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Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

3 Steps to Amending Clay Soil (with Video)

By Alyssa Craft

Tags: garden planning, soil health, clay soil, videos, compost, biochar, mulch, Alyssa Craft, Idaho,

Gardening is not a topic we generally discuss, but today we wanted to cover it because we’re very excited about taking the first steps in growing our own organic food! We moved to our off grid property just eight months ago and while we haven’t yet built our home, we’re excited to get started on the garden!

Although we’re not very knowledgeable about gardening, we’re confident that one of the first steps to the process is amending our soil to ensure that plants and veggies have a fighting chance at survival once planted. In short, our soil contains a lot of clay, rock, and is extremely compacted. Awesome, right? But we love a challenge!

In the past few weeks, we’ve taken a few different steps to starting the soil amending process and thought we’d invite you to come along for the ride. Watch this video to see the different things we’re doing in hopes of having a great growing season this year!

Improving Clay Soil in a Nutshell: Adding Soil Amendments

For those of you that want a quick overview of what we’re doing, here it is in bullet points, but you’ll have to watch the full video for the nitty gritty details, and to see what other fun we’re having on our property!

Bringing in topsoil: While this probably isn’t critical, we do want to start gardening immediately so rather than slowly working on our soil over time, we thought that this step would catapult us into productivity. We also read that this will work its way down into the harder soil over time… score if that’s true!

Bringing in compost: Ideally, we’ll be building our own compost pile(s) on our property. Compost is not something that’s made overnight so we thought we’d bring in some instant-nutrients for our plants to soak up.

Making our own biochar: We’ve recently stumbled upon the benefits of biochar, and since we have so much biomass on our property (twigs, branches, cardboard, bones, etc.), we figured that we can turn it into biochar and use it as a soil amendment. Great info on this in the video, and we’re really excited to see how it works out for us.

Starting our own compost pile: A few weeks ago, we started our very own compost pile and while it doesn’t seem to be doing much yet, we hope the microbial activity picks up as the weather warms. Hopefully, we’ll have some rich compost to add to our soil at the end of the season!

Applying a mulch covering: On our YouTube channel, everyone’s been ranting and raving about the Back to Eden gardening method and the no-till approach, so we decided to look into it. It seems that the basis of this idea is simply keeping the ground and soil covered in a mulch at all times. While woodchips are heavily promoted in this video, that’s not the mulch we’ll be starting out with. We’ll be publishing what mulch we went with (and why) in our next video.

improving and amending clay soil for planting

While we don’t claim to be gardening gurus, we do hope that over time, our soil will become incredibly rich and that we can learn to create the environment necessary for a thriving garden. Follow our blog and social media channels to stay updated on our progress!

Alyssa Craft moved to Idaho after purchasing 5 acres of land where she will build an off grid homestead from scratch. She is blogging about the journey from start to finish in hopes of inspiring others that wish to take a similar path. Follow her many DIY projects including building with reclaimed materials, building an off-grid hot tub and milling lumber with an Alaskan chainsaw mill. Keep up on the journey by following her blog Pure Living for Life, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube channel. View Alyssa’s other MOTHER EARTH NEWS articles here!

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4/7/2016 5:39:05 AM

Having gone through a lot of this before myself, here in Kentucky, I've been pretty successful in using a method called "hugulkultur" in getting past having to till or dig my garden. It incorporates a lot of paper (a good way to recycle any paper you come across) and logs or branches. It helps to stabilize the moisture content of the raised bed and it also draws worms to the bed which help digest things like mulch that you add to the bed. It is great for soils that are clay. I still dig a bit - but nothing like before.

4/6/2016 11:47:43 AM

When I moved to my current location I had pure red clay where the garden needed to go. I was fortunate enough to get several pallets of markdown top soil, composted manure, a little peat moss, and both pine and hardwood bark mulches. I worked those into the clay as a starting place and over time have added compost along with mulching to build and keep the soil healthy.

4/6/2016 10:57:40 AM

Cool, I'm using similar techniques. I'm in the GA piedmont and the clay is sooooo deep, severely eroded and compacted like cement! I'm on season 3 for my "big garden" and I've used compost, and moved good dirt I've found digging out the out buildings, and made raised beds, and compost, and ashes from fires. It's slow going for me, but I keep at it. It's in my vlog. It's cool that you both are so into it. You really need everyone on the same page, I find that I'm the only one into it and do all the work myself, while still trying to do wife and mom stuff. So, for me my dreams and ideas had to meet with reality, which isn't always what we want to hear, but I'm still able to achieve much of my original vision, just really slowly. Good luck and great video!