The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Gypsum application rates

Waterlogged ground

One of the ideas I got out of The Holistic Orchard was applying gypsum to improve drainage in the heavy clay parts of our garden.  As you can see from the first photograph in this post, a day or two of rain in the winter is all it takes to saturate our soil and create puddles here, there, and everywhere.  Gypsum is reputed to increase drainage and boost calcium levels (which many people believe results in healthier, more nutritious plants) without sweetening the soil, so I decided to give it a try.

Bag of gypsumWhen amending soil, it's generally a good idea to perform a soil test first, then calculate how much of the amendment you really need.  In many cases, adding too much is worse than adding none at all, so I was leery when one of our readers recommended: "Be very liberal also. It doesn't burn at all. Also you can used it often." 

However, a bit of research proved him right.  One of Clemson University's soil scientists wrote, "There are no easily accessible guidelines regarding the application rate of gypsum in a homeowner situation.   It is sparingly soluble and so it is nearly impossible to over-apply."  I've seen recommendations as high as 2,000 pounds per acre, which is a lot of gypsum.

Spreading gypsum

In the end, I opted to just sprinkle the pellets across wet soil the way I would if seeding a cover crop, so the first fifty-pound bag covered perhaps a quarter of the forest garden.  The feed store has another 450 pounds waiting for us, so we'll be spreading that slowly but surely as our car and golf cart are up to the hauling.  Most websites recommend repeating the application annually for three years, at the end of which, hopefully, our winter puddles will be less problematic.

Our chicken waterer keeps water where you want it --- in the container and in your chickens' mouths --- rather than dampening the floor or litter.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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After you have applied the gypsum do you till it into the soil or let it work its way in gradually?
Comment by mona Wed Dec 12 08:49:33 2012
You can just let it wash in naturally as long as you live in a wet place like we do. If it's very dry where you're at, you might want to soak the ground afterward.
Comment by anna Wed Dec 12 09:41:49 2012

You can find application quantities here. For gardens it says

"20-30 lbs. per 100 square feet"

which is a heck of a lot. OTOH,

"Trees, Shrubs and Flowers: Apply 2-4 cups around the base of smaller plants. Apply 4-6 cups around the base of larger plants."

Other soil improvements to improve drainage and aeration are perlite or vermiculite.

Comment by Roland_Smith Wed Dec 12 13:52:22 2012

Ha, I feel so privileged to be quoted on your site! Thanks

Mona, also a quick light raking just to give the ground some roughness after you sprinkle it if the ground is dry. It helps deal with a heavy rain that can wash it away on slopes.

Comment by Marco Thu Dec 13 08:42:58 2012

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