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Original Message Clay Yard
We used to live in Calif., on adobe
soil, so I can relate to your
frustration. The good news is that clay
is great at retaining water and
nutrients, and can grow some great

#1. Don't work the soil when it is too
wet or too dry. There may only be a
window of a few hours when it is OK to
start with. You should be able to
squeeze a lump of dirt and have it
crumble. If it forms a clay lump it is
too wet. If you can't break it, it is
too dry. It will take some practice and
cooperative weather to get it just

#2. Your main problem sounds like soil
compaction. I doubt you want to dig
rock-hard clay more than once, so start
by defining permanent paths, and 3-4
foot wide grow beds you can reach from
the paths. NEVER EVER walk on the beds
again. You will probably want to mulch
the paths so you don't get clay all
over your shoes.

3#. You won't be able to fix everything
all at once. Start with an inch or two
of aged or composted horse manure and
till that in as best you can. Don't
worry about pH for now. You don't say
where in CA you live, but the soil
there is usually neutral to slightly
alkaline, unless you're in the redwoods
or desert. Every time you harvest a
crop and have bare dirt, add another
inch of composted horse manure--2 to 3
times a year. Your goal is about 5%
organic matter overall.

#4. If you have any money to spend, a
good investment would be a bale of
Canadian peat moss. It lasts a long
time in the soil and will improve your
drainage. (Unlike the peat moss from
the US mountains, this is a renewable
resource, at about 1"/year). DON'T ADD
SAND; you will be creating concrete!
And don't add gypsum; it won't help.

#5. If you really have lots of energy,
try double-digging your beds. You can
find how-to information online or in
many garden books.

#6. If water really pools there in the
winter, you may want to check the
drainage. Does the water have a route
downhill? You may need to regrade to
make sure the paths, at least, drain
off somewhere.

Hope this is somewhat helpful. Feel
free to ask more questions! It makes
the rest of us feel like we know
something. 8-)

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