Very hard soil after dry summer


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This topic contains 10 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  charles 1 day, 17 hours ago.

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  • #31897

    Hawfinch
    Participant

    We have had the driest summer here in Switzerland for 12 years. I have watered as much as I could, but ran out of collected water rather quickly and only used the hose on the most important plants. Consequently, in spite of always mulching, my no-dig beds are now extremely hard, the soil has very deep cracks and has big gaps along the edges of the raised beds. In some places even getting the dibber in is hard work. We have had some rain during the last month, but 5-6 centimetres down the soil is still very very dry. I know because I made new asparagus beds.

    I would very much appreciate some advice on what to do now. Should I water? Loosen the soil with a fork? Close the cracks – where the slugs live – or just spread composted manure and compost in October and wait for nature to do its work?

    Thanks in advance for any help and advice

    Helle

    #31898

    Rhys
    Participant

    Helle

    I was in the same situation as you 6 weeks ago here in NW London – deep cracks after 4 months of drought.

    After about 7 inches of rain the past 6 weeks, the situation has completely rectified itself – I test the soil every two weeks with a fork to see if it will go to one full fork’s depth without trouble and all is well now coming to the end of September, whereas I was struggling to get to one half a fork’s depth six weeks ago.

    Obviously, your transition into winter is sharper than ours here, so I wouldn’t want to advise, but if you get 4-6 inches of rain before the end of October and the temperatures aren’t too hot, I suspect that all will be well.

    No doubt Charles can give more detailed advice……..

    #31899

    charles
    Moderator

    Yes I would wait for the ground to soften in autumn rain, except where you may need to plant something.
    In clay soil, the cracking in dry weather lets in good air and, I think, improves structure. Just leave it alone, no need to use a fork.

    #31901

    Hawfinch
    Participant

    OK, thanks for the advice. I’ll leave it alone then and hope for rain. Interesting thought that one about the cracks letting in good air, I guess it tallies, to some degree, with the biodynamic thought of the soil interacting with the cosmic forces when ploughed in autumn.

    Rhys, I live just outside Zurich along the lake where the weather is quite mild, we don’t really get harsh winters just lots of rain, if we’re lucky. So hopefully, there should be enough time for the rain to soften the soil before it does get cold.

    #47196

    Llanjessica
    Participant

    Hello.

    I have the same problem in my raised beds after some months of unprecedented drought in West Wales.

    I have 15 very deep raised beds (around 50 cm deep) sited on an area which was excavated leaving only sub soil. The beds were filled with bought ‘topsoil’ with little humus development and pockets of clay. The beds were then cultivated conventionally for around 8-9 years, using compost and occasional dressings of manure.

    Over the last 2-3 years I have followed the no dig method. Each year I’ve dressed the beds with 2-4″ of home made compost, or farmyard manure or a compost made from local food recycling. But this year its hard to get a dibber to penetrate and the hardness of the soil seems to be affecting the root development of some young cabbage and lettuce plants. They grow on well at the start with but then fall over. When harvesting lettuce I noticed their roots are undeveloped, not wide and branching, so I’m concluding that the roots are not getting a purchase in the tough soil. I’m watering most nights but not too much as we are on private water which is getting low so we need to preserve where we can. I also have cracks at the edge and in the middle.

    #47202

    charles
    Moderator

    Hard/firm soil with decent structure does not prevent growth.
    I was just at Ballymaloe near Cork where they managed to make holes for lettuce plants in no dig soil that was not even mulched, from lack of time.
    Growth is impressive, lettuce watered only once.
    I wonder if your compost layer is too loose and ‘floating’ on the soil, causing plants to fall over.

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    #47206

    Llanjessica
    Participant

    It may be so. How do you avoid the compost ‘floating’ on the surface?

    #47210

    charles
    Moderator

    When applied in winter, it has time to settle and rain pushes it down then worms take it in + other soil life (no dig works where there are flatworms).
    When applying compost in dry conditions it’s good to walk on it to make it firm.

    #47211

    Llanjessica
    Participant

    Thank you very much. This is an excellent resource for those of us with so much to learn.

    #47300

    johnjp
    Participant

    Our plot is on clay. Early this year, when it was very wet and muddy, the plot was dug up to install a sewer so we had to start from scratch!
    We bought in a lot of mushroom compost to neutralise the clay, and laid about 50mm of mulch.
    When I tried to trowel holes for lettuce the clay was still too hard.
    ***brainwave*** I used a robust bulb planter to take out long plugs then filled each hole with a mix of peat free compost, molehill earth and spent garden compost – no particular ratio!
    The results have been very good, lettuce, and other plants are doing very well.

    #47307

    charles
    Moderator

    Nice to hear John

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