making topsoil

duckgun(z5 ct)February 12, 2010

i am in ct ,my soil is a glacial deposit of gravel,course sand ,pebbles and cobble size stones.after a cesspool replacement, the installer told me my perk was 1"in ten minutes .gold standard for a field but drains real fast for my garden,it has no acidity due to low organics and limestone that is part of the sand content.i always add compost and leaf mulch every year can't get enough but still drains out to fast.having done a search on what is top soil ive found a mix of clay sand silt and organics make up the primary components my question is can adding clay i think it's what pool installers call dead sand ,and it is available to me ,be the solution?any pros cons?

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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

You may not get much response here - the Soil, Compost and Mulch Forum is filled with people with great expertise and/or ferocious opinions who will be happy to answer your questions.

You might try posting there too.


    Bookmark   February 12, 2010 at 4:35PM
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duckgun(z5 ct)

thanks claiser will do.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2010 at 10:21AM
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Well, I don't hang out on the soil and composting forum, but I'm passionate about soil . . . it's the key to a successful garden.
I'd be cautious about adding too much clay since clay + sand in the wrong quantity makes a rather cement-like mix, though adding it in small amounts at a time shouldn't be too bad. I've in the past had quite rocky soil (basically just shattered bedrock) and put it through a soil sieve to remove rocks bigger than about an inch (I was younger then, and spent the summer shoveling . . . ) and then just added massive amounts of composted manure which my local dairy farm will deliver in an 18 wheel dump truck. My current soil is fine sand and I have a free source of horse manure/sawdust mix that I've been dropping by the tractor bucket-full onto where I want my beds to be and planting directly into that. I figure that the worms will do some mixing for me and I'll keep adding mulch to the top and have good soil from the mix over time. Everything I've planted this way over the past 5 years is doing well, as did the plants in my previous, rocky garden.

Pretty much the answer to any soil problem is to add organic matter since it holds moisture and nutrients in sandy soils and breaks up the chemical bonds that make clay soil so sticky and helps drainage for that type of soil. If you have an outside source of organic material such as a horse or dairy farm, local composting facility, etc. rather than relying on your own output, that may help. Even going around in the fall and collecting bagged leaves from others who don't use lawn chemicals and then shredding the leaves with your lawnmower will provide organics. I'd also surface mulch your beds to help prevent moisture from leaving through the surface. Really, organic matter added in enough quantity will make any soil workable and fertile, it just may need to be a really large amount proportionally for your sandy soil. Composting your organic matter will help prevent unwanted seeds sprouting, though if you get cow manure, for the most part the cows will have taken care of the problem for you.

Let us know how things work out!


    Bookmark   February 13, 2010 at 11:22AM
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I'm with nhbabs - adding clay can cause a disaster.

Actually we are in the glacial outwash plain here on Cape Cod, and just mixing the native soil can lead to a fine grade of cement, because we have layers of sand, gravel, and clay. Whenever I dig I add lots of organic material, whatever is available - and that works really well.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2010 at 10:17AM
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leira(6 MA)

Well, duckgun, I also hang out on the Soil forum, and I'll tell you what they always tell everyone, because I believe it: organic matter, organic matter, and more organic matter. I know it might seem like it takes a lot to have any impact, but it will be worth it in the end.

I wouldn't add clay, for the reasons others have mentioned.

Some people are quite anti-peat, but I would seriously consider adding some. It would help quite a bit with water retention, and while it doesn't offer much in the way of nutrients, that very fact means that it won't break down as quickly as some other things. Peat is also acidic, which might not be a bad addition if, as you say, your soil has lots of limestone.

I would also focus heavily on organic matter that you can acquire in large quantities cheaply or for free. Well-aged or composted manure and bedding, seaweed if you're near the coast, well-shredded leaves. As you've found, mixing wood (mulch, etc.) into the soil can bind up the nitrogen, so I wouldn't recommend that. Of course you can make your own compost, or some people bury their kitchen scraps directly in the garden to compost them in place. Your local coffee shop might be happy to give you their used grounds. I've found myself a great local source of rabbit manure, which I like because it can be added straight to the garden, and it won't burn the plants even if it hasn't been aged or composted first.

You could also consider "lasagna gardening," which I haven't tried myself, but some people seem to have a lot of luck with it. One of the advantages, as I understand it, is that you can plant in it right away, while you wait for it to improve the soil below.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2010 at 1:28PM
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Slightly off topic, but some mention in the above thread...

What does the typical pick-up load of manure from a farm cost?

    Bookmark   February 15, 2010 at 7:49PM
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leira(6 MA)

I think it's not difficult to find someone who will let you have manure for free, and I gather that it's not even uncommon that the owner will help you load it into your vehicle. Otherwise, they'd need to pay someone to haul it away.

I get my rabbit manure for free from someone who fosters about 25 rabbits for local animal shelters.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2010 at 8:34PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Evonne, I bought a truckload from Great Brook Farms a few years ago. It was expensive. They sell it by the yard. I decided I wouldn't do that again. I agree with Leira, that it is worth it to do a little searching and find a free source of manure.

I have used the lasagna method and highly recommend it. The best soil and the most earthworms are in the sections that I've done that to. Layers of leaves, cardboard, even paper from your shredder, grass clippings, I created little pockets of potting soil to plant in it immediately, just to keep the raw materials away from the rootballs. I left out any food scraps to avoid attracting animals. It worked amazingly well. I layered it deeply and left it high to account for the shrinkage when it all broke down. The plants took off right away with no problems at all. I was layering on top of loamy clay though. Not sure if sandy soil would be the same. I would think if you made the layers deep, it would provide all the plants needed and the sand underneath, I wonder if that would provide great drainage?

    Bookmark   February 16, 2010 at 6:25AM
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Free horse manure used to be easy to find, but insurance problems for the stables around here put an end to that. I know it's not as great as cow manure, but cows on Cape Cod are not exactly easy to find.

I haven't done a 'formal' lasagne garden, but have had good luck layering half-composted material. And I think you're right, PM, the underlying sand will provide excellent drainage.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2010 at 2:16PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

dtd, I'm not sure I understand, why insurance problems effect manure being available from stables, what am I missing? One place I have seen available free horse manure, is on Craig's list. Every once in awhile I see an ad there for it.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2010 at 4:58PM
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The stables near me, where I used to be allowed to go fill up a pickup truck, stopped letting us come in several years ago; they said their insurance companies had stipulated this when they renewed their policies.

There may have been some lawsuits, or threats of them - maybe people were getting injured shoveling the manure... or maybe the insurance companies were just being paranoid.

Now I just use seaweed, and the occasional barrel of coffee grinds, plus whatever organic material my kitchen, garden and lawn generate. I'd sure love to be able to top off the compost bins with some nice manure, maybe I'll make some phone calls this spring, or check the local Craigs list site.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2010 at 6:05PM
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leira(6 MA)

If I were to guess about insurance and manure, I'd guess that it's related to the spinach and tomato E. coli scares from a few years ago. I believe that some of the E. coli contamination was traced to fertilization with manures.

It's sad, though. Manure is an important part of sustainable agriculture.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2010 at 6:37PM
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Well, I just checked Craigs list Cape Cod, and there's my old stable, FieldCrest Farm, offering "all you can shovel" horse manure, for gardens, for free.

Thanks for the nudge, I wouldn't have thought of looking! Now, about DH's truck ... which he treats like a fine piece of furniture ...he's going to love this!

    Bookmark   February 16, 2010 at 8:19PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Leira, you may be right. I was thinking that. When I add manure to the garden, I don't put it anywhere near my veggies. It just goes on ornamental beds. In the veggie garden it's home made compost from leaf/grass and cover cropping only.

Hey, that's great dtd! And what are trucks for...! :-)

    Bookmark   February 16, 2010 at 9:37PM
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Evonnestoryteller - I honestly don't know what a load of cow manure would cost now - it's been 20 years since I needed to buy it since we can get it for free from a couple of sources. I also think that pricing is probably local, but as mentioned, Craigslist often has listings if you can pick it up yourself with a borrowed or rented truck if you don't have your own. When we did get the 18 wheeler, it took us 3 years of building garden beds for a huge raised bed veggie garden to use it all up, so if you have near neighbors, they might not appreciate that . . .

I don't worry about E. coli in my manure, partly because I know my sources, but also because it all gets composted before getting added anywhere (we pick it up when available for the convenience of our sources and stockpile rather than getting it just when needed.)

I wonder where duckgun disappeared to . . . may be the soil forum.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2010 at 8:33AM
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