Sunday, March 20, 2011

Raised Beds

Living and gardening in Memphis, Tennessee, I discovered red clay. It's a very different soil type than the sandy loam in the midwest. When the farmers turn the soil in Illinois, it looks like the inside of a brownie. It will make you drool...
In Memphis, the soil is not so great. I lived in a new construction home where the developers scraped the 8" of native topsoil right off and sold it back to the builders who scattered 2 or 3" around.
If the soil in the midwest is a bag full of helium balloons, the soil in the clay south is like a deck of cards. The bag of balloons is light and the particles bounce around, giving roots the room they need to grow. On the other hand, the deck of cards is on a well waxed wood floor and if you try to walk on them, you slip and fall. The cards are so close together nothing gets between them and they don't have a lot of nutrition in them for your roots.
If you plunge your shovel into the loamy midwest soil, you get some blackish brown earth that crumbles off the shovel.

If you plunge your shovel into the clay, it comes out in a chunk.

you can literally form shapes with it. Not unlike Play Dough.
Not being known for my patience, I quickly decided I needed raised beds. I began collecting random bits of stone and garden edging and I filled in the area with bags of purchased humus. I didn't really have a plan, but it came together pretty well. 
One year, for Christmas, my supportive hubby gave me such a great present:

Complete, with a pitchfork stuck in one of the bags with a red bow on it!! I was thrilled! 

I did not have the time or patience to deal with the red clay that the house was built around. It was almost deadly. It was slimy and smelly and almost anaerobic. I didn't see a worm in the soil for years. But my little rasied bed idea worked great. It wasn't a very deep bed, but the compost, manure and humus did their magic and the nutrients seeped down into the ground below and around. Soon, much sooner than I expected, I had these kind of results:

O gosh. It's been a while since I've seen those. No myrtle or azaleas for me for a long time!!
I don't know that my motives then were all that great, I didn't want to wait and I wanted flowers and veggies. NOW!! 
Um, it says 03/09, but it was really 09/03. I wished I'd taken the photo before the lawn was mowed. 
Very difficult to get a lush lawn in the south in September!!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1:42 PM

    what a great idea, raising the bed with clay soil - our old house had its share of clay - not pretty red but ugly greyish greenish and i swear any worms I saw were a gosh awful color as well - almost just like that clay, not fat and puffy and pink/red. all the good soil gets scraped here from the developers as well -
    i LOVE that flower bed of yours!


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