hazelinok

Soil help

hazelinok
5 years ago

My soil is a mess. I have figured out a few solutions, but have a couple of questions. (This is not worded well--I'm so tired)

Everyone talks about putting grass clippings on gardens for mulch and/or composting the clippings. What if my grass isn't just grass. It's many things--all sorts of grass and all sorts of weeds and all sorts of wildflowers. If I plopped a big ol mower bag of grass/weed/flower clippings on my garden, does it not have seeds and stuff that will cause grass and weeds to grow in my garden?

We have a chicken coop/pen. It isn't exactly a chicken tractor, but it can be moved with a truck or the riding lawn mower. We move it every 3 or 4 weeks. When the garden is finished for the season, would it be a good idea to put the chickens on the garden--let them poop there, brush their bedding there. Move them around to different locations on the garden? Most of the east garden is not raised beds. I have one there and will probably build another one before winter--we have to build them gradually because who has time? We don't. And quite honestly I'm tired of not having enough time to get my stuff done.

So, in all my rambling hopefully you--Wonderful Oklahoma Garden Forum--could pick out the two questions. Thank you.

A recent observation. Our church has a playground. It is covered in "mulch" to add a cushion for safety. It's just mulch from Minicks. I was out with children a few days ago and noticed that a few weeds had popped up. They pulled up easily. Not a bit of effort. I brushed back the wood mulch and the soil under that playground is AWESOME! It is perfect. Ten years of mulch (new added each year) and especially the areas where the leaves collect and stay all winter has made the soil just beautiful. Seriously. Let's pull out all the playground equipment and plant a garden.

Comments (45)

  • chickencoupe
    5 years ago

    1) Yes, but it would be better than leaving the ground unmulched. Other option is to hot compost and it doesn't sound like you have time. Remember, diversity is even healthier though it is a pain in the behind, sometimes.

    1. Yes. Chickens would do a lot of work and fertilize the soil and destroy weed sprouts. Rotation is key.
    2. I like the playground idea. Sounds like Back to Eden method. I think the kids would protest.

      You got this. You're doing great. Let's leave the playgrounds alone for now. A coupe needs to come first.

      bon
    hazelinok thanked chickencoupe
  • scottcalv
    5 years ago

    I put mulch under my daughter's swing set. I did not smooth it, but left it in piles. She said she wanted to climb the mountains. That was in the spring. It has beem pretty well played on until smooth by now! But the soil was bare, red, dry, lifeless, etc. Now it is pretty good under there. There are enough worms there now to dig for fishing. Mulch and no till are awesomely easy ways to improve soil.

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  • scottcalv
    5 years ago

    Oh! and one more thing. Our grass clippings are pretty much like yours. They go from the yard, then spend a good amount of time in the chicken houses, and then off to compost or layer on the garden. I do not get many weeds this way, but I do get a few. I suspect not nearly as bad as if I put them directly on the garden. I think the chickens pick out most of the seeds.

  • soonergrandmom
    5 years ago

    I don't put weeds or any clippings on mine but I add compost in Spring and a deep leaf mulch in the Fall. I tilled for a few years until I got the soil in fairly good shape, then I stopped tilling (almost). I still till where I plant potatoes, but just in the rows so it is easier to dig a trench. I would love to have wood chips, but even when the electric company contractor took down two trees in my yard, they wouldn't give me the mulch, and the compost available through my county is full of junk. We bought a pickup truck load of mushroom compost last Spring and my neighbors bring me leaves in the Fall. It's a win/win for both of us because they can deliver them to my yard and dump them much faster than they can burn them. They save time, we don't have to choke on smoke every day for weeks, and I improve my soil.

    hazelinok thanked soonergrandmom
  • johnnycoleman
    5 years ago

    I am convinced that growing a cover crop of winter (cereal) rye, hard red winter wheat, tillage radish and (inoculated) hairy vetch is the ideal start to reforming soil. We grew Dia de San Juan corn in the poorest soil I have ever seen after the above cover crop.

    I have used composted manure and sand to great effect also.

    hazelinok thanked johnnycoleman
  • authereray
    5 years ago

    johnnycoleman,

    I like your way of thinking. If you plant cowpeas on a plot and let them get full grown you can plow them under and it will help the soil also. I have witnessed what you are saying and believe it works. Vetch is little used nowadays but was once popular for building poor soil.

  • soonergrandmom
    5 years ago

    In some commercial farming they are changing from plowing to just rolling/crimping the cover crop and planting into it. The old crop provides mulch for the new crop while it also benefits and enriches the soil and the soil is never bare.

    Of course there are specialty pieces of heavy equipment for this purpose, but this guy came up with a method for smaller growers that was pretty interesting.

    Crimping

  • hazelinok
    Original Author
    5 years ago

    Thanks, everyone. So much help and great ideas!

    I did it. Went and got free compost from the City of Norman. Well...actually it was $10 because we elected to have the big piece of equipment grab a scoop and dump it in the truck. Took all of 2 minutes--much easier than shoveling.

    That stuff is steaming! It was still so hot as we shoveled it off the truck.

    Can it be placed around plants when it's so hot? We just put it in a giant pile to use once we get some new raised beds made. And I made 3 small piles by each raised bed too.

    I KNOW. I don't know what was used on all of that yard waste. I'm tired of being scared of everything, so I just went ahead and got the compost. Hopefully it won't kill my garden (next year).

    I think it's probably still steaming right now. Should I throw my kitchen scraps into it? My own compost piles aren't so hot. They steamed a little last year but they're really not hot--bugs are living in them...or were living in them. I used all the compost from last year and my new piles aren't so tall yet.

  • johnnycoleman
    5 years ago

    hazelinok,

    We got burned with some manure (stall muck) that contained persistent herbicides. It can even survive hot composting for some time. Our plot was toxic for two years to some broad leaf veggies.

    Someone told me to grow some bush beans in compost before applying it to a garden seed bed. If the beans grow well, it is safe to use.

    Please verify this with an expert. I'm not always right.

    Johnny

    hazelinok thanked johnnycoleman
  • Okiedawn OK Zone 7
    5 years ago

    Yes, Johnny's absolutely correct. Herbicide carryover is a huge problem whenever you bring in organic matter from an outside source.

    Don't be scared of the possibility of herbicide carryover being an issue, but do take the time to test your new compost (let it stop steaming first!) before you use it. It is a very simple process and you can use bean or pea seeds. Legumes are very sensitive to herbicide carryover, so the time spent testing to make sure it is safe is time well-spent. If you fail to test and your compost contains herbicide residue, it can take 1 to 4 years before your soil is usable again for most plants, and to make it happen quickly you have to do your own remediation work to fix the soil. Some of these persistent herbicides can persist for years in soil, manure, mulch and compost, and the residue can kill at very low levels---like 3 to 6 parts per million.

    I want to add that the very same broadleaf weedkillers that cause herbicide carryover are commonly used on the grassy areas of city parks and on golf courses to keep broadleaf weeds out of the grass. Don't you imagine that when cities mow their parks and golf courses that they likely collect the grass clippings and compost them? I bet they do, and that is why you need to test the compost before you use it. I'll link a page below that tells you how you can easily test your compost.

    Also, don't put hot compost around living plants or it can literally cook their roots and kill them. Keep it piled away from your plants and let it cook down enough that the heat has dissipated. It shouldn't take more than a few days to a couple of weeks for the worst of the heat to dissipate. If you have a soil or compost thermometer with a probe, you can check the temperature in the center of the pile daily and track it as it falls.


    How To Conduct A Bioassay of Compost For Herbicide Carryover


    hazelinok thanked Okiedawn OK Zone 7
  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
    5 years ago

    Actually, the persistent herbicides used by commercial applicators (road crews, parks, golf courses) are prohibited from inclusion in commercial composting operations. Any trimmings generated by these operations using those persistent chemicals must compost onsite and reuse their own compost. Sure, it is possible that some may slip through the cracks but it is far more likely that you will get feedlot debris or animal manures including the herbicides (used by farmers to treat pastureland) that may be contaminated (as johnny's experience) included in commercial compost.

    When in doubt, make your own compost!! That way you know and can be assured that the ingredients added are uncontaminated and perfectly safe.

    hazelinok thanked gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
  • hazelinok
    Original Author
    5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    Thanks everyone again.

    I'll test the compost.

    I do make my own compost, but this is a truck load! Mine takes so long and it's so little. I'm guessing that the return customers wouldn't return if the compost was ruining their gardens, but I also know that every pile is different. I saw several trucks driving around Norman with the compost in them--everyone had an excited look on their faces. haha.

  • scottcalv
    5 years ago

    I use it in my landscape business. I have put that compost all over the metro area. I have yet to see a problem with it for ornamentals. It is in my own personal veggie garden. All I can say is the seeds sprout and the transplants grow. Plants stay green with minimal watering. I watered once this year. I do understand about herbicide carryover so YMMV, but my experience has been good. I don't think I would use the mulch from there, though.

    hazelinok thanked scottcalv
  • soonergrandmom
    5 years ago

    Interesting soil video here. Soil

  • chickencoupe
    5 years ago

    great vids

  • johnnycoleman
    5 years ago

    Yes, we are focused on the vertical sectors with deep roots and subsoiling, when the soil is dry, in the Fall. It will fracture then.


    There are many cultural practices like designated traffic lanes and using lighter equipment.

    We planted 10 acres of arrowleaf clover and Austrian winter peas today. Both of them were inoculated. We are planning a nutrient cycling protocol that involves live stock and crops.

    Tillage radish is part of our plan to reopen the deeper sections of our fields. Eventually, we want to evolve into no till.


  • chickencoupe
    5 years ago

    I've had good luck with the austrian peas. I like those because even when the bunnies (or us) cut them, they spring back. Even in my soil I see some of the tillage radishes developing atop while their roots going all the way down. I suppose it'll take a few seasons. When I see that massive radish root in the soil, i suppose it'll be perfect.

  • johnnycoleman
    5 years ago

    Bon,

    I have seen soil improvement after just one year of tillage radishes. I planted them about one every 4 inches in every direction.

    Johnny

  • chickencoupe
    5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    This is going to sound gross as it involves dead wild animal, so don't read further if you don't want.
    +++++

    My dog killed a cotton tail last week while I was building a new hot compost pile. I remember thinking, Well, I'm hot composting, so I should put it in there.

    I promptly forgot about it until 3 days later when I was checking the pear tree nearby where it lay. I smelled a faint decay and remembered the rabbit. I saw it and that bugger was GONE, but the fur. Looked like someone threw a rabbit fur on the ground.

    Now, I keep thinking that it's a good sign of soil biology, but dang, they were hungry. 3 days? I'm thinking that's what happens with these tillage radishes as they rot, the soil microbes that are hungry get to feast for a change.

    Decaying giant mustard plants have done well for me, too. These really create a tone of biomass on the surface and roots.

  • hazelinok
    Original Author
    5 years ago

    Hey Everyone.

    I'm tired, so I hope this makes sense.

    I started to do the "test" that Johnny and Dawn talked about. I got it all ready, but the compost is still really warm--not steaming-- where I took it from the pile. Is warm compost bad to put pea seeds into? I scooped out enough for the test and put it in a bag to cool off. How long should it cool before planting the peas for the "test".

    :) Thanks.

  • johnnycoleman
    5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    Wait until the compost is normal room temp. Most seeds like to germinate in soil that temp.

    You will improve germination by pressing the soil above the seeds to provide good soil to seed contact.

    hazelinok thanked johnnycoleman
  • johnnycoleman
    5 years ago

    I will be sifting about 1,000 pounds of compost tomorrow. The compost is 6 year old stall muck. I'll be sifting with 3/8" hardware cloth.
    I'll apply it around our young veggies to prevent weeds. I could use about 3 tons of it but I doubt my old body could handle that much work.

    Just for the record, I don't even try to keep our beds weed free. It just ain't necessary.

    Johnny

  • Okiedawn OK Zone 7
    5 years ago

    Johnny, I agree.

    Hazel, If you're worried about the compost being too warm, you can check its temperatures with a thermometer that has a probe. For years I just used an old kitchen thermometer, but the fancier ones they sell nowadays often start at 100 degrees or higher, so this year I finally broke down and bought a soil thermometer. Room temperature is fine, as Johnny stated, and you wouldn't want the temperature up in the mid-80s or 90s because temperatures that high can slow down germination of most crop seeds.

    Johnny, I agree. I try to keep the weeds down early in the season when crop seeds are sprouting and the plants are tiny, but as time goes on, who has time for weeding (?) and it also is not strictly necessary. I prefer weed-free garden beds, but there's too many other things that take priority over weeding and I've never had such a weed issue that I thought it hurt the productivity of the desirable crop plants.

    Dawn

  • johnnycoleman
    5 years ago

    Can you see the compost on the right side of the right row? I'm doing a side by side test with two rows of cold hardy veggies.

    One is getting compost; the other ain't.

  • haileybub(7a)
    5 years ago

    I have really enjoyed reading all of these posts, thanks to all.

    I am wanting to plant my first ever cover crop in my small backyard garden. I estimate it's about 20 X 20. Right now I have acorn and butternut growing under row covers (I LOVE squash but the SVB and squash bugs out numbered me this summer and my harvest of zucchini and yellow squash was sad.) I also have some carrots I have left in the ground, I over planted ( or rather, under-thinned) them, being my first attempt at carrots. I figure being a root vegetable, it won't hurt them to stay in the ground until I am ready to pull them, and they are helping to break up the soil. They don't taste really good for just eating raw, but cooked and in carrot soup, they are delicious. I also have some hot wax peppers and the last of a huge cherry tomato plant left. So what I am getting at is that I want to plant a cover crop to help my terribly hard and clumpy clay soil. I have just been working on the plot for 2 years and know it will be an ongoing effort. I live in a residential neighborhood and I mow my lawn and neighbors lawn when the leaves have fallen. It's just not a lot of leaves once they are mulched! I bought a cover crop mix of Austrian Winter Peas, Winter Rye, Rapeseed, Daikon Radish, Purple Top Turnip and Hairy Vetch. This week my plan is to incorporate purchased compost into the spaces between these plants and sow my cover crop. Is it too late in the season? Will it live into the winter? I also plan to plant some garlic for the first time, I am anxious to see what all the excitement of home grown garlic is! So I will sow around that spot as well. As I harvest my other veggies, can I sow the cover crop then or will that certainly be too late?

    Well, the wind has died down and I see that the temperature has dropped below 90. It was a very good day!

    Belinda in Enid

  • johnnycoleman
    5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    Belinda,


    Now is about as late as I would try to plant a Winter cover crop. However, we are still experiencing Summer like weather. So, do it now and cross your fingers.

    I'd guess your soil is a bit dry right now. You will get better germination if you water the entire garden with about 1/2" of water and let that soak in for a day. Plant your entire cover crop shallow, about 1/4" deep. After planting, walk on the entire area ONCE! Then do NOT walk on it for at least 14 days.

    My new favorite planting technique involves broadcasting seeds on the soil surface, then covering it with about 1/4" of mulch, then walking on it. I have seen many seeds germinate in five - seven days.

    Most cover crop mixes appropriate for Oklahoma are cold hardy. The tillage radishes Winter kill at about 15 degrees. However, they will have done their work by then.

    Johnny

  • johnnycoleman
    5 years ago

    soonergrandmom,

    We are working toward no till. Thanks for the video on small holder crimping. We have A LOT of work to do before our place can go no till.


    Johnny

  • haileybub(7a)
    5 years ago

    Holy smokes! I had to look for images of the tillage radish, which looks like the daikon is the same (?). Those things are huge!! So those long taproots are what helps break up the soil, as well as the fruits themselves? Amazing.

    Belinda

  • chickencoupe
    5 years ago

    Haileybub, it's is perfectly okay to seed out your cover crops around your existing vegetable plants. I'm with Johnny. Get started now. With the temperatures we'll be having next week, it'll be perfect. You're right about the Daikon. It's the same. I use these as organic material below ground. I really like giant mustard for surface organic materials. If you can mulch around them, too, it is awesome for the microbes and bugs that till the soil.

    Note: You can harvest (scalp) the Austrian peas and they will not die and grow back when the weather is perfect. I love these peas because the wild bunnies won't decimate the crop. I like having food for them, too.

  • johnnycoleman
    5 years ago

    Bon,

    I helped plant 10 acres of Austrian Winter peas recently. We used 300 pounds of seed. Guess where I'll be getting fresh salad greens all winter.


    Johnny

  • chickencoupe
    5 years ago

    You'll be sick of those peas by the time spring comes around.

  • johnnycoleman
    5 years ago

    Bon,

    I'll be eating the leaves.

    Johnny

  • haileybub(7a)
    5 years ago

    Opinions on amending heavy clay soil with soluble gypsum? I read it improves drainage. I'm planting garlic this week and my soil is heavy clay. (I know garlic needs well drained soil.) I have amended it with compost for a couple of years now and see minimal improvement. However, it is improved which is a step in the right direction. If gypsum is the way to go, any advice on finding the right product? It can get overwhelming looking for the right product!

    Thanks, Belinda

  • johnnycoleman
    5 years ago

    Belinda,

    I have read about a dozen of those articles. Here is my suggestion, mark a small area (one sq. yard) and do your own side by side test. Then, you can tell me the answer.

    I have had great results with composted stall muck and fill sand.

    Johnny

  • scottcalv
    5 years ago

    I would be wary of to much sand. Seems like I have heard in passing that sandy soils encourage root knot nematodes. But I very well could be wrong. I don't have proof. Just heard it somewhere. Someone please correct me if need be. Thanks.

  • hazelinok
    Original Author
    5 years ago

    Okay. My test seeds are in.

    Three pots with three seeds each of seed starting mix only.

    Three pots with three seeds each of seed starting mix combined with free compost (from the City of Norman).

    Lets see how they do...


  • Okiedawn OK Zone 7
    5 years ago

    Root knot nematodes do thrive in too much sand. I have friends here who live closer to Thackerville (famous for its extremely sandy soil, which is mostly sand....like sugar sand or beach sand) than I do and the root knot nematodes sucked all the fun out of gardening for them and they eventually gave it up. Adding tons of organic matter is the big fix here, but that doesn't work in some of the gulf states, like Florida, where root knot nematodes are much more of a severe issue than they are here. Most people I know who garden successfully in spite of nematode-infested soil grow Elbon rye every year to help combat the nematodes. It isn't a perfect solution, but it is a pretty good one.

    Generally, if a person adds sand to their soil to lighten it up a bit, as long as the soil also has a certain component that is clay and a decent amount of organic matter, the RKNs won't be a problem. It is only when there's little clay and little organic matter and mostly sand that the RKNs can grow and spread and become such a major problem. Long ago you could buy soil fumigants that killed the RKNs in the soil, but it killed all the life in the soil and left it barren and sterile so I wouldn't use something like that today even if it was available to home gardeners. I kind of assume some of those fumigants still are available to commercial growers, but I've never researched to see if my assumption is valid.

    The successful gardeners I know of in Florida who grow tomatoes, for example, grow them in containers filled with a purchased soil-less mix, and the containers are elevated on decks or concrete blocks to ensure rainfall runoff cannot carry RKNs up from the ground into the containers via the drain holes. That's a lot harder than just amending the soil, but they have had to find what works for them, and the elevated containers are the answer. I know that commercial tomato crops are grown in some parts of Florida and I assume that they are using varieties bred to have resistance to or tolerance of nematodes (also not a 100% solution, but one that works pretty well). RKNs only bother certain kinds of crops and not all crops, so people with sandy soil often can successfully grow the kinds of crops that are not vulnerable to root knot nematodes.

    Hazel, Good luck. I hope you get good results. Please keep us posted.

    Dawn

  • hazelinok
    Original Author
    5 years ago

    Goodness. I thought I posted here last night. I'm sure I did...but where is the post? I did have a glass of wine, so maybe my brain was muddled and I posted it accidentally on facebook....? Don't drink and post.

    Anyway...

    My soil test was the subject of the disappearing post.

    The "organic seed starter" seedlings are uniform in size and look healthy.

    The "organic seed starter" AND 'compost' seeds are not uniform and look a little healthy. The largest seedling and the smallest are in this group. There is some curling of leaves...but they're growing. But....seed starter mixes are specifically for starting seeds so maybe that's why they're doing so much better than the compost mix. Tell me this is so.

    I really, really want this compost to be good. What would I do with this giant heap if it's not good???

    I'm going to try to post some pics later.

  • chickencoupe
    5 years ago

    All I'm going to say is, I think that's pretty normal. The seed starter is probably peat moss and nothing to hinder growth such as unneeded nutes. Seeds don't need nutes. And, heck, it may just mean some of your compost isn't quite ripe. You got them to grow and if they don't die, I'd call it good!

    hazelinok thanked chickencoupe
  • hazelinok
    Original Author
    5 years ago

    Okay. Sorry I accidentally posted the first pic twice. The first (and second) pic is the seed starter only and the following pic is of the seeds with the free compost from the City of Norman. The last pic is a side by side comparison. The compost mix is in the white tray and the seed starter mix is in the clear tray.

  • johnnycoleman
    5 years ago

    Looks inconclusive. More time needed. IMHO

    hazelinok thanked johnnycoleman
  • AmyinOwasso/zone 6b
    5 years ago

    King oyster mushrooms are supposed to remediate herbicide contaminated soil. Sun flowers are also supposed to help with contaminated soil, but I think they are for heavy metal.


    Why not try a few other seeds in the compost mix. Not necessarily with the control like this test, just maybe tomato and squash to see how they do?

    hazelinok thanked AmyinOwasso/zone 6b
  • johnnycoleman
    5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    Here is an article that shows and describes what to look for.

    Herbicide damage

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  • Okiedawn OK Zone 7
    5 years ago

    I agree with Johnny it probably is a little too early to tell for sure. Grow them on for a couple of weeks and see if anything changes.

    Do I feel a tiny bit of concern about the cupping of the foliage of the young plants in the compost? Yes, but not a great deal of concern. Sometimes young plants will cup a little bit like that on their own if there's anything that isn't exactly what they like....could be light levels, temperatures, etc. or just the immaturity of the plants.

    If you reach a point in a few weeks where you feel like your bioassay does indicate some degree of herbicide carryover in the compost, then you'll have several choices about how to remediate it. Your compost is not going to be unusable in the long term, but you might need to grow remediative crops (mustard is one that excells at cleaning up dirty soil) in it for 6 months or a year while you wait for the herbicide level in the compost to drop a bit. You can cross that bridge when you get to it.