How to Quickly Amend Clay Soil

How to Quickly Amend Clay Soil

Earlier this month I discovered that clay amends quick with the right ingredients.  Good soil for the garden includes three important elements, sand, clay and natural materials.  You can learn more about that here.

We recently moved to an area where the ground is referred to as Blackland Prairie, this is a dark rich clay blend that’s high in nutrients but low in phosphorus and nitrogen.

Some folks refer to this as gumbo material because it’s chunky when you dig deep, turns hard and crack with lack of water, and when wet sticks to the bottom of shoes in layers.  Clay can be a gardener’s nightmare, but it doesn’t have to be if you’re unwilling to work it into something amazing, it’s that simple.

The Good and Bad Layers of Clay soil

Clay Layers and Natural Debris

Our new property used to be a farm field where beautiful lush crops grew, view here.  This field also has sand and years of expired crops mixed in so the soil is still dark and easy to walk through before and after tilling.

There’s also a triangle area where we chose to live that was covered in trees and fallen debris, we’re not sure if this area has ever been cleared which means layers upon layers of debris have covered the ground.

We started digging to see how long it would take to reach hard clay because the top layer was amazing.  About six inches down and there it was that chunky clay glaring at us. This means the top six inches was perfect.  Why was it perfect? Because it was absorbed in natural material that slowly decayed and amended the clay into workable soil.

Seeing this was fantastic because I find it fascinating how the ground works naturally when the right ingredients are gathered in one place.

When I started my Garden

When I started my garden here I was no longer intimidated because I could simply take my amending techniques I was doing previously at our farm and basically turn up the volume here. Anybody can what I’m about to share but you have to make a plan and put it to work.

If you want to speed up the process and amend clay quickly then forget growing directly in the ground and move over to taller raised beds.  Check out these examples here and here.

This simple raised bed solution will speed up the process and give you a strong foundation for your garden that others only dream about.  But I won’t lie it takes effort to set up and if you’re not willing to put in the effort then I guess it might be better to go buy your soil from a nursery.

Incorporate Ashes to mix with clay soil in raised beds

Ashes and Clay

We burn like crazy around here and there is always a pile of ash that can be used to mix in with layers of clay when I’m establishing new beds. Ashes can also come from your fire place or outdoor fire pit, this is an ingredient that also helps loosen the ground that I always leave beds open at the bottom to welcome the worms.

With existing raised beds use ashes on top, dig small holes or even small trenches to work within.  Never under estimate the positive effect ashes can have on clay.

The Beauty of Leaves

I can’t tell you how many piles of beautiful dried leaf’s I’ve raked in the last several months, some for the garden and many for starting burn piles.  They’re in abundance from fall through winter and they’re perfect for breaking up clumps of clay.

By adding thick layers and covering with loose and thick clay chunks both ingredients work together through decay and worm activity.  This little bit of effort helps speed up the amending process like magic. Leaves should never, I mean never be overlooked for boosting and breaking up clay.

Decaying Sticks - The clay really loves them

Stick Debris

Sticks are everywhere on our journey to clear land.  Just the other day I was cleaning up property #1 and the focus was to burn but I couldn’t help think I should really be using it to set up new raised beds.

I used a lot of sticks when establishing my first Startle Garden at Quail Grove.  All these natural materials, ashes, leaves, and sticks amended this first garden beautifully and in a 7 month period. Pretty Sweet wouldn’t you say?

One More Surprise Ingredient

The results were quick, quicker than I could have ever imagined which led me to adding one more ingredient that I brought from the farm, Llama droppings.  That’s correct I brought 20 gallons of llama droppings with us to get my gardens started off right.

Which means I’ll be getting me a new set of llamas once our little spot is completely fenced in because I can’t imagine gardening without the help of llamas.   Animal fertilizer is a huge benefit for breaking down clay, learn more here.

Quick results for amending clay soil just got easier

The Results Speak for Themselves

When I originally established the first garden at Quail Grove I incorporated everything in layers and made sure that I took that top six inches of soil from the surface to mix within everything else.  I also took the hard clay past that six inches and broke it up in to small pieces and spread it through out.

Now if you look at the above image notice the results, these 6 inches of amended wonderful was once Blackland Prairie clay that most gardeners would say is impossible to do anything with.  But here is the thing if you caught up in the negatives of gardening with clay then you’ll just sit still like that hard clay several feet underground.

To succeed you need to set a goal, bring forward your work ethic, begin with raised beds and incorporate a lot of natural material to make it happen. How much of this or that is required will be based on the size of your raised beds so use your own judgement.

Also remember over time these beds will pack down which means it will be necessary to repeat the process and include my favorite tip from grandma direct composting because caring for the soil never ends.

Enjoy gardening by focusing on what you can do and always continue moving forward.

How to Quickly Amend Clay Soil in just a few months

5 comments

  1. daisy says:

    That’s some gorgeous looking soil. It looks so rich. Good to know that it can be done within a year’s cycle. I need to get a burn pile going, so that I can add some ash to our clay soil. Thank you for the easy to follow instructions!

    1. Carole says:

      So rich too – this was amended in a 7 month period which honestly was by surprise and I didn’t even realize until I had to move those beds. Burn piles are great but don’t over look the debris because it welcomes the worms which gets things moving fast. The worms out here are HUGE!!

  2. Patti says:

    Hi Carole,

    This is fascinating. I know everyone is on the raised bed wagon and I agree that they are great for a number of reasons but I’m glad you’ve shown us how to work with the soil, the leaves, and other debris we already have at our disposal. We have a dump areas for grass, leaves, pruning even for weeds that I call my compost pile. Every now and then I dig below the mess to find some black gold. We do have a wood burning fireplace so I’m going to keep your ash info in mind for this future too. Thanks

    1. Carole says:

      I like the raised beds for a number of reasons but when they allowed me to see such amazing results with the clay I was fascinated. Ashes are great and can be added underneath mulch too. Glad this was helpful.

  3. I love this! Just more of what I needed to read. Since we are looking for a bit of land to build on, and a garden is an absolute must for me {a kitchen garden but also rose garden}, I’ve needed to learn how to work with this soil.

    We had clay in California, similar but grey. It would crack, too, but my yards were hauled in dirt over clay. I double dug in manure, good bought dirt and would toss in composted kitchen, grass and leaf once broken down. Will having good soil help reduce chiggers? Any thoughts on that? Oh, and I know you probably have a llama person, but if you would like to raise alpacas, Janet where we live now raises them to sell and sells their wool woven into yarn. Wagon Master RV Park and Alpaca Farm. Happy for you in your new home!!! 💞

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