Always learning...

Hobart, IN

I've been reading up this year on organic/permaculture practices. Just finished reading "The Intelligent Gardener" about soil remineralization and a few different permaculture books. Oh - to be able to start a new garden from scratch to incorporate some of the information. How does one apply all of this learning to a long-established garden?

Colima, Mexico(Zone 11)

Hi Cindy...there must be some small things you can start out with to get to where you want your soil to be. Unfortunately, i am not well-educated or well-read in this area, but i have been adding well-composted material to my soil for about 8 years, but only about the first 12 to 24 inches, hoping the goodness will percolate down. As a tropical gardener, and because i grow tropical plants, i need spectacularly well-draining soil. The first 2 feet drain very well, but beyond that plants such as passifloras (perennials here) drop dead every 3 years from root rot and i suspect nasty nematoids. Your reading must have given you some clues about where/how to get started (without having to bring in a dozer), i guess we need to know where we are soil-wise and where we want to be soil-wise and take small steps to get there.

Hopefully some people on the forum can give you some tips. It is a great question and i'll be listening in for tips from people who know a lot more about it than i do. :-)

Hobart, IN

I've never had a soil test done in all of my gardening years but now I'm curious to see what I've really got so I've got that at the top of my to-do list once I figure out what soil lab to use. According to "The Intelligent Gardener", compost can improve the structure of the soil and maybe the NPK but it doesn't help restore the other nutrients so much. It's supposed to be more evident when growing vegetables or fruits. Maybe I need to jump back to some of the permaculture books to follow up on soil minerals.
I like the concept of the "food forest" but have to figure out where to start without ripping out everything. I'd love to try a hugel bed as well but at this point, I'd have to dig up an established bed to make room for it.

Dallas, TX

There are a number of organic soil amendments that will help improve your soil and drainage. I have lists of them from various organic nurseries and from our local 'guru'. Unfortunately, b/c I did a lot of cut & paste, I don't have specific links. But fear not. I will get them for y'all.

Here's a couple examples that will help with soil moisture / drainage problems:

Lava Sand - a crushed volcanic material that has the ability to hold moisture so that it is available to the plant when needed.

Expanded Shale - very porous, lightweight “gravel” that improves soil drainage and soil structure.

Again, those are just a couple examples. I'm still learning.

Here's a good link to get you started with bed prep and/or improvement. There's plenty to see, not only about soil, but also about bugs (good & bad), various practices, etc. Although this info is written by someone in Dallas, it's basic and can help no matter where you live.

http://www.dirtdoctor.com

While I don't know if some of these products are available in Mexico, there are a lot of 'recipes' for some products. And yes, initially the amendments can be expensive, but in the long run should pay off.

Dallas, TX

Cindy - You just apply a little at a time, whatever your budget allows. I was at one of my favorite garden centers last week and looking at all the different amendments, some of which I already had at home waiting to be used. So I asked one of the employees which I should use first, next, etc. She said to think of it like a recipe where all the ingredients eventually get mixed together and then it doesn't matter. 'Duh!', I thought to myself. Of course you'll still have to play in the dirt and make sure everything does get mixed, unless it's a specific product for a specific purpose, like getting rid of fire ants or slugs or whatever.

I do admire your ability to do the reading that you mentioned. As I've gotten older my attention span has gotten shorter.

V - I love passaflora. Which ones are you growing? This summer I was given a few starts from some local gardeners so what I have are still tiny. They are perennials here also. I used to live in Austin, TX, a few hundred miles south of where I am now. There were passion flowers everywhere! Butterflies love them and of course the caterpillars eat all of the leaves. Scared me at first b/c one time I brought home a good sized plant and by the next day it was stripped of all the leaves. Now I understand and it's ok with me. In fact the Monarchs are getting ready to pass this way on their flight to Mexico.

Colima, Mexico(Zone 11)

bump

Colima, Mexico(Zone 11)

A great big gigantic thank you tx_flower for mentioning lava sand and also for the link. Actually i have been using lava sand by the buckets full for several months to increase the drainage in both my containers and garden soils. It is used in cactus soil mix too but in greater proportion. I've been wanting to ask someone knowledgeable if it is beneficial in a soil mix, but really, i was afraid they would say "no" :-D. Living at the base of one of the ten most active volcanoes in the world, you can imagine it is plentiful here and also very inexpensive (it is called "hall" here, from an indigenous language). It is light and porous and also contains minerals like silica and i'm not sure what else but it takes a burden off to know that i am doing a good thing for the soil and not a bad thing. I am loving this forum and i think i am going to learn a lot here that i should know but don't.

I was growing "Passiflora edulis" (the large yellow fruit one) for a number of years. It is the one that grows wild here and is very popular with the butterflies, carpenter bees (image attached), hummingbirds, and people. I stopped growing it because every two to three years it would turn yellow, loose all its leaves, and drop dead. This can be devastating when the vine is full of hungry little caterpillars. I had neighbors who also grew this vine but they have sadly moved. The first P. edulis i grew, i grew on the same structure along with a P. litoralis. They both grew to be enormous and just laughed at my pruning attempts. I could tell the difference between the edulis and litoralis because the leaves are a noticeably different shade of green. When the butterflies came by the hundreds (probably thousands). All the eggs were left on the edulis leaves and none were on the litoralis leaves so from then on i removed the litoralis and only grew the edulis. It is a vine i miss very much (the fruit is divine and the fragrance of the flowers heavenly), but my garden space is small. I felt okay about this because my neighbor had a huge vine that he did not bother to prune. Now i am going back to read the rest of your post. I got so excited when you mentioned lava sand...i stopped there. Let me know which Passifloras you will be growing...i'd love to see pics.

Thumbnail by vitrsna
Dallas, TX

Wow! You live at the base of one of the ten most active volcanoes in the world? And I was thinking it might be hard for you to get something like lava sand. All the organic nurseries here sell it. Some sell small (5lb?) bags for containers. Mostly people buy it in much bigger quantities. Anyway, glad that my first example struck a nerve. So you go read stuff on the link I posted and I'll go look for Colima on a map.

Love your passaflora. I'll get back to you on which ones I have. Later.

Colima, Mexico(Zone 11)

Here you go tx_flower

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXeDM-wdTrI

Dallas, TX

Wow! So do you see stuff every day? Aren't you a little nervous?

Hobart, IN

From what I've read (and I'll have to re-read it as my eyes might have glazed over the information), it's important to get the calcium/magnesium ratios right. I only use organic fertilizer when I plant something new. Otherwise, the beds get crushed egg shells (which take forever to break down) and used coffee grounds. I mulch with shredded leaves from my own property as well as doing chop and drop when I can and burying veggies scraps (that don't go to the worms) under the shredded leaves.
Wow - volcanoes are way scary to me. But then tornadoes and blizzards are scarey for other folks.
I do listen to the Dirt Doctor podcasts and use his mosquito trap idea every summer. But I'd have to check the availability/cost of lava sand in the midwest.

Colima, Mexico(Zone 11)

tx_flower and Cindy...i really don't get nervous about the volcano. It has been spectacular since late November 2014 and we have been lucky with very little ash. With the big eruptions the ash will go a mile or 2 or 3 up in the air, get caught by the wind and generally blow to the northeast, to dump on some innocent unsuspecting pueblo in the mountains somewhere. We've just had two light dustings of ash but one was heavy enough to turn the garden gray. A heavy rain does not wash it off either. This is the largest event for this volcano since 1913 (a 100 year event) so i think people generally feel privileged to see the mountain creating itself, and feel a great affection for this unruly mountain. The power of it is unbelievable. There has been miraculously no loss of human life but lots of farm animals and wild animals were lost and buried. The scientists say the lava and other pyroclastic materials that flow down the mountain won't reach my house and i'm grateful for that :-) Yeah, tornadoes would frighten me.

Cindy, with all this reading, you will be (maybe are already) our resident expert. Here lava sand (hall) is equivalent to a little over $2USD per 100 pounds so i am really glad it is useful. I am running to keep up with you two :-) puff, puff, puff i haven't gotten to Dirt Doctor yet but i'm anxious to discover his mosquito trap idea.

Hobart, IN

Mosquito trap basically an outdoor container with water and you can have several. Empty all other water collectors in your yard/garden. Add mosquito dunks containing Bti (or it is available in granules). Replenish the Bti every month or so during mosquito breeding season. The females will be attracted to the water where they will lay their eggs but the Bti will kill off the larva. Bti works on anything in the fly/mosquito family - even gnats.
Dirt Doctor - Howard Garret - has a website and has lots of articles on organic gardening practices. He's got a live radio program in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. He's got a lot of interesting ideas.

Colima, Mexico(Zone 11)

Thanks Cindy for the mosquito info. I've looked for the dunks here but haven't found any. I check periodically because new products are always showing up.

Dallas, TX

Hadn't heard him use the term 'mosquito trap' but I'm not doubting it. The problem is that it's only killing larvae (not saying that it's bad to do that) but the adults are still around and biting people like me. I've been known to patrol the alley behind my house and throwing bits of the mosquito dunks, or dunken donuts as I call them due to their shape, wherever I see standing water. Some other stuff to get rid of skeeters (think it just repels them) include garlic (can buy a spray or make your own), a product called Cedar-cide that you spread around, and even cedar mulch. I'm sure I'm forgetting something. But there's a Dollar Store near me and they have spice-size jars of Garlic Powder (don't use garlic salt!) for $1 each. I'll buy as many as I can and then sprinkle them around my yard and garden. I swear by garlic. But BTI is good. You just have to watch it so you know when it's dissolved. Then you replace them.

Cindy - sounds like you are already an organic gardener.

Are either of you paid members of DG? If so, I'm going to point you to a thread by one of my local people. She's got some great pictures of her pest control crew. I was laughing so hard I just had to get out of there and logoff.

This message was edited Oct 1, 2015 2:00 AM

Hobart, IN

LOL - "dunken donuts"! I usually get mine from Amazon as the Bti ones are hard to find around here. I've heard about using garlic but have never tried it. DH does do some yard spraying for mosquitoes every 6 weeks or so because we live next to a wetlands area. Honestly, he's only sprayed a couple of times this year, even with all the rain we had back in the spring. We've had a huge population of damsel flies and dragonflies this year and their favorite food is mosquitoes.
tx - I try reallllly hard to be organic. My one exception is poison ivy because I'm allergic. If it's too big for me to safely pull, it gets sprayed with Ortho. I have a real PI forest behind my property so I'm constantly dealing with PI seedlings but usually with doubly protected hands. DH uses Weed Be Gone on his lawn but only as a spot spray thing on dandelions. He's graduated to allowing clover to grow in the lawn though. Yep - paid subscriber for the moment.

Pueblo, CO(Zone 5b)

I have read quite a bit about trace minerals these past few years, too. Articles often promote buying granite sand or glacier dust. I live near the Rockies and want to avoid buying something I should be able to get for free. I know of a spring with good water in a decompsed granite area and have gotten permission to go seive some sand. It is on my "to do" list.

I am concerned that compost can't return to the soil something that was never in the soil in the first place. As a Master Gardener, I would tell someone else to get a soil test done, then use a product with an analysis that contains what you need. So I am not following my own advice.

BTi : I have had problems with fungus gnats in my indoor seedling trays in spring. I have used the granular form in the watering trays with good results, but it does take a couple of weeks for the ones that are already flying to die off.

I used to live near Mount Etna in Sicily. The locals had the same affection for their mountain. The could recognise & ignore normal huffing & puffing, and watched it more closely if & when it was doing something different.

Dallas, TX

Cindy - I'm happy to say that I've never had to deal with PI. I'm sure I would be allergic to it also. Dunno if Garrett has anything special to say about it. How much do you pay for the DDs? Lowe's and Home Depot both sell pkgs of 6 for $9.99. Most of the nurseries do but some add a few more bucks to the price.
Even tho Garrett no longer recommends it, I still spot spray with 20% vinegar. Have to do it on a really sunny day. But I don't really have a lawn. Just stuff that looks green when it's mowed. I was trying to rid my parkway of the dreaded nutsedge. It's almost impossible. And now I'm seeing some in my backyard where it's never been before. I'm worried about it getting its nasty little tentacles (very fine threads, actually) into my perennial bed. Oh, the fun never stops.

Pollengarden - That's cool that you've got a source for good, free decomposed granite. I'm confused (not unusual) about 'compost can't return to the soil something that was never in the soil in the first place'. If you mean that one 'product/thing/stuff' can't do it, then I understand and agree. Maybe it's that compost is supplementing your soil with stuff it needs but doesn't have. Or maybe I'm just tripping out here.
BTW, I've heard that sprinkling cinnamon is also good way to kill fungus gnats. Haven't tried it but a lot of folks swear by it. And yes, I would imagine BTI would help do the deed. Doesn't it also come in liquid form?
So you're a dare devil also in that you lived near Mount Etna? I love mountains but think I'd pass on living near a volcano. I did, however, miss Mt St Helens by a few months. I used to live in CO and was visiting friends in the great Northwest. I'd been up there for 6 months or so and decided to return to my little cabin. Then the little mountain that could, up and did. I've seen PBS specials (y'all might have also) on the fire and brimstone and all. Fascinating. But glad to only see it on tv.

This message was edited Oct 1, 2015 10:52 PM

Colima, Mexico(Zone 11)

I believe Mt. Etna is also in the top ten most active volcanoes in the world, so i expect you saw some action there Pollen. When Mt. St. Helens blew i was driving from Seattle to Olympia. The explosion looked like an atomic mushroom cloud...i had no idea what was going on and if i remember correctly, it wasn't much anticipated. The ash blew to the east causing all kinds of problems for the people in Eastern Washington. Seattle didn't get any ash until a few weeks later after the ash had traveled all around the world...just a fine, light dusting. I think the scientists studying the Colima volcano must know what minerals are in the lava rocks so i am going to do a search for that info.

You are a Master Gardener, Pollen? I have been using Peat Moss from Canada in my soil mixture because it is available here. What do you say? Is it an ecologically acceptable amendment? or is there some substitute that would work equally well?

Hobart, IN

Fungus gnats can be a real pain. I get a lot of them in my little heated GH. Of course, that probably means something is staying too wet or that I've got good breeding grounds in the pot's soil. I could do a drench with Bti or Azamax (which is great on spider mites on my lemon tree), I found little yellow sticky traps that are held by small plastic stakes that I can stick in a pot to work very well. Maybe the fact that the traps are so close to the soil helps but I was able to get rid of all of my fungus gnats with those and didn't have to resort to soil drenching.
I thought about the 20% vinegar thing a few years ago to tackle a hard-to-kill perennial (Campanula rapunculoides). Yes, I even tried the dreaded Roundup (only time) on it to no avail. I even bought an organic weed killer - Avenger - but no luck with that either. I thought the Dirt Doctor was moving away from the vinegar thing.
The theory about compost is that, if you're using your own yard waste (grass, leaves, plant debris), it can only return trace amounts of minerals that it took from growing in your soil in the first place. Compost can help improve the texture of your soil but won't improve the mineral profile. "The Intelligent Gardener" lists a source that may help you determine your soil type and agricultural potential - websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov/app/HomePage.htm.
Volcanoes - years ago I learned about Pompeii in school and the pictorials stuck with me forever. First earthquake in CA freaked me out as well.

Dallas, TX

Yes, Dirt Doctor has moved away from vinegar other than maybe 10%. I think I tried Avenger. Think my biggest problem is me. I'm not persistent enough. Spent a lot of time hand weeding the nut grass aka nutsedge (think people have other names for it) in my parkway. Had plans for using that area. Then we had snow in early November (maybe a 1st for Dallas) and my parkway was pretty much flooded until June. So I've given up for now.

V - You really were close to Mt St Helens. No, I don't think it was anticipated. At all. I have an old b&w picture postcard of pre-eruption. (Don't know if it's acceptable to post it here.)

I'll be interested to hear about peat moss. I've never heard anything good about it to date.

Oh, and I understand what compost does. Maybe it was just the way the comment was worded that confused me. BTW, a number of the local garden centers sell little DIY kits for determine soil type. Just doesn't go into the amount of detail that you'd get from somewhere like an Ag Extension kinda place.

We've been having small earthquakes (2 to 3 pts) quite frequently not far from where I live. We all think it's due to recent fracking activity but the industry disagrees. Being studied.

Hobart, IN

Uh-oh - did I mis-state something about compost? Hope not - some times my brain speaks short-hand.
Ack! Fracking! Horrible practice. We'll just frack this earth to pieces.

Dallas, TX

No, not you. Pollengarden said, 'I am concerned that compost can't return to the soil something that was never in the soil in the first place.' I started dwelling on it way too long. Like a riddle. And then I started thinking that things like food scraps don't necessarily grow in one's own ground. But I kept twisting that sentence around and then I couldn't get out. Not important.

The weather here has finally cooled down. It's absolutely wonderful. And I'd have more time to garden if I could break my habit of being a night owl.

Tomorrow I'm going to Arlington, TX, which is between Dallas and Ft. Worth. Their chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas is having a sale of - - wait for it - - native plants. I don't really need more plants but I promised to take them some pots (note the 's'). What they can't use can be recycled. I get the pots from neighbors who would otherwise throw them in the trash. Last year someone had set out 80 (yes, eighty) 3 gallon size pots for the bulk trash to pick up. I grabbed them and found homes for them.

Off to Lowe's. Have to return a couple hose nozzles that did not work as advertised. Hope they still have good ones left. They're very busy putting out Xmas stuff.

Colima, Mexico(Zone 11)

:-) I also puzzled over Pollen's statement tx_flower ( 'I am concerned that compost can't return to the soil something that was never in the soil in the first place'). I think that's what we want to accomplish by amending a soil poor in nutrients via composting. You are right, the soil did not originally have banana peels in it, but once those banana peels are composted and added to the soil. the elements of the broken down banana peel will enrich the soil by providing additional potassium, manganese, for example. I'm pretty sure Pollen, as a Master Gardener, knows what she is talking about but perhaps it wasn't explained to us sufficiently for us to understand the meaning of that remark. Hopefully she will re-visit us and elaborate.

I haven't heard about earthquakes in Texas but i see you have a Balcones Fault in your area that hasn't been active for 15 million years, plus or minus. Have they been fracking in the area of the fault line? It is amazing, that after 15 million years (plus or minus) of no activity that the fault should become active again. "Being studied"...how cute. I hope people find out who is doing the studying, and who owns the results because it is most likely to be the "industry" who can come up with any results that suit them or bury them in basement files...it happens every day. It should be studied by independent geologists who own their results (as opposed as having the industry own the "results").

Dallas, TX

Actually the quakes in my area come from the former home of the Dallas Cowboys. I think the stadium was torn down. Must have been b/c fracking is going on there or near there. As the birds fly, it's not far from me. I think most of the geologists are with SMU (Southern Methodist Univ.) Seems like they issued preliminary results that pointed to fracking. I'll check and update later.

I always think of Balcones Fault as being in the Austin area but I once saw a map that showed it went much further NW than I realized. But in Austin there are lots of parks, and even a fairly major street (or it was years ago) that bear the name Balcones. BTW, in case you didn't know, Balcones is not pronounced as one would think. It's bal-CONE-knees (the 'bal' rhymes with 'pal'). Go figure. It's Texas. :D Anyway, in Austin the old-timers (and most people the last time I lived there) are hardcore environmentalists. The government might be Republican, but true Austinites will make sure no one messes with all the green spaces. It's also the home of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. And like 'em or hate 'em, it's the home of Whole Foods. (I remember shopping at their first tiny little store in the 70s. Had little fruit and veggie sculptures on the roof. Sometime later a freak flood destroyed the place.) But I digress. Sorry.

The 2 types of passiflora that I'm attempting to grow from cuttings are P. incarnata (aka Maypop Passion Vine b/c of it's fruit) and P. Foetida. I just looked these up in the DG files and am confused. The red fruit shown with P. foetida is what we always called a Maypop. And while the pictures are nice, I don't think they show the difference between the 2. Will look at Lady Bird's site and see what they have to say.

This message was edited Oct 3, 2015 12:33 AM

Hobart, IN

I've tried growing P. caerulea in a pot for a few years. Started from seed in '11, my second attempt to get it to bloom in a pot. The first plant I tried got planted in the ground based on a report that it might be hardy enough in a protected spot. It bloomed for me but then didn't survive the winter. This second plant is showing no signs of blooming and I'm on the fence about it. I bring it in to the little heated GH in the winter but I'm not getting any rewards for my efforts. Maybe my season just isn't long enough.
I agree that veg composting can bring different nutrients back to the soil but I also wonder how much of those things would have to be added to raise the nutrient levels enough to produce nutrient-rich soil.

Hobart, IN

Forgot to mention - there's an upcoming podcast with Mike McGrath who's an organic gardening host (and former editor of "Organic Gardening") with guests Howard Garret and Lee Reich (he's an expert on fruit growing and author of several books). I don't have a date for it yet but here's a link to Mike's website. I remember seeing Mike McGrath as "The Bug Man" on Paul James' tv series "Gardening By the Yard", based in Tulsa.
http://whyy.org/cms/youbetyourgarden/ways-to-listen/

Colima, Mexico(Zone 11)

Hi tx_flower...BalCONEknees is the Spanish pronunciation :-) go figure :-). Happy to hear about the folks in Austin. Another good place to check for photos of P. incarnata and "P. foetida is the georgiavines.com site too. Both of those species should bring lots of bflies to your garden.

Also it is good that the geologists are from SMU. It is important where their funding is coming from and how their contract reads. If they are being funded by the frackers they may have a clause in the contract that gives the frackers ownership of the research results, which means they can bury it if they want so the results will never see the light of day. It happens, i am a first hand witness, and it happens quite a lot. Now the researchers are trying to get contracts where they will own the resulting information. Sometimes they are successful, sometimes not.

Got to leave the house for the day...will read Cindy later this evening.

Pueblo, CO(Zone 5b)

Okay - my compost comment was unanimously voted confusing. Let me try again. I assumed that the main source of compost for most people is their own yard waste - it is for me. So plants RETURN the minerals to the soil that they extracted from that same soil. So if a mineral/element is missing in the soil, it is missing from the plant growing in that soil, & it is missing from the compost made from that plant. So compost can not RETURN to the soil what was never there. I had considered coffee grounds & banana peels - and how long it would take me to top dress the whole garden at 1 banana and one pot of coffee per day. Also on my to do list.
Cinnamon - it is supposed to be a fungicide that helps with damping off. Larva of fungus gnats eat soil fungus, and are worse in things that are top watered - same conditions as damping off. So yes, in theory it could help. Fungus spores can turn up anywhere, but are more likely where you have had problems before. But fungus gnats have to have a host between outbreaks.
Mine came in with a purchased plant - my new plants all go into quarantine now.
Vinegar - 5% is the strongest legal in Colorado, and I was told in Master Gardeners class that 20% is the optimum to be effective. They also said that at 20% it is so caustic that you need to use protective gear for eyes, skin, respiration.

Pueblo, CO(Zone 5b)

Peat moss - most authoritative sources are saying to move away from peat moss as it is not renewable or sustainable. The recommended replacement is coconut coir, which is renewable. I don't agree. The Canadian peat bogs are a lot closer to Colorado than the Coconut processing is - I think coir is shipped too far. So I am moving away from peat moss except where I really need it. But I am trying to substitute more local products instead of coir. I also have ethical concerns with the U.S. saying what should be done about Canadian Peat - it seems to me that Canada should be the primary entity setting policy on peat moss.
Now, the only thing I use peat moss for is Blueberries, which really hate Colorado soil. I cut a slit into the plastic and plant the Blueberry right into the bale. I want to buy 2 more next spring, then I will be done planting Blueberries and done buying peat. For soil texture, I have been using ground bark products with good results - although the most effective ones also contain gypsum & I am not sure of the availability or renewability of gypsum.
Dried sphagnum moss (the moss, not the peat) is also a fungicide, and renewable. I use it and Cinnamon when I am really worried - but Colorado winter air is so dry that I haven't had too much trouble with mold & fungus.

Hobart, IN

Yep - I agree with your compost analysis. And you're right that it would take forever to amend with banana peels and coffee grounds. I feed my peels to my worms since they seem to really like them. The resulting worm compost, IMHO, is a richer compost. I do broadcast coffee grounds and crushed egg shells (even though they take forever to break down, I'm at least contributing for the long haul). Re: the peat moss thing - it would be interesting to get the Canadian view of it but it is a necessity for blueberries and other acid-loving plants if you're trying to stay away from chemicals. Do you have to add anything to the peat moss when you plant your blueberries that way? I wish we had decent ground bark here but it seems everyone wants the dyed stuff. No way! From what I understand, gypsum is good but I've never considered the mining aspects of it. Thanks for bringing that up.
Boy, oh, boy. I've got some serious amending to do thanks to be oblivious to conditions. I dug up some 20-yo hostas today - too big for their space. It took me an hour to get them out of the ground. I would have used a pick ax if drip irrigation and low voltage electric lines weren't in the way. Top 6" was powdery and dry and then I hit the really hard stuff. I always forget how dry it gets under hostas because the rain can't get through the leaves. I was going to move some hellebores into the vacancy but I need to throw all of my resources as these spots first. I did bury some salad slated for the worms and will add some coffee grounds, egg shells, worm compost and shredded leaves before planting anything in those spots. Will leave them open for a week and will hopefully get some rain to saturate those areas.

Pueblo, CO(Zone 5b)

If the hard stuff is a layer, try and break through it in a few spots. Hard pan can act like an impermeable layer, like a container.
Peat moss is pretty close to Blueberries preferred soil, we plant them straight into the wide side because I guess they are also naturally shallow rooted, too. Our water is so alkaline here that We have to eventually add a weak acidifier to compensate. I have added trace minerals, too, but I found out you can't add them with the acidifier because the mix curdles.

Dallas, TX

I spent most of the day at a plant sale. My most exciting purchase was a milkweed vine!

My other score of the day was a very old bottle, small and intact. I was doing just a little digging in my lovely hardpan and up popped the bottle. It's the first one I've ever found in my front yard. Have found a number of them in the backyard. Still waiting for a pot of gold.

Pollengarden - You confirmed what I thought you meant about compost. I just wasn't sure. And yes, if you use 20% vinegar, it's best to wear a hazmat get-up.

V - not surprising that Balcones would be Spanish. Texas and Mexico have changed 'ownership' of parts, mostly south and southwest, of what now seems to permanently be Texas land.

Cindy - Thanks for the link. Will check it out.

Hobart, IN

tx - cool find with the bottle. Any way to date the bottle? Are you on an old farmstead?
pollen - interesting about the curdling. Do your trace minerals tend to be alkaline?
Does rock-hard clay qualify as "hard pan"? I always think of hard pan as being a west-of-the-Mississippi thing. I'm not sure earthworms could even get through this stuff. I'm guessing that when the house was built, the top layer of silt/loam was scraped off and the underlying clay was compacted even more. Add dryness to that and it's like hitting a brick with a shovel. I will definitely try to loosen up a few spots to open it up. No wonder Epimedium roots next to the hostas formed a solid mat - no where else for the roots to go. Thanks for your suggestion, pollen.

Pueblo, CO(Zone 5b)

Yes, light soil over heavy soil turns to hardpan pretty easy - anything that fluffs up the light layer tends to weigh on and compact the heavy layer. I don't have the light layer. At my house the compaction "ring" where vehicles drove around it during construction is noticeable, not hidden. Which brings up my pet peeve against rototillers - they dig a depth less than the radius of the tines, fluff it up to diameter or more - and make a person think they have dug twice as deep as they actually went. I dig deeper with an old-fashioned spading fork - I tried both, cleared away the dirt and checked - and there was the slight beginnings of a compaction layer under the tiller.

Breaking hardpan: Big heavy crowbar is old-fashioned way, everybody around here buys a Pulaski (fireman's pickax), I have had good luck with an auger-type tree/post hole digger (but they are hard to find). And last but not least - jet nozzle on a hose. Makes a mess in clay, you have to wait several days for it to dry out, but it does punch some holes. I will often soak an area 3-4 days to a week before a weekend project - and I will auger or jet spray in some holes if I need the water to go deep. Some deep rooted plants can be used to break up that layer, I know alfalfa has been used for that larger agricultural applications.

Also on my to do list: Divide the veggie garden into rotations and have one rotation "green manure". I want to go through and double dig the whole thing, too, so it is taking forever.

Hobart, IN

Double digging - I feel for you. I hear mixed opinions on double digging. Some say it's not worth the bother because most plants only utilize the top 8" but, on the other hand, if my clay is supposed to be chock-full of nutrients, how are those nutrients released to plants? Good tip with the crow bar. I'll have to see if we even have one. I know we have a little-used ax somewhere although maybe a small hatchet is more my speed. The spading fork nor any of my spades were penetrating that hard stuff. I don't know if gypsum would have any effect on the clay. And, yes, I agree that rototillers are deceiving.

Colima, Mexico(Zone 11)

Pollengarden...thank you for clarifying about the compost. Actually my compost (chop and bury) is mostly kitchen waste, like the chard stems that need cutting off, fruit peels, and dozens of other things except coffee grounds. I use large mesh bags to dry the leaves from the garden and then when the leaves are good and dry, i sit on the bag breaking up the leaves and dump the dried leaves on the top of the soil. It looks really beautiful for about 5 minutes :-)

Thanks for the intro to Dirt Doctor tx_flower, finally i got to the website today and learned the value of molasses for adding nutrients to the soil and also to control bug problems. Apparently a mixture will kill off red ant hills. Does anyone use it? Has anyone tried a spritz of hydrogen peroxide instead of vinegar for fungus gnats? I was told to use it for mold and it worked very well on the night-blooming jasmine. I had a small patch of black mold that i didn't want to take hold so i used straight hydrogen peroxide topically and scrubbed a bit. Then did the same treatment a couple of weeks later. Mold seems to be gone. Thank you tx-flower, pollengarden, and Cindy for all your tips and feedback. I discovered what elements are most likely to be in my personal lava sand and wrote them all down but now cannot find the paper or napkin i wrote them on.

I also learned not to bury trees too deep. Love the dirtdoctor website. I will do a home soil test using vinegar and baking soda. I haven't found soil test kits here for sale. The DIY test will only indicate whether the soil is acidic or alkaline. I'll have to wait for some soil to dry out, might be awhile.

Dallas, TX

V - I'm getting ready (usual excuse) to put out some molasses. My soil is so bad. But my trees are so wonderful that they need to be fed along with the weeds. Glad you like the dirt doctor. People here either love him or hate him. I like him but his radio show has way too many commercials!

About my 'soil', etc. My house was built in the late 40s. I'm located in what I think of as the middle of Dallas, but other people would disagree. I had a neighbor (since passed) whose house was built in early 50s. So one day I ask him if he also finds broken glass in his yard. He laughed and said that when the houses were built the contractors used broken glass, rocks, etc. for fill. Oh, joy.

A great tool for breaking up soil for the strong of back is a mattock. Wish there was a teenager in my neighborhood that wanted to earn some spending money.

Gotta get outside before I spend the day on the computer. It's finally cooled off here. Went from the high 90s and low 100s to the low 80s about a week ago. Relief!

Colima, Mexico(Zone 11)

Well, tx, if you would like to tell me how you are going to put out the molasses (i.e. method, mix), i would love to hear it. If it's a bother or you don't have time, that's okay too because i can read about it at the DD website. The use of molasses in gardening was something i had never heard of so this was big news for me and i am thinking of using it for adding nutrients and as a natural insect control. There is sugar cane all over the place here so i should be able to find a local source. Right now i have some on order from Guanajuato. Actually, i can see the day when sugar cane is grown for the molasses and sugar is the by-product.

Funny what comes up in the soil. Keep digging...you could find that pot of gold. A few weeks ago i found a couple of small obsidian arrowheads either from a weapon or a tool most likely Aztec possibly Huichol, still very sharp on one side. Not valuable but evocative. Obsidian is a strong black stone that comes out when the volcanoes throw up all over everything. When i first started digging around here, i kept finding 10 centavo pieces about 12" deep in the soil. A neighbor was here lounging around while i worked. She said it used to be customary, when someone planted something in the ground to put a 10 centavo piece at the bottom of the hole for good luck before putting the plant in. Maybe we should start a thread "Weird things found while digging in the soil". My problem has not been hard soil, but big big rocks to dig out. People have told me to "just leave them there, the plants can grow around them"...maybe i'll do that next time :-D

Dallas, TX

Didn't get to the molasses today. Just digging in the dirt. Trying to tame my nightmare of a 'ground cover'. Would like it all gone but have decided we'll co-exist.

I'll be using dry molasses (I think). Last year there was a farm & feed store not far from me. It was closing for good and selling everything at 75% off. Knowing that I'd eventually use everything, I stocked up. It would be nice to get that big bag of dried molasses out of my garage. Who knows what else I might eventually pile on. I hadn't realized how bad the soil in my front yard had become. I think my ground cover was stealing all the nutrients when I had my back turned. This is going to be a longer process than anticipated.

I still have to finish expanding my perennial bed in the backyard. And feed everything in back and side yards.

And then there's my epiphyllums that desperately need my attention. Sigh.

I'd actually be willing to pay someone to help but all the yard guys are what we call 'mow & blow'. Other people are the professional landscapers who mostly want to give advice and charge a lot of money. I just want someone to help me dig!

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