Flat broke and soil will not drain

philothea(8)June 10, 2014

I want to plant my plants in pots because the soil is 99.9% clay and the straw bales all fell apart and we were all very sick and the weeds took over the garden anyway....

Bit when I mix the sand with the old compost we have, it seems to hold on to the water and not really let go, so it's like split pea soup. When the sand is alone, when it dries it becomes rock-hard, which is not the behavior I expect of sand: I think it should be like an egg timer and flow when it is dry.

Is this yet another hopeless situation, or is there something I can do which will not cost any money?

Thanks so much!!!!

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lazy_gardens

Where are you (city state)?

Spread the compost on top of the garden area.
Break the straw bales into flakes and use them as mulch on that area.
Plant your vegetables by making a small opening in the mulch to dig a hole.

Buy a moisture meter and use it so you don't overwater or underwater.

Plant OKRA because it loves clay and has really deep aggressive roots: at the end of the season, slice it off at ground level and leave the roots. It takes a couple of years, but the soil will improve.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 9:20PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

It sounds like it's a little late for this year to fix your soil problems.
I would read through these forums and start NOW for next years garden!
If you have really hard clay, you might consider raised beds. You can sheet compost in the beds, get materials from freecycle or craigslist, find the coffee shop nearby for UCGs, nab you neighbors' fallen leaves (with permission, of course!), shred your mail, newspapers,
Basically, do some reading here and plan for next year!
If you are really poor, look into the food pantries. Many gardeners donate fresh produce! Nancy

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 9:36PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Where in the United States are you? All that Plant Hardiness Zone tells us is which plants will most likely survive a normal winter in your area.
Do you have clay soil?
Or do you have sandy soil?
Or is it sand on top of clay?
Clay soil, unamended with organic matter, does not drain very well. Putting sand on top of unamended clay will not improve the drainage, although a raised bed may help if that raised bed is high enough.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 11:12AM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil(Zone 6a - MO)

Potting mix generally has little to no actual soil in it, instead it's coarse wood chips, shredded bark, peat moss, compost, etc. What you found with your compost/and mix is that the compost (or maybe a bit of clay that was in the sand?) acted as cement to hold the sand particles together so you ended up with something like concrete. Not a good potting mix.

With no funds I'd suggest what lazygardens said, use what compost you have, mulch your plants and hope for the best. My low-cost moisture meter is my finger stuck through the mulch. If it's wet, I don't water. :-]

Anywhere you don't plant but want to, make a compost pile out of free scavenged materials. Next year it will be better. You can rotate which bed you make compost on, fallow one each year and it will be much better the next year.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 11:50AM
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philothea(8)

Hi Lazy Gardens,
Thanks so much for your ideas; I will do that for the fall garden :) And I had no idea aboutt he okra--it grows well here (i hear) but we don't like to eat it.

The thing is, I love the flowers so I have wanted to plant it but haven't gotten around to it since it is last on the list as a result of our not thnking of it as an edible. Ironic.

Thanks so much!

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 12:14PM
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JoppaRich(7b)

STOP putting sand in your clay soil.

You need organic material - compost, leaves, manure, whatever. Check craigslist - if you have a truck you can get manure by the truckload for free from horse farms or anything like that.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 1:57PM
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lazy_gardens

it grows well here (i hear) but we don't like to eat it.

Find someone who does like it and swap for something you like that they grow.

We had 2 20-foot rows of the stuff, and the SO took it to work for his Indian co-workers. 10-15 lbs of it, a couple times a week, and it vanished within minutes of his dropping it in the break room.

Spen this summer working on compost piles, mulching and stuff, then you'll be ready for the fall veggie frenzy.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 10:29AM
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philothea(8)

NancyJane,
Thanks for your ideas. I can get compost, but I have been wary of using it since the year I used a lot and had tomato plants etc with lots of foliage and few fruits--I don't know if all compost is like that but this is :)

And thanks for the info about the food pantries--I didn't know that.

Luckily just this morning, my husband mentioned that things are looking potentially good at this one place he applied, so we are hoping....

Thanks so much!!

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 12:33PM
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philothea(8)

Kimmsr and Jopprich,
The soil is close to 100% clay--the sand is stuff we had trucked in a couple of years ago.

I keep putting sand in to improve the drainage because I am always reading that's what to do, but I will happily stop now :D as I am beginning to hate that weird stuff!!!!

Mixing the compost I can get with the clay sounds like a great idea. I had already planned to sort of shape the clay in a convex sort of way and put something on top; I thought that might help the drainage because digging a hole in the clay and putting something in does not work.

Thanks so much!!

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 1:16PM
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philothea(8)

Thanks Toxcrusader,
I have noticed that about potting soil that I bought. I always wondered about that because it was so different from the soil in pots with plants in them.

And I like the hint about the water meter :)

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 1:20PM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil(Zone 6a - MO)

I did not realize from your initial post that you were mixing sand into the clay. That's a recipe for concrete.

If you keep adding lots of organic matter (compost and organic mulches) the texture and drainage will improve without the concrete effect.

If your plants don't bloom you may have a phosphorus deficiency. When I started with my clay I had the same problem. Annual compost addition plus some bone meal here and there got things going.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 4:15PM
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philothea(8)

Thanks so much, Toxcrusader! I was told it was an excess of nitrogen in teh compost, but I'll use compost more and add phosphorus :)

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 11:17PM
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philothea(8)

Thanks so much, Toxcrusader! I was told it was an excess of nitrogen in teh compost, but I'll use compost more and add phosphorus :)

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 11:18PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Whether mixing sand and clay might result in concrete depends on many factors, type of clay and the amount of sand, so a general statement that mixing sand with clay will result in concrete may not be true. However, mixing sand and clay does not do much unless there is at least 45 percent sand, some state 75 percent, added to clay.
Plant nutrition is much trickier then many people want it to be. An imbalance of nutrients can give indications of a deficiency, ie. too much Potash can inhibit a plants ability to uptake Nitrogen. Unless the Calcium and Magnesium are in balance a plant has trouble properly utilizing either one and both are essential to plant health.
This article by P. Allen Smith may be of some help for those with questions about amending clay soils.

Here is a link that might be useful: Amending Clay soil

    Bookmark   June 13, 2014 at 6:50AM
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lori_ny(5)

What Kimmsr said!! You would need 75% sand to 25% clay for it to work well and no one puts in that much sand!

Leaves and shredded newspapers have done amazing things in my terrible clay soil. I now have tons of worms and the orange clay lies 6 inches under the brown dirt. There's a definite line of demarcation between the amended soil and the original soil. I love seeing it because it means I'm doing something right.

If you have a diner in your town, have them put the coffee filters+ grounds in a 5 gallon bucket for you. Work that into the soil and the worms will give you lotsa love:) Anything that makes the soil easier for the worms to navigate will improve your garden. Our goal is to stop the clay from sticking back together in a solid hard mass. That makes a horrible home for worms.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 9:25PM
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poaky1

Philothea, where in zone 8 are you? East coast or west?

    Bookmark   June 18, 2014 at 1:46AM
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