Can this garden be saved?

lovestogardenJune 28, 2011

Our new garden is failing and I'm running out of ideas and energy. My original garden is just fine, and so are 2 others I've started at neighbor's homes.

History of new garden--We took out a fiberglass pool, brought in 10 truckloads of soil, and filled the hole. Throughout the process we used shovels and a Bobcat to distribute the soil, it rained a lot, and alas, I believe we packed it down too much.

We started with bank run [sandy/rocky] soil, followed by soil with clay (free), and lots of sifted sandy soil mixed with just one load of nice, loamy soil. We then built free standing raised beds on top, made up of the sandy soil, premium (mostly bark) compost from landfill, Oakdale Farms Compost (very dry) and well aged horse manure in straw.

The raised beds are about 10 inches tall. We used a rototiller to mix the amendments and soil, but only scratched the surface of the underlying soil. Each planting hole received a little organic fertilizer, some coffee grounds and for the peppers, bits of eggshells.

Things started out well enough, but it was a very wet, cool spring. Before long, the peppers began turning yellow and loosing leaves, the branches of the tomatoes began twisting and turning kind of green grey, and the squash either dried up or turned yellow. I discovered that water was sometimes sheeting away from a plant, so I went around and broke up the surface while watering (and now it's like I'm creating a soil slushy). I moved some plants to original garden and they recovered.

In some areas everything dried out quickly, while in others, there was standing water. In fact, the water seemed to be drain through the bed, onto the ground level, and down the slight grade of our backyard, pooling under the lower half of the beds.

We drank lots of beer.

We dug below the raised beds and found that either the sandy soil was like concrete, or clay and rocks formed a barrier. We dug down at least 18 inches and broke it up, turned everything and added more Oakdale farms and another soil from nearby excavation which sustained some sort of life, and added some of my not quite finished, but filled with worms compost.

It looks like it's working for some areas, but nothing looks very healthy like it does in our original garden, and there's still a lot of yellow.

What would you do?

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I would first dig a series of shallow "swales" throughout the beds, having the plants at the higher side of the berms. Follow the contours of the space, so that when it rains the water is captured in these swales and slowly seeps into the ground, rather than sheeting off.
I would also plant a great deal of plants that have deep taproots, such as chicory, maybe seeding a living mulch such as alfalfa, and/or legumes (nitrogen fixing). You could also consider plants that will provide a lot of mulch and compost, through their clippings, like comfrey and other plants in that family. These can be planted inbetween other plants (although comfrey can be invasive).

It will take time, but these things will help aerate the soil, bring up nutrients from below, and build better soil throughout.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2011 at 6:01PM
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Mulch it and wait for next year. All those amendments have to settle and decompose a bit.Drink some more beer.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2011 at 6:01PM
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"well aged horse manure in straw"

This is very remote but any chance the straw used for bedding or the hay fed to the horses was treated with clopryalid?


    Bookmark   June 28, 2011 at 9:54PM
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Thanks for all the great advice! Lisanti, I had a glass of wine instead, so that I could get up the courage to read about clopryalid. Lloyd, I can see why you suggest it, and I do plan to talk to the farmer I got the manure from. I don't think it's the culprit though, because I'm using it as mulch in my original garden and those plants (including tomatoes) are doing just fine. Thanks for making me aware of it--very scary.

Serenae, I'm going to take your advice on the swales, and the deep rooted plants. Is alfalfa invasive? I'll need to research which legumes fit the bill--any suggestions?

    Bookmark   June 30, 2011 at 12:05AM
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