Garden a mud pit!

npgeepinJanuary 31, 2010

I am new to gardening and tilled up my first garden space last fall. Thought I did good loosening up the clay soil to something workable. Then it rained. Now I have a mud wrestling pit. The land has a slight slope but now I am concerned it will never dry out. I plan on going down to the Raleigh yard waste and getting some more compost. Any advice on how to deal with or should I consider a new spot?


Steve & Nancy

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Gardening in this clay is new to me, too!

I covered up a spot in fall with newspaper once I tilled it up and pulled out the grass clumps. Then I covered it over with a dark tarp to keep it warmer and attract the worms to help break it up under there. On spring, I'm planning to open it up and surround it with untreated wood so I can add some compost and maybe some vermiculite or peat or sand to handle the water and aerate the clay some more.

I'm also planning on making some purposefully SQUISHY spots to add the swampy stuff that I miss from Virginia: violets, chickweed, and the like.

Good luck to you, I'd like to hear your ideas or any other suggestions that you get here!

    Bookmark   February 1, 2010 at 12:24AM
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Tammy Kennedy

If it's pure clay now, whatever you do, don't mess with it until it dries out some. If you try to retill or mix in amendments while it's wet you ruin the structure of the soil. After it dries some, you can till in lots of that compost and it'll raise it up, which should help with future drainage issues as well as improving the texture and nutrients of the soil. You can try covering it to shed any more rain until we have a warm dry spell that will dry it out. Also, don't think that adding sand will help- it'll just give you a good recipe for bricks. But you can add in voleblock, permatill or peagravel to aerate the soil a bit more. You will be able to improve this spot- you just need to be patient. Of course, you can start on a new spot as well if you want. With our clay, i can't recommend highly enough considering lasagna gardening. There's a series of books out there that explains it. It's the easy way to garden. (this from someone who double dug all of my original beds)

    Bookmark   February 1, 2010 at 10:29AM
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A lot of people build UP rather than dig down. I saw a wonderful veggie garden installed on an asphalt parking lot(!) and asphalt is way worser than clay soil. If a large portion of you yard is solid clay and you only want to build a bed in one portion of it - you have to build in a drainage pattern or else your bed will become a bowl of water when it rains. You can just dig a trench leading downhill from the original bed which should take water away. Anything you add to the clay will eventually help turn it into great soil for a garden but it often takes a long long time. It can be easier and cheaper to just buy a truckload of good soil and mound it up where you want to grow stuff rather than convert your clay into soil.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2010 at 10:40AM
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dottie_in_charlotte(z7-8 NC)

anchasta..don't worry about the chickweed..if you have a low pH area the chickweed will find you.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2010 at 2:06PM
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timmylaz(NC zone8)

npgeepin...good follow ups. One thing to consider also is cover cropping and under cropping to build the hummus up in your clay. For sure, stay out when it is mucky. I always plant something immediately after tilling my clay, otherwise erosion is a real problem. Under cropping your crops will help with several things...1- keeps soil cooler under plants decreasing moisture loss and soil baking in the sun 2- when tilled in it helps build the soil 3- it creates walkable "green" walkways, a rule of thumb for us in the winter is stay out of the garden, but if you have to walk in or through it step only on the green(cover crop) I am sure you can find many more than 3 reasons to cover crop, but these really help in the clay! When I first started gardening I did "lasagna gardening", it's great!! especially for new beds. Now I garden over a half acre and that system needs adjusted, too many needs for outside resources which is why I cover crop intensively. Same concept only your growing your own lasagna and that takes a little more time.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2010 at 2:10PM
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Nope, no chickweed here, dottie! Despite all's everywhere that people DON'T want it, but not here since I use it! It's quite edible, and I also make medicinal tinctures from it as well.

I have decided to used raised beds this year. Since I'm not used to the clay, and also because the previous tenants seemed to like to toss tiny bits of plastic and glass and metal all over the yard *sigh* and I'd just feel safer knowing what my hands are going into and what my food is coming out of!

Here is a link that might be useful: My blog, with plant ID questions if you are interested.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2010 at 10:55AM
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