Ask a Question forum: In Paulden AZ w lots of clay

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firemounta
Jun 18, 2016 1:58 PM CST
I am new at gardening....
last yr critters and bugs ate everything.
The rabbits even get thru the chain link
by the gate!
I am very low income...
I do own over 2 acres in Paulden.
Have a 70x48 area fenced...
Need to know since this soil is alkaline
and the prop sits low and lots of
clay.....how to mix potting soil without
without mixing any clay in and growing
in pots....
Need the most inexpensive way to do
this.
I have now tried a bale of peat moss
using that as the main component...
put in bagged potting soil, sulfur and
some sand.
Need a real recipe for this area.................
everyone has trouble out here.
One woman said she uses blood meal
and bone meal....is there a way to MAKE
that stuff yourself as it is very pricey.
I do have a pressure cooker if it is
possible to cook bones enough to
make mush out of them....would
it be the same as bone meal?
Thumb of 2016-06-18/firemounta/d33e68

Name: Sandi
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Bubbles
Jun 18, 2016 2:59 PM CST
Welcome to NGA! I'm going to ask someone to come to this post to help you.
@bhart90 is on the Soil and Compost forum here on NGA. I bet he could give you some good information, or @RickCorey. You might check out the Soil and Compost forum also.
[Last edited by Bubbles - Jun 18, 2016 3:40 PM (+)]
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Name: Reine
Porter, Texas (Zone 9a)
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Reine
Jun 18, 2016 3:07 PM CST
firemounta, Welcome! Welcome! Welcome! , to NGA!
Name: Brenden Reinhart
Flushing Michigan (Zone 6b)
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bhart90
Jun 18, 2016 6:51 PM CST
Firemounta, you a deadhead by chance?
Brenden
Name: Karen
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plantmanager
Jun 18, 2016 8:44 PM CST
If you can get some chicken wire, put it against your chain link fencing. That will keep the rabbits out. I have the same problem.

Peat moss holds so much water, that I don't use much of it in my potting soil unless I have plants that need to stay wetl
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Name: Daisy
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
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DaisyI
Jun 18, 2016 9:17 PM CST
The best solution is rabbit wire (its small on the bottom gets bigger atthe top and its pretty cheap) or small chicken wire. And planting holes. Don't try to revamp all the soil - just the soil where you want to plant somethinng.

Dig holes big enough to plant what you want (5 to 15 gallons) and fill with compost and garden soil. Fill the holes (before compost, etc) with water and see how long it takes to drain. That will give you an idea of how much water you will need. You are essentially planting in pots with a slow leak so water will go a longs ways if the basins you have dug drain slowly (An hour? A day? Two days?). Overwatering is a problem with clay/hardpan soils. Peat moss retains water so not so good a choice. Sand is a great choice but I would use something like decomposed granite - the grains are bigger. Sand packs and could be as bad a clay.

Don't break up the clay and add it back to your soil as the clay will reform. You have to dig it out and replace it.

Don't worry about sulfur and bone meal right now. They can be added later if needed.

Daisy

Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
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Weedwhacker
Jun 18, 2016 9:30 PM CST
Welcome to NGA, @Firemounta !

The peat will lower the pH of your potting mix... I have finally been able to grow blueberries - which need an acid soil - by mixing peat, potting soil, compost and Perlite (pretty much half peat, then the other half more or less evenly divided among the other components). But if what you are trying to grow needs a higher pH, the peat might not be a good thing. And, sulfur also will lower the pH. So... the question is, what are you attempting to grow?
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Name: Brenden Reinhart
Flushing Michigan (Zone 6b)
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bhart90
Jun 18, 2016 10:08 PM CST
If possible, acquire coco coir INSTEAD of peat. Peat is obtained by digging in bog habitats, screwing over fragile life, as well as releasing methane that is well over 100s of years old. Not the brightest message you wanted to read, but needed to be said.
Brenden
Name: Sue
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sooby
Jun 19, 2016 4:16 AM CST
Welcome! Since your purpose is to grow only in pots if I understand correctly, you don't necessarily need any special mix for your particular area (I assume hot and dry is the concern?). It would depend more on what you wish to grow and what is readily and inexpensively available. I don't think I would be trying to make bone meal (or blood meal) myself, I'm thinking the temperature wouldn't be high enough. I assume that would be trying to cover nitrogen and phosphorous requirments?

Peat moss can vary in its acidity, not all are very acid. Canadian peat moss would typically be acidic and you may not need sulfur to lower the pH further with that, or is it included to supply sulfur as a nutrient?
[Last edited by sooby - Jun 19, 2016 4:17 AM (+)]
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Name: Karen
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plantmanager
Jun 19, 2016 9:50 AM CST
Pots dry out so quickly. You might be better off making some raised beds filled with your new media. The heat today is going to be a killer, so stay cool.
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freezengirl
Jun 19, 2016 11:00 PM CST
Hello and welcome! Here is excellent advice for dealing with clay soils in general. I would try calling around to your local landscape companies, tree service companies or even stables or farmers to ask about compost material or manure even if it isn't composted yet it will eventually break down for planting and help the soil structure. Here in my climate (with heavy clay) every fall I would gather up the leaves, run them over with the mulching mower and mulch my gardens in the fall. I started out with clay soil so nasty if tried to jam a pitchfork in it it was dangerous to life and limb. Within two years of just covering the garden with ground up leaves I had beautiful soil forming and tons of worms. Your organic material may be different then mine in my climate and area of the country but I am sure you can find something to collect and use that is just going to waste.
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Name: Rick Corey
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RickCorey
Jun 22, 2016 5:45 PM CST
Hi, and welcome to NGA!

I agree with freezengirl - for in-ground soil, like raised beds, add all the compost you can scrounge and make. Collect dead leaves, coffee grounds, yard waste, paper, sawdust, manure, or almost anything organic that has no herbicides and few weed seeds.

My best find was the dumpster at a fruit stand. Starbucks and 7-11s and mini-marts will give away coffee grounds if you make it easy for them. Some people have been told to come by EARLY (like 7AM) with clean, empty 5 gallon buckets to fill with coffee grounds. Delis, fast-food paces, bakeries, and supermarket deli and bakery sections may give away 5 gallon buckets.

I think that raised beds are an excellent compromise between rows-in-the-ground and pots or buckets.

Say, @Newyorkrita is THE master of growing vegetables in buckets. Any suggestions for the cheapest possible potting mix, Rita?

If you grow in containers, even 5-gallon buckets, AVOID ADDING SOIL to the buckets. Especially since you have clay soil, any soil in a container will pack down too tightly for roots to breath. You really need a soil-less mix for growing in buckets, so it continues to drain and "breath" for a season.

The way to make that cheaper is to make your potting mix mainly from ground, screened bark.
http://garden.org/ideas/view/RickCorey/652/Adding-Screened-B...

Look for dry, clean evergreen bark mulch. You should be able to get that around $3.50 per 2 cubic feet. Where I live, HD sells really junky, wet, fermenting logyard trash as bark mulch. Lowe's sells several bark products that are clean and dry, almost like orchid bark, for around $4 per 2 cubic feet. You'll have to screen them with 1/4" hardware cloth, maybe even 1/8".

Coca coir is around as good as bark, but some batches used to have too much slat in them. It is more expensive (I think). Also, each batch or each coir product is a different size or coarseness, and you want it coarser than fine peat moss but "grit size, not chunk size".

Probably the cheap bags of "potting mix" from HD or Lowes will be almost as bad as soil from an average garden (*) ... and if they call it "potting soil", don't buy it if you plan to grow in pots. They put too-fine, water-retaining junk in those bags because they are cheap and novices don't know better. First-timers will try out a cheap product if they don't realize it will kill plants in pots.

Probably some gardener somewhere does manage to work with soil soil in pots, but after a few months of watering soil soil in a pot, most of us could use that rock-hard, impervious soil as ammunition in a catapult.

Cheap "potting mix" may not be AS bad as CLAY soil, but bad enough to stunt your plants and make success more difficult or impossible. Even on a tight budget, it may be true that one bale (3.8 cubic feet) of GOOD potting mix (like Pro-Mix or Fafard or Black Kow or Sunshine) will cost $27-$35, but do more good for plants in pots than an equal price for three times as much BAD potting mix. Just dilute the expensive mix 3X to 5X with really cheap screened bark.

I would rather mix 20% GOOD potting mix with 80% bark than use 50% BAD potting soil with 50% bark.
If you screen your bark carefully to get enough water retention and enough aeration, you might try cutting back to 10% good mix to save money. I would screen the bark as a first step, and try to make my screened bark as close to good potting soil as I can. Then add a little "good stuff" to remedy the bark's lacks.

Look for cheap sources of bark that you can screen, chop up, and re-screen.

Look for cheap sources of grit, crushed stone, and very coarse sand. (Your truck and a rock quarry and some fast talking or bags of fresh tomatoes?)

---
If you make raised beds to defeat your clay and save water, also look for raw materials to make compost from. For outdoor soil, "compost" (and drainage) is (are) king, just like Real Estate is all about "location, location, location".

Once you have the raw materials, don't worry about "how to make compost" or how big the pile "should be" or how often you "should turn it". The truth about compost is that "if you pile it, it will rot". All the fancy compost-science in the world will only make that go faster and hotter (and maybe kill more weed seeds, if you put weed seeds into your heap).

If you are really obsessive about only composting "the right way" I suggest deferring your official compost heap for a few years. Instead just collect the raw materials. (As you collect them, store them somewhere in a heap. Don't keep the heap dry. Forget about it!) When you have read dozens of Internet articles and serious university papers about "how to compost", over a year or two, go back to your heap. Then you can either re-engineer your heap according to all those rules and whims, or just shovel the finished compost out from under the bottom of your "storage heap". It works.
-

Some people put finished compost into pots, other prefer "near-sterile" mostly-inorganic soil-less mix ingredients.
Some people even manage to use their garden soil in pots, AND keep some worms alive in those pots!
But the conventional wisdom is that only outdoor SOIL in the GROUND can sustain enough soil life to sustain real living SOIL.

-
Compost, grit, sand and ground bark will lighten clay soil, and make it a little better-draining and a little better-aerated.

But you do need to add a LOT of such "gritty" stuff or chunky stuff like VERY fine gravel, grit, VERY coarse sand, and medium-ground pine bark or fir bark or balsam bark also lighten and aerate clay.

If your soil is pure clay, you might need to add up to 5 times as much grit as you have clay, to make "good soil" just with the grit, sand and clay. But adding a lot of compost at the same time seems to make the grit and sand "go farther". I try to start a new bed with almost 50% compost + bark fines, then 10-20% grit, and the rest native clay (broken up, screened and mixed with compost. Then aged and watered and screened again. Then turned with more compost each year for the first few years.

You'll also have to be very careful about tilling such clay soil. I think of it like "making an omelet" - I "whip the soil up" with fork and spade to add air and more compost to it. Then I firm it down a little to try to "set" it. Then, if I'm lucky and it has enough compost and grit and coarse sand, it won't just collapse back down into clay-grit soup.

The thread "A budget friendly veggie garden in Texas" in Vegetables and Fruit forum
http://garden.org/thread/view_post/454641/

Hmm, I wonder what forum would be best for starting a thread like "Gardening on the CHEAP"?

(*)
Rita finds that almost any potting mix she buys is usable. Maybe I'm still over-watering or doing something else wrong. I have to add gritty stuff or even chunky stuff to "random bags of potting mix" to keep a deep container well-draining and well-aerated.

On the other hand, any 3.8 cubic foot "bale" of professional-style potting mix I saw was MUCH "loftier" and "open" than anything I've seen in a bag. The pro stuff is more expensive, hence I cut even that with bark because I'm cheap. (But I only buy a bale if it is "HP" (high porosity) or extra-fast-draining.)

[Last edited by RickCorey - Jun 30, 2016 11:00 AM (+)]
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Name: Rita
North Shore, Long Island, NY
Zone 6B
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Newyorkrita
Jun 22, 2016 5:53 PM CST
I just buy potting mix of whatever brand at the local nursery. Don't know anything about special kinds!
Name: Carol Roberts
Huntington Beach, CA (Zone 10b)
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CarolHB
Jun 22, 2016 6:46 PM CST
Newyorkrita said:I just buy potting mix of whatever brand at the local nursery. Don't know anything about special kinds!


Smiling (snort).
Can't complain too loud about how the ball bounces when I'm the one who dropped it.
Name: Rita
North Shore, Long Island, NY
Zone 6B
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Newyorkrita
Jun 22, 2016 6:49 PM CST
Well, honest. I just get whatever they have. Shrug!
Name: Rick Corey
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RickCorey
Jun 23, 2016 6:40 PM CST
That's the advantage of an experienced expert. They know!

The only times I've bought anything called "potting mix" from my HD, it was so heavy I wouldn't put it in a raised without amending it.

But I read that the big-name companies put different things into the same product, in different regions. They use what's cheap locally, and don;t ship it very far. So YMMV.

(I buy bark from Lowes and hardware from HD.)
Name: Rita
North Shore, Long Island, NY
Zone 6B
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Newyorkrita
Jun 24, 2016 9:13 AM CST
All my potting mixes have worked out well.
Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
(Zone 4b-maybe 5a)
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Weedwhacker
Jun 25, 2016 6:51 PM CST
What I've found about buying potting soil - of whatever brand - if they have it sitting outside and it's been getting rained on, the bags are going to weigh a TON! (I generally buy the 2-cubic-foot size) They usually have some inside somewhere, which have been kept dry, and they weigh about 1/4 (or less) as much.

But, I also use just regular old potting soil -- generally Miracle Grow, because it's readily available here -- in any kind of containers (unless I'm growing succulents or something like that). NOT the "moisture control" stuff, though -- that wasn't much of a success for me, stayed too soggy.
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Name: Rita
North Shore, Long Island, NY
Zone 6B
Charter ATP Member Seed Starter Tomato Heads I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Vegetable Grower Lover of wildlife (Raccoon badge)
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Newyorkrita
Jun 26, 2016 12:15 PM CST
Yup, those bags out in the rain are way too heavy.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
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RickCorey
Jun 27, 2016 10:48 AM CST
Plus, a wet bag goes anaerobic because air can't reach most of the mix. Without oxygen, only anaerobic bacteria grow, and they "ferment" rather than "oxidize" for energy. So they release organic acids and alcohols as waste instead of CO2, and you can smell it when you first open the bag.

Those fermentation products are not good for roots, though they may wash out of the mix during the first few waterings.

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