Lessons from gardening in clay soil

garden bed covered in peat moss, shredded paper, sheets of newspaper and leaves
Lasagna gardening in 2011

I won’t give anyone tips on how to fix clay soil.

I’ve tried for years to get the clay soil in my city community garden plot to co-operate. I’ve added leaves, peat moss, coir (coconut fibre), compost and manure. I’ve double dug, tilled (even, gasp, used a rototiller to lightly blend leaves into the garden bed), used a garden fork to turn the soil.

But as hard as I try to break the clay down and get it to merge with the other materials, it remains what it is. When wet, it’s thick mud that doesn’t drain well. When it dries its texture is grey concrete. You can see cracks on the garden’s surface. While the clay is rock hard,  if you pick up a clump and squeeze, it crumbles into dust. There are grey clumps all over the garden’s surface. I want to scream. It’s a nightmare.

What I need to learn is to accept the clay soil for what it is, instead of working against it. It seems accepting the clay as it is means building a raised bed, building a new soil environment on top of it.

Gardening offers plenty of life lessons. For me the lesson here is it’s better to accept things as they are than to struggle against something. I don’t know what the life lesson is in building a lasagna gardening bed (sheet mulching), layering leaves, paper and cardboard, compost, soil and coffee grounds on top of the clay, but at least it’s a lot more fun than struggling!


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