Gardening in Clay -Sub-soil

Its been a interesting challenge in regards to Kitchen Garden Plot 15..  It’s a full on sub-soil clay.  Its the first time in many years that I have had to start a raw plot of land from full clay and turn it into a fully productive working garden.

The farm is on river loam and has some of the best garden soil I have ever seen or had the pleasure of working with normally, I have spots where I can dig down a solid 18 to 24 inches before I will hit the clay subsoil.

I have worked and gardened in clay based soils before in alberta so while its been a long time, its not like I have not worked in clay before.

Plot 15 was the last garden to be sorted of worked this year in the KG build..  it was basicly roughly knocked level, weeds pulls, a 2 inch or so layer of compost added in and planted into potato’s..  As the they grew, we did a small hilling and then covered the whole area with 2 year old straw and let it do its thing..

Its thing was to do poorly.. worst garden and worst potato crop, it might have yielded 60ish pound of small to med spuds.

The potato dig meant that we had already turned some of the things into the soil and I covered it with clover as soon as it was dug out.. over top the green cover crop has gone muck

This heavy wet muck..  now what is muck you ask.. well.. its crazy active blend of soil/hay bits and horse manure with a bit of duck/sheep thrown in it..  its the wet fall area that builds up around the big horse feeder.

Its not compost.  but its been well hoof blended in a big way and its very much ALIVE!

This had two great things about it.. One being that we are scaping down the wet thick muck away from where my boys hang out to eat their hay in this wetter then normal oct.. I mean come on.. in two days in oct we got more rain then we did the last three months before.. and it has just kept coming. (now we need the rain and water)

The second being that it is being dumped into the clay garden, and I am spreading it out at about a 4 inch thickness..  the rains are pushing the finer down into the ground below leaving a thicker layer of materials.. but that is fine as the worms will bring it down.

On top of this will go a thin 1 inch well rotted fowl/rabbit proper compost and over that will go 2 to 4 inches of top soil.  That will use up the last of the top soil we got in this year.

I will go out and spring sow it with a green cover crop when there is a just a touch of snow left and I will mix the seed with sand and put a light 1/2 inch or so of sand over the whole top..

All four layers will be mix in together to create small planting hills.. leaving the rest as is for the coming season and this will be squash garden. I am a tiny bit up in the air on the cover crop, not sure if I want to do it yet in clover or if it will go into radish..

Do you garden in clay? What do you think of the layering I have created.. how much soil do you think I will in fact have by the end of year two in KG plot 15..  Do you agree with me that squash is going to be the best choice for this bed given what and how its been made this fall? if not.. what would you plant there instead?  If you could add something else or if you would have done it different, what would you do?

Rebecca’s comment from the Just another day on the farm facebook page is outstanding and so I am adding it directly to this post so that the knowledge and helpful hints are not lost to my readers..

Only ’cause you asked in the post… Some crunched up leaves and bedding, or even mown grass between layers — anything to add fiber to the mix (a lot of manures are very fine-grained and even though there’s some bits in the manures, from a texture point they function much like clay itself. I might even just try to go UP from the clay rather than mitigate it even for 4-6″ deep. I just find it easier where the clay suctions minerals and is so dense, and it takes so much material and nutrients to mitigate it the first couple of years. – – – For planting: point tap roots – daikon or tillage radish and beets and turnips, even dandelion. – – If you have access to a quickie $5-$8 DIY nutrient test in your stores or Amazon, test it and the pH ahead of your summer planting. That’ll tell you if you want to re-dump and how much fertility you’re going to need to top dress for squash come summer. – – If it doesn’t want to be squash because it’s sucking in nutrients faster than you want to feed them or just hasn’t conditioned into soil that they’ll be able to root down for, give a bush bean or buckwheat or even a millet or pigeon pea or rice pea or butterfly pea some consideration – the last 5 give you a sprouting grain or direct-feed grain for birds, millet can handle some serious clays (especially white teff) even though it’ll reduce your yields, millet and buckwheat are both fine for a graze down or select cut fodder (no foxtail for horses – need to check for pregnant ewes) and they make great adds for biomass, especially if you do some combo of the super soft and the slightly denser greens (especially if you want to mow or weed eater them down). – – – If you do some of your sunflowers before you get icelocked, and you don’t use the hulls for soggy spots for the birds, consider working sections where a tulip planter size hole or even a bit smaller gets a little chute of them OR sprinkle them kind of far and wide like if you’re hand casting grain. It’s not enough to counteract all that muck, but it’s another way to start developing the different organic matter for staged breakdown (before your spring compost dressing, even if not this year, if there’s less than 1-2″ of shells for a solid layer). They’re also slow-feed with all the good stuff greedy sunflowers suck up, and great at giving a little root space for oxy, holding some water when it’s dry brick but helping it flow in drainage. (Coffee grounds are, too.) 🙂 …… Aren’t you glad you asked? (I’ll try to take a picture of what’s directly under my grass.)


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4 Responses to Gardening in Clay -Sub-soil

  1. Constance Sharpe says:

    Cover w/alfalfa?

  2. I am still learning a lot with gardening. My husband is the one that does most of the gardening when it comes to edibles. I will have to share this link with him. Thank you for all these tips.

    • Your welcome RedHouse (would you like me to shorten your name a different way or is this good for you?) I have a three year plan for this garden.. and I will do follow up on it. its different in the fact that there is some low tilling in this one.. but its just needed to mix the levels and layers.

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