Working in soggy soil

May 2022 Posted in Gardening

It’s been raining a lot lately. It’s not unusual for late spring, and we need the water for an expected dry summer that will eventually happen. The soil is soggy and cold, though. Seeds are slow to grow and, in some gardens, are simply rotting. Soil care and amendment will help the drainage, row covers can soften the blow of rain and hail, and planting strategies could mitigate the muddy mess.

Mixing plant organics into soil will break up clumps of mud and add air to the structure, then drainage should improve. Some of the less expensive bags of compost have chunks of woody material in them that will loosen the soil and eventually break down. Homemade compost might be getting soggy if it is not covered… too much rain keeps it too cold to cook (heat from microbe action is necessary to kill weed seeds).

It is important to avoid walking on soil where plants are desired, because compacting squeezes the air out between particles. Roots will be less able to reach out and extract the nutrients in compacted soil. Establish pathways around growing areas. Keeping plant beds less than four feet wide allows access from both sides, or three feet minimum for access from one side without crushing the soil.

Raised beds, four inches or more higher than paths, will allow better drainage and will warm up sooner that flat or flooded areas. We kept dark, light-blocking tarps on the beds over the winter and when they were removed the soil was (almost) weed free and a balmy 60F. The raised beds had settled a couple of inches from weight of rain on the tarps, but working in fresh friable compost with a hoe or broadfork fluffs it right up.

To learn more about soil amendments check out the 16-page publication from OSU Extension, Improving Garden Soils with Organic Matter,
http://extension. .

Beds that need a little more drying out can be protected with a makeshift framework and simple plastic tents. An inexpensive lightweight “tarp” that lets light through while draining off rain can be made from white or yellow dollar store tablecloths held onto creative garden bed frames with clothespins. Protective covering extends the growing season by blocking cold winds too.

Planting strategies can make gardening on rainy days less daunting. First, boots and raingear over warm socks and layered clothing will make the gardener more comfortable. Knee pads, some kind of mat to kneel on, or one of those little padded benches with handles to help us get up are useful.

An interesting technique is to plant from a standing position is to use a length of PVC pipe: place the pipe vertically over the planting spot, drop in a seed or two, shuffle the soil with the end of the pipe, then move on to the next spot and drop in another seed or two…all without bending over. How creative can you be to get the garden growing in soggy soil?

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