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Soil Mix Problem In My Climate

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Soil Mix Problem In My Climate

Post  Kret on 5/21/2011, 6:28 am

I have a number of boxes using the appropriate sizes and soil mix design. The soil looks fabulous and has great tilth. Last season I tested the soil and found it needed some lime for acidity (easily corrected) and the organic component was greater than 50%. I did this because the plants were were not fully developed as I expected at certain months. The State Soil testing lab called it a greenhouse mix because of its organic component concentration. They told me that a greenhouse mix in the open air would be susceptible to washing away nutrients in this climate. What I am finding in my climate here in VT, either rain or my hand watering easily pulls the soluble nitrogen out of the soil mix and washes it away so it is not available to the plants even though the compost has a lot of nutrients available? Consequently I need to apply liquid fish fertilizer when I water both costly and out of balance with the system.

Does anyone have suggestion for me. I can add a mineral soil component to the vermiculite/compost/peat moss mix design to hold the water in the soil, but that will go against the methodology, require the soil to be tilled on a regular basis, and make me wonder why I just didn't use my local soil in the first place? Any suggestions on how to fix this problem or person with a common problem here in N.England? Kurt

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Re: Soil Mix Problem In My Climate

Post  camprn on 5/21/2011, 9:20 am

Hey Kret to the SFG Forum. We are neighbors in the same growing zone. Where are you in VT? I I love you Vermont!!!
I'm a bit mystified by your query. I have a few questions, as a bit more info will help me form a response. When your test results came bask with issues, did you have a chance to speak to your County Ag agent about a recommended remedy? Aside from the 'organic composition' what did the rest of the soil report say? When did you build your garden and put the mix in? Have you added anything else besides the Mel's Mix, lime and fish emulsion? Do you have a home composting system set up or any home compost available?
LOL, I am quite curious, eh? Wink Again, so glad to have another neighbor on the Forum!

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More Soil History

Post  Kret on 5/21/2011, 8:42 pm

6 Boxes went in the spring 2010 and 5 more boxes went in fall 2010. With the original 6 boxes I wasn't getting great results by mid summer so I did the UVM soil testing which told me that I had high potassium and phorphorus, plus acidic. So I limed and applied liquid fish fertilizer last summer and end up with a so-so crop as the lab suggested. The soils lab recommended blood meal also which I applied in the fall and stirred it in.
So late in the fall I built 5 more frames and did Mel's mix with as many kinds of compost as I could find. Those sat all winter and I've planned them now. UVM testing told me that my first mix was 53% organic matter and they classified as a greenhouse mix. They said that Maine Soil testing service did many more tests on unstandard soils mix, greenhouse blends, and could better test greenhouse mixes. I contacted Bruce, the lead scientist there this week and we spoke. I said it sounded like an unusual outdoor mix that he thought might not perform well outsides because of nitrogen washing out of the loose and porous nature of the mix. I may have them test the soil as a double check.

That's all I have right now. The spring crops are little better than last year but has slowed some and are behind. Not as agressively growing as I had expected henst the soil testing.

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Re: Soil Mix Problem In My Climate

Post  BackyardBirdGardner on 5/21/2011, 11:07 pm

Camprn has phenomenal experience. She lives in your climate. She has hosted this region for quite some time, too. She is the expert. I defer to her on your questions and topic.

But, the only point I would like to ask is: Why did we mess with the Mel's Mix in the first place? If it was equal third/third/third, it doesn't need lime to adjust ph or Mel, himself, would have told us so in his book.

IMO, now, by messing with the composition of the very backbone of your garden, it becomes infinitely harder to help you get it right because most of us are Mel's Mix SFGers not chemists. It's immediately a problem that goes over our heads.

Now, if anyone can help, Camprn can. She has likely done a lot more traditional gardening than I have, and would better know what to recommend.

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Re: Soil Mix Problem In My Climate

Post  shannon1 on 5/22/2011, 1:59 am

Kret, I used to water my TT every day to the point of run off. I stopped when the idea I was washing out the "good stuff"(nutrients) do you think that was what the ag. angent was talking about. Now I do the finger test to see if it needs watering or not. I will not add anything to upset the balance of the MM.

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Re: Soil Mix Problem In My Climate

Post  Kelejan on 5/22/2011, 2:33 am

shannon1, did you notice an improvement when you stopped watering every day?

Did you take days off when it rained?

During our recent warm spell I have been watering every day but rain is forecast for tomorrow so I will not be watering.

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Re: Soil Mix Problem In My Climate

Post  shannon1 on 5/22/2011, 2:40 am

Yes I did see an improvement. I do take off days when it rains but there have only been two since I started . I stick my finger in and if it is dry I water alittle let it soak in then water alittle more. I has been very hot here as well in the 90's my containers need water most every day but the box seems to only need it every other day or so.

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Re: Soil Mix Problem In My Climate

Post  Kelejan on 5/22/2011, 2:43 am

Thanks shannon,

If the rain does not arrive tomorrow, I will stick my fingers in then decide whether to water or not. I think I may have reached saturation point and although it is said you cannot overwater I, too, think that too much will wash away nutrients.

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Re: Soil Mix Problem In My Climate

Post  shannon1 on 5/22/2011, 2:46 am

My thinking exactly.
I don't know if I should or Sad about the lack of rain here.

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Re: Soil Mix Problem In My Climate

Post  camprn on 5/22/2011, 7:01 am

HI Krent,
So, all is not lost, there are a few things that I am thinking about here.
The level of organic matter in the mix is fine, you really do not need dirt to grow vegetables with SFG. The pH being what it was, correction with lime was the appropriate remedy, but lime takes months to break down and affect change. When did you apply the lime? Do you have any fine woodash? If you do & you have already planted go ahead and sprinkle a light layer onto the top of your garden. Also a very light dusting of blood and bone meal are good things to apply. If you can manage it without damaging plant roots, lightly scratch these into the surface of the mix. I would then top dress with about an inch of homemade compost if you have some. This will also add nutrition into the mix as you water and will act as a mulch, trapping moisture in the mix, and reduce the need for more frequent watering.

As we know, a pH too high or low will lock up nutrients that plants need to survive. With the pH correction, the locked up nutrients in the mix should be more readily available for the plants to take up. Do not add more peat as this will raise the pH again. Water only as much as you need to and no more, this way you'll avoid flushing nutrients from the mix. Keep adding and mixing in compost when you replant a square or when the bed is empty of plants, this will introduce fresh nutrients, aerate the soil and invite earthworms into the bed. The worms will do the work and make lovely castings within the bed. If you have put a soil barrier on the bottom of the box, find a handful of earthworms and give them a new home in your garden. Compost tea is a very nice thing to give the plants, they love it.

Most plant symptoms from various causes are clearly visible and very telling; through your observations let your plants tell you what you need to do to help them grow well. Where are you located in VT? Would you be able to post some photos of your garden? I can hardly wait to see it.
Cheers!


Last edited by camprn on 5/22/2011, 7:21 am; edited 2 times in total (Reason for editing : added info and clarification of a few points)

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Answer a few more questions

Post  Kret on 5/22/2011, 10:57 pm

1. I limed in the fall with blood meal and mixed it up good at that point. I took the dose application that the UVM soil guys told me per SF at the time.
2. I put in a March lettuce/peas crop. This a going OK but should have grown faster based on harvest time of seeds. As you know its been cooler this season and lots of rain these past weeks. Crop is good but on the short side.
3. We live in Wallingford/Clarendon area of central VT a couple miles off Route 7.
4. Had a separate pile of fine wood ash. I applied ash and blood meal in-between rows as recommended.
5. Maine soil testing recommended a long term strategy of feather, alfalfa, or soybean meal as a long term source and less water soluble source of nitrogen. I have a couple local sources that I am checking on.
6. I will probably soil test my new boxes put into production this spring to see if there are any problems I should know about early in the season.
7. I used Agribond-19 row covers in the early season for cold. I switch to a summer layer in late April if we're in a soaking rainy spell (last week) or need shade protection on hot summer spells to keep things from bolting, but rare in summer. In our climate I don't hand water much unless we have 5 or more rainless days or apply liquid organic fish fertilizer. I have soaker hoses setup over frames in case someone is watching the gardens in the summer. I use those to water unless I have to apply fish food so beds don't get deluged.
Did I leave anything out?

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Re: Soil Mix Problem In My Climate

Post  Barkie on 5/23/2011, 7:18 am

I can't say anything about your regional rainfall or the amount of sun/light which you had but I know after fitting my new row cover that it excludes a surprising amount of water and I suspect light transmission is also reduced. You might like to check your Agribon 19 specifications in case it keeps out more than cold. I tried the Agribon website but it returned a 404 error. Lack of adequate light would hold back even the humble lettuce. I give mine the warmest sunniest spot in March as I can get ground frost until about now in May.

I am puzzled why blood meal was recommended, it is acidic. I assume it must be that you plant in the fall. It's a quick high nitro boost though since it's a highly water soluble form. Hoof and horn meal is a possible slow release nitrogen (lasts several weeks) if you can get it and if it works out cheaper than other sources. Wood ash on the other hand is alkaline. 'Fraid I can't tell you how long it takes to act to decrease the pH in MM though because SFG is new to me.

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