BRIAN KIDD: Garden on clay? There IS a way to make it work for you

It's hard work but you can turn clay into manageable and fertile soil
It's hard work but you can turn clay into manageable and fertile soil

SOUTHSEA GREEN: Winter life at the community garden

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Have no doubt about it, if worked well clay soil is very fertile.

The secret of success is to work with the clay when conditions are right.

Clay is difficult to deal with because of its structure. It consists of uncountable billions of particles which are plate-shaped and they all stick together.

The only way to resolve this is to increase the air in the clay and to add as much in the way of organic material as possible.

As this task is daunting, it’s wise to start to improve one area at a time and if done well the result will be a permanent solution.

If an area is to be dug, it is best tackled RIGHT NOW because the ground is wet. If clay is dry it is difficult to dig.

Instead of using a spade, it’s easier to penetrate with a stainless steel digging fork.

Take a trench out of one end of the area to be improved and in the base lay a generous amount of straw. Stable manure with lots of straw is ideal, but straw on its own is just as effective.

As digging proceeds, a little at a time if it is really difficult, so the clods are thrown forward and left in lumps as large, or even larger, than house bricks. Never try to break it down at this stage.

Once a line of digging is completed, put another thick layer of straw into the bottom of the trench. If some of it is still visible after the clods have been thrown forward, it means you are using enough and it’s all for the good.

The ground can be limed immediately after digging and 8oz of garden lime should be applied over each square yard. However, lime must not be used where acid-loving plants are to be grown.

Lime flocculates the soil. Now there’s a good word! It means forming into small clumps. During frosty periods the water in the clay freezes and swells so when the soil thaws, water penetrates even deeper into the clay. It begins to swell and fissures are created, fine lines within the clay which attract even more water.

After further rain, the clay can absorb even more water which will freeze during frosts. This process continues all winter.

Wind also plays its part in drying the surface of the sods. This all helps to break down the clay.

Finally, apply a thick layer of sharp sand or fine grit all over the surface. About two inches deep is ideal, but this is best left until about the middle of February.

The spring rains will help grit particles fall into the crevices and fissures.

This dressing often disappears quickly but remember to keep working with the weather not against it. By April you should be able to walk over the surface to lightly cultivate it.

If the surface is dry enough, it should be fluffy. A good test is to kick it. If it’s okay, the particles will be fluffy and easily move around. But if the surface is wet, keep off!

TIP OF THE WEEK

Take a look at your water butts.

Are they holding water okay? Could you install another?

We might feel we have had enough rain. However, the Lavants streams are not flowing and by now they should be.