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heavy clay soil
What a pain dealing with my clay. Sticks on everything and hard to plant. I am going to plant forage radishes and winter rye to help condition it this fall. I have read that gypsum helps break it down, but i am skeptical. Any other methods to improve? thanks
Green manuring. Plant some cheap rye, let it get 4" or so, till it under. Repeat, a lot.
Have to add Humus. Sawdust, shavings, old hay, manure till it in. Never use sand you will make concrete.
Tilling and discing is only going to aid in compaction and further destroying your soil. Heavy clay crust over when it’s disced. Build the soil from the top down. I would use high residue cover crops in the spring, and repeat with a more deer friendly mix in the fall. Go completely no till even if you don’t have a drill. Use tillage radishes over forage radishes. Make sure that you have a heavy Winter Rye mix in the fall. I also would plan to have a fall cycle as my first crop before planting the spring rotation.
My rotation would look something like this.
Spring - Buckwheat, millet, sunn hemp, a low % of a clover or 2, cow peas, sunflower, triticale and maybe a field pea.
Fall - Winter Rye, winter barley, tillage Radish, crimson or medium red clover. Eventually as your soil improves you can add things like Austrian winter peas to the mix. The first few crops won’t be your best or even that good but each growth cycle will no doubt improve your soil. Keep extra bushels of Winter Rye on hand to fill in any missed spots as this can be spring or winter planted. Each Spring let the rye go until it’s time to plant the spring mix.
thanks for feedback. It would be really hard to bring sawdust and manure into this property, let alone fertilizer and lime. I have one plot of buckwheat, small burnet and chicory that will be overseeded with WR and radishes. Another in peas. Another is a mix of hemp, sunflowers and sorghum. I hope the newly planted alfalfa and sainfoin will do well. Am concerned about compaction. Can one overseed alfalfa with WR and tillage radishes? I have 2 acres of grass that i'll plant if it ever gets dry enough in there to drive tractor. I'll mow, spray, then plant. It's a battle for drainage.
Rit obviously knows more than I do. He has an excellent point about compaction.
I use a single shank sub_soiler every 2-3 years, and also a chisel plow to avoid a compaction problem. I guess I am old school.
Rit beat me to it. I never turn soil when trying to build OM or avoid compaction. I don't have a no till drill so I do a lot of throw-n-mow. His recommendations for plants is great. Those plants will put down plenty of thatch and bury roots into your soil. Every time you terminate plants their roots become OM and provide holes for water and gas infiltration.
HFW I am not trying to come off as knowing more than the next guy just trying to offer a different point of view. I disced for years and it was just too weather dependent for me. I started with terrible soil but it gets better each year.
Bull if you are broadcasting seed I would think about broadcasting, or spraying first, then mowing last. If you broadcast seed before you mow it will shake more seed to the soil level and the vegetation you mow over the top of the seed will lock in moisture and act as a mulch. The decomposing vegetation will also be your time release fertilizer. Depending on N needs like with Brassicas you can run into issues if the all the N gets tied up while decomposing the vegetation. Once you get a few crops in and your soil improves then you can start to worry about C:N ratios.
The initial germination and growth will be a little slower than conventional planting but the end result will be the same but you will now notice a big difference in soil health.
Here in western Wa. You can crop cycle it for your entire lifetime and your kids lifetime and you will still have clay. If it’s your only option it’s your only option. The best option is to heavily amend the soil if possible.
I was sincere based on what you posted.
Great advice y’all. I’m new to the property, but it has real challenges. I do have a Woods planter, I have irrigation and I can burn if needed. Hard to do initial spraying because the prairie grass is already over a foot high and thick. By the time I can get my tractor in it will be nearly 2 feet high. This is just my most challenging piece. Thankfully I’m retiring at end of this month so I can focus on this better. Has anyone tried overseeding alfalfa with WR and radishes?
Pat has a thread going on alfalfa. I would ask your question there.
Your planter makes RIT's advice excellent. I would not turn the soil either. Have fun in retirement!
Whitey may I suggest some friendly advice and do some research on soil health and soil biology. You can build a better healthier soil. No one said you would eliminate clay from your soil. The operative words were to improve it. If you had 2 lifetimes of no till, the soil would be substantially improved over what you started with. The perfect soil mixture actually has around 20% clay in it.
If you started a no till cycle OM, nutrient cycling, water holding compacity, drainage, and fertility would all increase. These aren’t things made up by me.. These are facts put out by folks that know soil. There is no doubt conventional methods work but at what cost? You can disc and till soil to death and if you add in enough inputs things will grow productively. But again scientific fact that tillage and discing destroy soil. Erosion and runoff are real things.
The NRCS promotes no till with cover crops to big farming operations. The QDMA recently published a video about soil health and leaving the soil undesturbed.
Guys like Ray Archuleta and Gabe Brown have posted countless videos and books about treating the soil like a living ecosystem and turning dirt back into soil. It doesn’t matter much to me how you treat your ground and how you deal with your conditions but...... to say you basically can’t change the soil you have is simply untrue.
No worries HFW maybe I misinterpreted that a little bit. Sorry about that.
Not a problem, and totally agree with that last post!!!!
No till drill is my dream, probably not going to happen.
RIT, thanks for the tips. We don’t have to do food plots here. However I know a a tiny little bit about soil and farming. My friends are almost all farmers, I worked on their farms to put myself through Washington state University,a noted agricultural school. All the friends and their dads have at least a BA in agriculture. Our group was part of the first large scale no till winter white wheat study in the US that started in 1978, I was involved in it . Round up was licensed in Canada in 1979 for ag use. We were using in in 1978 as a part of the WSU low / no till study, I have plowed, planted and harvested 100’s of thousands of acres, wheat, corn, alfalfa, hay, grapes and apples and raise beef, I continue to be a part of that world today. We have two distinct climates in Wa. High desert east of the cascades and temperate rain forest west. Eastern wa is volcanic loess , a fine soil. The soil in western wa is mostly glacially formed as well and is extremely fine. My little farm is in western Washington. Just a little of my resume as I live the life not just as a hobbyist.
My farm has typical western Washington gleyed soils. Here generally speaking you have to add humus to clay to lighten the soil. how you do it is the question. No till crop cycling humus addition and the bulk addition of a humus layer can both achieve your goal. You can use basic math once you’ve done a soil study to understand the composition of your soil. Typically Any native soil anywhere ,needs the addition of 5% humus added to the root zone depth of whatever crop you are growing. Humus breaks down completely in soil so you need to continually add it to keep the 5%.. The gleyed soils here can be saturated up to 9 months of the year. If you no till you typically just create a humus Matt on the top as your soil turns anaerobic in the fall into the spring. You can plant cover crops but Any root crop you have in the ground typically rots. There are areas of exception. . Standard practice here in clay soil is to till in the fall and in the spring. Crops like corn you have to deep plow others discing is all you need. Here You have to aerate the soil regardless as it compacts from the rain. . When people here start farming fallow ground the smart ones become best friends with horse owners that use shavings, tree companies that provide wood chips , hay producers that have 3 old or wet hay they need to dump. Once you build in the humus you can crop cycle.
Eastern Wash is different especially wheat country. The no till methods were developed to combat erosion, use less fuel, herbicide and protect soil moisture. With roundup burning, Plowing and rod weeding almost stopped completely and you use a lot less anhydrous. All Because of the no/low till practices. With wheat You let your fields go fallow every other year. The soil is fine but not clay.
For clarification I didn’t say you cannot change the soil. I said in clay soil ad amendment if you can to speed up the process.
Good stuff Whitey!
Thanks. You could spend two lifetimes just learning, or at least I could.
I have read that there is no plant better than native grasses to build OM in the soil. Their roots on the taller varieties like Indian and Big Blue can grow 12' deep or more. Up to a third of each root mass dies off every year. This is supposedly what made our soil in the farm belt so fertile?
Rit is correct. In 1950’s my dad and uncle started sod planting using heavy cover crops and burning it down with parquet before planting. Worked pretty well . The roundup came along and it was a no brainer . We have used the practice going on 70 years on our farm . I am 60. We have a bottom that has Loam soil and a hill field that is red clay . Both are irrigated . The red clay field will always out yeid the bottom ground. We have a water line running through the red clay field and From time to time we have to repair it . When you dig the hole there is now 8 to 10” of black organic matter on top of red clay . Now if you want to wait 2 life times to build the organic matter in your soil this is the way to do it . But if you have a small food plot you want to build the clay soil up with organic matter you need to haul it in and disk or plow it in by the tons . You can use sawdust , wood chips , old bad hay any kind of pulps . You will have to do this for a few years with lime added at same time . But be aware if you use sawdust, chips or to much green organic matter it can disrupt the natural microbes in the soil and have adverse effects on soil for a few years . To keep this from happening you must also add some animal manure. Chicken litter, cow manure. Horse manure . This is a lot of work but will greatly help your soil . “ Dirt is what construction people move to build things “ “ Soil is what farmers build to feed the world “.
If you have a heavy clay and can't get lime to it, I'd look for a source of wood ash. (more pH raising "bang" per pound and more potash) I'd backpack it in if necessary
I got some interesting advice from Eric Koperek of World Agriculture Solutions. For alfalfa and sainfoin, he suggested trying to broadcast tillage radishes and winter rye into them, then immediately cut over the seed. As soon as rye or radishes start sprouting, cut again above them. If growth of the perennials is really vigorous, a third cutting above the radishes and WR may be necessary. I think this could really help my drainage for those crops for next year. I've spread gypsum on both stands as well, which is supposed to help break up clay. pH is not bad. 6.3 for alfalfa and 6.5 for Sainfoin after busting my ass to lime and spread liquid calcium.