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  1. #1
    Veteran Member
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    2004 Mahindra 4110 w/509 BH

    Default Clay, Clay... oh yeah, and MORE Clay!

    As I wait for the swamp to dry out enough in my back yard to support my tractor without getting it stuck... and for that nasty alligator to crawl back home to Florida... I am contemplating again exactly how I will eliminate the swamp once and for all time this summer now that I own a tractor w/FEL+BH. The problem is simple: Clay, clay and more clay. Nasty gray stuff that lives there starting no more than 2 or three inches below the surface all around my house and goes all the way down to that place where Satan lives! To make matters worse, my "back forty" slopes down to the back of the house (i.e., the swamp area) and contains a bunch of natural springs. In other words, there are BOTH tons of gray clay right below the surface and a source of water to keep it wet and soggy much of the year. Regrading and terracing will help keep the natural springs under control where a previously installed drainage system failed... but what to do about all that clay?

    In the past, there have been two schools of thought:
    1) Dig it ALL out, throw down a layer of crushed stone at least 6" thick for better drainage... and then place an entirely new lawn atop that... OR
    2) Do something... anything... in situ to the clay soil to make it less offensive.

    Since the logistics and costs on preferred option (1) seem almost impossible, I would like your opinions on fallback option (2)

    As background to where I am coming from... different folks at different times with absolute zero to tons of dirt experience (as in degreed, registered civil engineers) have talked about adding one or more of the following "ingredients" essentially through some combination of digging, regrading, mixing, tilling, etc.

    1) Coarse Sand
    2) Crushed stone
    3) Mulch, peat, compost or wood chips
    4) Limestone
    5) Loam
    6) Anything that is NOT gray slimy clay

    Sadly, being laid-off now, my access to these civil engineering professionals is not what it used to be. Besides, I value the opinions of folks here even higher.

    Anyway... do any of these ingredients, alone or in combination, make any sense to you? Will they do the trick? Other than total removal, how have you folks out there come to terms with slimy gray clay???

    Dougster

  2. #2
    Bronze Member
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    Jun 2006
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    92
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    ALABAMA
    Tractor
    Kubota GL3240

    Default Re: Clay, Clay... oh yeah, and MORE Clay!

    I'll trade you some of your wet/soft grey clay for some of my dry/hard as rock red clay

  3. #3
    Super Member JerryG's Avatar
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    Northwest Arkansas
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    MF 1440-4 PowerShuttle

    Default Re: Clay, Clay... oh yeah, and MORE Clay!

    Can you ditch around the area that you want dry to a level that would eliminate your problem?

  4. #4
    Veteran Member
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    2004 Mahindra 4110 w/509 BH

    Default Re: Clay, Clay... oh yeah, and MORE Clay!

    Quote Originally Posted by ALHILLDIRT
    I'll trade you some of your wet/soft grey clay for some of my dry/hard as rock red clay
    Believe it or not, I'd take that trade if I could!!!

    Dougster

  5. #5
    Elite Member KentT's Avatar
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    Mar 2005
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    Sevierville, TN
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    Power Trac PT 425

    Default Re: Clay, Clay... oh yeah, and MORE Clay!

    Doug,

    Theoretically the best soil is a mixture of 1/3 sand, 1/3 clay and 1/3 organic material. Given that, I'd focus on adding sand and organic material to your existing clay. The crushed stone will do nothing for you -- unless you're trying to build a driveway or something. Mulch, compost and loam are too expensive in the quantities you need. You may need some crushed limestone to lower the acidity of your soil later -- but you have to create soil first, then deal with PH of it...

    Good sources of organic material in large quantities is sawdust from sawmills and horse owners who'll often use woodchips for bedding. Horse manure has no "market value" for gardeners, while composted cow manure is as expensive ad mulch in my area. Also, check your local area for tree companies, and tell them that you'll take any woodchips or tree leaves that they have to dispose of. Be creative -- I'd look for cheap sources of large quantities -- certainly not lawn and garden centers. You'll literally need tons of it... then till it in. Wood in the soil will initially tend to pull nitrogen out of the soil as it decomposes. But, concentrated nitrogen in the form of ammonium nitrate or sodium nitrate is inexpensive because a little bit goes a long way.

    Out here in Central Mass there's quite a few sand pits and it's relatively inexpensive, but you'll need a few truckloads of it also...

    Note that you can firm up your "swamp" simply by digging drainage ditches down below the existing water table -- if you have somewhere to send that groundwater. If you can get some drainage going, you really only need 3" - 6" of good soil to have a good lawn.

  6. #6
    Veteran Member
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    2004 Mahindra 4110 w/509 BH

    Default Re: Clay, Clay... oh yeah, and MORE Clay!

    Quote Originally Posted by JerryG
    Can you ditch around the area that you want dry to a level that would eliminate your problem?
    Well, between the current yard drainage system and terracing the back forty in steps pitched toward the back of the property, it's basically the same effect. At least no water will run into the "swamp" anymore or remain standing there for very long.

    But it still leaves me with all that awful, weak, miserable clay. Even without standing water, it still stays wet and slimy for weeks if not months depending on the amount and frequency of rainfall. Somehow, someway, it's got to be stabilized.

    Dougster

  7. #7
    Veteran Member
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    2004 Mahindra 4110 w/509 BH

    Default Re: Clay, Clay... oh yeah, and MORE Clay!

    Quote Originally Posted by KentT
    Doug,

    Theoretically the best soil is a mixture of 1/3 sand, 1/3 clay and 1/3 organic material. Given that, I'd focus on adding sand and organic material to your existing clay. The crushed stone will do nothing for you -- unless you're trying to build a driveway or something. Mulch, compost and loam are too expensive in the quantities you need. You may need some crushed limestone to lower the acidity of your soil later -- but you have to create soil first, then deal with PH of it...

    Good sources of organic material in large quantities is sawdust from sawmills and horse owners who'll often use woodchips for bedding. Horse manure has no "market value" for gardeners, while composted cow manure is as expensive ad mulch in my area. Also, check your local area for tree companies, and tell them that you'll take any woodchips or tree leaves that they have to dispose of. Be creative -- I'd look for cheap sources of large quantities -- certainly not lawn and garden centers. You'll literally need tons of it... then till it in. Wood in the soil will initially tend to pull nitrogen out of the soil as it decomposes. But, concentrated nitrogen in the form of ammonium nitrate or sodium nitrate is inexpensive because a little bit goes a long way.

    Out here in Central Mass there's quite a few sand pits and it's relatively inexpensive, but you'll need a few truckloads of it also...

    Note that you can firm up your "swamp" simply by digging drainage ditches down below the existing water table -- if you have somewhere to send that groundwater. If you can get some drainage going, you really only need 3" - 6" of good soil to have a good lawn.
    Excellent analysis and advice Kent! Thank you! You've sparked my ancient memory to actually start working again. Your advice seems consistent with advice I'd gotten from the civil engineering pros!

    I can get all the woodchips I can possibly handle... no problem there. I can literally have truckloads dropped off for free. Sand is another matter... not so easy or cheap... but far from impossible.

    The crushed stone/gravel/recycled pavement was intended mainly for areas to be used for higher bearing loads (under tool shed, etc.) and parking.

    Dougster

  8. #8
    Platinum Member Defective's Avatar
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    Ontario, Canada

    Default Re: Clay, Clay... oh yeah, and MORE Clay!

    Are you ready for the long haul?

    I'd dig a truckload sized hole about 2 feet deep. Then I'd get a load of organic material (the sawdust mentioned earlier would be great...) and a load of sand. Dump them in the hole & pile the clay from a second hole on top. Till the result as deeply and thoroughly as you can.

    Repeat this process until you have a yard.

    This will take a while.

    When you're done, you'll have the best yard in the county. You can also sell the excess starting sometime next year.

    Just a thought, but it seems like a plan that could well fit into your financial constraints.

  9. #9
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    Jan 2007
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    Central Lower Michigan
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    Kioti DK40SE

    Default Re: Clay, Clay... oh yeah, and MORE Clay!

    First, and I'm no expert on this, be sure the area isn't considered a wetland. Filling a wetland and getting caught will make your life very unpleasant.

    Assuming it's not a wetland - you can improve the soil, but if you truck in stuff you will have to use mind-blowing quantities to do any good. Think multiple semi loads before you start seeing a difference. It doesn't sound like that's in your budget, at least if you're paying for it.

    Two thoughts on cheaper options:
    1) Try to find a local business that cleans out horse manure from rich people's stables. We have one locally and are expecting 30 yards of totally FREE horse manure in the next couple weeks. It generally has no market value and otherwise the hauler takes it to the dump and pays to get rid of it. It is mostly organic material and should help the soil out a fair bit.

    2) What do you have growing on it now? If you can get some grass to grow, get it growing really vigorously and mow it frequently. If it won't survive the winter, till it in in the fall. You might even try sorghum-sudangrass or buckwheat as "green manure" type crops that will create tons of organic matter that you can add to the soil by mowing or tilling (fall tilling in the case of buckwheat). Annual ryegrass would be another option. This won't be an instant fix, but the cost will be far lower than trucking in loads of sand or limestone.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Clay, Clay... oh yeah, and MORE Clay!

    Quote Originally Posted by Defective
    Are you ready for the long haul? I'd dig a truckload sized hole about 2 feet deep. Then I'd get a load of organic material (the sawdust mentioned earlier would be great...) and a load of sand. Dump them in the hole & pile the clay from a second hole on top. Till the result as deeply and thoroughly as you can. Repeat this process until you have a yard. This will take a while. When you're done, you'll have the best yard in the county. You can also sell the excess starting sometime next year. Just a thought, but it seems like a plan that could well fit into your financial constraints.
    The mixing strategy is a whole 'nother topic... and thank you for bringing it up. I have lots of ideas on how to do this, but the space I can devote to the mixing operation initially is fairly limited. The funny part is that saving my existing "swamp" drainage system while doing this initial work is not going to be easy. It might be best if I just trash that existing system first and build another one... if still necessary... after I am done mixing.

    Dougster

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