[Market-farming] Hard soil inside the High tunnels

Marlin Burkholder glenecofarm at planetcomm.net
Mon Nov 22 22:17:17 EST 2004

  While this "High Tunnels" thread is going strong, I have yet another question I would like to insert.  In 2000 I built my first permanent hoophouse.  I chose the site primarily because of it's proximity to the house and water supply and because it fit well into the building landscape.  The soil on the site was of high sticky clay content, not my best soil.  I reasoned that because of the high cation exchange content of dominantly clay soils, I would eventually be able to build it into a highly productive soil by the diligent application of compost.

  It is now four years later, and despite what I thought was a valiant attempt to improve the soil by yearly deep digging in of compost and earthworm castings, I am still a little underwhelmed by the quality of the soil inside that hoophouse.  Rather than acquiring a soft crumbly structuture, the soil has gravitated more towards an aggregate of hard gravel sized clay lumps mixed with a dark brown dusty, almost gritty residue which I presume to be the remains of the compost applications.   When I began to dig up the beds this fall,  I found the soil to be tight, and it dug up as head sized mottled red and brown clods that were difficult to break apart.  I ended up loading up most of these clods into a wheelbarrow and dumping them outside the hoophouse.   There they will be exposed to freezing temperatures this winter which I hope will soften them up.  I then replaced this soil with an equal volumne (about 15 wheelbarrow loads in 220 square feet) of fresh compost and worked it in once again.  Despite all my efforts, I still feel like I am working with dirty gravel instead of real soil.

  Could it be that the lack of normal freezing and thawing of the soil inside the hoophouse during the winter, and the baking effect of summer's heat be the cause of the hard soil?  I have had some kind of mulch (old hay or cardboard) on the soil during the summer, and usually a pretty good gound cover of salad greens during much of the winter.  I walk on the beds as little as possible.   I wonder if this isn't a common problem for hoophouse growers.

  Marlin Burkholder
  Virginia Shenandoah Valley

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