This is my soil. Hard, almost hard as a rock, compacted clay. If I was a potter, or a brick maker, I would have a lifetime supply with which to work. It took a pick axe to separate this clod from the Earth.
Last fall, my son Walker helped me to remove the top eight inches of the 6.5′x20′ strip of parkway, break up the clods and put them through a 1/2″ screen and dump it back in.
I removed a ton of rocks. This took a few days, and was backbreaking, exhausting work, but, rewarding, as I believed I only had to do this job once and I would have manageable soil with which to plant a garden. A complete novice, I had no idea the earth is constantly pushing the rocks and clay up to the surface. I know now. Several folks have told me and I have seen it with my own eyes. There wasn’t a single rock bigger than a pebble six inches down when we got done with it. I could easily shove my hand in it. But, within a month or two, it was rock hard again. No matter that I have added several cubic yards of good planting mix and amendments, every time I want to plant something in the parkway, I have to get out the pick axe.
This old tool came with the house. Neighbor C.L. told me it’s so narrow on the wide end because it’s been used so much. I’ve certainly put it to work since starting my garden. I swear that anvil must weigh 10 pounds, and it’s all I can do to dig a basin-size hole in the clay to plant some milkweed or yarrow. You can see the groove where the pick separated the unwillingly clay.
Today, I dropped by Loree’s house (episode 16 of Late Bloomer) to pick up three Goose Plant milkweed plants. I didn’t have any, and they have these big, spike-y, translucent seed pods that are really cool, and like any good Monarch mother, I want to give my caterpillars as much variety as I can. Right now, I have four caterpillars and twelve milkweed plants!
I love the way it says on the instructions that, regardless of water and sun requirements, every plant wants “well-drained soil.” Ha! I dig until I’m exhausted, which usually means 14-18″ wide by 10″ deep for a 6″ potted plant, fill the basin with good soil and amendments, and hope there’s enough total cubic inches for the roots to be happy, and have to remember not to overwater it. That basin, filled with water, would take hours to soak in.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. (Well, yes, I am.) My connection to my dirt is what got me started on the garden path and Late Bloomer, so, I’m grateful. But, if I had it to do over again, I would install raised beds over the whole parkway and front yard. I removed this many rocks and hard clay from two medium-sized shovelfuls of dirt today…
…to plant this 6″ pot of common yarrow. Actually, I don’t know how they can call anything this lovely “common.”
William Bryant Logan, who wrote the poetic, prophetic, historical, highly recommended account of soil, “Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth,” knows a thing or two about clay. In fact, he devoted a whole chapter to it. I have no doubt this one clod is teeming with organic life.
It’s just that plants, especially vegetables, need good drainage for the roots. For now, I’m committed to displacing, disrupting and removing some clay here and there to create more space for my vegetables and flowers for beneficial insects. I hope the clay will forgive me for the interruption. It will be here long after I’m gone. Thanks for stopping by! – Kaye