raised bed gardening problems

elbeardoApril 24, 2014

Hi. I'm no stranger to vegetable gardening, having grown vegetables in raised beds for several successful years at our former home. However, after moving to a new location within the same town, my first try with raised bed veggie gardening has been difficult to put it lightly. I dug out part of the lawn in front and installed two raised redwood beds which I filled with a planting mix from the local nursery. I mixed well with the existing heavy clay soil, waited two or three weeks and planted. This was last fall, so I planted the usual fall crops for southern CA: Carrots, green onions, lettuce, broccoli, kale, etc. From the get go, everything suffered. The plants yellowed, the green onions sprouted and then stopped growing, the chard and carrots did the same. Some things like the kale and collards struggled and then finally took off and the lettuce was great from the get go. It seemed like there was no rhyme or reason to what stuff did well and what did not. So... come spring, I amended the soil, turned it over well, and then planted bean seeds, tomato, basil, chiles, and cucumbers. the same thing happened again! seedlings sprouted, grew a bit, and then stopped growing. The pole beans grew a foot and then yellowed and stopped growing. The chiles are 6 inches tall and yellowing. The basil is improving, the strawberries look terrible. The soil dries quick at the surface but 12 inches under it is clay and damp. Help!?

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howelbama(7 NJ)

Sounds to me like it could be a drainage issue and once the roots gets to a certain depth they are rotting out.

Edit: actually there could be a lot of things going on. Have you had the soil tested at all pH, etc...?

This post was edited by howelbama on Thu, Apr 24, 14 at 22:32

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 8:39PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

You have soil problem, the one that you filled with your raised bed. If it were me, I would get a soil test. It might nutrients or pH problem, or both.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 12:45AM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

You definitely need a professional soil test. Your local extension agent can probably recommend where to get a good quality/inexpensive test:

How tall is the fill in the raised beds? How deeply did you till?

a planting mix from the local nursery

Can you be more specific as to what the mix consisted of? Did they mention any ingredients? Was there visible organic material, and if so, what sort of organic material (for instance, wood chips, bark, straw, etc.)?

Did any of the veggies you planted exhibit any twisted leaves/stems?

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 1:00AM
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jean001a(Portland OR 7b)

Did you dig out several of the failing plants to look at the roots?

I ask because root knot nematodes (RKN) are quite common in SoCal. You can still garden successfully if RKN are the problem. Use transplants that are resistant/tolerant to RKN and forget about seeding in infested soil.

who gardened successfully in RKN-infested soil in SoCal for 30-some years

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 1:09AM
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howelbama, I was thinking the same ting about the roots rotting out, but it seems like the things with shallower roots (i.e., green onions, green beans) are suffering while the taproot stuff like cilantro and beets did well. I have not had my soil tested yet but I will do so ASAP. Maybe I just didn't mix the soil well enough from the get go. The soil within the raised bed drys out quickly while the clay below the bed stays super moist. My landscape beds are in the same clay soil and they seem to be doing fine so I think it's something to do with the planting mix and how well I mixed it into the native soil. Jean, I will pull some plants to see if nematodes are part of the problem too. Thanks for the tip
Missingtheobvious, the planting mix was from Armstrong nursery ( a local chain in So-cal.) Actually some of the bags were topsoil and some of them were a a mix suited for planting veggies and flowers. All organic stuff, but I don't have the ingredients to share with you. The raised beds are a foot deep. Their size is 4'x8'. No twisted leaves or stems, just yellowing plants that stop growing. Again, however, my lettuce, cilantro, beets and collards were amazing.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 2:47PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

I asked about curling leaves and stems to rule out poisoning by herbicides such as chlorpyralid (which persists in hay and in manure from animals which ate the hay for a year or more).

I asked about recognizable organic components of the mix re. hay which might contain chlorpyralid, as well as wood chips which can bind nitrogen.

Jean, would RKNs have more effect on elbeardo's particular affected veggies and less effect on those which are healthy? (Glad I don't need to know about RKNs -- though NCSU did find some in the next -- and much warmer -- county....)

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 12:03AM
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Did you inspect the roots of damaged plants? Are there any knots on the roots? If so - it is root knot nematode... Nasty pest. I have it and I can't grow carrots at all. Last year I planted
mustard as green manure, it should decrease number of nematodes, don't know the result yet...

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 8:36AM
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Since the plants that did well actually like or at least tolerate a high pH, I'd suspect you have a pH issue. Usually, southwestern soil is quite alkaline.
Also, did you fertilize? The yellowing leaves could be iron, which goes along with high pH, or nitrogen.
Soil test or at least a soil pH would really help.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 1:33PM
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Soil ph test read 6-7 range with a few areas registering 4-5. This was done on an electric ph and moisture meter. Since I last posted, my tomatoes have been doing much better. In fact, everything except the pepper plants, which are still very yellow (they are blossoming though) has improved. the green onions have new growth and this time the tips of the leaves have not burned off. They are staying green. The top 12 inches of soil still dries up quick and the clay soil below still is very wet. Thanks for all the assistance guys.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 2:51PM
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