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MM Problem

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MM Problem

Post  littlesapphire on 12/21/2015, 1:04 pm

I know it's just days before xmas, and for most of us it's way out of gardening season, so I don't really expect much response right now.  But I'm already in the mood to start planning my garden, and I've been thinking about a particular problem I had last year.

I have four 4x4 boxes, 2 2x4 boxes and one 1x16 box.  They were built at different times, so they don't all have the same base materials in them (as in, they got different compost and different grades of vermiculite).  But every year I put in the same homemade compost in all of them.  Two of my 4x4 boxes have mix that starts out ok, but through the season gets very compacted.  Last year was especially bad.  Starting around the middle of the season, I couldn't dig at all in them with my bare hands, and even had trouble digging in them with hand tools.  Because it was so hard, it didn't take in water very well either.  As you might imagine, the plants in those boxes didn't do so great.  My carrots were especially pitiful. 

These two boxes have fine grade vermiculite, because that's all I could find at the time.  However, that's probably not the problem because my 1x16 box plus some veggie buckets also used the fine grade and don't have the same issue.  I wonder if it's possible that the problem could be the bagged compost I've used in the past that had sand in it?  That doesn't seem likely either, but it's the only thing I can honestly think of.

What I really want to know is how to fix this problem.  I put lots of compost into the boxes this fall, but then I did that the year before and the problem got worse.  Should I put in more vermiculite or peat?  I'm actually thinking about putting in coconut coir because I hear it holds water better than peat (which is a problem I have with MM; the peat dries out and I have a hard time wetting it again).  Or is there something else I should try?  I don't want to start over from scratch because I paid a lot of  money for the materials for the MM, and I'm sure there's something I can do to fix it.  Any thoughts would be appreciated! 

And merry Christmas to anyone celebrating it Smile

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Re: MM Problem

Post  donnainzone5 on 12/21/2015, 1:32 pm

I do have a couple of thoughts for you concerning your MM issues.

Did you wet the mix down thoroughly before planting?

How did you measure the ingredients?  Was the peat moss "fluffed"?

Did some of your bagged composts contain peat?  If so, your ratios would be off.

I've read that coir too often contains quantities of salt that inhibit plant growth.

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Re: MM Problem

Post  littlesapphire on 12/21/2015, 1:45 pm

Hi Donna!  Thanks for the quick reply.

Yes, the MM gets thoroughly wetted before planting.  This is helped by the fact that springs here are extremely wet.

The ingredients first get fluffed (for the peat) and mixed (for the compost), and then measured out by 5 gallon buckets.  I put one bucket of each onto a tarp and mix it up, put that in the garden, and then go back and repeat until I run out of supplies.

I don't believe the compost contained peat.  But even if it had, I don't think that's what would cause it to become rock solid.

As for the coir, yes, I have heard that some of it is salty and can be a problem for gardening, but I've found a brand that says it triple washes it to remove 97% of the salt.

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Re: MM Problem

Post  donnainzone5 on 12/21/2015, 2:23 pm

You're welcome!  Sorry I couldn't help.  I'll be interested to see other responses.

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Re: MM Problem

Post  sanderson on 12/21/2015, 2:42 pm

LS, My guess is that it is the compost itself that is the problem. We used City compost for the landscaping beds and some of it was so hard to break up. It was so fine that it got hard when it dried out after getting wet. Do you make your own compost? Can you make some shredded leaf mold to add some organic water retention and air pockets? I leave my home made compost a little chunky, now.

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Re: MM Problem

Post  littlesapphire on 12/21/2015, 3:25 pm

Sanderson, I do make my own compost now, and it too is chunky.  But the compost I started the bed with was commercial compost, and I've found after using it for a while that it's not the best (it's pretty fine which is probably why they added sand to it, to keep it from clumping up so much?).  So maybe that was the problem.  I added lots of homemade compost in the fall, but I'm still worried about it.  Thanks for the input!

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Re: MM Problem

Post  plantoid on 12/21/2015, 8:21 pm

My thoughts...
The bagged compost has totally decayed  and lost any worthwhile bulking capacity  , because it has gone that far it has helped break down some of the finer dustier vermiculite and its formed a sort of soft cement like soil .
 I suspect that too frequently watering , using far more water than is needed will also have quickly washed a lot of the humus out of the soil.
Humus is a delicate glue ( ish )  type liquid that is produced as a result of useful bacteria & fungi that occur in composting , it sticks to fibres of plant that are decaying , the microscopic fine hair roots of growing plants drink the humus as part of their food requirements..

 What's to do to rectify things  fairly quickly ?     Express compost perhaps ? As follows :-


 You need something that is part rotted down that will still be able to rot down for another couple of years after you add it to the bed  , it also has to have a reasonable water retention capacity .
 I have found that the coir in all my beds does not retain the ability of water retention as well as peat does because it has decayed much faster than peat.

Can you get hold of some wheat ,  barley or oat straw in bale form or some  Alfalfa ?  
(    NOT HAY as it's full of weed seeds  ).
If so also try & get hold of some horse muck and chicken muck plus the associated beddings ?

If so  make a liquid manure up , say a bucket of each to 10 buckets of water , stir daily for 14 days to get the dung to break down and an even spread of beneficial bacteria & yeasts . This will give a high level of NP&K as well  .

Then break open a bale and watering can the liquid manure over the straw ,  fork it into a heap , cover with a sheet of plastic or water proof tarp so the heap starts to sweat and rot then when it's broken down and gone dark brown and broken into shorter fibres say two months later .  Use that in the bad beds as a once in a life time kick start to get the beds back into a growing water retaining bed that has an air volume in the soil

 Please note.
You won't be able to grow any of the long root crops in the treated bed for about 18 months unless you are prepared for all tops and no bottoms , along with multiple roots that would put a couple of cows udders to shame . Instead find out which crops you like that are greedy feeders and plant those in the treated beds  instead  whilst practicing a bit of crop rotation principles in the beds as well .

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Re: MM Problem

Post  Scorpio Rising on 12/21/2015, 9:26 pm

I agree, like Jimmy Cee says, It's in the compost! I think that is exactly why you have the concretion problem.

Plantoid is on the right track....bulk up the compost pile, heat it up, let it cook and be patient. You will have to be mindful of what goes in those immature boxes, but they will produce well with high demand feeders, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, etc.

You are aware of the issue, it can only get better!

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Re: MM Problem

Post  herblover on 12/26/2015, 7:21 am

@Scorpio Rising wrote:I agree, like Jimmy Cee says, It's in the compost!  I think that is exactly why you have the concretion problem.  

Plantoid is on the right track....bulk up the compost pile, heat it up, let it cook and be patient.  You will have to be mindful of what goes in those immature boxes, but they will produce well with high demand feeders, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, etc.

You are aware of the issue, it can only get better!
Shallow rooted plants that are heavy feeders would be good too; think greens, radishes, peas.

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Re: MM Problem

Post  jimmy cee on 12/26/2015, 4:19 pm

I just now came across this thread,. I'm surely no expert when it comes to composting or anything else for that matter.
I am getting great results tho with my M.M. and compost.
First of all in my opinion...forget the quick (fast) actions, Their not going to work.
remember the saying "Haste makes waste"  ?   it's true.
Do yourself a favor and get rid of that junk in your beds..
I did read an article about commercial compost, it claimed that commercial compost are by-products of factory's. May be some that are ok, however not for me...
Vermiculite and peat moss are no brainers.  ( peat moss ) screen it before mixing with other 2 components.
Items placed in your compost bins should be shredded as finely as your able to do.
Get that compost going, that's where it all is.

My beds M.M. freezes solid during winter, as soon as the freeze is over I am able to send my hand down to the bottom without any trouble.

My first season I was very fortunate in that our municipal waste had free compost made up of brush and leaves..
It looked great, I added a few ingredients and was very happy with the results, with my own compost, I do not add anything...maybe a shot of fish emulsion every once in a while, but that's all.

If I had this SFG to do all over, I would do composting for the first year, then go on the use my beds....

P.S. I use the fine grade in my containers, if you can order..go for the extra course vermiculite, a bit more, worth it.. Contact all the mom and pop farm supply shops to see if they can order for you, their happy for your business.
Good Luck.

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Re: MM Problem

Post  littlesapphire on 12/27/2015, 7:15 pm

Hey everyone, thanks all so much for your replies! 

Jimmy Cee, I would like to start over in those boxes, but I don't want to have to pay that much money for new MM that might very well get rock solid again, since I don't know exactly what caused it (since the 1x16 box was built at the same time but doesn't suffer the same problem). I'm trying to save money with my veggie garden, after all.

Plantoid, your idea sounds really interesting, and I may try it this summer.  I don't have easy access to either straw or manure, but I'm sure I can get something together. 

I've been thinking about it for a while and I think I have a plan that might help until I can add more/better compost.  For years, I've been digging shredded leaves straight into my mom's garden (also an SFG with MM) in the fall, and by spring they have decomposed down and the mix is lovely and very air.  I do that with her bed because I have trouble getting enough compost for it.  So I'm wondering, if the problem is lack of air space and/or lack of beneficial microbes in the mix, if adding some shredded leaves to the boxes now would get that started in the right direction.  The weather has been so mild this year that the ground is uncovered and not even starting to freeze, and I have lots and lots of shredded leaves piled up for composting that I can dig in.  With all the rain and warm weather, I bet it will start breaking down pretty quickly.

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Re: MM Problem

Post  jimmy cee on 12/27/2015, 8:59 pm

@littlesapphire wrote:

but through the season gets very compacted.  Last year was especially bad.  Starting around the middle of the season, I couldn't dig at all in them with my bare hands, and even had trouble digging in them with hand tools.  Because it was so hard, it didn't take in water very well either. 

T
 Little Sapphire
Compaction is a huge problem, the main reason I went to S.F.G.
Even though I never walked in my area before doing the beds, my soil became hard as a brick..
Find out why it's compacting, you'll be on easy street

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Re: MM Problem

Post  Scorpio Rising on 12/27/2015, 10:52 pm

LS, can you see the vermiculite in the mix? Maybe you should add some coarser vermiculite to a box and see how that does. If your already added in compost is bad, sometimes a bag of blood meal and some bone meal give tired mix a punch until your own compost is ready. And composting in place with the shredded leaves may well add some aeration. Try a solution in each troubled box and see!

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Re: MM Problem

Post  sanderson on 12/28/2015, 2:07 am

@littlesapphire wrote:I added lots of homemade compost in the fall, but I'm still worried about it.  Thanks for the input!
You have a lot of advice to consider. You will know more about the condition of the MM in 2 or 3 months. Just my thoughts, mind you, but the worst is that you end up removing 1/2 and adding a new, improved 1/2 and blend. You could use the 1/2 you removed to start a new bed, adding new and improved 1/2.

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Re: MM Problem

Post  littlesapphire on 12/29/2015, 9:18 am

Thanks for the idea, Sanderson.  I may try the 1/2 idea if nothing else works.  At least then I won't be throwing out a bunch of MM, even if it is defective. 

THe weather suddenly got cold yesterday, and looks like it'll stay cold for at least the following week.  So if I'm going to add the leaves to my bed, I may have to get out there and do that today.

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