Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Working in a Coal Mine

I don’t know much about dirt. I passed Geology 101 with flying colors, but don’t recall a bit of it. I do know that my thick, pasty, cheesy clay is not the best for plant growth.

As I’ve begun to double-dig my new rose bed, I’ve found that the soil under the back lawn is a bit different than the front bed gumbo. There is no topsoil to speak of. Instead, the top layer is a lighter version of the front bed clay. Perhaps the years of supporting a lawn have tempered it. Beneath this 8-inch orange layer is a brown layer. This is mostly clay, with chunks of coal and terracotta. The next layer is a repeat of the first.

Before I moved to Ohio, I assumed that the burning of coal for energy was defunct in the U.S. I thought we had all moved on to cleaner energy sources like running water, wind, sun, and nuclear fuel. (Although whether nuclear plants are cleaner than coal is a subject of debate.) I was a bit dismayed to learn that our local electricity comes from a coal-burning plant. Perhaps we are not out of the dark ages yet.

We don’t just burn coal here; we mine it. The Powhatan No. 6 Mine in Alledonia, Ohio is listed among the major U.S. Coal Mines. From what little I understand of coal extraction in Ohio, the coal usually exists as bands of rock about three feet thick. This leaves me a little puzzled by my clay layer with coal chunks, not to mention the bright orange pieces of what look like soft terracotta.

Ignorant geologic ramblings aside, I wonder how my plants will do in this odd soil. From my internet gleanings, I gather that coal is acidic, but I could find nothing else on cultivating in a coal mine. I’m seriously considering testing the soil before planting the roses to determine what sort of amendments (if any) I should add to alter the pH. If the soil is completely untenable, perhaps I could sort out the coal and burn it to offset our horrendous winter utilities bill.


Anonymous Sara said...

Why not take a sample to your local county ag extension offices? Testing in my state at least is only 6 bucks, and you get a pretty detailed report on what you need to do in that soil for different plants. It was totally worth the money, in my opinion.

2:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sara's advice was spot on! FYI- Ohio has a Master Gardener program offering sound horticultural advice on growing plants -
A soil test is the only way to know what your soil contains or needs to support such a demanding plant throughout its life. You waste money if you plant anything in a poorly prepared bed, and waste even more money throwing unnecessary or incorrect nutrients on top. Different plants have wildly different macro/micro nutrient needs and site requirements. Heavy feeders remove certain nutrients quickly so they might look great the first year even in poorer soil, but then mysteriously lose vigor the next or during a time of stress from drought, heat or cold extremes. Simply pouring a rose food formulation on them may not be doing them any favors. Depending on the soil test, you'll learn if the soil lacks calcium, humus or crucial micronutrients. I'm also concerned with your bizarre overuse of pesticides. A good dollop or "poof" of Sevin dust directly into the yellow jacket entrance (at night) would have been far cheaper and more effective. The habitat wouldn't have been tainted with toxic petrochemicals. Too many homeowners fail to research before they plant or try to control something. Realizing I'm 2 years late with this reply, I'd still suggest researching the term IPM (integrated pest management) and bone up on modern horticultural practices. Gardening success is usually hit or miss unless one has an informed green thumb. Best wishes! ~ The Suburban Naturalist

6:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another great way to deal with the clay is to add flour to it when you till it up. this prevents the clay from forming back up then you can add in better dirt to it. no more problems.....just need flour

7:58 AM  

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