Soil Depleted, Composting Oak Leaves

len1(6)December 17, 2008

My vegetable garden is depleted of nutrients. Last summer nothing grew, no tomatoes, no cucumbers. In my attempt to replenish the garden, I have covered it with a thick layer of ground oak leaves.

Should I remove the leaves in the late spring or plant below the leaves and let them compost all summer? I will plant mostly heirloom tomatoes.

Is there any reason to not leave the leaves?

Is there anything I can add to make them compost quicker?

Should I turn the leaves into the soil or leave them on top?

Someone told me to leave them alone and plant inside them. I also plan to get some composted manure and add that at planting time.

I live in Massachusetts



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leave the leaves. they will rot pretty good by planting what doesn't rot will act as a mulch to regulate soil temps. plus they will continue to break down during planting season, continually feeding your plants...good stuff.

you can aid their decomposition with some nitrogen based materials, grass clippings, kitchen scraps, alfalfa meal or pellets, coffee grounds... I know some of those things may be a lil harder to find this time of year like grass clippings. also, with the freezing temps the decomp. activity is a lil slower than what it will be in about 6 months.

you can turn the leaves, it could help a lil, especially if you add coffee grounds n such. oh yeah, forgot to mention, go to starbucks and as for used coffee grounds, they're free!

I shredded leaves in the late summer and put them on my veg. garden bed, i've put coffee grounds and kitchen scraps down, and you would believe how well my soil has already loosened up underneath the leaves, quite amazing really.

I am also maintaining a compost pile to add onto the plot come planting time, for added nutrients, i can't wait til it's done and it's planting time.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2008 at 9:49PM
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Hi Len,

This issue is NOT 'what should you do' about the pile of leaves. The problem problably has NOTHING to do with leaves you recently added.

You have possibly described a VERY SERIOUS soil problem.
Not likely a plant problem or soil nutrition problem.

The question is: WHY did your garden soil become "depleted"? I've dealt with such issues before, and NOT ONE of them had the same solution. There is no 'general fix' for the problem you described.

That issue should be investigated first, by a soil analysis, so you're not just 'guessing'. And my immediate opinion as a soil/compost specialist and certified Master Gardener, is that your attempt to rescue/replenish the garden soil is purely guesswork and hope - which in my professional opinion (based on only the information you provided), is NOT likely to be the answer you need. You are more likely to have a disappointing surprise in the spring with just shredded oak leaves.

You MAY have time now, to rectify the problem, which is likely to take until spring planting by taking a different action (or series of actions) if you expect to take a garden soil from evidently 'sick' to healthy enough to produce a good harvest in a few months. Depends entirely on whether you can identify the root problem - and correct it.

So - will be glad to assist, IF you will provide some SPECIFIC answers to an initial set of questions:

1) When did you first notice a 'nutrient depletion' issue and what suggests the problem has anything to do with nutrition?
2) What were ALL of the 'signs' that you can remember? Plant root condition (nematode knots?); general condition of your plants for the last 3 years - yellow leaves, 'growths' on stems, spots on the leaves, browning edges, leaf fall, blossom fall - did you notice any strange 'fuzz' on or in the ground, of any color - did you notice any bug or worm infestations - what was the condition of the garden plants the season before, and the season before that - whatever you can remember.
Did you grow Heirloom tomatoes in the garden for the last 2 seasons - in or very near the same place? If so what variety of Heirloom? It's important.
3) When was the last time you had this garden soil analyzed (by a laboratory)? If more than 3 years, contact your County AgriLife Extension Agent quickly to obtain a free sample bag and free submission form to gather a sample according to instructions. Ask for Routine + Micro tests. If your property is less than 5 miles from the MA coast, also ask for a Detailed Salinity Test.

While you are at the Extension Office, ask to speak with the Agent him/herself and explain the problem. You may have to make an appointment. If you can't get in to speak with the Agent in a few days, ask to speak with - or the telephone number - of a Senior Master Gardener soil specialist. Not just a 'gardener'.

Be prepared to answer questions, because symptoms CAN be directly related to a quick solution, IF there is one.

First question to ask the Extension Agent is what their focus is in - you may be talking to a Marine Biologist, which won't do you much good. DO ask the Agent for the name and contact information for a professional soil specialist.

DO NOT do ANYTHING else to the soil until you have sought solutions from professionals (which I am, but being in Texas, that's not going to do you as much good (quickly) as someone in your vicinity.
DO NOT add compost or anything else to the soil for now.
Other than that - I advise to COMPLETELY remove the layer of leaves some distance from the garden where water from them will not drain into the garden, cover the pile with a tarp or plastic sheeting, and don't touch it until a solution has been identified.

IF the issue is a fungus proliferation, it is likely that the leaves have become infected too. If it turns out that's what this issue is caused by, BURN the leaves or risk reinfection, even if you compost them.

I'm not saying that this problem may be fungus. I do not have enough information to even guess - which I make a practice NOT to do.

4) What method was used to water the garden for the last 3 seasons and how much was applied how often?
5) What fertilizers (organic and/or chemical) have been used on the garden, how much and how often? Have you added any fresh compost in the last 2 seasons, and if so, try and remember details of that pile - materials, highest heat, duration of heat, what did you add to it in the later stages of decomposition...
6) have you used any pesticides or herbicides in or near your garden in the last 6 months?
7) Are you willing to locate a MicroBiologist at a university nearest you for a second opinion?
8) What is the size of your garden (dimensions), what plants grew well in it and when - and what other things have you done to the soil in the last 2 seasons?

It is very likely that your soil is sufferering from a prolific microbal disease of some sort, and a soil analysis does NOT test for that, but a report WILL answer the nutrition question - but it takes a week or two from when you submit the sample - to get the report. Follow instructions for taking the soil sample "to the letter".
Scrape away any shredded oak leaves from the area you take a soil sample. Do not allow ANY oak leaves to get into your soil sample.

Previously healthy soils do NOT just 'die' or quickly run out of nutrients for no reason. A range of different plants don't all die, or not grow for no reason.
Healthy soil is quite capable of 'healing' itself even from a very damaging reason(s).

Expecting to hear back from you soon, and hopefully my compatriots on this forum will ask you for answers to important questions I may not have asked...

And with all due respect for my knowledgeable compatriots, this issue does NOT call for advice about a problem you had previously and a solution you found (or not), unless you garden in MA and have experienced this same problem, and can identify it scientifically and the solution by brand name. This issue does not call for any supposition whatsoever. This is not an 'organics' problem. This (in my opinion) is a problem for science to determine and solve.

The problem as stated by Len, is a total 'wipe-out' of his entire garden (over an unknown period of time). That is drastic. Y'all may think I'm over-reacting here - but the fact is, like any good medical professional - assume the worst until 'facts are in'. It is too early to attempt a diagnosis based on insufficient information. What is lacking are facts.

Answers rest in Len's hands and professional advice based on information only he can obtain/provide. He has some 'homework' to do if he intends to harvest anything from spring planting.


    Bookmark   December 18, 2008 at 12:42AM
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Those Oak leaves will be of valuable benefit to your soil, eventually, provided they are left on the soil. However, you do need to have a good, reliable soil test done for soil pH and base soil nutrient levels and you need to dig in with these simple soil tests,
1) Structure. 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. 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 drains 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 you 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.
so you can see what your soil is and what you need to do to make it into a good, healthy soil.
Contact your local office of the University of Massachussets USDA Cooperative Extension Service about having that soil test done.

Here is a link that might be useful: UMASS CES

    Bookmark   December 18, 2008 at 8:04AM
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Kimmsr says:

"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."

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Soil Quality Agronomy Technical Note No. 11 really says:

"Many people consider earthworms to be an indicator of soil quality because they respond to and contribute to healthy soil. For earthworms to be abundant, a field must meet several conditions that are also associated with soil quality and agricultural sustainability: moderate pH, surface residue for food and protection, and soil that is not waterlogged, compacted, droughty, or excessively sandy. Not all healthy soils will have earthworms."

Maybe there is another link that supports what you state or maybe there are two Natural Resources Conservation Services.


    Bookmark   December 18, 2008 at 8:25AM
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As Lloyd well knows there are not two Natural Resources Conservation Services of the USDA, but may not be aware that there are numerous publications from that source that can appear to be contradictory. The particular article that states that may take some time to find, again.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2008 at 7:48AM
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If/when you find it, I'd really like to read it. Seems to me that after more than one year of telling you of the existence of the contradictory information, you would have cited your source or modified your post, but alas it appears not to be the case. I'm sure the USDA would also like to know they have contradictory data out there.

In the mean time, how about leaving that part out of your "simple soil test" posts, or at least modifying it to take out the reference to the USDA. At least then it would be a one persons opinion thing. And while you are at it, maybe also add a note about seasonal/diurnal fluctuation in earthworms and their movements so that anyone who follows your "advice" doesn't panic get overly concerned when no earthworms are found.


    Bookmark   December 19, 2008 at 8:51AM
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sunnyside1(z6/SW Mo.)

I'm a great believer in mulching with oak and other shredded leaves.

Heard from a Master Gardener (certified organic) the other day and he said his garden didn't produce much of anything this past season because there were very few bees to pollinate. He's going to have a hive or two in 2009.

Just a thought.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2008 at 9:15AM
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And if one thinks that some people don't do the worm test and become disappointed....

"However, to the earthworm test [ : ) ] my soil fails miserably! Only saw two earthworms while turning the beds, but perhaps that can be attributed at least partly to the drought we have been experiencing as of late."

At least this person used some logical thinking and realized there may be extenuating factors.


P.S. Note that the USDA discrepancy was mentioned.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2008 at 9:25AM
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kimmsr, you cannot win this argument. Lloyd is correct.

As a very experienced researcher, I can find a "document" written by a "qualified" author to contradict almost "any subject" on earth written by somebody else - either online or in a central public library.

Many times I find contradictions by authors contradicting what they previously wrote (without acknowledging their previous error). Not that I have ever done that...

My wife says I dodo (lack of space is intentional) that too - in conversation with her...But then, her memory is not too good sometimes...(yeah, right!).

LOTS of authors write articles 'for' the USDA.
NONE of them totally agree with each other, simply because they are not the same person (snicker).

A good 'rule of thumb' is NEVER expect a female author to agree with a male author (and visa-versa) about ANY subject - and be careful where you put your thumb (as a rule) - and your foot too.

It's best not to make any reference to a specific source of information, if you don't provide that source AT THE TIME that you write.

It's been my experience that if you do provide government sources, you're likely to get into 'trouble' anyway. Not that government sources ever produce incorrect information...

I'm not going to take issue with the simple tests which you identified in your post - they are valid - but sir, they do not apply to the context of this thread any more than oak leaves do, AND you do NOT provide sufficient detailed information about those tests so that an 'average' reader can perform them correctly.

And the way you write it - could be taken to be misleading.
I'm not saying intentionally misleading - but some very important information is missing, and could lead somebody to make a serious mistake. Make sure the information you present is accurate and complete.

For instance, the USDA technical definition of LOAM is "roughly equal parts of sand, silt and clay" all three of which, are soils. There is NO requirement for ANY organic matter - to make a soil qualify as loam. Organic matter is NOT soil. But your 'definition' indicates that it is. Misleading.

My writings are not 'perfect' either - and my tendency is to provide TOO much information - to the point of being confusing to a reader not versed in technical issues, or 'wandering words' that cause a reader to not finish reading.

You need to recognize that Lloyd (and others on this forum) speak from extensive knowledge and experience which should be respectfully considered - whether you agree with them or not.

It cannot hurt you to think MORE about what the reader will see - when they read what you write.
Re-read what you write at least 2 times before you click the 'submit' button.

I consider you to be a qualified source of information with regard to some topics - but encourage you to perform additional subject research to make sure your facts are straight and the information you present is timely.

We're all still learning...


    Bookmark   December 19, 2008 at 12:30PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

I'm most interested in the answers to soilguy's questions 4, 5, and 6. The first thing I think when I see a New England gardener with a question is that the garden was neglected. They seem to want to rely on Nature to provide. Well, She doesn't always come through, especially with rain. You could be different, though. At this point I'm not convinced at all the the soil is depleted.

If the answer to 4 indicates you haven't watered, then you needed to water.

If the answer to 5 is that you did not fertilize or used only compost, then you needed to fertilize.

If the answer to 6 indicates that you've used fungicide, then your soil might be depleted of microbes. Compost and organic fertilizer is the solution to restoring the population of beneficial microbes.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2008 at 12:57PM
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Len, I'll assume you are an experienced vegetable grower...and know something about your soil and how selected vegetables have grown in the past.

You mention "tomatoes". From what the experts...the guys who have proven growing tomatoes is not all that hard---rather easy in fact, one might assume that growing tomatoes is one of the easiest of fruits (vegetable) to grow.
As long as you follow certain rules, they should grow well given when they need.
Full sun....the fuller the better. Tomatoes wont grow well in low sun values.
If this patch of garden is an old have grown tomatoes there before...maybe for longer than two or three years.
Have you heard the term "rotate"....for tomatoes that is a must if the patch is used for tomato growing for more than 3 years. (2 years is better). That is not to say you cant grow tomatoes in the same patch...just be sure to move at least 20 feet away from the nearest area where you grew them last year.
If that's not possible, consider container growing.

Squash has difficulty growing in the vicinity of broccoli, so no broccoli, nor potatoes, in the vicinity of tomatoes.

cauliflower, brussel sprouts, radishes, leafy greens, broccoli, beets, beans, Swiss Chard are vegetables that can grow in lesser amounts of sunlight. Squash is like requires 6 - 8 hours of sun.

I have no idea what amounts of leaves you are and have been giving your vegetable patch....but too much is too much. Leaves have a concentrated amount of nitrogen.
Some vegetables do poorly when given soil that is heavy in nitrogen.

You should --if you haven't already, done a research on the indiivual vegetables you grow. Tomatoes do not like excessive amounts of nitrogen.
In fact, many vegetables react quickly to soil that is too heavy acidic. The addition of limestone is often given some vegetables in spring. But keep wood ashes away from a vegetable garden.

Compost for the most part is nitrogenous...i.e. it can be rich in nitrogen. The advice is to lay down and mix in 1" of compost and dig down 6".
1" - 2" of coarse sand can be used to improve drainage.
And vegetable gardens must drain well.
They must also be watered well. If the patch is where wind can affect the soil surface, a barrier can be put to help keep moisture in.

Maybe the soil was at fault...if you have treated it badly, continued to grow vegetables in the same area year after year and didn't much do to improve it, then a vegetable might well put up a fuss.

Your compost is an unknown factor. How good is it?
Many composts are high in acidity due to what it has been fed. Without a proper soil test, it is hard to say whether your compost is actually doing anything for the vegetables.
Instead of yours, why not try using a bag or two of commercial composted cattle or sheep manure. See if the tomatoes don't improve.
As a comparison, why not use your compost in an area....and go to another area where some cattle or sheep manure has been mixed in. See if there is any change in quality/quantity.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2008 at 2:43PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

jeannie7 said,
Compost for the most part is nitrogenous...i.e. it can be rich in nitrogen.

This is the opposite to what I've read about compost, but maybe you're thinking of something else. Is there a way to make compost so that it has more than a 1-1-1 NPK or more than nearly zero available protein and carbohydrates?

    Bookmark   December 19, 2008 at 3:28PM
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"You need to recognize that Lloyd (and others on this forum) speak from extensive knowledge and experience which should be respectfully considered - whether you agree with them or not."

Gonna nix this in the bud, I am not an expert in anything and will not make any such claim. I do not garden, I have no training nor extensive knowledge in soil, soil sciences, biology, chemistry, worm stuff or any related fields. Most of what I think I know comes from reading books and the internet (of which 75% is pure bunk).

When I come across things I read on the internet that I believe to be incorrect I question them.

I am just a guy that likes to compost, farm a bit, play in compost and design stuff for composting out of junk. If I can laugh whilst doing so, that is just a bonus.


P.S. I also like to drink the occasional beer. :-)

    Bookmark   December 19, 2008 at 3:54PM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil(Zone 6a - MO)

Very interesting thread...I think... :-]

Someone above recommended removing all the leaves until the soil was tested. I have to wonder how it could ever be a bad thing to put compost on a garden. It's a good idea to get a soil test, but I think removing all that would be an overreaction. We've got upteen screens of scholarly dissertation from the experts, but hardly any information from the original poster. Maybe we should step back and see what len1 has to say.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2008 at 4:28PM
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Yes, toxcrusadr - we're still waiting for Len1 to entertain our discussion - but for goodness sake, the guy had a birthday on the 7th, and it's only been 2 days since he posted, and if I didn't scare him off, he still has several days of contacts to accomplish before he might get back to us, and it's almost Christmas - and maybe he went south for the holidays (if he's smart) and perhaps the county Ag Agent is on vacation until after the New Year?

In the meantime, we're supposed to be having fun considering various aspects of his dilemma - but until we do (and if we do) hear back from Len1, it is still an interesting contemplation open for discussion. What could have gone wrong with Len1's garden?

Regarding your prior comment - leaf dressings are not compost.

My comment about removing the oak leaf coverage of the garden, was based on experience that an overabundance of carbon-based materials as dressing, can complicate certain soil problem issues. Where no soil issues are reported - I have no such qualms. I recognize such statement to Len1 in that case was a 'generality', but can back it up with specific instances if needed. I had no real info to go on - which is common with most of the calls we get for MG assistance.

It is amazing to me, that anyone could allow his/her garden to become so incapable of growing anything, without investigating/reporting prevailing conditions, that might cause such a catastrophe - before it became one. But recognize that such does occur, often.

Lots of gardeners in this nation have no clue that their county Master Gardener Association is available for on-site visits to consult about soil/garden/tree issues.

And have witnessed times when such disasterous occurance actually did happen almost 'overnight'.

One case was a nitrogen-depletion issue due to amending a large quantity of sawdust into the soil (just because it was free), then spreading leaves on top the next week, whereby carbon-eating microbes further depleted root zone nitrogen to the point of killing plants. The case was dignosed (incorrectly) at first by the garden owner, as a fungal issue, who treated the entire garden with BanRot (an 'overkill' product), which wiped-out the entire microbial population - before the soil nutriton test results came back. Which severely stressed the plants further, since the micorrhizal population (which delivers much nutrition to plant roots) was no longer in place, and plant roots had a hard time taking up ANY nutrients. Severely out-of-balance potassium further complicated the issues of zinc and iron deficiency and pH was way out-of-whack. Foliar feeding was the recommended (and effective) therapy while re-establishing microbe populations by leaching/mitigating the fungicide and inocculating micorrhizal purchased from a lab, and nitrogen 'infusion' was accomplished with fast-acting 12-0-0 Blood Meal as a drench.

One case was a severe storm cell that apparently picked up and 'dumped' enough salt water on one person's garden (the one that reported the issue) that caused severe crop damage to the entire (1+ acre) garden, plus shrubs and trees. We later found out (by neighborhood surveys) that there were many gardens/plants similarly affected, but not reported. Just 'accepted'.
What was so strange about this, was that severe plant damage seemed to follow a meandering mile-wide swath for about 20 miles, but gardens outside of that swath were not affected at all though rainfall was in excess of 3" per hour. Salinity tests by the Texas A&M soil lab were used to make the determination, and the 'best guess' is that a huge waterspout (tornado) over open gulf water was responsible for the salty 'deluge'.

Another instance was a gardener mistaking 'rock salt' for a fertilizer and unintentionally killing every plant in the garden within one week. Getting that garden soil back in condition to grow anything took several months and some drastic soil replacement/amending measures.

Another instance was a storm near the Mexican/Texas border near Brownsville early this year, that picked up sufficient clay dust from 'the valley', that it later dumped 'mud rain' sufficent to kill many garden plants in a 3-county coastal area (Corpus Chrisi area) 50+ miles away, that could no longer photosynthesize sufficient food. All it took was a forceful washing with a hose to save most plants. Car washes made a 'killing' for several days...

Another instance was a garden that received a large quantity of raw manure amendment in root zones (tilled-in) that heated sufficiently to kill the majority of plants in it, because the gardener immediately 'solarized' the tilled beds with black plastic "to keep weeds from growing".

Another was a wilt fungus proliferaton that wiped-out every young plant in an early spring garden due to an abundance of very wet (lightly-heated) 3-month old compost forked under and dressed too tightly to plant stalks.

And hundreds of additional variations...
I'm sure that many folks on this forum have seen even stranger things occur (than those listed above).

There are many recognized 'best practices' to grow garden plants - and just as many ways (or more) to kill them. Ignorance is still leading the list....

Thank you, jeannie7 for your general vegetable plant input.
I've never experienced an excessive nitrogen problem with my tomatoes, and it seems from my online queries, that the only issue excessive nitrogen has on tomatoes is poor coloring (and perhaps less taste?). I can only put one link into this message, so chose an AgNet post reporting a test in Taiwan - because it had color photos, and some of the other reports were too technical or only applied to commercial row-crop applications.

Lloyd, Lloyd, Lloyd - I did not label you as an 'expert' - all I said is that your response to kimmsr was based on extensive experience, and he should therefore pay attention to what you told him. Besides, an ocassional beer disqualifies you anyway...(grin). Have another.

dchall, I posted (not sure which thread) my most recent soil analysis reported NPK, which was 3-8-5. But not real proud of that, since the Phosphorous was highly elevated in that pile. Normally, I try to keep the pounds per 100 pounds of my compost is in the range of 3-4N, 5-6P, 4-5K...And same for analysis of my compost 'tea' - which is simply a 'liquid picture' of the material it was leached from.
1-1-1 compost is pretty poor stuff (in my opinion).

The top 8 micronutrients reported in my compost are NEVER below High, and most are in the Very High category.

Proteins and carbs are a whole different 'ball game', but my compost is high in both, since I regularly add cheap dog food as accelerator that rarely gets fully assimilated by the composting microbes that utilize such food.

Quantification of N,P,K in pounds per hundred takes some math, based on a Soil Analysis Report that is reported in parts per millon (ppm) of a given sample, and requires knowing the dry weight of the sample - which takes knowing somebody in the Soil, Water and Forage Testing Laboratory.

They can provide the calculations for you if asked (or any math teacher should be able to), but let's suffice it to say that the reports I receive almost always state that content of N is over 450 ppm (excessive, with an unestablished Critical Level); P is over 800 ppm (very high, with a Critical Level at 50) and K is over 2,000 ppm (very high, with a Critical Level of 175. And again, those values cannot be directly 'translated' into pounds per hundred (such as 1-1-1, which is one pound each, per 100 pounds) without doing the math calculations.

I can make MUCH higher N,P,K composts, but the ratios get out-of-whack doing that, and mineral salt content can 'go through the roof'. Excessive Phosphorous in particular, is a VERY bad thing. Remember, Nitrogen is VERY volatile, but P and K are not - which can build up (in some soils) to deadly (to plants) levels.

I also test my compost regularly by CONSTANTLY growing vegetables in the 100% PURE (nothing added) stuff in 30-gallon containers. Plants cannot lie.

Speaking of lying, it is such a travesty, that chemical fertilizer companys can 'make a killing' selling what they call "balanced" fertilizers (liars) that can kill plants (and lawns) in the hands of uninformed property owners based on package application directions ("Weed & Feed" being a particularly devious culprit).

NOW do we have sufficient things to discuss while we await a reply from Len1?


    Bookmark   December 20, 2008 at 12:02AM
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Robert, those simple soil tests I outlined are just that, simple soil tests and they have enough inormation for any gardener to get what is necessary from their soil, if they use them. I have supplied Lloyd with links to documentation in the past (something you would not know since you are too new here) and seldom does Lloyd look at them or learn from them although Lloyd will post other, contrary, links form time to time. I have found that for the most part Lloyd is just someone to ignore, as several people have stated in private emails to me.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2008 at 7:26AM
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val_s(z5 central IL)

I have found that for the most part Lloyd is just someone to ignore, as several people have stated in private emails to me.

The fact that you felt you needed to post that statement shows ME what your moral character is made up of.

Just because someone has a blind following of "several people" doesn't make that person or their followers right (e.g. Jim Jones).

And here's a message for people who blindly follow: Even a broken watch is right twice a day.


    Bookmark   December 20, 2008 at 8:02AM
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Aww shucks, if I didn't know any better I might begin to think someone might be a tad upset with me.



P.S. Don't worry about it Val, not an issue.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2008 at 8:35AM
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I am so surprised and grateful for all your lengthy and thoughtful answers especially Robert,those are amazingly lengthy and thougttful answers. I did not check back here because I thought I had checked off an email notification which I never received. It will take me a while to digest all this information but I will give you some information:

My garden has never been tested. There are two, a small vegetable patch that was formerly maybe 15 years ago a piece of lawn, at my mothers house and a flower bed on the side of the house. Perhaps as a lawn it was never good soil. I have never had the soil tested. It has never been great. There are strawberries, that I posted in the fruit forum that always rot before rippening. And its time to remove the strawberries, (pic posted) So perhaps you are right about fungus. Certainly any squash or cucumbers get fungus and only produce a few. I have not rotated because the garden is small, maybe 12 x 12. The tomatoes are primarily Brandywine, morgage lifters, german stripe. I have only use Cockadoodledoo as a fertilizer, some lime. The soil is ok, some worms, kind of clay like about 10 inches down. Kind of a mustard color soil at that level. However about 2-3 years ago I did put a lot of leaves on the garden and that year the tomatoes were great, big plants covered with tomatoes but no cucumbers.
Last year no leaves and very poor tomatoes, o nly a few per plant, in both locations. and the cucumbers grow a bit, get a few then they die. Same for beans. The flowers seem to grow well.
So, yes I do not rotate, not much room, never had the soil tested, have not noticed any bugs, plants grow but do not produce much fruit, leaves can turn yellow, too many weeds, have I think plenty of sun, most of the day, though especially in the flower bed, sun all day.
I thought about also getting either a large amount of new soil or bags of composted manure.
I am probably not as serious a gardener as you all but I really appreciate your advice and I would like to get a great patch of tomatoes and cucumbers.
I should get the soil tested at U Mass.
Right now there is a foot of snow on the garden and leaves.
thank you all

    Bookmark   December 20, 2008 at 10:37AM
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Thank you, Len -

First off, it's clear that you care about your garden and desire to harvest quality fruit. So now the question is, whether you are willing to become sufficiently knowledgeable about YOUR garden soil to accomplish that end (i.e., become a more serious gardener).

Everybody posting here will have different opinions and offer different advice and suggestions, so YOU will have to make determinations which you believe are based on sufficient evidence. If you are serious about producing a healthy, abundant garden, our advice/suggestions may be of some help in your education. If not, our advice/suggestions will only serve to further our own education (or not). Your choice.

And please don't be 'turned-off' by the ocassional (disrespecful) 'bickering' - just accept it as 'going with the territory'...which I'm learning to do as well. Some of these 'old dawgs' are not willing to learn 'new tricks'.

Some of that evidence you will need to obtain yourself, from MA soil professionals - starting with soil testing to establish the nutritional values, pH and organic content of your soil (Routine + Micro + % Organics). About $35 with postage.

Find SEVERAL local Master Gardener folks that can visually inspect/feel/smell that soil and offer advice based on reality of this situation, and use the information posted here MAINLY to ask questions of us AND your LOCAL gardening 'experts'.

Recommend that you include about half of the 'mustard-colored' layer 10" down (how deep does it go?), in your soil sample, since it is in the root zone of almost every vegetable plant. Scrape off the snow, scrape away the leaves, and take samples according to sampling instructions. Take a LARGE sample so you will have enough left over to put in ziplock bags to provide small samples to others you request help from. Get a sample to the soil lab in the mail soon.

Second, some strains of fungus and bacteria ALWAYS exist in healthy soil, and are essential for good vegetable harvests - but garden soil may also contain some strains of fungus/bacteria are very detrimental to vegetable plants. Worms are NOT an indication of a bad (to plants) fungal issue, since worms eat fungus that's working on decomposing matter.
YOU must determine IF 'bad' fungus exists, and if so, what course of action to take, to target ONLY the bad ones, so as not to kill the good ones. I'm still NOT saying that a bad fungus is the MAIN cause of your soil problem(s). Am developing an opinion, but still do not have sufficient information on which to base expression of it. Answer each of the questions...

IF bad fungus/bacteria are indicated as partial cause of this dilemma, you should assume that they proliferated due to something you did (or didn't) do. Don't just blame it on "nature". Take responsibility to take corrective action and learn from it.

Have included an 'overview' USDA link written by Dr. Elaine R. Ingham, who produces excellent microbiological works - and am currently studying two of her publications. Also recommend her web site at for more information. But do not overlook free assistance directly from soil professionals/teachers/grad.students at U.Mass. who may take an interest in your dilemma.

From the information you recently posted, it is my opinion that your soil probably has SEVERAL interconnected, but not necessarily related problems (how much poultry manure, how much, how applied and how often?).
But 'yellow leaves' don't necessarily mean a lack of nitrogen (chlorosis) - could also be caused by inability for plants to uptake zinc/iron due to high phosphorous or other reason. Find out.

Go through each of the questions posed on this post, and answer them fully in your notebook - to provide specific information to local sources that you request assistance from. To the extent you are able to answer their questions, THAT IS the extent to which they will be able to assist you.

Please stay in touch with this thread, to ask questions and peruse opinions/advice/suggestions to help you to determine what questions you should be asking. And keep us informed about your progress...

Looking forward to the day that you send us beautiful photos of your prize tomatoes and cucumbers,


    Bookmark   December 20, 2008 at 1:01PM
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I see three issues, soil fertility, composting and strawberry problem.

The strawberries looks like an attack by birds or crawly things that leave a slime trail. You will have to cover the berry patch and/or put out some traps for the crawly things. The berries are fine except for where they have been attacked.

My preference is to compost at a dedicated compost site, not in the garden. A large pile will compost more efficiently than a layer of leaves. The composted manure you get in the spring can be dug into the garden if it is well composted. Else add it to your compost pile.

I think that your main problem is lack of nutrients. Your original posting was not detailed to really say that but I feel that with the elaboration in your last posting I can say that with more confidence.

Growing the same vegetables every year in the same soil will deplete the soil of the nutrients they require. I assume that Cockadoodledoo is a chicken manure based fertilizer. Something is better than nothing but you will need more than that for tomatoes. Tomatoes are heavy feeders. Do some research on fertilizer requirements of the crops you grow. You want enough fertilizer for healthy plants but you don't want to waste money by overfertilization.

You could add an inch of compost in the spring and then only 1/4" to 1/2" in subsequent years. This compost along with proper fertilization should get you back in business.

If a bit of the underlying clay get brought up into the soil when you dig, don't worry. Clay holds nutrient cations and it will benefit the soil in the long run. Both the clay and compost will act as a repository for fertilizers. This characteristic is called buffering capacity or cation exchange capacity.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2008 at 1:59PM
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Len, it is not unusual for any soil to be depleted of nutrients if it has been used to grow things that take up such nourishment without having done something about improving its ability to feed a plant.

Farmers know this....they rotate often; they'll plant a legume just to later plow it under and leave that area fallow. They know certain plants take out of the soil more than others.
Tomatoes should be rotated away from where they grew the season before. The soil can only be expected to give what it can and if the tomatoes have been grown in the same patch, year after year, it soon is depleted enough to give poor results.

You have a small don't grow tomatoes there, grow something else.
There are companion plants---these are plants that use the same soil and are confronted by the same pests. They usually have the same harvest times so can be planted next to each other.

Growing tomatoes in that patch is therefore not advisable for 2 - 3 years to let the soil catch up.
Grow your tomatoes in containers...they do just as well...if not better. The container can be located where the sun shines most...tomatoes need 8 hours of sun.
Small volume of soil in the container can be improved easily...thus giving the tomatoes what food they like.
Bugs can be more easily controlled.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2008 at 4:38PM
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val_s(z5 central IL)

Len, I don't have much to offer that the other people more knowledgeable hasn't told you but I can commiserate with a small garden plot. I won't be able to rotate much in the small one I created this year until I get more of my yard straightened out. I know you really have to take care of it if you can't rotate.


    Bookmark   December 20, 2008 at 6:28PM
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kimmsr -
Go to your room.
And stay there until called for supper.
And no dessert for you tonight.


    Bookmark   December 20, 2008 at 8:56PM
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Robert why start someone in the Soil Food Web Primer at chapter 4. You should start them at chapter 1 as I have tried to do often.

    Bookmark   December 21, 2008 at 7:20AM
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Hey cool, in the Earthworms section of the Soil Biology Primer

"They are not essential to all healthy soil systems, but their presence is usually an indicator of a healthy system.

Go figure.


    Bookmark   December 21, 2008 at 8:32AM
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kimmsr, Chapter 4 was where the REFERENCE was.
The SUBJECT we were discussing in the thread.

I wasn't "starting" anybody anywhere...
The point was to STAY ON TOPIC.
Chapter 1 was Off-Topic/Off-Subject, kapish?

If you're looking for a definition in a Dictionary,
You don't start with "A" words to look it up -
You go right to THAT WORD - OR do you know a better way?


    Bookmark   December 21, 2008 at 11:09AM
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