In recent weeks I have noticed that the soil in one of our fields has become increasingly stiff, making it near impossible to plant.  Our newly planted spinach seedlings have had difficulty rooting in these conditions, and, as Deni pointed out to me, is more than likely the key reason to some of their deaths.  I realize now that I should have tilled the beds before planting — lesson learned!

So what are the reasons for hardening soil?…

  1. Underwatering – the most obvious of answers to this question… Many gardeners (like my novice-self in the past) only use enough water to moisturize the top layer of soil.  This causes the lower levels of the soil to become drier and drier and loses its volume; this causes it to compress and become hard.
  2. Clay soil – one of the most common reasons for hardness of earth; not only is clay hard, it also is a bad conductor of water.  As the water continues to remain on the surface, the clay compresses even more under the weight.
  3. Weather – Long cycles of alternating rain and sunshine can cause soil to solidify.  As the rain water seeps down into the subterranean soil, it acts to bind the soil together.  As it slowly dries out, the soil becomes powdery and loose.  The next cycle of dampness acts to bind this powdery soil together and makes it harder.  As this cycle continues, the soil increasingly hardens.
  4. Drying organic matter – Dead roots, decaying organic matter, and all kinds of elements mixing with the soil can make it hard.  All these things work to suck the moisture out of the soil making it dry and hard.  As time elapses, soil begins to compact and hardening intensifies.

If you are having this issue over a long duration, tilling is the prime diagnosis.  I believe in the case of GYO’s garden, long cycles of alternating weather patterns was the prime culprit!  Talk to y’all next week – happy gardening my fellow Appalachians!