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Old 04-16-16, 08:01 AM   #6
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Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: elizabethtown, ky, USA
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We have hard, red clay soil here in Kentucky too. For plants that like well drained soil, the raised bed is the best thing you can do. Break ground a few inches deep, let it dry out, and spread organic matter over the clods of clay. Rototill it once to mix the clay and amendment material without pulverizing everything. Build a perimeter for the bed or make a mound, fill with compost or mulch a couple inches deep. Carve out holes for plants so that the bottom of the hole exposes some of the base layer and backfill with compost mulch.

I have used this method on hundreds of plots in my area with extraordinary success. Super low maintenance and way above average plant vitality.

Kentucky is a big tobacco producing state, so for big plots I use a wood chipper and a mixture of tobacco stalks and hedge or tree trimmings. Local tobacco farmers will dump a whole hay wagon full of stalks on me for free in the late summer or fall. You have a local source of wood chips, so all you need to mix in is something green so the wood chips can compost in place. Livestock manure is easy to come by here, since Kentucky is a big horse racing state. For smaller plots, bales of green hay (not grass - alfalfa, clover,or oat hay is best) can be used to incorporate some high-nitrogen material into the layer.

A lot less green material is needed than wood chips. For an actively managed compost bin, you want a high nitrogen ratio (20 carbon:nitrogen) so the bin will work fast and hot. For composting in place, especially with coarse woody chips, the process works much slower, so having a high nitrogen ratio ( below 50-75 carbon:nitrogen) will get you a stinky, sloppy mess of a bed that will need more wood chips or aged leaves mixed in. I cannot stress this enough: DO NOT PUT TOO MUCH NITROGEN INTO A FRESH RAISED BED!

Check out this page for the lowdown:

Optimal Compost Ingredients To Create Rich Black Soil

Using this basic method/formula will eliminate the need for fertilizer, water, and most other routine maintenance for a long, long time. As long as the plot is not disturbed, it will need nothing except more mulch on top as it cooks down. If you live in the desert, the plot will need water the first year or two until the worms and fungus do some composting underground. If the color isn't your favorite, sprinkle a thin layer of store bought mulch from the big box store. They had a sale on it this month for 2 bucks a bag in rainbow colors. Scott's earth something.

Last edited by jeff5may; 04-16-16 at 08:45 AM..
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