I am really really wanting to plant and grow my own veggies, but every time I've tried, I've failed. I lived in southeast Alabama last time I tried, and the heat index was so high that it cooked my poor plants before they had a chance. We are moving back again this Christmas, and I want to try again. What can I do to help my plants? My guess is their roots were too shallow and were cooked by the high UV there. What can I do to encourage the roots to go deeper? What can I do with the soil? I didn't think it was bad, but once it gets wet, it dries out in an hour or so and becomes rock hard. Any help would be great, and if I need to clarify anything, just ask! Thanks!!
The "Soil and Composting" forum has many compost fanatics, but the truth is that "if you have it, it will rot". Almost anything organic works eventually. You can put more3 effort into a compost and have ot brak down faster, but there is a lot to be siad for just the minimum amount of "cooking" to speed up decay and maybe eliminate some weed seeds.
You can lay stuff on top of the soil (like mulch) and wait for it to decompose. Wood chips, bark, leaves, pine needles.
Or you can bury organic stuff in the soil and wait for it to decompose: garbage, aged manure, bark, shredded leaves, probably shredded paper prducts. (Just don't bury very much uncomposted wood products unless you know about nitrogen deficiet and fungus or don't care).
Sheet copmposting works, spot composting works (burying in holes), "lasagana composting" works, "hugelculture" works, and compost heaps work really well.
The organic stuff serves as food for soil organisms (worms, bugs, fungus & bacteria). They grow and release nutirients from the raw soil (clay). They say "feed the SOIL, and the soil will feed your plants."
The living things, and also the decomposing organic stuff, give mechanical "lift" to the soil, which let's air in,
and lets water in and out, and retains enoguh water. Somehow that all improves the "tilth" and water retention and structure of the clay ... or soil.
You still have to "fluff it up" with a fork or hoe, but NOT while it is too wet. It must be damp or you need a pick to chip at it. But turn it, break it up, and mix in organic matter (OM). Maybe leaves & bark & grit. Then try to tamp it gently when NOT WET, so that it settles firmly with air channels and gaps. Tamp gently, and NEVER walk on wet clay. In fact, avoid wolaking on clay-ey soil. It compacts, and becomes concrte very easily.
As soon as it rains, the clay will wnat to wash out and revert to concrete. Soil "structure" and "tilth" mean that the whole mess of soil particles cling together in "crumbs" or "peds" without washing out and reverting to clay.
A little compost will help a LITTLE. Once you have lots of roots and fungal mycelia and build up the OM content, plus maybe solids like grit, bark fibers, bark nuggets, grit and very very coarse sand, the soil (no longer clay) will resist compaction.
Compost is good for almost any poor soil.
I start with very bad clay, and add (literally) an equal volume of compost + shredded bark + grit + coffee grounds, to get half-decent soil. And STILL, every year, that soil population eats most of the OM I added the year before, and will REVERT to clay if I doin't keep feeding the soil.
P.S. If your clay is really really bad, it might not have much in the way of soil life yet. First feed it and lighten it enoguh that it drains and is merely "heavy" as opposed to "rock-like"
Don't get me started about drainage! I'm even more of a drainage nut than I am a compost nut.
Ditto, what Rick said about the soil and let us know what zone you are in. I am in 9a and it gets really hot here. In summer, I grow okra, various beans, egg plants and peppers. I must get tomatoes with a very short maturity date to get tomatoes before it gets too hot and they stop producing flowers and therefore fruit. In the fall, I plant snow peas, broccoli, lettuces, cabbages of many kindsgreens of several types, white potatoes, onions, garlic and fall tomatoes. The fall tomatoes are kinda iffy too as we can have a surprise early frost and if we dont cover them, we lose them.Dont give up. We all get outsmarted by Mother Nature regularly. That's just gardeing!!!
Build hoops over the garden and use shade cloth to get the new vegies started. Shade them from the hottest sun until they are growing pretty well. Morning sun and sun in the last part of the day is fine, so you will want to use a long narrow shade cloth over each bed.
You could use container gardens.. They can be placed so you can get morning sun so would be shaded during
the hot part of the day. Building shade for your garden is a great idea. Drip watering roots only before the day
becomes too hot.
Raised beds allow you to design soil to the best conditions. Raised beds and container gardens allow you to
tend your garden from while standing or sitting on the edge of the rim. Raised beds also provide mounting
points for shade structures.
I can't believe the heat is your major problem. Summer before last or temps stated way above a 100 from May until the last of Sept. and still had a great garden. I believe your soil is probably the major problem. It is next to impossible to get clay to absorb water. Some good suggest have been given to solve that problem. I use raised beds because of bad soil where I have to garden. You could also be planting the wrong type of plants for the summer weather. Lettuce, radishes, cabbage, spinach, and carrots. Have to be planted in early spring to make because they bolt as the weather gets hot. Carrots need to be planted early but can take the heat once they are up. Green beans need to be planted as early as possible because the heat bothers them. I have found that if I keep the soil good and moist in the raised beds they will continue to make in hot weather, just at a reduced rate. Beans and field peas like the hot weather and okra has to have it. Because of where you live a winter garden will do great. I had fall squash, cucumbers and tomatoes until we had a killing frost. Carrots, lettuce spinach, mustard, turnips, rutabagas, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and brussel sprouts will grow great during the mild winters we have.
I started a new garden space about 5 years ago and I planned to square foot gardening. The space accommodates about 9 4X4 raised beds and a large compost heap. Before I began anything I dumpes about 40 bags of leaves gathered from my neighbors onto the plot and tilled it in. I did this twice about a month apart. Then I placed my raised beds and began to build the soil in the beds. I save every piece of vegetable matter my house and yard produces to use as compost and to build raised beds. The soil and composting forum has a sticky at the top called Tapla's soil recipe for raised beds. See how close you can come to that to build your soil.
I think if you have clay, you will probably have to go with raised beds so you can "make" your own gardening soil. I could not afford to buy some of the stuff Tapla recommends so I end up having a lot of "shrinkage" of my soil amount after a growing season, ie, the plants use up the organic matter supplied by the compost. Some of the bark and harder stuff, I get as I can afford and meanwhile I just refill the beds with compost each season. I found some stuff called soil conditioner at Home depot, the brand is Nature's Helper and it is mostly bark fines. It is only 2.50 per bag and I get some when I can. I also got some stuff from a cement making company that they referred to as "crumbles". It was stuff that falls off the conveyer belts which carry rocks to the cement mixer. It looks like aquarium gravel. I had to pay to get it delivered but the stuff itself was free. The bark does not break down as fast as the compost and neither does the gravelly stuff so you get good drainage and the soil level does not shrink as fast as when you use only compost. Good soil is the most important ingredient for gardening... without that, nothing works.
I know this is old but just wanted to add a thing or two no one else said. (Since you may be only just starting your garden now... though what am I thinking, you're down South...)
Yeah, your soil sounds real bad, I think it's the soil that did you in more than the heat probably--you ought to be able to grow tomatoes, okra, eggplant etc in high heat with enough watering. Especially okra! That stuff's from Africa.
As a commercial gardener, what I'd do for clay soil like that is cover-crop it. For several years if necessary. I know it sounds super-tedious, but you could do this: you could amend a small area of soil the way Rick Corey describes (I wouldn't do this to a bigger area since it takes adding SO MUCH STUFF to the soil) or build a raised bed the way steadycam suggested, and you could use that while you wait for cover-crop to work on your bigger garden.
The cover-cropping: for this you want to choose a plant that's a legume, which fixes nitrogen into the soil from the air. Clover, sweetclover, alfalfa and vetch are all legumes traditionally used for cover crops. I would think sweetclover would be a great choice for hard clay, because it has taproots that go straight down and will break up the hardness of the soil a bit, as well as making it better soil in general. You could look up cover-cropping so I don't bore you with a long explanation, but the basics are: you sow it on your bad soil, let it grow, mow it off, and turn it under with a rototiller; as it grows, it adds fertility to your soil by fixing nitrogen, and as it rots, it adds both organic matter and fertility. I've heard great things about three years of sweetclover or hairy vetch turning bad soil into really good stuff, so if you're a patient person, this method just might reward you.
>> you could amend a small area of soil the way Rick Corey describes (I wouldn't do this to a bigger area since it takes adding SO MUCH STUFF to the soil)
SwallowFeather, you are 100% right.
Even with my very small raised beds, adding 30% to 60% compost, bark and grit is too expensive and takes too much labor. It's an ongoing effort for me to bring my clay up to "pretty good" soil.
Cover crops are great if you have the space and time. P.S. There are on line lists of which cover crops tolerate heavy clay soil, drought, cold, etc. But a much better sourc e of info, onc e you have a general idea what you need most, is a local feed store or farmer's co-op. If they stock some cover crop seed or mix in bulk, it is probably well-suited to your region's climate and soil.
My guess is that heavy clay soil needs bulk organic matter even more than it needs nitrogen. In addition to nitrogen-fixers like clover, vetch, cow peas and Austrian winter peas, consider buckwheat and fall rye for fast organic matter.
Also, if you mow the tops off a whole acre of cover crop and sheet-compost it all onto your raised beds, or make a compost heap with the clippings PLUS browns, and turn ALL that into your raised beds, those raised beds will have VERY organic soil very soon.
I have one of my raised beds (4x8" about 18" deep) hooped with pvc and covered with clear poly. Looks a bit like a conestoga wagon as I left the pvc 10' long so they are pretty tall. Last year I mixed up the soil as recommended for the SFG and added about 6" of that on the top of one bed. The others were just the soil the landscapers brought in. I topped the other two with all the stuff we ran through the grinder, mostly garden stuff cut down in the fall. I am thinking of amending it with some steer manure, and vermiculite to be sure it is lightened up a bit. About as close to the SFG as I can get with no more room to add much. I am also thinking about a drip system in each bed. I saw one that is sold by SFG but it is 10' long -- too long by 2'. But I can build my own now that I see their design. My garage is bursting at the seams with vegies and flowers. I still have to harden them off but would hope to be putting them in the beds (vegies only) by May 15th. I even have floating row covers if I should need it in case the weather decides to be nasty to punish me for jumping the gun by two weeks. I still have to set up the internal trellis' I might need for melons, cukes, tomatoes, etc. I will have one big trellis at the north end of each bed for the really heavy stuff additionally supported by panty hose tied to the trellis. I so hope this turns out well.
As much as onions I was talking about Leeks They love the heat , I imagine your correct as the garlic I have enjoys lots of light, cool temps, and medium light water or super flow drainage .. ((near dry at times)
As to where anyone is,some are difficult ,some are easy , like everything .
Only getting it correct is what it is all about isn't it?
for sure and I am very persistent. I will plant some outdoors in the raised beds where it is not so difficult to gauge water. I think most of us err on the side of over watering. Sometimes it is difficult to figure. I use a moisture meter so that even if the tops are dry I can see if the bottoms are wet. Still, I have over watered dahlias because they go limp and then determined it was because they were too wet. Ah well.
Yes. I mostly buy bagged mulch or nuggets froom Lowes, then screen it. Since I can use the coarse pieces as top-dress-mulch on raised beds, I don't need to grind it finer.
I think that both very small and fairly small particles both help lighten clay soil. I think that fine bark or sand (from dust up to 1/4 mm) mixes intimately with clay and softens it, makes it less sticky and more stiff. A little more willing to break up into clods or peds with spaces between them, instead of slumping into soup.
Larger particles help open up voids or channels for air between peds, and that is helped by particles at least as large as coarse grit (1-2 mm) or fine gravel (1/8" or 3 mm). Maybe larger, like 1/4"" or 6 mm.
Anyway, I think that "fine bark mulch" is usefull out of the bag without grinding, if screened with 1/4" or 1/8" hardware cloth. Larger than 1/4" pieces probably should be ground or crushed if you are mainly softening soil, not going for extra-open, airy soil with fast drainage.
P.S. Can you adjust your grinder to favor shreds and fibers and long chips, over squarish grains? The more irregular and elongated the shape, the more open the soil will be.
I don't think there is any adjusting how it grinds. I don't really have much in the way of clay in the raised beds. But the garden on ground level could certainly use some beefing up as I haven't been paying much attention to mulch and such to replace what the plants take out. And I would like to get away from commercial fertilizers. Hence the grinder and saving kitchen scraps and newspapers and such. Thanks for the tips.
I agree with your approach to renewing the soil (add anything organic!) I tend to compost things first, but I think your "mangiatutto"* approach is less wastefull of the organic matter.
My only "grinder" is a little electric lawn mower. I keep sharpening the blade, but tend to get coarse chips flung considerable distances.
I thought about flipping it onto its back and parking an open-bottom trash can on top as a feed funnel an d chip-retainer, but I think that might be a good way to find out how efficient it is at chopping my arms to shreds when I fall into it.
Ahh. mangiatutto... I would have figured it out eventually. Manger to eat. Tutto...all. Love those 6 years of latin. I know you use your lawn mower to churn up your organics. I tried it and my DH vetoed it after trying. said it would just destroy our mower. The chipper is great but doesn't deal with slightly damp stuff very well. I was going to take some garbage bags and my little garden cart along our coastal trail and rake up the gazillions of leaves for nice dry brown stuff. My two rolling compost bins are frozen solid. At least I think they are. I figured to add some dry stuff to them to try to get them to 'man up' and do the job. The stuff we ground up last year and spread through the garden and raised beds broke down nicely for the most part. I am chopping and mixing up with a hoe and will add some manure to the raised beds. Much more fun than going to the store and trying to figure out all those myriad bottles, packages, boxes etc of stuff to fertilize my garden. Time to go back to nature and use the KISS system --- keep it simple stupid. And lord knows I qualify
Not if you're willing to sharpen the blade once in a while! Just my opinion. But my mower does a poor job on wood. Even when I screen out the bigger chips and re-munch them, they don't get very small.
>> My two rolling compost bins are frozen solid. At least I think they are ...
>> The stuff we ground up last year and spread through the garden and raised beds broke down nicely for the most part.
It makes sense that a cold-climate, short-season area changes things. My climate is mild year-round, so I have leisure to compost and THEN spread and THEN grow. I think I have 202 frost-free days, and 2156 "heat units" (degree-days above 50 F).
Sheet-composting in place or spot-composting in holes through the garden must be better suited to: "Most of the snow's melted! Quick, plant-grow-harvest before frost!"
Your compost looks great. Yes, an occasional sharpening of the mower would help -- even with cutting the lawn. And I am beginning to think that the roller bins were another 'really neat idea' ill suited to us. I think I need a lot more brown stuff in there to get the yuk to break down. I roll the barrels a couple of times a day in the summer to try to keep it aerated, but I really wonder if the center every really turns over much. The stuff we ground up and spread in the garden actually looks good. Sort of like straw mixed with manure but it works up and breaks up easily. The roller bins may go to Craig's list or a garage sale..