Our first Veg garden ~ Clay soil


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Old 03-21-21, 06:25 PM
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Our first Veg garden ~ Clay soil

Starting a new (our first) small veg garden.here in the Willamette valley in western Oregon. I did a little excavation with shovels and a mattock to discover the soil where we are intending to build the garden is clay based and very heavy but is full of earthworms. According to the OSU extension office this isn't an entirely bad thing as, according to them, compacted clay holds fan more nutrients than sandy or silt soils. Okay fine, and I understand that the conventional method to loosen up clay soils may take a few years. My better half wants to get started growing tomatoes and radishes soon, but I think my only option for this season would be to dump a load of garden soil into the bed to get away from the clay. I have just begun root growth in a seed terrarium today. Our soil temp is now approaching 50* F in both the terrarium and outside. I'm hip about blending in gypsum to clay and I have only a pitchfork to do so as I don't want to till up this small 4x8 plot. Any insights to accomplish loosening up this clay by other means?
 
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Old 03-21-21, 06:34 PM
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I'd probably suggest you work some sand into it. Turning it over with a shovel will be a lot of work but it sounds like that's your only option if your not going to till it.
 
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Old 03-22-21, 06:25 AM
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There are a lot of amendments you can use. I would start by having the state or county do a soil test. With those results you'll actually know what your soil needs instead of guessing.

In the mean time you can do some "mechanical" amending to help loosen the soil. Things like sand or vermiculite won't affect the soil chemistry much but can help open the soil so it can more readily accept water and be a bit less likely to turn into a brick when it gets dry.

Organic matter is almost always good. Compost is the best. I try to avoid peat moss in a garden as it can sometimes impart a odd flavor in some fruits and veggies.
 
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Old 03-22-21, 07:50 AM
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Sometimes the best tool for clay soil is a soaker hose- once the ground is saturated with water, it becomes VERY easy to mix in soil amendments. A simple "garden weasel" 2-handed twist tiller should do.

See if you can get bulk sand and bulk loam/compost, and simply mix them in.
 
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Old 03-22-21, 08:51 PM
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Thanks guys, I'm only just beginning to get a compost pile going, going to make it a pile rather than a container so the worms can give me a hand. I reckon I can start the compost with the grassy patches I pulled out in the excavation process and I have several cardboard boxes from brown matter. Apart from a wide spade and a shovel I do have the aforementioned mattock and a pitchfork. I happened to spot a straw bail that had fallen from a truck on the highway near here so I may take some canvas and scarf it up. Also we eat a lot of fruits and veg so that's going into it too. I'm going to scope out that twist tiller as it'll likely do less damage to the existing worms, provided the tines are heavy enough for this compacted clay..

Edit: I see by their website than they mention clay soils but their demo video showed only it working in pretty loose soil.
 

Last edited by Turbogus; 03-22-21 at 09:12 PM.
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Old 03-23-21, 03:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Turbogus
I happened to spot a straw bail that had fallen from a truck on the highway near here so I may take some canvas and scarf it up.
Be careful about mixing LARGE pieces of organics like straw into clay- you want a crumbly source of organics like compost, mixing straw in with clay ends up giving you adobe bricks instead of a light fluffy soil.
 
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Old 03-23-21, 05:30 PM
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Thanks Hal, good to know. I was really thinking of down the road when the summer heat gets going stron to use on top of the established bed to help with water retention.

I dug down a small hole this afternoon, and I think I encountered China, err regular earth at about 16 inches depth. I'm going to see if the morning rain drains away but taking a clump in my hand it crumbled easily.
 

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Old 03-25-21, 10:42 AM
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You can work clay soil when it is not too wet....and not too dry. So, wet it down deep (if Oregon rain has not done this) and check every day....by digging down 6 inches and taking a clump in your hand and squeezing. You want something that crumbles easily. Now is the time. For a 4x8 plot, you can add a 1/4 yard of COARSE RIVER SAND and a 1/4 yard of a quality compost (with little or no peat moss).

You won't have any compost for 6 months to a year. We go into our back 40 which has many trees and rake off the newest layer of leafs and use an aluminum dairy shovel to scoop up an inch or two of partially decomposed leaf mold....take it to our pile, run it out to 6 inches and mow it down into smaller pieces. Eventually, I mix this with quality soil amendments and peat moss for our box beds.
 
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Old 03-25-21, 11:05 AM
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Originally Posted by Turbogus
Thanks Hal, good to know. I was really thinking of down the road when the summer heat gets going stron to use on top of the established bed to help with water retention.
What I do for summer is route the downspout nearest the garden into a rain barrel to store water from thunderstorms so I can use it to water the garden. The downspout normally goes into a drain pipe, but I've re-graded things and put up swales so that the rain barrel overflows, floods the garden, then drains back into the drain pipe (add a grating to the keep grass & leaves out of the pipe)
 
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Old 03-26-21, 06:33 PM
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Thanks for your input guys, keep 'em coming and stay safe!
 
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Old 03-28-21, 12:33 AM
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Yay, first sprouts

In my container trays I have a pair of radish sprigs coming up!
 
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Old 03-29-21, 02:14 AM
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Congratulations! Please post photos of it and the process.
 
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Old 03-30-21, 02:03 PM
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I'll be getting out there later today, or tomorrow and I'll snap some pics!
 
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Old 03-30-21, 02:36 PM
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I'll give you my address so you can send extra veggies.
 
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Old 03-30-21, 06:17 PM
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Okay here come the photos, mind you, we began with scraping off the grass that came in great clumps of clay. My little Japanese wife helped as best she could but I could put more weight behind the spade, while she soldiered on with a shovel. We only made it down about 3 -4 inches the first couple of days.




I poured some water down this hole to check the drainage and it is pretty slow, but I think I'm going deep enough for root growth when I add soil.



...and then I expanded on it today somewhat. I found that using a pitchfork to loosen the clay then the spade for excavation went much easier with faster results. Although at my age it still was kind of tiring.




Here's my implements of destruction


Inside of my garage, as we still have days below freezing, I've got the radish and tomato starts under a small grow lamp.


First to sprout from seed are the radishes;

...but nothing out of the tomato starts yet. Whenever I'm working outside I set this pizza box in the sun.

 
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Old 03-30-21, 06:31 PM
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Typically you want to sow radish seeds right into the ground as early as possible, and you will start to harvest them in about 30 days. The seeds are so small that you just scatter them. Do this once a week, or every couple weeks while it is still cool.

Transplanting doesn't work real well and since its a root crop, you don't want to disturb the roots.

 
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Old 03-30-21, 07:05 PM
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Thanks XSleepr, this stuff is all new to us. Although, I don't know how kindly the Radishes would take to clay.
 

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Old 03-31-21, 03:00 PM
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Got a Fatmax garden hose for $39.99 and a made in China (of course) Y splitter for the outside spigot, nice large handles on it and easy for my wife to manipulate. Taking a break from digging today, tomorrow going in for shot one of the Modera vaccine. Going to see if I can resurrect the hose timer for the garden soaker hose.
I see Lowe's has garden soil at $10 per 1.3 cubic ft. before my vet. discount I don't yet know if this is the going rate. One thing I did learn with the excavation I'm doing, the Lowe's guy mentioned that even in our clay soil his tomatos went crazy good last year in his clayish raised bed. Good to know that.
 
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Old 04-03-21, 10:08 PM
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I found a tuffy garbage can that I left in the back yard over the winter top side up. I remember leaving some lawn clippings inside last autumn. I took a whiff and whew! it was rank. I added it to the compost pile to see if the worms like it.
 
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Old 04-04-21, 06:40 AM
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Yea, when compost is anaerobic it can have a potent smell.
 
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Old 04-04-21, 02:08 PM
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Good to know, Pilot Dane.

On the seedling front the Radishes are bursting through their homespun clear covers meanwhile...
The tomatoes are still not budging, perhaps I need to re-seed in the mini greenhouse.
 
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Old 04-05-21, 03:53 PM
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He Is Risen

...and so is one sprig of tomato, at last. Happy Easter Monday everyone! It's tiny and I don't want to jinx myself, but even the excavation is going easier. Seems the further East I go I get out of the clay and only have compacted earth. Way easier to break up and deal with.
 
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Old 04-07-21, 12:22 AM
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The saga of my tomato plants

I've measured the temperature of the back porch and during the afternoon it reaches up to 81* so I set my flat of tomato and radish seedlings and I noticed that the sprig of the 1st tomato has nearly doubled in height.
 
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Old 04-07-21, 06:00 AM
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Yea, tomatoes and peppers love heat. You'll soon be paying attention to the seasons more than you have before and learning which things get planted what time of year.

Tomatoes are prone to getting blossom end rot. Try to keep the soil moisture sorta uniform especially avoid overly wet in early season and too dry later on. Proper soil and water pH helps a lot, I shoot for 6.5. Then make sure there is plenty of calcium available for the plant. I mix in gypsum (calcium sulfate) into the soil when I prepare the bed but there are many other things you can use as well.

And, tomatoes use a lot of nitrogen. If your tomatoes aren't a nice medium to dark green or if the lower leaves yellow it can be a sign of nitrogen deficiency.
 
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Old 04-07-21, 07:20 AM
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Don't forget that soil temp is more important than air temps. Get a $5 meat thermometer that includes 40 to 120 degrees, to check soil. Also, if you have plastic pots with plants....check them. Afternoon sun can heat up the pot and soil on one side to 90+ degrees and cook some roots. Soil around 70 degrees is good for most plants and seed sprouting.
 
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Old 04-07-21, 07:59 AM
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Originally Posted by Turbogus
I've measured the temperature of the back porch and during the afternoon it reaches up to 81* so I set my flat of tomato and radish seedlings and I noticed that the sprig of the 1st tomato has nearly doubled in height.
You can fill empty soda bottles with water / miracle grow to add "thermal mass" which will help store the daytime heat and even out the temperature swings
I've used this for our "vestibule greenhouse" - I'm in an old farmhouse with 18" thick walls, so the south facing doorway has a stormdoor, a main door, and just enough room to fit an old wine rack. I cut large Gatorade bottles in half, slide them into the rack, and use them to start seedlings in potting soil. Also have 1 liter bottles of water in the wine rack for thermal inertia to store solar heat during the day and release it at night.
When we do our tomatoes, I plant them close to our 3 rail split-rail fence, then hang a harbor freight canvass dropcloth from the rails at night to avoid frost. Also acts as a wind break and helps warm the area up. Draped the drop cloth over the composter for a bit of additional nighttime heat.
Last year we were harvesting 5" diameter tomatoes into mid October, north of Philadelphia.

 
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Old 04-10-21, 12:24 AM
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Thanks for all of the helpful input guys.
I'm using the heat of the surface of the back porch (88* today) as a surrogate heat mat as I don't want to go to that expense. The first sprig is on it's way climbing to 2nd tier of leaves, Another sprig has just started that tells me that in my garage the surface temp on my elevated flat was insufficient to germinate the seed, I've since added styrofoam underneath when I bring 'em in for the night.
 
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Old 04-10-21, 05:22 PM
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Today was a nice overcast cool day of 51* So I got my med boots on and checked the temperature of the concrete back porch and it was only 56* today so I left the seedling inside. Peering under the clear plastic dome I found a 3rd tomato sprout emerging Maybe the curse of the brown thumb is broken this season.










 
 

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