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

The Making of Quail Grove Sign

Making a Sign for Quail Grove Homesteads

The making of this project involved a collaborative effort and finding the time was another element.  Through the process I realized the Quail Grove wording could easily be changed with a special message, last name or address.

In general signs are easy to make and they’re a great way to define a space. This one has a tricky step that may come across intimidating if you’re not familiar using a table saw, I’ll explain later.

I’ve placed this right out front near the road in a flower bed.  Several other things will happen before it’s picture ready, but I’ve already added Coral Drift roses and we’re just waiting on wild grasses next.  It’s turning out to be a neat rustic entrance.

The Making of Quail Grove Sign

Building Supplies and Finishing Materials

Besides the wood and hardware, power tools will be necessary, if this is an area where you lack confidence don’t despair because maybe a spouse or friend can help.  For the most part we’re just cutting straight lines but there is a point where I take a tree branch and split it in half.

My sweet friend Karen came to my rescue and created the quail stencil using her Cricut.  To learn more about that machine click here, she explains it perfectly.

Supplies can be purchased at any home improvement store and stenciling materials online or at a craft store.

  • Drill plus bits and screws
  • One eight foot 2 x 8 Board
  • One eight foot 2 x 4
  • Cedar Branch
  • Deck mate screws
  • Sand Paper, Stain + rag
  • White Chalk Paint, Stencil Brushes and Stencils

Connecting the boards

Cut, Stain and Connect Wood

  1. Cut the wood to size – legs were cut at 3.5 ft. and the base boards were 3.1 ft.
  2. Sand each piece if necessary and Stain using a rag.  Apply stain lightly with the grain of the wood and let air dry.
  3. Once dry, line the boards lengthwise and connect the legs to each end, allow about an inch overhang at the top.
  4. Drill 4 pilot holes into each side leg and connect with screws.  More about Pilot Holes here.
  5. Once the sign is connected it’s time to stencil.

Laying things out

Collaborative Stenciling

I mentioned earlier Karen helped with the quail stencil, which was really sweet.  I sent her a text one afternoon and asked if she could make it with her cricut and she went right to work.  I’m blessed to have sweet friends and she’s a fun DIY blogger you may enjoy visiting here.

The stencil letters came from Hobby Lobby.  Transferring individual letters can be challenging even if they come from the same bunch because there is always one letter a little smaller than the rest.  In this case it was the O; in the end it didn’t really matter.

Get my how to Stencil Tips here, and don’t forget to do a transfer test first before attempting your finished piece.

Splitting Cedar with a table Saw

Splitting Cedar

When you’re clearing land, there’s always a branch or tree coming down and I have this tendency to grab things for projects later.  This time it was a cedar branch that I cut the length of the sign.  Then I took it over to the table saw and cut it right down the center.

This was pretty fast and also pretty dangerous so I don’t recommend doing this without supervision if you’re new to using power saws.

Connecting Cedar Strips from the backside with Screws

Attaching Cedar Branches

Attaching the branches involved flipping the sign, drilling pilot holes and connecting with screws.  Go through the 2 x 4 from the back into the cedar and it’s done.

This little step isn’t necessary but it sure adds character that I hope to carry through in additional outside projects.

Quail Grove has a Welcome Sign

It’s finished and ready for placement to greet visitors.  This sign is simple just like Quail Grove and sitting comfy in a flower bed at the front of the property.  Now you make something similar for your home.

Making a Sign For the Entry at Quail Grove Tiny Homes

Tiny House Walk Through

Tiny House Walk Through

This cute little Tiny house is almost ready for someone to call home.  There’s a few things left to complete outside, like add a deck, fence and other basics which we hope to have done by the end of November.

Today I decided to share the interior of house number one, our walk through will be quick so I included a video that tells some of the behind the scenes activity. Quail Grove is moving forward and we’re finding we work even faster once the temperatures drop.

Tiny House Kitchen

Tiny Kitchen and Living Space

From the front door entrance, you walk into a nice open floor plan which is the living and kitchen area.  I love this because it’s nice and wide and even offers a full fridge.  There’s plenty of cupboard space and room for a table and chair set.  The cook top and microwave are placed to the right so it’s not the center of attention which is also nice.

I really like the colors in this house, natural, simple and they go with everything.

Tiny Bedroom and Bathroom

The tiny bedroom is awesome and full of storage.  This is something many tiny house builders overlook and I’m not sure why.

I’m all about downsizing and living with less but sometimes when it comes to clothing it’s difficult to pare down 10 or 15 outfits, especially when temperatures are always fluctuating.  I think sometimes clothing is the hardest thing to deplete and I found the easiest way is to allow yourself a set number of hangers.

Can you guess how many hangers I have in my closet?

Tiny House Bedroom and Bathroom

Lots of Storage

In this bedroom there is a tall standing closet to the left and a sitting cupboard to the right.  The station in the middle is set up for a flat screen TV but you could also expand shelving options in that space.  I would have preferred to see 2 tall closets but when we purchased this house off the lot things were already built in place.

The opposite side of the bedroom offers plenty of room for a queen size bed, room to walk around and feel comfortable.  I’ve never felt cramped in this house and I’ve walked through furnished and empty examples.  The key is everything is simple, easy to update if desired and feels cozy.

The bathroom is another nice perk because it comes with a full shower, traditional toilet and a nice sink with vanity.  There’s even additional closet space at the far end where you can place a washer and dryer or use for additional storage.

Tiny House Bathroom

A Full Shower Too

Check out that full shower, there is no compromise when it comes to this Tiny House bathroom, basic yes but a nice standing shower is something very few tiny builders offer.

It’s definitely possible to live a comfortable life in a Tiny house you just have to get your house from the right supplier. Hope you enjoyed and until next time, I’m staying cozy in our RV and looking forward to the day we move in our Tiny house.  We finally decided we would turn our shed into our house.

Tiny House Walk Through at Quail Grove

Making Signs That Inspire

Making Signs That Inspire Creativity

The drive to make signs is back and it’s a good thing because it felt like I was in a funk.  Between the move and getting the workshop set up, it was difficult to create anything that really inspired.

I must have rearranged my office 3 times within two weeks, Robert built me this awesome work table and things were still feeling forced.  Then last Saturday I decided to take the day and play.  This was a smart move and inspiration hit from the word “Dreams.”

Dreams are a wonderful thing and they’ve helped me get through many difficult times.

When I started gathering supplies for this sign I started thinking about those dreams, the biggest would be living simple and helping others get back to the land.  How neat is that?

I also dream about getting a little boat so Robert and I can go fishing on the lake.  I keep dreaming of this simple life and discovered this is where my inspiration is focused and where my thoughts need to be centered because it’s my life.

Sizing up the Sign with the Stencil

Supplies and Measurements

The sign was measured to fit the stencil with enough space on each side to add fun details later.  I already had my supplies so the next step was to get started.


  • One 6 ft. Cedar Fence board
  • Saw, drill, screws and bits
  • White Chalk Paint and a Rag
  • Stencil from Studio R12, stencil brush and black chalk paint
  • Ribbon
  • Sand Paper
  • 2 wood slabs cut in half
  • Vintage fishing needles

Fishing Stencil Sign

Connecting Boards

After the boards were cut I attached them from the back with two wood strips using screws.  I drilled pilot holes first because cedar splits under pressure which can ruin a project instantly.  Once the base was connected I sanded the entire thing getting it ready to add paint.

Adding Stencil and Ribbon to Sign

Paint Stain, Stencil and Ribbon

  • I used the Paint Stain Technique with white Chalk paint.  Learn more here.
  • Applied the stencil using black paint.  How to Stencil here.
  • Drilled 4 holes, two on each side where I slipped ribbon through and tied off in knots.

Cutting Wood Slices in Half

Cutting Wood Slabs

These wood slabs are from a bois d arc tree we encountered clearing land, take a look at the color variation, isn’t it pretty.  I took two and cut them in half with the chop saw. This was really quick and make sure you cut with a fine blade.

Adding Wood Slices to the back using screws

Adding Wood Slabs with Screws

I left the slabs natural because I want them to slowly crack over time. I drilled pilot holes again and slowly drilled them to the back of the sign.  If you’re slabs are thin I would recommend using a hand screw driving.

I love this addition, it added an element of surprise that reminds me of working hard.  At this point I really thought the sign was finished but guess what?  It wasn’t done, because I remembered I had three vintage fishing needles in my desk.

Vintage Fishing Net Repair needles

My Dad was a fisherman, a gill netter actually and when I was a kid he prepped his nets using these needles.  Buoys and rope are threaded to the nets so they don’t sink to the bottom of the bay.  I was always fascinated by his work; the life of a fisherman is rough but at times I think it must have also been peaceful.  My favorite thing to ask him after a night of fishing was, “How many fish did you get?”

It was those final details that made this sign a one of a kind, something that inspires beyond a simple message.  The next time you make a sign take it to a new level and let it tell a story beyond the words.  This one reminds me that goodness is out there and we should never stop dreaming.

Making Signs that Inspire


Moving and Planting the Garden

Moving and Planting the Garden

Last week in the survey article I mentioned there were a few things that have to be moved; one included the garden.  At this point only two of the beds were planted and when Friday arrived that afternoon was spent outdoors relocating and planting the garden.

Where to begin was a bit of a challenge even though I already knew where I was going to move it.  Robert cut down a few trees days prior and all I had to really do was level the ground.  The big question was, “Could I get it done in one afternoon?”

The answer was yes and another reason why I love my Startle Garden, it’s manageable and produces amazing results.

A Successful Startle Garden Move

This time around the new location isn’t cramped and it’s still next to the creek so the beds were displayed in a stretched-out pattern. There’s a number of ways to layout SG beds and for me the garden display is almost as important as what you’re growing, well almost…

Another neat factor my quail sanctuary will be on the opposite side of the creek, this space is going to be amazing!

The first layout design can be found here.

Moving My Startle Garden

Moving Clay or Something else?

When I established these beds in March – May I used natural elements in addition with black soil from the creek.  These ingredients include my favorites and I’m going to guess you have access to at least three.

This black soil also contains a lot of clay that appears after digging deep.  Using my shovel, I removed the soil from the top and later went deep so I could add in chunky mounds of clay. This is Texas clay that most gardeners despise, for me I see an opportunity for improvement.

Clay can be found across the country and for some presents a gardening challenge.  There’s really no need to entertain the challenge, instead embrace the opportunity to learn by applying a little bit of effort.

Time to Move the Garden

When it came time to move the garden curiosity had my full attention because I wondered if those natural materials had time to decay in just a 7- month period.

The first step involved lifting the beds one by one and placing in their new location.  This is when I noticed that beautifully amended soil, within 7 months nature created a gardening miracle.  That’s a record for me so I’m here to say first and foremost, perhaps clay soil isn’t the problem, maybe the problem is the lack of work ethic that it takes to make amazing soil transpire?

Surely that’s something to think about and something that I continued to process while moving the garden and digging out more dirt from the creek.

By the end of the day my back and arms were sore but my heart was soaring.

Gathering Additional Soil from the land to work in.

There are benefits to clay that many gardeners over look and I plan to dig into this topic deeper later this month.

I’ll give you a little insight – you don’t need to be a master gardener to figure it out but you will need to bring a positive attitude and perhaps a work ethic to really embrace my findings.  In the meantime, let’s move forward into the garden where I also took time to add a little flair.

Add Garden Flair to fill in the empty Spaces

The Middle of Fall and Garden Flair

We’re in the middle of Fall and the temperatures are beginning to drop so I don’t expect much growth between now and March. This means some of these planting spaces look pretty empty.

This is when garden flair presents an opportunity to fill in the gaps. I added sponge painted pots and a cement frog that once lived in my grandma’s garden and later traveled to my mom’s garden.  He now lives in my garden and blends with those pots perfectly.

I also added my garden tray where I planted strawberries and a vine of thornless blackberries. It’s my hope to later add a garden table where these items can be moved when things start to grow in March.

All in all, moving the garden wasn’t a big deal and the best part I learned that blessings are all around us and boy do I ever love my Startle Garden.

Moving and Planting The Garden Success

Make your Own Gift Boxes

Make Your Own Gift Boxes

Gift boxes are one of my favorite things to make and receive because they bring back memories when my grandma use to cover cardboard boxes with fancy paper and fill with homemade canned goods for family and friends.  When I was younger we put these boxes together on rainy days and when I got my driver’s license I had the pleasure of delivering them through town.

Giving is a wonderful thing and this holiday season I thought it would be fun to share how to make your own gift box.  This begins with live workshops here.

Stacks of Gift Box Kits

The Gift Box Kit

Every box begins with pre-cut pine that’s been sanded and drilled with pilot holes, this means assembly is a breeze.  I enjoy putting these kits together and this time around I took a few to see how I could turn this kit into different styles.

For builders far away follow the links below for DIY similar style boxes.  Measurements can be adjusted to your liking and remember the box ends are attached to the bottom piece first and then you add the sides.

Staining Gift Box with Dixie Belle Stain

Finishing the Gift Box with Stain and Stencils

Adding those finishing touches is always the fun part and this time stain was first before building.  I used Dixie Belle Chalk paint and stain which is easy to apply and dries fast.  I love how that wood grain shines through, it offers a little rustic texture that’s irresistible.

  • Apply paint or stain using a rag, use something that can be tossed afterwards. Get my paint stain technique here.
  • This paint/stain dries fast so you should be able to build immediately.

Gift Box Styles

Gift Box Styles

I mentioned earlier you can style this box several different ways which wasn’t my plan but I started playing with the wood like blocks and realized this kit has a lot of possibilities.

  • Top left style would be great for wine bottles or fancy olive oil bottles.
  • Top right style is excellent for mason jars filled with anything or bagged goodies like fudge, cookies and so on.
  • The bottom left I imagine for garden seeds, anything would be awesome.
  • The bottom right I imagined using for a coffee, tea or cocoa bar, sit on a shelf or drill to the wall.

Cutting Edge Stencils for Gift Box

Fun with Cutting Edge Stencils

With the gray box I used Cutting Edge Stencils, this one is called Chrysanthemum Twist.   By using small sections of the stencil from the front, back, side and handle the design turned out less uniformed, something you won’t see anywhere else.

Adding Ribbon to Gift Box to soften the mood

Adding Ribbon or Fabric

I love ribbon and shades of fabric but here’s the thing, I don’t sew!  The gray box welcomed this soft plaid ribbon that I added for detail.  This addition isn’t necessary but if you’re using this box for gift giving it definitely dresses it up.

Fabric was used for the white box by cutting in strips and over time the edges will fringe if you don’t have the patience to do that by hand.  These details can also be changed through the seasons if the box isn’t holiday themed.

GIft Boxes at Garden Up Green

Finally, we have two Gift boxes that are ready to be filled with homemade or store purchased goodies.  Who wouldn’t love them? They’re perfect for teachers, neighbors, hostess gifts, or just use as a centerpiece filled with potted plants or festive greenery.

We made these boxes in Cooper  at The Mill, view the fun here or schedule a workshop by contacting here.

Make Your Own Gifts Boxes, Stain, Build and Stencil