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Composted in place; plants not thriving....?

                            


Joined: Aug 13, 2010
Posts: 27
Location: Southern California, Zone 10
Mornin', permies.  I have a question for you all.  I have a bed where I cover cropped with vetch and clover, chopped and dropped it, covered it with old straw, and a few weeks later planted some annuals in there (tomatoes, basil, squash).  The perennials in that area (small apple trees, nasturtiums, mulberry, artichoke) seem to be fine.  The annuals, on the other hand, are not doing well (see blurry pics below).  They are not thriving and they are turning yellowish.  The soil moisture seems about right, so I'm not sure what's going on.  I haven't tested the soil yet (I can pick up a kit today), but I also wanted to see what The Wise Ones had to say.  Any ideas?  Thanks very much.


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Eric Thompson


Joined: Apr 23, 2011
Posts: 245
Location: Bothell, WA - USA
    
    1
The roots probably need to get further down into the established soil.  Decomposition ties up the nitrogen and slows growth.
As a quick fix and diagnosis that this is what is going on, put on some liquid nitrogen rich fertilizer and see if there is a difference in 2-3 days
John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6593
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
135
Green manure left on the surface takes time to break down.  Until it breaks down, it has nothing to share, and will actually consume some of the nutrients near the surface as part of the process of breaking down.

A good dowsing with something like "Neptune's" Fish, or Fish/Kelp will both feed your plants, and speed up the decomposition of your mulch.
Jahnavi Veronica


Joined: Feb 22, 2011
Posts: 42
Ootama wrote:
As a quick fix and diagnosis that this is what is going on, put on some liquid nitrogen rich fertilizer and see if there is a difference in 2-3 days


I would do a 50-50 mix of some good ol' pee and some water and mix in some wood ashes and give the plants a drink.
Charles Anacker


Joined: Jun 29, 2011
Posts: 17
I second the suggestion about using urine and wood ashes. The plants are competing for the same nutrients that the microorganisms use to break down the mulch. The yellowing and loss of color is typical of plants starved for nitrogen.
Eric Thompson


Joined: Apr 23, 2011
Posts: 245
Location: Bothell, WA - USA
    
    1
...and do follow up with results on what you tried and how it worked out -- the best threads are the ones people can search out problem - advice - discussion ...and RESULTS! 
Steven Baxter


Joined: Mar 22, 2011
Posts: 254
I would have done the same process if I was her.

What could have been done different to prevent this from the start?
                            


Joined: Aug 13, 2010
Posts: 27
Location: Southern California, Zone 10
Thanks for all the responses.  I did a soil test, and here are the results:

ph: 7.5 (alkaline)
P: sufficient/surplus
K: sufficient
N: depleted.  That sucker didn't change color at all.

I was thinking the nitrogen fixers and the hay that spent the fall and winter as chicken run bedding would be great sources of nitrogen for that bed.  Now I'm totally lost as to what's going on, since it appears the soil is completely lacking in nitrogen. 

The sources of nitrogen I have at my disposal (keeping something of a "closed system" are rabbit droppings, chicken droppings, grass clippings, and human urine (my family may think that one goes beyond the pale a bit, but I'm willing to try it).  I also have some bermuda grass hay bought from off-site.  I can work on adding those amendments to try to get some veggies out of that patch this year.

But in the meantime, what went wrong?  I waited a few weeks between chopping and planting, and I don't see decomposing greenery under the hay.  Is the nitrogen is still being taken up by the decomposition process?  Should I have waited a whole season?  What else could I have done differently?  Thanks.
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree

Joined: Apr 03, 2010
Posts: 4831
Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate
    
181
It hasn't gone wrong - it just hasn't worked yet.

All the nitrogen is still tied up in the mulch.  I usually sprinkle some pelleted, composted pig-manure around each plant under the mulch as a quick nitrogen boost in my nitrogen depleted soil.  In a few years it won't be necessary as the mulch will have broken down and released it's nitrogen, but in the meantime I think diluted pee might be your easiest, cheapest, fastest option. 


What is a Mother Tree ?
Charles Anacker


Joined: Jun 29, 2011
Posts: 17
Bermuda grass hay is the last grass that I would use in my garden. It is hard enough to get rid of it, but if you add even the dried Bermuda grass hay, you are, in fact planting it.

Using the urine either neat or in a 3:1 dilution as is recommended by the Stockholm Environment Institute in their report Practical Guidance on the Use of Crop Production is a good way to restore nitrogen,  but you need to also add fresh water before adding the urine or you may build up to much salt in the soil. Bermuda grass will thrive with urine fertilizer too and is very tolerant of the salt content.
Eric Thompson


Joined: Apr 23, 2011
Posts: 245
Location: Bothell, WA - USA
    
    1
I know it's not prevention for this, but any time that's happened to me (like when I got a load of compost with some insiduous rotting sawdust in it..) I switch the bed over to nitrogen fixing legumes -- not only do they help fix the nitrogen, but they don't need to suck it out of the soil to thrive...and leave the other stuff in -- if it can get enough root growth to make it to the sweeter soil below, it should do fine!

Troy Rhodes


Joined: Feb 17, 2011
Posts: 237
    
    3
Pee.

I like to dilute mine 6:1, but your plants might need sterner stuff.  They need a pee IV.

Keep us posted.


troy
Jack Shawburn


Joined: Jan 18, 2011
Posts: 230
http://www.hbci.com/~wenonah/min-def/tomatoes.htm

I feel the purple and red colors may indicate Potassium deficiency.
but the symptoms may be for multiple reasons..

Wood ash and urine seems a good option as well as some compost tea.
Feed the soil a bit...
                            


Joined: Aug 13, 2010
Posts: 27
Location: Southern California, Zone 10
Burra Maluca wrote:
It hasn't gone wrong - it just hasn't worked yet. [snip] In a few years it won't be necessary as the mulch will have broken down and released it's nitrogen...


Nitrogen fixing takes several years?  I didn't realize that.  That explains a lot!  I'll do more clover over the winter.

chanetc wrote:
Bermuda grass hay is the last grass that I would use in my garden. It is hard enough to get rid of it, but if you add even the dried Bermuda grass hay, you are, in fact planting it.


It's currently in the chicken run as bedding.  I figured if any part of it starts to grow, the chickens will eat it.  I was planning to let it sit until late next spring and then use it, broken down, as mulch (along with the oat hay and straw that are also in the chicken run).  Bad idea?  Will I be infecting my beds with bermuda grass?

As for the pee fertilizer, I've suggested to the family that they help me out.  I got the mom's-gone-off-her-rocker look......
Charles Anacker


Joined: Jun 29, 2011
Posts: 17
Re: Bermuda Grass;
University of California, Integrated Pest Management:
"Cultural Control
"Although bermudagrass tolerates some drought, it grows best when irrigated. If the area where the bermudagrass is growing can be dried in summer without injuring any nearby ornamentals, withhold water to dry the stems and rototill or spade the area two or three times during summer months. This will bring rhizomes to the surface where they dry out. Raking to remove rhizomes and stolons will also help. If water is applied during the process or it happens to rain, the remaining bermudagrass will regrow. A single, deep (down to 6 inches) cultivation may be adequate to bring the majority of shoots to the surface, but the time required to dry the remaining rhizomes still buried in the soil will add additional weeks to months. Be careful not to cultivate bermudagrass if the soil is moist or the weed will spread, because cultivation chops the stems into segments and each segment becomes a new plant. While cultivating and drying can effectively kill established plants and rhizomes, they do not kill seeds in the soil."

While Bermuda grass is great for turf, it is not good for the garden because "each segment becomes a new plant" when added to your garden as a mulch. While it can look complete dead and lifeless, add water and watch it grow!
maikeru sumi-e


Joined: Dec 14, 2010
Posts: 312
Henevere wrote:
Nitrogen fixing takes several years?  I didn't realize that.  That explains a lot!  I'll do more clover over the winter.


Well, not exactly, N-fixing is immediate but what I think she means is that you'll see many of the benefits gradually as the nitrogen bank builds and releases enough extra nitrogen. Think of it like a reservoir. Depending on the soil, its health, and what you add, there can be a bigger or smaller deficit that time and techniques can remedy.

As for the pee fertilizer, I've suggested to the family that they help me out.  I got the mom's-gone-off-her-rocker look......




.
Charles Anacker


Joined: Jun 29, 2011
Posts: 17
When you add a nitrogen source such a urine or "Grounds for your Garden" from Starbuck, you can help to accelerate the decomposition of your mulch and speed up the process that will make the nitrogen available to your garden.

As to the stare from your children. Canadian actress, Ellen Page visited an eco village in Oregon while there was asked to pee in a bucket. It was added to the compost pile "where it's quite a highly prized commodity and an incredible nitrogen source" she told Jay Leno on The Tonight Show. (There is a video of this conversation online.) Also, get Liquid Gold by Carol Steinfeld from your library or order if from Amazon; it is an entertaining and informative book on the uses of "Liquid Organic Fertilizer" as urine is often referred to.
                            


Joined: Aug 13, 2010
Posts: 27
Location: Southern California, Zone 10
Project tinkle and sprinkle is underway.  The plants are still small, but they started looking greener very quickly after I started adding "liquid gold."
maikeru sumi-e


Joined: Dec 14, 2010
Posts: 312
Henevere wrote:
Project tinkle and sprinkle is underway.  The plants are still small, but they started looking greener very quickly after I started adding "liquid gold."


Glad to hear it. If you have any worries about burning them or salt, maintain a higher dilution. You'll see them thriving.
C Quint


Joined: Apr 04, 2011
Posts: 19
Location: Northeast Tennessee
I did the same thing and have a similar problem (except my plants are perennials - gooseberries and red lake currants). I fertilized each plant with an ounce or so of urine two weeks ago, and I think I noticed some improvement, but I am afraid to overfertilize. How frequently should she and I be applying this liquid gold? Thanks in advance!


~Carrie
Troy Rhodes


Joined: Feb 17, 2011
Posts: 237
    
    3
I dilute the "liquid gold" somewhere between 4:1 and 5:1, and my bushes and shrubs get dosed twice a week, on average.

No problems yet.

So, with diluted urine, I think it would be hard to overfertilize.  That's one of the many many advantages over commercial chem fertilizers.

YMMV

troy
Charles Anacker


Joined: Jun 29, 2011
Posts: 17
There is not a lot of detailed information about the use of urine in corp fertilization as to how much to use. The ratios go from straight, to 1:1, to 1:5. to 1:20. Most of the information that I have read from technical studies were concerns about safety and suggesting that you stop before fruiting, etc. I don't feel that this is an issue for the home grower, if you are not ill. However, the concern that I would have is that nitrogen produces lots of leaves and all leafy vegetables love it like cabbage, kale, spinach, but the over use of nitrogen can cause a plant to produce leaves and few or no fruit, so it is possible to over do it. One unexpected side effect that I have noticed is that we were fertilizing a nopales cactus and it was doing terrifically well, producing new growth and flowers, but it out grew its ability to support itself and a large section broke off because of the weight of the cactus pads to the strength of the supporting stalk. We may have overdone the nitrogen with the urine?

Check the fertilization requirements of the plants that you are concerned about and treat the urine as a nitrogen fertilizer and not as water and follow the recommendations.
                            


Joined: Aug 13, 2010
Posts: 27
Location: Southern California, Zone 10
Following up....  After using diluted urine as liquid fertilizer a couple of times a week, the squash leaves are no longer yellow, though the plants are still small.  The tomatoes look amazingly healthy and happy -- far better than I ever expected.  Thanks, everyone!
Charles Anacker


Joined: Jun 29, 2011
Posts: 17
I'm glad that it seems to be working out for you. Urine has been called Liquid Gold and for good reasons.

One idea that might work out for you next year is to sheet compost one bed, plant the adjacent one and compost the next one. After your harvest, compost the bed the vegetables were grown in, and plant the one that was sheet composted, but is completed and not taking nitrogen to break down the carbon materials. The advantage of such a system is that you are always feeding the worms in the garden in the sheet composting bed and they will leave their casting there in the adjacent growing beds as well, so you will always be feeding your garden worms and they will always be cultivating your soil, a win-win for you and the worms.
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree

Joined: Apr 03, 2010
Posts: 4831
Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate
    
181
Henevere wrote:
Following up....  After using diluted urine as liquid fertilizer a couple of times a week, the squash leaves are no longer yellow, though the plants are still small.  The tomatoes look amazingly healthy and happy -- far better than I ever expected.  Thanks, everyone!


Woohoo!

Can we have some 'after' photos to go with the 'before' ones you already posted?  Pretty please??
                            


Joined: Aug 13, 2010
Posts: 27
Location: Southern California, Zone 10
Sure!  Here you go.  These are the formerly yellowish squash plant and formerly purplish tomato plant.  (The squash now has leafminers, as they always do in my garden.)



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Burra Maluca
Mother Tree

Joined: Apr 03, 2010
Posts: 4831
Location: Portugal Zone 9 Mediterranean Climate
    
181
Impressive results!  Thanks for sharing.
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15264
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I hereby proclaim that this is one of the best threads ever on permies.com


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Savannah Thomerson


Joined: Jan 08, 2011
Posts: 78
Location: zone 6
Yep, I just had a couple of questions answered from reading this.

Hooray!



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Sergio Santoro


Joined: Mar 27, 2011
Posts: 238
Location: Nicoya, Costa Rica
Nothing like before/after stuff


Writing from Madhuvan, a yoga retreat/organic farm on the West Coast of Costa Rica.
 
 
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