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Sand and Clay Soil Improvement Strategy

My recent move to the central coast of California gives yet another opportunity to create a new garden and orchard. I've left some wonderful soil and fruit trees behind me over the years.

The soil here is mostly sand that drains quickly and lacks organic matter. It is quite a different situation than working with clay but both extremes are relatively easy to turn into prime garden soil, especially when I employ microbiological helpers.

My first task here was to convert the scraggly front lawn from chemically-dependent grass growing in lifeless sand that allowed water and nutrients to simply run right through the root zone. I applied a combination of minerals and mycorrhizal spores (our MycoMinerals product) plus a slow release dry organic fertilizer and watered it in (UV rays can harm the spores). A couple weeks later, after the spores had a chance to come out of dormancy, I scattered grass seed. For the first few weeks, the lawn required almost daily watering but now that the moisture-retaining mycorrhizal fungi have colonized the soil I can cut back on watering to once a week. (We have not had any significant rain here for months.)

What was arguably the worst-looking lawn in the neighborhood is now already one of the best, and with much less input required. It is relatively easy to get grass off of a chemical fertilizer treadmill, and I'd be surprised if more homeowners and lawn-care services don't adopt a cleaner biological approach in the future.

For my garden and orchard areas, the fix was also simple - dig in compost and the minerals/spores, along with small amounts of dry organic fertilizer. (See for a good mail-order source of fertilizer.) The initial setup calls for some muscle work to blend the additives into the soil, but after that it's simple to seed or transplant into the improved medium - I follow a limited-till routine with improved soils.

Again, not much water will be needed for sandy soil that is clumped together by mycorrhizal fungi root-threads. And earthworm populations will soar, continually enriching the soil as they feed on surface mulch. One note - it is difficult to find quality compost in bags. The major brand name products are typically awful - not much more than blackened sawdust. A locally-owned nursery may be able to steer you to some good stuff.

For clay soil, I found that the best and quickest fix is sand and lots of it. Ignore the uninformed folks who say that "clay and sand makes concrete." That's simply wrong. If you aim for a 50-50 mix of clay and sand, it will produce a beautiful loose texture that will be a pleasure to work with for years to come. Skeptical? Pick up a few bags of builder's sand and work in a 5-6 inch deep band of sand in a foot-wide strip across your garden rows. (It will seem like too much sand) Then scatter some MycoMinerals and a little dry organic fertilizer on the sand strip and see how those plants perform in comparison to the others in the garden.

Important - it will ruin the comparison if you apply any chemical fertilizer, especially liquids, to the strip. Fast-acting synthetic fertilizers are harmful to soil biology. And while fluffed-up rototilled clay quickly reverts back to a hard sticky consistency, note how the sand strip retains moisture and handles like good potting soil all season.

Make the investment in improving your soil and the growing gets much easier!

Cheers, my friends,

Don Chapman
President, BioOrganics, Inc.

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