Tilling a new plot

muddykoinzMay 3, 2009

We just moved to Peyton,Co from Southern Indiana, where the soil is rich and you dont have to water. The soil conditions in Peyton are less to be desired, very sandy with no organics. I am going to bring in Planters Mix, but heres my question. I am going dig out my garden foot print with a Skidsteer, but how deep do I go? My thought is to dig out 6in, bring in 3in of Planters Mix and till in 3in of the existing soil. I am open to all suggestions. Thanks in advance.

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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Hi Muddy,

Welcome to RMG!

I donÂt know what a Skidsteer is, but your plan to mix your native soil 50/50 with PlanterÂs Mix sounds pretty good to me. Is your soil a sandy clay mix, or is it really mostly sand? And have you checked in different areas to see how much it varies? Most of us can have widely varying soil conditions even in a pretty small yard. And are you prepping for a flower or veggie gardenÂor both?

When you have time, head on over to the WhoÂs Here in 2009 thread and tell us a little bit about yourself.

Glad you found us, and let us know whenever you have questions. WeÂll help you make the transition!

Welcome to high, dry Colorado,

Here is a link that might be useful: Who's Here in 2009

    Bookmark   May 3, 2009 at 7:52PM
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Thank you Skybird. Our soil is mostly sand in all areas. Its so hard that I cant get a shovel in the ground. Does my 6" removal sound correct for the vegetable garden?

    Bookmark   May 3, 2009 at 8:17PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Hmmm! If you had a lot of sand, you shouldnÂt be having any trouble digging in itÂeven when itÂs dry. It soundÂs more like you might have the kind of "normal" clay soil that a lot of us have. When clay dries, itÂs usually so hard you can barely phase it with a pick axe! Set a little sprinkler in the area you want to convert to garden and turn it on for 15 minutes, turn it off for an hour, turn it on for 15 minutesÂand repeat until youÂve done the 15 minute watering for 4 or 5 times. Then wait 24 to 36 hours and go out and dig in the soil and see what youÂre coming up with. If you can take a hand full of it and form it into shapesÂlike kiddie clayÂyouÂve got heavy clay. (If the water hasnÂt penetrated at least 6" and you find itÂs still dry just a few inches down, you probably have heavy clayÂa lot of sand would help the water penetrate more deeply.) If it seems like thereÂs a fair amount of sand in it, you might have something akin to the stuff they make adobe bricks out of! WeÂve talked about mixing clay with sand around here a bunch of times beforeÂnot that you did it in this case! So do the watering, waiting, and checking, and then come back to give a report on what youÂre finding when itÂs moist. If you really do have heavy clayÂor adobe mortarÂI just might revise my recommendations! And in the meantime, others will probably be along with more advice!

Whatever you have, there WILL be a way to help it,

    Bookmark   May 3, 2009 at 8:39PM
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I prefer raised beds to any digging at all. Why dig when you don't have to? One cool method is Cinderblock gardening, and the author is in Colorado.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2009 at 8:50PM
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Skybird, unless I'm mistaken, a Skidsteer is very similar to a Bobcat. As far as Muddycoinz question about proper depth, if it was me doing it all over again I would want to go down as deep as possible to avoid putting a growing area on top a hardpan section. My first few gardens I used the double dig method which loosened the soil to at least 12". One of the problems that occur, especially around new construction is that material is moved then moved again to backfill by heavy loaders which packs down adjoining areas to that resembling concrete. At a former residence I had to resort to using a pick to break up a hardpan area that was compacted by the contractor. And especially if the garden area is located in a low lying area, deeper excavation results in better drainage, especially if we get one of our heavy rains after a hot period which turns the soil hard. So if you have the mechanical means to dig deep then do that and mix in a generous amount of humus, compost and aged manure, if available.


    Bookmark   May 3, 2009 at 9:00PM
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Dan Staley

If I were to have a garden down there I'd till in a ton of Planter's Mix and mound it up a bit. Sounds like that's what you're doing, so great. Glad to have someone aboard who knows what they're doing.

The other thing is the wind. The wind. The wind. Did I mention the wind? The dry, dessicating, unceasing uncompromising wind will carve off your new soil and strip your young plants. Did I mention the wind?

It's a different animal here. Once you understand it, there are many things about the veggie garden you'll enjoy. Lots of plants for the ornamental garden that are great. Different. But great.


    Bookmark   May 3, 2009 at 9:40PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

I didnÂt do that in the first post, Pond, thinking if the soil was really sandy there wouldnÂt be a problem, and when I started suspecting clay I was going to recommend mixing the "layers" at the bottom together well to prevent stratification in my second post, but then I decided to wait till we all have a better idea of how heavy the soil actually is before writing moreÂsince everybody knows I already write a LOT around here! ;-) But I definitely second your advice to dig/improve the soil deeper, and however deeply itÂs dug, to do some mixing of the layers where they meet.

I hand dig my veggie garden with a spade, so itÂs dug about 10-12" deep too, like yours. The deeper the better for root cropsÂand tomatoes, since you want to plant them DEEPLY.

Is a Skidsteer the same as a "skid loader?" I kind of had that feeling, but wasnÂt really sure at all. Boy, wouldnÂt it be fun to have one of those to do the heavy "lifting" in the garden! But as heavy as they are, youÂd need to be careful when digging up one area that you werenÂt packing other areas down super hard.

AndÂdid Dan happen to mention the wind..........


    Bookmark   May 3, 2009 at 10:28PM
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Is there none of what I like to call "unkind subsoil" in Colorado? Of course, if a backhoe has mixed up the whole 9 yards already, it may no longer be a relevant question.

Wherever I've put in a garden, there always seemed to be at least 8" of top soil. Sometimes, it was necessary to close my eyes and imagine it so but I seemed to get away with the assumption.

There have been places within these gardens where the "unkind subsoil" has been distributed into what once was fertile ground. In one of those areas I recall amending with compost and growing green beans at least 3 years with plants that grew some but essentially didn't bother to produce a crop. . . . whoop dee doo

I dig out beds to about 8" as a preferred method and would go deeper only with temerity. Temerity is neither Bobcat nor an attachment. In fact, I don't find it especially useful at my age. So, Muddykoinz's original idea for a depth of 6" sounded modestly adequate to me.

However, I'm out-of-my-depth commenting on any soil that isn't here beneath my feet, about 800 miles NW of any part of CO.

Welcome to RMG Muddykoinz!


    Bookmark   May 3, 2009 at 11:38PM
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I'm bettin' that after spending the winter in Peyton, you are well aware of the wind :-) It did seem so slow down at some point last summer (my first year here).

I live in Falcon (and I was sure I posted on this thread earlier but it doens't seem to be there. I got a new computer today, so who knows...). When I dig in the backyard, it seems sandy, gritty and gravelly but when I hit that horrendous hard layer (and break through it with the steel bar) I have also found clay that I can pick up and mush through my fingers and right beside it find sand. Solid moist sand like in the surf.

I planted 4 trees the other day, planting holes hand dug, by me. I was tired. I planted 2 saskatoons the next day and discovered something shocking... an area in the yard that was EASY to dig a hole 18" deep!!! It was beautiful. Amazing. A first. I need to plant more things there. Too bad the gophers are over there too. While planting those bushes, I noticed my dog staring into the neighbor's yard. I finally saw it, a pocket gopher popped up, grabbed a blade of grass and disappeared back into the hole. I almost sent the dog into their yard, then I remembered the poison (I don't think the gopher is going for the bait...).

For my veggies, I built raised beds and I'm glad I did.

How's the bunny population out there?

Here is a link that might be useful: Tales of a Transplanted Gardener

    Bookmark   May 4, 2009 at 12:24AM
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This is great. The wind is something else.

After I dig out 6in I am going to till the bottome of that, and then till in my 3in of native and 3in of planters mix.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2009 at 10:20AM
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The pocket gopher is named for the enlarged cheek pouches, "which extend from the side of the mouth well back onto the shoulders". The gopher uses these pouches to carry food to underground stores.

"Geomyids are accomplished burrowers. Their burrow systems include both long, shallow tunnels used for foraging, and deep tunnels used for nesting, food storage, and as latrines."

According to South Dakota State: "The depth of tunnels varies with soil type. In sandy soils, most tunnels usually are 7 to 27 inches deep while nests may be as deep as 5 to 6 feet. In heavier soils, tunnels are generally 6 to 19 inches deep."

So, that 18 inches of loose soil in Pocket Gopher Village may extend even deeper. They are an important part of the prairie ecosystem tilling soil to considerable depth while using those deepest burrows for bedding, food stores, and latrines.

And, we sing praises to the feeble earthworm . . .

Steve's digits

Here is a link that might be useful: the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology

    Bookmark   May 4, 2009 at 11:20AM
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You were correct. After digging in a moist area, I discovered clay about 3" below a layer of sand. I also discovered what I believe to be Vole holes. Let the battle begin.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2009 at 7:28AM
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I saw some of the "snow tunnels" behind the neighbor's fence recently.

When I planted the saskatoons (in the soft soil) I did put a wire cage, underground, around one of them in case the little munchers find them. I don't mind sharing a little with the wildlife but I don't trust them just to take a little... I'm not trying to kill them, I just try to make my yard an unfriendly place to burrow. The dogs do a pretty good job,they just visit the edges of the yard.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2009 at 11:16PM
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We change the ecosystem by gardening. Here in the West, especially, we change the ecosystem by running water on the soil surface during the growing season.

An amazing number of our "companion plants" (most people call them "weeds") came with us from somewhere else. Even the common earthworm is also an immigrant. Alongside humanity, our food plants must be the most populous species on earth.

Once here and gardening, we must decide how much of our produce we can share. Often, the price is too high as the garden becomes "easy pickin's" for wildlife. We have to decide how to guard our garden.

Either that or leave no footprints on our way out . . .


    Bookmark   May 6, 2009 at 8:28AM
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