The best way to begin conditioning soil is to delay planting a full veggie garden and plant a crop of green manure. If the folks in our area who were plagued by impossibly clay-rich soil could have known about green manure, the main source of income for the old money would not have come from inventing the formula for Coca Cola (“Co-Cola” as the locals call it) or textile mills. Columbus might have then become a Georgian-style Lexington, Kentucky or something. Instead, the soil made extensive farming and even owning horses an extremely expensive endeavor. Imagine the start up costs!
Plowing this soil requires high-quality tractors and vast amounts of compost. I sometimes imagine how difficult it would have been to settle this area with the combination of insufferable heat and humidity, predacious arachnids, poisonous snakes, mosquitoes from the Jurassic period, and soil packed so tightly that if we’d had coal available the main crop might have been diamonds.
Back to green manure… green gold for the soil. Used as a rotation crop or a ground cover to keep the soil (and thus, the veggie roots) cool, these wonderful little legumes are then plowed under to add organic matter to the soil. How important is organic matter to the soil? Lots.
Once the legumes have been turned under, they set to work improving aeration, water retention, weed suppression, and since their roots were so deep they were able to bring up nutrients that other plants could not — so they introduce those nutrients to the well-worked portion of the soil. Essentially, they act as the spa, massage therapists, and nutrition gurus frequented by celebrities and those who profited from the government bailout of certain nefarious loan companies — only for dirt.
Want a list of super-great green manures and links of where to purchase them? Oh, I’m on it!