6 Years
May 17, 2017
Hi! I've sectioned off a large area of land that I'm adding manure, compost, and other scraps to daily. I mix it, till it, etc. Recently, I planted some garlic, and it appeared to be growing fine, with green shoots growing a centimeter a week. About two months later, the entire stalk wilted. I dug it up in a panic, and realized the garlic was mushy and not developed. I deduced it must be my soil, and I thought about how to amend it. It's a bit sandy, but when watered, it hardens. Not like a rock, but hard enough that it's difficult for a plant to grow. I researched, and decided I need to add coffee grounds, but is there anything else? I was thinking about buying some worms, making a compost pile, then adding worm castings and such to the soil, then when the soil improves, add some worms into the dirt to improve it more. I know that they're needed, but my soil has no worms to my knowledge. Is adding worms, worm castings, and coffee grounds all that I can do? Is there anything else that I can do to improve the quality of my soil? Thanks for all answers.
It takes time for soil to improve. How large is this area? have you had a soil test done? That would be the first place to start, especially where you are starting a new gardening venture on new soil.

Secondly, Garlic needs to be planted in the fall. It sets roots then, and goes dormant until spring, when it breaks dormancy, sends up new growth, increases head size, and finally sends up a scape with bulbils, before the tops wither. At that time the garlic is harvested. Most people remove the scapes to concentrate plant energy to the head. Also, some types of garlic grow best in the north, and other types grow best in the south. Stiff neck garlics are better suited for the north.
Yeah, I planted the garlic about December. Sorry if my use of "recently" threw you off.
I'll be sure to do a soil test. I was planning on that, but never found the time, ha. I started improving the soil about seven months ago, and the area is about five feet by six feet, I suppose. Thanks for your answer!
I keep not finding time to do a soil test, too, so I totally get you! In my state the Cooperative Extension has a very reasonably priced soil test kit, so you might see if your state has that, too. Don't be discouraged from garlic! It is my favorite crop... probably because when everything in the spring is still dead in the garden, garlic is popping up! (Plus, it's delicious.)
You may be able to have your extension office send you a soil test kit in the mail. You simply follow the directions, scoop the soil into the provided box, add a check, and mail it back to them. It really can't get any simpler than that.
I see, that's cool! It's just that I'm busy nowadays, with all sorts of things, that I really can't find the time to test my soil. Thanks for your time!
From the sounds of it, when you add water the soil hardens is most likely clay or subset of clay soil. there are some things you can do to amend this. But it takes time
1) Organic Matter! I add rabbit manure to my garden every year. And use to buy (2) 10' trailers of compost to till into the garden every other fall. Now I compost my chicken manure, saw dust, and other organic matter so I don't buy as much compost.
2) If the soil is hard enough to make it difficult to work you can use equipment to till it and break it up (sod buster, rip plough, etc) something that gets deep, but that is going to add to the compaction over time. SO it may not be the best route. If you are looking for an organic way to till and break up the hard pan and clay, ground hog radishes will grow as big around as a soft ball and 12-18" deep. They will naturally break up the soil and hard pan, and when they decompose they will leave a hole which aids in water infiltration filled with organic matter.
3) Cover crops. I'm a big fan of winter rye and or red clover but there are other options. These will fix/scavenge nitrogen, as well as all organic matter to build the soil. Good for erosion control as well. Plant it the fall (I pull my garden on Oct 31 every year, and plant the cover crop the same day). Knock it back in the spring before it goes to head with your lawn mower. Before I plant my garden, I till in what's left and plant that day. If you want to avoid tilling, cut it back low with your lawn mower (lowest setting on mower) and then plant, and hoe the rows (sounds like work but its not that bad as the cover crop keeps the ground from getting to hard).

I'm no expert but I do plant a small sized garden (150 pepper plants 150 tomato plants 1000 green onions 1000 potatoes) every year. I've yet to have a failed crop.
I see, that's cool! It's just that I'm busy nowadays, with all sorts of things, that I really can't find the time to test my soil. Thanks for your time!
Preparing a soil sample is simple,...probably no more time consuming than planting a six pack of pansies. :confused:

If you are just going to throw stuff blindly at the garden then I would recommend lots, and lots of organic matter...manure, compost, leaves, food scraps, etc.,. A wildcard, though, is that you don't have an idea of what your soil's pH is...that can be locking up nutrients that are their but that the plants cannot take up because the soil is to acidic or alkaline.

I am curious...is this in a subdivision-type area? Many times in areas where lots of construction has been done the top soil is almost non-existent with lots of building debris...sand, cement, subsoil basically making up the yards around houses which exhibits traits that you mention...hard to dig in, etc.,. You just have to keep adding organic matter...try to chop it up as small as you can...collect leaves in the fall for later use in the winter, spring, and summer.

Another option is to build a wooden framework for a raised bed. Build it out of 8" or wider 2-by wood if you can (2x8's, 2x10's, etc). If you have the funds you could several bags of potting soil, "garden soil", compost, etc., from Walmart, Lowes, etc., and mix this with some of your organic matter. After getting a good mix continue to add organic matter all along. This would give you an 8" deep growing medium with a base below for plant roots to begin breaking up. Plant roots are some of the best soil tillers and aerators you can have. This mixture would help "feed" the bad soil below and over time improve it, hopefully drawing earthworms to it.

When you have this going you might consider some buckwheat for a cover crop...it grows fast and begins to flower in about six weeks. Use some hedge clippers or large scissors and mow it down. Then leave it laying on the surface of your garden..."chop and drop". You might even want to mow it down in steps so as to have smaller pieces. Or, you can use a garden fork or shovel and bury it into the soil. Leaving it on top will let it act as a mulch as it slowly rots into the soil. Burying it into the soil will get organic matter quicker into the soil. Google "using buckwheat for a green manure".

Best wishes.

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