Clay - Need help from the soil experts
Last year I cleared off 2 acres of land at the end of my property. After hard rains it would drain quick. I would dig holes in multiple spots, dump water and it would drain pretty quick. I was pretty happy with this newly found 2 acres of good soil... it didn't show it's true form until winter showed up. I don't know if it's the extreme wet weather we've had this year or what... but here is what I found.
A week ago the snow melted and it's been 45 for the high ever since with no precip. I figured the ground should be solid back on this 2 acres. I stepped foot on the ground and it's like a sponge. I didn't know what to think so I got my shovel out. I scooped the top 2-3" off and it was very wet. Then I dug my 2' hole. This soil seems moderately dry for some reason. It's clay, but not to bad. The color is a dark brown. After a short while you can see water start to seep in from the cracks in this hole. So it fills the hole.
On this 2 acres, I'm planning to plant a bunch of beds with trees and other plants. In between the beds will be 15 foot grassy paths that you can walk along. So essentially the entire 2 acres will be planted with mulch beds except for the grassy paths.
Do I buy topsoil/compost and work it in with a rototiller little by little? These rototillers are expensive at $700 plus the cost of the topsoil/compost. I could hire someone to rototill it in, but I plan to do it sections by sections and they would probably have to make 20+ trips to my house if I can find someone to do it.
Or is it possible just to put 6-8" of topsoil/compost where my beds are going, plant the trees/flowers, then top off with another 2-3" of mulch? So this would create a lot of raised beds that would be raised around 10".
I'm hoping the second one would be best, just because I think it would look nicer to have a bunch of beds that are raised higher than the grassy pathways. My main concern with this is that I don't want the water to run quick through the new topsoil/compost/mulch and be trapped between the good/clay soil.