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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What To Do With Clay

I think our neighbors would scoff (yes, scoff) if they knew how much I am relying on books to get this homestead started.  For instance, we need to figure out how to get nutrients back to the soil.

But perhaps I need to back-up.  Why is this all so important to me?  I would like to live a more sustainable life.  Ideally we would get all our fruits, vegetables, and eggs from our own land.  And Walmart would get a LOT less of our money.  Further, I want to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.  Which means that I would like to be as local as I can for our needs.

We are failing that miserably at the moment, though.  Right now I am in a moral dilemma of choosing between ideology and practicality.

Ideally, we would use beautiful, home-cooked compost to get nutrients back into our clay-packed soil.  But I don't know diddly about compost.  However, I am a librarian, so I know more than diddly about books!  Barbara Pleasant, has written an amazing, award-winning guide to getting started composting.  In addition to being a very easy to follow explanation of how to compost, The Complete Compost Gardening Guide is an excellent guide on responsible gardening.

Peat moss is a typical additive to get unhelpful soil up to snuff.  However, Pleasant makes an excellent argument for why peat moss is not a sustainable option.  "Peat comes from such very slow-growing, slow-rotting plants that it typically takes 1,000 years for a bog to add 1 yd (0.91 m) to its depth." (Pleasant, 232)

So here is my problem.  I don't want to abuse 1,000 years of lovely rot just to jump-start my garden, and I certainly don't want to encumber the fossil fuels to bring it here to the homestead.  But I don't have any lovely, home-grown compost, yet.  We only moved here about a month and a half ago, after all.  In the question of ideology versus practicality, I think, at the beginning, practicality is going to have to win out.  

That decided, I guess we will be buying a van-load of peat moss and tilling it into our fall garden plots in the next two weeks.  But I have a better plan for energizing the rest of the garden over the winter.  But more on that later.

For now, I need to finish tilling the fall plots, and find out how to balance the gardening ideas, the general household tasks, and the stay-at-home mom stuff, all while trying to maintain my sanity.  


  1. Your blog is delightful to read. I just started composting too! In no time you'll have your stuff going and no more need for peat. Hang in there homesteader!

  2. I'm sure Dale already shared this with you -- but have you considered using sawdust? It should have a similar effect with making the clay more malleable. You'll still need to use fertilizer, but at least you're not exploiting a bog.

    May want to make sure the wood is untreated wood, first, though. :)

  3. Oh, the compost post! I knew it would show up soon! We've had great luck with rabbit poo in both the garden (you can direct till it in) and in the compost pile. If you know someone in town with bunnies, they'll love you for taking it off their hands!

  4. Thanks, you guys. Mortimer (Mortimer? Really?), That is an interesting idea. I will have to research sawdust.

    Michele, I am sure there will be lots more composts posts - probably on how it truly grosses me out. I need to look into finding a rabbit friend. Once we get chickens, though, we will be living large.

    We do have a contact with mules who has offered us their, ahem, bi-product. But we will have to compost it before we can use it.

  5. One word: Claybreaker. Home Depot. Cheap.

  6. Thanks, Ken. We don't have a Depot, but I can look around the next time we go digging. (And that was 4 words!)


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