Improving Clay Soil: Five Steps We’re Taking to Prepare for Planting

Gardening isn’t a topic we’ve really discussed yet, but we thought that we would introduce it on our blog today because spring is in the air, and we think we’d like to start a garden this year after all! In this post, we’d like to share how we’re getting started with the progress by improving our clay soil.

Although we’re not very knowledgeable about gardening (despite already having a year of experience with a community garden) we believe that one of the first steps to having a successful garden is amending your soil to ensure that plans will be able to grow in it. As you will will in our last roundup video, we’ve been pretty busy with our gardening plans the last month!

We love our five acre property… it’s just about perfect for our needs! However, we were blessed with rocky / clay / loam soil as seen below. The forest doesn’t look like this, but the flat spot sure does which is where we’d like to start our garden!

Clay rock soil
Digging in this is not impossible, but pretty darn close.

In the past few weeks, we’ve accomplished what we think are five important steps in the soil amending process and we want to share what those are with you!

Here are all of the steps in two different videos, and/or keep reading to receive the steps in blog-format!

Our Steps to Amending Clay Soil for Successful Planting

1. Bring in topsoil.

If you have natural high-quality soil on your property, topsoil is not a necessity. However, the soil in the area where we plan to have our garden is extremely hard, compact, and filled with rocks.

Rather than try to dig out the rocks and loosen the soil, we decided it would be easier to bring in some topsoil from our local supplier. The topsoil was fairly inexpensive and allowed us to create smooth, raised beds where the plants in our garden can stay warm and get access to the nutrients they need to grow and thrive.

Based on our research, this should work its way into the compact soil over time. We’re hoping that is the case but if not, live and learn!

Amending clay soil
Laying down 1.5 yards of topsoil.

2. Bringing in Compost

Compost is an extremely nutrient-dense material that can help the plants in your garden thrive, especially if you plan to grow vegetables like we do. It’s doable to make compost on your own using fairly simple ingredients, but the process is time-consuming and we wanted to get the soil in our garden amended quickly in order to start planting as soon as possible.

We bought our compost from a local supplier in our area; it’s sold at most nurseries and garden supply stores. It was marginally more expensive than the topsoil we purchased, but was still relatively cheap, especially since our garden plot is not very large.

Once we brought our compost home, we mixed it in with our topsoil to create a rich environment where our plants can absorb additional nutrients.

compost soil additive for garden
Look at that beautiful mountain of nutrients!

3. Making our own biochar

Biochar is a type of charred material made by burning scraps and other natural waste in a low-oxygen environment. When added to soil, it helps to aerate the soil as well as retain water and nutrients for a longer period of time.

However, because biochar acts like a sponge for nutrients, it can rob nutrients from your plants and keep them from reaching their full potential. For that reason, biochar should be ‘charged‘ before putting it into your garden. One way this can be done is to place the biochar into compost for a couple of weeks where it should soak up plenty of nutrients and therefor, won’t rob any from your plants.

Because we don’t have any plants in our garden yet, we added the biochar directly into our soil so it can absorb nutrients from the compost before our veggie are planted. Based on internet research it seems that approximately one pound of biochar can / should be added to your soil for every ten pounds of soil in your garden.

Biochar can be made very simply by people even in urban or suburban areas. The newest addition to our homestead toolkit is known as the BioCharlie, which you can place directly into your stove or wood fireplace in order to burn matter into biochar.

amending clay soil with biochar
Breaking down the biochar from our BioCharlie into small pieces that are ideal for the garden.

We filled our BioCharlie with scraps from around our property such as bones, kindling, twigs, and sticks. After having the BioCharlie in our wood stove for an evening, we pulled it out and in it was beautiful biochar to be placed into our garden. It’s a satisfying experience, really!

making biochar in a wood stove
The BioCharlie in our wood stove… cool and effective!

4. Starting a Compost Pile

In order to start generating a continuous supply of compost to strengthen our garden soil, we started our own compost pile. Compost piles are great for the environment and are really quite simple to get started. We started one right by our garden, but if youre limited on space for some reason, you could buy a neighborhood-friendly compost tumbler.

The main components you need to get a compost pile started are sources of nitrogen and carbon. Nitrogen sources include the food scraps (among other things) so we usually throw in banana peels, coffee grounds, egg shells, vegetable peels, and other waste into the pile on our property. Carbon sources include sawdust, dried leaves, sticks, and other similar materials, which we can easily gather around our property on a daily basis.

One thing to remember is that you should never put animal products into a compost pile because they can attract animals as well as create a pungent and lasting stench around your compost pile.

We hope that we’ll have some finished compost created by the end of summer . This will be very gratifying to include in our garden.

starting a compost pile
The start of our compost pile! We love it!

5. Laying down a layer of mulch.

The final step we’ve taken to prepare our clay soil for gardening was laying down a layer of mulch. I know a lot of you have heard and are excited about the Back to Eden gardening method… we watched the video and the idea makes sense, and mulch is just a great idea, so we mulched the garden!

As you’ll see in the video below about our mulching, we took the “use what we have” approach rather than picking a mulch that isn’t readily available for us. For this reason, we decided to go with pine.

In the video at the beginning of the article (or watch it here!), I’ll explain why we’re not worried about the acidity. In the end, it’s really just a live and learn experience and if we need to make changes later, we will do so accordingly.

improving clay soil with mulch
Adding pine mulch to the garden for soil protection and water retention… oh yea, it will decompose over time, too.

Summing it Up: Here’s to Our First Garden!

Golden tips for turning clay into beautiful, plantable soil that veggies will THRIVe in!!! #gardening #soil #homesteadingWe’re very excited about the progress we’re making on our sustainable, off-grid homestead. We can’t wait to get our first plants or seeds into the ground, and are simply excited that we’ve started the gardening process! This isn’t our primary goal of the year, so any progress we make on the garden we’ll be happy about, even if we don’t get around to planting, hah!

As you can hopefully see from our experience, starting your own garden doesn’t have to be a huge project. It’s all about breaking it down into manageable baby steps, and not expecting perfection right out of the gate! Gardens evolve over time. Here’s to moving forward and celebrating progress!

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I am an aspiring homesteader on a journey to become self-sustainable and free. In my past, I've worked corporate jobs to make ends meet and get ahead a little; it didn't make me happy or confident in my future. Since taking the leap to self-employment and living a more simple life, my happiness levels have increased greatly and I've never felt more alive. I finally understand what I want in life and how to get there, and that is what this blog is all about.

Comments

  1. Joe Moore says

    Hi Alyssa
    Those pine needles are already pretty leached. Should make great mulch.
    If you find your garden is struggling because of too acid soil just dig through some lime.
    Joe.

  2. willow says

    You’re gonna want to grind up your egg shells and forego the banana skins in your compost. They take forever to break down. You also don’t want to put such large branches in your compost. They don’t break down either. Read a good article on composting. I recommend http://www.homecompostingmadeeasy.com/

  3. Dustin Horn says

    Please DO NOT TAKE OFFENSE:

    Get those sticks out of the compost. It would take yrs for them to break down ( I made that mistake). The largest I would go with wood is sawdust.

    Be careful with wood ash as it can quickly make a pile basic (think Lye and Soap) but might be just the ticket to sprinkle on your likely acidic soil. I think the Bio Char in this sense will help quite a bit. You really need to know the PH before making additions.

    Since you say you have clay, drainage is the number one thing. The last thing you want is your topsoil washing down the hill or soggy topsoil.

    Why are you not building Raised beds (lumber is abundant and nearly free?) I made all mine in one day. Make them 4′ wide (No need to get in them and compress soil) and as long as your cut boards.

    Then get some PVC (Cheap) and bend a hoop over the top and cover with plastic sheeting (cheap) and have a greenhouse to preheat beds. You will get about a month head start and will have frost protection as well. Pull it all off when night temps are high enough. It’s little effort, big reward.

    I do not want to come off as a know-it-all, but I have already had the exact same experience you guys are going thru. I have 3 raised beds with a compost bin in center and rain barrel setup. If only I could post up some pictures, as they speak without words.

    • Michele says

      You’ve made some good points. We have experienced some of this ourselves and will be trying hoops in the garden for fall/winter planting.

  4. Ali says

    I love your blog! What you guys are doing is very inspiring. Makes me wish my hubby and me were younger. We too are on our own homesteading journey but alas, ours in one that starts with a big mortgage. I thought I would share a couple of things I have learned that may be helpful to you guys. First off…the orange buckets. I don’t know how big a town you are near but if you have a regular grocery store near you ( like an Albertson’s or Safeway..not sure what’s in Idaho) go to their bakery and ask if they have any empty buckets. This has been an invaluable resource for us. They give me their empty frosting and filling buckets and the lids too if I want them. They are food grade plastic so I am able to use them to store foods I buy in bulk such as beans and grains. Rather than spend money on the buckets, I get them free and buy gamma lids for them for better food storage. Some stores may charge you a small fee like $1 for the empty buckets but still cheaper than home depot and on a farm/homestead, you can never have too many buckets!
    In regards to composting, we have learned that if you cover your compost with dirt it heats better and therefore breaks down quicker. You can use your natural soil… a pile already to go near the compost makes it quick when you are dumping your scraps to cover them up. I like to use the shovel to chop up the waste as much as possible when I dump it then cover it with dirt. Two things happened when we didn’t do this. 1. it attracted rats! yuck! 2. it didn’t break down. Lesson learned…once rats and other vermin find you, it is crazy hard to get rid of them! Also, if you don’t have any rain, you will need to water it. Not a ton, but it needs to be damp. If it is totally dried out, it won’t decompose. Or it will take years to do it. And this may sound gross to but give it a good boost of nitrogen, pee on it. My hubby and our two boys take care of this job:) Good luck and I look forward to reading more about your journey and learning from your efforts.

    • says

      Hey again Ali! So great you and your hubby are doing something similar! That’s so funny about the buckets… Jesse’s sister has been visiting us for the past few days and the entire time she was here, she was on a mission to stop into grocery stores to ask for buckets from the bakery! We had no idea this was a “thing” but it’s great to know as we are at a grocery store weekly! We also were at a gas station and they had about 100 small crates at the back of the building so we inquired about them (Jesse’s sister again… she’s no dummy!) and one gal said to take as many as we wanted for free! We filled up the car with what we could (car was pretty full). Moral of the story is to ask around and free stuff comes up that would otherwise go to waste!

      Thanks for the tips on the compost. We may try to throw some soil on there and even chop stuff up a little more fine. We’ve also heard that urine speeds up the process so I may kindly suggest Jesse pee on the pile. Rats would be no bueno. Hopefully all said and done, we can get some finished compost by the end of the year :-)

      Thanks for the tips, greatly appreciated.

      • fredy k says

        Just wanted to add if you get rodents use mint, they hate the smell. You can plant some around the compost bin, put essential oil on cotton, and /or use fresh dried and crushed. It really works and it is non toxic. Thanks for your post.

  5. brenda says

    Hi I’ve never replied to a blog before and all my life had wanted to be off the grid but hubs wanted cable. I just want to tell you I have had great success in gardening tomatoes and up here in northern Canada it can be a hard and ify project if you don’t have the right soil. I save all my egg shells and grind them to dust along with the banana peels just dry them well, grind and sprinkle them in your soil. They get right to work that way. Love your blog.

  6. Jack Patteeuw says

    Bring in topsoil and compost is reasonable for a few raised beds, but you probably won’t be able to afford to buy and haul enough to do “subsistence” farming.

    With such poor soil you will be hauling is about the same amount of topsoil and/or compost every year for many years. The nutrient in what you bring in are just going to mix into that clay soil.

    Seek out horse ranches and dairy farms. You should be able to get compost at a much lower price.

  7. Babbs says

    I dry my banana peels, orange peels, egg shells and pulverize them in bullitt blender. I dry out my coffee grounds and this is mixed with compost, and topsoil. A good planting medium, sometimes I have to add a little lime, to tone down the acidity. I don’t have to wait for it in the compost pile to break down

  8. Nick says

    I am guessing the sticks are meant for aeration. I have read people who have recommended that.

    I have two piles, one for brush, and one for kitchen and garden. I don’t care how long stuff takes to break down (e.g. banana peels), but I’m neurotic about weed seeds. I have a big tub of water I rot down all the weeds in before I add them to the pile.

  9. Paula says

    Looks great! Ive never done full compost – but did do eggshells often. Its best if you peel off the inner membrane wet, then let them dry for a day and crush them into smaller pieces before adding to compost or just directly into the garden bed. I crushed dry shells with a rolling pin and added them straight to the soil for slow nutrient leaching. Worked great for my herb bed!

    If your not already – save a bucket or 2 of your winter wood ash so you can add alkaline to your soil as needed over the summer. Just in case the pine straw does leach more acid – but old straw doesnt usually do too much of that.

    My neigbor who composts always does a rough chop with lrg knife of all veg matter – peels, rinds etc – into 1/2 to 1 inch chunks so they will decompose quicker – like this year vs next 😉

    Best Wishes!

  10. Ger says

    Forgive my poor english; i’m from holland. I’m really enjoying your blog, especially when your lovely cat is in the picture!
    One suggestion; you have so many rocks, wich can be used in various ways, one of them is ; make a wall near to the vegetable garden. The wall will absorb lots of sun energy during daytime and give it back to the surroundings later when its gets colder! This means you will be able to plant more vegetables who like more heat. I found this at Sepp Holzer , a well known permaculture specialist. He, himself has a farm at the height of 500-1500 meters and still growing all kinds off special stuff, like grapes and much more. He gives lections all over the world, but he comes from Austria.
    I like the both off you and wish you all the best in the future!!

  11. Andrew Krause says

    My only contribution is to point out that your garden is at the base of a slope. That’s going to mean lots of water flowing down through the hill and into your garden. That will in turn mean a potential for root rot and fungus. If you find this is happening, the fix is easy – you can quickly trench around the hill-ward side of your garden and install a french drain. Depending on your rainfall, you can either just send this drainage downhill, or you can route it through a screen and on into a cistern.

    My first garden a few years back was a complete disaster in part because I didn’t have proper drainage.

  12. Ty Tower says

    For what its worth I have found that pine needles produce a chemical that inhibits other plant growth. I’m in Australia and this definitely applies to Californian Pines , many of which were planted here 50 years ago. It also definitely applies to Cypress pine needles and in both cases you will find that nothing grows on the floors of pine forests unless it has developed some sort of immunity which your vegetables don’t have . So maybe you can compost them along with other stuff but I suggest you try leaving them out of a small pile and see if it makes a difference to the vegies. After all that’s what you have time for now.

  13. Paula says

    you might want to not use pine. the resin is an issue. if you remember in the big city, no lawn grows under pine trees. might want to read about Helen and Scott Nearing. they started homestead, gardening, rats…

  14. Jeff says

    LOL, please disregard and kindly delete my last post. I just discovered a part of your post that I must have jumped over “Back to Eden gardening method.” – just trying to help and maybe a little too excited.

  15. Jens Hultman says

    A quick note on pine needles and why they don’t leak acid into the ground:

    https://youtu.be/_B8-1sVcfzE?list=PLApXYvbprElyg12L_Uj4aq0L9pbKOILQt

    Good news for your raised beds, bad news for our American Blueberry bushes that I have put a layer of pines on top of it the vane hope of lowering the PH.

    Your approach is right, just use the resources you have as millions of farmers before you have done around the Earth.

    Keep up the good work fueled by your source of everlasting energy

    Best wishes/Jens from Sweden

  16. TheOldWizard1 says

    If you are just going to do a “hobby” garden, build raised bed and fill with compost this fall. The compost will decompose even further over winter, so you can add more in spring.

    It you really want to do subsistence farming or even some livestock (goats, maybe a couple of cows) you need to remove some of that rock ! Start searching for a landscape company or an equipment rental company that has a “rock hound” (That is both a brand name and a generic term for the same skid steer attachment). To get the most out of the rock hound, you need to rototill (with a skid steer or medium sized tractor) FIRST ! Remove any rocks bigger than 6-8″ by hand before tilling.

    Water is going to be your biggest issue, especially if you are going to have more than a couple of raised beds. A well and a way to irrigate are going to be a must.

    The next issue will be getting sufficient quantity of “soil amendments” (compost). For beds, find out what the local landscape companies do with their grass clippings. Most county road crews have huge pile of wood chips free for the hauling. Great around raise beds and, to a limited amount, in the beds.

    If you want to make a pasture for livestock (after removing some of the rocks), you are going to need to find a dairy farmer with a liquid manure hauling truck. If you do it in spring, the smell is not too bad and will not last that long.

    Chickens are a good way to start, but you have to build a fenced in area with screening on top so that birds of prey don’t eat them.

  17. says

    Hello!

    I’ve enjoyed reading your blogs from the beginning.

    I do research at a Sustainable Agriculture Project at a public university and have a couple of tips on amending your soil, if you are interested.

    I strongly recommend sending a soil sample (or a few) into your local land-grant university for soil testing. (I didn’t see a soil sample service at U of I; Colorado State has a $35.00 fee per test which is pretty low.) Until you know what the pH of the soil is and which nutrients are in short supply, it’s pretty hard to narrow in on the most effective amendments to use.

    Clay has very tiny soil particle sizes and packs really tightly together. Because of that, the amendments you add on top will not move down into the deeper soil layers unless you either plant crops with deep tap roots that mechanically make holes in the clay or you dig the clay beds. Another option would be to build raised beds; you’ll want to put something along the sides of the beds like untreated lumber or rocks to keep the beds from collapsing or washing away over time.

    Bio-char is pretty much straight carbon. Healthy soils need around 24 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen maximum to reap the best benefits of microbial activities that let plants uptake nitrogen for growth. Adding bio-char to a finished compost mix is actually a bad idea; finished compost is pretty close to the ideal ratio. If you add excess carbon, the microbes can process the nitrogen too fast for the plants to catch it.

    Now, bio-char is great if you are adding a heap of nitrogen and need some more carbon. A non-composted manure – or “hot” manure would be a good spot to add bio-char.

    Adding compost while prepping the beds or as a top/side dressing works great! It releases nitrogen compounds slowly and builds the soil while the plants are germinating or young seedlings.

    When adding a bunch of nitrogen and bio-char mix, remember that those are like adding gasoline to a fire – if you want to reap the benefits, the plants need to be ready to “catch” the nitrogen , so they need to be actively growing and have decent root systems. If you add those to an empty bed, the microbes will release nitrogen compounds that the plants can absorb – but there are no plants so most of the nitrogen will percolate down into the lower level of the soil out of reach or be washed away.

    • says

      Wow, thanks for all of the tips! I think getting our soil tested is a great idea, especially to simply have a baseline to see if we’re making progress and if so, what progress that is. We have lots to learn about soil… we are on the wait list for the Master Gardener’s program this winter so we hope there are enough people for the class to take place and hopefully we can learn more gold like this! Thanks again… lots to think about.

  18. says

    Hi Alyssa,

    Thanks for sharing your journey, I am really enjoying it. Since 1990 we have lived on a 0.7 acre lot at the western end of the Columbia River gorge in Washington state, right across the river from Portland, Oregon. We also have mostly clay soil. I am about 4 years into creating a 0.5 acre permaculture food forest in our backyard. I am also building a large raised vegetable garden. In the middle of the garden I am building an 8’x8′ timber-framed grape arbor. So your projects are similar to mine.

    A few random thoughts based on my experiences:
    – It looks like you are blessed/cursed with a lot of rocks on your property. In your “spare time” (haha), you might want to learn a bit about stone masonry. I have done several stone masonry projects (public sign foundation, porch foundation, compost bin enclosure, patio with stone benches). They are a lot of fun, great exercise, and a bit dangerous. Stone projects are the only types of projects I have done that look better and better as they age. I mostly used this book: https://www.amazon.com/Building-Stone-Charles-McRaven/dp/0882665502 If you are planning any stone projects or want some ideas, let me know.
    – If you have any erosion on your slope (or anywhere on your property), you can use it as a source of soil for your garden. If you have access to some 3″ or larger pipe, you can temporarily direct rainwater from below the eroding spot to a flat-ish place where you can collect the soil. In my case I added 6″ of topsoil in my 10’x30′ garden by running a pipe from my neighbor’s gulleys directly to my garden. Moving that much soil by hand would be back-breaking, but the rain did it all for me. I can provide more details.
    – Eventually you’ll probably want some way of separating rocks from soil. I made a frame with 1/2″ and 1/4″ wire cloth which you use like archaeologists do. There are also larger devices which work with digging machinery, if you are doing a lot of material.
    – You will want to protect your garden from browsing animals (deer, rabbits, etc.). A quick and simple way to do this is to place T-posts in the ground around the perimeter, then attach 6′ bamboo (or other durable material) poles to the T-posts with wire, in effect making the T-posts taller. Then attach bird netting to the poles. A deer could easily crash through bird netting, but in my yard they never have done so. Over time you can replace this with something more permanent, but I have one of these that is 10 years old and still going strong. I can give you more details on how to make a little “door” etc.
    – Composting – I have been experimenting with composting different ways and different materials for 26 years. It is a very interesting process. I can tell you that if you don’t already have one, you will want a pitchfork. That is the easiest tool for working with a compost pile.
    – Like you, I have built various types of compost pile enclosures over the years. It is tricky to make a visually appealing compost pile. One time I built a 10’x10’x4′ enclosure from large stones. It looked great, but it was a pain when it came time to turn the pile. I have settled on just a pile or two with no enclosure, but hidden by shrubs. I also learned to place it under a deciduous tree, so that it drops leaves directly onto the pile. I don’t see many of those on your property, if I were you I would plant one at your compost pile location. This also makes the pile look better in the winter (since the tree covers the pile with leaves).
    – I don’t fret about the mixture. I just try to have about half greens (things that were recently alive) and half browns (things that are long dead). I put pretty much anything that came from a plant into my compost.
    – As others have mentioned, many types of sticks take a long time to break down, and they make it really tough to turn your pile. But some types of sticks break down pretty quickly (e.g. willow, cottonwood) – you can experiment. It helps to leave them exposed to oxygen and the weather for a year or more first. Or get yourself a wood chipper :-)
    – I wouldn’t worry too much about wild animals getting into your pile. If there are animals around, they are going to get into it, because it contains many interesting smells, and possibly food. To minimize animal disturbance, I keep a pile of wood chips next to my compost. When I put a large amount of kitchen scraps on the pile, I cover it with a good layer of wood chips. I think the wood chips tend to minimize the smell of the kitchen scraps, thus the animals tend to leave it alone. But occasionally a raccoon or something churns around in it. I look at this as turning the pile for me. Fortunately I have never had rats, and at your location I doubt you have rats?
    – The pile will compost a LOT faster if you turn it with the pitchfork. Once as an experiment I turned a fresh pile every day to see how long it would take to turn into compost. It took 15 days. But it is silly to do it every day, unless you are in a big hurry. Of course it will decompose with no turning at all, but this might take a year or two.
    – I used to be kind of a compost fanatic, bringing home dozens of truckloads of horse manure, etc. Nowadays I prefer to just do “chop and drop”. I do still have a compost pile, but it is mostly just for getting rid of kitchen scraps and grass clippings. Oh and I do make compost tea for my fruit trees. And speaking of truckloads of horse manure – when you have a “hot” pile, it gets really, really hot. One time I was hauling a really hot mix and it blistered the paint in my truck bed.
    – Since you have a lot of trees, I would encourage you to make a few “living snags” for wildlife (birds, bats, etc.). What I do is 1) select a tree that I don’t care about or want to get rid of eventually; 2) girdle it about 1/3 from the top – I usually climb the tree and use an axe to chip off the bark; 3) girdle about half of the branches on the bottom 2/3 of the tree. In about a year the top and the girdled branches will break off, and fungus will start consuming the tree from the inside. Birds will excavate cavities which will be used by cavity nesting creatures. The bark may become loose on part of the tree, which might be used by bats (under the loose bark). You might even get a raptor to build a nest on the broken top. But the tree is still alive, so it will last 15-30 years, and provide really high quality wildlife habitat. If you girdle it at the ground (the traditional way of making a snag), it will only last 5-10 years. I have done this on 3 trees in my yard. Obviously you don’t want to do this on a tree that is next to structures :-)
    – I have found that native plants form the “foundation” of life in my yard/food forest. I encourage you to learn about the plants that are native to your area, and include some of them in your design. The native plants support native fauna which tend to be predators of the “bad” fauna messing with your food plants. Also there is a whole ecosystem in the soil which usually benefit from native plants and fungi. This is a good book: https://www.amazon.com/Teaming-Microbes-Organic-Gardeners-Revised/dp/1604691131
    – I have a lot of experience with bat houses and bats in general. They eat a tremendous amount of insects, and in most places their numbers are declining mostly due to lack of roosting sites. I encourage you to include bat habitat in your plans. I can give you a lot more details.

    Sorry for the long post, I just thought I’d throw a few thoughts out there.

    Dave

  19. Mick Whiting says

    Did you consider building your raised beds with rocks instead of wood? Clay soils typically are short on organic matter. Sweet clover is a good soil builder, adds nitrogen and once tilled in, organic. I’ll be interested in you success with tomatoes and sweet corn.

  20. Larry Schweitzer says

    Many good suggestions have been made. As a long time gardener, who has moved several times, it takes several years to finally get a good garden soil. Deep digging, 18″, and getting rid of the big rocks, then mixing in as much compost as you can. I get compost from a dairy farm or horse barn. Use it to mix with whatever I can find, keep the pile damp, free of big sticks, and turn it as often as you can. Mixing in a little dirt each turn seems to help.
    Your abundant supply of rocks can be used for so many things, including the suggested raised beds. Wash them or let rain do it in piles, then add to unreinforced concrete, cobble stone paths?
    Keep smiling, it is rewarding.

  21. Jenifer says

    Wow…I just got onto Pinterest to continue doing research for my composting I just started & stumbled upon your absolutely amazing post. I’ve greatly enjoyed watching your videos, & the fact that you’re in ID, & I’m in WA makes it even better!
    I inherited a rather large garden-20’x60′, after moving into my family’s home built in 1963. The garden is how my Grandparents fed their 3 children, but unfortunately hasn’t been planted in over 10 years. I had no idea that the once fertile soil would turn into the disaster that I have going on now! It will not hold any moisture, dries out immediately after watering, & all my starts shriveled up & died.
    I brought in about 10 bags of compost as I don’t have a truck, & tried to incorporate it into the soil around the plants that were still alive, & placed it around the bases. It’s holding in a bit of moisture, but still not the best. I’m just hoping & praying anything grows!

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