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wellington womble

Preparing clay soil

Horrible thick claggy stuff. You could make pots with it. Great news for my pizza oven plans, not so much for the kitchen garden.

My current plan is to pen the chickens on it to clear off all the vegetation and then either dig or rotavate. I have some old sleepers for raised beds which I will fill with compost and topsoil.

What could I dig into the actual clay to improve drainage and open it up a bit? I'd need a fair bit, and it's going to be too wet to get a vehicle on for months yet. I wondered if gravel would be worth it, or should I just stick to the organic matter? I know that compost is ideal, but I would need mountains of it! I had woodchips from a tree surgeon once that made lovely compost (for all that they were supposed to be my garden paths) and I was wondering about straw. Anything I can get hold of and move around more easily. I haven't had much luck getting manure locally.
Rob R

Sand, and lots of it to make a loamy soil with as much organic matter as you can get hold of. I was going to do that last year with some sandy topsoil that someone was giving away but then I never heard back from him. Sandy stuff is a bit on the rare side round here.
dpack

organic derived stuff is ace to give a better texture ,clay has plenty of minerals but is "difficult "when wet or dry.

using a "deep layer" on the surface such as straw then feeding it with mixture while growing squash,cucumbers or pumpkins etc for a season avoids the digging as the worms will do it for you as a small scale long term thing.

as you have access to a digger scooping out to 500mm in wide spaced lines (leave paths in between and a shallow ditch either side)and mixing the disturbed natural with an equal volume of organic stuff (stable or farm manure be it fresh or rotted) so creating ridge and furrow will be fairly un back breaking(unlike pick and spade) and will give a very good growing soil within a few years.

finding a source of a lot of organic based stuff would be my priority

if you recon on a cubic volume of organic to a square area dug to half the depth of the cube that is about what needs to be sourced ,clay etc is bigger when disturbed so the half volume thing applies when planning

the above is a bit garbled but i think it is understandable ie for every square meter dug to 500 mm you need a cubic metre of muck

i could draw it better than i have described it but look up ridge and furrow to get the basic idea ,

for an allotment sized space this will be around a biggish tipper lorry load

as a grower you cant have enough good quality muck Wink
Jam Lady

Do not use sand on clay soil - sand is too fine and you'll make a good imitation of concrete.

Gypsum is good for flocculating clay - makes it clump together. Not a light dusting either, be generous.

But as was said previously, organic, organic, more organic is your best bet.

Go to the local cafe / coffee shop and ask if you can leave a bucket for their used grounds. Do be reliable and pick up on the agreed schedule to keep them happy. Would the local grocery store let you have trimmed off lettuce / cabbage leaves? Is there a pet store with rabbits and / or Guinea pigs? Nice pelleted poop, wonderful to use. Offer to clean cages if need be.

Hugelkultur - pile up branches, cover with leaves and other debris and your clay soil. Let it rot for a bit then plant right into it.

Straw bale gardening.

There are always options. Happy gardening.
Tavascarow

Agree with Jam Lady.
Gypsum & if the soil is acid garden lime as well.
& don't walk on it when it's wet.
I know you want to get started but it's better for the soil & easier for you if you wait until the soil has warmed & dried a little.
Try & build beds you can reach from either side & hoe & mulch regularly so you don't have to dig annually.
dpack

small batches are ok for small areas but if you are thinking a fair sized "garden" ie all your veg and some extra a tipper lorry is about the right amount of muck to start with.

iirc you have space so preparing a 1/4 acre would be a good start for feeding a family with basic veg and bush fruit .ie 2 standard allotments(as a guide to the area)

you can give a smaller area special attention so as to have ongoing results and motivation but for a good long term prospect of self sufficiency think biggish .
Rob R

In my case concrete would be an improvement. At least then you could walk on it, aside from in July. The addition of organic matter has certainly stopped it from drying out. ETA - or maybe it's the drainage board.
Hairyloon

Gypsum is good for flocculating clay - makes it clump together. Not a light dusting either, be generous...

Why didn't you say that when I was looking for a use for old plaster?
tahir

6-8 inches of mushroom compost rotovated in followed by 3 yrs of no dig with deep mulch every year did it for us.
Mistress Rose

My FIL dug leaf mould into his year on year, and their garden is pretty good now, which isn't bad for brick clay. My father, on similar clay, used to dig it with a spade to slab it up and let the frost work it down a bit during the winter.

I agree about the organic matter. If you use something unrotted, it will take the nitrogen out of the soil while it rots, so ideally improve the soil and plant once the stuff has rotted. You might also find charcoal helps to store and release water and nutrients at a reasonable rate. If you know a charcoal burner, they may give/sell you their fines. Not too sure about it for clay soil, so I would look it up on a sensible web site, don't go for the 'its magic' type ones.
wellington womble

In my case concrete would be an improvement. At least then you could walk on it, aside from in July.


Laughing

My biggest issue is that I can't get anything by the truckload. I'm still working on it, though. I'm not too happy about using the digger next to the greenhouse just yet. It's only about 10 by 7 metres, I think. It's enough to be going on with, especially as there is only two of us and one isn't very keen on vegetables! I already have established fruit trees and bushes somewhere else which seem to be doing ok, as well as the absurdly shallow raised beds.

Mushroom compost might be a start. I'll ask about it.

I'm not too concerned about nitrogen at the moment, I'm more interested in workable soil. I'm resigned to buying in compost to fill the raised bed, so this is just for the bottom layer. I have trees, so I can make leafmold next year.

I do have chicken straw. I was thinking of getting one of those tumbling compost bins. I have one that works very well, although it goes end over end do it is a bit heavy to turn.
dpack

chicken straw is a bit "hot" for most plants until it has been rotted for a while.

a wet rotting in an old bath tub or big barrel is the quickest way i know of and if you use that to feed squash etc planted in a deep layer of straw the worms etc will give you a good soil in a couple of years.

chook muck once rotted is ace as it has plenty of k and p as well as trace elements and is particularly good for nitrogen fixing plants like beans
NorthernMonkeyGirl

I wouldn't dig at all.

Mulching worked for me on an old lake bed (think herons in winter) and works commercially for Charles Dowding (Somerset clay). More info on his website, but in essence you pile on compost (straight into raised beds post-chicken if that's what you're thinking) and the worms and critters do the work. I did plant strong rooted things like mooli to work through any compacted areas, you could use comfrey or similar. Any digging now is going to clag things right up.

I used wet straw in place of actual compost for price reasons, and it was working well - albeit slowly - rotting in situ (it was wet with horse wee so I wasn't too concerned about nitrogen). Using similarly manky hay was not my best idea though Rolling Eyes
wellington womble

I have to dig, I've a pizza oven to build!

I'm not really thinking of digging as such, or the plants going that deep at the moment. The raised beds will be about foot deep, so most roots aren't going to be going below current ground level. My thinking is what can I put at current ground level to improve the soil (via critters if they haven't all drowned) to be improving the drainage longer term while I garden in the top bits. So if I chuck a load of straw or chip or manure (if I can get it) in March, by next year I'll have better soil under there, right? I know it will be a bit hot, but they won't be under cover, and I reckon it'll be a couple of months before anything really gets deep enough to hit it, and it will have cooled down by then. It might even get things off to a good start. Like a hot bed, but with the goal of better soil and drainage.
Mistress Rose

By the time the roots get down there it should be reasonable, but I think 'hot' in this case means that they contain so many nutrients that they 'burn' the roots, not actual heat. dpack

By the time the roots get down there it should be reasonable, but I think 'hot' in this case means that they contain so many nutrients that they 'burn' the roots, not actual heat.

yep iirc it isnt just the amounts but the ph as well all of which settles to a good growing mix given enough time.
Ty Gwyn

Its the very high N in chicken manure that burns the plants. Nick

Build a more permanent pizza oven and there's no need to dig at all, save for a slab. wellington womble

I have children to entertain. They're way better at mud pies than bricklaying. So am I, really. Once I figure out the base, I'm really looking forward to the cob part. It doesn't the need to be permanent, we won't be here in ten years. Maybe five. Jam Lady

Like this?

. . . . .

It begins with a form covered with wet newspaper.

The innermost layer is made of sand and clay. John digs the clay in his backyard. Some passing boys a quite willing to help stomp / knead / dance / work the clay / sand mixture to an even consistency.

Brick-like lumps are built up one by one. There will be a second, core layer of clay and sawdust that will in turn be covered by a third layer, again of clay and sand. The opening will be cut before
the clay layers completely dry out, as will the air vent.
wellington womble

Yes, exactly like that. Only I probably shan't bother with a chimney. Is that built on sleepers? I feel I can manage the clay thing, but I've never built anything out of bricks before, so I'm a bit puzzled about the base. Also, I have no cement mixer. You can't mix concrete with your feet! dpack

a chimney provides a good draft and a door with an adjustable air vent really helps to adapt it to different fuels (dry split chestnut is very different to damp willow sticks etc etc and a chimney keeps the smoke/sparks above face height when stoking etc .

somewhere between nick's nuke proof witch roaster and an earth oven is probably a decent intention to start from.
Nick

With no chimney, it will not work very well. It's a ten minute addition which will make your oven work. alison

You don't need a cement mixer, just a shovel. It is like making pasta but on a bigger scale! Jam Lady



Mixing sand and clay



Earth Oven, brick by brick
wellington womble

I thought it the door was the right size you didn't need one? So far none of the cob types I've looked at have had them, although it could be that they don't work very well. After all, it was on the internet, so it must be right?!

What s your chimney made of Jam lady? It looks like a log, which I'm sure cat be right!
Jam Lady

Not mine, wellington womble. It was a presentation at a two day Smallholding event. The chimney pipe is just that, a hollow metal stovepipe thing-y. Mistress Rose

I have cooked in a clay oven with no chimney and an open door, but that was quite big, about waist height, and only used it for honey cakes, although it might just have done pizza. It was British Iron Age though, and I don't think they ate pizza here then. Very Happy NorthernMonkeyGirl

a chimney provides a good draft and a door with an adjustable air vent really helps to adapt it to different fuels (dry split chestnut is very different to damp willow sticks etc etc and a chimney keeps the smoke/sparks above face height when stoking etc .

somewhere between nick's nuke proof witch roaster and an earth oven is probably a decent intention to start from.

Laughing Laughing
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