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Clay Yard

Clay Yard
Posted by Laura from California on 2001-03-23 16:37:09

Hiya,
I have a yard that is screaming for a
makeover. The problem is the daunting
task of preparing it for my ideas
(50'x60' rectangle). The soil is soo
clay that it's a sticky swamp during
winter (never draining) and a wasteland
during summer (4" cracks). Along with
the small and large chunks of concrete
someone dumped in a back corner. The
other issue is a large Poplar tree (on
the fenceline) and its roots, which I
would like to remove. The roots extend
25' into the middle of the yard. Where
do I start? Do I have the soil tested
for ph first, or after I get it to the
point that I can actually work it? I
have time and energy (not to mention
access to a lot of free horse manure),
but not much money. I assume a stump
grinder is the only way to get rid of
the roots. Any suggestions for this
anxious gardener? Thanks, Laura
  • clay soil
    Posted by Diane from MI zone5 on 2001-03-27 20:26:23

    Hi Laura,
    Leslie's info sounds good. I also have a suggestion from experience. We had rock hard clay soil and I was instructed in a gardening class to get some red wiggler worms and a lot of dead vegetation.
    We bought the worms and went through the neighborhood for all the bags of leaves we could find. The leaves spread out on the area were at least 3-4 feet deep, whole not shredded. Shredded would have been better but we didn't think of it, a lawn mower would have done the job of shredding. The leaves were tilled in before the worms were added.
    The very next year the soil was wonderful. It was unbelieveable!
    I need to tell you that there was one hitch. The worms took too long in coming and by the time they came the ground was freezing. So we raised them indoors all winter. That handfull of worms multiplied into BUCKETS of worms! If you are interested in raising worms it is very easy. Organic Gardening has an article on the topic in the April 2001 issue.
    It was well worth the effort to get the worms and the leaves.


    Quoting Laura: ------------
    -Hiya,
    -I have a yard that is screaming for a
    -makeover. The problem is the daunting
    -task of preparing it for my ideas
    (50'x60' rectangle). The soil is soo
    -clay that it's a sticky swamp during
    -winter (never draining) and a wasteland
    -during summer (4" cracks). Along with
    -the small and large chunks of concrete
    -someone dumped in a back corner. The
    -other issue is a large Poplar tree (on
    -the fenceline) and its roots, which I
    -would like to remove. The roots extend
    -25' into the middle of the yard. Where
    -do I start? Do I have the soil tested
    -for ph first, or after I get it to the
    -point that I can actually work it? I
    -have time and energy (not to mention
    -access to a lot of free horse manure),
    -but not much money. I assume a stump
    -grinder is the only way to get rid of
    -the roots. Any suggestions for this
    -anxious gardener? Thanks, Laura
  • Clay Yard
    Posted by Leslie from Co/Zone 5 on 2001-03-23 16:38:40

    We used to live in Calif., on adobe
    soil, so I can relate to your
    frustration. The good news is that clay
    is great at retaining water and
    nutrients, and can grow some great
    veggies.

    #1. Don't work the soil when it is too
    wet or too dry. There may only be a
    window of a few hours when it is OK to
    start with. You should be able to
    squeeze a lump of dirt and have it
    crumble. If it forms a clay lump it is
    too wet. If you can't break it, it is
    too dry. It will take some practice and
    cooperative weather to get it just
    right.

    #2. Your main problem sounds like soil
    compaction. I doubt you want to dig
    rock-hard clay more than once, so start
    by defining permanent paths, and 3-4
    foot wide grow beds you can reach from
    the paths. NEVER EVER walk on the beds
    again. You will probably want to mulch
    the paths so you don't get clay all
    over your shoes.

    3#. You won't be able to fix everything
    all at once. Start with an inch or two
    of aged or composted horse manure and
    till that in as best you can. Don't
    worry about pH for now. You don't say
    where in CA you live, but the soil
    there is usually neutral to slightly
    alkaline, unless you're in the redwoods
    or desert. Every time you harvest a
    crop and have bare dirt, add another
    inch of composted horse manure--2 to 3
    times a year. Your goal is about 5%
    organic matter overall.

    #4. If you have any money to spend, a
    good investment would be a bale of
    Canadian peat moss. It lasts a long
    time in the soil and will improve your
    drainage. (Unlike the peat moss from
    the US mountains, this is a renewable
    resource, at about 1"/year). DON'T ADD
    SAND; you will be creating concrete!
    And don't add gypsum; it won't help.

    #5. If you really have lots of energy,
    try double-digging your beds. You can
    find how-to information online or in
    many garden books.

    #6. If water really pools there in the
    winter, you may want to check the
    drainage. Does the water have a route
    downhill? You may need to regrade to
    make sure the paths, at least, drain
    off somewhere.

    Hope this is somewhat helpful. Feel
    free to ask more questions! It makes
    the rest of us feel like we know
    something. 8-)




    • Clay Yard
      Posted by Laura from Ca on 2001-03-23 16:40:13

      Very thoughtful ideas, I will follow
      them, thank you guys soo much. Leslie,
      sounds like you've done this before! I
      was a little wary of the gypsum anyway,
      I have 3 indoor/outdoor dogs and I
      wasn't sure if it is harmful (sulfur?).
      Thanks Again - Laura



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