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I’ve been in my property for nearly nine years and have used various techniques to build the soil. I have a new-build house with only a thin layer of sandy loam (thin as in max a spade depth) with rock hard yellow clay underneath.

The garden is south-facing (in the northern hemisphere) but there is lots of shade from both fences and neighbouring trees. Dimensions are approx 4 metres by 24 metres. Annual rainfall is approx 50 cm per year.

Rather than describe in further detail the garden and what I’ve already done, I’d be interested in your thoughts, as though I was starting from scratch.
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Posts: 34
Location: Central Texas
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greening the desert cooking trees
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I'd add organic matter in the form of manure mixed with hay, leaves from the neighbor, or any kind of left overs from agriculture (if there is any) and make sure there are no chemicals sprayed on that. The neighbor probably waters his trees with drip irrigation. Then I'd plant cover crops and Daikon radish which would till the land naturally. In about a year after that I'd plant trees and put mulch around each tree. Continue to plant cover crops and daikon everywhere else. If I wanted a vegetable garden, I'd buy nice soil (no chemicals) with coconut coir, worm castings, various meals like blood meal, feather meal, then mix that with some kinda nutritional rock sand, and again manure and compost. Make the garden level with the ground and put a shade cloth over it so the sun doesn't dry it out as much. I'd still have to water my trees every week or so, depending on the variety, and the garden every other day or so. Or I could do a food forest, then then I'd have to water everything together once every 3-5 days or so, unless I only plant edibles/trees that don't need that much water. Much easier to water a designated garden once every other day if you need stuff like zucchinis and tomatoes. Without a shade cloth I'd have to water every day.

I'm in a similar situation. My lot isn't fenced, though, so can't plant much outside the garden yet.
 
Posts: 56
Location: Leeds, United Kingdom
books food preservation forest garden
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Tatiana Trunilina wrote: I'm in a similar situation. My lot isn't fenced, though, so can't plant much outside the garden yet.



I’m trying to envisage your garden situation - can you explain the bit about planting outside the garden a little?

Anyway, thank you Titiana, for your suggestions. I’d not realised that such a thing as shade cloth existed before. Would I need poles to hold it up?

Never mind the garden, it would be brilliant to have shade on my back, especially as the door expands and then I’ve been trapped at home because it won’t lock.

Which cover crops would you recommend?
 
gardener
Posts: 4890
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
563
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hau Helen, Starting from scratch would mean getting something growing to cover the soil with green mass and the accompanying root systems down into the soil.
Most soils in urban/ suburban areas will have less than 0.5% humus so that needs to be raised to close to 8.0% by adding organic matter.
Many people will incorporate compost, but today we have to know a lot about that compost before we lay it down since many of the commercially available compost is tainted with herbicides and pesticides that will do more harm than good.

As Tatiana recommended daikon is a good plant for building more top soil by improving the subsoil through adding organic matter (the root), rape is another plant that fits and fills this niche for the gardener.
Alfalfa is also a great plant to build soil with, it sinks roots 4 feet deep and can be cut and left as mulch up to three times in a growing season.
Manures are best if they are composted with other organic materials before used as an incorporation or as a top dressing.

If you haven't found them yet, these threads are all about building soil and the organisms you want in your soil. Redhawk's epic soil thread series

Redhawk
 
Helen Butt
Posts: 56
Location: Leeds, United Kingdom
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Thank you, RedHawk. I must remember alfalfa. Will it be killed off by an occasional light frost or could it withstand such?

I’m really shocked by how little humus there is in the average urban plot!!!
 
pollinator
Posts: 650
Location: northwest Missouri, USA
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To help other suburbanites understand what they may be dealing with ... Many urban and most suburban spaces have had their top soil spirited away. In many subdivisions in the Great Plains, the developer will scrape off the top soil from what was pasture or crop land as the subdivision is planned and construction of infrastructure begins. They will then sell the top soil to another source, adding an initial income stream from the property before a single house is built. Developers are not concerned with how difficult it is to grow a lawn or garden once the lots are sold, so they don't care if residents don't have any top soil. What occurs from there is what nature intends ... early succession plants appear (or want to), so they either use a chemical means of suppression or lay sod and add weed and feed compounds.

As a side note ... I feel that soil testing should only be done if you're actually going to take action to remedy or amend the soil based on the actual report. It makes no sense to do soil testing and then do nothing. You'd be surprised how often this happens.
 
Helen Butt
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Location: Leeds, United Kingdom
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I’ve seen some now houses being built near me which basically just have sand for garden. These luxury houses might cost up to £500,000 for the pleasure!
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 4890
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Those are being promoted as "low maintenance garden spaces". 

I've noticed that some of them are fashioned after the gardens that can be found in US desert cities where watering limits are in place.

Wolf and I looked at two houses in the Leeds market (750,000 to 475,000) that had real garden spaces out back and mostly paver out front.
At that point we started looking in Alberta and BC, Canada (that's where the kids are) for possible relocation in the future.

We have also looked in Eire and the Highlands but we had to pass on both sites when Health decided to go south.
 
Helen Butt
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I hope Wolf will be okay!

I didn’t know that my garden might originally have been advertised as low maintenance, suitable for a desert type landscape. However, that is what I am doing in the front of the house.

In the back, where I’ve taken up paving and there is just sand, nature has moved in regardless, which is quite interesting to see. As is the sight I got today of new-builds in the making. Plenty of rubble and other ‘ingredients’ to hinder a keen gardener.
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[Thumbnail for EFC143F5-F28E-4C0A-A951-BD7B7618A460.jpeg]
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 4890
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
563
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Sadly, builders are not interested in the type of soil they leave the home buyer, would certainly be great if they did.
I have seen all manner of contaminates covered over by builders when they are finishing up, it is enough to make you cry because of all the work that will need to be done by the future home owner.
New builds are the worst, especially when they are in brand new developments, glass, plastic, tars, adhesives, paints, if you can name it, you can find it buried usually less than a foot under the surface.

 
Helen Butt
Posts: 56
Location: Leeds, United Kingdom
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Bryant RedHawk wrote: if you can name it, you can find it buried usually less than a foot under the surface.



I can attest to that: crisp packets from when the house was built, calcified food in plastic bags... honestly, revolting!
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 4890
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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For that type of "soil" fungi will be your friend, start with oyster mushrooms and just add any others you can find.
The best way to get fungi started is by blending up slurries of caps that are past their prime, no sense in wasting good eats.
We get several different species complements of our grocery, the ones they throw out are perfect for making slurries, which I pour just about everywhere now that I have the gardens going nicely.

If you plan to plant those areas where you find builder refuse, do dig up all that you can and then make the addition of organic materials like compost, peat, sphagnum moss, even dried leaves work well whole or broken up.
You can even add in food stuffs that have gone past their prime in small quantities and as long as you get them well covered up.
 
Helen Butt
Posts: 56
Location: Leeds, United Kingdom
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Thank you, RedHawk.

Since it rained last weekend and the ground is now soft enough to do something with, I’m having a go at an area which has never really be sorted out since I moved here (and probably not before then either). At least, generally, I haven’t got too much nastiness to contend with.
 
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My place was so 'low maintenance' that weeds couldn't even grow in it.

I dug as deep as I could with a shovel and found shattered glass because they put whole glass bottles in there, which I unintentionally smashed while digging. What are these types of people thinking?

I've removed over a tonne of soil to get it a few inches below ground level. It's because so much organic matter will be added over the years that the soil will build up in height quite fast. Green leafy vegetables are easy to grow even in poor soil. Leaving the roots in the soil after they die adds organic matter.
 
Helen Butt
Posts: 56
Location: Leeds, United Kingdom
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Tim Kivi wrote:My place was so 'low maintenance' that weeds couldn't even grow in it.



Oh, my word!
 
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