Improve Clay Soil

Hey, good morning, it’s Jason again here at Fraser Valley Rose farm, and I wanted to talk today about clay and heavy soil I’m talking about amending soil and what I’ll discuss here could probably be apply it across a wide range of soils, but Heavy soil is what I have. So heavy soil is basically what I’m going to talk about I made a video maybe a year ago on how to do the Jar test to figure out what your proportions of the minerals components in your soil are whether they’re Sand silt or clay and from that test you can determine what actual soil you have and that’s a great test and I really do suggest you do it but it’s just for your information because you probably already know you have heavy soil and the Question that follows that is what do I do about it? That’s the that’s the main thing you’ll want to know so today I’m going to go through some samples of soil from my garden that I’ve Amended over time some less, some more I’ll show you how it that affects it over time, especially what the wood chips do to it I’ll show you some amendments that you can do to make your soil a little better for a wider range of plants Okay, I’ll try to keep a steady hand as I show you these samples from my garden this first one here This is the top end and this is the bottom end is basically my unimproved soil you can see from the The way that the Spade cut through it it kind of is smooth. And yeah, you know, that’s heavy It’s got a clay content that’s probably just shy of classifying it a clay soil But I haven’t added anything to this on a regular basis. The only thing I’ve left is the crop residue at the top there So you can see there’s a little bit of organic matter at the top. But basically this is the unimproved condition of my soil and yeah, it’s very firm comes in big chunks, so That’s a heavy soil the next one here, I have improved by adding wood chips and wood chips over the course of Just about five years now so you can see on the top end here those are the almost uncomposted at the top here from below that you have a slightly more crumbly slightly more Darker and a better structure and if you go to the bottom of the sample Even though it is still like my native soil over here. It is a slightly darker color and I think from top to bottom It’s going to improve over time Here’s a third sample and I’m cheating on this one – going back in time. This was actually improved by the previous owner rather Unintentionally this sample was taken from right around the barn. They had horses here and I’ve continued to amend it with woodchips that you can see at the top here but you can also see that up and down the whole length of the depth of this It is much improved very crumbly In fact, if you look at these ones here, they held their shape of the Spade as they came out this one here crumbled when it came off of my shovel and you Can see that there are still chunks here that are clayish. So it comes from the same mother material comes from the same From the same soil but over time those pieces have become Less common within the profile of the soil and its overall it’s improved by quite a lot and that’s so this one here’s with the addition of wood chips over the course of say five years to the top end this one is an unknown period of time but adding wood chips from me and Animal compost or animal manure from from the previous owners of the property Alright before I go into detail on some of the amendments in ways that I improve soil in my yard I just wanted to warn you off of one of them, or maybe not warn you off But at least give you the full details Which is a lot of people recommend when dealing with heavy soil to amend with gypsum Or I guess it’s a calcium sulfate and unless you’ve done a soil test unless you know This is gonna help you. I wouldn’t recommend it. There’s some good articles online. I’ll link them below the video here To show that in most cases unless you’ve done the soil test It’s not going to help you with this kind of situation We’re talking in case you have sodic soil, then it can help but in most situations Gypsum is not going to help you out All right, let’s go through some of the amendments here And the first one I want to talk about a little more in depth is the wood chips now I get these from local Landscape companies you can use a service like Chip Drop or something like that Where they can arrange to have chips brought out to you I just have a local landscaper here who dropped off a whole bunch and they do so Willingly because it’s a great way for them to get rid of the wood chips Some of the alleged downsides of using wood chips I’ve heard from people is that it robs nitrogen from the soil that hasn’t been my experience or at least I haven’t noticed any major deficiencies or different needs between Areas where I’ve chipped it and have not So take that with a grain of salt I’m sure somebody can debunk that more thoroughly The other ones I’ve heard is that they either harbors pests like insects and slugs and again in my experience it hasn’t made a major difference in the garden a second one you can obviously go to are things like finished compost like I have here, but obviously Animal manure is fine, leaf mold Any kind of organic matter you want to add will definitely improve the condition of your soil over the length of time the third one I talked about in another video was wood ash and these little chunks of charcoal that the unburned bits from your wood stove Can actually improve the condition of your soil dramatically over a length of time it helps to condition the soil plus it’s a fertilizer And it’s the powdery stuff adds a lot of fertility to the soil. This last thing I wanted to point out here is actually comfrey It just took a chunk out of my garden here and you can see even though it’s the middle of winter that there are green shoots coming up from this already the way I use comfrey is I plant it and then It has deep roots that go way down into the soil and break up this clay soil But also it brings up nutrients into the leaves and every once in a while when it gets too robust in the garden I just chop down the leaves and Put them in a spot in the garden where I’d like to improve the soil It turns into a kind of a blackish brownish cover Quite quickly and really does serve to improve the soil dramatically now one caution about using comfrey is that if you just go and dig a patch of Comfrey from the wild or from the roadside or whichever It’s not going to be this type of comfrey the type I use is ‘Bocking 14’ comfrey, which is a sterile comfrey It doesn’t spread around so much by seeds So I would recommend if you if you can find it to take the trouble to get the stare out comfrey I have a really easy time of controlling where that goes in my garden I can I can get rid of it or take it out of areas. I don’t want it whereas if you put just the natural wild comfort in you’ll introduce a bunch of seeds into your garden and That may be a lot harder to control Alright thanks for joining me today on the topic of improving heavy soil. I guess I’ll mention the last thing here Is that aside from improving your soil one thing that would be a really good approach is adopting two plants that do well in a heavy soil like for me, I grow lots of roses and Happily they do pretty well in a heavy rich soil As long as it’s not a an impenetrable clay, you should be able to get along with plants like that There’s a whole list of plants you can just google them as you know Ornamental plants for heavy soil or clay soil or edible plants for clay soil if there’s any demand for it I’ll do some videos on those topics separately and The final approach you can do if you really must have plants that don’t do well in a heavy clay soil raised beds Alright, thank you so much for watching. If you have any questions or comments, please leave those below the video

19 thoughts on “Improve Clay Soil

  1. This is a brilliant video. I have a question; how much of the planting area should I amend? Just the immediate area that I am planting in? Or the entire garden bed.

  2. To say that wood chips 'rob nitrogen from the soil' is not exactly a lie … but it is certainly not true, either!  Wood does not contain much nitrogen, but it DOES contain large amounts of carbon, which is what you will want to add to clay to get a good growing medium.  Like charcoal, wood will absorb water soluble minerals, much like a sponge, and release them over time as it decomposes … sort of like a 'time release' of fertility.  The rate at which this occurs will be determined by the surface area of the carboniferous material, and microbiological activity (bacteria and fungi doing their thing) So, the smaller your material, and the more contact it has with the native clay, the quicker it will finish decomposing, and the sooner you will have improved soil.

  3. Robbing nitrogen from the soil using wood chips would actually indicate type of wood chip used. For instance you don’t want to use black walnut wood chips without a fertilizer mix. You would have to have that using black walnut. The other factor in this is. It isnt all wood chips that rob nitrogen. Definitely black walnut though it will actually cause nothing to grow. Stay away from black walnut chips.

  4. When amending, can I just lay the amendment on top or does it have to be mixed in? how often should it be added and when? I have perennials planted so I don't want to disrupt things too much but sometimes move things around so I have the opportunity to mix in. Thanks

  5. Recently I've cleaned up my back yard I stripped the weeds . I've just been turning the clay with the top soil and all of my grass clippings. I will grow tomatoes and other stuff in it next year. I hope it works. My worms seem to like it

  6. Straight up, I don’t fucc with the chemicals or idea of adding anything.
    I appreciate the knowledge in organics as well as ash.
    This is rad.

  7. I live by Grand Lake in NB and we have the heaviest clay I have ever seen. You can't even get a shovel in it without wetting it first. It even broke a tiller , so we have been doing raised beds and adding compost for the chickens to scratch through it. Do you have an opinion on Back to Eden gardening ?

  8. You Should clarify char and NOT Ash. Ash will make the pH of Clay soil even worse than it already is. The carbon will also rob what ever you're putting it into of nutrients until it becomes saturated.

  9. The nitrogen robbing statement comes from when wood chip is blended into the soil rather than applied to the surface. When used as a top mulch the nitrogen in the air 78% helps break down the chip. Great video! I also love using comfrey, I have a heavy blue mud type clay soil which is sloppy in winter and like a brick in summer. I use all the methods you presented and am hoping to make my own bio-char to speed things up.

  10. Can also use Lucerne ( aka Alfalfa ). It's considered a nitrogen fixer, with Roots growing up to 15m (though more commonly 2-3m). It's a Perennial (lives 10-20 years), that you can simply slash to use as a rich organic mulch. It's also very beneficial for attracting bees (used in lots of reforestation efforts to attract them).

  11. The wood chips only rob the soil of very much nitrogen when you mix them in. If you leave them on the surface, they don't take much nitrogen.

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