Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Growing troubles

In the last two years I slowly changed my vegetable garden into a raised bed garden. The first few beds I had enough garden compost and 'garden rich planting soil' I got from our local commercial composting business, which was sitting in a pile for more then a year. Everything seemed to grow nicely that year. 

Last year I added a few more beds, last year I also had trouble growing some vegetables. Even I fertilized everything frequently with Steve Solomon's Fertilizer mix, in the new beds the plants seemed to grow really slow, didn't thrive and did not produce as well. The top surface would constantly dry out to the point that seeds, especially the small, fine seeds wouldn't sprout. Even with my drip irrigation the top 2 inches were always dry. I blamed it on the weather, we had a few more warmer days and cool nights last year. I kept playing with my irrigation, 'maybe I am not watering enough' I was thinking, but nothing I did improved anything.

This spring I added more raised garden beds, but I didn't have enough soil to fill everything, I also needed to fill some of the last years beds more up, since I didn't have enough dirt to fill them to the top last year. So we got some more 'Garden Rich planting soil' plus some mint straw and garden compost, which now included chicken manure, you would think everything is growing great with this. 
Unfortunately I have a real bad garden season so far. Partly it is the weather, many hot days, while the nights are too cool for the warm season vegetables, then it still rained in June this year, a lot, enough that my first plantings of beans, Squash and Cucumbers just rotted in the dirt and I had to replant seeds a few times. There were also a lot of slugs and snails eating everything in site. 
But I think the major reason for my growing pains is this 'Rich garden planting soil'. Which I now think is anything but rich.

My self seeding Lettuce and Arugula grew great, they come up all over my garden paths all I do is dig the small plants up and move them to a raised bed. The cool season vegetables seemed to thrive, but everything I planted later is struggling. I only realized later, everything which was growing nice, I had planted in the beds I filled a season or two ago, the ones I only added some garden compost to, the newly filled beds, the ones I had to top up with the planting soil, those were the ones which were struggling. Those beds also couldn't hold the moisture very well, even with my drip irrigation all the water just seemed to run out on the bottom, did not wet the whole area of the beds, like it was going straight down from the dripper to the bottom and then leaking out. All my water was running down the hill, making my paths in the vegetable garden like sponges, but starving my vegetables from moisture.

I think the planting soil they sell at this place has too much wood pulp in it, when you stick your hand in the dirt you can feel tiny slivers all over your hand . That would explain the fertility issues since I seem to have a bad nutrient imbalance and also that it can not hold water. It is not composted completely and it is to fine, maybe to much sand in it. We live in a wood producing state, so logically the composting facilities get a lot of wood. They are also in the business of selling, so it makes sense that they don't take the time to let everything compost until it is perfect. They rush it through to make more sales. At least that's my theory.
Unfortunate to the unsuspecting customer.

I tried to deal with the drainage issue by having my irrigation set to water for shorter amounts 3 times in a row, about 20 minutes apart, so the water might be able to soak in rather just drain, everything just looked like not getting enough water. I probably made the situation worse, by encouraging the Tomatoes to grow shallow roots, instead of going into the lower garden soil and also leaching out more nutrients.
For the first time since I garden my Tomatoes are having Blossom End Rot issues and some Phosphorus deficiency, they have been growing very slowly and not setting fruits very well. They look dry all the time. My peppers are doing a bit better but still show distress and not setting fruit. My Summer squashes, even though it got started a bit late in the season, due to the rain in June, should be producing lot's of Zucchini by now, but the plants are still a bit small and are growing slow, although they look otherwise healthy I think I should be eating Zucchini right now, lot's of them. Same with the cucumbers, I have not harvested one so far. 
I have been feeding everything with Fish fertilizer a few times, some kelp meal and a little bone meal to the tomatoes, I hope at least it will stop the issue with the rot. 
Unless I get a soil test done, I don't really know what is going on fertility wise, not knowing I could inadvertently make it worse by giving the wrong fertilizer or adding to much of one thing. I will have to wait with the soil test until I have my beds cleared of vegetables, but plan to get one in fall.
I definitely think I need to add some moisture holding capacity to my raised beds, more fertile compost. 

So as the season ends I am planning to just get some nice loam and some Rabbit manure or goat manure, growing some cover crops of Field peas also should help add fertile, moisture holding matter to my soil. 
I have never had that many fertility issues in any of my former vegetable gardens. These gardens I used the soil which was there and amended it with compost and horse manure, I hardly ever fertilized after planting. These were very productive gardens and aside having to deal with the disease issues for the tomatoes which came with living in the South we didn't have a lot of bug and deficiency problems. 

I was a big mistake to use this 'Ready made planting soil' as the main ingredient for my beds.  I sure won't make that mistake again. Whatever you do, you are much better off to start out with some loam, or good topsoil and amend it with the good stuff like Compost, Manure, cover crops and let the soil improve over time.
I am lucky to have grown a wide variety of vegetables, so even my main crop is doing poorly we still have been eating Lettuce, Chard, Cabbage, Kale and other Greens, Radishes and Peas for a long season.

Hopefully the next season will be a better growing season. Hopefully we will be eating lot's of Tomatoes and Zucchini in September and October.
If not, my new Lettuce is growing already, my fall and winter garden is planted, ready to grow and to feed us.

     Hope you are having a better growing season, if not there is always another season coming.



meemsnyc said...

I'm sorry to hear about your garden problems. It's been a strange year for all of us. Such a dry summer for us in our garden, it burnt many of our plants. Maybe next year will be much better!

DieGartenFrau said...

Thank you.
Luckily there is always another season around the corner. It just means I need to improve my gardening techniques. Still learning about gardening in the North West.

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