Adventures in Gardening and Vegetable Garden Tips for Amending Clay Soil
This spring, consider building a hoop house, amending clay soil with gypsum and using organic vegetable garden pest control methods.
Extend your growing season by building a hoop house this spring.
Every year, I head into the gardening season with the resolve to figure out how to get more of my favorite crops to thrive, improve the soil even more than I did the year before, and manage pests in a more holistic fashion than simply applying the standard organic methods after I notice a problem. Some years I gain a little ground, and some years I lose a bit. Last year was a tough one, thanks to high daily July temperatures in the triple-digit range.
At my farm in 2011, I recorded a high just under 114 degrees in late July. We observed bottomless crevasses in the soil that were about 6 inches across at the surface (in spite of the 8-inch hay mulch), and experienced a tomato patch that quit setting fruit for an entire month. Our garden’s soil turned so hard that we had to water in order to get the potatoes dug. The asparagus patch thrived, as did early- and late-season greens patches. Most of our flour and flint corn burned up in the hot wind, in spite of regular, deep irrigation. The forage beet crop was small, but gave the pigs something nutritious to do after the freeze. The winter squash was a bust, mainly due to hot-season neglect.
But we developed a plan, and I applied gypsum to the entire vegetable garden late last fall. Gypsum is a marvelous soil conditioner that often helps make many other nutrients more available, and it is known to loosen tight clay soils such as ours — my fingers are crossed. We also added an additional 6 inches of hay on top of the nicely rotting 8-inch layer applied at the beginning of last season. So we are hoping for looser, richer soil this year that will hold moisture a little better and be less prone to compaction. We are going to forego tilling the garden to further avoid creating hardpan.