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Avatar for Frillylily
May 21, 2020 1:11 PM CST
Missouri (Zone 6a)
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Identifier
I had someone bring me a 15 yard truck load of "topsoil" and it is really heavy clay. Sad
It looked like nice black looking dirt when it was in the truck, but after it was dumped and dried out some it got really hard and I realized it was bad. It also smells like manure (? that is the closest thing I can think of) My husband suggested that is is anaerobic and that it probably came from on old pond or something like that. Around here clay is red so I never had a thought that this would be clay. I can take it and make a ball in my hand and it feels like play dough. I have to use real effort to break it apart in my fingers and even then it is really just tearing pieces of it off. It never crumbles.

We had a 20 yard load of compost delivered which we are VERY pleased with.

If I rented a tiller and chopped this up into small pieces and mixed it w the compost, would that work? I'm wondering if the clay will ever break down into crumbly soil or not? My husband thinks we may have to just haul it off and dump it as fill. We paid $200 for it Grumbling I was thinking if we tilled it up into smaller bits and put it in the bottom of the beds and then used the compost on the top half, what would that do? The beds are 10 inches deep.


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Avatar for RpR
May 21, 2020 4:36 PM CST
Name: Dr. Demento Jr.
Minnesota (Zone 3b)
Try mixing some in with the compost.
Send some in for a soil sample.
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May 21, 2020 5:37 PM CST
Name: Rj
Just S of the twin cities of M (Zone 4b)
Forum moderator Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Plant Identifier Garden Ideas: Level 1
What did you think you were buying, and what did they sell it as? If it is not what you wanted I would ask for a refund.
As Yogi Berra said, “It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”
Avatar for Frillylily
May 21, 2020 8:15 PM CST
Missouri (Zone 6a)
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Identifier
I thought I was buying topsoil, that is what he told me it was. Top soil is what goes on top of your yard when you are ready to plant grass, it is just an average dirt that will grow plants that are not too picky. This is clay and will not grow anything, I dare say most weeds would have a hard time in it. It is certainly nothing I would call topsoil.

I bought it back in March, but because of cold temps and record rainfalls, we have not been able to get out to spend any time w it til now.
Avatar for thommesM
May 22, 2020 6:27 AM CST
Name: Thomas Mitchell
Central Ohio (Zone 6a)
Composter
Composter
Unfortunately, I see that sort of thing too much and made that mistake a couple times. Unless I want fill dirt, I never buy anything that says topsoil. I always buy leaf mulch or compost. With topsoil they bring really nicely pulverized clay that looks like perfect soil and after one rain it gets clumpy. However, there are a lot of good things to say about clay: it has a lot of minerals that plants need, it holds water better than sand, and you can make pottery out of it. Seriously, clay is beneficial. Not sure how much of that stuff you have. I might think about letting it dry out some and then breaking it up back into some sort of dirt consistency and mixing it with the compost, though not too much! Maybe try three parts compost to one part clay?

Oh frak you got 15 yards of that stuff. I wouldn't line the bottom of the beds with that clay due to worrying about the bed draining. Maybe you could do layers of compost, clay, compost? heavy on the compost. The soil organisms will mix the substrates for you. Have any low places in the yard?

When I redid my garden I did the same thing. I sort of bought 50% top soil and 50% leaf mulch not really mixed. The beds that got mostly topsoil dried into clumps. The beds that got mostly leaf mulch reduced by 50% in the course of a season. So I've been topping all beds off with organic material, either homemade compost, shredded leaves, lasagna style composting. The soil organisms really did a good job combining the material. Unless we get a terrible drought, which we seem to do every summer now, the beds remain nice and loamy.
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Avatar for RpR
May 22, 2020 10:37 AM CST
Name: Dr. Demento Jr.
Minnesota (Zone 3b)
When it is dry, really dry, if you take some chunks and stomp on them how does it break up?

My South garden , especially where the roses are , clumps up; I dug some out to put roses in again and had to remove it and put fresh soil in (roses do not like old rose dirt).
I threw it into the veggie garden as clumps; when I hit it with the rake to break it up, I got smaller clumps.
When it is dry it turns into dirt but not compost like dirt, simply dirt that is from fine powder to bits the siae of a quarter.
If I mix mulch into the garden in spring, that part will be clumps of various size all summer . It will be "normal" not until the next spring due to the natural state of "topsoil" around here.
Too many people think "topsoil" will be like compost, unless you are in a area with a lot of sand, that is not going to happen.
My North garden has natural soil with a lot of sand, only after decades of adding mulch and shipping dirt from South to North, did its natural state get more clumpy, in areas .
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May 22, 2020 11:21 AM CST
Name: Christie
Central Ohio 43016 (Zone 6a)
Plays on the water.
Amaryllis Permaculture Sempervivums Roses Bookworm Annuals
Composter Hybridizer Cat Lover Garden Ideas: Master Level
Frillylily said:I thought I was buying topsoil, that is what he told me it was. Top soil is what goes on top of your yard when you are ready to plant grass, it is just an average dirt that will grow plants that are not too picky. This is clay and will not grow anything, I dare say most weeds would have a hard time in it. It is certainly nothing I would call topsoil.
I bought it back in March, but because of cold temps and record rainfalls, we have not been able to get out to spend any time w it til now.

"Topsoil" does not have any specs that go with it - they can call plain dirt topsoil. I would keep it and start layering compost on top of it. The earthworms and other micro organisms will do a lot of the mixing for you. And I would send a sample in for testing to your county extension office - it may have decent nutrients in it - clay often does. The extension office will send you a report and then you will know exactly what you've got.
Plant Dreams. Pull Weeds. Grow A Happy Life.
Avatar for Frillylily
May 22, 2020 12:12 PM CST
Missouri (Zone 6a)
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Identifier
I have tried contacting the extension office by facebook messenger and calling and I guess they are still closed, I cannot reach anyone. Shrug!

https://www.merriam-webster.co... "Rich layer of top most soil in which most plants have their roots", doesn't sound like clay to me Confused

@RpR When it is dry, really dry, if you take some chunks and stomp on them how does it break up? It doesn't break up, it just stays a very hard glob when I stomp on it. I cannot bust it up unless I slice it w a pointed shovel or mash it with a big cement block I had there. Grumbling
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May 26, 2020 12:43 PM CST
Name: Christie
Central Ohio 43016 (Zone 6a)
Plays on the water.
Amaryllis Permaculture Sempervivums Roses Bookworm Annuals
Composter Hybridizer Cat Lover Garden Ideas: Master Level
Ohio Stae extension office is still open - remotely. I think you can order the test from them, even if you are not in Franklin county, or Ohio. At least worth a try.
I thought my results would be delayed due to COVID, but they came right away,

https://www.osu.edu/search.htm...
Plant Dreams. Pull Weeds. Grow A Happy Life.
Last edited by cwhitt May 26, 2020 12:49 PM Icon for preview
Avatar for Frillylily
May 26, 2020 3:51 PM CST
Missouri (Zone 6a)
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Identifier
thank you.

We have decided to try tilling it up into smaller pieces and mixing it w the compost. Will update as we go along. Also it has been pouring rain everyday here, so this is all going very slow.
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May 26, 2020 6:44 PM CST
Name: Lee-Roy
Bilzen, Belgium (Zone 8a)
Region: Belgium Composter Region: Europe Ferns Hostas Irises
Lilies Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge)
In its simplest explanation, topsoil is any soil that lays on top (duhh D'Oh! Sticking tongue out ) and which is enriched with organic matter. This ofcourse depends on the subsoil and conesequently the mother material. So in that sense topsoil can be sand, silt or clay; depending.

Commercial topsoil however is usually a silty loam mixed with compost to provide the best middle ground (in contrast to sand or clay).
So if this is what you expected and he advertised, 'm afraid you've been scammed.

Rub it through your fingers, see if you can feel particles. If so, there's silt in it and if you can see the grains, there's sand.

Is this load different from your native soil? If so, I wouldn't use it anyway. Layering different soil types on top of each other impedes water movement leading to drainage problems.
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May 27, 2020 6:15 AM CST
Name: Larry
Enterprise, Al. 36330 (Zone 8b)
Composter Daylilies Garden Photography Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Garden Ideas: Master Level Plant Identifier
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Region: Alabama
If the load of soil hauled in was not different from the native soil why would you be hauling it in? I understand the comments about layering different types of soil causing water movement problems, I have read those articles. But people paying to have top soil hauled in might have awful drainage in the first place, very poor soil with awful texture and practically any soil hauled in would be an improvement. I think that is the basic reason there is such a product as "top soil".
People buying top soil expect it to be top quality soil, not just any soil scraped off the top of someones new building site. It would be wise to get a look and feel of the product being sold, before it has been delivered. Maybe at least discuss with the company hauling in the "top soil" that you are not just looking for "fill" but plan on growing a garden, or what ever you actual plans are so they understand exactly what type soil you are expecting to be delivered.
Last edited by Seedfork Jun 21, 2020 1:20 PM Icon for preview
Avatar for thommesM
May 27, 2020 7:21 AM CST
Name: Thomas Mitchell
Central Ohio (Zone 6a)
Composter
Composter
Good advice. When I call a supplier to order a product I'll discuss with them what the product actually contains. However, I still got burned the last two times, this season, that I received 'compost.' Vast differences in the same product less than a month apart in delivery. Best thing is to go look at the product if possible, but you still can't be assured that the sample they have for inspection is what you're going to get.

I bought some topsoil this past weekend for fill dirt. I told them that's what I wanted it for and the dirt was great for that. I also in the same load had compost delivered. Didn't really care if it mixed as I was going to mix what was left over of the top soil with the compost. The top soil was mostly clay, but in all seriousness, a really good clay that crumbles easily. The compost however, was still cooking, smelled like ammonia because too much nitrogen and, even in a bed mixed with the top soil and other compost, has elevated the soil temperature to 80 degrees compared to 60 degrees. I most likely killed off all my plants by planting in the mixture, but I had little other choice as the plants needed to get into the ground.
Everyone has something they can teach; everyone has something they can learn.

"America is the most grandiose experiment the world has seen, but, I am afraid, it is not going to be a success. "
— Sigmund Freud
Avatar for Ceckery
Jun 18, 2020 7:21 PM CST
Bellevue, NE
My natural soil here is mostly clay. Oddly my garden did great last year and my blackberries are loving it. I do try to mulch with grass clippings to keep it from drying out so quickly. I'm hoping to add in compost this fall. So I'd go for using it, at least partially.
Avatar for Dirtmechanic
Jun 22, 2020 1:41 AM CST
canada 4b (Zone 8a)
A simple home test for soil organic matter requires a self cleaning oven and a high precision scale. To prepare, take a quantity of test soil and dry it at a low temperature until it's highly dissecated and very dry. Weigh out a simple number like 100 grams. Crumble it finely so it can be spread out thinly on a metal cookie sheet. Blast it with heat from the cleaning cycle of the oven. Let it cool and weigh it again. The number of grams will be lower. The difference was the organic matter. Now to bring up the new dirt to a known but efficient level of OM you have a percentage to go by. And probably a stinky kitchen.
Last edited by Dirtmechanic Jun 25, 2020 2:32 AM Icon for preview
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Jun 22, 2020 2:03 AM CST
Name: Bea
Zone 8b Oregon (Zone 8b)
Amaryllis Heucheras Keeps Horses Hostas Houseplants Hummingbirder
Hydrangeas Keeper of Koi Lilies Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Region: Pacific Northwest Ponds
Lots of excellent advice coming on to help out with the soil dilemma .

In my garden I just added mushroom compost very rich in nutrients, available at compost yards and till it all together enough to keep it light and fluffy for good drainage. I built up all my raised beds with compost made with horse manure then added mushroom compost. If the dirt is powdery chunks, break them down and be sure you have time to set it in a a container or cover with a tarp to build up enough heat during the summer to kill any pathogens and weed seeds.

Dirtmechanic I tried to heat a batch of soil in my oven and it took me weeks to get the smell out of the house . Just saying😩😜 I'll never forget that smell...Scientifically it's a great idea if a heating system is outside. Try a meat smoker or barbecue they are outside...
I’m so busy... “I don’t know if I found a rope or lost a horse.”
Avatar for Frillylily
Jun 22, 2020 10:39 AM CST
Missouri (Zone 6a)
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Identifier
We have decided to have it hauled off and we found another load from someone else.
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Jun 22, 2020 10:41 AM CST
Name: Larry
Enterprise, Al. 36330 (Zone 8b)
Composter Daylilies Garden Photography Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Garden Ideas: Master Level Plant Identifier
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Region: Alabama
Let us know what the new load is like! Did you receive a refund?
Avatar for Frillylily
Jun 22, 2020 3:09 PM CST
Missouri (Zone 6a)
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Identifier
The new load is great, used a different person/ no refund, and will have to pay to have it hauled off. Sad
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Jun 22, 2020 3:54 PM CST
Name: Larry
Enterprise, Al. 36330 (Zone 8b)
Composter Daylilies Garden Photography Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Garden Ideas: Master Level Plant Identifier
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Region: Alabama
At least the new soil is great. I would have thought the first supplier would have at least picked the bad soil up...wish he could see the difference in the two products!

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