Author Topic: Compost and manure not improving soil condition. What to do?  (Read 708 times)

newspud9

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Compost and manure not improving soil condition. What to do?
« on: September 29, 2018, 12:52:41 »
I’ve just lifted a pretty poor crop of potatoes from a bed that I added extra compost and manure to following the cold winter and long spell of no rain which followed it.  The area has a reasonably high clay content and over 8 years I’ve added a fair amount of muck and compost…but clearing the bed today, there are still massive clumps of compacted soil.  And when I rake over, it's probably only a few inches before I hit solid ground. Are there some conditions that simply wont improve no matter how much you add or which are too vulnerable to the cold/hot-dry extremes we had this year? What’s the answer…build a raised bed on top…or?   Thanks for all the advice.

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Compost and manure not improving soil condition. What to do?
« on: September 29, 2018, 12:52:41 »

Tee Gee

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Re: Compost and manure not improving soil condition. What to do?
« Reply #1 on: September 29, 2018, 14:27:56 »
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I’ve just lifted a pretty poor crop of potatoes from a bed that I added extra compost and manure to following the cold winter and long spell of no rain which followed it. 

I think this is mainly down to the long HOT dry summer we have just had and it would seem to be that even the commercial people are complaining this year bout the low quantities they are getting. ( or is it a ruse to up the prices?) so not your fault in my opinion

The only preparatory work I would have done differently from what you did would have been to dig in the manure in, in autumn rather than spring.

Doing this keeps the worm population happy during the winter months as they regurgitate the manure and the snow & rain over the winter soaks into the humus,meaning less watering. I never water potatoes although I was tempted to do so this year but didn't

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The area has a reasonably high clay content and over 8 years I’ve added a fair amount of muck and compost…but clearing the bed today, there are still massive clumps of compacted soil. 

You have done the right thing in my opinion and compacted soil is again possibly the result of plant life sucking every drop of water from the humus rich soil. The hard clods are quite possibly dried out humus rich lumps of soil reminiscent of making clay bricks out of clay & straw manure (or as in Africa Elephant dung) as opposed to Horses & Cattle dung!

As an alternative you could consider 'double digging' which is "bloody" hard work. So in other words dig down rather than raise you soil up to get the same effect! This link is my slant on it:

http://www.thegardenersalmanac.co.uk/Content/D/Digging%20techniques/Digging%20Techniques.htm


Quote
When I rake over, it's probably only a few inches before I hit solid ground.

Are there some conditions that simply wont improve no matter how much you add or which are too vulnerable to the cold/hot-dry extremes we had this year? What’s the answer…build a raised bed on top

I think I have answered this above!

I hope that helps...Tg

ancellsfarmer

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Re: Compost and manure not improving soil condition. What to do?
« Reply #2 on: September 29, 2018, 16:45:35 »
Hi Newspud,
I see from your members profile, despite your monica, you are in fact a member of 9 years standing. I am interested in more background information as to your progress with your plot, the kind of cultivation you have practiced, soil type , location etc. How would your plot be regarding a soil profile? See :
https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/ssa/soil-facts/horizons
Perhaps , with more information, it will be possible for us all to assist; and I don't mean descend in quantity with a spade each!!
Freelance cultivator qualified within the University of Life.

Paulh

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Re: Compost and manure not improving soil condition. What to do?
« Reply #3 on: October 01, 2018, 08:22:08 »
Like you. I am on clay. I took on my plot about 11 years ago, when the site had lain unused for some years and was grassed over. So it has a turf layer, top soil of about 6" and then hard clay subsoil / natural layer. Clay can form a very hard surface - a "pan" - which is hard to break and affects drainage.

I've brought it gradually into cultivation using a sort of one-and-a-half dig: strip the turf off one end of the area you are working on, and then remove the top soil from half or more of it. Now break up the subsoil and add to it the turfs that you now take from the next bit. Place these face down and use a spade to break them up and mix into the subsoil. Now fork the next bit of top soil onto that (you can mix in compost too). You then move down your new bed in this way. Remove perennial weed roots as you work.

I've combined or supplemented this with digging trenches for runner beans in the same way, but I've not felt the need o prepare these to that extent for the last couple of years as the soil is now fairly well cultivated and moisture retentive.

Generally I dig in all the compost I can where I will be growing squash or legumes next and I've had a share of some well-rotted (or less so!) loads of manure , though I think I should probably get some more in now.

The soil is pretty good but when digging my potatoes this year I was finding it compacted beneath the potatoes, so I may have to get digging proper bean trenches again! The potaoes were smaller and fewer, but I'm sure that was the lack of watering. I'll have to work harder on that if we have another hot summer next year.

newspud9

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Re: Compost and manure not improving soil condition. What to do?
« Reply #4 on: October 02, 2018, 21:10:56 »
Thanks to all for the helpful advice and link to the soil-profiler at Sheffield.  Difficult to assess in terms of my own plot but I would say a less than average depth to the topsoil and a difficult to work subsoil. However, within a relatively small space, the plot has areas of medium clay, through to low clay content and, where I’ve been reasonably lucky (but also worked it hard), loam to fine.  I think what puzzles me is the inconsistency of some areas which seem to go from “co-operative” to downright bloodyminded in a single season.    Over the 9 years, I’ve worked it reasonably equally trying to improve soil structure with a full 12” deep dig and turn each year (maybe I’m over-digging?) and adding compost, well-rotted manure, green manure etc.   I’ve never rotavated…maybe I should get one?  Over the years I have found that covering with plastic over winter makes the soil much easier to work in spring than leaving it to the elements. The plot is slightly sloped which doesn’t help when we have a downpour.  Progress has been slow due to the usual reasons and now that I’m not as young or fit as I used to fool myself into thinking that I once was, Tee Gee’s double-dig option is the kind of thing to put me 6 feet under…so probably wont take that route.  Like all of us, when the soil condition is working well, the yields are satisfactory, but the soil seems very quick to take offence if it’s unusually warm or cold…but I guess that’s no different from most.

ancellsfarmer

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Re: Compost and manure not improving soil condition. What to do?
« Reply #5 on: October 03, 2018, 07:56:55 »
Soil structure is what varies then?,
I would address this by not digging at all. Except to remove Digeroo's nettles.(!)
Certainly not rotovate, don't mince your worms -or nettles! The seedbank of weeds is best left buried.
Add more compost/manure. Hoe at every option
Use the paths , leaving the beds at a higher level for drainage, for access. Walk on the beds only when your step does not leave an imprint. Hoe between  rows after planting, I use a light 3 prong cultivator, leaving the surface able to absorb air ,rain , sunlight
 If you are at a point of surface water collection, consider how it may be led away or grow celery. Include some deep rooting crops /plants to penetrate into the subsoil, they will follow worm burrows , the plants will bring up minerals to the surface. Try and establish plants well, with initial  watering, until they show that 'I've got a grip' look then let them go down deep for water. Surface watering is needless, in fact counterproductive, for established plants. It encourages surface rooting which is hardest hit in seasons such as this year.
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BarriedaleNick

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Re: Compost and manure not improving soil condition. What to do?
« Reply #6 on: October 03, 2018, 13:10:37 »
I have the same feelings sometimes!  I am on solid clay.  Not really a clay soil just solid clay (my mate makes pots from it!) and no matter what I do to it - it still reverts to clay.  I have poured literally tonnes of manure and organic materials on the beds (I have raised beds) and still after this year it looks like bricks in part.  It is hugely productive and fertile so I am not moaning but it is darn hard work.
The dry hot weather this year has not helped at all - what looked like decent soil in March is now solid but I am sure it will break up a bit when the rain comes.

Tee Gee

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Re: Compost and manure not improving soil condition. What to do?
« Reply #7 on: October 03, 2018, 13:32:23 »
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no matter what I do to it - it still reverts to clay.

Have you considered adding gravel  e.g pea gravel?

BarriedaleNick

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Re: Compost and manure not improving soil condition. What to do?
« Reply #8 on: October 03, 2018, 13:38:27 »
Not pea gravel Tee Gee..  Does it help a lot?
I have thought of sand but I have to barrow everything to my plot which is a way from the gate and sand is heavy!

Tee Gee

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Re: Compost and manure not improving soil condition. What to do?
« Reply #9 on: October 03, 2018, 13:46:02 »
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Does it help a lot?

I have never tried it Nick, no need on my loamy soil.

But I was just thinking it would turn your clay into marl so consequently it would aerate/loosen up the clay.

Might be worth while investing in say one bag of gravel and digging it in to see how it works for you!



Got this article from Wikipedia

Marl or marlstone is a calcium carbonate or lime-rich mud or mudstone which contains variable amounts of clays and silt. The dominant carbonate mineral in most marls is calcite, but other carbonate minerals such as aragonite, dolomite, and siderite may be present. Marl was originally an old term loosely applied to a variety of materials, most of which occur as loose, earthy deposits consisting chiefly of an intimate mixture of clay and calcium carbonate, formed under freshwater conditions; specifically an earthy substance containing 35–65% clay and 65–35% carbonate.[1] It also describes a habit of coralline red alga.[2] The term is today often used to describe indurated marine deposits and lacustrine (lake) sediments which more accurately should be named 'marlstone'. Marlstone is an indurated (resists crumbling or powdering) rock of about the same composition as marl, more correctly called an earthy or impure argillaceous limestone. It has a blocky subconchoidal fracture, and is less fissile than shale. The term 'marl' is widely used in English-language geology, while the terms Mergel and Seekreide (German for "lake chalk") are used in European references.


Scheme of the transitional lithotypes from mud (or mudstone) to lime (or limestone), illustrating the definition of marl (marlstone) as a mix of calcium carbonate and clay
The lower stratigraphic units of the chalk cliffs of Dover consist of a sequence of glauconitic marls followed by rhythmically banded limestone and marl layers. Upper Cretaceous cyclic sequences in Germany and marl–opal-rich Tortonian-Messinian strata in the Sorbas basin related to multiple sea drawdown have been correlated with Milankovitch orbital forcing.[3]

Marl as lacustrine sediment is common in post-glacial lake-bed sediments, often found underlying peat bogs. It has been used as a soil conditioner and acid soil neutralizing agent.

Paulh

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Re: Compost and manure not improving soil condition. What to do?
« Reply #10 on: October 03, 2018, 22:11:16 »
Newspud9,

I think you are doing the right things with the soil - keep putting organic matter in and don't kill yourself double digging.

The key may be this:

"Like all of us, when the soil condition is working well, the yields are satisfactory, but the soil seems very quick to take offence if it’s unusually warm or cold…but I guess that’s no different from most."

I've given up sowing salads and roots directly at the times suggested on the packets or in books. March, April, it won't come up - too wet and cold. May, June it struggles with flea beetle or bolts - too hot and dry. This year, only now in late September, October I've got great salad leaves - cut and come again lettuce, rocket, mustard, Greek cress, radishes, an the chard is magnificent. Most other plotholders on the site are closing down for the winter but my salads are just beginning!


newspud9

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Re: Compost and manure not improving soil condition. What to do?
« Reply #11 on: October 04, 2018, 12:15:30 »
A repeated thanks to everyone who posted.  Not only helpful suggestions but always good to know that I'm not doing something completely counter-productive.