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help me ammend my soil (with video)

Posted by njitgrad 6A/6B New Jersey (My Page) on
Tue, May 6, 14 at 13:47

The less-than-2-minute video pretty sums it up. The link is below. I will post a second link to some footage of me turning the soil in a followup post.

To summarize, the soil in my raised beds is only two years old but it seems like it needs to be re-charged due to very slow growth of my cool weather crops...leaf lettuces and peas.

Since my compost is not ready yet (several weeks away) I need to purchase ammendments from my local garden centers. I took a trip to two of them today and took some photos (will also post the pics in a followup) of what is available to me in terms of bagged compost.

I welcome any suggestions....

Here is a link that might be useful: soil surface


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

Here is the 2nd video of me turning the soil in one of my beds. Also less than 2 minutes long.

Here is a link that might be useful: soil underneath


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

Here are the bagged compost products available to me....


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

Impressive list of ingredients on the "garden compost" bags. I would like to suggest that since the "composted manure" bags don't list ingredients on the web site, you avoid that IF the bag doesn't specify what manure is in it, or more specifically if it lists steer manure.

Steer manure contains a huge amount of salt. It's usable, for sure, but the salt suggests it be used sparingly.

You could always taste it to be sure...


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

You mentioned that you added that soil 2 years ago. Generally, you may want to add amendments each year, including compost and even time-release fertilizers if you are inclined to (though many are quite happy with just their compost).

So let's say 2 years have passed, and what was the original fluffy soil seems to have turned into some kind of soil that looks like dirt, plus maybe 3-4 months of "plant food" that it may have been advertising, is gone. This is the reason why the plants in the first season probably did well.

I think you don't have to start over from scratch, but just add the compost and mix it in. That will make your beds have too much content, so some of the existing soil will have to be removed and used elsewhere.

Now as for which compost? I have recently become a fan of mixing several composts together, including any compost you might have (but many people are quite satisfied with only using their compost). The science behind it makes sense, since all those composts each may have a certain ingredient that they focused on, and mixing them together will give you all those benefits.

From your list, I would definitely pick up the worm castings, chicken manure, one of the cow manures. You can add another cow manure product or go with some different choices.

After that, have you considered also adding something like peat moss/coir or perlite/vermiculite? I don't necessarily think every gardener needs to add it if they already have a good result, but there are a lot of people who do like adding it in their bedding soil. It also probably would depend on your water and rain availability, since those items add water retention.


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

gardenper:

I forgot to mention that I did add compost last season before planting (I think it was the first bagged compost in the pictures above) and then later in the season as a top dressing.

I like the idea of mixing the composts as you said and have been considering adding vermiculite as well. Would you mix the castings, manure, and vermiculite in equal parts and then add it to the soil?


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

Usually when adding amendments you can just spread them out in fairly even layers and then dig or till once. You could mix them first. I usually don't.

We just had another thread talking about vermiculite, its effect on soil porosity is apparently short lived and it's best used in potting mixes.

I too prefer to mix composts. To some extent you get what you pay for with bagged products, although the most expensive are not necessarily worth the money. I usually go for the middle. You have a lot of products to choose from, that's for sure.

Have you ever had a soil test done?


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

Had a soil test performed in 2012 but not since....


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

They are recommending low does of low power fertilizers, aren't they? That would seem to say you are good on NPK, pretty much. Organic content always helps. If you cover with compost in fall and leave for spring that works very well.

With so many beds I might play with no-till techniques in 1 or 2.

If I were you, I'd leave your lettuce, mulch the dry dirt, and plant the things like squashes in there as well. Then you can pull out lettuce and use them over time. By the time the squash etc get big, you'll have eaten the lettuce.


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

The problem you have is your nitrogen is tied up from over doing it in the first place. That's not a problem, but for heaven's sake, give your wallet a break.

Add nitrogen and take what all these GEEKS have to say as garden enthusiasm, they all have the fever as spring is fixin' to, or already has, busted out all over the land.

For my fellow soil peeps, go taste your own compsted poop before asking him to taste his! For crying out loud. LOL! M


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

Advice is sound, and the rest is tongue-in-cheek, y'all. Back to the garden. M


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

duplicate

This post was edited by Mackel-in-DFW on Tue, May 6, 14 at 18:26


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

Peas are nitrogen fixers. They make nitrogen. They don't use it. If they aren't growing, it is because of some other reason. My first guess is that what they need is heat. Maybe if you buy some of that compost and set it on fire it would help. Otherwise, see if somebody local has an idea of just how far behind in the season you are. We are at least two weeks behind, and have the newbie screams to prove it. Once you understand that what is currently going on outside is more what goes on in the middle of April than the beginning of May, life will go a lot smoother.


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

Well, I did only suggest mulch and more planting.


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

Based on suggestions, what I ended up doing last night was the following...

1. Removed a few shovel fulls from each bed and used it to do some lawn repair.

2. Added dehydrated cow manure to all beds. For the 2x4 beds - one bag each. For the larger beds - two bags each.

3. Sprinkled on top of each bed a small amount of Chickity Doo Doo by hand. I was surprised by the directions on the label...1/2 gallon per 100 sq ft. I think I may have sprinkled on at least twice that amount since I only have 72 sq feet of gardening space and I used about a whole gallon of the stuff. I hardly used any of the bag it seems and I definitely have a lot left over for monthly feedings.

4. Sprinkled worm castings on top of each bed by hand. Again I think I may have put a little more than was called for. I have a lot of this bag left over as well for monthly feedings.

5. I dumped a medium size bag of vermiculite (~28 liters) and about 1 cubic foot of peat moss in my wheelbarrow. All of it fit with plenty of room to spare. I then added water, mixed with shovel, and repeated until there was no peat or vermiculite powder left when I turned the mixture with the shovel. I then added between 3-5 shovel fulls of the wet mix to each of my raised beds depending on the bed size.

6. After all of the above ingredients were in my beds I mixed them all very well with the existing soil using my shovel, leveled them off nicely with a rake, and then finally gave them a nice soaking.

Does anyone think I over did it with the Nitrogen? The Chickity Doo Doo was a 5-3-2 and the worm castings and cow manure were both 1-1-1.

The peat moss I added to help keep the beds from drying out, and the vermiculite for some aeration to lessen compaction. I definitely didn't want to overdo this so that is why I used less than I thought was needed.


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

Most of your nutrients are at NEAR TOXIC LEVELS, already. Your plants will not likely thrive until you stop adding manures, and realize there is nothing magical about growing vegetables. All that most soils need is compost, produced largely of vegetative waste. At this point, the only thing likely to solve your problem is time, and rainwater.. Your growing problems are almost certainly due to excessive nutrients, salts, or tied-up nitrogen due to OVERDOING IT. Cheers (?). M


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

We Americans tend to be deluded by the idea of more is better. It's our culture, I don't blame you for your enthusiasm, that's a good thing. M


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

Tied-up nitrogen occurs by incorporating undigested organic matter into the soil rather than on top as a mulch. M


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

Well that's certainly disappointing. I followed the advice given and you're essentially telling me that I may as well not bother planting anything this season.

Can you elaborate by the conclusion you came to that my nutrients were already at near toxic levels? And how I just pushed them over the limit? I certainly wasn't trying to overdo it. I was just trying to remedy the fact that my leaf lettuces were not growing nearly as well as they were last year. I also don't see how just adding compost on top of the beds as you suggest would have helped my lettuces or anything else I was planning on planting in the beds.


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

That is why I "chided" everyone with more goofy, ancecdotal, and time and money wasting advice. Everyone has a lot of enthusiasm, particularly at this time of year, but people need to stick with the science which is quite simple in principle: that plants thrive with balance, not "steroids", which in every and all cases, eventually destroy life. Take it from a fellow garden GEEK and biology DUDE. M

P.S.- I wish we were neighbors, you could help me with my computer problems, and I could help you with your garden...oh, well.


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

That's not what I said! Mix finely screened compost, largely composed of vegetative matter, into the soil, and mulch the top with larger chunks of organic matter. That's 98 percent all just about anybody needs to do in almost any soil to produce healthy vegetables. I would not give up, I would just remember what the point I'm making is.. Luckily, Jersey soil will recover sooner rather than later from abuse. M


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

I didn't even watch your video, I read your soil test, Brother. M


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

That was my original plan however my vegetative compost is apparently not ready according to all the feedback I got (link below) so I had to resort to other methods to get nutrients into my beds.

So now I'm still confused...are my beds overloaded with nitrogen which will kill my plants or are they not?

Here is a link that might be useful: my compost video


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

I never mentioned it was too high in nitrogen. That's something that you have to be careful with, as well, but leaches out of the soil very quickly.

Go by some highly screened, vegetative compost next time, don't worry about making your own compost, that will come with time.

Avoid all the manure, it's high in salts and too rich. Use it instead to make compost, the excessive salts and nutrients will leach out with time and rainwater before you use it in your garden.

Don't incorporate anything into your soil that is not comletely broken down, vegetative compost, or is anti-microbial, such as pine bark and peat moss. This will tie up nitrogen, stunt the soil microfauna, and slow growth..

Learn from your mistakes. You live in the Garden State, for heaven's sake, it is easy to grow there if you don't complicate the process.

It's simple- stick to simplicity, and you will be well rewarded.

In the meantime, you might need nitrogen, and that's it, and water, and time for your soil to optimize. Go ahead and grow things, but lower your expectations. Now that you know what to do in the future- follow the KISS principle- relax, things will only get better.

Only LATER should you experiment if that suits your desire, with manures, pine barks, and peat moss. But by then, you probably won't want to, as you notice very healthy plant growth and are braggin' to all your fellow computer nerds. M


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

Not that there's anything wrong with being a computer nerd, I wish we were neighbors and could exchange ideas...Happy Trails. Mackel


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

Sometimes, I'd rather talk to someone in person, I hate texting and sometimes I'm just too much in a hurry to write clearly and concisely. Bottom line, all of you soil peeps, all a newbie needs is high quality, finely screened compst in their beds, whether they have to purchase it or not. And a suitable mulch. Why make things so difficult for a newcomer, and get Mackel all stiired up? Mean, very mean. M


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

I have never screened compost going into the garden. I've bought it by the yard and let pretty big pieces break down over time. "They say" too much wood can be a nitrogen sink, but we know njitgrad has lots of nitrogen.

When I screen compost it is because I'm using it in pots, or for the opposite reason, to take care of the compost pile. Screening and keeping the big bits keeps the compost pile working.

Really njitgrad, the lazy thing to do for the next 1-2 seasons would be to keep planting, mulch with straw, and prefect your watering. Things should grow fine. You can turn over and dig in that straw at the end of each season, or just plant more and apply more.


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

Right on, John.

When you say incorporate, do you mean mixing it in with soil, or using it as a top-dressing?

I ask this because I haven't added any nitrogen to the garden, lately. I don't have to, apparently, using high quality compost. Weird, eh?

In fact, I haven't fertilized ANYTHING in three or four years...fruit trees, vegetables, bamboo.. Just rotting vegetative matter, and that's it.

I have the most success with LAZY and CHEAP. Maybe it's like you said, mastering watering, the key to the universe....

I haven't used pesticides in nine years, either, of any sort. I'm certifiably organic, but not for political reasons. That's why I am such a believer, now, in balance, grasshopper, balance. ;) M


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

Hi Mackel. My grandfather was a 1930's gardener on Pasadena California estates. So my techniques have old-school roots. Manure in the fall, mulch in the spring, etc.

I think a little Miracle Grow is fine too ... just because everyone has a box in the garage! If you don't, your neighbor does.

(My grand-dad's boss would let the gardener and his family take the Pierce Arrow out for Sunday drives! My dad's fondest memories.)


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

Yes I am a computer geek, chicks dig it. But all of this gardening chemistry kind of makes me wish I was a ChemE rather than an CS major. The problem is that I don't know how much nitrogen is too much nitrogen.

How would you know if my nitrogen level was already high if the soil test I posted from above is from two years ago? I just assumed since my lettuce was growing poorly this spring compared to the last two years that it needed more nitrogen.

With just one bag of 1-1-1 cow manure I added per 2x4 bed, how much did that really raise the nitrogen level?

Now add in the sprinkling of the 5-3-2 composted chicken poop pellets. Is the effect additive or multiplicative?

Then add the sprinkling of 1-0-0 worm castings. Did that triple my nitrogen level? I have no idea.

Give me an explanation that I can visualize.

I really would love nothing more than to add vegetative compost...the only problem is that where I live I can't find any bagged product like it. An even if I were to find someplace where I can buy it in bulk...I would need to have a minimum quantity delivered and I have no where on my property to store what is left over (which would be a ton of compost).

So I'm making the best of the situation with what I have to work with. My personal vegetative compost is not ready yet....I can't find vegetative compost anywhere locally....all I have to work with is manure, worm casings, or marine product compost. I am planting next week so I needed to give my soil some life....really, what's a guy to do?


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

OK, here's the easy to visualize scenario .. imagine a temperate zone where wild grasses and flowers spring up every year. They don't get much amendment, they rely on roots, legumes, the occasional animal dump.

Some crops are simple enough that, protected from pests, they'll grow with that little as well. Small leaf crops like lettuce are like that. Of course, for big crops we want to go beyond, to sort of max-natural. We prepare ground and feed tomatoes for that reason. Just the same, I've seen tomatoes spring up on untended ground and produce small fruit. We're just helping.

The hard thing for us is, seeing your plants, and not knowing the weather or watering, it's kind of hard to know if they are "small."

At the time of the photo though the beds look quite dry. Remember, small plants don't have deep roots. They need water in their zone. For small lettuces that might be 5 inches down. The bamboo skewer will help here.

Mulch, be that straw or compost, will keep the root zone moist.

(BTW, I did miss that the soil report was from '12. So I get your logic adding more, annual, fertilizer.)

This post was edited by johns.coastal.patio on Wed, May 7, 14 at 14:19


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

If you want "geeky" here is a place to geek out on lettuce roots ;-)

Here is a link that might be useful: ROOT DEVELOPMENT OF VEGETABLE CROPS


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

(I actually do have an old chemistry degree, (before I too became a programmer (now retired)), but I don't think there's a need to get real technical. Given the good start and past feedings your beds have received, "standard" yearly applications, be they manure, compost, or one treatment of garden fertilizer per recommendations on the package, should be fine.)

we love us our nested parentheses


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RE: help me ammend my soil (with video)

OP, nitrogen that comes in a protein form, i.e. alfalfa meal, soy meal, corn meal, soy meal, etc. is the go-to nitrogen if you are uncertain about overdosing. Get it? A vegetative form of feritlizer.

That said, you still want to apply at the appropriate rate per square foot of garden area. The organic fertilizer will have an NPK ratio, and apply at the appropriate rate per square foot, just as if you were using synthetic nitrogen.

Applying a grain meal will not cause any damage, even if you already have too much nitrogen from all the poop.

(In your case, you want the first number to be the dominant number in ratio compared to the next two numbers. That doesn't mean the first number needs to be high, just that it is relatively much higher than the second two numbers.)

Too much nitrogen, of any sort, will burn through the compost/organic matter you spent all of that effort amending your soil with. But an organic fertilzer will prevent you from damaging your plants in case you inadvertently over apply (becuase it's buffered, the nitrogen being attached to a very long carbon molecule chain ;) )..

The nitrogen will be availabe to the plant in about two weeks and will last about two months. You can do it again, in other words, every two months.

If you want vegetative compost, get free tree trimmings from a local arborist and make your own! If you want to compost it fast, add nitrogen to it, or greens such as grass clippings. However, I'm positive you can find vegetative compost somewhere nearby, but there's very little regulation so you never know what's in there. Trust, but verify, as my hero Ronaldus Magnus used to say,

High quality compost, in general, contains up to twenty-five percent manure, maximum, is aged for at least a year or two, and contains no peat moss and minimal pine bark. Best wishes.

M

This post was edited by Mackel-in-DFW on Wed, May 7, 14 at 16:28


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