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new to SFG and discouraged

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new to SFG and discouraged

Post  iscott123 on 7/27/2015, 9:31 am

Hello!

I have been planting a traditional garden for about 7-8 yrs now and was very excited to try the SFG method that would hopefully allow me to find the vegetables before they rot away as I had very little space in between the plants. However, except for the lettuce, radishes and beans I had a very poor yield this year. The garden looks really sad, I am very discouraged and really considering going back to the traditional garden. Going back to the book, the only thing that I didn't pay much attention to was the vermiculite. I  got whatever Home Depot had in stock. Not sure if that was coarse or not and not sure if that made the huge difference. I live in NJ and by now I would have LOTS of tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, peppers and squash. I didn't get any so far from my garden and not sure I will anyway. The watermelons and peppers look really sad. I would appreciate your input on what I can do either for the rest of this season or maybe next year. 

Thanks,
Ioana

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Re: new to SFG and discouraged

Post  camprn on 7/27/2015, 9:37 am

Hi Ioana, welcome to the forum. I have a few questions.
Did you follow the All New Square Foot Gardening recommendations?
Did you make your own Mel's mix?
What types of Compost did you use?

Your troubles may lie in the answers to these questions.

Are your plants still alive?
Please post photos if you have any.
Because of the odd weather nationwide, many gardeners are suffering through the gardening season, so please know that you are not alone in your distress.

~Camp

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Re: new to SFG and discouraged

Post  Scorpio Rising on 7/27/2015, 9:48 am

Welcome, Ioana! Here, it rained and rained, so the plants that need lots of sun/heat (peppers) have not produced well. That said, I have had luck with patty pan squash, pole beans, swiss chard, beets did well too. I have eaten some cherry tomatoes, but no regular (Brandywine) and no peppers yet.

You have come to the right place for advice, these folks really know their stuff. I for one will never go back to traditional gardening, but I understand your frustration!

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Re: new to SFG and discouraged

Post  iscott123 on 7/27/2015, 10:07 am

Hi Camp,

I am not sure what is the difference between the old and the New SFG recommendations. I got the SFG book from the library, read it really carefully, made my own mix, made sure I used more than 5 different kids of compost (including cow manure, mushroom, chicken, etc). I wouldn't be able to tell you exactly the kids of compost I used, but I bought from 3 different stores so I ended up with 6+ different kinds. Plants are still alive but not really growing and producing. I did notice that they would get a growth spurt. So I added the chlorine/chloramine filtration system to my hose (the drip system didn't seem to be doing well). Still, not going well. I am not sure how to add a picture...

Thanks,
Ioana

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Re: new to SFG and discouraged

Post  Kelejan on 7/27/2015, 10:09 am

glad you\'re here  ioanna  happy hi

You seem to have done well with the cool weather crops but are suffering with the warm weather ones.

Perhaps this year it is due to the weather patterns?  This year I have had the least successful garden ever, due to the long and cold spring, followed by unusually long and very hot spells in the 90s and above.  The only thing is that for the first time I am attempting a fall garden and so far it looks promising.

Keep going and think of things that may have affected your gardening this year that may have been different to  previous years. Ask as many questions as you like as we have many knowledgeable people here. P.S. I am not one of them. Very Happy

Kelejan :canada:

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Re: new to SFG and discouraged

Post  Turan on 7/27/2015, 11:22 am

Hi Ionna, 
What is the most significant differences between your old garden's organization/practices and this one?  It sounds like your old garden you did tight plantings with wide rows, did I understand that correctly?  If so then the main difference is the soil in this new garden. 

Some common problems with MM are
~ not fluffing the peat before measuring so there is too much peat.
~using composts that include peat/humus/forest by products which again will upset the ratio as those all go in the peat third.
~commercial composts that are low in nutrients for what ever reason (years old in a bag in a parking lot getting all nutrients leached out etc)

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RE: new to SFG and discouraged

Post  iscott123 on 7/27/2015, 11:45 am

Hi Turan,

Yes, some of the composts had peat included so I decreased overall the amount of the peat moss that I purchased separately. Still, the soil could contain extra peat moss. Maybe I need to add extra compost and try again.

Thanks!
Ioana


@Turan wrote:Hi Ionna, 
What is the most significant differences between your old garden's organization/practices and this one?  It sounds like your old garden you did tight plantings with wide rows, did I understand that correctly?  If so then the main difference is the soil in this new garden. 

Some common problems with MM are
~ not fluffing the peat before measuring so there is too much peat.
~using composts that include peat/humus/forest by products which again will upset the ratio as those all go in the peat third.
~commercial composts that are low in nutrients for what ever reason (years old in a bag in a parking lot getting all nutrients leached out etc)

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Re: new to SFG and discouraged

Post  Turan on 7/27/2015, 11:58 am

For this year do you think your plants are just not getting enough nutrients?  If so try top dressing with compost and maybe even using fertilizer.  Good luck!

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Re: new to SFG and discouraged

Post  sanderson on 7/27/2015, 12:11 pm

Iona,  Welcome to the Forum from California!   glad you\'re here  My first SFG started off great and then came to a grinding halt.   Embarassed  I had to use a balanced fertilizer to get it going again until I could correct my mistakes.

These folks helped me see what I did wrong and things have been fine ever sense.  My problem was how I made the Mel's Mix and what I used as compost.  If you can go through the questions and provide answers, we will try our best to help diagnose possible problems.  Did you read the ALL NEW Square Foot Gardening version, 1st or 2nd Edition, by Mel Bartholomew??  I think most folks buy their own copy so they can use it as a reference, even writing in them.

1.  The size of vermiculite will not make that much difference.  I used what Home Depot had available for the first boxes.  The verm. was not the problem with my first Mel's Mix.  I also used perlite when I ran short.  The 2nd year I found coarse vermiculite.
2.  Fluffing peat moss before measuring is critical.  It doubles in size when fluffed.
3.  Finding 5 different sources of compost is the hard part unless you make your own compost pile.  A lot of composts still have wood pieces in them.  Screening out the wood, rocks and bottle caps (!) will help.  A lot of composts have peat moss which means you will end up with too much peat moss unless you reduced the 1/3 volume of peat moss in the formula.
4.  The weather won't cooperate.   Shocked
5. Disease or pests. I didn't have tomatoes last year. This year I do. There was a disease that had ruined them. The commercial farmers also got hit with it.

Photos will really help.
http://squarefoot.creatingforum.com/t129-how-to-post-a-picture-located-on-your-computer

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RE: new to SFG and discouraged

Post  iscott123 on 7/27/2015, 12:45 pm

So it looks like I read the 1st edition (published in 2005) of the book.
I did not fluff the peat moss and I am not sure by how much I decreased the overall amount of peat moss since some of the compost had it already included. I got rid of the extra sticks but mostly it was really nice compost (tried to get the best).

And here is the picture:



@sanderson wrote:Iona,  Welcome to the Forum from California!   glad you\'re here  My first SFG started off great and then came to a grinding halt.   Embarassed  I had to use a balanced fertilizer to get it going again until I could correct my mistakes.

These folks helped me see what I did wrong and things have been fine ever sense.  My problem was how I made the Mel's Mix and what I used as compost.  If you can go through the questions and provide answers, we will try our best to help diagnose possible problems.  Did you read the ALL NEW Square Foot Gardening version, 1st or 2nd Edition, by Mel Bartholomew??  I think most folks buy their own copy so they can use it as a reference, even writing in them.

1.  The size of vermiculite will not make that much difference.  I used what Home Depot had available for the first boxes.  The verm. was not the problem with my first Mel's Mix.  I also used perlite when I ran short.  The 2nd year I found coarse vermiculite.
2.  Fluffing peat moss before measuring is critical.  It doubles in size when fluffed.
3.  Finding 5 different sources of compost is the hard part unless you make your own compost pile.  A lot of composts still have wood pieces in them.  Screening out the wood, rocks and bottle caps (!) will help.  A lot of composts have peat moss which means you will end up with too much peat moss unless you reduced the 1/3 volume of peat moss in the formula.
4.  The weather won't cooperate.   Shocked
5.  Disease or pests.  I didn't have tomatoes last year.  This year I do.  There was a disease that had ruined them.  The commercial farmers also got hit with it.

Photos will really help.
http://squarefoot.creatingforum.com/t129-how-to-post-a-picture-located-on-your-computer

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Re: new to SFG and discouraged

Post  donnainzone5 on 7/27/2015, 12:52 pm

Aha!  I believe the culprit may have been found!

Since you did not fluff the peat moss, you probably have too much of that ingredient in your Mel's Mix.

As others have suggested, you probably should add more 5-way+ compost, which should begin to alleviate your plants' nutritional issues.

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RE: new to SFG and discouraged

Post  iscott123 on 7/27/2015, 1:08 pm

OK, so if I add more of the compost, do I need to mix it in although the plants are in the square?

Also, not sure if this is important, but when I first tried to water the garden the water was not being absorbed. After doing some online research I found that maybe the soil is way too dry so I had to mix it with water to actually hold the water. Now if I don't water well it happens again but just on the surface. Is this because of the extra peat moss?

Thanks,
Ioana

donnainzone10 wrote:Aha!  I believe the culprit may have been found!

Since you did not fluff the peat moss, you probably have too much of that ingredient in your Mel's Mix.

As others have suggested, you probably should add more 5-way+ compost, which should begin to alleviate your plants' nutritional issues.

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Re: new to SFG and discouraged

Post  Marc Iverson on 7/27/2015, 1:14 pm

@iscott123 wrote:Hi Turan,

Yes, some of the composts had peat included so I decreased overall the amount of the peat moss that I purchased separately. Still, the soil could contain extra peat moss. Maybe I need to add extra compost and try again.

Thanks!
Ioana

Adding more good compost is the answer to so many things that it can be pretty freely recommended, as long as you don't bury the stems of plants that don't like that sort of thing. Some, like tomatoes, do, but it will make others rot.

Since you say you didn't fluff your peat moss, as someone said above, that sounds like the problem. What you now have is a very water-rententive soil, but one that is low in nutrients, as your proportions are off. It will also be one that is very hard to rehydrate if it goes dry. Add in that so many composts are primarily peat anyway, and you may have a much smaller ratio of compost in your mix than you suspected. Soooo ... compost to the rescue!

Also, that means the amount of vermiculite used is also out of proportion, but that's not as critical as having compost right ... the plants need the compost nutrients, but vermiculite is inert and some of its function at least is replaced by peat. You will not have as loose, well-aerated soil, though, if you have less vermiculite than recommended. If peat swells to twice its size when fluffed, you now have proportions of 50% peat, 25% compost, 25% vermiculite. You can only get the proper proportions of 33/33/33 back again by doubling your compost and vermiculite the same way you accidentally doubled your peat.

Another thought -- you said you got different types of composts in your compost mix, but mentioned manure twice. Manures, all together, make up one type of compost. So if for example you used cow, chicken, and horse manure, along with mushroom compost and mint leaf compost, you wouldn't have a five-way compost but a a three way compost: manure + mushroom + mint leaf.

And something else -- I notice your garden is very close to your house. What kind of sun are you getting, and at what time of day? That can make all the difference in the world, too. How does the amount and time of day of the sun you're getting right close to the house there compare to what your old row garden got?





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Re: new to SFG and discouraged

Post  Marc Iverson on 7/27/2015, 1:19 pm

@iscott123 wrote:OK, so if I add more of the compost, do I need to mix it in although the plants are in the square?

Add the compost on top and at the end of the season, when you've pulled your plants, work a greater volume of compost and if possible vermiculite into the soil.

A note about vermiculite: it retains its value so long as it doesn't break down, so handle with care. And get the coarser kind if at all possible, as it takes longer to break down and will create looser soil.


Also, not sure if this is important, but when I first tried to water the garden the water was not being absorbed. After doing some online research I found that maybe the soil is way too dry so I had to mix it with water to actually hold the water. Now if I don't water well it happens again but just on the surface. Is this because of the extra peat moss?

That's the peat. The soil is dry because peat rehydrates very slowly when it dries out, and can even make water bead off it. Because your peat level is quite high, you will have to water more than you might have expected so that you don't have your soil getting too dry or beading water off the top.

Another note on peat: it is acidic, so when you eventually get your soil to the right mix, you might find your plants that do not love acid doing a little better.


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Re: new to SFG and discouraged

Post  sanderson on 7/27/2015, 2:00 pm

More of my 2 cents. Let's call this year the great experiment and start planning for next year.

1. If you took this photo this morning, then I assume you are getting afternoon and evening sun. If the box is located where you had the row garden, and the row garden produced nicely, then I assume sun is not the problem.

2. If you have a 2 peat : 1 vermiculite : 1 compost ratio, this is my thought. For this summer, add an organic "fertilizer" like Espoma Garden Tone for Veg and Herbs, and water well. Add a little compost as a slow release "fertilizer." Keep watered to release the "fertilizer."

3. Build a second box the same size. At the end of the growing season, take half the mix out for the 2nd box. Add 1 part vermiculite and 1 part blended compost to each box. Make more correct Mel's Mix to top off and mix up. Or just add more compost. Can't really have too much compost. Very Happy

4. Add mulch (chopped bedding straw, pine bark, leaves, pine needles, or wood chips to help keep the top of the Mix moist. Buy a hose wand to water when needed. The drip system will be able to keep up better with mulch on top.

5. Make sure the Mix is wet when you put it in the box. It can be a bear to rehydrate when it dries out and there are plants.

6. Straighten the drip system with hose stakes so it covers more uniformly. You may have to wait until this crop is harvested.

After you add the organic fertilizer, things should start growing again. It's hard to tell from photos, but the plants look fine otherwise. For corn, plant in adjacent squares, say at least 4 squares, where they won't shade other plants. They need each other for pollination.

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Re: new to SFG and discouraged

Post  trolleydriver on 7/27/2015, 2:42 pm

Ioana, don't give up on SFG.  As you can see already, there are many good people on this forum willing to provide excellent advice.  I'm new this year to SFG as well.  Two crops that did not work for me are peppers and eggplant. There has been no fruit on the pepper plant in the SFG but the plants in the regular garden are producing. The eggplant has stayed quite small and produced three small fruit which are being consumed by some animal (most likely the resident chipmunk).  Most other things (beans, swiss chard, lettuce, beets, onions, herbs, carrots, radishes, etc.) have done well. Keep going and you will succeed.

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RE: new to SFG and discouraged

Post  iscott123 on 7/27/2015, 2:47 pm

Thanks so much for the insight. Sun starts around 9:30am and the garden is fully in the sun by 11am. I guess I will be going with the fertilizer for the rest of the season and readjust the compost for the next year.

@sanderson wrote:More of my 2 cents.  Let's call this year the great experiment and start planning for next year.

1.  If you took this photo this morning, then I assume you are getting afternoon and evening sun.  If the box is located where you had the row garden, and the row garden produced nicely, then I assume sun is not the problem.

2.  If you have a 2 peat : 1 vermiculite : 1 compost ratio, this is my thought.  For this summer, add an organic "fertilizer" like Espoma Garden Tone for Veg and Herbs, and water well.  Add a little compost as a slow release "fertilizer."  Keep watered to release the "fertilizer."

3.  Build a second box the same size.  At the end of the growing season, take half the mix out for the 2nd box.  Add 1 part vermiculite and 1 part blended compost to each box.  Make more correct Mel's Mix to top off and mix up.  Or just add more compost.  Can't really have too much compost.  Very Happy

4.  Add mulch (chopped bedding straw, pine bark, leaves, pine needles, or wood chips to help keep the top of the Mix moist.  Buy a hose wand to water when needed.  The drip system will be able to keep up better with mulch on top.

5.  Make sure the Mix is wet when you put it in the box.  It can be a bear to rehydrate when it dries out and there are plants.

6.  Straighten the drip system with hose stakes so it covers more uniformly.  You may have to wait until this crop is harvested.

After you add the organic fertilizer, things should start growing again.  It's hard to tell from photos, but the plants look fine otherwise.  For corn, plant in adjacent squares, say at least 4 squares, where they won't shade other plants.  They need each other for pollination.

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RE: new to SFG and discouraged

Post  iscott123 on 7/27/2015, 2:50 pm

Marc,

I really appreciate all your explanations. Things start to make more sense now. I guess I have to pay more attention to the exact ingredients of the compost. The SFG is in the same spot as the old garden, sun starts at 9:30am and it is in full sun by 11am.

Ioana

@Marc Iverson wrote:
@iscott123 wrote:Hi Turan,

Yes, some of the composts had peat included so I decreased overall the amount of the peat moss that I purchased separately. Still, the soil could contain extra peat moss. Maybe I need to add extra compost and try again.

Thanks!
Ioana

Adding more good compost is the answer to so many things that it can be pretty freely recommended, as long as you don't bury the stems of plants that don't like that sort of thing.  Some, like tomatoes, do, but it will make others rot.

Since you say you didn't fluff your peat moss, as someone said above, that sounds like the problem.  What you now have is a very water-rententive soil, but one that is low in nutrients, as your proportions are off.  It will also be one that is very hard to rehydrate if it goes dry.  Add in that so many composts are primarily peat anyway, and you may have a much smaller ratio of compost in your mix than you suspected.  Soooo ... compost to the rescue!

Also, that means the amount of vermiculite used is also out of proportion, but  that's not as critical as having compost right ... the plants need the compost nutrients, but vermiculite is inert and some of its function at least is replaced by peat.  You will not have as loose, well-aerated soil, though, if you have less vermiculite than recommended.  If peat swells to twice its size when fluffed, you now have proportions of 50% peat, 25% compost, 25% vermiculite.  You can only get the proper proportions of 33/33/33 back again by doubling your compost and vermiculite the same way you accidentally doubled your peat.

Another thought -- you said you got different types of composts in your compost mix, but mentioned manure twice.  Manures, all together, make up one type of compost.  So if for example you used cow, chicken, and horse manure, along with mushroom compost and mint leaf compost, you wouldn't have a five-way compost but a a three way compost:  manure + mushroom + mint leaf.

And something else -- I notice your garden is very close  to your house.  What kind of sun are you getting, and at what time of day?  That can make all the difference in the world, too.  How does the amount and time of day of the sun you're getting right close to the house there compare to what your old row garden got?





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Re: new to SFG and discouraged

Post  Marc Iverson on 7/27/2015, 3:00 pm

@iscott123 wrote:Marc,

I really appreciate all your explanations. Things start to make more sense now. I guess I have to pay more attention to the exact ingredients of the compost. The SFG is in the same spot as the old garden, sun starts at 9:30am and it is in full sun by 11am.

Ioana

We can rule out the sun part of it then. I think you have the answers you needed. sanderson's suggestions on adding extra fertilizing and mulching, along with adding some more balanced compost where you can, should help you make the best of the rest of this season, and then you can amend your soil and your problems should be as solved as a gardener's problems ever are. It's always something! Smile

If you can get your own compost pile going, now is probably a good time for it, during the summer when things are warmer to help move the process along. You might be able to get multiple loads of it done by the time winter rolls around. And it will likely be better than the commercial stuff too. If it's too hard or you don't have the space, oh well, but if you have the room and the stamina, wow it can be helpful to your garden.

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RE: new to SFG and discouraged

Post  iscott123 on 7/27/2015, 3:05 pm

I have already a compost pile but I am not feeling too comfortable about using it. At times soapy ingredients end up in the pile and not sure how that would affect the garden soil.

@Marc Iverson wrote:
@iscott123 wrote:Marc,

I really appreciate all your explanations. Things start to make more sense now. I guess I have to pay more attention to the exact ingredients of the compost. The SFG is in the same spot as the old garden, sun starts at 9:30am and it is in full sun by 11am.

Ioana

We can rule out the sun part of it then.  I think you have the answers you needed.  sanderson's suggestions on adding extra fertilizing and mulching, along with adding some more balanced compost where you can, should help you make the best of the rest of this season, and then you can amend your soil and your problems should be as solved as a gardener's problems ever are.  It's always something!  Smile

If you can get your own compost pile going, now is probably a good time for it, during the summer when things are warmer to help move the process along.  You might be able to get multiple loads of it done by the time winter rolls around.  And it will likely be better than the commercial stuff too.  If it's too hard or you don't have the space, oh well, but if you have the room and the stamina, wow it can be helpful to your garden.

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Re: new to SFG and discouraged

Post  donnainzone5 on 7/27/2015, 3:20 pm

Soapy things?  Such as?  I'm really curious.

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RE: new to SFG and discouraged

Post  iscott123 on 7/27/2015, 4:00 pm

Like potato peelings that were in the sink and soap dish was over them before being scooped up and put in the compost.

donnainzone10 wrote:Soapy things?  Such as?  I'm really curious.

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Re: new to SFG and discouraged

Post  Marc Iverson on 7/27/2015, 4:18 pm

Dish soap is quite harsh.

Would you consider peeling your vegetables over a large bowl or other container, the kind I get at the dollar store? I use a big oval plastic one, strong but lightweight, with two holes on its high sides for handles. I do this until my peelings and trimmings either pile or get funky or moldy, then either put them directly in a composting area or microwave or freeze them first to kill off any bug eggs or viruses/bacteria. It's so much easier than cleaning a sink out, too.

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Re: new to SFG and discouraged

Post  iscott123 on 7/27/2015, 4:23 pm

That sounds pretty easy to do! I now have a tall container that is too narrow to peel over without loosing about 3/4 of the intended content. I will give it a try. Thanks!

@Marc Iverson wrote:Dish soap is quite harsh.  

Would you consider peeling your vegetables over a large bowl or other container, the kind I get at the dollar store?  I use a big oval plastic one, strong but lightweight, with two holes on its high sides for handles.  I do this until my peelings and trimmings either pile or get funky or moldy, then either put them directly in a composting area or microwave or freeze them first to kill off any bug eggs or viruses/bacteria.  It's so much easier than cleaning a sink out, too.

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Re: new to SFG and discouraged

Post  sanderson on 7/27/2015, 4:38 pm

Many of us have bags of frozen peelings/trimmings in our freezer. Some are even labeled worm food for the worm tubes and worm Hiltons. Wink

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Re: new to SFG and discouraged

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