Soil preparation: surprisingly complicated and interesting

My little garden stressed me out through the beginning of the season! I can recall nights when the rain was pounding down and I lay in bed hoping that the entire garden wasn’t washing away down the hill. I don’t have enough Creek or Cherokee in me for a proper rain dance (>20%, meh) and even if I did, I don’t know the antirain dance. Controlling the rain wasn’t an option so I switched my focus to soil improvement.

improving Georgia clay for gardeningGeorgia clay is tough to work with: crappy tilth, no drainage, and it forms crust like concrete. Roots have a hard time developing in its solid encasement. When wet, leeching pulls nutrients from plants, leaving them weak and yellow. I wonder how Mississippian tribes managed to grow anything down here. They certainly knew a few secrets I haven’t figured out yet.

For the fall, I’m focusing on expanding my understanding of soil. Ideally, I would have the soil tested for $15 through the local UGA Cooperative Extension Office. Unfortunately, they said it would take about 5 weeks to get the results back. It’s already early September and I would miss a big window of fall sowing if I waited on the results. Ugh. Rookie timing mistake, again.

I used a few online resources to test the soil myself. I concluded that I need sphagnum moss and a bit of vermiculite to promote drainage and better tilth. I overturned the rows about 1′ down, added in about 1.5″ of moss and a dusting of vermiculite, then overturned it all and mixed it in with the shovel. I broke up the chunks even finer with a rake. I may need more but it’s a start.

I added homemade compost that has been prepping for over 6 months. It’s lovely, crumbly soil with a slightly sweet smell. That’s a good sign. The downside is that I added eggshells and they break down at glacial speeds. They’re finely crumbled and I don’t think it will be a big problem but the little white specks look strange in the soil. When the shells do break down, my children and I will have a nice bit of calcium in the soil.

amendments for clay soilTo keep the rows tidy and to minimize erosion, I’m using Master Mark terrace board to uphold my raised beds. In the future I want to upgrade to a more aesthetically pleasing wood but for now the plastic will do. I still feel like I’m testing this gardening thing out and I don’t want to turn the garden into a money pit.

Within each bed, I’m placing more emphasis on leveling the soil. It’s common sense but I didn’t pay much attention to it before. Being on the bottom of a hill is tough enough without having raised beds that slope. With the border in place, I can level out each bed so it acts as a separate terrace.

When it comes to excess water, more hours of sunlight would definitely help. The house is the biggest cause of shade during the day and it ain’t going anywhere. Cutting down the large trees near the garden would certainly let a few hours of sunlight through… but cutting down trees for a garden just doesn’t seem right. The trees keep our energy bills lower in the summer and they’re good for the cleansing air and all that. Hacking down trees for the sake of a small veggie garden is backwards. And I like trees.

Hopefully the soil amendments will be enough. Next up, sowing time!

By the way, if there are any more experienced gardeners who would like to contribute their two cents, please do! I’m always eager to learn from those who’ve walked this road before.

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