Pretty broad question from a newcomer

scout1026(7)August 11, 2007

I just found this site on net, and am a new resident of Madison County (near Huntsville). Here's my 'problem':

I am closing on my house end of the month, and have a pretty large yard, so would like to have a decent size garden (vegetables). But of course it will be Sept. before I can do anything. My guess is that there is nothing that I can do except perhaps prepare for 2008, is that right? If not, please tell me.

Assuming I can just prepare for the spring, what do I do with this clay soil? It looks horrible. Do I buy compost, mix in grass clippings, till it, fertilizer? Are there sites you could recommend on working this soil, or what grows well? It seems like this area should be able to grow almost anything.

Any insights appreciated,


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Welcome to the Alabama Forum, Scout. How are Jem, Dill, Boo, Calpernia and Atticus ;-). I'm sorry, I just couldn't let that one go by. From where did you move? Yes, there are lots of things you can plant in September. Turnips for roots and greens, rutabagas, radishes, mustard, kale, collards, leaf lettuces and mixed salad greens (mescalun??). Call the Madison County Courthouse and speak to the Alabama Cooperative Extension Agent (out of Auburn and Alabama A&M universities). Ask them for more information. They can also give you a web site from where you can order a number of booklets about Fall gardening. Unless we begin to get some rain you may be wasting seeds, time and money. Best of luck and welcome. - Terry

    Bookmark   August 11, 2007 at 11:23PM
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You may want to read this: Creating A New Bed Without Tilling.

Here is a link that might be useful: Soil FAQ Page

    Bookmark   August 12, 2007 at 8:21AM
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Welcome to the area!

Many of the fall crops are root vegetables, which won't do very well in dense clay. You may want to skip those this year. But first, dig a hole a couple feet deep and assess what you really have. Your "clay" might be a layer of soil dumped onto the building site with better underneath. Or not -- it could be worse farther down. Do a perc test and or course, get your soil tested by the extension office.

But collards and turnip greens and mustard greens... well, I think they grow anywhere around here.

And if you have a jones to get some fresh root veggies, get some large containers and use those this fall while working on your future garden site.

Some folks grow stuff very well in red clay like much of Madison County has. While not optimal, it is quite fertile, so don't despair. I would avoid getting into the cycle of tilling -- long term, it can really make clay worse, and once you start it's hard to go no-till. If the turf is dense, you may want to have someone with a tractor disc the property once or twice to kill the sod. This will also incorporate a lot of organic material into your soil -- dead grass and roots!

And it's not too late to solarize that soil if you have extra stubborn weeds and bermuda grass -- but you may not have a change to assess that this year. If you go this route, be sure to use compost tea and/or high quality compost to help re-establish the beneficial microbes afterwards.

If you are not worried about pesticides and such, cotton gin compost is available for cheap locally. But finding a source of composted cow manure and starting your own compost pile of fruit and vegetable scraps would, for me, be a high priority. Building soil is a long term process and you won't do it all this year.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2007 at 10:48AM
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swjonthebay(8b Alabama)

I would have to second what terramadre has already directed you to. Another thing you might find beneficial is going to your local library and checking out "Lasagna Gardening" by Patricia Lanza...great information that should help you prepare a perfect place for your vegetable garden over your clay soil. And if you start now, you'd be ready for planting in the spring for sure!

    Bookmark   September 8, 2007 at 6:35PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

I moved to Huntsville a little over 5 years ago, and was in a 'state of shock' over the red clay soil for a while, lol! Now, I've learned to LOVE it! My plants love it, everything from the trees to the turf...and with very little to no amending. So, have faith, Tom.

We tilled plenty of organic matter into our new planting beds ONCE. Ditto, the garden area. Trees have been planted directly into the clay soil with no amendments whatsoever, and our lawn is thriving with no extra care.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2007 at 8:27PM
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