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Stunted Plants

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Stunted Plants

Post  GaryK on 6/18/2013, 11:21 am

We suspect that our compost is suspect.

We made our own Mel's Mix to specifications, using compost from a local source. When we transplanted our initial plants, most of our plant varieties were stunted for several weeks -- neither growing nor dying. Finally we added organic fertilizer and they immeditately responded.

The compost was from a horse farm. We understand that it was well composted for over a year, and contained horse manure, pine shavings, alfalfa hay, timothy hay, and some straw. We also added 1/2 cubic foot of composted cow manure per 4x4 box.

We thought this sounded like an excellent blended compost, but the results in the garden seem to say different.

Now what do we do? Keep adding organic fertilizer? We don't mind that for the first year, but what about next year? Any advice is appreciated.
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Re: Stunted Plants

Post  mapspringer on 6/18/2013, 11:44 am

First thing would be to read The All New Square Foot Garden v2 book.  Mel explains the need for five different types of compost, along with peat moss or coir, and vermiculite.  A single manure compost will not cover the full spectrum of nutrients needed for your plants to thrive.  I might suggest putting together a good mix of compost (minus the other two ingredients) for this year and top-dressing a good layer of it on your existing bed(s).  This will feed it for the season.  Then get a good Mel's mix together to refill the box over the winter and have it ready for spring planting.bounce
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Re: Stunted plants

Post  GloriaG on 6/18/2013, 11:52 am

Welcome to the forum GaryK.  You'll find a wealth of information about SFG on this site.  

You are right about your compost.  The recipe for Mels Mix (MM) is 1/3 Coarse Vermiculite,  1/3 Fluffed Peat Moss, and 1/3 blended compost.  The compost must be made up of finished compost from 5-different sources. Your compost, although it sounds like it is "well blended" is actually only one source.  

To improve your MM and therefore your plants health, you need to add compost from at least 4 additional sources.  For example:  worm castings, mushroom compost, cow manure, chicken manure, cotton burr, bunny manure, etc.

Mix the four new composts together, then add some to each of your squares and gently turn it in. That should get your MM closer to the correct formula.


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Re: Stunted Plants

Post  TxGramma on 6/18/2013, 12:31 pm

Welcome! Since you have already added cow manure to the mix as well you actually have two sources (someone correct me if I'm wrong) so will only need to add three more sources of compost.

Another thing, be sure you have a good layer of mulch and are watering sufficiently. Not sure how hot it is right now where you are but it is already in the mid to upper 90's here. You want to keep the roots cool and keep your mm from drying out too fast.

I'm no expert and don't have alot of experience (this is my first year with SFG) but I can share what I have experienced so far. My plants were stunted for a while too. I added a top layer of compost since I didn't have the right amount in my beds and it helped a little but not much. When they really took off was after we had some rain. I was making sure to water an inch a week but trying to be careful not to overwater since I have had a tendency to do that in the past when I was trying to get plants to grow. But then a few weeks ago we got an inch of rain that wasn't forecast right after I had watered the beds so they got two inches of water within 2 days and then kept getting small showers over the next few days. The next week we got 2" of rain followed up by a few more days with small showers and my garden took off. So, I have been watering more than an 1" per week since then and am getting consistent growth. Every morning when I go out to check my garden I'm amazed at the amount of growth that has occurred overnight.

Now I just need to get the rest of my mulch in place to help keep the roots cooler so I don't have to water quite as much. Good luck and enjoy your garden.
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Re: Stunted Plants

Post  GaryK on 6/18/2013, 12:39 pm

Thanks, mapspringer.

I don't understand where we went wrong.

We did read The All New Square Foot Garden v2 book. We used 1/3 compost, 1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 peat moss.

I carefully studied the chapter on compost. This was not a single manure compost. It was a mix of 6 things: horse manure, pine shavings, alfalfa hay, timothy hay, some straw, and composted cow manure. The first 5 ingredients were composted for over a year, then we added a bit of composted cow manure from Lowe's.
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Re: Stunted Plants

Post  GaryK on 6/18/2013, 1:01 pm

Thanks, GloriaG.

"Your compost, although it sounds like it is "well blended" is actually only one source... To improve your MM and therefore your plants health, you need to add compost from at least 4 additional sources."

Ouch. We have ten 4x4 boxes of Mel's Mix with this compost.
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Re: Stunted Plants

Post  grownsunshine on 6/18/2013, 1:06 pm

Yeah, it can be frustrating not knowing why things happen. I have 3 zukes. 1 is going crazy and the other 2 are so-so. The leaves are weak on the 2, but the plants are flowering. Overall, some plants are growing well and others seem stunted. I'm wondering if the plants need time. Mine have been in the sfg for about about 3 weeks. I've added some fish fertilizer hoping to see better results....still waiting.

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Re: Stunted Plants

Post  Turan on 6/18/2013, 2:15 pm

It sounds like your composts are leached of nutrients or just composted too long.  Try top dressing with something like compost from poultry droppings or fish.  Or give a sprinkle of blood meal, cotton meal. etc.

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Re: Stunted Plants

Post  Pollinator on 6/18/2013, 2:23 pm

When you look at the compost, can you see quite a bit of the original plant remains? If the material is not well composted, it will continue to decay, and in so doing, will rob nitrogen from the mix. The fact that the plants responded immediately, makes me wonder if it was nitrogen-poor. Another indicator is that it continues to produce heat.

If this is the case, it is not a crisis. The composted material returns the nitrogen that it uses in the process. So it may well be just fine for next year. You can speed up the process, as well as help your plants, by adding a bit of material with high nitrogen, such as blood meal or a bit of chicken manure. Be sure that your addition does not directly touch your plants.
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Re: Stunted Plants

Post  sanderson on 6/18/2013, 3:04 pm

Gary K,  Looking at your list I see manure/hay, acid browns, hay, hay, hay, and manure.  So only 2 sources, manure and browns.

None of the sources is supposed to be over 1/5 of the compost mixture.  That can be really hard for the first year.  This is my first year and my Mel's Mix compost part is Kellogg's.  Embarrassing but I wanted to get started!  Mainly browns.  Everything started off great then started flagging,  I added Miracle Grow for a quick fix while I started searching for "other sources" of compost.  I added powdered milk and Epson salts to the tomatoes.

Then I started to search.  I bought kelp meal and worm castings on eBay, got free coffee grounds (browns) from Starbucks and cow manure from Lowes (with bits of wood but at this point of desperation I had to consider it as manure.  I mixed the ingredients and added one scoop to each square and container, mixing in very gently.  What an improvement, although not perfect.

Meanwhile, I have started a compost bin and a worm tube for worm castings.  You do what you have to do in the first year.
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Re: Stunted Plants

Post  southern gardener on 6/18/2013, 3:36 pm

@sanderson wrote:Gary K,  Looking at your list I see manure/hay, acid browns, hay, hay, hay, and manure.  So only 2 sources, manure and browns.

None of the sources is supposed to be over 1/5 of the compost mixture.  That can be really hard for the first year.  This is my first year and my Mel's Mix compost part is Kellogg's.  Embarrassing but I wanted to get started!  Mainly browns.  Everything started off great then started flagging,  I added Miracle Grow for a quick fix while I started searching for "other sources" of compost.  I added powdered milk and Epson salts to the tomatoes.

Then I started to search.  I bought kelp meal and worm castings on eBay, got free coffee grounds (browns) from Starbucks and cow manure from Lowes (with bits of wood but at this point of desperation I had to consider it as manure.  I mixed the ingredients and added one scoop to each square and container, mixing in very gently.  What an improvement, although not perfect.

Meanwhile, I have started a compost bin and a worm tube for worm castings.  You do what you have to do in the first year.

someone correct me if I'm wrong, but I think coffee grounds are considered "green" not brown?thinking
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Re: Stunted Plants

Post  sanderson on 6/18/2013, 3:46 pm

Southern Gardener, Without researching, I will take your word for the coffee grounds. I was just looking for different things, mainly for building my new compost pile. Thanks
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Re: Stunted Plants

Post  gwennifer on 6/18/2013, 6:09 pm

@southern gardener wrote:someone correct me if I'm wrong, but I think coffee grounds are considered "green" not brown?thinking
Yes, coffee grounds are greens.  Here's a full color checklist you can print out if you're into that type of organization: Compost Materials
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Re: Stunted Plants

Post  sanderson on 6/18/2013, 7:06 pm

Printed 2 copies, one for my binder, one for the frig. Thank you.
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Re: Stunted Plants

Post  camprn on 6/18/2013, 8:55 pm

When thinking about composting, meaning making a compost pile to create compost
green= nitrogen source
brown= carbon source

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Compost may not be well composted yet

Post  GaryK on 6/19/2013, 10:44 am

@Pollinator wrote:When you look at the compost, can you see quite a bit of the original plant remains?  If the material is not well composted, it will continue to decay, and in so doing, will rob nitrogen from the mix. The fact that the plants responded immediately, makes me wonder if it was nitrogen-poor. Another indicator is that it continues to produce heat.

If this is the case, it is not a crisis. The composted material returns the nitrogen that it uses in the process. So it may well be just fine for next year. You can speed up the process, as well as help your plants, by adding a bit of material with high nitrogen, such as blood meal or a bit of chicken manure. Be sure that your addition does not directly touch your plants.

Pollinator, this is an interesting theory. The compost looks like good soil except that the wood shavings (pine) have not completely broken down.

It does seem to be nitrogen-poor and the plants have responded well with the addition of organic fertilizer and fish emulsion.

We may try the chicken manure suggestion as long as this continues to be an issue. Any suggestions on how to know when to add more versus when to wait? As it is we waited too long and lost valuable growing time.
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