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Thread: pure clay, is it useless?

  1. #1
    SMW
    SMW is offline Seedling
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    Default pure clay, is it useless?

    I recently uplifted a patio to make a bed. I turned it over a few weeks ago as it was very lumping wet clay. Then spread compost over it and yesterday I tried to turn over again to break down further. It is still a big sticky mess and it wont break up to make it suitable for planting. its 95% clay and 5% soil lol. Im assuming the plot has lots of air pockets as a result of turning over and clay coming out as lumps.

    Am i fighting a loosing battle? will the dry weather make it easier eventually?

    I know raised beds would be better but I cant afford the expense and importing lots of soil at this stage as Im just trailing growing some veg this year.

    Thanks

    S

  2. #2
    Martin H's Avatar
    Martin H is offline Early Fruiter
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    Don't give up!

    A point will come when the clay is workable: just dry enough to break up but not yet set into concrete. It's a short window of opportunity but it will be there. When that happens, break it up as best you can. When planting things, mix in some nice compost in the planting hole. Any organic matter you can get hold of, like shredded hedge clippings , garden compost, whatever, spread on top of the ground as a mulch. In a surprisingly short time the worms will do their work and you'll have lovely rich soil. It'll always be heavy but it will be very fertile. Monty Don in Gardener's World has a heavy clay based soil, look how much stuff he grows!
    My gardening blog: In Spades, last update 28th October 2016
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  3. #3
    Jay-ell's Avatar
    Jay-ell is offline Welcome To The Jungle
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    Yeah, what he said.

    At first it will be rock hard in the dry summer months and resemble a mud hole during torrential rain but as you build up the organic matter it will become easier to work with.

    Clay holds onto water and nutrients more than sandy soil so it bill be fertile. Dig in whatever home made compost you have, use a mulch to hold in moisture during the dryer weather and to break down the clay. Plaant roots and worms will help beak up the clay and mix in the organic material.

    Your grass cuttings can be used as a mulch, but don't lay them on too thick as then they will go slimy and stinky. Bacteria will break this down and the worms will go for it leaving tunnels and frass all over the place to help break up the clay..

    Root crops may not be a good idea but any with leafy crops leave the roots in if you can to break down and leave loads of little tunnels of organic matter all through the clay.

    If you have a car you might be able to pick up compost/ soil improver from the local council cheap (mine sells it for £2.50 a 25k bag or £27 a tonne including delivery, going down to £12 a tonne if you can pick it up yourself)

    Have a google for no dig gardening - this might be an option.

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  4. #4
    1Bee's Avatar
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    My clay soil seems to love grass clippings and cardboard as a mulch. And if i gets to the point it's too hard and dry to work, just water it. :-) Someone here suggested that to me when I was trying to work what felt like rocks.. . it never occurred to me, but worked like a dream. Good luck!

  5. #5
    craftymarie's Avatar
    craftymarie is offline Cropper
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    Don't give up on it. We've got heavy clay soil in the garden. It is hard work to start with but becomes much better to work with over time as you work it.

    Last year we made some raised beds and just filled them up with compost in as the clay soil was so hard underneath. This year the clay further down is starting to break up as I dig it over and I am getting lovely rich dark soil where it is mixing in with the compost. The difference is startling - I did leave the roots of the runner beans and peas in this bed as advised over the winter for getting nutrients into the soil, whether that helped break it up more I don't know. But it is so much better.

    The flower borders which we've worked on with digging over for several years are much improved as well. But nothing special has been done with those other than digging over every year and planting into them.
    Snoop Puss likes this.
    LOVE growing food to eat in my little town back garden. Autumn/winter update: currently growing overwintering onions, carrots, lettuce, chard, salad leaves, kale, cabbage, radish, courgettes, marrows, beetroot, french and runner beans now drying for dried beans. Soon to plant garlic, more salads, more brassicas and then broad beans.

  6. #6
    Superkeengarden is offline Seedling
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    Thanks for the suggestions. Mone is also clay. I was thinking the same.
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  7. #7
    Snoop Puss's Avatar
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    My soil was initially like yours. If you can get hold of well rotted muck and old hay, pile as much on as you can. It'll make a tremendous difference next year.

    Meanwhile, I wouldn't try growing roots, as it's miserable putting in loads of work for not much of a reward in my experience. I also found starting things off in modules or even buying in plug plants was better than direct sowing.

    Anything that grows above ground will do OK if you keep the ground well watered. Onions, surprisingly, don't seem to mind firm ground, but again, keep them well watered when the bulbs start to swell. And you'll grow almighty brassicas! I had the best cabbages I've ever seen the first year I started.

    Keep the faith and good luck.
    Jay-ell and craftymarie like this.
    Spain is a big country: where I live, we get frosts, floods and snow, as well as raging heat.

  8. #8
    Martin H's Avatar
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    Several people have warned about problems growing roots. But I've had no trouble growing potatoes and beetroot. Carrots and parsnips do need special treatment though!
    Jay-ell and craftymarie like this.
    My gardening blog: In Spades, last update 28th October 2016
    Chrysanthemum notes page here.

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