The Great Soil Disaster

Sorry for a lack of posting, I have been so busy tending the homestead that I haven’t had time to write about tending the homestead.  🙂

It has been officially decided, this year’s garden will go down in history as “The Great Soil Disaster of 2013.”  Too dramatic?  Well, maybe.  But I am Italian, and we like to be dramatic.  🙂

After several weeks of trial, error, and “digging” for clues we have determined the exact problem with the garden.  It is definitely the soil.

I’ll give some background for those who haven’t been following us very long.  This spring we built the first garden at our new farm.  Last year we moved in too late in the season to do a garden.  Due to the long cold winters we have here, the manure we had been collecting from the animals since last fall had not fully composted in time for it to help us fill the new garden beds.  So we knew we had to buy all our dirt/compost.  We decided to buy it in bulk since it would be more eco-friendly (not throwing away a zillion plastic bags that held dirt), and because it was less expensive.  We found a garden center and bought from them what they suggested to be the best garden bed mix – 75% topsoil and 25% compost.  We hauled and filled the whole garden with it (300 something square feet, 1 foot deep).  After the first watering I began to worry.  The top of the soil seemed kind of clay-like and not very absorbent, and when it dried it formed a crust.

We went ahead and planted.  Turnips, Beets, Spinach, Lettuce, Peas, Beans, and Carrots went in the ground as seeds (over 2000 of them).  And Cabbage, Brussel Sprouts, Sage, Rosemary, Basil, Nasturtiums, Marigolds, Pumpkins, Zuccini, Winter Squash, Onions, Garlic, and Asparagus all went into the ground as seedlings or starts.

Then the waiting began.  The waiting for the seeds to sprout.  Every morning I gave my dirt a good watering.  First the turnips came up, then the beets, then some peas.  But not many peas.  I planted something like 900 (I don’t have my records in front of me right now).  Only about 30 peas came up.  And then nothing, and nothing, and more nothing.  For 3 weeks now each morning I have been doing what I refer to as “watering the dirt.”  Every morning our renter walks by on his way to work and asks if I am still insisting on watering the dirt.  Yup, I am.  And nothing else has sprouted.  WEEKS later.  NOTHING.  It has been between 3-6 weeks since these things have been planted and I have not had even one lettuce, spinach, carrot, or bean sprout.  Not one!  And there were a few extra bean seeds so we planted them over in the field near the squash heap/pumpkin patch and all of them have sprouted without so much as a little care!

The seedling put in the garden are alive, but not really growing much since transplantation.  And the onion starts are all dead and dry.  The asparagus are doing pretty well, but they have a totally different soil than the rest of the garden.

So I went digging for clues.  I gave the whole garden a thorough watering and then ten minutes later went to where I knew there were bean seeds and began gently digging.  I was very disappointed to find that only about the top 1/8 inch of the soil was wet.  And everything underneath that was very dry.  Dry as a bone.  And there I found my bean seeds.  Dry and waiting in the ground for water so they could sprout.  AAAARGH!  So I immediately watered twice as thoroughly and waited a bit and then dug again.  SAME THING!  The water is not going more than 1/8-1/4 inch down into the soil.  And the top of the soil has a clay-like texture.

So we have identified the problem.  And we clearly know that we need a soil overhaul next season.  But is there anything we can do at this point to save the garden for this year?  We have over 2000 seeds in the ground just waiting to sprout if given water.  We can’t do soil overhaul now and still save the seeds that are planted.

We have one idea of what we can try.  At this point it can’t be much worse, so who cares if what we try “ruins” the garden, it’s done at this point anyway.

Our current plan is to use a sprinkler system and literally drown the garden, hoping that if we over-water like crazy it will sink in.  We bought it today, and I set it up and it is currently watering.  I’m going to go out in a while and dig and see what I find.

I SO hope this works!!!

8 thoughts on “The Great Soil Disaster

  1. Ugh!! So awful! I don’t know if you have a big tiller but till the clay soil under at the end of the season. I had clay in IL but a good tilling and some compost helped me. Good luck!


  2. So glad you came by and encouraged me in my chicken dilemma, now I hope I can encourage you in your soil dilemma… We got a load of topsoil one year and it did that very same thing formed a crust, almost like cement all over the ground. It was awful!

    We’ve been experimenting with mulch which sometimes you can get a large load for free from guys who cut down trees and shred them. You might like to watch the Back to Eden film…
    I have a link here…

    Another thing I would add right away is peat moss and vermiculite. Take a look at what I did with my potatoes this year…I not only put this mixture in pots, but in rows in the garden.

    This is the first time I’ve ever used vermiculite before, but I think this would really help your soil. Perhaps if you dug some trenches next to the rows of seeds you have and try to work it in around your seeds, it would help absorb the moisture.

    Hope this helps…

    I love your header picture. My dream is to live in the mountains. You are so blessed!


  3. I hope drowning works. I’ve heard if a house plant gets soil that won’t take up water, setting it in a bucket of water to water-log it works so your idea to flood your garden this year sounds like it my work. Good luck!!!!


  4. Something that might help get the water down into the soil is to punch holes in it with a cultivator or pitchfork. Just repeatedly stabbing the dirt.

    As you are able, peat moss and vermiculite, just as Shadowlilies suggested. Both work to fluff the soil and make it more capable of pulling in water, and both (once wet themselves) hold water to help keep the soil moist.

    You can add a lot of both. In Square Foot Gardening, the soil mix is 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite (preferably coarse), and 1/3 mixed composts. But the key to using peat moss and vermiculite is to put them in, add water, and mix, mix, mix. Add more water, and mix, mix, mix. It’s exhausting, but once it’s wet, it’s easy to keep it wet with normal watering.

    If you have to remove soil to add peat moss and vermiculite, you could build another garden! 😀


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