Moving The Garden

toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)September 23, 2013

Last year I had my garden soil tested and posted a thread on the test results as well as this one on strange disease symptoms:

I've been getting a lot of wilt and just plain bad performance for several years. This is a garden of 4x10 raised beds about 4-6" high, 20 years old, made from the native limestone based clay soil and lots of compost. It tests very good, 5-10% OM, high in P and K (actually P was almost too high), pH in the 6-7 range.

I'm thinking of moving the beds because our trees and the neighbors have grown up and are shading the garden. Also we both have silver maples which are increasingly sucking the water and nutrients away through masses of shallow fibrous roots.

I'm planning to move one bed at a time starting this fall, about 50-75 ft away to the last good sunny spot in the center of the yard. Hoping poor growth had as much to do with shade and tree roots as disease.

However I did have some odd things going on, like curcurbits and basil wilting one branch at a time and dying in mid summer. About half the beds have been fallow for 1-2 years now. Maybe the weakness brought on by too much shade and thieving tree roots made it easier for these maladies to set in, and things will be better.

I just don't know if fusarium or whatever else I might have had, will still be around. I hate to throw out this soil and replace it with new, I've always been opposed to that on principle.

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I had roots in the previous garden. Trenching along the perimeter (two spade-depth) helped a lot. I cut dozens of roots, a sharp spade thrust will cut into one inch or less. For more than one inch, use an axe.

I would not move the garden, I would expand it. Cool weather vegetables need less sun and are generally more disease resistant. You could have carrots, parsnips and beet through the winter. Grow them in the present one, and move the summer veggies to the new spot. Move no soil, of course, just till in lots of leaves in the new one this Fall, then mulch it with wood chips next June after the soil has warmed.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2013 at 12:38PM
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I would not be willing to "throw out" the soil, if I was in your situation. I would likely leave it where it is, since considerable effort was involved in constructing the raised bed. I would likely resort to growing whatever could thrive in that location, including native flowers and grasses. I agree with making a new bed in a sunny spot.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2013 at 1:13PM
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I third Glib's suggestion, especially if you could trim the tree tops as well as roots.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2013 at 1:23PM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

These trees are 60 ft. high now and some belong to my neighbors, and pruning the tops of those is out of the question. Theirs are to the east and shade parts of the garden till almost noon.

If you haven't had silver maples, they have tons of hairy roots very shallow. But they can come up from underneath, that is, no visible roots at the edge of the bed, but the shallow soil fills with fibrous roots anyway. To keep them out you have to not only dig the edges for big ones every couple years, but turn over the center, which is not compatible with perennial rhubarb, raspberries, strawberries and asparagus. I just get very little out of these beds, even cold weather greens, etc.

If I set up a new sunnier bed I will be buying some good soil. I certainly know how to improve soil, but I spent 20 yrs. on the current beds and I started when I was 30. Do the math. :-]

    Bookmark   September 23, 2013 at 2:44PM
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Well after reading all of your other related posts/history, let me be the 101st person to say, that sucks.

I tend to agree with glib, save for one thing - the very real possibility and likelihood that your diagnostic suspicion is correct. If it is fusarium, and from what you've described that would be at the top of my list, the concern is spreading it through transfer , which is easy to do. What really concerns me is that you've seen impact on the grapes outside of those beds. The question then becomes what to do about those beds. If you would want to use them in the future, you probably should leave them fallow for 4-5 years, or grow only things that have performed well there, fully cognizant of the spreading potential.

Have you talked with anyone at a plant diagnostic lab (like MU's Plant Diagnostic Clinic)?

    Bookmark   September 23, 2013 at 3:51PM
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It occurred to me that back then, in the soft sandy loam I had, I was able to cut roots through the soil with a handsaw. Simply put, I was able to push the handsaw in and out of the soil, with enough motion to cut roots well over one foot underground. I would probe with a spade and cut with the saw if they were too deep to dig. This worked in late winter, with the soil very soft. And I had maples, too. They do, in fact, come up from the depths, but really, maple roots are all in the first 18 inches. I recall only one root after I started cutting, and that too was gone the next year. I gardened there 11 years.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2013 at 10:18PM
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tox I have a spot I started under tree shade with intention. My goal is to give rest to whatever needs it from the sun.

I'm building UP on that particular bed knowing that raised beds do not go neglected by me on physically bad days. When it's finished, it will be about waste high.

I should have my husband cut roots as suggested in this post.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2013 at 12:38AM
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It sounds like what happened to my garden when bamboo roots infiltrated. Bamboo is a real problem, I'm starting to wish it never came near my property.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2013 at 7:25AM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

Thanks for the thoughts everyone. Esp. TXEB re: disease possibilities. I had that same discussion with the other half last night while laying out a spot for the first new raised bed. I have not talked with Extension on it, probably a good idea. I thought about just letting the old beds lie fallow but wasn't sure how long it would take for them to be OK again, if ever. Maybe best not to move that soil at least until I learn more. The bed I was going to move first had raspberries in it. In addition to the shade/roots, the raspberry leaves turn brown and drop off every year. In late summer new canes would come up green. They live on but don't produce. Seems like a disease problem.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2013 at 1:07PM
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tox - I suspect you have multiple issues or challenges in those beds. If you have wilt and die back late on basil, my personal favorite plant (pesto head), fusarium is certainly a likely possibility. But after some checking, it is not typically cited as a disease issue for some of the others you mentioned, like raspberries.

It might be that you have some fungal stuff (fusarium or verticillium) showing up on very susceptible plants. That may be a long-term manifestation of recycling everything from your garden, allowing spores to build up over the years. There is also the possibility of the maples acting as a host for something fungal via their spreading roots (do they look completely healthy?).

Another issue is likely what you mention about the demand of the surrounding nearby maples draining your perennial plantings.

Before I would abandon those beds I would probably want some expert diagnosis via plant samples. They may still be very useable for some annual things that will tolerate some shade, grow a bit more shallow, and aren't appreciably affected by common fungal diseases. I'm thinking lettuce, arugula, spinach, maybe radish, etc. They may still be quite useable, but quite limited from what you had intended years ago.

I just looked at the Missouri Plant Diagnostic Clinic site , and it appears they aren't currently accepting samples. But, they suggest either Purdue or Iowa State. You might call the UM lab (contact info upper right) and perhaps you'll get some good guidance. I just feel you should pin down the problem(s) before you invest the time and money, and do all the work to build new and move things. If there are disease issues, you may just find yourself with the same problems in a new spot if only 50-75 feet away.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2013 at 6:24PM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

Good advice, thanks. There's not much growing in there now, but I do have pics from last year of the stunted peppers, struggling rhubarb and the Tomatoes of Disappointment.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 10:59AM
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To me, such different crops all doing very poorly makes the problem more likely the shade/tree roots issue than diseases.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 2:37PM
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Great sense of humor through the struggles with garden production. I can relate to your tomatoes of disappointment. I first thought it was my methods or soil. However, it is certainly not after years of gardening and improving every aspect.

I have stopped comparing my growth rates with those of my daughter or father who live nearby. When I did I was frustrated that even though I already had cucumber plants with 5 leaves in the ground when my dad direct sowed seeds.. Then he'd get cucumbers on 1st.

My microclimate is cool & moist with slow to warm soils in spring due to shading from tall trees. I finally accepted that a clearing in the woods isn't a hot spot for heat loving vegetables. Fortunately, we've moved 500 yds away to a home in more sunshine since we had the option at our camp that provides a home. We're also clearing more trees, so it's not just a clearing in the woods. It will be nice to feel safe in windstorms & not have to move our cars to a grassy field down the hill, across the creek....

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 9:42PM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

The shade and roots creep up gradually by definition, at least they did at our place because we started with virtually no trees.

One way to find out is to make two beds, one with relocated soil and the other with imported. Hmm.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2013 at 1:19PM
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I smell a 'speriment comin' on.

Will he really do it?

    Bookmark   October 1, 2013 at 1:25PM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)


I now have 2 new beds in the center of the open area of the yard - more sun and no tree roots (at least for awhile). Both are raised beds about 6-8" high on top of the native clay and are 4x8 and 4x10 ft.

#1 was made last fall from soil moved from the most shaded and distressed bed in the old garden. The old spot is now leveled and coming up in grass. I layered the soil into the new bed with compost and a little fine biochar (from burning brush piles at my other rural property), and topped with a grass/leaves mulch last fall. My soil tested excellent so I didn't add a lot. This spring it was loaded with worms.

#2 was built this spring, filled with imported topsoil/compost mix from a local company. This part of the experiment was intended to compare my own soil to imported for differences related to possible diseases like fusarium. I added a layer of grass/leaves mix on the bottom, and a layer of compost in the middle. I avoided my own compost as much as possible but there is probably some in there so the test isn't perfect.

So far both beds are growing like gangbusters. #1 had lettuce spring mix planted in a cold frame. Weather has been fantastic and the lettuce is applying for statehood. I've been told it's the best tasting lettuce ever. I attribute it to the great soil I spent 20+ years developing. All it needed was sun and freedom from tree roots!

Each bed has 3 of the same tomato plants, several peppers, and each will get several basils that are still in pots. If the old soil is full of diseases I should see a difference.

Also, I dug deep into one of the other old beds and found a root coming from a cottonwood tree 25 feet away. It was as big as my arm (no kidding) and went the length of the bed. I chopped out a 2-ft section. That bed gets the best sun of the old ones so I just planted sweet taters in it. We'll see if the water situation is better in hot weather.

I am basically tickled to death with the new beds and if things keep going as they are, it'll be a great year.

Regardless of how this turns out, it's going great so far, and THANKS to all the smart GW people who offered advice. I will post a pic when I can.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2014 at 11:51AM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

I'll get a wider view of the new beds but here's the lettuce patch. Don't you just wanna dive in with a fork and some dressing? :-D I haven't had lettuce this nice in years.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2014 at 12:48PM
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