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Old 01-31-2012, 12:56 PM   #1
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Default Prepping soil

I'm gonna be adding a few more plants this year and the only places i have available to do so are in an area with some heavy clay in the ground. I was wondering what the best way is to prepare the ground? I've been told nothing grows well in clay so i assume hops won't either.

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Old 01-31-2012, 01:10 PM   #2
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I would build up a mound of good top soil, maybe even in a wide cedar bed above the clay, allowing for good drainage. You're right, nothing grows well in clay, we've got plenty of it down here in NC. The important thing is making sure the water can get out, and water them slowly and frequently.

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Old 01-31-2012, 02:55 PM   #3
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few things grow well in clay, but a lot of things make do as best they can. you have grass and trees over that clay, right?

your goal should be to improve the soil as much as you can. the two things that will help the most are organic matter and sand. organic matter (compost, manure, peat moss, etc) helps break up the clay chunks, provides nutrients to plants and improves soil chemistry. sand's role is mostly structural. the difference between clay and sand is the average size of soil particles: clay = all very small, sand = all very big.

depending how hardcore you want to be, i would suggest digging up and removing a portion of the clay where you want to plant the hops, replace the discarded clay with organic material and sand, and mix it up with the clay as best you can. i'm of the opinion (just a hunch) that you shouldn't grow plants in 100% imported soil - the roots will eventually reach beyond your bed of goodness, so by having some of the surrounding clay mixed in with the good stuff they know what to expect (or at least it won't be as big of a shock).

one advantage of clay is that it retains water very well. once your hops develop a strong root system, they will be able to tap some of that water held underground.

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Old 01-31-2012, 02:55 PM   #4
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PoppinCaps makes good points about a raised bed on top. Fence cedar is a cheap option to build a box. Amending the soil with a lot of compost and some sand can help with drainage. Also, try to dig up/break up the clay as deep as possible, then mix in the compost and amendments. The benefit to clay is that is conserves water well, so all is not lost. You just have to be careful that it drains okay as to not drown your rhizomes/crown when you get a good rain spell.
The earlier you start to amend the soil the better off you'll be. So, if possible, try to source grass clippings, leaves, and any other organic matter to start breaking down that clay. Good luck!

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Old 01-31-2012, 03:26 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jester5120 View Post
I'm gonna be adding a few more plants this year and the only places i have available to do so are in an area with some heavy clay in the ground. I was wondering what the best way is to prepare the ground? I've been told nothing grows well in clay so i assume hops won't either.
Hops will grow under pretty much any soil conditions, but they prefer DEEP well drained soils to grow optimally. Deep, meaning soils that were formed under certain geologic conditions that allow drainage to depth of at least a few feet. This allows the perennial root system to expand downward without the chance of becoming waterlogged. This is crucial being that if the majority of the roots are growing in standing water, their oxygen supply is severely restricted and bad things happen. Stick a dry-cleaning bag over your head with duct tape around your neck and see what happens after a few minutes.

I've been battling the same problem for . . . well, as long as I've been growing them which began back in the late 80's. I've excavated the clay to a depth of about 3 feet and backfilled with a blend of native soil and compost. Then I mounded with the same soil mix to create another foot or foot-and-a-half raised bed situation. In years when we have moderate rainfall, things are great. But, in years when we have excessive rainfall, I feel bad about myself being that water will take the path of least resistance. This leads to what is known as the 'teacup effect'. Sure, the water will drain away from the surface of the mound, but where does it go? It fills up the area that I filled with the 'nice' soil and now the roots are essentially submerged.

You know, we can scratch our heads, figure out how to set up drip irrigation, build elaborate trellis systems, calculate nutrient uptake charts, add supplemental lighting, let loose the lady bugs etc., etc., etc.. But at the end of the day, if you don't have ideal soil conditions, no matter what you've done to try to grow a great crop of hops, it's all for naught. My suggestion would be to do your best and don't expect 2-3 pounds per plant. If you get that kind of harvest and are happy with it, Right On! If you don't get what you were expecting and fret about 'this' and 'that' - take a few deep breaths and pour yourself a beer. If that doesn't work, pack up and move to either the Willamette or Yakima Valleys and set up shop. Even if your hops don't grow after you've moved, there's plenty of good ale out in those parts! Just an observation - and remember to 'B-Hoppy'!!
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Old 01-31-2012, 05:13 PM   #6
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I have been gardening for about a 1/4 of my life now. I have no experience with a hop plants. Anyways here goes my thoughts.

you usually want a producing bed to be at the minimum a foot deep, I usually dig to two feet. With clay this is going to be a huge pain. As everyone else said it is probably best to make a raised bed.

Be careful when adding sand! if you mix sand with clay you end up with something that seems a lot like concrete. so concentrate on organic matter, and lots of it.

if you plan for a 1' raised bed and excavate 1' layer of clay you should end up with a decent over all bed with a depth of 2'.

You are going to want to take some soil samples for nutrient and PH adjustments. If your natural soil has enough PK and no N then by feeding a balanced fert you can end up with way too much PK and cause nutrient lock out.

Over all, remember it is a plant. Plants have been here since before we were there to take care of them and they will probably be here long after.

My thoughts on what I would use.

Coco Coir, it is has a huge water/weight capacity and is great for beneficial fungi and eventually will be composted down.

Compost, for all the obvious reasons

Sand, there is a proper ratio for sand to clay but on the other hand there are people that end up making something similar to cement by just adding sand.

LOCATION IN THE YARD-
Sun is one factor, but as previously mentioned water likes to be lazy and go where it is easiest to go. If you have an area of the yard that is sunny, and is already raised up it would reduce the amount of water seeping into your bed during storms and such. If you have a sufficient enough hill you could easily pipe the water from the bottom of your bed to, well, where ever.

Most of the time you are going to have a problem other than pests it is due to the soil, so it is well worth it to take your time and plan thoroughly.

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Old 01-31-2012, 08:41 PM   #7
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I've used rocks in potted plants before to aid in drainage. would it be a good idea mix some into my compost/manure mixture?

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Old 02-01-2012, 06:23 AM   #8
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Don't add rocks to soil, bad idea. Also a bad idea to add rocks to the bottom of planters, unless you are growing cacti. Rocks in the bottom of container planters lead to a "perched water table" which basically means you are worse off than if you didn't add any rocks.

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Old 02-01-2012, 10:23 PM   #9
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Oh ok. It was actually perlite that I was told to use but they said rocks or small pebbles would have the same effect in terms of drainage. My soil was too compacted and it helped a lot. I'll just stick with the mixture of top soil, compost, and some sand that everyone is recommending

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Old 02-02-2012, 01:47 AM   #10
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perlite is very good too, don't shy away from it.

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What hops should I grow? Hop grower's comparison table

Drinking: a belgian pale ale, a belgian imperial stout, an Epic 09.09.09 clone, a brett'ed saison
Carbing: a hop-bursted APA, a citra farmhouse
Fermenting: an abbey ale (to be soured)
Aging: an oud bruin, a BDSA/Dubbel thingy, a soured fruit saison, my "wild oats" brett/sour, a saison with a brett mix added at bottling.
Up next: TBD, probably not brewing again until july.
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