Tag Archives: preparing your soil

Garden Dirt – Dealing with Dirt Clods

Creative Commons License photo credit: gregor_y

Deb asked a very important question, about how to get you garden ready for planting, what to do with those nasty dirt clods. First, I think of clods as signals to your that your garden dirt needs something different.

Clods happen often in heavy clay soil. Clay soil can be great for growing plants because it contains lots of nutrients, but it’s also very heavy, making it difficult for the roots of your garden plants to penetrate. There are various solutions for this, but adding large amounts of organic matter to your garden beds has always worked for me. I like getting loads of old horse manure and then mixing a thick layer into my soil a few weeks before planting. You will get some grass seeds mixed into your soil when doing this, but I find that those weeds are easily pulled when they are small.

The most important thing to remember about dirt clods is that you shouldn’t be digging up your soil when it is too wet. I learned this from John Jeavons’ classic book, How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits. This is the book to buy if you are gardening in a small area and want to grow a lot of food for yourself. Jeavons’ recommends “double digging” your soil. This deeply loosens your soil and adds a ton of nutrients to create super fertile soil. Once that is done you can plant your vegetables much closer together than the standard recommendations and still expect each plant to produce well. The result is a ton of produce is a tiny area. I don’t always do this, but if I had the energy and a very small garden it would be the best way to grow a lot in a small area.

As Jeavons’ explains, if you dig while you soil is too wet you will break down it’s delicate structure and compact it, resulting in clogs. Think of your garden dirt as a cake; It has a crumb with a mixture of tiny rocks and bubbles of air and water. You don’t want to dig right after a rain, wait at least a couple of days. If you start digging and the soil sticks in big clumps to your shovel you know the soil is still too wet. Don’t dig when your soil is bone dry either. In California’s Central Valley where I use to garden, dry soil was like cement, making it impossible to dig. Even if you soil isn’t so heavy, you shouldn’t dig when it’s too dry because you will compact the soil and dry soil turns into dust and blows away very easily. They say it takes 1000 years to create one inch of good topsoil, so you don’t want any of that good stuff to blow away.

Sometimes I don’t dig or turn my soil at all, but rather clear away the weeds, mulch the soil with organic matter, and plant straight into that. If you want more information about planting a garden without having to dig and turn your soil, I would recommend Lasagna Gardening, by Patricia Lanza. Either way, it’s worth it to invest time and effort into preparing your soil before you plant. A little extra effort at the beginning will save a lot of effort and produce stronger healthier garden for you all year long.