'The Perfect Garden Soil'

eskotaFebruary 26, 2008

(Short excerpt from "Gardener's Guide to Better Soil' by Gene Logsden, Rodale Press, 1975)

"The perfect soil for your garden would be a deep silt loam of good tilth, at least 5% humus, through which water percolates readily. It should contain 45% minerals, 25% water, and should be aerated well enough so that 25% of any given block of soil would be air space. If such a soil had a pH of 6.5, had just been fertilized with 15 tons of rotted manure per acre, and had been dressed with a couple of tons of rock phosphate two years ago, then you would have not just soil, but a priceless inheritance."

What struck me about this passage was the '25% air space.' I think that the new garden spot I tilled last Fall lost its air spaces in places where water collected. Any thoughts on how best to re-aerate puddley spots?


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some stale bread?

    Bookmark   February 26, 2008 at 1:13PM
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See what happens when you start composting bread, Doris? It makes you daft-acting.

I've never had soil with drainage problems, but if I were worried about a lack of oxygen in my soil, I'd fork in some organic matter.

How long did the water stand?

    Bookmark   February 26, 2008 at 2:54PM
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"How long did the water stand?"

Most of the winter. The whole garden was tilled then hoed into furrows across the slope. Where the ponds form after rains the furrows are collapsed nearly flat. There was 1/4" rain a few days ago- the rest of the garden is dry on top, but these spots still glisten like wet mud.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2008 at 4:30PM
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Are the ponds forming because those areas are low-lying?

Anyone else want to weigh in? Most of my garden problems are resolved by the addition of compost or manures.

It would matter to me if I found out that you were a new gardener, because then I would say to you, "Wait and see what happens." Some plants like a damp spot. If your soil is truly compacted (oxygen deprived), you'll want to aerate it.

Anyone else?

    Bookmark   February 26, 2008 at 6:09PM
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urbanfarmertim(5b London, ON)

On a large scale (farm) basis, low lying areas where water pools generally aren't worth seeding, as anything planted there invariably performs poorly, even if the field is tiled. Additional organic matter certainly doesn't help matters any, and could arguably make the situation worse by retaining water that might be better off draining away.

Ideally, we want excess water to filter through the soil, and fairly quickly. Barring that, it would be best to try and get it to drain to an unplanted area, however surface erosion is a risk using this method.

In your case, it might be worth trying to raise the low area so that excess water flows to an area that won't be planted. You could also wait for a dry season to plant if you get such a thing in your area.



    Bookmark   February 26, 2008 at 9:52PM
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The classic cure is to install a drainage system that operates below the root level of garden plants -- inexpensively done with a trenching spade and perforated black plastic pipe. But I wouldn't rush into that kind of a modification until you get to know the site a little better. A site that looks soggy through winter may be great at holding moisture through hot summer weather, and it may have a high organic matter content already from rotting stuff left behind by evaporation.

Here is a link that might be useful: my website

    Bookmark   February 26, 2008 at 10:07PM
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First off, these aren't really low places, as the whole garden is uphill from the backyard. They're towards the bottom corner of the new garden (which has a very slight slope).

I am planning to build raised beds over these places, and to try and keep the water from collecting there in the first place. It's interesting to think about other possibilities, say a little "rain garden" or maybe a goldfish pond inside my vegetable garden?

I think that they will dry out before summer, and since the puddled soil in question is silt, it will be easy to till again (once the water drains or evaporates). But that ideal soil structure will likely take awhile to achieve- thanks for all your feedback.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2008 at 9:20AM
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I wasn't recommending forking in organic matter to help with eskota's puddling, but to help aerate her soil---per her concerns. But I know that I've seen recommendations to add organic matter to help with drainage, so...
Here's what Smith and Hawkins says about compost:
"Loosens soil; improves drainage when thoroughly mixed into soil."
Here's what they say about Humus:
"Improves soil aeration; allows better penetration of water.
Manure: Loosens soil; improves drainage when thoroughly mixed into soil.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2008 at 9:31AM
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Why does the water puddle there? Is it because of soil compaction, hardpan, or because you have a high water table? Compacted soil can be cured by adding organic matter. Hardpan takes longer but organic matter will change the soil chemistry so the hardpan is broken up, but a high water table is not something easily fixed without a really good drainage program that includes every one for miles around.
Even with a very good drainage system around here the seasonal high water table makes for squishy soil every spring, although the surface water is moved away.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2008 at 1:12PM
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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)

for me i'd use raised garden beds that gets the growing medium above that water at the very least, other aspects to look at is orientation of the gardens on your site, might be better if they ran along the contours.

installing french/agricultural drain can drain that area so loing as you have somewhere to run it to, but either way if you raised te level of that part of the yard, that could go a long way to resolving at least some of the issue. would help if you knew the source of teh water ie.,. it runs there across the ground or it just appears out of the soil, which may mean there is natural sub soil drainage from other properties to deal with?

if it is sub surface from higer properties then a french drain along the top side of you property will help arrest that issue again you need to feed the water to somewhere.

can only suggest things but you are the one who is there and who needs to make the decisions.

anyhow we have diagram of how we do our french/agricultural drains when we need to, for me i tend to consider the drainage of land among other aspects before i buy it, just a thought for next time around. of course if you have nowhere to drain the water to, then you could create a water sink in that area that is a deep hole app' 1 to 2 meters about 1 meter across and fill it with 40mm cracked rock then cover it with a sany loam soil using some old shade cloth on top of the rock, this sump would take a certain amount of water and then let it seep into the sub soil of course excessive water would ooze out of the top but it can be an effective way of managing a problem?


Here is a link that might be useful: len's garden page

    Bookmark   February 27, 2008 at 2:27PM
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"it would help if you knew the source of the water i.e. does it run there across the ground or does it just appear out of the soil, which may mean there is natural subsoil drainage from other properties to deal with?

If it is sub-surface from higer then a french drain along the top side of your property will help arrest that issue..."

That's certainly another possibility to consider- since it doesn't run there across the surface, I've guessed that it flows at clay level under the loosened soil. But it could be what you suggest- some kind of wet weather spring from further uphill. Digging a trench above the garden might stop it.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2008 at 3:23PM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

I'm not a fan of making furrows across a gentle slope in areas that get or stay wettish.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2008 at 8:32PM
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