is my soil too rich?

harman75June 9, 2014

first year in this spot, raised bed, filled with mushroom soil.
Plants are not growing very well, turning very light green.. Help!!!!

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jean001a(Portland OR 7b)

Needs nitrogen?

Please post pictures.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 4:46PM
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dowbright(z6 in Missouri)

From what I've read, if it's spent mushroom compost, it will be very low on nutrients. What exactly do you mean by mushroom soil? And, is there any dirt mixed in the bed?

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 7:27PM
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Plants not growing well and/or turning light green do not indicate a soil that is "too rich", but that can indicate a plant nutrient problem. The only way to know whether any soil can provide the nutrients plants need to grow is with a good reliable soil test for soil pH and major nutrient, Phosphorus, Potash, Calcium, and Magnesium, levels.
Low Nitrogen levels might be one explanation, but there are a number of things that could be causing the problem.
The causes of plant chlorosis, yellowing of leaves, is an example of how complex diagnosis can be.

Here is a link that might be useful: plant chlorosis

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 6:09AM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

Never plant in pure compost. This is a newbie mistake. I did it also once. I was thinking, I was too lazy to dig in the compost so I just put the compost on top and planted and the whole thing died with in a week. It does not matter if it mushroom compost which is mostly decomposed straw anyway, not mushrooms, or if it is regular home made composts. Just always mix it in, no shorts cuts.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 8:58AM
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johns.coastal.patio(USDA 10b, Sunset 24)

The OP doesn't name bed depth. That matters, though age of compost does as well. The raw fresh stuff is harsher on plants than aged, mellowed.

(I'd think that mushroom compost would be pretty mellow, but perhaps it varies.)

my recently invented guidelines ...

Fill for open bottom raised beds (preferred to closed bottom beds in all cases except known contaminated soil):

6-12 inches of depth, fill with 50:50 topsoil to compost mix
12-24 inches of depth, fill with 70:30 topsoil to compost mix
> 24 inches of depth, fill with 80:20 topsoil to compost mix

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 11:35AM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

Why use pure compost, even if does work, it cost a lot, if you make it yourself there is still cost to in a time and effort. It is not good for the plants any way, what is the point?

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 12:05PM
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johns.coastal.patio(USDA 10b, Sunset 24)

In terms of buying compost, it varies. I just helped my friend out. We ran over and picked up a few bins full from her city's free mulch site. It was the good stuff, though a bit fresh and still working (hot).

I hope everyone is doing some Google searches to check for local compost projects.

Plus, I do meet a lot of people people looking to use compost they've made. Sort of "I'm done, now what?"

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 12:16PM
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wow lots of awesome information!!
To fill in some of the blanks I left... The bed is about 10 inches deep and the only thing on the bottom is a thick layer of newspaper. I live very close to a large creek that feeds the Allegheny river and the soil in my yard is very dark, almost black. I have my herbs planted in that mixed with a back of miracle gro topsoil in the front yard and they are doing very well. I will try to get some pics here if I can link to my fb page?? is that possible? also have grass clippings on top.. should I take that off??
Thanks in advance!!

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 12:42PM
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johns.coastal.patio(USDA 10b, Sunset 24)

10 inches of pure compost might be a bit much, and your black soil might be high in organic matter as well.

Here's a long discussion of the problem:

Can you plant a vegetable garden in pure compost?

The goal of my little guide is to get the "full depth" to about 3 feet to that ideal 5% (or so) organic matter. I kind of worry that the black soil might be there already, and that the compost put it way over the top. There are home tests for soil type (Estimating Soil Texture).

Since summer is here, basically, I'm not sure that you'd want to do a full re-mix of the bed. It might be better to try liquid fertilizer and possibly to plant in some compost-loving plants as well.

More on mushroom compost here, including plant choices:

Mushroom compost

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 12:59PM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

Interesting thing about mushroom compost is that it often includes manure, and may not be fully composted because they use uncomposted or semi-composted material and steam-sterilize it to kill most everything so only the mushrooms they plant will grow. So it may be actually too rich OR too poor in N. I was thinking plants can be 'burned' by fresh manure (too much N in the wrong forms), or turn yellow from lack of N.

With black soil I don't know that I'd make a raised bed full of compost or enriched soil. Unless you have drainage problems or some other reason to have a raised bed (like someone in a wheelchair or with other physical limitations). I have them, about 6" high, only because I have heavy clay that doesn't drain well. In most cases you can simply amend the soil you have.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 2:19PM
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I have planted many plants in pure compost and they have grown and produced very well. Compost makes a very good soilless potting mix, at least for me. Pat Lanza planted in something akin to pure compost with her Lasagna Beds.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lasagna Gardening 101

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 11:19AM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

It certainly can work...who hasn't had a volunteer vegetable come out of a compost pile and be incredibly productive?

In this case there is clearly something out of balance with the compost that was used, though.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 11:52AM
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To add one more possibility:

What caught my eye was the "thick layer of newspaper"

If it's too thick, it could be acting as a block to both water and roots, so that the plants are sitting in sog and the roots can't go as deep as they want. Maybe feel under there and see what is happening?

If you've got a soggy mess several inches down, you could take a digging fork and go around spearing down through the newspaper to improve drainage, speed up decomposition of the newspaper, and allow some holes for roots to penetrate.

Good luck, and let us know what works!

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 1:58PM
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Thank you to everyone..again!! We may save this garden!! (yes, my glass is half full...of compost!) as of yesterday the cucumbers look good..nice dark healthy green leaves... the tomatoes, peppers, and beans?? not so hot.
I have it raised just to deter my puggles from tromping through it,..and my 2 year old. lol there is plenty of drainage space along the sides of the bed too.. I put the newpaper down to keep weeds out... I will check the N levels or ph test errr whatever I need to do too.. :)
and one last question... what ....oh crap now I forget... I'll check back when the toddler naps
Thank you, Harman

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 9:03AM
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so I added so 5 10 10 hoping this will help... we will see what happens in the next week or so!

    Bookmark   June 17, 2014 at 11:23AM
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msmorningsong(SW FL 10A)

I raise many plants in the solanaceae family, and agree with other Posters about pure compost-they don't like it. Tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, give them a mixed 'soil'
(mine are soil-less) but they love the addition of peat, perlite, a bit of compost, and of course osmocote.
I also agree with Poster who said too late in season to change out. Just do the soil test and add fert. The NPK you mentioned sounds reasonable, although the tomatoes and peppers may ask for a bit more nitrogen than that.
(And don't give them N after flowering, at least veggie types of solanaceae)

    Bookmark   June 17, 2014 at 3:20PM
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Thanks MsMorningSong,
I have some tomato and peppers flowering on these wretched looking little plants, lol... and a teeny weeny little roma on one.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2014 at 10:55AM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

You say you live right on a creek bed? Does it flood?
My first garden was next to a laguna that flooded from time to time. The soil was fabulous!!!!! Black and could dig in with your hands, even in August! (It doesn't rain here from May-Oct)
You might be over-doing your soil! You might not NEED any additions!
Just a thought! Nancy

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 9:08PM
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I have planted in "pure Compost" & it worked well.
BUT my compost was old & mostly soil at that point.
I agree with toxcrusadr that it is not a good ideal.
I do not buy my compost & still see it as a waste, to not mix it in the soil first.
What is compost? One week,30 days(remember that thread)
90 days, 6 month, one year.
Everyone has their on mix/system, so it is safer to say always mix with soil first before planting.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2014 at 3:07PM
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carla17(Z7 NC)

I recall reading or hearing once that tomatoes can be planted in something like straight Black Kow, and nothing else. But, soil has to have a balanced composition and balance in size of particles so why would this tomato thing work, or not?

Thank you,

    Bookmark   June 25, 2014 at 1:13PM
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The only way to know whether any soil has the balanced nutrient levels and soil pH necessary to grow strong and healthy plants is by having a good reliable soil test done.
These simple soil tests might also be of some help.
1) Soil test for organic matter. From that soil sample put enough of the rest to make a 4 inch level in a clear 1 quart jar, with a tight fitting lid. Fill that jar with water and replace the lid, tightly. Shake the jar vigorously and then let it stand for 24 hours. Your soil will settle out according to soil particle size and weight. For example, a good loam will have about 1-3/4 inch (about 45%) of sand on the bottom. about 1 inch (about 25%) of silt next, about 1 inch (25%) of clay above that, and about 1/4 inch (about 5%) of organic matter on the top.

2) Drainage. Dig a hole 1 foot square and 1 foot deep and fill that with water. After that water drains away refill the hole with more water and time how long it takes that to drain away. Anything less than 2 hours and your soil drainsâ too quickly and needs more organic matter to slow that drainage down. Anything over 6 hours and the soil drains too slowly and needs lots of organic matter to speed it up.

3) Tilth. Take a handful of your slightly damp soil and squeeze it tightly. When the pressure is released the soil should hold together in that clump, but when poked with a finger that clump should fall apart.

4) Smell. What does your soil smell like? A pleasant, rich earthy odor? Putrid, offensive, repugnant odor? The more organic matter in your soil the more active the soil bacteria will be and the nicer your soil will smell.

5) Life. How many earthworms per shovel full were there? 5 or more indicates a pretty healthy soil. Fewer than 5, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, indicates a soil that is not healthy.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2014 at 6:41AM
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    Bookmark   June 26, 2014 at 6:50AM
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msmorningsong(SW FL 10A)

Great Lucy. Bad milk wasn't sour enough the first time, I guess you're going to drink it again.

This post was edited by MsMorningSong on Thu, Jun 26, 14 at 11:24

    Bookmark   June 26, 2014 at 10:47AM
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