Soil amendment tips for large area?

trevorspopNovember 8, 2012

Im looking for some tips on amending a area on my 1 1/2 acre lot thats approx. 50x50. Right now absolutely nothing has been done to this area and the ground is quite void of any nutrients and is rock hard.I plan on growing veggies in this area and am hoping, or will try to go completely organic.

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MaryMcP Zone 8b - Phx AZ

trevorspop - It's great that you have a blank slate to begin bermuda grass for one thing!! My strongest advice is to work this project in small parts. ie: mark off maybe one or two 4'x6' sections that will be beds. Start digging, add amendments, plant seeds and continue the process. As these beds are amended, watered and plants grow and florish, they will leech helpful nutrients to other parts making the process easier as you go.

Or - till it all up and plant a cover crop of clover, hairy vetch or buckwheat. This is actually about the right time to plant a cover crop. I'll give you a link I found helpful.

Also, think about what perennial flowers you can sow that will attract beneficials to help your garden.

Good luck and keep us posted! I'm sure you will get lots of great ideas, I'll be following. I'm getting ready to prep an area for an asparagus bed and could use some ideas too.

Here is a link that might be useful: Cover Crops

    Bookmark   November 9, 2012 at 7:42AM
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I had dirt like that - packed desert dirt that had never had anything but kids and dogs on it. The first year, I had to dig planting holes with a pick. I can use a hand trowel now.

Start small ... a couple of 4 or 5-foot wide beds that are 10-15 feet long will keep you real busy and with a 3-foot path between them, they are accessible. It's easier if you have several shorter beds and extend their length as you get the first ones going nicely.

Start by rounding up all the free "stuff" you can acquire - cardboard boxes, newspapers, dead leaves, grass clippings, etc. Check Craigslist for people giving away horse manure or chicken litter (straw or wood chips mixed with poop). Call a few tree pruning companies and ask them if they will dump a load of wood chips on your driveway.

It's better to do a small area thoroughly than to skimp to cover a large area. Extend the beds as you get more material, or start a couple of compost heaps for later.

In the bed area, start by laying down a layer of cardboard or several layers of newspaper. Wet it thoroughly. Cover that wet layer with layers of whatever you have acquired as amendments. Don't worry about the ratios of brown versus green, just pile the "stuff" on thick. 8 to 10 inches of stuff is enough.

Over the winter, keep watering the beds to keep them reasonably moist underneath. If you get more "stuff", start a new bed.

In the spring, dig down through the "stuff" to make holes for some transplants. Use a pick if you have to.

If you plant deep-rooted things, such as okra, their roots will penetrate several feet into the worst soil. When they die in the fall, cut them off at the base and leave the roots in the ground. They will rot and amend your soil way deeper than you can possible till.

Keep adding compost and topping off with mulch and you should do fine. Lots of mulch and reliable water is what this soil needs most.

If you are worried about iron, scatter a couple of pounds of soil sulfur onto the dirt of each bed and water it in before you add the cardboard layer. That will lower the pH and free up iron.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2012 at 10:06AM
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tomatofreak(Z9 Phx USA)

All the advice sounds good except for the grass-clippings bit. Unless you are **certain** - not a shadow of a doubt - that there is NO Bermuda in grass clippings, don't use 'em. One Bermuda seed can be the start of a never-ending fight against the invasive grass that will take over your veggie garden. Better safe than sorry, I say.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2012 at 12:08PM
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Pagancat(Phoenix, AZ)

Hmmm.... I also want to add a caution towards tilling - you may have dormant weed seeds in your soil and tilling will bring them up. Just my .02...

    Bookmark   November 10, 2012 at 6:42PM
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Pagancat(Phoenix, AZ)

Oh, and if you compost any amendments, especially if you run a hot pile, after a year you're not likely to have much that will sprout and it will be a more condensed pile.

And if you want horse manure to do it with, let me know!

    Bookmark   November 10, 2012 at 6:45PM
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I should have mentioned that I currently have 3 smaller beds approx 4'x20'. All are doing well, save for my wife leaving the gate open and letting the chickens out and they played havoc on the 2 beds with the curbing. I guess my biggest concern was trying to amend such a large area that's not in a raised bed and the initial cost. For the 3 original beds I went to Pioneer Landscaping and bought their sandy loam mix. Its been working out for me pretty well and I have been fertilizing with the " Alaskan Fish Emulsion" and adding the chickens pine shavings and poo thats been composted for4-6months, but there's no way I could save enough composted chicken poo to amend the area I want and the cost of buying that much of the sandy loam from Pioneer would be more then I think my wife would let me spend. I like the cover crop idea though. Is that something I could start on this time of the year in preparation for the spring season? And would a cover crop do well from just scratch on UN-amended soil?

    Bookmark   November 11, 2012 at 3:21PM
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This is the area.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2012 at 4:05PM
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wrcaz(9 - Chandler AZ)

Nice job on the beds! Craiglist has a bunch of listings for free manure/bedding, some of it even has aged manure still free. A couple listings for bulk compost but I am not sure of the pricing compared to nurseries. I am redoing the area behind my pool and have been keeping an eye on the listings to be ready when I finally finish sifting the rocks out so know the listings keep being updated. I look under the farm & garden category and keep it bookmarked.


Here is a link that might be useful: farm & garden

    Bookmark   November 12, 2012 at 8:38AM
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MaryMcP Zone 8b - Phx AZ

pop, you could certainly sow buckwheat now. I did it a couple of years ago. I think the timing is perfect.

Nice job on the beds. I too use Pioneer sandy loam and have had great results.

I can get you all the llama poop you need - for free and you don't even have to shovel it although it may be too far away for you to consider. But if you just do it once in a while, it could work. You need to drop the buckets and a couple of days later they will be set outside the fence all filled up. The llama 'farm' is around 15th Ave and Peoria. e-mail me if you want more info. Llama poop is all nitrogen.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2012 at 11:27AM
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haname(z9 AZ NE Phoenix)

Wow that is a nice, large space. If it were mine, I would water thoroughly then mulch the area thickly with free wood chips available from tree service companies, electric utilities and the city. Do a search for "ramial wood chips" for more info on the benefits of using this free resource.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2012 at 5:03PM
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Pagancat(Phoenix, AZ)

Mary, you're ruining my constituency, lol....

Horse poop is BETTER!

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 9:20AM
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I went and picked up a FREE truck load of yard clippings that have been shredded down and is in the process of composting at this facility in Apache Junction on Baseline just past Idaho. There is a MOUNTAIN of it just sitting there for the taking and they'll even load it for you for free. I added some chicken poop to it and loaded it into my compost bins till I get ready to work my area for the garden.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 2:25PM
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MaryMcP Zone 8b - Phx AZ

S-C-O-R-E ! ! !

Too far for me but good for you.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 3:28PM
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You might at some time be tempted to put it grass. Don't!! You will never get rid of it. I'm still trying. Haven't watered it for a year and it looks better than when i actually took care of it, but it spreads everywhere.

Plant a variety of fruit trees. Check out the Lasagna Gardening book at the library.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 7:32PM
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