When I installed my raised beds earlier last year, I was delighted to be able to use soil from the house across the road (pictured). There was building work going on, and I was fortunate enough to be able to barrow up as much as I liked.
In Autumn, the soil looked beautiful – all crumbly and fine, and I was over the moon. It certainly didn’t look like clay, and it didn’t feel like clay either.
However, I should have paid closer attention. Yep, you’ve guessed it: I’ve bulked my raised beds out with clay.
So, I’ve now got three raised beds with several inches of clay, topped with leaf mould and seaweed.
Disadvantages of Clay
One of the disadvantages of clay is that it stays wet long after rain. Mine is still heavy and very wet, and when I took a foot or so off the end of a raised bed to fit my workshop in, the squelchyness was very apparent.
When the clay is wet, it’s easy to spot by grabbing a handful and seeing if you can roll into a nice, firm ball. If this happens, the soil is clay.
I’ve been careful to use a board when I do need to step onto the beds, as clay becomes compacted very easily when wet.
When the soil does finally dry out, the surface becomes like concrete and cracks. This poses problems for sowing and planting out.
Advantages of Clay
However, I’m a man who likes to look on the bright side. A glass half full kind of grower. And therefore, all is not lost.
Despite the drawbacks, clay does have some things going for it. For example, where some say clay stays sodden, I say it retains moisture. In raised beds, this is useful, as they dry out quicker than conventional beds. And because of this, plants growing in clay often deal with dry conditions better than plants in other soils.
Either way, I might not have to water as much and that can only be a good thing. 🙂
Clay is usually very rich in nutrients too, which reduced the need for fertilising. Hungry plants such as tomatoes and courgettes will certainly not be upset about this. If the monster earthworms I found in my soil are anything to go by, there are definitely some good nutrients there.
At the weekend, I set about working my soil, and with all this in mind, I’m not completely unhappy with my gaffe.
The workability of the soil has already been improved by adding seaweed and leaf mould. Once the loosened soil had seen a bit of this lovely sun we’ve had recently, it dried out a little and began to look quite presentable.
Improving the Clay
I’ll keep adding soil improvers as time goes by, and once I’ve dug once, won’t do so again as I’m trying the No-Dig principles in the raised beds.
With good nutrients, moisture retention, and plenty of organic matter, I’m hopeful that I can turn these beds into a productive environment.
That was a lot of wheelbarrowing if I can’t…