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Organic Gardening: Red clay, mushroom compost, and....?

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Forum: Organic GardeningReplies: 7, Views: 68
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Spring City, TN

June 28, 2012
9:11 PM

Post #9185651

I've been reading DG for days and feeling guilty for all the work I'm NOT doing to improve my soil.

For years I've turned over the red clay, broken up clods, and added mushroom compost -- horse manure, rotted straw and I think peat moss. And planted. I mulch with another truckload of hardwood mulch. Each truckload is $15 and I have to drive 11 miles. I get 12 inches in easy-to-dig "soil" in a 4x8 bed when finished. Yeah, it settles over time... into black gold.

Over the years I have gone back to old flower beds and a shovel sinks right in -- not possible with the red clay everywhere else. Whatever flowers or shrubs or trees or mints I've planted in it grow and grow. Haven't planted anything particularly difficult or vegetables...

What am I missing? I keep reading about perlite and greensand and fine pine bark leavings and lasagna and strict recipies of 1/3 this and 1/3 that...

So really, do I need to add anything to my "soil" that is red clay and mushroom compost?


Charlotte, NC
(Zone 7b)

June 29, 2012
9:47 AM

Post #9186166

Have you tried raised beds? I have hard, red clay here, too and have had to put in raised beds for vegetables.
Spring City, TN

June 29, 2012
10:20 AM

Post #9186228

Everything is raised beds or terraces, which are just stacked raised beds on a hill... is the mushroom compost method enough? Does good soil NEED more?


Anne Arundel,, MD
(Zone 7b)

June 30, 2012
10:53 AM

Post #9187532

If your plants look healthy, maybe you have done enough. If it ain't broke, you know...

If you must have something else, maybe greensand or some other source of micronutrients. But again, if it ain't broke...? Clay tends to have plenty of nutrients.


Anderson, IN
(Zone 6a)

July 6, 2012
10:32 AM

Post #9195386

Red clay is great if you can ever get the mix right, Lots of nutrients ,minerals, all kinds of good things in that. With the thing being it is difficult to work with ,exceedingly so!
Maybe try county extension for advice or the nearest master gardeners program where you garden.They would most likely give you the best advice as they would be much more "in tune: with your earth and soil.


Charlotte, NC
(Zone 7b)

July 7, 2012
7:53 AM

Post #9196385

etnredclay - I have found that by keeping a deep layer of leaves between my raised beds, the earthworms will change the top inch or two of clay into workable soil. Each spring and fall, I take up this layer, and add it to the raised beds along with coconut coir and compost.
Spring City, TN

July 7, 2012
1:35 PM

Post #9196800

Thanks, all!

The triple digit heat is awful and I'm in a new section of the terraces where the clay is like concrete, so...

I mowed it super short -- without water it was brittle and dry anyway. Soaked the ground, laid down thick cardboard, soaked it again. Brought in mushroom compost, then what they are calling topsoil but is really just powdery red clay then another load of compost and MIXED. This made a 4'x16'x14" and I let it sit a week, planted, then mulched. This way there is some clay for micronutrients, and I don't need a jackhammer to turn the soil over on the bottom layer.

In each planting hole I use a tablespoon (or so) of bone meal and a 1/4 teaspoon of moisture crystals...everything I plant is drought tolerant once established... or I don't buy it, sorta like dry clean only stuff doesn't come to my house.


Everett, WA
(Zone 8a)

July 31, 2012
6:11 PM

Post #9225416

Since so keep adding compost and mulch, and the mulch probably decomposes over time, I would have thoguht the clay would be good soil after 3-4 years. Every crop ocntirbutes roots, which at first are fibrous, then compost, and they leave air channels behind.

If it still is sticky and heavy, maybe something lasting to help with "sturcture? Like grit, crushed rock or coarse sand?

If local experts think gypsum will hel,p your kind of clay, please let us know if it really does help for you!

Maybe experiment with tilling less, in one bed or one side of one bed. Tilling clay, even clay plus compost, may help it revert to gooey mess. Compost on top will "dissolve" and tirckle down, and worms do pull it under over time.

I like pine bark fines and shreds & nuggets. They last a few years and they are granular.

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