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Al Senner
Posts: 59
Location: southeast SD (zone 4b/5a)
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Its easy to find info on revitalizing deserts with sandy soil. Im looking at a property in northwest South Dakota with very heavy clay "gumbo" soil. Average rainfall is 18" but it is very dry and windy.The tree groves in the area are sparse and consist of ash, siberian elm, caragana, and lilac. Can anyone point me in the right direction of regenerating dry clay soils. I know Mark Shepard started on heavy red clay but he doesnt talk much about it besides the subsoiling and he gets much more rain than me.
 
allen lumley
pollinator
Posts: 4154
Location: Northern New York Zone4-5 the OUTER 'RONDACs percip 36''
58
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Al Stenner : The golden rule for the use of Permaculture to improve local planting conditions is to always accept that the Problem IS the Solution !

While it is super easy for me to sit at a computer and tell you to take time to look and see what works on your property, it is still the best advice
you can get.

Here is what geoff lawton Says- From where i am sitting appears to be Germain to your situation ! Link Below :


http://www.geofflawton.com/fe/75846-high-cold-dry-and-windy


A word of warning, Adding sand to what you have now is very much like making ether Adobe or slightly worse Caliche. Very close to Concrete !
(and often not as porous )

This type of Terrain, soil, and Climate IS under-served by Qualitative Research Especially with Bio-Char Augmentation.

It clearly has been proven that the introduction of high quality Bio-Char retains moisture in sandy soils and improves Drainage in Clay Soils .;

Using Bio-Char does seem to bump heads with the Cultural Wisdom to avoid frequent tilling or plowing -though bio-char SEEMS to work best at
the lower level of the soils humus -and may be worth the effort

I will be making a new topic about what is said in the video about personally Harvesting his properties Verge with the local highways R.O.W.
( to avoid toxic spraying of the road-edge) and using the harvested material for Chop and drop AND for Compost

For the good of the Crafts ! Big AL

 
Al Senner
Posts: 59
Location: southeast SD (zone 4b/5a)
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Thanks for the link. Ive seen it before but it was good to see it again. This is cattle country in a big way! I will be grazing goats and maybe sheep in daily rotation to help build OM but I also need to plant trees in a savannah habitat. Of course, the neighbors say it cant be done. The current owners imported sand and manure to make some very nice garden beds but that is obviously limited by scale. With keyline planning and subsoiling between tree rows, I can improve water retention. Mulching, composting and legume/nurse crops will be a big part of the job as well. Im fairly optimistic of the potential of this land but it 5 hours away from where we are now and vastly different. I guess Im just looking for some sucess stories on clay to make me feel better!
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Denis Huel
Posts: 91
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It has been my experience that heavy clay soils in the drier parts of the Great Plains, especially high sodium(Na) alkaline clays, are very difficult for trees in general. They tend to have a surface dominated moisture regime, soggy poorly drained during periods of abundant precipitation but can drying rapidly hot dry weather. Most native grasses can cope with these conditions by going dormant during dry periods. In my area virtually all the areas with heavy clay soils that are not cultivated for crops are of the high sodium type.

The high sodium clays generally have poor structure slowing deep infiltration of water resulting in higher surface evaporation. The clay soil should allow for greater storage of soil moisture, buffering the effects of drought but in many situations this is not the case. There have been studies conducted on deep ripping these high sodium clays to improve water infiltration and structure with I believe mixed results. Adding gypsum will improve the Ca/Na ratio and benefit soil structure and water infiltration. The soil is also very susceptible to compaction from grazing animals during wet periods and are difficult to cultivate. I have a couple of hundred acres of this type of soil in southern Saskatchewan. It had been to used for crops, mainly wheat by my grandfather and father, however, 10 years ago I sowed it to a mix of native grasses and have not touched it since. Soil structure has improved greatly since then and I am tempted to try planting some trees in the future. I have resisted attempts by my neighbours to rent the land for grazing because of soil compaction concerns but may in the future allow grazing during dry periods. I remember reading a paper some time ago about Soviet era experiments to plant trees on this type of soil in southern Russia with some success I believe. Can't remember exactly where I found the paper.
 
Tracy Kuykendall
Posts: 165
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Here in West Texas we have high alkaline clay soil with minimal moisture 18" /year or less with abundant heat and wind. My observation has been to get as much moisture into the soil whenever it's available to get as much vegetation up while you can, then when the vegetation starts showing signs of stress pull the livestock off to keep drying slowed somewhat. Out here our rangeland is really pitiful due to the overgrazing and soil compaction. I think your on the right track with the key line and planting, at least I hope so a friend and myself are in the process of doing the same thing on his property. In the areas that have been key lined the grass and brush growth has doubled over the areas we've haven't gotten to yet. We're also thinking about some small retention Swales along some of the more pronounced ridges to slow the runoff and divert more into the key lines.
 
James Everett
Posts: 90
Location: Gaines County, Texas South of Seminole, Tx zone 7b
3
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Tracy Kuykendall wrote:Here in West Texas we have high alkaline clay soil with minimal moisture 18" /year or less with abundant heat and wind. My observation has been to get as much moisture into the soil whenever it's available to get as much vegetation up while you can, then when the vegetation starts showing signs of stress pull the livestock off to keep drying slowed somewhat. Out here our rangeland is really pitiful due to the overgrazing and soil compaction. I think your on the right track with the key line and planting, at least I hope so a friend and myself are in the process of doing the same thing on his property. In the areas that have been key lined the grass and brush growth has doubled over the areas we've haven't gotten to yet. We're also thinking about some small retention Swales along some of the more pronounced ridges to slow the runoff and divert more into the key lines.


are you working with this type of land. With out equipment all I have been doing so far is gathering seeds from existing plants and yearly buying 50 lbs of cover grasses for the past years and covering with the little soil that I do have on the Caliche. Just wish I new someone here in Gaines county with equipment to break this up some. As as my experience has gone the seeds from existing grow seems to do alright and sprout on its own and takes off. spreading clovers and rye grasses have helped build and cover the land and moisture has been staying pooled longer rather then just seeping in to the hard pan loam. But even with my soils looking like I have the Second picture growing on it. Like Tracy said our West Texas soils are highly Alkaline and compacted as you can see. I am planting seeds to help break it up. and if I can get something to put in retention sales to help put water into the grown rather then washing on down the draw. Seems with planting the vegetation alone is helping moisten up the land and start breaking up the soil as it is. Walking over it this year I can feel the surface crumble more under my steps rather then be hard and rocky as it was 3 years ago. As time goes each year I will gather more and more divers plants to grow and improve what I have. Just wish I had more people in Gaines County to help.
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elle sagenev
Posts: 1275
Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
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Ola from Wyoming. Same conditions except I get 7 inches less rain than you do. We swaled, bermed and we are experimenting with Krater gardens. Kraters are doing the best. Anyway, whenever we plant a tree we put compost and biochar in the hole. Not all of them will make it but I have thrivers in my orchard. I've received the same feedback from locals here. "You can't grow that here". Over and over they tell me that. I'm just obstinate enough to do it anyway.

If you are willing to plant your trees in holes at least a foot deep they'll do alright without watering. Caragana I planted that way have survived total neglect. If you swale plant in the bottom of the swales. The trees we planted on the berm aren't doing great.

Good luck! I actually consider clay an asset in our dry conditions. It holds water better and we need that.
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 2302
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
183
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hau, Al Senner, The area you describe is old buffalo grounds that were later used for cattle, the compaction is probably like asphalt paving. Some things that will grow and loosen that gumbo clay are 1.Diakon Radish, 2. Rape, add these to the clover and other nitrogen fixers and you will begin to see an improvement once these plants grow and decay, the big, strong growing roots will go far to break up the hardpan you have but it will take several plantings to get this soil headed where you want it.

To plant trees in this type of soil, you will need to dig large, deep holes for root spread. as you dig this stuff up, mix it with peatmoss if you can get it, that will help acidify the soil some so it will grow more plants.
Peat also helps with water retention/ release. Yes clay soil holds water well but it also does not give it up to roots the way we would like it to.
An other amendment that helps alkaline soils is cotton seed hulls and cotton seed meal, You should be able to get these from a feed store in bulk fairly cheep. Again these are for loosing the clay and adding acidity (which also helps loosen clay) these can also be used as a mulch.
The third option is to find someone with moldy hay to get rid of, and use it as you would the other three amendments, just use lots more of it.

The main thing that happens with gumbo clay is that the tiny particles need something to cling to so they don't cling to each other, humus materials are very good coagulators of clay particles and their presence loosens the clay so it holds more water and also gives it up to roots.
This is not going to go away in one year or even two, it will take long term dedication to really loosen up the soil.
We have that same soil in the lower Arkansas delta region and I have worked with quite a few farmers there that have seen their gumbo land turn just about friable within five years of starting a remediation program.
Now keep in mind these farmers have the heavy duty tractors and other gear to dig over two feet down, disc in the amendments and smooth the soil afterwards.
Doing this by hand can be done if you tackle small plots at a time.
Their success at changing their soil shows it can be done.

This particular clay is really good for making pottery, when fired in a kiln, gumbo clay mixed with four parts sand makes a pottery that will bounce instead of shatter, it is nutrient rich however, you just have to do the work to get it to release the treasures it holds tightly.
 
Tracy Kuykendall
Posts: 165
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James we are using equip., this land is a section that a friend owns, his goal is to simply improve his pasture to be able to support cattle with little to no supplemental feed, but I have put a bug in his ear about what the property could be, and with the gains he's got with the few improvements he's beginning to see some other possibilities. Being in the Seminole area, you might check with the neighbors, gins, and coops, you may be able to pick up some of their waste material. I don't know if peanut hulls have any market value but I don't see any reason they couldn't be used as mulch and a lot of cotton farmers have load with a fork into the pick-up bed sized piles where they clean out the strippers during cotton harvest, ask them if they have any burr piles you can get rid of for them. You may also be able to pick up cottonseed hulls from the gins but they'll probably be a bit stingy with them since they are used in livestock feed, but they may also have some old half rotten piles laying around they wouldn't mind getting rid of.
 
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