Good soil for the garden includes three important elements, sand, clay and natural materials. Then earlier this month I discovered that clay amends quick with the right ingredients.
We recently moved to an area where the ground is referred 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, especially when you dig deep.
In the dryer hot, dry months it turns hard and cracks due to lack of water. Then when wet it sticks to the bottom of shoes in layers, which makes it sound like a nightmare.
Well, clay can be a gardener’s nightmare, but it doesn’t have to be if you’re unwilling to work it into something amazing.
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, the ground is fascinating how it 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 at Quail Grove.
Anybody can do what I’m about to share but you have to make a plan and actually put it to work.
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.
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 to open bottom raised beds.
With existing 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 leaves 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.
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 that material 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.
Animal fertilizer is a huge benefit for breaking down clay, learn more here.
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 soil was once Blackland Prairie clay that most gardeners would say is impossible to do anything with.
But here’s the thing if you get 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
- Incorporate a lot of natural material, how much is required will be based on the bed size 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.