How do you go from red clay to rich soil?

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Re: How do you go from red clay to rich soil?

Postby eeldip » Wed Feb 08, 2012 6:19 am

i've heard a lot of negative things about sheet mulching, prevents the gas exchange between layers and slows down biological processes. kind of a controversial subject, but I find the evidence against it more convincing.

either way, it DOES work, but maybe not as well as a thick mulch. not that spreading 8"=12" of material over a couple thousand square feet is easy...
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Re: How do you go from red clay to rich soil?

Postby dave brenneman » Wed Feb 08, 2012 2:52 pm

Where I grew up in VA, there was a lot of red clay soil. The parts of our yard that grew the thickest grass were over the septic field and near the rabbit hutch. We would haul manure from the rabbit hutch over to the garden, and it seemed to help.

If it were me: I'd go with green manure, and chop&drop. It's definitely going to take more time, but thinking about hauling manure -

1 acre is 6,272,640 square inches. Since you want to cover it one inch deep you need 6,272,640 cubic inches of water. There are 231 cubic inches in a gallon. So divide 6,272,640 by 231 and you get 27,154.2857

Read more: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_gall ... z1lnmQk6jJ


divide that by five and you get 5,431 five-gallon buckets of manure to add one inch of organic matter. Factoring in time and hauling costs, I would say that there's a big advantage to hauling as much manure as you can stand, and spreading it around, but using other methods as well.

mulch: i wouldn't mulch right up to trees or right up to the house. too inviting of a pathway for critters to run through.
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Re: How do you go from red clay to rich soil?

Postby pa_friendly_guy » Wed Feb 08, 2012 3:42 pm

The shear volume of matterials that Dave is talking about it very intimidating. And He is exactly right. But a juoney of a 1000 miles starts with a single step. Maybe you do 1/2 the back yard this year, maybe a 1/4 of it. You are not growing weeds now, any improvement will be a welcome change. I agree about disking in the green manure and re-seeding but I don't think you want to do that every year. The small amount of grass you have growing now will help a little, but not enough, and not over a big enough area. You need to add that free poop that Youngblood has offered you. Since you discribe it as an unlimited supply [ cows do tend to poop every day :P ] you can continue to add more when ever you have time, or when ever you go and visit your Dad. It does not have to happen over night, even though as Americans we do want things NOW, its Ok to have it happen over time. Take your time, do what you can and don't worry. Even if you do nothing nature will put something there over time. This is not Rocket science, I don't think you can screw this up no matter what you do or how you do it. Doing ANYTHING will be an improvement. So go ahead and start, you will see results and that will give you hope. Good Luck.
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Re: How do you go from red clay to rich soil?

Postby boo » Sat Aug 04, 2012 3:15 am

I have just read through this post and I'm in pretty much the same situation with heavy clay in my garden (except I don't know where to rent a mule) and my area is not as large as George's. Wonderful idea's to remedy the situation have been suggested. I stumbled on the "let whatever will grow" solution but I also have adobe like patches in the garden. I've been using poo from a guinea pig, and the soiled bedding straw plus sheep manure to cover the area's and so far it is working.......but my area is nowhere near as large as the area George is talking about. I'd be interested to hear what had the best results to produce lovely rich soil on the site.
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Re: How do you go from red clay to rich soil?

Postby paulbee » Fri Aug 24, 2012 7:55 am

I am no expert, just a small scale experimenter with under an acre of varied experiments :)

What to do about clay? To start, clay like this can be a gift. You have good clay for cobbing, adobe and other building projects. So scalping some selectively off the top is probably a good step. Harvest a bunch and put it in nice covered pile for other homestead projects.

Now to improve what you have I'd do the following:

1. Dig a few holes in areas you want to improve. 1 foot in depth. Analyze what you find. Is there clay for all 12 inches? Is it rock right under the clay? Is there anything better thereunder?

2. Assuming you have lots of depth of clay and rock and nothing extremely usable, your options are:
a. Rebuilding/building soil
b. Building raised beds or mounds

3. Rebuilding / building soil is always possible, but might not be economical depending on the size of area you want to rehab along with your time and budget.

4. Rebuild should consist of tilling into the loosened clay (recommend attempting to till/disc/etc.) the following:
a. Sand
b. Compost
c. potash or biochar
d. manure

You will need to amend this tilled area to a depth of 8 inches or more.

5. Consider planting rapid growing "weeds" that grow in your region. There are bunch of first to appear land rehabbers that do wonders and grow in really bad soil rather prolifically. Your local agriculture extension should be able to point you in the right direction. The idea with these "weeds" is many have sturdy and deep taproots. Chicory is one my favorites along with dandelion. Both incidentally are very edible and useful. Let these grow and chop and drop them in place when large enough, leaving their roots in the ground. Only pull by roots the noxious and useless weeds.

6. Trees and shrubs usually are your friend in rehabbing the land. They produce lots of canopy cover, provide animal habitat, leaves for soil enrichment, better water management in the soil and tilling effect underground. Find quick growers local to you, native trees and shrubs and plant lots of them. I am fond of edible trees and shrubs.

I'd do all of that along with reclaiming what I could from the gully.

The cost of carting in materials today is outrageous. Fuel surcharges are normal business today.

I'd be looking for a local arborist nearby who will give you all the chippings and woody cuts you want for fuel cost.

Nothing wrong with raised beds though :) But depends on your intended land use there. For growing food, they are superior in many aspects.
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How do you go from red clay to rich soil?

Postby Arborsmarty » Tue Nov 13, 2012 6:05 pm

There is lots of great advice to break up compacted clay within this thread. Has anyone ever tried mulching up scraps of gyp-rock and discing that into the clay?

There is usually an abundance of it at most building sites. People are happy for you to take it away!

Adding coarse sand (as well as heaps of organic material as others have said) also helps improve the structure therefore minimizing future compaction.
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Re: How do you go from red clay to rich soil?

Postby Myrth » Mon Apr 22, 2013 12:20 am

Years ago I had a place that was yellow clay. It was some of the poorest soil I have ever seen. I used composted manure, straw, hay, leaves, and grass clippings. Before too long the soil was rich, full of earth worms, and grew excellent garden crops.

I used deep mulch around the plants and allowed the earth worms to incorporate it into the soil over time. The added humus did wonders for the soil.
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Re: How do you go from red clay to rich soil?

Postby pa_friendly_guy » Mon Apr 22, 2013 11:57 am

Well George, you started this thread but have not commented in awhile. You have spent a lot of time planting that Walnut forest, and those chestnuts are coming along nicely, but what about the yard? I would love to hear a report, :D have you taken any time to work on that red clay you are so famous for down south? Have any of the ideas here been of help to you? Given time has Nature just taken her course and filled in the bare spots with out you doing much of any thing? Nature hates a vacuum and wants to fill it with some thing, ;) How has the yard been coming along? I would love to see some pictures. :D
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Re: How do you go from red clay to rich soil?

Postby dave brenneman » Mon May 06, 2013 7:31 pm

I just came across a comment the other day about using sheetrock/gyprock/gypsum board to amend clay soils and compost. Might be something to consider, if you can get construction site offcuts/waste. Probably difficult to get enough to cover the whole area, but I'd imagine every little bit helps.
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Re: How do you go from red clay to rich soil?

Postby Myrth » Tue May 07, 2013 10:25 am

Generally, you would use powdered gypsum, not sheets of drywall.
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