most cases better than those on the hills.
We have half a acre of fill, everything.
 
julian kirby
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Angelika, Plant Deep Rooted annuals like alfalfa, their roots may pull some of the debris up (I find rocks in my uncles raised bed every year and we double dig it every year), and I have read anecdotal evidence that it will grow into rock. or you could innoculate the alfalfa with mycorhizzal fungi so that there will be plenty of exudes digesting your clay/rock/dirt. inoculate as many different plants as you can with nitrogen fixing bacteria as well. Getting large amounts of organic matter into your clay is one of the best way to increase water retention. Grow plants that produce massive amounts of biomass off of your lowest quality spot, with the least amount of water needed, cut it down and either compost it or mulch it in where needed.

Do you have a worm bin? if you do spread a small amount of castings and a layer of green waste underneath your 1st layer of sheet mulch, the castings when wet release an exude that attracts other worms, kind of like an endorsement for your menu. If you don't already collect the rain water from your gutters in rain barrels, do so if you can. I have got a few rubber totes I set out on our drive way to collect rain water, I store them in the garage till needed.

Cover crops are important to keeping the soil moist.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
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Location: North Central Michigan
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some plants LIKE rubble..the peach family seems to be one of those which might include the nectarine, plum, and cherry trees as well..but I would still make sure there is enough soil for some root ball
 
Shawn Aune
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Brenda Groth wrote:some plants LIKE rubble..the peach family seems to be one of those which might include the nectarine, plum, and cherry trees as well..but I would still make sure there is enough soil for some root ball


Agreed! One such plant is Mullein
 
Angelika Maier
Posts: 709
Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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If peach like rubble that is good. Anyway I want to plant some in the chicken run they like chicken poo too.
 
Robert dicosta
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I would certainly dig over a week for just one bed and break several handels.
The huegelbeds did fine as long as the weather was very wet. But not it goes back to dry and they are a nearly complete failure.
 
wayne stephen
steward
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Location: Western Kentucky-Climate Unpredictable Zone 6b
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Funny , I was just reading the JLHudson,Seedsman catalog. Quote regarding Milk Thistle { Silybum Marianum } "California ranchers claim it loosens hard , compacted soil , and make their own "clod buster" from chopped plants soaked in 55gallon drums of water." He sells for $2.00 - 100 to 500 seeds. Thistles will grow anywhere. They are dynamic accumulators , can be sold as medicine , are good eating - stalks taste like artichoke.
 
dj niels
Posts: 181
Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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Angelika, when you say "cool" I'm not sure exactly what you mean by cool; when I lived in Maine, and in western Washington, they were both cool, but different. Anyway, in Maine my sheet mulches didn't work very well because the summers were so short, and the permanent mulch kept the soil from warming up until almost too late to get a crop.

When we lived in Delaware, my small garden was built almost entirely with the grass clippings I collected from neighbors, and it was very productive for a tiny space, but you need to be careful about herbicides used on many lawns, in the "weed and feed" a lot of people use.

A sheet mulch does a good job of catching and holding moisture from heavy rains, into the dry season, but sometimes prevents light rains from getting through to the soil and plants. Here in Colorado I find I need to run a soaker hose under the mulch so I can get water to the plant roots, but as my soil improves I hope to be able to do less watering and hold the moisture from the fall, winter, and spring rain and snow (most of our precipitation comes in the "off-season"). After some experimentation, I have noticed that the beds we dug out deeper and have the mulch layers sunken instead of raised, seem to do better in my dry climate, but if in an area with lots of rain that might not be as desired.

My back yard has a heavy clay soil. When we first moved here 6 years ago, I raked off the gravel a previous owner had spread over the yard, and just put down sheet mulches and lasagna beds. Two years ago when we needed to move the beds, I lifted off the beautiful soil we had created with the sheet mulches, and the ground underneath is still hard-packed clay. My sons had to work hard with picks to loosen the soil so we could dig out our new partially sunken greenhouse. In fact, even in our sandy soil at my market garden site, there is a compacted layer that requires the pick and shovel routine. I know it can be very frustrating to look at our individual situations and try to figure out how to turn a "problem" into a 'solution."

The hugel beds will probably work well for you, but based on my reading in this forum, and the videos, etc, you may need to use a soaker or drip system in the first couple of years until the wood starts to rot down and hold moisture for your plants. And it might take a couple of seasons with pioneers and cover crops and nitrogen fixers etc to build up the soil so it can support trees.

djn
 
Rick Valley
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So without answering anyone in particular, here's some of my experiences- Digging into rubble, especially of a burn, could be exposing heavy metals in active forms. I'd build soil on top. sheet mulch varies tremendously. If you want the mess to heat up more, make a broader seeding zone, even if some of it is very shallow, so it is helpful in heating up. Crushed charcoal can help darken the area. Mound beds won't dry out if they have good clay content in the soil which is well-distributed in the mound. (I eschew verbosity- why say "hoogle" if the one-syllable "mound" says the same thing? You can certainly use wood in a sheet mulch, too. Don't neglect to plant good N-fixers in your mounds to help get the wood decaying.
Compacted clay will pool water- if you contour it and make sure the low areas are well-compacted, you'll have interesting water patterns to play with. Burying wood deeply before sheet mulching can also have nice effects, such as deeper rooting & better water reserves.
 
Marco Banks
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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The best remedy for any sort of compacted soil (clay or otherwise) is mulch, mulch, mulch, mulch, mulch and moisture.

The forest service has found that the best way to decompact service roads in order to plant trees is simply to pile on organic matter on the roads and to leave them alone.

Organic mulch and moisture will get all sorts of good things happening, most significantly earth worms and fungi. If you build it, they will come. Wood chips are fantastic for this, easy to transport, easy to spread, and for most people, readily available. You'd be shocked how quickly an 18 inch layer of wood chips breaks down if there is rain or irrigation to keep them moist.

After a year or two, the soil should be soft enough to begin planting some deep rooted cover crops to punch through the compaction and pull the fungi and bacteria down into the soil profile.

We had a little path to the back of our lot where a boat had been parked and it had been driven on by a truck for years. Apparently, they'd driven on it while it was wet because the ruts on that road were 5 inches deep in places. Within 2 years of mulching with wood chips and planting cover crops, you couldn't tell that there had once been tire ruts, and the garden plants we planted the next summer did fantastic there. Now that whole space has fruit trees thriving, and I can easily dig down a foot with my bare fingers (Yeah, I know . . . half of that depth would probably be decomposed wood chips, but still . . .).

Clay is the basis tremendously fertile soil, but you've got to have organic matter being incorporated down into it if you want the plant roots to access all the nutrition that bond with the clay particles. So mulch, mulch, mulch, mulch, mulch.

 
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