Building good garden soil : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

We have a garden plot about 100 ft. by 35 ft. It is on a gentle slope on the south side of a hill. We had it tilled last year, and did fairly good, but this is northern Missouri clay, the kind they build bricks out of! Last October, I had the entire plot covered with cattle manure and topsoil stripped form a cattle yard across the road. Real nice neighbor. There is a layer about 1 foot thick over the garden. We can start "working" the soil in April around here. I know there will need to be some more organic material incorporated into the soil. We have access to clean oak and hickory saw dust from an Amish sawmill close by. That can be mixed in.

Questions... Is there a soil test that will tell me if the soil is still "hot" from the manure. The manure will have been spread for six and half months by the time we get to working it. Any other ideas for things to work into the soil. We have talked about putting some of it by in cover crops and tilling them in as they mature. Is that a good alternative?


-- Rick Powell (, February 14, 2001


Rick, I live in southern Missouri (Ozarks) and I have been told that unless your compost is broken down as if it looks like dirt (kind of a black poweder) it is too hot to use. I have also been told that more than a couple of inches is all you need. I have never heard of a tester for checking the "hotness" of compost though, I would think that you would get a some kind of a odd reading with litmus paper. I would do a litmus paper test on soil that does not have manure vs. soil that has manure. As the manure leeches into your garden and would probably give you a more accurate measure of PH. If you PH was higher than 5-6 I would remove all the manure and till the soil. That may or may not bring down the PH. I would set the manure aside and allow it to cool. Cover it with a tarp as not to allow the nutrients to leech away or the matter to dry up and be useless. Hoped I helped. Sincerely, Ernest

-- Ernest in the Ozarks (, February 15, 2001.

Rick, I looked for the reference in The Joy Of Gardening, but I'll just have to remember what Dick Raymond said: something to the effect that you should "not use sawdust because it ties up the organisms that live in the soil, and they will eventually digest and process it, but that could take a couple seasons." I recall that he DOES recommend hay, or grass clippings, or manures, although these may produce unwanted weed seeds (that's not a concern at THIS point). Two things you might-could-do at this juncture, are AERATE the manure by tilling immediately. Also as soon as you do, you may as well plant an additional GREEN MANURE crop, such as buckwheat, which you can till under (first) a couple weeks before final planting, and then till again (second)immediately before planting your crop. Buckwheat provides an easily digested organic matter. (And SOMETHIN'S gonna start growing there, just as soon as the plowing gets done. I'm getting anxious for that first tilling this year... always gets the juices flowing. Gotta wait, though... still too cold in NJ. I like to till once when the ground thaws, and then once more the day of planting. You were smart getting your manure in last year, so it could be breaking down in the soil all this time. We grew some phenomenal corn on old cow manure last year. Wish you luck.

-- Action Dude ! (, February 15, 2001.

Rick we also bought a farm in North Missouri 4 years ago. Like you we had an area of our garden on hillside with one corner that was very low with lots of small rocks in clay. We sifted our soil in that area with wire to remove stones and added about 24 inches of compost out of an old goat barn that a neighbor had given us. We mixed this with straw and piled about 3 feet deep in the low area. The next year we tilled this and added several inches of leaf litter chopped up along with 2 bales of peat moss. The following year we planted twice with buckwheat and tilled under as cover crop. Now that corner is one of the most productive in our garden patch and no longer a low area.

-- sally (, February 16, 2001.

The traditional way of improving clay is to add sand in addition to your manure. The sand is for the texture, not the fertility. To see if it's too hot , you could bring in a shovel full and start some different kinds of seed in it just to see what happens. It's probably that time of year in your area anyway- lucky you. We still have feet of snow and a 20 below zero night tonight.

-- Peg (, February 16, 2001.

Drop a half dozen bait cups of worms into it and let em go. They'll digest the sawdust and cool down the manure also. Its amazing what they can accomplish in a season.

-- Jay Blair in N. AL (, February 17, 2001.

The manure is fine on the garden as long as you are not planting for 6 months as that is how long it will take it to leach.adding wood shavings as long as they are fine is a good idea as they will help get air into your soil.I wouldnt add sand [ as they use to say in soil class what do you get when you mix sand and clay? bricks]. Dont add the shavings unless you add manure as the shavings tie up the nitrogen in the soil until they break down.The buckwheat and worms are a good idea to.Your soil should be fine this spring and if it hasnt worked in anough you can till and water well to finish the leaching process.

-- kathy h (, February 20, 2001.

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