[Market-farming] Garden covering

waldenfarm waldenfarm at bellsouth.net
Thu Oct 14 10:21:59 EDT 2010


Sounds like a real challenge there!

What we tend todo/have been trained to do, is respond to challenges by 
coming up with ways to force our will on the situation and "make it right." 
I know this well because I've spent many years "fighting" my way through 
these. It took many years to put together enough info and analysis to come 
to the conclusion that I needed to work with what I had- to understand my 
soil, plants and growing situations. And then to blend in, become a part of 
the land and not the master over it. Does this make sense?

But enough Zen. How about applications?

To start, we need to know about the soil texture(s) of our farms. Soil 
texture is the relative amounts of sand silt and clay. knowing this is the 
key to soil management. You said you have a "heavy clay loam". Clay loam 
soil is a soil that has up to 25% clay, 30- 50% silt and the rest sand. If 
you're not sure of the percentages of soil particles, you can consult your 
county soil conservation office. They have soil maps that will give you a 
good idea of the texture.

Once you know this, you know what you're working with. In soils with high 
clay and high sand and/or silt content (mine is sand & silt with no clay) 
organic matter (OM) becomes critical. In a relatively high clay soil, OM 
makes the soil more porous and speeds up water movement through the soil. 
(In sandy/silty soils, it makes retains water which drains fast in this type 
soil.) I recommend that people with these soils add OM from compost, etc. 
until their OM percentage reaches 7 to 8%. This can be done over time. Also, 
add the OM material to the surface or mix into the top 2 to 4 inches. Don't 
do as people used to say- "Bury or mix it in as deep as you can." The 
aerobic soil life, especially in a clay soil, is concentrated in the top few 
inches. That's who uses this as a food source and builds a stable soil 
structure that "opens up" a clay soil.

As far as tillage, It is necessary (and difficult) in a clay soil. I would 
use a chisel plow or pasture renovation knives if you don't have the 
horsepower for chisels. (If you have a rototiller, start using it just for 
surface cultivation- to knock down weeds and chop & mix in cover crops just 
deep enough to incorporate them in the soil. You already have an 
understanding of when to do tillage, based on moisture content.

Another thing to consider is going to a bed or wide row system. That way you 
can put your OM only where you'll be growing and you can cut down on 

The next thing is to get an understanding of soil structure (soil life 
creates this) so you will know when & when not to do tillage. The best way 
is to look at a soil like yours that has good structure and compare it to 
yours. That's the only way I could get it into my head.

Minerals- If you need to add calcium, use gypsum instead of lime. Also, work 
towards shifting your Magnesium level to the low end of the Ca-Mg balance. 
Mg is "sticky" and adds to the "tightness of a clay soil.

This may seem burdensome and parts (or all) hard to understand, but 
appropriate soil management is of prime importance in any agricultural 
system. The more you know, the better you can manage, as in any system. Your 
county soil office and the NRCS are good sources for info, Also ATTRA.

Good luck and good farming!

Alex McGregor
Walden Farm
Waldens Ridge, TN

On Sun, Oct 10, 2010 at 1:32 PM, rbuck <rbuck at pacifier.com> wrote:
> Hi folks,
> I live in an area that gets 60-100” of rain between early Oct and late
> June. My soil is heavy clay loam. I’d like to be able to get onto my
> garden with a tractor in late fall and early spring in order to work the
> soil but I’m concerned about compaction and other problems working wet
> clay. I had thought to cover the ground with black polyethylene plastic to
> divert the water during the winter but I’m wondering if there are 
> downsides
> to doing so. Would this negatively impact the biota in the soil or cause
> salt build up? Could there be a negative chemical interaction between the
> soil and plastic where contact is made?
> Any thoughts or advice would be appreciated.
> Best regards,
> Roy 

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