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My garden is dying!

Posted by terriemac ca (My Page) on
Thu, May 10, 12 at 17:12

I�ve been composting as long as I�ve been gardening. We put in raised beds 3 years ago and the garden has gone from lush and productive to scrawny and weak. It�s only 80 degrees outside but I have to use shade cloth because everything wilts drastically even though the moisture level is adequate. Every day I�m finding plants keeled over from weakened stems. One particular bed is worse than the others, everything is stunted. I tested the soil and it�s really screwed up. It showed the ph level as fine, but an overabundance of potash and phosphorus, and NO nitrogen � which is odd because we have chickens and I compost their droppings along with pine shavings. The compost tested very high in nitrogen.
Just last year we put in top soil, which I mixed with the compost. In some areas it is so compacted it�s like concrete. I thought compost loosens and aerates :(
I�m very discouraged and confused as to what I need to do to get my soil healthy again. Any help is greatly appreciated!


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: My garden is dying!

Can you post photos of your soil and plants? I could give a diagnosis. I would just be guessing, if I can't see what is going on.

Here is a link that might be useful: photos of my soil and bins


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RE: My garden is dying!

terriemac, I wonder if your compost is finished. I had trouble with a garden bed a few years ago and concluded that it must be from having too much unfinished compost in the soil. The next year there were no problems with that particular garden bed.

Now, when I'm making more garden bed or renewing an existing garden bed, I'll go to a local nursery and buy a truck-full of their commercial compost to mix into the surface of the soil. My home-made compost is used as a mulch on top of that, away from the base of the plants in the bed. Then I'll cover that with grass clippings.

Good luck.

Paul


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RE: My garden is dying!

The soil does not look too bad. Maybe the chicken manure was too hot? You should put it in a bin with some bagged browns to balance it and let it decompose for a while. I don't use manure, I only use kitchen waste and bagged browns, I use Starbucks coffee. Maybe the plants got dry from lack of water at one point in time? When you water does the water go into the soil? After you water dig into the soil and see if the water is going down into the roots or is it just sitting on the surface and drying up? If the soil is compacted, it won't go into the root zone. If you forgot to water for a while the soil can turn hard and then when you water again, it won't go into the root zone. You should water deeply and fluff up the soil with a garden tool make sure the water is going to the roots. Don't add hot materials that are not aged enough in the future. It should work out. I don't see anything very alarming going on like verticillium wilt. Bagged browns are things like Kelloggs amend or some kind of sheared wood. There are lots of different browns you can use. Look this up on the forum. I just like bagged browns because they are easy to get.

Here is a link that might be useful: verticillium wilt


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RE: My garden is dying!

I know if you mix top soil with compost or anything while its wet it will set like concrete.

So something is depleting your soil of Nitrogen? What could that be? Or how could that be happening? Sounds strange


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RE: My garden is dying!

@Idaho gardner: I always wonder if my compost is done- it heats up a number of times during its off season brew, I turn, feed and enjoy the wonderful aroma just outside my window. Before each new season's planting I filter out anything that won't fit through the 1/2" x 1/2" screen - perhaps I need a smaller mesh screen? I just might use your suggestion of mixing store-bought compost into the soil and using home batch as a mulch. Grass clippings as mulch? First I've heard of that, thanks for the input.

@tropical_thought: I have an over abundance of browns in the pine shavings I harvest each day with the chicken poop. Since the compost is directly outside my family room window I can usually tell if there is a ratio problem by the aroma vs smell that fills my family room. LOVE THAT AROMA!
We have an automatic drip watering system but it registers from dry to wet within inches of the plant. I definitely have a water absorption problem. I am becoming a believer in hand watering. Thanks for taking a look.

@blazeaglory: It appears that I am trying to grow veggies in concrete. Thanks for the tip for mixing soil and compost dry. As for the nitrogen depletion, one suspect is a huge redwood tree about 12 feet away. Just a desperate guess though, and one preferable to thinking it is radiation effects from the damaged Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant that has now reached our coast. Perhaps I am a bit premature on that path but YIKES what a thought!


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RE: My garden is dying!

Who did your soil test? Few soil test labs test for Nitrogen because it depends on soil temperature and the activity of the Soil Food Web and can vary a great much during the growing season. I have found the soil tesing kits sold in stores to be not very reliable, and they do not provide enough information about what was tested to be of much value.
What was the "topsoil" you put down like? The term "topsoil" has no meaning aside from the definition of the top 4 to 6 inches of soil. Many people tell me they think "topsoil" is loam and it usually is not.
Perhaps these simple soil tests would be of some help,
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 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.


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RE: My garden is dying!

I also have a drip. Each day that I use the drip, I hand water the surface. Because sometimes the drip misses things and I want my soil to get some moisture. I don't have to stand out there as long now that I have the drip, but some small flowers may miss the drip entirely and still require hand watering. The drip is really good for deep watering trees and larger deep rooted shrubs. For vegetables it's not that great. It's not a total solution to watering. You still need to keep monitoring even if you are not hand watering. I small failure or break in the hoses may not be noticed until its too late.


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RE: My garden is dying!

The bird poop has a lot of salt. The salt builds up in the soil. The plants can't handle it. Seems like continually adding manure to one's soil is not a sustainable practice. At max, manure is supposed to only make up twenty percent of one's organic applications. Something like that. Domesticated manure is not really natural, poop doesn't generally pile up like that in nature. Poop in nature is widely dispersed, there is no way to collect it, and add it to one's soil. Manure is all manmade when you think about it, it's salty, stinky, leftovers cuz we like domesticated meat. I like to eat squirrel, just not enough of 'em in the suburbs to take out with bb gun. No more domesticated manure for me, I don't use the stuff anymore, just vegetative matter only. I say, who needs somebody's **** when we already generate too much on our very own...lol...


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RE: My garden is dying!

I kind of agree with mackel's statement. I find kitchen scraps are much better and healthier to compost. I have alkaline soil and water and so I want things to be more acid. Hence starbucks used coffee grounds. They will donate them, search on how to get them here on the forum. Manures have salt and it has to flushed out with a lot of water (like a heavy rain), but if you keep putting it back in the soil, it builds up. If you are eating fruits and vegetables you will have lots of peelings and cores and the like to compost.


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But Wait a Minute...

Did somebody mention turkey poop? Mabye I've got the wrong thread. But if the compost is high in nitrogen, likely there's a lot of poop in there, with all the bad stuff that comes with poop, like salts, mainly...urine soaked bedding, chicken saltine nuggets, what have you... plus the soluble nitrogen is a salt in itself...anything but a small amount of nitrogen is overrated and comes with potential hazards and associated problems...in synthetic or organic form, nitrogen can be very disruptive to the microflora of the soil when used in anything but moderate doses...and acts as a fungicide...it burns up the carbon that we've carefully added into our soils...it pollutes steams and rivers...it does wacky stuff to the pH of the soil...it acts as an effective fungicide in moderate to high doses...Glastly, od didn't invent nitrogen fertilizer...man did...to increase crop production in overused, poor soils...


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Oh Well

Man, I'm having a tough day with the spelling, grammar, sentence structure, I don't even know where I'm at and I ain't even had a drink all day...this weekend, I'll be laying off the moonshine tea, and will be sticking to herbs only...btw, my bamboo attracts dozens of species of birds, who fertilize the groves for me...bamboo is self mulching... wonderful stuff, and you can use it to give shade for a tree it's first few years, then cut the boo down...I call it, Mother...and the squirrels, there careful about entering my bamboo groves, they know they are dinner by now...Gday Everybody


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RE: My garden is dying!

Wow- so much information! I tested the soil with a kit purchased at the garden store so I guess I hold that with a grain of salt....speaking of which, I'm sad to hear that manure is not recommended in the compost due to salt & other stuff. Since I have chickens, and starting tomorrow -rabbits, I will continue to compost the droppings. I should mention that I compost it in a separate bin and add it to the kitchen scraps/coffee grounds/yard-trimming bin in small amounts. I'm also starting to make compost tea which I trust would deal with the salt concentration problem. Good information shared here and I will be mindful of the manure ratio from now on.


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RE: My garden is dying!

Manure is fine to add just dont add it all the time. I use steer manure and compost as a top dressing with a mulch (pine bark) cover. That seems to help acidify my soil a bit. I only use that method around my trees and I also add underneath a slow release fertilizer. It all depends on what your growing. I grow alot of fruit trees so I want soil Ph in the 6.3-6.5 range. All the spots I have top dressed with manure and wood chips over time the Ph lowers about a point, while the rest of my soil is above 7.0. I do everything in layers. Starting with my native soil I add in layers:

Slow release organic granule fertilizer
Manure and compost
Pine Bark Mulch(To protect against heat and sun)
Supplement throughout the season with liquid micro fertilizer (All purpose 20-20-20)

And if you want to raise or lower your Ph you can add Sulfur or Lime depending on what your needs are. That is how I am currently growing and things are beginning to look good. But you can change it depending on what your needs are. This is not the end all to gardening by any means...lol


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RE: My garden is dying!

I would get a real soil test at your local County Extension service. The consumer grade test kits are not terribly reliable.

My opinion: Since it showed high P and K, I would get a second opinion before adding fertilizer containing P or K. Since N was very low, use some high N fertilizer like lawn fertilizer (29-3-4 for example) until you know for sure.

The topsoil you got may have had too much clay or it was a mix of sand and clay which can set up like cement and aggregate (i.e. concrete). More organic matter when you can mix it in, and mulches to keep it from drying out in the meantime.

Unless you are in a very arid climate, the salts from manure will be leached away over time so don't get too concerned about what your compost is made of. Having said that, variety is a good thing in compost ingredients.


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RE: My garden is dying!

terriemac,

I don't think the screen size is as important as the age of the compost. One method of testing compost used by the professionals/experts is to try sprouting seeds in it. I think you need to have a control, like plain soil. One pot holds ordinary garden soil, the other holds soil amended with compost. It would be interesting if you did such a test.

re: home test kits for soil fertility. When I got started gardening seriously, I took a soil sample to the extension office. I later bought one of those kits and tested the same garden bed. Same results. The home kit showed the same levels of N, P, and K as the results from the county extension office. The only caution I would offer is to be sure to use 'fresh' chemicals. If the kit has been sitting on the shelf too long, the chemicals might go bad.

FYI, unfinished compost contains oxalic, acetic, and butyric acids, which inhibit root growth and seed germination.


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RE: My garden is dying!

Animal manures have been used for eons as a source of soil nutrients, without the build up of "salts". Some people misunderstand what is meant about that term and in manures it does not mean what you put on your food which is not a good thing in the garden. However, adding animal manures to soils should be done along with the addition of vegetative waste since the nutrients in that manure are pretty soluble and can flow out of the soil with excess water if there is too little organic matter in the soil to help hold the nutrients there.
I see people tht are supposed to know what they are talking about all the time reccomending to gardeners that they get "topsoil" as if the really meant something. The only thing the term "topsoil" means is that it is the top 4 to 6 inches of soil from someplace. The term "garden soil" might have more meaning. I have seen everything from spend foundry sand to loam sold as "topsoil" We have a place here that dredges the rotting organic matter from one of the lake bottoms and mixes that with sand, and some lime, has MSU test it for pH and sells it as state tested soil, but not "topsoil". Three landscape supply companies pick up large amounts of that soil from this company and sell it as "topsoil". We have one landscape company where the owner blends together 45 percent sand, 25 percent silt, 25 percent clay, and about 5 percent organic matter and sells that as "topsoil", but not loam.
What people sell as "topsoil" may, or may not, be something worthwhile. Caveat Emptor, "Let the buyer beware."


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RE: My garden is dying!

"Manure is fine to add"- not until the soil test confirms what's in the soil, particularly sodium.

"The salts from manure will be leached over time"-not when the application rate exceeds the leach rate.

"Animal manures have been used for eons"- just a few thousand years, but consider that plants have evolved in a low sodium, low nitrogen, vegetative fertilization scheme, for a few billion years.

No more manure until official soil test.

When it comes back high in sodium, you posters who occasionally give two penny advice to people cuz you don't really have an answer all the time, can buy me a drink, each and everyone of youse. Until then, flush twice, it's a long way to Oklahoma.


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RE: My garden!

Neener neener neener. That's my two cents back atcha, Gday All.

Mackel


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RE: My garden is dying!

so much information, so many opinions...and yet...what do you know now that you didn't before?

asides from the gremlins in mackel's comp affecting his fingers. strange for a guy who invented the internet and sliced bread.

so you have collected chicken poop and added pine shavings and have a result that is low in nitrogen. and this is surprising? apart from the volatile nature of poultry manures, the addition of any kind of wood, even pine shavings, is gonna tie up nitrogen in the process of decomposition.

beyond that, the uneven wet dry issues speak to a larger issue. and it's not as simple as don't add wet topsoil to compost. compost could be a pile of wooden pallets left to rot for twenty years, a corn crib that never got fed, or a pile of leaves. the nature of the source material is going to have an affect on the resulting product (no matter what anyone has to say about what "finished" compost is supposed to be...considering how much people here emphasize what you put in influences what you get out, this is a basic point that somehow gets missed...cuz compost as a defined term means about as much as topsoil as a defined term...and both are radically misunderstood and misused) (stepping off soapbox).

soil is complex. it has physical properties. (getting back on soapbox) structure is a physical property of soil. and that term has more to do with engineering that agronomy (growing anything in soil or soilless media (such as compost). that little "structure test"? that lets you know what soil classification is according to the soil triangle. not how those components combine into larger aggregates that determine the engineering potential of a given location-which is the definition and application of soil structure.

i told you this was complex. did i mention it is grossly misunderstood?

there are also chemical properties, such as pH (which has an influence on micronutrient availability [those with +3 valences]).

somehow what you added messed with these properties. it sounds like the physical properties were messed with primarily, but there may be some soil chemistry issues in there as well.

considering how specific the terms topsoil and compost are, it's kinda hard to answer that. as far as what to do...there is only one answer.

keep trucking. this is a learning experience. that does not mean all learning experiences end in a way and manner we call successfully.


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RE: My garden is dying!

Having read all of the above, I now know how little I know! But I will vouch for mulching in the midwest. Over time, it cures almost every evil that's ever hit my garden, including some incidents of stupid-gardeneritis.

I use cheap straw as it's usually all I could find or afford. So it was low in nutrients, but when rotted makes a lovely, great feeling, crumbly soil. It won't help this minute, but it will slowly loosen up your soil, let earthworms get back to work, and when rain pounds it won't hit the surface; it will drain through the mulch and not compact your dirt any further.

For really fun reading, I suggest a lady, now dead, named Ruth Stout. What a character! Her books are chatty, vegetable-y, and recommend MULCHING like the dickens. I reread them every few years just to revisit an old friend. :)

On the other hand, I don't know your area, and results there may differ. If your conditions were here where I am, I would immediately find stuff to mulch with and carpet that baby thick.

And like I said�know that I don't know much! And nothing about your area, where conditions may differ. Best of luck. I know you'll turn it around. Anyone with the gumption to raise chickens and rabbits will figure this thing out. I have a hunch that the manure needs to be used in conjunction with more of other materials before hitting the soil, but it's just a hunch�no claim to special knowledge.


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RE: My garden is dying!

..
What part of Cal? It's a big state. In the 80s? Probably south and somewhat removed from the coast. It's been a dry winter and spring. Don't discount the winds. The offshore winds will really dry things out. If you're in a wind protected spot, it will still be dry but you will also experience cooler overnight lows.

Hows the bug count? Lower than normal? Higher? I happen to think a lot of bugs is a good sign - at least for soil health.

What does it look like in the neighborhood? Anybody else in your area seeing this? Maybe some of your neighbors know something. Can you call some local master gardeners program?

What are you growing? What are you feeding the compost? Does the chicken manure or the wood shavings amount to more than 10 percent in your compost?

I thought I heard a couple of people wank about pine being bad for the soil or something. Anybody know anything about that?

Personally, I go with the mulchers. Mulch to the teeth and wait until next year.

More data and pictures will get you better answers.

I'm sure a real soil test would be telling if you could engineer it.

I'll buy mackel a beer regardless as long as he keeps the squirrel to himself.

to sense
..


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RE: My garden is dying!

I don't think a typical test from a typical soil lab would give you sodium. It's not a plant nutrient so it's generally ignored. Maybe by special request.

Soil labs to a certain limited variety of tests. The other day in one of these threads someone suggested getting a soil test to look for some sort of toxin (can't remember whether it was lead, herbicides or what). Of course you can get that tested, but not in a typical $20 soil fertility test. Different test, probably a different lab altogether.


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RE: My garden is dying!

I thought Nitrogen gets tied up when pine needles/chips are buried/combined with the compost or manure? Adding pine products as a top cover does not have the same affect on the temporary loss of N right?


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RE: My garden is dying!

I'm still very much learning about the properties of compost myself and I'd be curious as to what "the compost tested very high for N" really means. I've seen actual test results for a few different types of finished compost in the last couple of months and what struck me is that compost is not fertilizer. The NPK numbers are significantly lower than those you would find for something that would be sold or considered fertilizer. (More in the range of .5-.5-.5 or 1-1-1.)

After a year of generously using my own produced horse manure compost in my new beds my lab reports still came back with a recommendation of additional applications of N. This was very much inline with a discussion I had with a local commercial composter who recommends the addition of N with his product as well.

So if "compost high in N" means high in N compared to other composts (instead of compared to something considered as a fertilizer) it still might not be very high in N in relation to what your soil may need to replace the N used up in the last 3 years. Does this make any sense to you guys who really know this stuff?


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RE: My garden is dying!

You get a lot of N from rainfall, and the compost once it's in the soil does a much better job of retaining the N that nature offers you, for it is stored in all the microflora that you are providing a home for, that live in the composted soil, they are born, then die, every second of the day in a continuous cycle, releasing tiny amounts of N from their dessicated cells on a continuous basis. Without the compost, any N that you do have in your soil that birds, rain, and disintegrating debris provides tends to slip away through sublimation or leaching. So, you'll have more N to start with, and that's simply how God designed nature and it's been working for a few billion years. If you think it's a good idea to need more N than nature provides, keep in mind that applying more N than nature provides burns up that carbon faster that you've carefully amended your soil with in the first place. In other words, the more N you provide, the more compost you must provide. It's a vicious cycle that one may get in, by overly focusing on N. The fetilizer lobbies forced compost to not be labelled as a fertilizer, but in fact it is a unique and exquisite fertilizer, becuase it offers micronutrients that are often the culprit rather than NPK, in a form that's much more available to the plant.

Mackel, the Conspiracy Guy


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RE: My garden is dying!

Note, ten lb of compost at 1-1-1 = 1 lb of fertilizer at 10-10-10.

:-]

If you're sprinkling compost at the same rate you would fertilizer pellets, then yes, you're adding a lot less nutrients. But nobody does that.


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RE: My garden is dying!

When you say your test showed an over abundance of P & K, just how high are we talking? Years of chicken manure could potentially cause an excess of phosphorus, the symptoms of which are kinda similar to what you describe.

If not that, then I'd guess that the high carbon pine shavings are starving the soil of nitrogen. This is the main reason I stopped using pine shavings for my chickens' bedding. I now use cheap bedding hay (discounted hay that is not suitable for feed). Straw would be fine too. Hay with manure produces much nicer compost in a shorter amount of time than shavings. Plus, the chickens seem to like it better, as it's more "interesting" for them to scratch at.

When you clean the coop, you'll notice that most of the manure has disappeared into dust. If you raise your chickens in a pen with a wire floor, then most of the manure dust will probably have dropped out of the bottom. Even in a solid bottom coop, as you scoop out the manure, you'll probably notice poop dust being left behind. What I'm getting at is that, while poultry manure is indeed high in nitrogen, you have to make sure you are collecting manure and not just pine shavings.

The more I'm thinking about it, I think nitrogen robbing by the shavings is the most likely explanation. Switch to hay or straw bedding. Make sure you collect the poop dust when you clean the coop. Compost it all down until it's well finished.

Here is a link that might be useful: Garden Imperative


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RE: My garden is dying!

"If you're sprinkling compost at the same rate you would fertilizer pellets, then yes, you're adding a lot less nutrients. But nobody does that."

But doesn't compost release it's nutrients significantly slower than fertilizer since most of the nutrients in compost are insoluble?

I've not used chicken manure compost, but I've had chickens before and I've found that it takes a lot of chickens to create a lot of chicken manure--much less have a lot if material once it would be compost! I wonder if the OP has that many chickens?


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RE: My garden is dying!

That may be, subk3. So maybe all we can say is that a direct comparison of percentages is not accurate without considering the rate of application *and* the release rate.


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RE: My garden is dying!

To clarify:
About the chickens: I've only had (5) chickens since this time last year. The droppings (plus pine shavings & rice hulls) were composted separately (months) then added to the main bin where it continued to compost (months) with: kitchen scraps, grass clippings, used coffee grounds, and yard trimmings - then was filtered through 1/2"x 1/2" hardware cloth. I may have use a little of it last fall in the garden but mainly just started using it this Spring.
I "spot" clean the coop everyday and always have MUCH MORE pine shavings than poop. I'm going to switch to hay for the bedding.
About the soil test: the soil in the garden bed didn't even register nitrogen, the compost in the bin registered very high (meaning it was darker than the darkest color on the chart).
The first major sign of a problem was last spring (before chicken poop) when most blossoms fell off or died before setting fruit, which I was told was due to lack of calcium. I thought maybe it was because I may have overdone it with Epsom salt when I planted (?) I also added a lot of rock dust last. Everything has gone downhill since. I only fertilize (Dr. Earth) at the time of planting.
I really appreciate all the feedback, I am learning quite a bit!


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RE: My garden is dying!

Buds falling off can be due to a fungal problem. I don't think a lack of calcium would cause buds to fall off. I googled bud drop and found this: Bud drop can be caused by overwatering, underwatering, temperature fluctuations, low humidity, very high temperatures or moving the plant. Insects also can damage the buds and keep them from opening. There are blights that are caused by bacteria that can make buds fall off or in my case, they just turned black and then fell off, it was Botrytis.


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RE: My garden is dying!

Sounds like you'd better get some nitrogen in there pronto. Blood meal would be a good choice. Or fish emulsion. Or even urea if applied with care. Or simply pee in a bucket, dilute, and feed with that.


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More acid is needed

Rock dust could have too much stuff like lime or calcium or things that create alkaline soil conditions along with the chicken poop.
Epsom salts is not really going to help you. You should read the posts here on Epsom salts. Use the search on this forum and read about different types of soil treatments and consider the pro and cons of each one before doing anything.
Here is what I would do, but don't take my word for it research it.

I would use miracid which is miracle grow for acid lovers as a liquid but not too strong and Aluminium sulfate but not too much. Don't just pour it on. Less is always more, be careful, add a bit and see what that does then add more if you like what it is doing.

Starbucks coffee grounds in your composting program provide nitrogen and acid, if you can get pine needles to compost, that would be good. It seems like you are adding too much alkaline causing things and then to fix it you are adding even more alkaline things. I use acid things all the time because my soil is very alkaline. I have to keep using acid things just so the ph won't go over 7.


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RE: My garden is dying!

TT, you have some potentially good suggestions here but the important thing is to know what's being added, and what the actual conditions are.

First you said rock dust might have thrown the pH or Ca too high, but we don't know what kind of rock dust was added. Terriemac says the pH is 'fine' in the initial post. You go on to suggest Miracid - what problem is that supposed to address?

TMac, if you think the Epsom has thrown off the Mg/Ca ratio, that may be, but you'd need a good lab soil test to find that out.

Getting some N in there pronto seems like a good idea. I couldn't say whether the blossom drop is from lack of N or a disease though. Blossom End Rot is from Mg deficiency, but it affects fruit after it is set, not blossoms, AFAIK.


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RE: My garden is dying!

I assume miracid would help to increase the level of acid. Maybe there are other better ways to do this. I understand that mulched with pine needles or composting a lot of pine needles won't help. I think coffee grounds would help. Dr. Earth has many different types of products.I don't know what kind of rock dust and how much. Even too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

When I started out I dumped too much product on plants and killed them so I learned to be very careful. Take cotton seed meal, it is supposed make things acid, but I read about people on other forums using it and and the plants died. They used too much. But, gardening is learning. I am sure things will work themselves out if one sticks with it.


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RE: My garden is dying!

There are several contradictions that I see in the original poster's comments.

If there was adequate water, the soil would not be like concrete (no matter what it is). Add water, dig around in it, figure out what the soil is like.

Compost should not test as high N if it is "finished".

If there is no water, then Nitrogen won't be available and blooms will drop off, stems will sag. If there is no nitrogen (because the pine chips used it all) then just add more N (fish emulsion will keep it simple). Add more N on a regular basis until things settle down.

You wrote that the pH is "fine", but is it right for what you are trying to grow? Why did you add magnesium (epsom salts), and when you say that you added "rock dust" do you mean garden lime? That is calcium (or calcium & magnesium) which will also eventually raise the pH of the soil if it is too acid. Did you buy acid topsoil? Nitrogen will not be available to plants if the soil is too acid, no matter how much N and water is there. Lime would not have worked this fast in good soil, especially with inadequate water unless you tilled it in well throughout the root zone of your plants. It moves downward slowly (except in well watered pure sand), which brings me to wonder about how far down you went for your soil sample to test the pH. Nitrogen starvation causes stunted growth, and toxic levels of minerals can do the same... but N is available to plants only when water exists, which is seems is not the case here.

I think that somewhere in all of this, you have some kind of a mis-understanding about the situation. You need to find out what it is that you mis-understand, or what you "think" is happening which isn't real.

There are many things that have been changed. First, check water. Then add a gentle form of non-burning Nitrogen (NOT chicken manure). Then carefully examine what is actually in front of you, and what you actually see in the soil and in the plants. Dig around, pull up plants and check the roots, etc. It is probably more simple than you think if you can forget all the ideas you have whirling around in your head. Plants try to survive, and they really don't need very much to succeed. You'll figure it out.


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RE: My garden is dying!

Good advice Piano.

The only comment I have is that compost will indeed test 'high' using a 'soil test kit', because levels of N in soil are generally much lower than that of compost. If a finished compost is 1-1-1 for example, it will be 1% N or 10,000 ppm. This is at least 10 times higher than soil would be. If it wasn't, there would be no fertilizer value to compost.

TT: I already knew what acid does to the pH, my point was that the OP said the pH was OK, so I did not see the value in manipulating it.


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RE: My garden is dying!

  • Posted by corrine1 7b Pacific Northwest (My Page) on
    Fri, May 18, 12 at 15:18

terriemac,

Your statement about switching to hay for coop bedding caught my attention. I won't answer how to help your garden here, but will give you suggestions for your chickens to avoid hurting them since I've been a 4-H poultry leader for 10+ years. Spot cleaning the coop is unnecessary.

If this post doesn't answer your questions email me through GW. Hay molds & molds kill chickens. Your pine shavings are perfect and if you want to try something else try the pelleted bedding sold for horses added to the pine shavings litter when you need more bedding. Chopped straw is fine, but quite slippery & not as absorbent as wood products. Also the straw mats instead of being fluffy and is difficult to shovel out.

Do not put any wood products outside in the chicken run either. If the run is muddy cover it, use pea gravel to increase drainage, or add a slope for run-off. Periodically rake and remove build up of manure if needed. They scratch through the pea gravel and keep it nice if you go that route.

Inside, switch to a deep litter system where you don't clean it out as often, but add more litter when you notice dampness or slight odor. The chickens mix it up & it composts in place, so there is no stink! Sprinkle grain once a week for them to scratch up the bedding or alternatively you go in there weekly to mix it up with a flat shovel.

Use dropping boards or screen off under the roost then those are the weekly or monthly removal chores to compost in a pile or as sheet mulch in the garden outside of the growing season.

If odor is a problem increase ventilation to reduce ammonia levels. All times of the year even in freezing weather they need ventilation vents, windows, etc. A tight coop doesn't allow the moisture in the manure and from birds' breathing to escape.

The deep litter system works well & you can clean out only 1-2x a year not counting the under the roost droppings removed regularly. You save money and time without having to remove and add bedding monthly during the rainy season. Once you get the deep litter system going you won't want to go back to the other way.

Ideally, we clean out the coop in the fall once the weather cools and frost comes. We spread that out a few inches deep on garden beds not in active growth and makes a nice mulch for fruit trees. Too thickly it can be smelly. Then as winter goes on we spread used coffee grounds and shredded leaves as we acquire them.

If needed we clean it out again once the air starts to warm up in late spring or summer and includes sweeping/vacuuming, spraying with pinesol, etc. Over our dry season of summer we need less bedding than in winter wetness. Some years we just remove 1/2 the bedding and go with that for the rest of the summer adding more as needed to keep it loose and do a full clean out in fall.

Hope that helps make it easier to manage~Corrine


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RE: My garden is dying!

Corrine brings up some good points about poultry management. The deep litter system works great. And I would certainly agree that adequate ventilation is essential. And by "adequate" I mean what many people might consider extreme - my coop has 2 large storm windows that remain open (though screened with wire) all year long. Even in the depths of winter. Chickens can survive cold just fine. They cannot survive bad air. You want a large volume of air being exchanged freely, all the time.

That said though, my experience with hay/straw has been very different. For me it is never a mold problem, particularly when used inside the coop. In fact it stays quite dry inside the coop, so mold never could be a problem (the dryness of a chicken coop is why the deep litter system works so well). My chickens love it and are very healthy. I would never switch back to pine shavings.


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RE: My garden is dying!

I wish I could easily respond to all the comments and questions but I don't have that much time :) Bottom line I will get an official soil test. I did apply blood meal over a week ago but I'm still losing plants.
I've been brewing a compost tea for a week which besides compost, includes rabbit droppings & urine from 3 rabbits with water added to almost fill a 25gal container. I used it to water some flowers - if they fair well I might continue throughout. Wondering if I can use the compost tea to water the garden on a regular basis...
Corrine, thank you for the info. Unfortunately I am unable to do a deep litter system. The tiny coop is raised off the ground, has a solid floor and 2 sides are open (hardware cloth) - so lots of ventilation.
Those of you who are confused by some of my statements and think I'm mistaken. Feel free to email me if you want me to clarify. I'm not an experienced gardener. I'm learning my lessons now by trial and error and sifting through the advice I read - which at times is confusing when mixed with opinions. Some of you have been very encouraging and some quite challenging but I appreciate it all. Gardening ain't for sissies.


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RE: My garden is dying!

I finally got the soil test results back. I'm wondering if the rock dust I put in the soil is the culprit of my dying garden.
Ph: 6.7
Organic matter: 1.8
Nitrogen: 78
Phosphorus: 178
Potassium: 971
Magnesium: 700
Calcium: 3317
Sodium: 49
Sulfur: 12
Zinc: 19.7
Manganese: 3
Iron: 26
Copper: 1.5
Boron: 1.3
Percent cation saturation:
Potassium: 9.5
Magnesium: 22.0
Calcium: 63.2
Sodium: 0.08


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RE: My garden is dying!

I think the problem is too much fert and if you make compost tea that will just make it worse, you should try adding no more compost or ferts of any type.


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RE: My garden is dying!

I love your attitude and spirit.

Did the soil test come with recommendations? I'm no expert, but I don't see anything that looks alarming on that list of elements. Seems like the OM is a little low, but that won't make plants die.


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RE: My garden is dying!

I was not considering the soil test, but the ph does look high to me. I was just considering the last post you posted before the soil test. You could be killing your garden with kindness.


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RE: My garden is dying!

Ok, so I googled soil test results and found a document.

Looks like your P, K, and Mg are all on the high side. The K and Mg are really whack. The Mg might be the culprit.

Here is a link that might be useful: Link to soil test explanation


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RE: My garden is dying!

Could be. I recently did a test and found P = 208 (higher than yours) and K at 700+ which was considered excessively high. Yours is 971.

There is very little available about what to do when something is too high, or what the effects are. It's obvious what to do when something is low.

Idaho: I notice that reference is from Rutgers and it talks about the Mehlich-3 test method being appropriate for the mid-Atlantic region. The OP is in CA so I'm just wondering if that makes a difference. The optimum ranges for P, K, Ca and Mg are not giving the same 'high' and 'excessive' ranges that my test report here in MO listed. I don't know what our lab uses for a method.


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RE: My garden is dying!

Upon further review...

Although the Mg levels are a bit high, they might not be the cause of the problems that terrimac is experiencing. Short answer, I don't see problems with the soil test results.

tox, if terrimac is in CA, her soil pH is surprising. CA soils usually test about 7.8 pH. Hers was 6.7 (and I'm jealous). I think that because of the pH of the soil, the Mehlich would be reasonable. If the pH were higher, the lab doing the test might have displayed results from 'Olsen' test.

Speaking of pH, how did it get so low with so much Calcium and Magnesium in the soil? Maybe that's the clue. What brought down the pH in the presence of so much alkaline material? The percent of OM doesn't reveal the presence of a lot of compost. If it had, I might have suggested that immature compost could be the culprit. But OM of less than 2% is on the low side.


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RE: My garden is dying!

I did look around for optimal soil test results in CA, but I could not find any thing.


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RE: My garden is dying!

You could still stay with pine shavings as bedding and get a lot LESS of them in your daily "spot clean-up" if you could install a shelf a few inches beneath the hens' roosts. I use empty feed bags to line the shelf. I either pick up the bags by the corners and dump the manure out when it accumulates, or use a garden trowel to scrape the poop off the edge of the shelf into a bucket to be carried out. This collects a lot of manure WITHOUT the pine shavings, and then the manure can be mixed with something better for composting purposes, like leaves, straw, shredded cardboard, etc. Straw and hay do make wonderful compost, but they are hollow and can be a haven for mites which will make your chickens VERY unhappy.


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RE: My garden is dying!

Terriemac, see Idaho's post above. Have you added anything except compost and rock dust? What kind of rock dust was that?


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RE: My garden is dying!

I usually add Dr. Earth's organic fertilizer 5-7-3 when I plant and some Epsom salt (except this season).

When my over the counter soil tester didn't register nitrogen I added some blood meal and bat guano.

For the last two years I've been adding a lot of glacier rock dust when I plant (except for this season). It's been slowly going downhill every since. Coincidence?

The lab that did the soil testing recommends adding more organic matter - which I assume would be my compost but then I'd be adding more nitrogen which is already too high. They also recommend adding gypsum.


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RE: My garden is dying!

Any analysis on the rock dust bag? Glacier rock could be anything. I don't know much about rock dusts or their effects on soil, but this seems to bear looking into.

Epsom salt would of course boost up the Mg but it does not seem to be excessively high (as already stated by Idaho G).

I wonder what the basis is for recommending gypsum. Perhaps the Ca:Mg ratio needs to be higher?


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RE: My garden is dying!

I use GAIA GREEN Glacial Rock Dust, 100% Canadian Glacial Moraine.
calcium: 1.4
mag: 0.562
cobalt: 0.00234
iron: 3.95
Manganese: 0.0928
sodium: 1.25
The soil lab (generically) recommends diamond k gypsum to leach out: potassium, magnesium, and sulfur


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RE: My garden is dying!

I saw that brand of rock dust on amazon. I just think you have added too many different things, but I no idea how you got so much calcium if you did not add a lot of pure calcium carbonate. If 1500 is normal how did you get 3317? It sound either impossible or the soil test is wrong or something.


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RE: My garden is dying!

Tropial thoughts....I don't understand any of it :)In fact I'm going to call the lab because according to the graph they provided 3317 is low-medium, but in the analysis report that number is very high. And the confusion continues....aaargh!!!

I had blossom end rot last year and the nursery told me is was caused by lack of calcium. I bought a foliage spray to set the fruit - but nothing went in the soil.


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RE: My garden is dying!

I never trust what they tell you in nurseries. I don't think calcium lack causes rots. Rots are usually fungal but could be bacterial in nature. I had something like that, the camellia buds turned brown and fell off, and some anti fungal spray fixed that. If you compost a lot you increase the amount of fungal type things. Plants in a barren soil don't get fungal as much.


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RE: My garden is dying!

Good grief, tropical! You need to look up Blossom End Rot and its causes.

Here is a link that might be useful: Blossom End Rot


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RE: My garden is dying!

Good Grief Charlie Brown!!!


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RE: My garden is dying!

I did look at that, but that is not rot of the blossoms. It is rot of the fruits which are already set. A blossom is not the same as a fruit and it also said:
Foliar applications of calcium, which are often advocated, are of little value because of poor absorption and movement to fruit where it is needed.


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RE: My garden is dying!

Blossom end rot is rot on the end of the fruit where the blossom was, not blossom rot.

Now back to terriemac: it is odd that they would say Ca is low-med in one place and high in another. 3000 is not that high. That's about what my (essentially unamended) clay is, but then again it's derived from limestone. My garden, based on the same clay but with 15-20 yrs. of compost additions and no lime, is about 5000, which they did admit was high.

That said I don't think the totals are the only important factor, but certain ratios (Ca:Mg) are, along with pH and other factors. The whole big picture is important. I wish I knew more about this stuff, but Idaho's post above stating that nothing is too out of whack seems reasonable to me.

Your rock dust numbers only add up to 7.5%, so I wonder what the rest of it is, particularly how it affects pH (is it acidic or basic rock) and what the major minerals are. Silicon and oxygen are going to make up a lot of the rock matrix, but there may be Al, K, and many other minerals. I haven't used rock dust so I'm not very familiar with it.


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RE: My garden is dying!

But could the calcium spray make so much calcium in the soil?


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RE: My garden is dying!

Can you find a chart that says 3000 is not high? The only chart says 3000 is high. If 5000 is not even high, what is the point in calculating calcium, if it doesn't even matter. If one one can agree on what is high or low? There has to be some baseline numbers for making any judgement as to high or low.


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RE: My garden is dying!

terriemac,

If you are still reading this discussion. Your experience is somewhat similar to my own garden which is in heavy California clay.
1st year, dug raised beds, mixed in leaves, pine needles, compost. Garden did ok, not great but Ok.
2nd year, didnt redig. Garden did poorly.
3rd year, didn't redig, but had cover crops over winter. Garden was terrible.
4th year, made hugelkultur beds, did not add compost. Garden is doing wonderfully, best one I've ever had.

My guess is it is probably just watering problems and heavy soil. With my drip system, under a dripper the soil will be mucky, yet 4 inches away it can be dry concrete. Plants don't like that to much. When I've dug around my wilting tomato plants (which are not in a hugelkultur bed), a few inches away the ground is dry and all the tomato roots are dry and dead, but close to the tomato stem the roots are sitting in muck.

Hand watering probably will be necessary. You'll need to stick your hand in the ground before & after watering to get a good feel for how much and where to water.

Also a good mulch will help conserve moisture and balance out its distribution a little. I did have pine needles as mulch, but it wicks water up to easily and the top becomes dry. So I am putting a couple inches of wood chips on top, they hold in moisture much better.

Good luck. And yes gardening is a skill that unfortunately can only really be learned through the experience of making mistakes.


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RE: My garden is dying!

Well are you getting an improvement with water flushing? How does it look now better or worse?


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RE: My garden is dying!

Ok. terrimac, stop adding Epsom salts. I think you have enough of that in the soil for the rest of its lifetime. And no more rock dust. You are low on OM, so search for a trusted source of compost or you could just load it up with peat moss. Yeah, get peat moss. It's cheap and you can't really hurt the soil with a bunch of peat moss.

If you have a source of 'virgin' topsoil, you might try diluting your current garden soil with some topsoil that has not been (*ahem*) amended. The intent is to 'dilute' the surprisingly high concentrations of _everything_ that is in your current garden soil.

Basically, no more rock dust, no more epsom salts, no more fertilizer. Lots of peat moss and even just plain soil. Keep it covered with a mulch. Peat moss can be used as a mulch. The mulch will help the soil stay moist. The peat moss will act as a mediator for vital minerals, although I highly doubt that your plants suffer from a lack of minerals.

Good luck to you.


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RE: My garden is dying!

Good ideas from Idaho. I think the peat moss can bring the ph down a bit, which will improve problems like mineral toxicity. There was a thread of that subject I was reading last night. If you bought say compost it could have bat guano or other types of poop, along with the chicken poop, which I think is a very bad idea to add any more of that unless it was well composted about two years. But peat moss will be nice safe and neutral. I know people people like peat but it can be renewal, I read a lot on that. Al posted something there is so much peat in Canada, can't remember where the thread is right now.

Here is a link that might be useful: peat moss used to change ph


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RE: My garden is dying!

Once I put down wood chip mulch on my garden bed and hose watered the entire bed, it improved greatly.

One tomato plant before this was wilting and leaves starting to yellow. The clay soil next to the plant base was mud. 4" away it was totally dry. I had applied liquid organic fertilizer.

1 week after hose watering and the wood chip mulch, the plant doesn't wilt in the afternoon anymore and the leaves have all greened up (even though I did not add any more fertilizer).

I believe with the more constant moisture levels (about 1.5' radius from the plant base), the organic fertilizer was able to start breaking down and feeding the plant.

My plan now is to keep using the drip system, but maybe once a week go out with a hose to water where the drip system doesn't reach in the beds (basically 4" away from a drip emitter).


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RE: My garden is dying!

I have the same issue with drippers in clay soil. We're into a month-long drought here in mid-MO. I go out with the watering wand and soak the entire bed in between drip irrigation.


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RE: My garden is dying!

The garden is starting to look a little happier since I quit relying on the automatic drip system and started supplementing with compost tea. Today I bought a huge bag of peat moss and will eventually work it into the soil. Thanks for the tip Idaho gardener :)I mulched one bed with some unfinished compost and will finish mulching the other beds with straw. Someone this week who saw my garden said I should just rip it all out and start over, but I'm not ready to do that yet. I have renewed hope!
I sure appreciate the support and encouragement from all you folks.


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RE: My garden is dying!

Yea! good for you! I'm glad to hear it's perking up.


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RE: My garden is dying!

If it's just crops there is no harm in turning them under and replanting. It not like you are losing trees that cost a lot of money.


 o
compost tea?

I thought that compost tea would be more ferts, but maybe the bacteria in the compost tea can eat the excess ferts? I never made compost tea, but you need an air stone like a big fish pump to keep it from going anaerobic. I am glad it seems to be working for you.


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RE: My garden is dying!

I'm having 2nd thoughts about adding peat moss to the soil. I'd forgotten that I dealt with it before. Once it dried out it just repelled water. I recently watched a youtube video about compressed coir dust as great soil amendment and ordered some off the web. Fortunately I didn't have to pay for shipping but it's still costly. I wonder if the pm and coir would work together?


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RE: My garden is dying!

We had a big discussion on coir. I have been using in on my frog tank, so when I am finished I compost it. Peat Moss will work fine, but it is better to dig it a bit if you think it is making problems due to water repelling. I had a weed called hairy bitter crest and the more compost I added the more the hairy bitter crest was taking over, but peat moss calmed it down. That was a weed that liked compost. I found adding one bag of peat moss 2 cubic feet created an improvement, but I mostly add home made compost, so it would be a small amount of peat moss compared to the massive amounts of compost I add. I don't think there is any benefit to mixing coir and peat moss, but it would not bad per sec to do it.


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RE: My garden is dying!

This article may have the answer. Here's a quote. "This research lead International Ag Labs to promulgate two new quality indicators based off our soil tests: the calcium-potassium ratio and the calcium-phosphorous ratio. Both should be around 18:1. I have found that if the calcium to potassium ratio is narrow, say at 3:1 or less it is a sure indicator that the garden will not be producing high brix foods until the ratio is widened."
Putting Compost In Its Place

This post was edited by magnetico on Sat, Jul 19, 14 at 12:49


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RE: My garden is dying!

That is a very negative article posted above and I don't think it's at all accurate. It depends on what the compost you are buying is made of. It is like saying all cup cakes are unhealthy, if some are made with palm oil vs. a healthy fat, it is all different. Plus that soil may not want compost, and the OP, had a problem due to adding too much rock dust, as I recall. This was a long time ago. If you buy compost made of bad things naturally it will be bad, if you make it of healthy things it will be good. No one is suggesting you make tons of compost and use it, that would be like eating too many of the healthy cup cakes. There has to be a balance. Some people want to plant in straight compost, this is not a good thing, you should mix with native soil.


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RE: My garden is dying!

My garden is now thriving and so am I. The remedy was to move to the country :)


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RE: My garden is dying!

Ha! I reread a lot of this thread, and I wondered if your 'new topsoil' that turned to concrete was the problem all along. In any case your situation was familiar because I struggled with vegetable garden problems for several years before finally solving the problem. Turned out I had too much shade and tree roots in the garden. I had been adding compost for years and getting no results. Soon as I moved the beds into the sun away from tree roots, this year has been what I can only call a bonanza. There was pent up fertility in the soil just waiting to burst forth. It's all a moot point for you now I guess, but the experience is good for the next time problems crop up.

Happy gardening.


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RE: My garden is dying!

Roots from other plant can really create more of a problem, then people think. Plant roots don't like other roots near them.


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RE: My garden is dying!

Especially when it's a cottonwood root as big as your arm, a foot below the surface. :-\


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RE: My garden is dying!

The article I posted isn't a negative article and it doesn't suggest that compost is bad at all, only that too much compost is bad. I've read numerous sources that advise people to add compost and all will be well in their garden, and that simply isn't true.

Yes, it's true that the content of the compost determines its nutrient levels, but many people don't take that into account. If certain minerals were not in the materials used for composting, then they won't be in the compost either. Those who rely too much on typical compost often have calcium deficiencies after several years, among other deficiencies. That can be prevented to a great degree if some high calcium lime and gypsum are added to the pile, and some rock dust, kelp and/or sea minerals are added as well.

This post was edited by magnetico on Sun, Aug 17, 14 at 10:59


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RE: My garden is dying!

I've never experience that but my soils are limestone based clays so there is an abundance of calcium. So much so that after my last soil test 2 years ago, I stopped adding eggshells to the compost. Which just goes to show that if you're concerned about these issues, it's worthwhile to have your soil tested and find out what's going on first. Otherwise you're shooting in the dark. I would cetainly not spend money on mineral amendments to add to the compost or the garden unless I knew I needed what was in them.


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