Clay soil can be challenging in the garden but there are actually some vegetables that can tolerate—or even benefit from—these growing conditions. From broccoli to potatoes, your favourites might just be on the list.
This list from the book High Value Veggies by Mel Bartholomew is provided by Cool Springs Press.
10 Best Vegetables for Clay Soils
Shallow-rooted vegetables can tolerate—and may even benefit from the stability of—heavy clays.
Other root crops, like daikon radishes and potatoes, help to break up a heavy clay soil.
Heavy clay soils are slow to warm, so planting early spring crops may not be possible.
This list comes from the book, High Value Veggies by Mel Bartholomew, author of the popular Square Foot Gardening series.
- Broccoli is moisture-loving plant so never let the soil entirely dry out.
- If you are careful at harvest time to preserve as many leaves as possible, stems and small heads will grow that produce a second harvest.
- Get extra value from your Brussels sprouts harvest by cleaning and cooking the leaves as well as the sprouts.
- Don’t worry about light frosts: they can enhance the flavor.
3Cabbage (red and green)
- Green cabbage is traditionally used for cole-slaw and soups.
- Red Express is a highly recommended red variety known for its vitamin C and A content.
4Cabbage (Napa and savoy)
- Napa cabbage also goes by the name Chinese cabbage.
- Savoy is a cabbage with leaves somewhat similar to romaine lettuce.
- Cauliflower does best in nutrient-rich soil so be sure to add compost or another fertilizer like fish emulsion on a regular basis.
- Kale is another cool weather vegetable that sweetens with a touch of frost.
7Bean (Bush or Pole)
- Pick beans when they are full-size and ripe but do not let them get so big that they look about to burst.
- Harvest carefully to allow the plant to continue producing more beans.
- Snap and snow peas do best with trellis even if they say they are no-trellis varieties.
- Pea pods can be harvested at any time: the whole thing is delicious.
- There are so many more types of potatoes than we will ever find in stores.
- Start with certified, disease-free seed potatoes to give yours a good start.
- Daikon is a winter radish that takes approximately 70 days to mature.
- Look for white, purple, red, and green varieties.
High Value Veggies by Mel Bartholomew
It doesn’t matter where you garden—in a community plot, in containers, in raised beds, or straw bales, or in a Square Foot Garden—deciding which edibles to plant is perhaps the biggest factor in whether or not your garden succeeds. While success means many things to many gardeners, there’s no getting around the issue of cost versus payback.
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Does it make sense to spend $5 and use up three feet of garden space to grow one cabbage when you can buy a beautiful one at the farmer’s market for $2?
The book, High-Value Veggies, evaluates 59 of the most common home garden vegetables to determine which edible crops give you the biggest bang for your buck.
If clay is your struggle, the veggies listed above may be suited to your growing conditions.
Garden Soil 101
Soil | The foundation of your garden. Know what you’ve got and provide only what it needs.
• Mulch | Add 2-inches of organic matter to protect soil, retain moisture, and gradually fertilize your soil.
• Leaves | Finely chopped fall leaves make excellent mulch.
• Compost: Decomposed organic matter providing nutrients for the garden.
• Potting Mix | Contains no soil: designed to optimize plant growth in pots.
• Seed Starting Mix | A lightweight potting mix for sowing seeds in containers.
• Soil pH | Knowing your level (which may vary) is informational, not a call to action. Most soils fall in the range of 5 to 8 and accommodate a wide range of plants.
The Heartbreaking (and Shovel-breaking) Challenge of Clay Soil
My first garden was one giant mound of clay. I’m not talking the clay-like soil that many gardeners have, but pure, ready-for-the-pottery-studio, dense, unforgiving, relentless, clay.
The problem was, when you’re starting out as a gardener, it’s very hard to know when the challenges are caused by your own lack of knowledge or the conditions themselves.
Related: 10 Vegetables to Grow in Sandy Soil
I spent the first few years assuming I was the problem rather than the unaccommodating evils of a pit of clay.
I tried everything short of frantic dances to entice the gods of soil quality, but, after splitting a few shovel handles in half just trying to dig holes, it gradually dawned on me that my clay situation was a bit extreme.
My daughter making a pottery tea set from our garden soil was the final tipping point. Doh!
That’s when I finally installed raised beds which I now believe are the answer to just about any garden question. Okay, not really, but they sure provide a great work-around for soil problems.
In hindsight, I hate to think of how many years I wasted trying to change the nature of that soil. And don’t even suggest double-digging! No amount of double-digging, amendments, pleading, begging, or bartering is going to alter tonnes and tonnes of clay. It will always return and win.
If you can actually get a shovel in, you may have some hope. My garden rarely allowed such a luxury.
Today we live on a property that is pure sand. Not sandy, or sand-like, or sand-ish soil. Nope! Beach sand. Without the lakefront view. So sandy, in fact, that after 5 years of gardening here I am yet to find a worm or a stone in any of it.
And so the story continues.
If you have great gardening soil, consider it rare and lucky.
And there you go. If you’re going to plant in clay, pick the veggies that give you a fighting chance.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛