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should i have a garden bed filled with leaves and topsoil?

 
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Help! i live in an urban area that has only clay for soil, I have tried gardening in with it but soon came to realize how useless it was. so this year I am trying to start a garden bed. only there is one problem. I have filled the beds with leaves and then added a good layer of topsoil. yet after doing some research, i learned that the leaves decompositions could harm the roots of the plants I would be planting. additionally having the only topsoil it seems would harm the plants. what should I do?
 
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Welcome to Permies!  How thick a layer of leaves did you put at the bottom and how thick is the layer of topsoil above?  If the leaves are mixed in with the soil I think it's probably much worse than just having a layer down deep.  I actually don't think a layer would be a problem.  It might work to your advantage.  I'm not sure.

I'd just plant into it and see how it does.  If you can get or make any organic compost and add that to the top few inches (mixed in with fingers) that would help turn the "topsoil" into actual living soil.  If you have plants in the beds already, just adding the compost around them a couple inches deep would still be very helpful to increase the organic matter in the soil.  Worms will pull it down into the soil for you

Depending on your climate, adding a layer of mulch on top of the compost or soil will also help add organic matter and protect the soil from drying out.  I like chipped up fall leaves and grass clippings (from the lawn mower bagger).  Straight grass clippings would work too if they aren't deeper than an inch or two.  Make sure the grass isn't treated with anything or it could kill your garden plants.
 
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i actually put a layer of decomposing logs. then i added 6 to 8 inches of compressed leaves i had gathered from my area. then i put about 2 inches of topsoil. also, I've done this in the winter. so what i am most worried about is that the decomposing leaves during the warmer months will become so hot that it will damage the roots.
should i add a thicker layer of topsoil? or do i actually need to add a layer of mineral soil?(like clay or sand)
 
Mike Jay
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Hmm, you're past my know-how but there are others on here who will know for sure.  It sounds like you kind of have a hugelkulture bed started.  Maybe search around on this site for that word and see if it jives with what you've put together.

Don't panic, it will turn out
 
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My experience, having done somewhat similar stuff, is that without added nitrogen like manure or urine the leaves will compose slowly and the temperature will not rise significantly. What has been a problem sometimes has been that once the log and the leaves decompose they leave empty spaces in the soil profile and the roots will have harder time finding water. To remedy this I push the soil gently downwards so the roots can reach firm soil underneath.  Some additional watering may be necessary in dry weather.

Apart from this rooting challenge I think you probably won't have many problems. I'd recommend about 20 cm good soil (preferably a mixture of compost, clay and sand) above your leaves and trunks so the seedlings can get established in that. Just keep checking the firmness of the soil and if you find the soil caving in, push it gently downwards so the roots won't be hanging in an air pocket. Hope this helps!
 
Obt Abdelkader
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Mike Jay wrote:Hmm, you're past my know-how but there are others on here who will know for sure.  It sounds like you kind of have a hugelkulture bed started.  Maybe search around on this site for that word and see if it jives with what you've put together.

Don't panic, it will turn out



thanks
 
Nina Jay
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I will add that although I recommended 20 cm of good soil, I myself often don't have that much compost... so I make do with 10-15 cm.
 
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Nina Jay wrote:I will add that although I recommended 20 cm of good soil, I myself often don't have that much compost... so I make do with 10-15 cm.


when you say soil, are we talking about the first 5 cm of topsoil or humus. or is it the soil the soil that you would find around 4 inches down.
i ask this question since there seem to be differing opinions of what a garden bed needs. does a garden bed need allot of organic topsoil or does it also need a good portion of soil found deeper in the earth (4 to 10 inches)
 
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Don't panic. You have an excellent start there. A couple more inches of topsoil would be good though. Maybe after the first season dig & mix everything into the clay soil & go from there. The deeper the organic material is distributed the better. Hope this helps. Welcome to permies.
 
Nina Jay
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Obt Abdelkader wrote:
when you say soil, are we talking about the first 5 cm of topsoil or humus. or is it the soil the soil that you would find around 4 inches down.
i ask this question since there seem to be differing opinions of what a garden bed needs. does a garden bed need allot of organic topsoil or does it also need a good portion of soil found deeper in the earth (4 to 10 inches)



Yes, that is a good question. I'd say it depends :-) It depends on what the soil is underneath that topsoil layer. If it's clay, like mine, I'd say you need at least 10 cm good topsoil full of organic matter on top of the clay soil, otherwise it's prone to all the problems that a clay soil is.

If the soil is nice sandy loam, you can get by with less organic topsoil.

The roots of plants need a total of 15-20 cm good growing conditions. That includes the topsoil and the deeper soil. Underneath that layer it isn't as critical what the soil is like (unless there's concrete or an impenetrable hard pan).

 
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Obt Abdelkader wrote:Help! i live in an urban area that has only clay for soil, I have tried gardening in with it but soon came to realize how useless it was. so this year I am trying to start a garden bed. only there is one problem. I have filled the beds with leaves and then added a good layer of topsoil. yet after doing some research, i learned that the leaves decompositions could harm the roots of the plants I would be planting. additionally having the only topsoil it seems would harm the plants. what should I do?



Nina and Mike have given some great advice and descriptions so I'll just address the urban myth part.

Leaves do not decompose into harmful components unless they; 1. were treated with some chemical(s), 2.are fresh, green leaves when used as a layer in a garden bed and the tree(s) were known allopathic species.
Dead leaves are called "browns" in the composting world, used to raise the carbon content of a compost heap.
You can work in as many brown leaves as you desire and over the course of a year they will; 1.provide a place for fungi spores to sprout and grow mycelium hyphae, 2.break down slowly while bacteria use enzymes to break free the nutrients and minerals contained in the leaf tissues.

As Nina mentioned, you can get by with very little soil to start growing, as you continue to grow in the plot, the soil will build up from the left behind organic matter of the harvested plants.

Redhawk
 
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:were known allopathic species.



Just because I went to look that up, and then got super confused.. (newbie here and all) .. pretty sure you meant allelopathic
 
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In general using leaves (and also branches) under top soil works well. When I pot up plants I usually put a layer of leaves in the bottom. It helps hold moisture and feeds various beneficial lifeforms like earthworms and fungi.

With clay soil you can often 'fix' it using gypsum. Adding organic matter is always good too.


 
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