I moved into a home that has lots of compacted soil higher than ground level. When I dig it to loosen it, it's twice the size.
I've been digging it into lots of bags to grow plants in but few things grow as the soil's not suitable. I then put it in the garbage bin but (i) it'll take ages since it's collected only once a week, (ii) it's against Council regulations to do so, and (iii) it's an environmentally mean thing to do.
I can't make raised beds because I don't have the tools, money or time, and later I'm putting fruittrees all around so they can't go in raised beds anyway.
I can't improve the soil with lots of compost because then I'll have even more soil. Noone'll take it either.
I think you have a lot of choices that you might not be thinking of. The biggest is trying to figure out what edible things grow in the soil you do have! Most soil can grow something...
A case in point here is on my own farm. It has very acidic soil, yet a lot of farmers try to grow corn or alfalfa which needs very neutral soil, so they spend tons of money trying to get the PH near 6.8, well what would happen if they just saved their money and grew crops like potatoes that loves more acidic soil? You could do something similar, figure out what edible stuff grows well on what soil you do have. Often times this means changing what we like to eat, but often it means a lot less struggle with fighting the soil.
The other part of your post has to deal with something called "swell", here in the United States called Bucket Swell because we tend to use earth moving equipment. Every type of earth has different buckt swell rates, but it is opposite what you would think. The more dense the material, the higher the percentage of bucket swell. For instance gravel only has a bucket swell of around 25% where as granite has a bucket swell of around 90%! Here is why.
Lets say we have an area that you want to excavate that is gravelly-loam that is 100 feet by 100 feet, by 10 feet thick. That comes to 3700 cubic yards, but when we calculate in some bucket swell (because the earth is loosened) we really have to excavate over 4600 cubic yards. When a person breaks into solid rock, the percentage of bucket swell gets even higher. An earth moving contractor MUST take this into account or they are not going to go broke thinking it will cost them x amount of money to move say 1000 cubic yards, when really they have to move 1250 cubic yards...big difference.
This applies to ANY earth moving job, whether it be a Permie who is building a pond, or a Homesteader putting a road up to their new cabin. Once the ground is busted into, it increases in size, but as David said too, from the tremors in the earth, it will eventually be recompacted too.
I'm thinking along the lines with what Anne said. Unless the soil is just randomly placed in a large mound somewhere off in the yard, someone may have strategically placed that soil for a reason, perhaps acting like a berm to guide rain water.
"Study books and observe nature; if they do not agree, throw away the books." ~ William A. Albrecht
I had a yuuuge lump of clay soil left over from home construction dumped on my property. Like hundreds of yards/cubic meters. Gradually I have been making hugel swales, putting the crappy soil on organic matter and making the water work very hard to get off the place. Now I have bountiful mounds and scads of microclimates. I am growing honeyberries, northern blueberries, sea buckthorn and currants (which shouldn't grow here- too warm), and fiejoa, pomegranates, and testing other stuff that should die in the winter.
That is why it would be nice to know the areas involved and what you are trying to do. Fit the resource with the property. Fill dirt is a great resource, but only in a larger picture.
Standing on the shoulders of giants. Giants with dirt under their nails
For the first year, I wouldn't do too much of anything. Just observe and interact. See what happens after heavy rain, particularly when you soil is pretty saturated.
Tell us a bit more about your site. Is there a grade? Does the soil follow the grade or was it hauled in after the construction of your house was completed? Is it fresh fill-dirt, in which case there might be a significant amount of compost and biomass added to the mineral soil --- that will decompose and will eventually shrink down. Have you had the chance to see how water flows after a heavy downpour? Does it pool anywhere on the site? Does it drain off toward natural low spots?
I've lived in my home 17 years now, and only in the past couple of years have I begun moving soil around. There are a couple of low spots where I've moved some soil to bring it up to level. I had several hundred keystone blocks that I've used in various ways for years, but most recently I relocated them to a hillside on the back of my property where I'm redeploying them to terrace the steep hillside. I need soil to backfill into the terraces, so I'm borrowing it from other spots around my property. Anyhow, all that to say, you may not think that you need that soil now but someday you'll wish you had it --- perhaps to build a hugelkulture or to fill a terrace, or for some other earthwork.
The old idiom "you need to get the lay of the land" might be appropriate advise. Literally, in your case.
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posted 10 months ago
It's just a small suburban yard. I think the soil's there from construction work done previously. Plants did grow in it, but the soil gets so dry that nothing can survive in this Australian sun. I want to mix more materials in to help the soil but there's already too much of it. I've dug lots of it into pots and bags hoping to grow things in those, but the soil's too hard to support most plants.
That means it is not even topsoil. If you want to remove it why don't you post it on gumtree or nabo? You will find someone who takes it! They might even shovel it on their own. If it is topsoil keep it.
It sounds like your problems will mostly be resolved by adding lots and lots of organic material. My personal preference is for woodchips, because I can get loads of it for free dropped off in the garden. I would get on the phone to your local tree trimmers. Many of them have to pay to dump woodchips. I also stop and talk to people who are working locally. If you can offer them a conveniently close place to unload and save themselves a trip they will be happy.
Woodchips spread deep over your soil will breakdown and end up being worked in to your soil by earthworms and the like. The increased moisture retention and fertility will kick start the process of turning it into "proper" soil, and allow you to do some proper planting. You mention that in your garden the raised sections tend to dry out in comparison to the sunken areas. Maybe you should be making beds in the sunken areas instead of perched on top? It would certainly make watering easy as it won't run off the surface.
And lastly, it sounds like you would prefer a flat, level garden. An alternative plan might be to so some deliberate contouring and shaping. Personally I find flat to be quite dull.
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