Monday, March 11, 2013

Garden Voodoo

I think I  may have stumbled into some dark garden voodoo, but I just don't care. It's not possible to garden in Virginia without ranting about your soil. Oh, is that ball of clay actually soil? Who knew? I have spent countless hours and lots of money attempting to amend my soil only to have the lower layers remain compacted and lumpy.

I have yelled, cried, cussed, and thrown shovels at my soil and much to my irritation, none of it was effective. However, John and Bob's Penetrate Liquid Biotiller is. According to the plain white package, it's a liquid solution derived from saponin, a product of the yucca plant, and a molasses extract. It could be a combination of eye of newt  and toe of frog, and after seeing how effective it is, I'd still buy it. I am convinced it was not born in a lab but is pure garden voodoo.



Here's how it works: a very plain package will arrive in your mail with two white bottles marked A and B. Pour some into your watering can and give it a stir. Take a pitchfork or long spike and poke holes into the worst, driest, hardest, most wretched soil in your garden. Saturate the soil with the Penetrate enriched water and Penetrate will pry your clay particles about like a crowbar. I'm serious!! I've been using it for two years and was amazed when it turned my Bed of Death and Misery into a beautiful part of the garden. It actually separates your clay soil allowing greater absorption of water and nutrients as well as increased air flow to your roots. It's only available in smallish sized packages but if I could buy in a 50 gallon vat, I would.

Here are a few early summer 2012 pictures of the Bed of Death and Misery after a fall and spring application of Penetrate.







To see some truly awful Before pictures, check out Redesigning the Bed of Death and Misery.

Penetrate can also be purchased at Amazon.com but I'd check out both sites to see where you can get the best deal.

63 comments:

  1. Hi Tammy, What a small world! John & Bob actually are from right here in my hometown here the Central Valley of California. In fact, John landscaped my friend's home many years ago. I really can't speak for their products since I am partial to my homemade compost. But our yard consists of hardpan and clay, and I can sympathsize with you! I tried many store bought products including gypsum, greensand, and mycorrizal fungi when I started seriously gardening some years ago. But my homemade compost was what worked best. I did buy John & Bob's Soil Optimizer once at the local Whole Foods just to see what it would do. It was pricey, and I really didn't get any better results than with my compost! And my compost was free! But your plants are a testimonial that their product seems to work!

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    1. Awesome!! I like their fertilizers, too, but Penetrate is pure magic. I think poking holes in the soil first really helped. My worm compost beats anything I buy at the store, too. The only way to find their products here is online.

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  2. Bed of Death! Ha Love it! Thank you for sharing this magic!!! Hmmm I have never heard of it nor used it but have an area where they filled the sides of our driveway with pure clay. Makes me mad because they said they were going to use soil when they fixed an area of our drive. Wondering if I gave this a shot that I might have some luck?!?!?! Thanks for sharing!!!

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    1. Did you check out the Before pix? Truly hideous! The moron who installed our patio was supposed to build several raised/bermed beds for me out of compost. Instead he took the clay he excavated for the patio and covered it with an inch of compost. When I discovered this, I was furious. It took Penetrate to break it up after trying in vain for years to amend the mess myself. It should come with a magic wand.

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  3. I have never heard of a product that can turn heavy clay soil into lush, nice garden soil. Yeah, sounds a bit mystical to me! But if it works then I won’t question how it happens! I might even try it here, the whole of London is built on clay, and although most gardens are enriched with good, rich soil before even contemplating growing anything, the clay tend to emerge sooner or later – funny that...

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    1. It's pure alien technology, absolute proof that Martians are among us and working in the horticulture industry. I also added enormous amounts of compost to that bed but I'd been doing that for years and still had dry, heavy clay that nothing wanted to grow in until I added the Penetrate.

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  4. Thank You so much for putting me in your sidebar. I also have to update my side-bar, just too lazy to do. Your death and misery bed really look awesome now. So, many garden products available now, even organic ones; I get confused what to buy and not to buy. Thanks for this good information. I will try to use it, if required, in my vegetable-bed.

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    1. It takes a while to work through what's hype and what's not. I first read about their products on another blog and thought I'd give them a try. I'm so glad I did! :o)

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    1. It will make you more porous so stay close to the bathroom. :o)

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  6. This does seem like voodoo, but you can't argue with the results. I am grateful to the gardening gods that we don't have that kind of dense clay.

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  7. Your lovely garden area there sure speaks well for the product. I also have clay and pretty much just plant what can deal with it but this would sure help for anything people wanted to plant.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. Even after using lots of Penetrate I still buy plants that like clay. I've come to know my enemy well!

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  8. I almost could not beleive, but it sounds, and your garden looks amazing after using this product, never heard of it before. Your first photo made me smile, my grandson made in autumn the same muddy balls in my garden. They are dried and still there on the side of the sundial. Wish you happy gardening, here it has all stopped again, it's icy (literally) cold again. We have a very long winter this time.

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    1. Our winter last year was very warm but this year has been more normal, which is better for my plants. Hopefully, it will warm up for you soon. :o) I have dug chunks of clay out of my garden so thick I thought I could make a pot out of them. A plants roots just suffocate in clay that thick.

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  9. Wow, I love discovering magical products like this....thanks for sharing.
    What we need here now is some rain, the soil is all cracked up, and lots of brown crispy grass....wonder if J&B can create a magic product to solve that problem for me...smile.

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    1. It seems odd than an island would have dry weather but when I was on St John a zillion years ago, they were having a drought, too. Hopefully, you'll get some rain soon. :o)

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  10. This stuff sounds amazing! That bed is so beautiful. I think you need to rename it "The Bed of Life and Happiness"! I'm so glad you found this product!

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    1. You're right! This bed does need a new name. :o)

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  11. Most people who complain about clay soil really have compacted dirt, not clay. But you really do have the greasy wet stuff and your garden needs all the help it can get.

    In New England we are unlikely to have much clay. Our builder left us with lots of hard packed dirt. But in one little area, about three feet wide at the bottom of the hill, when I dig into it the texture of the soil is slippery, it sticks together and it is a yellow color. A patch of clay! I don't know why it is there, and I don't need to amend it as you do, since it is just a small, self-contained spot out back. But why such a distinctly different patch of soil is there I don't know.

    Glad you found a solution to your much wider, difficult clay stuff!

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    1. I could have opened a pottery studio with all my clay. I've dug out chunks so dense I couldn't even break them apart to mix in some compost. I know have a clay based loam but I still come to walls of clay when I have big holes to dig.

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  12. Wow what a nagic product - you must be so relieved to have found a solution to your death bed problems. My soil is just the opposite - very free draining - so I need to add lots of compost to the soil.

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    1. I've garden in two places with soil like that and it was a blessing. I ended up adding lots of compost to that soil, too, so it could hold more moisture. This stuff is magic! I'm convinced!

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  13. I have seen this advertised, but didn't know much about it. So glad to hear your review! I have one spot in my garden where I think this stuff would be quite useful!

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  14. I checked out your before pictues! Wow, that snake oil really works! You do that Voodoo that you do so well!

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    1. It maybe snake oil but it works so well, I don't care! :o)

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  15. I have the perfect stretch of parched garden to try this...I checked out the product and it seems great by reviews and yours is the best because it is from someone I know and trust....I have horrible clay. Where I live is in an area called Clay, NY...if I dig up the soil I can harvest the clay and make pots. I will be trying this for sure. Thanks.

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    1. You are so welcome and thanks for such a kind comment! Use a pitchfork or something equally stabby to add lots of holes to the soil first and then saturate it with the Penetrate/water solution. You'll be amazed at how much more water is able to percolate into the soil without the soil turning into stew. Because more oxygen is available to the plant roots, the plants grow much healthier. Let me know how it works for you!

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  16. Garden voodoo! I love it! I would have thought, though, that your Virginia soil was perfect for gardening?! The climate and other characteristics certainly are. Fortunately, my soil here rarely needs amendments--it's a wonderful dark, rich, loamy mix. The only things that hold it back are the short growing season and droughts and floods. Otherwise, I think anything would grow in it! Great post, Tammy! I chuckled all the way through!

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    1. You have the soil of my dreams! You could make pots out of my clay. I've amended it to the point that it's now a clay based loam but when I started my garden I dug up chunks of blue clay that were signs of zero oxygen penetration into the soil. Ugh!

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  17. Hmmmm.... interesting!!!! But I think I'd need more than 50 gallons!!!! Always nice to see other people's gardens and read about how they amend! Cheers~

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    1. I personally think they should sell it by the tanker truck load. :o)

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  18. Wow! that's amazing stuff! I'm so glad you found a solution and shared it with us. A lot of people have had to make raised beds because of poor soil, now some of them can try this.

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    1. I've heard people say the only way to garden here is in raised beds. But I don't want big wooden beds all over my yard. This was a much better solution. :o)

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  19. I'm buying some today! I had seen it before but was a bit skeptical, but after your testimonial I'll try it. We are wall-to-wall red clay in central NC.

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    1. Your clay sounds like my clay - a big red mess! This should really help. :o)

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  20. Better late than never: I can use some of that voodoo in the few remaining (dirt-poor) spots I haven't planted. Tell me, Tammy, will this voodoo enrichment have any effect on your plans for cast-iron gardening?

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    1. Not all! It helps improve the soil but it's still clay and is either in shade (dry) or in the baking sun (drier). Now it's just looser clay that nutrients, water, and oxygen can finally access. But instead of alive but stunted plants, I have big, healthy plants that are easy to care for and look great. Take a patch of soil and divide it in half. Apply Penetrate to one side but not the other and then plant the same thing on each side. The results should speak for themselves. :o) They should have something good to say!

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  21. I haven't heard of this stuff before. Sounds amazing! We have clay subsoil here not that far down, and something that's even worse than straight clay around the house -- a machine-compacted mess of poor dirt and clay. Where I grew up in Durham County everything was bright red clay!

    You asked about the rose in the collage -- that is actually Veilchenblau also. It looks more pink when it first opens and then turns more of a purple color and finally blue and gray shades are added to the purple. It's like some sort of color experiment!

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    1. The developers/builders of my subdivision did an excellent job of making sure they rode heavy machinery over every inch of soil as many times as possible. The trees they left in my back yard were a blessing because at least in a few spots the soil was less compacted because of their roots. Then they laid sod over giant rocks shoved into the clay. My husband took a pick ax to the spots of grass that wouldn't grow and dug up tons of rocks. So much hassle!

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  22. I've seen this stuff on the web but was skeptical that it would live up to its promises. Given your before and after pictures, I definitely will have to try once the weather here in Chicago gets a bit warmer. You're wise to keep going with "claybusters" though.

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    1. I think "claybusters" will always be a requirement in my garden, as will tough, clay tolerant plants. Gardening in VA isn't impossible but it definitely takes a load of perseverance. :o)

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  23. Love your description of this product, so funny! It is just what I need for the clay-ish zones of my garden. Amazon here I come :)

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  24. Sounds amazing, glad you found something that works for you.

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  25. It really does sound like a miracle. Boggles my mind how a liquid can possibly do that. It reminds me though of a lecture I saw in the fall about soil science. I'm not a sciency gal so I can't explain it proper but I think there's something about altering molecules and how they're attracted to each other going on there. Very cool stuff.

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    1. I was skeptical at first but so were cavemen when they first saw fire. :o) It's magic!

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  26. It's a blooming miracle....and it certainly works well. I looked at the before and after pics, and wow.

    The front bed here is hidden clay...might have to consider it. I have Beds of D, and D all under the fir trees...years of dead cones, needles..and guess who [me] tried to grow stuff in them last summer.

    Jen

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    1. My before pictures are pretty humbling. I was almost convinced I was going to have to stick plastic tulips in that spot. ;o)

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  27. Wow! As long as you don't have to sell your soul or your 1st born child to get it, why not use it?

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    1. My soul and first born are still intact! Woo-hoo! I'd order it by the tanker truck if I could. :o)

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  28. I always thought that I had lucked out and had pretty descent soil, until I dug down last year to create some new flowerbeds. I could make pottery out of that brown stuff! The previous gardener must have down a lot of the soil augmentation for me. I will definitely keep your miracle cure in mind should I do any more additions.
    P.S. The "Bed of Death and Misery" needs a new name. It is looking pretty impressive these days!!

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    1. Thanks! I still find really nasty clay when I dig into parts of the yard that have never been amended.

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  29. I've never heard of Penetrate and see you garden looks better, prettier than before. You have to use it more if it's such magic treatment for the soil.
    have a nice weekend!

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    1. I wish I had known about it when I moved here 10 years ago! It would have made creating this garden so much easier.

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  30. That sounds amazing! I may just try it. I have added compost and humus and organic soil each year to let it work in slowly. It has made a difference, but this sounds very nice, too.

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    1. I had added all of the same things to my garden, too. While they were effective, only Penetrate broke up the most compacted clay. It is amazing. I'm surprised it doesn't come with a magic wand. :o)

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  31. What a change! I'm learning that gardening is so reliant on many factors, but the major one is dirt. It's all about the dirt. Compacted soil is so frustrating because no matter what you do to/with it, if nutrients and oxygen can't permeate the soil then there isn't much hope. I will be looking into the product (and company) you mentioned. It's wonderful to hear (or read) about different natural methods to help combat problems in the garden :-)

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    1. It's so good to hear from you! When you deleted your last blog, I was worried you were gone for good. Gardening starts from the ground up. The more we improve the soil and plant tough natives, the healthier/happier our gardens are.

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    2. Thanks for your kind words! I have not left, but I am trying to figure out what kind of blog I want to have. My blog will be under construction for a while I bet until I find just the right balance for me.

      I love love love so many of your posts :-) You have some wonderful ideas and experience in organic gardening. It is really great reading what you post on here :-D

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