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Can you help me prepare for a better 2015? (lots of questions)

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Can you help me prepare for a better 2015? (lots of questions)

Post  NowWeAreFour on 12/21/2014, 5:37 pm

All my Christmas shopping is done, and the Baker Creek catalog arrived yesterday, so my gardening obsession has now officially launched Laughing

2014 was our third summer with our SFG. Our first summer was spectacular--it was like the Garden of Eden out there. Our second summer was not as good--my seeds didn't sprout, the SVBs found us, and we had some powdery mildew/soil-borne disease issues--but we still got plenty of veggies. This past summer was awful--the powdery mildew swept through my squash and cukes and nearly decimated all the plants before I even realized what was happening (and the SVBs finished most of them off), my zucchini were rocked by blossom-end rot, the weeds went insane and nearly took over, we hardly saw any bees (frightening!), and even though we have loads of homemade compost and I added a few scoopfuls into every square I planted, I feel like there really wasn't a lot of nourishment coming from my soil. 

So I have a lot of questions, but mainly I'm wondering if there's anything I can do over the winter to prep my garden better for the spring? Are there any amendments I should be adding now to improve my soil? Lime? Manure? Will it help if I add the compost components directly into the soil at this point, or am I better off using the fully finished compost in the spring as usual? Is homemade compost rich enough on its own to replace the nutrients lost with each growth cycle?

Is there any way to fight the soil-borne viruses/fungal diseases before I even plant? Any (natural) way to treat the soil to reduce the amount of spores present? What about the powdery mildew? Of course I'll rotate the beds, but I can only get the different crops so far apart, and anything airborne will likely still find its way over. (And I'm giving up on my sugar pie pumpkins for a few years to see if I can shake the SVBs--will try a moschata type instead for now.)

Our backyard is terribly weedy, but of course I don't want to start treating for weeds with the garden beds back there. But if the yard is full of weeds, how can I reduce the amount of weeds getting into the beds? The lambs' quarters in particular... Evil or Very Mad

I know I should probably do a soil test, but do I need to test the soil from each individual bed (there are 9)? I'm not even sure where to go for that. 

It's cold here now (we're in NJ), but I can still work the soil some, and we have a few warmish days coming. If you have any recommendations for getting ahead of the game and helping create healthier soil now, I would LOVE to hear them.

Thank you!
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Re: Can you help me prepare for a better 2015? (lots of questions)

Post  Patty from Yorktown on 12/21/2014, 7:53 pm

I can help a little with some of your soil problems/weed problems. Get some medium/heavy duty black or clear plastic. Water your gardens and cover them with the plastic. Pile a little dirt around the sides on top of the plastic to seal the edges. Leave the plastic on at least 6 weeks (more is better)and try to make some of those weeks spring or summer ones. This will solarize your soil. It should kill the weed seeds with the heat and it might help with some of the diseases.

I can also recommend zucchini rampienie (I probably spelled that wrong.) Anyways it is a vining zucchini. I got my seeds from Bakers Creek a few years ago. It is a huge!!! plant that you can eat the zucchini when they are young as a summer squash or late in the fall as a winter squash. The plant will get powdery mildew but it just laughs it off. Same for squash bugs.

Look for disease resistant seeds. Also a trip to your local library might help with why your seeds did not do well.

Keep asking questions, so you can learn more.

Patty from Yorktown
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Re: Can you help me prepare for a better 2015? (lots of questions)

Post  yolos on 12/21/2014, 9:42 pm

@NowWeAreFour wrote: 
Our backyard is terribly weedy, but of course I don't want to start treating for weeds with the garden beds back there. But if the yard is full of weeds, how can I reduce the amount of weeds getting into the beds? The lambs' quarters in particular... Evil or Very Mad
I don't know anything about Lambs' Quarters, but here is a suggestion for controlling weeds in the future.  I assume these weeds in your garden are coming from one of three places (1) Weed seeds from your yard, (2) Weed seeds in your compost, or (3) wind, bird poop, creeping in via vines etc.

Weed seeds coming from your lawn can be controlled by keeping it mowed so the weeds in your yard do not produce seeds which may end up in your garden.

Weed seeds coming from your compost can be controlled by hot composting, or not including any weed seeds or weed runners in your compost. 

Also, heavily mulching with a weed free mulch will help control the weeds in the future.
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Re: Can you help me prepare for a better 2015? (lots of questions)

Post  sanderson on 12/21/2014, 10:17 pm

WeFour,  Some of your conditions sound universal, like powdery mildew and weeds, others, like the SVB is a regional problem.  (I don't have them in this part of California but other folks have discussed them on this Forum).   One thing that will help us help you is to post photos of your garden so folks can visualize the area.  I searched but I couldn't find any photos that you may have posted.  How big is your area?

Homemade compost Replenishing with well made compost should be all your beds need for each planting.  Do you use only commercial compost or do you make your own?  What do you make your compost out of?  Do you have your own compost pile?  Are there wood chips in your beds?  Definitely composted barnyard manure is a good thing?

Weeds    I see that you posted about weeds earlier.  Now that you have gone through another summer, it sounds like you still have a problem.  ?? One thing is to raise your beds off the ground.  Camprn, Jimmycee and I did it this season.  Roots from trees were coming up through the bottoms of our beds.  This would also solve the problem of any weeds coming up from under neath.  It would also add some height to the beds to raise them above some of the weed seeds??  Most of my beds are now 3 layers of 2 x 4s, or10 1/2" high, plus up another 5 1/5-13" of different supports underneath them.  I can't remember if you rolled commercial grade weed fabric between your rows (in the isles) or not.  I know you have some pavers that helped some.  At this point, I would consider removing everything in the isles, rolling thick commercial grade weed fabric and covering with plain wood chips 3-4" high.  Any weeds that may self seed in the isles could be easily killed with light raking while they are small.

Weeds growing in the Mel's Mix in the beds are a different matter.  If they are from a stray seed, just pull them out.  If they are some noxious self-propagating weed that requires removing all of the root system or they will grow back, that may require solarizing as Patty from Yorktown mentioned.  http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74145.html  It will probably kill beneficial bacterial, mold and worms but hopefully it would only be a one time event and the mold and bacteria should rebuild in time.

Bees:  Lack of bees is becoming more common.  All you can do is make your garden a welcome place for them.  Don't spray with pesticides.  If you spray with Neem oil, do it when the bees are not present.  Dawn and dust.  The squash blossom end rot was probably caused by lack of / or incomplete pollination.  You will have to help out with a small soft artist paint brush.  I have a cheap pony pack with different brushes for squashes, cucumbers and melons.

Powdery mildew:  Spray with nonfat milk, pasteurized or raw.  Or with Neem Oil solution when no bees are present.  It's ugly but can be kept to a dull roar and it does not seem to affect production like other disease.

SVB:  I don't have it here in California but lots of other members have to fight them.  Have you used the Search box for all the threads on SVB?

I know I have asked a lot of questions, but a good, clear understanding of what you are doing will help us.  Oh, one last question, do you add Mel's Mix each time you replenish the beds or just compost?
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Re: Can you help me prepare for a better 2015? (lots of questions)

Post  Turan on 12/22/2014, 12:23 pm

I can add on the lambs quarter.  It is an annual, actually it is our native quinoa.  If you can keep it from setting seed it will fade away in time.  It also can be crowded out in the yard with perennial meadow plants.  In your garden beds a light raking at the mix surface every week or so at the early season will dislodge the seedlings.  Also covering the mix with a sheet of newspaper covered with mulch and planting through that.

It sounds as if you need some nitrogen rich manures in your compost.  Look for some poultry especially, a small amount goes a long ways and poultry manure does not pass weed seeds along like any of the herbivores can.

Good luck.

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