This ummmm - Soil?

westy1941(Boulder County, CO)June 7, 2014

We moved to Erie in winter from Illinois and are in a new build with 'excavation' soil. I'm going nuts with this 'soil'. It's the worst clay I've ever seen.....I know - everyone says welcome to Colorado! So my question is, how do I amend this? DH built raised beds for my tomatoes and peppers and was sold something called 'topsoil' from an outfit on 287. It seems like more sterile clay to me. How do I get worms into these beds? I had friable, beautiful soil in Illinois - full of worms and humus. I know how to compost but don't want to wait - I need to start a garden. Is there a way to dig in something around the plants - I should have amended it before planting - although I did mix compost into each veggie hole. I just want to dig down a few inches all around the raised beds and also the entire lot and put something in that will get me some worms.

Westy 1941

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ZachS. z5 Littleton, CO

The bad news: there is no quick fix unless you have tons of money to spend on taking out all the clay and replacing it. Otherwise, it going to take time to build your soil and then maintain it. Think about that rich thick layer of topsoil back in Illinois and how many thousands of years it took to get that way.

The good news: There is actually two parts to this. First of all clay is incredibly rich soil despite it's reputation and it hold water amazigly well, which out here with foot or less of precipitation a year, is a great quality. So even if you can afford to take it out, I wouldnt. The second part is that in order to reach those nutrients locked away in the clay its not going to take thousands of years to get soil that will grow a pretty good crop of vegetables.

The key here is organic matter. Add lots of it every single year. It will break up and feed the soil, allowing to be looser and softer. That will make it so your plants can easially grow a strong luxurious root system as well allowing them to actually use all the good stuff that is in the clay.

As far as worms go I have found no lack of worms in my clay. In fact when i dug some new planting areas a little while ago, there was more worms in the clay then I find in my raised beds. Feed them. A thick layer of straw or leaf mulch over top of your soill will make them happy. especially if you can do it while the ground is fallow such as fall-late spring. Just leave the mulch in place and pull it back several months later and I think you will be surprised with what you find. (the mulch will also help insulate your soil so your worms dont have to burrow so far down in the cold months).

Some more good news: you can go ahead and plant WHILE you are doing all of this. Your results will be meager at first, but they will continue to get better and better every year.

Good luck and truely. welcome to Colorado! Meybe Ill see you up at the Miners Tavern there in Erie sometime lol.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2014 at 11:24PM
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westy1941(Boulder County, CO)

Thanks so much for this really helpful info, ZackS! It really helps - you make me feel more positive about the clay. And yes I definitely plan to keep adding - I've always done it every Fall and Spring before planting. My landscaper son is putting in beds soon and he's a fan of many amendments which I used in Illinois. I guess I should get the soil tested but you probably even know what the Ph is since it's everywhere in new subdivisions in Erie (and elsewhere). Cottonburr compost, Alfalfa pellets, bedding straw, well composted horse or steer manure, bat quano, chicken manure, greensand, and my own homemade black gold - I think we've used them all and I plan to do the same here. But you did make me feel better - I know it'll take a few years to get it where I want it. Miner's Tavern? Have to check that one out. I'm more oriented to Lafayette - we're just inside the far Eastern border of Boulder county and a block off Isabelle Road (or Erie Parkway depending on which side of 287).


    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 12:01AM
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david52 Zone 6

Yup, adding organic matter is the trick. When I was younger and more energetic, I'd till stuff in every spring, then after a while I realized it was easier to let the worms do all the work and now I just put down several inches of compost, grass clippings, and what ever else is around as mulch.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 12:20PM
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I used to live in Boulder County and my motto was they don't call it Boulder County for no reason. We had giant size boulders with hard packed clay (my DH would get sparks from breaking up the clay).

New yard and the previous owner brought a ton of rich soil in (I have no idea where he got it). It's wonderful to put the shovel in and have to contend with that clay.

There are a few places at the low part of the yard that do have some nasty clay though. We're having to transplant a Hawthorne tree that's struggling in the clay and will replace it with a "weed" tree - Chokecherry. Between the clay and a cottonwood from the neighbors yard, I need something that might be able to hold it own in such a harsh environment.

Your soil will improve over time, but I noticed when we were in Boulder County if the soil wasn't amended each year, the plots started to get pasty the following year.

Good luck and truly welcome to Colorado (I grew up in IL - Quad Cities).

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 2:21PM
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gjcore(zone 5 Aurora Co)

"How do I get worms into these beds?"

What I have found to bring in a lot of worms is to bury kitchen scraps. I keep a bucket with a cover outside and dump the scraps into it pretty much every day. When I have an area outside to bury them and the bucket is at least a third full I dig a hole with a sharp shooter shovel. Within 2 weeks there will be hundreds of worms.

"We're having to transplant a Hawthorne tree that's struggling in the clay and will replace it with a "weed" tree - Chokecherry"

I thought chokeberry was a water intensive tree. I would think twice about planting one here in Aurora. My water bill is high enough.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 7:29PM
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ZachS. z5 Littleton, CO

Choke cherries grow like weeds. If you plant one you will have thousands and wind up cursing the day you planted it lol. They make great privacy hedges though, and require zero or pretty close to it attention to keep alive. Keeping it well behaved on the other hand is a weekly chore at my house.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 11:21PM
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