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JRinPA March 29, 2021 10:05 PM

Resting a garden plot
Someone at the comm garden has a plot worked for close to 10 years. It has been getting lower yields than wanted of late and they are going to rest it this year and open a new plot.

The old plot has had mushroom soil, and probably not much else, added for that time. It was getting tilled often. I think that plot also has canadian thistle rather out of control.

What is the best way to renew this plot? Starting now. I think it was ignored since last July due to covid. It may be used again by same gardener next year, or possibly rested two years I suppose.

What should be done to it? Cover crops? Lasagna gardening? Amendments? Tilling? I think it was tilled at least once a year if not twice, but the tiller doesn't go that deep. A little old front tine thing, may be an mtd. I've rarely used it.

There's a wood chip path adjacent to that plot. The paths get cardboard laid down, wood chips on top (late May/early June), and the thistle blows right through that in a month and needs to be dug twice a summer. I don't see that getting changed. I don't have trouble with thistle in my plots because I have raised rows, and use a collinear hoe on my walking paths and just shave all the weeds with that. Except the thistle, I dig that out. But for everyone that rototills, it just shoots right back up off the tap root in a few weeks.

So anyway, ideas needed to rehab a long time garden plot that has canadian thistle, has seen a lot of mushroom soil, and is said to be underperforming of late. Thanks all.

KarenO March 30, 2021 01:23 AM

how big?
If it was mine and a manageable size the thistle can be dug out and I would work on weeding it out all spring then cover it with a deep layer of mulch in the form of compost or composted manure. I personally would not attempt a cover crop with aggressive perennial weeds in it. Dealing with the weeds is the first priority imo.
then adding as much organic matter as possible just on top continuing to keep up with any weeds that may appear. plant a fall cover crop in august and I would think should be good to go for spring 2022
Karen O

JRinPA March 30, 2021 10:11 AM

Size, maybe around 8' x 32', with the long side adjoining wood chip path and the perimeter fence. The homeowner outside the fence keeps a great lawn.

brownrexx March 30, 2021 10:19 AM

The first thing I would do is have a soil test done by the lab at Penn State. It is $9 for a basic test and is very reliable.

I would also dig the thistle and then make whatever amendments that PA State recommends.

Mushroom soil can be good but may be deficient in certain things and a soil test will reveal that.

JRinPA March 30, 2021 10:44 AM

Not a bad idea, how do you do the tests? Closest campus is 50 minutes to berks. Not sure how it works.

D.J. Wolf March 30, 2021 10:52 AM

Ok, I tend to take a "old farmer" approach to problems or projects like this. Personally I would first off spread a high N fertilizer and then plant a N fixing cover crop, such as clover or alfalfa. When your thistles get up good, just before blooming, spray the entire plot with a mix of Roundup and 2-4D amine weed killer. ***Note: please be sure to wear appropriate protective gear*** I usually mix my weed killer at 2oz of Roundup and 3-4 oz 2-4D per gallon of water. Leave it sit for several days, then go back in and work it all up good. You may need to be aggressive with the thistle, Canadian thistle is extremely hard to eradicate once it is well established. I can remember on the farm fighting the same patches year after year just to keep them from expanding. Only thing that really knocked them out were some of the chemicals that are not available to the home gardener that have very long residuals , which you don't want if you are growing broadleaf plants lol. Digging thistle will never eradicate it, as within a year or two there is so much seed built up in the soil, it just keeps coming back. Anyway, I would repeat the above process for 2 years, trying to get 2 cover crops a year in, and see if that doesn't rejuvenate it a lot. Then I would go with a soil sample and adjust what nutrients you add at that point.

***Disclaimer*** I know and understand that a lot of people are leery of using the weed spray type chemicals. I personally feel that as long as you follow label instructions and use appropriate PPE, they are safe and effective. But then again, I've been using them for 30+ years, and old dogs don't learn new tricks :))

Salaam March 30, 2021 11:44 AM

We dealt with a friends small garden plot maybe 2 to 300 square feet in the same way as Karen said - by weeding as much as we could and then spreading deep mulch, in our case I would say about three to four inches of wood mulch. We then planted some perennial flowers - not many - into the plot just to give it a nice look for the meantime. This was about three or four years ago. It worked in a year. The plot is much healthier than it was before, much more fertile, and I think it's safe to say the weeds are almost gone. I forgot the name of the weeds but they were similar to Canada thistle. They spread via rhizomes.

JRinPA March 30, 2021 12:25 PM

It's an organic type comm garden so that's one thing that makes it so hard. No sprays or poisons allowed. That, and usually there is a plot each year that is claimed but then halfway abandoned and goes halfway to seed. Plus a hayfield adjacent that will have thistle on the edges that would blow in seed.

I can't say how much of a problem the thistle really is. For my gardening style it is a non issue, using black mulch and compost topped raised rows.

D.J. Wolf March 30, 2021 07:43 PM

Oh, sorry, I missed that it was organic. I would still go with a N fixing cover crop. This might even help control the Canada Thistle.

Since it's organic and I know that now, I went looking for control measures for Canada Thistle. One product I found is called Avenger Weed Killer, it's certified organic, and lists d-limonene (citrus oil) as the active ingredient. It is kind of price, Home Depot has it for $86 a gallon. But, using that at recommended rates of 1:6 for small plants and 1:4.5 for large plants it isn't too bad if it kills the thistle lol. Other recommendations I noticed were using vinegar and/or salt water on the cut stems to kill the roots.

I guess really there are 2 things you are trying to do here, rejuvenate your soil, and kill the Canada Thistle. As to rejuvenation, a year or two rest will help a lot with that. Better yet is having some organic material to work into the soil. One thing I might recommend is spreading a decent amount of straw on it as a mulch and letting it basically sit for the year as much as possible. This would allow the mulch to start to break down good, keep weeds controlled, and give you that organic material to work in. Then maybe the second year go with a cover crop like clover, and work it in as green manure to increase the nutrients as well.

Other than that, I'm out of ideas. Hopefully something I said in this wall of text gives you an idea or two that work for you!

JRinPA March 31, 2021 09:11 AM

That's okay, all effective ideas are welcome. This thread will not just be used for me. I searched back through this forum and couldn't find much. Winter cover crop threads, but not really a rehab/renewal. That might help someone. I guess I figure all comm gardens are more or less organic, so nothing was missed, since didn't specify.

I tried to use some generic roundup last year as spot application on indian hemp here at the house. It snuck in a flower bed a few years back, and now is reaching out underneath. I was pretty careful to keep it on the weeds, I thought, applied on dry hot day, but a week later I found it killed spots of grass but did not kill the targets! Weeds can be tough, for sure.

Some at the garden were thinking buckwheat this year...I was basically thinking crimson clover now, and daikon in late summer. But I've never done it, and I figure this is the best place I have to ask.

D.J. Wolf March 31, 2021 10:37 AM

[QUOTE=JRinPA;762961] I tried to use some generic roundup last year as spot application on indian hemp here at the house. It snuck in a flower bed a few years back, and now is reaching out underneath. [COLOR="Red"][B] I was pretty careful to keep it on the weeds, I thought, applied on dry hot day[/B][/COLOR], but a week later I found it killed spots of grass but did not kill the targets! Weeds can be tough, for sure.[/quote]

Shouldn't spray when it's hot and dry, the plants are "closed up" and won't draw in through their leaves. Best bet for effective kill would be early morning when it's cool, or late evenings. They don't put that on a lot of the herbicide labels you get from the store, but on the labels on the stuff we got on the farm almost all of them said not to apply at over 80 deg F. As far as overspray goes, best bet is to adjust your nozzle to a very coarse droplet first. Then I shield around what I'm trying to spray with something like cardboard to keep the mixture from drifting to plants I don't want to kill. One great way is to use a 5 gallon bucket with the bottom cut out, slip it over what you are spraying, and spray inside the bucket.

brownrexx March 31, 2021 11:10 AM

[QUOTE=JRinPA;762935]Not a bad idea, how do you do the tests? Closest campus is 50 minutes to berks. Not sure how it works.[/QUOTE]

No need to drive anywhere except the Post Office JR. Collect soil with a trowel in about 12 areas all across the plot. Mix together in a bucket and allow to dry. Remove any large stones and take about 3/4 - 1 cup of soil from the composite sample. Place in a sturdy plastic bag and mail to Penn state with the sample submission form which you can find here:


The last time I mailed a sample I think that the postage was $4.50 and you can access your results online.

In my opinion, trying to add fertilizers or other amendments to a plot without a soil test to tell you what it may need is like salting your food before you taste it.

PaulF March 31, 2021 01:12 PM

I agree with brownrexx 100%. I use a local soils lab for my results at about the same cost. Saves time, money and effort to know exactly what to do to get the plot back into optimum condition.

Yak54 March 31, 2021 03:41 PM

I've used Penn State lab for my soil tests since year 2000. Before that I was just guessing for my 600 sq. foot garden plot. Nice to know the soil nutrient levels and the PH level.

T0mat0stevek March 31, 2021 04:45 PM

Is [URL=""]Individual Submission Form for Turf, Home Garden, Noncommercial Fruit, Flower, Woodlot, Christmas Trees and Landscape Plants[/URL] the form I should use?

Yak54 March 31, 2021 06:18 PM

Yes that is the one I use. I use crop code 5010 & crop name Mixed Vegetables.

JRinPA March 31, 2021 11:21 PM

For me that link downloads a file without an extension, but it is in fact a .pdf, so if it asks, use your .pdf viewer and not notepad or word, etc.

Thanks for the link. That sounds like a good first step, and I will suggest it.

I did read at some point this past year that hot is not ideal for absorption. Thing about the roundup, it was the same conditions for the grass as the weed. But like a week later the weed was fine and the grass was dead. I know if the grass was sprayed directly it would have died much sooner. Sidewalk weeds that same day were dying by that evening. I basically sprayed my glove and rubbed it onto the indian hemp shoots that were like 6" high! Then a week later the hemp was still going strong but the grass was brown for 3" radius around the weeds. I have to think the stuff absorbed into the weed leaves, down into the roots, and then was passed to the local grass roots. That stuff is just tough, much moreso than thistle.

What really ticks me off is I let this indian hemp grow the first year thinking it was milkweed, and I was okay with that for monarchs. Then it kind of disappeared in the growth, but we never saw milkweed seed pods that fall...then found the seed heads again and ID'ed it. But the next year, knowing what to look for, they were spread pretty far. It was probably there for a while, honestly, but I still feel so dumb for allowing it to seed that last time.

brownrexx April 1, 2021 09:54 AM

[QUOTE=JRinPA;762993]For me that link downloads a file without an extension, but it is in fact a .pdf, so if it asks, use your .pdf viewer and not notepad or word, etc.

From my original link, you have to select the link for the submission form for home gardeners to see the actual submission form.

I included the entire page so that you could see what is available.

GoDawgs April 1, 2021 11:53 AM

For tough stubborn weeds with a somewhat woody stem I cut them off near the base and paint the fresh cut with pure Roundup or Brush B Gone. Works really well.

JRinPA April 1, 2021 01:20 PM

It actually was a .pdf, when I forwarded it in an email it had the extension after all, but for some reason that pc wouldn't open it normally. Anyway.

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