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  1. #1
    New Member qualicumtom's Avatar
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    Default Alleviating soil crusting

    Hey everyone,

    I'm pretty sure I'm not alone here as being the only one who has to deal with a horrendous crust every spring. How does everyone else deal with it?

    Here in Vancouver we end up getting about 50 inches of rain (almost all of which during winter and early spring), and my heavy clay soil with an organic matter content of ~15% gets a really bad crust every time that the rain comes in after rototilling. I've switched to the more traditional, and slightly less intrusive, method of plowing and discing before rototilling shallowly (as opposed to only rototilling) to try to help alleviate the problem, but to no avail. The soil is too heavy to ever consider a minimal tillage system for vegetable production.

    I'm currently using a mutivator and lilliston rolling cultivator between the rows, and it does most of the work between and around transplanted crops, however growing carrots and beets is more challenging as the lines are spaced one foot apart on the bed, as opposed to 3' for potatoes, cabbage, etc. There isn't the option of utilizing other lighter soil in the city as the nice fluffy soil is covered in subdivisions and townhouses, but I have heard that a lot of growers utilize rotary hoes and or finger tines--what's the low down on these implements? They're an exceedingly rare sight around here.

  2. #2
    Super Member Gary Fowler's Avatar
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    Default Re: Alleviating soil crusting

    We used to use the rotary hoes (rolling finger tines) to break the crust on soil planted in cotton but never used it on other crops. I think your only option is to increase the sand and organic content of your garden to alleviate the crusting problem. I put in all the hardwood leaves from the fall gathering and till them in. Brother in law also used pine needles for mulch and incorporates them into the soil. He has been doing this for several years and his soil is now very black and rich. I just started with a garden last year so I have a ways to go. My soil is also heavy with clay and rocks so it will be a while before I get enough organic material into the soil. I also plan to put in a dump truck load of river bottom sand to loosen up the clay so it will absorb more water.
    2010 LS P-7010C 20F/20R gear tractor & FEL, 2009 Kubota B 26 TLB, RTV 900 Kubota,17 foot Lund boat with 70HP motor, 2012-20 ft 12k GVW trailer, 2011- 52" Craftsman ZTR mower, 2013 Ferris Zero Turn, 3 weed whackers, pressure washer, leaf blowers, 7 foot bush hog, 8 foot landscape rake , 8 foot 3 PH disc, 2 row cultivator, 350 amp Miller AC/DC welding machine and all the tools needed to keep them all repaired and running.

  3. #3
    New Member qualicumtom's Avatar
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    Default Re: Alleviating soil crusting

    Hey Gary,

    Any problems with using the rolling finger tines, other than of course bits of chaff and such getting stuck in there?

    I thought about the sand idea myself, but you'd need a pretty huge quantity to cover 5 acres, and I fear that it would cost me a pile of money and just turn the soil into concrete. I already try to collect all the leaves that I can this time of year for that purpose, and mulch the ground where the higher value crops go in--mostly leaves from my apple and cherry trees.

    -M.

  4. #4
    Super Member
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    Default Re: Alleviating soil crusting

    Will follow this thread to see what answers others have. The first thing that comes to mind would be adding organic matter to the soil if you can. I have a couple of acres on a property that I have been adding leaves and pine needles to for about three years now. It will take me another five years or so to build this up the way I wan't but it had less topsoil on it than anything I have ever owned. I get paid to haul away leaves and pine needles so that covers the cost of hauling but I don't have enough time for this to do it all at once.

    Are you doing this commercially or for as a homeowner with a small garden?

  5. #5
    New Member qualicumtom's Avatar
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    Default Re: Alleviating soil crusting

    The prairie boys will probably scoff at saying 5 acres of veggies is a commercial venture, but yeah, commercially. I figure if it takes up all my time and pays the bills that we can call it such!

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Alleviating soil crusting

    Quote Originally Posted by qualicumtom View Post
    Hey Gary,

    Any problems with using the rolling finger tines, other than of course bits of chaff and such getting stuck in there?

    I thought about the sand idea myself, but you'd need a pretty huge quantity to cover 5 acres, and I fear that it would cost me a pile of money and just turn the soil into concrete. I already try to collect all the leaves that I can this time of year for that purpose, and mulch the ground where the higher value crops go in--mostly leaves from my apple and cherry trees.

    -M.
    Sounds like you are on the right track might need to figure a way to get paid for hauling to cover costs. I get $9.00/yd for dump fee on yard waste such as the leaves and needles. I only haul in what is suitable for my uses, any junk goes to a landfill.

  7. #7
    Veteran Member oosik's Avatar
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    Default Re: Alleviating soil crusting

    Be somewhat careful on the amount of pine needles added to your soil. Here the only trees are P. pines and the soil is black as the ace of spades. Also the soil is VERY acidic and to get any kind of garden I have to add a significant amount of lime/pot ash or anything else to neutralize the soil. Have no problems with surface crusting - very little clay and even less rain.

  8. #8
    Super Member
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    Default Re: Alleviating soil crusting

    Quote Originally Posted by qualicumtom View Post
    The prairie boys will probably scoff at saying 5 acres of veggies is a commercial venture, but yeah, commercially. I figure if it takes up all my time and pays the bills that we can call it such!
    Five acres of veggies can darn sure keep you busy.

  9. #9
    Super Member
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    Default Re: Alleviating soil crusting

    Quote Originally Posted by oosik View Post
    Be somewhat careful on the amount of pine needles added to your soil. Here the only trees are P. pines and the soil is black as the ace of spades. Also the soil is VERY acidic and to get any kind of garden I have to add a significant amount of lime/pot ash or anything else to neutralize the soil. Have no problems with surface crusting - very little clay and even less rain.

    Good point about the acidity, varies with your locale. My soil was too basic, over 8.2ph so the pine needles and leaves are helping to lower the ph.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Alleviating soil crusting

    I'd go with the sand, if applicapable. With organic matter being at 15%, it is literally gluing the clay particles together. Ideally, in strictly clay ground, organic matter should be at 5%.

    Also believe I'd forgo the shallow tilling, and just disk. I'm guessing your crust is about as thick as the depth you tilled. Plant in a little courser earth, then use a cultivator, not a tiller for weed control.

    And possibly tilling the earth too early could be part of the problem too. I know we all seem to be chomping at the bit to get things out early, but tillage too soon when wet will cause you headaches all summer. I've been trying to get this point across to a buddy of mine for the past 4 years, but yet he gets out there when it's too wet, then complains all summer.

    He also tills it until it's practically like flour, thinking this is the perfect seed bed, only to be disappointed when it gets hard as a brick.

    I used a rear tined tiller to go between rows of the potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and other items my old David Bradley could not straddle to cultivate, once it got too high/wide. The difference in hoeing out a few weeds a few days after a rain made a believer out of me.

    I would like someday to get a 3pt, tiller for the only reason to incorporate plant matter, and manure in the fall, before planting the cover crop.

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