Soil Amendments – Necessary?

As planting time arrives people often hear that it’s necessary to amend their soil before they can plant, if they expect to have a successful crop. Even in Armenia people with heavy clay soil think they can’t grow a garden (they’re too poor to pay for soil amendments).

We promise that you can have a great garden in any soil – without soil amendments!

Manure and/or compost introduce unknowns into your garden, including not knowing what nutrients you are getting, if any, and all too often other unknowns soon identify themselves as weed seeds, bugs, or diseases.

Mulching, or putting a layer of organic (or other) materials on the surface of your soil to help with moisture, heat, weeds, etc., actually makes weeding very difficult and very often provides a safe haven for pests also. We recommend your soil surface be bare.

How about adding sand to heavy clay soil – isn’t that important? We’ve heard and seen it written many times that heavy clay soil “must” be amended with 25% sand, or even more.

It’s true that sand can improve the properties of your clay soil, such as drainage, aeration, hardness, etc. However, a single 30’-long soil-bed of heavy clay soil contains about 3,500# of dirt in the top twelve inches! People rarely are prepared to expend the time, effort and cost to purchase, haul, apply, and mix 1,200# of sand into every one of their soil-beds. Would you do it??

Happily that is not necessary. You can improve your vegetable crops in clay soil by using sand, but it only takes a few pounds, not tons. Here’s how.

When planting seed, instead of planting directly from seed packet into the soil and then covering with clay soil, mix your seeds with sand in a ratio of 1 part seed to 100 parts sand. This works out to one teaspoon seed to 16 ounces of sand (actually that’s 1 to 96). This helps you spread the seed more uniformly in the soil-bed.

Spread the 16 ounce can of seed/sand mix carefully down the center of straight shallow furrows you’ve made the length of both sides of your soil-bed, near the ridges, with the HANDLE end of your hoe or rake.

Next, cover the seed/sand mix with sand, instead of the clay soil. For tiny seeds you’ll only need 1/16th to 1/8th inch of sand, and for larger seeds between 1/8th and 1/4th is better.

This makes it so much easier for your seeds to germinate, grow, and reach the light of day, without having to struggle against the hard, heavy clay that’s native to the garden.

All of this only requires a gallon or two of sand per soil-bed, instead of the 1,200# traditional gardening requires.

The third way to use sand in your clay soil-beds again only takes a few pounds per soil-bed, and can help your growing plants a great deal.

A day or two after watering, the clay soil will begin to shrink and crack. This is a real problem for your young plants, because their tiny roots will often be both broken and exposed to drying air.

As this begins to happen, and before your tender plant roots can be hurt, apply sand to the areas where cracks are beginning to appear. Water the sand into the cracks, and after doing this a couple of times, the cracking will no longer be a problem.

This is how we’re doing it here in Armenia. It will work for you also. Pictures of the process will be posted to the Mittleider Gardening Groups Yahoo Groups website within the next two days. Happy and productive growing.

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