My amazing clay soil

zendog
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My amazing clay soil

#1

Post: # 56677Unread post zendog
Thu Nov 04, 2021 6:34 pm

For the last two years, I've been developing the soil in my front yard that was previously grass and is now home to peppers, annual flowers, some squash and a few other things during the spring/summer/fall and cover crops from late fall to early spring. I began just by skimming off the grass (in retrospect I should have left it or just flipped the turf since there was some organic matter there). Every fall I put down cover crops and then cut it down and mulch over it with hardwood chips from the county in the spring. Around here everyone complains about their clay soil and I've seen people literally digging it out and carting it away to build new beds with soil they buy. I wanted to see what I could do never digging anything in, let alone removing any of the clay.

I've really gotten interested in regenerative practices over the last few years and this little experiment has really convinced me it works. It has gone from dense clay that didn't drain to clay-based soil with great drainage, tremendous fertility and a lot of microbial and fungal life. This past season I didn't add any fertilizer, etc. and just let the plants grow with what had developed in the soil. Everything grew amazingly well. Anyone else doing no-till with lots of cover crops?

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Spike
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Re: My amazing clay soil

#2

Post: # 56700Unread post Spike
Fri Nov 05, 2021 7:36 am

ahh the joys of clay soil!! We also have clay soil. Shall we make adobe bricks or throw pots >,< I admit I had a bit of a head start as grampa grew potatoes out back and also had a huge garden. Plus years of my raking leaves and tilling them in the garden has helped.
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Re: My amazing clay soil

#3

Post: # 56703Unread post Bower
Fri Nov 05, 2021 8:14 am

What an awesome video! I loved seeing the change to the soil below, and the difference in water infiltration, besides the awesome vegetation which you have on top. 8-)
I have clay soil too, very acid clay (pH 4 before any amendment). I've been reading about carbon capture and storage in the soil, and from what I read, clay has a big advantage in that department, because it naturally captures carbon. I've been wondering about my raised bed approach, and whether tilling into the clay would be a better approach for the environment. Still many unanswered questions about that.
But I can see from your video that the cover crop approach has really changed the soil below it. Yes you have clay in the deeper part but compared to the first unamended clay the top foot or so of soil is completely altered, without tilling.
I would like to know, what cover crops did you use. Do you mow them, and then mulch over them in place? And how deep is that mulch that you added?
You've done an amazing job with it!! :)
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Julianna
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Re: My amazing clay soil

#4

Post: # 56707Unread post Julianna
Fri Nov 05, 2021 9:27 am

Clay is the best base! I am not doing it as I rent and have gophers, but I have been heavily looking into no dig with Charles Dowding and his experimental beds and such. Figured we could do it at least when we build.
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-julianna
10a Monterey Bay
Lover of Fogust, tomatoes, flowers, and pumpkins

zendog
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Re: My amazing clay soil

#5

Post: # 56711Unread post zendog
Fri Nov 05, 2021 12:37 pm

@Bower Thanks!

It was fun to do it and it made me take a careful look to really see what changes occurred over the last two years. I was frankly amazed at how fast the water drained into the soil. I knew it would be faster, but it seemed almost instantaneous compared to how it will just sit in a puddle in my yard after a rain in the untouched clay areas.

I like to use a mix for the cover crops. The first year I used a mix of winter peas, hairy vetch, daikon radish and crimson clover. This year I'm adding back the hairy vetch, plus adding fava beans and black winter oats. They both give a bit of heigh/structure for peas and vetch to climb on, plus the fava is another nitrogen fixer and oats put a lot of fibrous roots into the ground and are known for producing a lot of root exudates that feed the soil biology. I didn't put it in the video, but the peas give me pea shoots in the winter and into the spring and the daikon I use the small leaves, flowers and seed pods (like little snow peas with a bit of radish flavor - yum) in salads. In the spring I just use flat-ended shovel skimmed at soil level or a knife to cut them off and then drop them where they are. I mulch over with about 3 inches of the free wood chips from the county and the worms have completely broken down the greens of the covers within 2-3 weeks.

I've been really intrigued by the regenerative agriculture approach I've taken to heart the idea of always keeping living roots in the ground to support microbial and fungal life in the soil which is so essential to making the nutrients available to your plants as well as getting them to the plants through the soil. I also think it is essential to keep the soil covered so I never have bare soil exposed to compaction from the rain, heating from the sun, etc. I'm also looking to do some watering in of compost teas in the spring to keep building the life in the soil.

If you haven't watched them, I highly recommend watching some of the videos with Gabe Brown (cover crops), Ray Archuleta, Elaine Ingham (soil life) and David Johnson (soil life and co-founder of the Johnson-Su bioreactor). I hadn't really looked at any of these before starting to do this except for a video from Gabe Brown, but each one adds a really interesting take on building your soil.

For anyone interested, I think just watching one of the David Johnson presentations is a great way to see what you can gain by no-till and buiding soil life. Here is one example:

The chart around 18 minutes in showing how productive old growth forest is compared to modern tilled fields is just one of the graphs and data he presents that really made me think I should be doing this.
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zendog
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Re: My amazing clay soil

#6

Post: # 56712Unread post zendog
Fri Nov 05, 2021 12:39 pm

@Julianna Yes, clay can actually be great for growing veggies if you get it in the right condition. I've heard people say tomatoes grown in clay soils can actually taste better because of all the minerals and micro-nutrients that can be part of what gives the fruit flavor. I'll need to grow some in containers and compare it with ones grown in the clay soil to compare. I know it is definitely true if I compare some of my figs grown in containers vs. in-ground figs.
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Shule
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Re: My amazing clay soil

#7

Post: # 56717Unread post Shule
Fri Nov 05, 2021 3:45 pm

zendog wrote: Fri Nov 05, 2021 12:39 pm @Julianna Yes, clay can actually be great for growing veggies if you get it in the right condition. I've heard people say tomatoes grown in clay soils can actually taste better because of all the minerals and micro-nutrients that can be part of what gives the fruit flavor. I'll need to grow some in containers and compare it with ones grown in the clay soil to compare. I know it is definitely true if I compare some of my figs grown in containers vs. in-ground figs.
Tomatoes have been one of the easier crops to grow in our clay (not every variety, however). Most of our soil isn't clay anymore, though, unless you dig down. Squash were among the easier crops, too.

In my opinion, one of the biggest challenges with clay soil is that it's an insulator, and it stays very cool not very far down, even when it's hot outside. Among other things, this means plants won't have as much phosphorus available, which means they'll be slower to mature. They should have extra available potassium, though, if it's there (a depleted cold soil is still deficient, of course).

Our clay soil is gray, smooth, and plated: If you dig into parts that haven't been dug into before, it chips off in plates, about ⅖ to ½ of an inch thick. You can mix it with water, make stuff out of it, let it dry, and it'll get pretty hard.

Our amended soil is a lot more friable and absorbs water more easily (some of it drains too well for our heat/drought, in fact). I like clay. Squash are actually harder to grow in our amended soil.

Clay is awesome because even though it takes longer to absorb water, it stays moist longer, too. We've always tilled ours, though, unless there's black plastic on it.
Location: SW Idaho, USA
Climate: BSk
USDA hardiness zone: 6
Elevation: 2,260 feet

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Julianna
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Re: My amazing clay soil

#8

Post: # 56719Unread post Julianna
Fri Nov 05, 2021 5:04 pm

It is an easier base to work with than, say, sand. Sand is easier to dig of course, but harder to amend. I would much rather start with a clay base.
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Shule
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Re: My amazing clay soil

#9

Post: # 56731Unread post Shule
Sat Nov 06, 2021 12:53 am

But yeah, there's clay and there's clay. Lots of totally different kinds, and ours has been at least lightly amended as long as I've been gardening.
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Location: SW Idaho, USA
Climate: BSk
USDA hardiness zone: 6
Elevation: 2,260 feet

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Re: My amazing clay soil

#10

Post: # 56732Unread post Whwoz
Sat Nov 06, 2021 3:53 am

Will second that, ours spews if one breaks the surface crust in winter!! If chain/cable is not long enough to keep toe vehicle on hard ground, forget about getting it out, it will only go deeper if you dig
Shule wrote: Sat Nov 06, 2021 12:53 am But yeah, there's clay and there's clay. Lots of totally different kinds, and ours has been at least lightly amended as long as I've been gardening.

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