I have a rectangle of sand on my property. It's about 16 feet left to right and about 3.5 feet front to back. The back side is a fence. The other three sides are surrounded by pavement. It is suppose to be a garden area. But when I dug in, I found sand! The stuff you find in a school playground. There's only about 1 inch of soil on top. Talk about false advertising.
I want to grow tomatoes, leafy greens and beans here.
If I scatter a bunch 1 foot tall, 3x3 feet raised beds and fill with soil (or maybe just compost), is that enough to grow?
If I cover this with a big layer of wood chips, does that sand ever become fertile?
- There's a fence on the backside of this rectangle. So, I'm thinking 3x3 raised beds with 1 foot gaps so I can reach all parts.
A gent on youtube gardens in sand. He uses a lot of organic matter and he says that over the years his soil has gotten very, very good. If you go to youtube and type in "Deep South Homestead" you will find him.
We have a national TV program called 'Gardening Australia', they have garden experts in all the typical climate zones in Oz. One of the presenters comes from Perth - a state known for being largely sand. His tips to transform sand into viable soil can be found in the following link:
I am going to go against the grain and actually recommend that you bury woodchip into the sand.
The only draw back is that you will have an explosion of soil life that will actually outcompete your vegetable roots (Nitrogen)
But you can always add nitrogen to re-balance. (Urine, Manure, bone-meal, etc, etc) While you are at it add some rock dust too.
Worse case you will have to miss out on 3months of your growing season. So instead of planting in April with everyone else you will have to wait until Mid July or so.
i just hunted through and cannot find it for the life of me, but Justin Rhodes in his American Farm Tour series on youtube visited a farm in FL where they were growing tropical fruit on sand (i want to say they were using goat and rabbit manure and serious mulch). Maybe you`ll have better google luck than me.
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
In the tropics mulch disappears 10x maybe 20x faster. If you want something to last it should probably be biochar in the tropics.
But yes, mulch only on top if you want to do it slow and produce all your mulch/straw on-site,
but if you can find a waste stream or you are just going to import to get it established, then bury the mulch and add manure to re-balance.
carlson yeung wrote:I didn't think soil developing techniques could be used on sand. Thank you for the recommendation. Will try it.
It just takes a LOT of compost. Start out with a 50/50 mix and 6 months later it's only 10% compost. Repeat as necessary.
I'm thinking that adding some bio char might be useful. I'm also thinking about maybe adding some of the cheap clay kitty litter, maybe crush it up first. However, I've read that some feed bentonite clay to their cattle, so that might be a cheaper way to buy it.
Used kitty litter is probably a bad idea (toxoplasmosis, worms, etc.)
My opinions are barely worth the paper they are written on here, but hopefully they can spark some new ideas, or at least a different train of thought
"Thank you everyone. Now, I get it. What I have isn't sand. It is, fertile soil in training!"
I live in an area called the Sandhills of South Carolina so you can guess what our soil is like. On a previous property I spent over 10 years converting sand to rich earth with what I think was great success.
I am on a new-to-me property now, all sand of course. Worm holes are the number one tool that I use along with mulching leaves into the lawn for those areas that I mow, piles of wood chips and packing green grass clippings around the base of plants.
For wormholes I do the following:
Dig a hole about three feet deep and one foot in diameter. Put empty the daily kitchen scraps into the hole and cover with a stone or paver to keep animals out. Keep filling until it is full cover with a bit of soil and move to another location.
I have lizards and toads that like to move into my wormholes so I currently have three holes that I am leaving open because I don't want to disturb the two lizards and one toad that have taken up residence.
Roses, banana plants, apples trees, citrus trees are all planted next to wormholes and doing well. I think their roots grow into the hole.
Lots of good ideas have been put forth for addressing the problems that can be found when trying to garden in pure sand, I like the ideas that have been posted.
I find that the first issue to deal with in sand settings is water retention. Sand is a perfect filter because it is small crystals of quartz or calcite, depending on where on mother earth the sand is found.
Sand can be mineral rich, it is after all usually finely ground up rocks, if it is on a beach it is usually the result of pulverized corals washing up to a land junction and becoming deposited there.
Clay is the best, and fastest way to get sand to be able to hold on to water, the clay coats the sand particles and sticks to them and thus water molecules can adhere to the coated sand.
Next in line is silt, which is just one step away from clay in particle size, it too can help provide structure that water can adhere to and stick around longer.
Next is humus of any kind, this is where water retention really gets a boost and it also allows for the microorganisms to find food, housing and mobility.
Compost, mulches, come next since these are the usual additions that will end up as humus.
So Carlson, you have lots to choose from, good luck to you and if you have any questions or discover a sticking point, there are plenty of knowledgeable people here willing to help.
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I like the compost pit idea, though in some areas, the paver on top of the pit would need to be big.
I would, first and foremost, attend to the water retention issue with bentonite clay, or natural clay, silts, whatever you can get your hands on that is a different particulate size and composition than what you have, preferably smaller, as indicated.
I would follow the suggestions of heavy compost additions, and again, whatever you can get your hands on that is natural and in a state of natural, healthy decomposition. This will not only import organic matter, which you need desperately, but also the healthy decompositional organisms on that organic matter. Duff from the forest floor is ideal, if small amounts are harvested over a large area.
Also, if you wanted to accelerate things, go get some red wigglers, and instead of compost pits, alter the composition of the pit contents to fit worms; instant outdoor vermiculture. I put some in my composter, which never got hot enough to properly hot compost, but does amazingly well as an outdoor vermiculture bin, and in select spots in my garden bed where I had mulched with mostly finished compost. The difference was astonishing. I suddenly had seeds sprouting that had remained dormant in the spring, and you could track the worms' regular traffic by the change in the texture of the soil.
If you wanted to do something on top of the sand in the meantime, I like those reuseable felted fabric pots. I have made shallow rectangular fabric boxes out of landscape fabric and planted into those while I remediated soil that needed more work than early season prep.
I have also seen people buy bags of triple mix, lay them overtop of the future garden area, and simply plant directly into them, either making small holes for individual plants or cutting open the upper side of the bag to expose soil.
I would be much more sanguine with this approach if the bags were fabric or paper, or some kind of garden-compostable vegetable plastic, but by putting holes right through these "instant garden beds" into the soil-to-be underneath, the action of the roots of the garden plants puts organic matter down into the sand, the action of water carries soil particles into the sand, and the sand is covered, allowing any water to stay longer, helping to foster soil life longer in what is usually a very dessicated environment, thereby speeding the formation of soil.
I accidentally used this method when I had rhubarb poke up through the last, unused bag of topsoil in my garden. I was careful to remove the plastic at the end of the season. It's certainly possible, and I noticed no scraps of plastic contaminating the soil in subsequent years, though caution is necessary.
Hope some of these ideas are helpful. Keep us posted, and good luck.
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