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Help - My Dirt is Like Play Sand!

Spiro, OK(Zone 7a)

Hi everyone! For the last two years, I worked my mother-in-law's farm and while our soil was loaded with huge chunks of shale, it was still fairly usable dirt. I've moved less than a mile around the corner, to an 8 acre property and the dirt is like pure sand! This property is a rental, but could become permanent, and I just don't know if it's possible or how to get the dirt to where it's going to be workable. I have grown for market for the last two years, traditional vegetable gardening using organic methods. Am I going to have to do raised beds with imported dirt, or is the sand something I can grow in? I can't imagine how long it would take to compost enough to get the soil ammended. Also, this property used to be a Christmas tree farm. I haven't had the soil tested, but I'm guessing it will be ridiculously high acid. There aren't too many pines here now, though there are some large specimens that remain. We have a pond out back, but mostly the land is overgrown, burr-filled yuck. We have no tractor, and no access to one. I'm at a loss. Any advice?

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

Add some greensand.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

mevnmart - we raisede vegetables in Palm Beach County, Florida where it was grey/black sand. Each August we had a dump truck load of aged horse manure delivered. We also (bribed) tree trimmers to drop their loads in our front yard. We also found where the local tree trimmings were dumped on County property and used to help ourselves - but that was hard work!

When I moved to Charlotte NC and tried to put a spade into the hard red clay here, I wished I had some of that Florida sand to loosen it!

Spiro, OK(Zone 7a)

I'm thinking if I add enough manure and/or compost, maybe some vermiculite and perlite, it might be workable. It grows nasty, weedy grass just fine!

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

If you dig down 3-4 feet, do you hit a layer of clay? Maybe all the fine stuff eluviated out of the surface layers (I think "eluviated" is the right for fine solids washing out of a layer).

I don't know about deep, deep turning 8 acres! Especially not on rented land.

But maybe you could excavate enough clay and silt to make some raised beds, while you plant cover crops elsewhere and let them make compost for you. Maybe dig your test holes in the lowest spots and hope the better parts of the soil washed downhill.

Could you dredge some silt out of your pond for raised beds?

>> nasty, weedy grass

Turning 8 acres of that under would be too much to do with spade & fork.
With no tractor and 8 acres of weeds and grass, maybe controlled burns and then plant some cover crop that can compete with grass in sand.

Best of all: rent someplace else next year.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

My vote is do not try to add vermisculite or perlite. I don't think you can do it $$ wise, and besides, sand is too draining already, why would you add those?

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Plus, vermiculite is so fragile it crumbles to dust in a month.

Probably the answer to "play sand" is the smae as the answer to almost every "improve this soil" question.

Add organic matter.
Add more organic matter.
If you have it, add even more organic matter and repeat, spring and fall.
Top-dress with organic mulch summer and winter.

(It even makes sense, since "good" soil has a thriving population of fungi, bacteria, worms, bugs and other living things whose names I don't know how to spell. All of them have to eat, and they eat organic stuff. Eating lets them grow, and also prodcue acids that extract soluble minerals from insoluble stuff. Hopefully your sand isn't pure silica and silicate!)

While it's decaying, organic matter even increases water retention which you surely need.

organic mater includes:
Compost, manure, coffee grounds
leaves, grass clippings, plant clippings
leaf mold, aged sawdust
shredded newspapers
pricy soil mandments like peat, sphagum moss and coir - they break down slower

Add almost anything that will decompose.

I used to defend the idea that they should be composted first, or at least roto-tilled under before planting.
But that turns out to be old-think.

Many-many very experienced gardeners tell me that you can spot-compost anything by burying it between plants.

Or sheet-compost it by layering it on top around plants, like a soft mulch.

Or "lasagna" it by putitng down a layer of cardboard first, then lots of un-composted stuff, and then planting right in what I always thought of as a shallow compost heap. I guess it works great - that what everyone tells me who has tried it.

The answer is always "add more orgainc matter". In some wierd cases it may not help much, but it never hurts.

I read that Charles Goren (allegedly) had a magic box that he looked inside whenever he was not sure how to bid a hand of bridge. When he died, he left the box to someone who revealed the secret, There was a piece of paper inside that said "Pass".

Always add organic matter.

Bardstown, KY(Zone 6a)

What Corey said.....

Spiro, OK(Zone 7a)

I agree the soil needs organic matter, but I don't think I'm going to be able to get it where it needs to be in the next month. I think I'm going to end up doing sq. ft. garden raised beds - just bring the dirt in. Make some new compost bins and make a decision whether we'll stay here or not.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Short term, if you can buy better dirt, I agree.
Long term, your better dirt will filter down into the sand, or decompose, depending on whether it's better by particles or by organic content..

Spiro, OK(Zone 7a)

I have two compost bins on the old farm that I'm planning to raid (the place hasn't been completely taken over by the bank yet). I'm going to take the bins once I empty them too, so I can start using them again (it's just hardware cloth zip tied in a ring). I bought a 4X4 cedar raised bed kit that I'm going to do my early spring stuff in and I'll use that compost amended w/some perlite and peat moss. Then I'll have to figure out where I want to put a permanent garden and just lasagna it and/or plant green manure to get it going for 2013. Thanks for the advice!

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> but I don't think I'm going to be able to get it where it needs to be in the next month.

Yeah, it would be nice to have armies of brawny men with wheelbarrows or (or one lady with a dumptruck) and the bank account to buy dozens of cubic yards of manure and compost.

My various "cover crop guides" don;t have a column for 'sandy soil". Maybe someone local can reccomend something that will compete with weeds and add OM.

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

mevnmart - Your local authority might sell compost. Ours sells it by the bag or dump truck at reasonable rates.

Virginia Beach, VA

Our City sells mulch also and is a lot cheaper than nurseries.
It takes time and money to transform an area for planting.


Spiro, OK(Zone 7a)

You can buy compost from the sanitary landfill here. I don't have a truck though, so I don't have a way to get it. I've heard people end up with plastic in their compost though. I'll have to do it the old fashioned way and just rot some stuff. LOL

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Belle -

It takes time and money to transform an area for planting

I know what you mean. This will be our sixth planting season and I've already spent over $500 in seeds, supplies, and fertilizers! The first year we spent over $2,000 just to get our raised beds in, and filled with purchased "dirt."

To me, the reward of fresh tasting pesticide-free vegetables, is well-worth the time, and money.

Virginia Beach, VA

$500 spent on seeds? do you have a farm?


Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I only found one specific suggestion for cover crops for sandy soils, and this may be for just one very specific application. They might have been more concerned with erosion control than with soil improvement or weed/grass competition.

Winter wheat and winter barley are preferred cover crops to plant on the sandy irrigated soils in the Columbia Basin. These species have the greatest potential for rapid establishment and growth, ... minimal cost of seed
Austrian winter pea is the recommended non-cereal specie

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Belle -

$500 spent on seeds? do you have a farm?

I didn't mean to be misleading - the $500 also included fertilizers, and gardening accessories. The seeds and plants came to $145.00

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