Some areas in South Dakota, as well as other parts of the United States, have clay soils. IF you have clay soil, gardening is more difficult. The soil doesn’t drain well, and when it becomes dry, large cracks form. The ground can turn as hard as a brick.
Clay soil doesn’t have to mean that you can’t grow a beautiful garden. You will need to amend the soil so it is loamy, easy draining and full of nutrients. This takes some diligence and hard work on your part, because it doesn’t happen overnight. It can take months or years before your soil reaches this stage. There is some good news to this dilemma and that is you can still have a wonderful garden.
Till the Soil
Like all good garden soils, you need to till the ground. Don’t just do one pass and call it good. You need to continue tilling until all the clumps are gone and the soil is loose. Set the garden tiller to till at least a foot deep.
Once you have the soil worked up and looking good, add some manure over the top. You can use well-rotted manure from horses, cows, chickens and sheep. Do not use manure from domesticated animals such as dogs and cats, because they have a different diet. Till the manure of your choice into the garden area, making sure you incorporate it thoroughly into the soil.
If you have chickens running around in your yard, you can use them to your advantage. Simply put a fence around the entire garden area. Place your chickens inside and let them run. Chickens will improve the soil in two ways. They will scratch at the ground looking for food. By adding some organic material over the soil the chickens will shred this and scratch it into the ground because they are looking for something to eat. The other reason for doing this is that the chickens will leave their droppings over the ground. This makes it easier for you because you won’t have to scoop it up and haul it in. When the time comes to garden, simply move the chickens to another area.
Now add three inches of rotted alfalfa hay, straw, compost, leaves or grass clippings over the garden area. Till this thoroughly into the ground tilling at a depth of at least 6 to 8 inches. Manure adds nitrogen to the soil. This is important for plants to grow and be healthy. Even if you don’t have access to alfalfa or straw, simply save the grass clippings from your yard. Each spring and/or fall, when you rake your lawn of dead grass and leaves, add this to the soil. You can probably get the clippings from your neighbors lawn if they don’t garden.
Fill a coffee can half-full with gypsum and at the bottom of each hole you dig, pour this into the bottom. If you want to help an already established garden, broadcast the gypsum over the ground making the ground white with gypsum. It should look as if a light snow has fallen and covered the ground. Use soluble gypsum according to package directions. If you are an organic gardener, then use rock gypsum. The best thing about gypsum, is that you cannot add too much.
Gypsum helps break up the clay in the soil. Although most people use sand to help lighten the soil, this in not the best solution. According to Pat Welsh’s website page: Never Add Clay to Sand or Sand to Clay: states that the University of California and the US Department of Agriculture now say that adding sand is one of the worst things you can do to clay soil.
So no matter what kind of soil you have, it always seems to need something to improve it every year and throughout the growing season. Adding organic matter to any garden soil will improve it. If you do this every year, you will not only improve the soil, but also improve the health of your plants.