It Adds Up

The soil where we have our garden plot is mostly clay. Despite being gardened for over fifty years, I still pull chunks of clay out of the ground that could go straight to a potter’s wheel. Since we started working it I have made a concerted effort to dig in organic matter every chance I get. The garden committee occasionally purchases and resells compost at cost, but I rely almost entirely on a massive leaf pile collected from the curbsides of the village adjacent to the university where our garden is. Sometimes there are additional organic matter opportunities such as a mixture of manure and bedding from the riding club’s stables. The latest source of organic matter dumped in the communal area is lake weeds.

Green Gunk

To reduce the nutrient load in a large nearby lake and make the shore areas more attractive and usable large machines harvest the weeds growing there. The stuff reeks, but it’s full of nutrients and organic matter and even the occasional small fish that I’m happy to take.

Hole Awaiting Green Gunk

I had one bed that was mostly done for the moment so I tore out the finished broccoli and the kale that we’ve decided just isn’t our thing. I dug out the soil down to a depth of about eight inches in a third of the bed at a time and spread the glorious gunk in the bottom and then covered it completely. Remember? The smell? What I noticed as I was working and made me so happy was something that’s becoming apparent here and there throughout the plot. The soil is getting better. It’s less sticky and clumpy than it was when we took over and though we had had a two-inch rainfall over a couple of the previous days it was nicely and evenly moist for the depth that I dug out.

Job Completed

Once I’d interred all of the gunk I mulched the bed with shredded leaves. I’ve got some Chinese cabbage and baby bok choi seedlings I may set out here in the next few days. I hope they don’t experience any ill effects if/when their roots reach the gunk layer.

At the end of the season I’ll chop down any cover crops I may have going  and haul in more leaves and spade everything in to each fallow bed. It’s a bit of physical work but I’m encouraged by the results we’re getting and feel like it’s all worthwhile.

Sprouted Peas

In other news, I had terrible germination from the snap peas I planted a while ago so I resorted to a trick I’d used in the past for black-eyed peas. I soaked and sprouted the seeds and then sowed the ones that sprouted. I don’t know if the problem was the heat that we were having at the time or, more likely, the rodents that plague the gardens. In any case, I at least know these were viable seeds at one point. The crop was so good last spring–and made my co-workers happy–that I’m trying a fall crop for the first time. I hope there’s time for them to grow. The cool days we are suddenly having make me wonder.


15 thoughts on “It Adds Up

  1. A Really Small Farm

    That pond gunk looks like some pea soup that got lost in the back of the frig. I have the opposite problem with soil: too sandy and it won’t hold much water. About 10 or so years ago I was able to get three dump truck loads of subsoil that was a mix of silt and clay. Adding it to the gardens made a noticeable difference to the soil’s texture.

      1. A Really Small Farm

        That soil is rare here and full of small rocks many times. You’ve managed to change the soil in your garden plots in a good way.

        I wonder where people think their food is going to come from when so much good soil keeps being covered over with houses and roads. Once it’s gone it’s gone.

  2. It is good when you see your hard work giving results. It looks good stuff you are digging in. I like the trick of sprouting the seeds, that might work for us too when sometimes it gets very dry. Amelia

    1. Give it a try. I was surprised it worked the first time I did it. You just need to make sure to plant before the radicle gets too long. They’re pretty fragile.

  3. Over the past couple of years I have been using a winner mulch from the last grass cut. I just dump it on top and then in early spring I dig it in. It’s made one hell of a difference to my soil from when we moved in!

    A couple of years ago I was told about double digging… Bloody hard work but really worth it!

    Oh… And sharp sand may help with clay-y soils.

  4. Water plants like kelp and seaweed are a perfect addition to the soil, and yours is looking great! If I had a truck, I’d be driving down to the coast all the time to collect seaweed. Unfortunately I have a Thunderbird coupe that I bought well before I had a home, a dog, hens and a mini urban farm. Now I’m kicking myself for owning such a beautiful yet useless vehicle.

    I make do with my soil additives as they come and am often foraging for material to add to my compost bins. My lot was a barren desert wasteland a few years ago, so organic material is hard to come by. It’s getting better though every year.

    But, man, what I would give for a truck load of that seaweed!! Maybe I need to call in some favors…

    1. Nice car! Yes, you need to get some seaweed. Although, I’ve wondered when I’ve lusted after it on my visits to the coasts whether the salt would accumlate in the soil.

  5. Pingback: It Adds Up | Shady Character | WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

  6. That pond weed looks awesomely effective! Your clay soil looks healthy. I know it can be challenging. My first gardens were in clay. It held nutrients great, but man, it can be tiring to work in. 🙂

    1. Tiring is the word. And seeing it crack when it was dry was a sign of how bad it is. The downside to better soil now is that the gophers can tunnel more easily.

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