Organic Farming in Wet Clay!

Hi there. I am an organic farming consultant in Jamaica. I have been spoiled by prime soil and conditions over the years, but my latest project is in the rainforest with very clay soil. Saturation of the soil is at 100%, there is very little sun, and everything has a thin layer of mold growing on it…lovely. Any crops/practices you could recommend in these conditions??

With Thanks,



Malabar spinach likes constant moisture, but it needs a lot of sun. It is a vine and it will grow up and above the shade.

“Malabar Spinach tolerates a wide range of soil conditions but does best on slightly acidic (pH 6-6.7) humus-rich sandy loams.”

We have had a lot of good results from the Malabar spinach, even in fairly alkaline soils. We use container gardening a lot, so we make our own soil with a lot of organic material and usually a significant component of sand. But the origins of the plant are in the humid tropics.

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As an enthusiast of Annonaceae plants, this would seem to be ideal conditions for Annona glabra, and Soursop might be a good option, or possibly Soursop grafted onto Annona glabra, if that were possible. An overhead canopy of trees would certainly protect against wind which is typically a weakness of many Annonas.


“Shade tolerance of tropical forage legumes for use in agroforestry systems”

You might need to start with raised beds.

Organic matter improves any soil. In the tropics, soil organic matter and soil fertility are essentially the same things. Best to mulch with organic matter. Incorporation is problematic. Earthworms could help.

Is there no sunshine or just too much shade?


Hi Liz, I had a similar issue with our research Farm near Seattle WA. (BTW, I’m looking for people in Jamaica to work with, would love to chat sometime)

Anyhow, the main thing we found is improper chemical composition of the soil, which causes the clay to bind up. Solving that issue organically takes a long time, 3-6 years based on what we experienced, due to getting the material soil integrated around perennials. We tried some liquid lime products which helped, and some other non organic soil conditioners to reduce the electrical bond. Which BTW is also very helpful in getting the organic matter to infiltrate the clay. Working with organic hop and fruit farmers with thousands of acres of plants, we found sometimes getting to the organic sweet spot faster and with less pollution actually called for some upfront non organic treatments. I was not thrilled about it, but the actual affect if using nontoxic products is that we achieved better results faster in flipping soil into organic production. In the long run it was actually more"organic" because far less transporting materials, work, etc. Used in combination with the right plants and some good 2’ deep fork work, might be the ticket for you. Try sending your soil samples off to a liquid liming/potash company and see what they recommend to loose that clay, and try about 50SF to test the product with a sample bottle. If you find a solution that way it will only take a year or so to get air and drainage back so roots can form.

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Thank yo so much for these amazing responses! Liz

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