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Old March 10, 2018   #1
SarahBeth
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Default Newish raised bed soil

I'm a fairly new gardener and I posted last year about problems I was having with my raised bed tomatoes here: http://tomatoville.com/showthread.php?t=45184. I see that I never updated that post (I intended too and even took photos to share), but in the end, I used LOTS of TTF, and it brought everything back to life. It was a pretty good first year, but it was an expensive way to get there.

I've always planned on gardening mostly organically, and intended to add organic amendments, compost and manure in the fall and compost in the spring, but, for various reasons, was not able to do so. Consequently, the fertility of my soil has likely not improved much, and I find myself in almost the exact position I did last spring.

I will be testing the soil, but once I get the results, I'm wondering how best to add both organic amendments which will take a long time to break down and improve the soil for this growing season. My understanding is that alfalfa meal breaks down pretty quickly, as does blood meal, but most of the other organic amendments do not. Unfortunately, my compost won't be ready for quite some time.

I can use some TTF again, but I really need to keep costs down.

My tomatoes will be transplanted in about six weeks, but I also have other vegetables that I could plant sooner (or now).
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Old March 10, 2018   #2
Nan_PA_6b
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If you can find a way to get some OLD manure, you can use that (cow, not horse). Old means a year old or more. You can buy it in stores, I think Black Kow is one brand, but its cheaper if you can find old manure for free. It's possible someone on Craig's List would have it. Or ask farmers in your area. And fresh or old rabbit manure is good.

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Old March 10, 2018   #3
brownrexx
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Also be careful adding any blood meal products directly around your seedlings because skunks will smell it and dig up your precious seedlings to get at it. If it were me I would sprinkle some all over the ground now and scratch it in in before planting time. 6 weeks should be enough time for it to mix with the soil and not be attractive to the skunks.

Last edited by brownrexx; March 10, 2018 at 02:02 PM.
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Old March 10, 2018   #4
SarahBeth
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Thank you so much for the replies. There are a lot more horse farms around here than cow. Is there a problem with horse manure?
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Old March 10, 2018   #5
Nan_PA_6b
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2 things about horse manure:
1. weed and hay seeds from their diet.
2. herbicide used on their hay. Unless you can confirm the horse feed wasn't sprayed.

Someone with actual manure experience ought to comment on this

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Old March 10, 2018   #6
b54red
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First off start a compost pile. It's entirely free and a good source of organic matter and worms for your garden. It will take a while but if you keep one going year round and put in lawn clippings and garden waste from non diseased plants it will eventually supply you with a good bit of usable compost.

Find a feed store or co-op and see if they carry 50 lb bags of cottonseed meal. It is a fantastic easy to use and apply organic slow release fertilizer. It can have anywhere from 4 to 7 percent nitrogen and usually around 1 percent P & K. I apply it heavily every spring and fall then work it in the top 3 to 4 inches of my beds. It supplies and nice amount of slow release fertilizer and it attract wrigglers to the beds like crazy.

You can also get large quantities of mushroom compost at some nurseries at a reasonable price and it is much better than the bagged stuff.

I wouldn't use cow manure anymore unless you can get it from an organic dairy because so many pastures have been sprayed with 2-4-D and it will be passed on through the manure and can make growing tomatoes and some other crops nearly impossible for years.

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Old March 10, 2018   #7
Gardeneer
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Soil is just a medium. But it has to have proper/balanced moiture retention and drainage.
I consider orhanic matter as amendment not food/fertilizer. It can also store some of the nutrients and release slowly.
Manures sold in bags are light in terms of nutrients. I supplement with some synthetic granular fertilizer, as I do not practice organic method. But I DO add lots of organic matter to my sandy soil garden.
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Old March 12, 2018   #8
SarahBeth
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Thanks for all the responses. That's too bad about horses. We have friends with horses and I was thinking of adding manure to our (new) compost, as we have an overabundance of browns. Dh built us a huge 3 bin composter last summer, but we have only just started to add to it.

I may have to stay away from blood meal if it attracts skunks.

Regarding the cottonseed meal, about how much do you think should I add to each 4'x9'x1' bed? Will the nutrients release fast enough to affect this years crop? If not, ought I add synthetic fertilizer as well, just this year? I'd like to buy just one gallon of TTF this year, and last year, that was not enough due to the under-nourished soil.
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Old March 12, 2018   #9
b54red
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SarahBeth View Post
Thanks for all the responses. That's too bad about horses. We have friends with horses and I was thinking of adding manure to our (new) compost, as we have an overabundance of browns. Dh built us a huge 3 bin composter last summer, but we have only just started to add to it.

I may have to stay away from blood meal if it attracts skunks.

Regarding the cottonseed meal, about how much do you think should I add to each 4'x9'x1' bed? Will the nutrients release fast enough to affect this years crop? If not, ought I add synthetic fertilizer as well, just this year? I'd like to buy just one gallon of TTF this year, and last year, that was not enough due to the under-nourished soil.
For that size bed I would probably add 10 to 14 lbs per bed. I have a lot of worms to feed in my beds so I can add quite a bit because they begin feeding on it immediately so there is little danger of it souring. In my 30 to 40 foot by 4 foot beds I usually add almost 50 pounds per bed; but I do add it a week or two before I plan to plant in it. After I work it into the top 3 to 4 inches of soil I make sure to wet the bed down good every day for a few days to speed up the breakdown of the cottonseed meal. If you are going to plant right after adding the meal it is best to give the soil a little extra nitrogen to counter the loss of nitrogen as the cottonseed meal breaks down that first week or so. I usually add a little calcium nitrate, ammonium nitrate or better yet some chicken manure if I am going to plant in it immediately and I make sure to wet it down good so the nitrogen will be released quickly.

To increase the consistency of your soil moisture you can heavily mulch the beds before you plant. This will keep the beds from drying out too fast and also keep them cooler which is a major help in the summer down here. I like to use the plain old cypress mulch because it does such a good job of keeping the beds cool and moist and it can be used over and over. I just rake it off when I need to work the soil and of course some of it breaks down and gets mixed in which only helps the soil.

Even with the addition of cottonseed meal and chicken manure I begin feeding my tomatoes and peppers with TTF or the Vegetable formula every week to 10 days after the plants have had time to establish their roots well. I absolutely love TTF for tomatoes. I get so much more fruit set and the plants remain so much more healthy than before I started using it and in my opinion it improves the flavor of the tomatoes. I like the Vegetable formula for my peppers, squash, cucumbers, melons, and most other veggies because of the higher nitrogen amounts in it. TTF is good for almost anything but I like it best on tomatoes especially after they start blooming.

Bill

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Old March 12, 2018   #10
TexasTomat0
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Everything I have read about horse manure is that it is okay to use after it has either been aged or composted. I use it in my worm bins to make vermicompost that I add to my beds. That's pretty much all I will be adding from now out, since I add my amendments directly into the vermicomposter and let the worms eat/mix it all up. I keep it all in a large 100 gal fabric pot.

Here is a good article on making compost https://logicalgardener.org/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=205

For amendments to add this year you may want to look into humic acid powders. It will require making a purchase but you use very little of it (just a few grams per application couple times per season). This frees up nutrients already available in the soil you're growing in.
http://www.bioag.com/humicfaqresources.html - a little reading on humic/fulvic acid. Alfalfa does break down fairly quickly once it gets moistened, I top dress with it in the spring and it is gone within a month.

If you go the humic acid route, it should make nutrients available this season. That can hold you over until you can get your compost piles up and running and the inputs should be fairly minimal.

I would use dried leaves and horse compost (both free) and add in some alfalfa pellets ($11/50lb bag where I'm at) and if you have some extra $ to input add in some brown kelp meal and that is about it (Both brown kelp and alfalfa are biodynamic accumulators). Let that compost with as many worms as possible and add that mixture to the beds in fall/spring and top dress mid season.

You could also try growing your own comfrey (biodynamic accumulator as well) patch to literally grow your own fertilizer. Just grow the comfrey, cut it a couple times a year and either compost or finely chop up and top dress. Free fertilizer.

That's just my $0.02
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Old March 12, 2018   #11
TexasTomat0
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Also, I just read your post from last year about the mix you used. I would add some sort of aeration materials to the mix if possible: small rocks, rice hulls, perlite, pumice, lava rock, or (my personal favorite) sphagnum peat moss in the 3.8 cu. ft bale. I use the Cornell mix of 1/3 peat moss 1/3 compost 1/3 aeration material. I'd add a whole lot of peat to those beds to make them airyand let everything breathe better.
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Old March 12, 2018   #12
b54red
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The peat also helps hold moisture.

I used to always add about half the amount of alfalfa pellets as cottonseed meal at the same time; but they got too expensive around here so I couldn’t justify using them anymore. They have similar nutrient values and breakdown slower. If you can get them for a decent price then you should certainly add some to your beds. It is even more important if you add alfalfa pellets to also add in some immediately available nitrogen if you plan to plant real soon after adding them.

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Old March 14, 2018   #13
SarahBeth
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Sorry I haven't been back for a couple of days. Its been a bit crazy here and I didn't want to respond until I could really read the responses. I so appreciate the time you all have put into your replies!

Today I picked up a 50# bag each of alfalfa and cottonseed meals. So if I add 10-14 lbs per bed of cottonseed meal, I should add 5-7 lbs of alfalfa? I won't be planting tomatoes for at least six weeks, but I have other planting to do asap so will add calcium nitrate as suggested. Should I add the amount suggested on the package or less since I am adding other amendments?

I remember someone suggesting peat last year too. What amount would you all suggest adding to a 9'x4'x1' raised bed?

Would the humid acid be helpful with such a new bed filled with soil/compost from the landscapers supply? Are there even nutrients there to be released? I suppose that question really shows my ignorance of soil science, lol. I do have some Neptune's Tomato formula that contains humid acid.

We do have a large organic Dairy in a nearby town. I will see if they give away their manure.

Thanks again for all the help.

Last edited by SarahBeth; March 14, 2018 at 08:51 PM.
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Old March 15, 2018   #14
b54red
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Sarah since you will be planting soon and have added some alfalfa pellets then a small amount of the quick release nitrogen will be helpful. The reason for that is while the alfalfa pellets have a fairly high amount of nitrogen in them it does not become available until they breakdown and when they first start breaking down they will actually pull nitrogen from the surrounding soil. I actually caused some plants to die from planting too soon after using a large amount of alfalfa pellets when preparing a bed. I finally figured out what was going on when I started pulling up the dying plants and found the ones affected where the ones with more alfalfa pellets around the root ball. When I realized this I immediately added some quick release nitrogen into the bed and wet it in and the yellowing plants recovered in a couple of days. I have not had that problem with cottonseed meal alone but only with the large addition of alfalfa pellets; but I'm sure the same thing is happening but the affect is probably less concentrated as the meal is so fine and mixes more evenly through the soil and it breaks down much faster. Even so if I plant within a few days of adding the cottonseed meal I will either add some nitrogen when preparing the bed or will water the newly planted seedlings right after setting them out with a liquid fertilizer that has a decent amount of nitrogen in it. As a matter of fact I prepped a portion of a bed for a late planting of lettuce yesterday with a healthy amount of cottonseed meal and will be setting the plants out today and will immediately water them in with TTF or the Vegetable formula from Urban Farms at the one Tablespoon per gallon setting just in case a bit more nitrogen is needed.

I have been adding peat whenever my beds have a little room in them for some more soil because it aids in moisture retention and just adds to the softness of the soil. I added a lot of peat to my beds last year along with some pine bark fines and when I turned them this spring the soil was in better condition. You could start by adding about a half inch or an inch to the bed and working it in the top 5 inches and see how it does. You can always add more next time the plants are cleared and you prepare the beds again.

You might want to do a soil test soon and see what all your amending has done to the beds. After so many years of planting in the same beds my biggest problem is no longer organic matter but keeping enough potassium in my beds and trying to keep my phosphate levels a bit lower. Like nitrogen potassium will leach out and some plants pull a lot of it out of the soil and it is not easily replaced since I no longer have my wood stove with its constant supply of ashes to add. I finally added some greensand to my beds and it helped a lot; but is a slow release fertilizer and so is more of a long term help. That is another reason I like TTF and the Vegetable formula when fertilizing most crops because they have a bit more potasium in it so with steady use I find my potassium levels remaining a bit higher. I have used muraite of potash to give a quick boost but it has high levels of chlorine so is not good to over use but if the soil is really low in potassium it is readily available and cheap. A soil test will tell you what your soil is lacking in and what it has in abundance and it can be done easily through your county extension service. My problems with high levels of phosphate came from years of using fertilizers with too much P and adding large amounts of cow manure which also adds a lot of P. Phosphate doesn't leach out but is only removed by the plants themselves and so after nearly 40 years gardening in the same area my P levels have gone from low to extremely high. I now have to take care not to add any more phosphate than possible in amending and fertilizing my beds.

Good luck.

Bill
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Old May 13, 2018   #15
SarahBeth
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Bill, I read your long, thoughtful post back in March, and was thinking about my reply and then things just got crazy around here like they always do. I’m so sorry. I really appreciate all the time you and others have put into helping me.

I wanted to let you know that I took your advice and added alfalfa, cottonseed meal, calcium nitrate and peat as suggested, along with some kelp meal I found locally, and everything is doing great! We had a very long, cool spring this year, which included a very late frost, so tomatoes and peppers went in a little late, but most of my brassicas are still going strong. They are huge! I will definitely be using the alfalfa and seed meals again next year, and we hopefully will have our own compost to add by then as well. Even with peat and thick pine straw mulch I’m having to irrigate every other day or so (for 3-4 hours), which just seems like too much. I guess I could have added more peat.
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