AMENDING POOR SOIL FOR VEGITABLE GARDEN


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Over the years, I have neglected to amend the soil in my vegetable garden and solely relied on tilling in the old crop. It got to the point that over the last few years, my garden failed to grow, often failing to either germinate or and/or grow plants. I took a soil sample and tested it with a home soil test kit and it told me that there was no nitrogen, very little potassium and other nutrients that are required to be present in the soil for growth. I am now at the point that I need to add something to the soil to get it back on track. For the past few years, I have relied on the local nursery for information to no avail. They have pushed me to continue to compost and pushed me to use one of their expensive organic fertilizers and use calcium sulfate each fall to allow the release of nitrogen in the soil. Well, none of this worked for me. I have asked them repeatedly about adding amend or steer manure to the soil but all they tell me is to use their organic fertilizers and calcium. The soil in our area is clay and at one time, our garden was booming with big hearty plants that produced bounty's of big vegetable plants. I am considering buying some bags of steer manure and adding them to the soil. My garden in about 16x14 so I will need about 37 bags to give me about 3 inches of depth in the soil. Am I on the right track or am I missing something that I dont know about? Our sowing and planting season here in North Eastern California is generally after father's day since the threat of frost will be over by then. Yes, we have a short season and the threat of frost usually returns after the first week of September. I would like to hear some advice regarding what to do. Thanks in advance.
 

Meadowlark

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If it was mine, I would most definitely add composted manure and lots of it. Of course that nursery is going to push their expensive fertilizers. Depending on your temperatures you might be able to take advantage of some legumes as cover crops which will add significant N2 as well as soil building elements. I've had clovers that have survived temps down to low 20s and upper teens. Just turn them back into the soil next spring as green manure. Elbon rye is also excellent and hardy as well as small grains...again depending on your temps.
 
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From some light reading I get the impression that soils in your area are alkaline. This is in line with the idea that sulfate was offered.

You may be dealing with natural soil, reverted over time, to a point where the natural nutrients are locked solid and unavailable to your plants and therefore your purpose. If there was one thing you do not know, it may very well be the power of hydrogen. On the pH scale, where your target may be a 7, you may have an 8 on your hands. It seems a small difference, but it is on a logorythmic scale, designed to cover a very wide range with a few numbers. The difference between a 7 and a 7.1 is a factor of 10. In other words, 7.1 is to 7 as 70 is to 7. The difference between 8 and 7 is incredibly large. Get a pH meter and learn how to use it. Ask me if you have any questions. I will be glad to help.
 

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I would look to add as much organic material as possible, well rotted manure is a good start. I would not add any more calcium at the moment. Vegetables do best around pH 7. Yes pH is a logarithmic scale, as Dirt Mechanic says however the difference between pH8 and pH 7 is a factor of 10 (pH7 has 10x as many hydrogen ions as pH8) not between 7.1 and 7.0 which is a factor of 1.26.
 
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I would look to add as much organic material as possible, well rotted manure is a good start. I would not add any more calcium at the moment. Vegetables do best around pH 7. Yes pH is a logarithmic scale, as Dirt Mechanic says however the difference between pH8 and pH 7 is a factor of 10 (pH7 has 10x as many hydrogen ions as pH8) not between 7.1 and 7.0 which is a factor of 1.26.
Thats right. I ran out of time to edit and asked that post be removed or adjusted.
 
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Ok, I did a soil sample test and from what I can tell, the nitrogen is depleted, the Phosphorous is depleted, The PH is neutral at 7.0 and I couldn't get a reading from the Potash. Dirtmechanic is correct in that I am working with natural soil. I used to add several bags of steer manure and just till it in and call it good, but I haven't done that in a few years other than till in the prior years plants.
 
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2 to 4 bags will do it. It is only 16x14? 224 square feet? Seeds are challenging in rich soil. What else is out there?
 
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Thanks DirtMechanic, I was under the impression that I needed 37 bags for that area which would give me about a 3-4 inch depth. The area is solely for vegetables and nothing else is grown there. My pocket book likes the lesser amount of bags. Should I add other things such as Ammend or potassium to it? Or just stick to the steer manure which I plan on buying at Walmart?
 
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Absolutely do not add anything. You said seeds will not germinate? Less is more. Once they come up, then we can begin a fertilizer program. Organic matter around 5% on 6 inches is ok. 4 inches is 66% and imbalanced.
 
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great! Should I add the manure and till it in prior to sowing the seeds?
 
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I'm kind of surprised that no one is telling the OP to mulch. Mulching year-around with anything organic is 90% of the battle for good tilth and and a healthy microbe population. If the soil is tillable, then it's not hardpan and has to be just a few conventional steps away from being a good garden. This sounds like a higher elevation which is usually home to lots of trees in NC, pines or otherwise. Everything that is collected or raked from a lawn is good to pile on the garden, year-around, as a mulch. Tilled-in in autumn, then covered with autumn's contribution of leaves over winter and broadcast 20-20-20 to break down and leach into the whole mess for 5 months, followed by just making small holes big enough to plant individuals or seeds in spring and adding lawn clippings all summer so the weeds are kept down and moisture is retained in a constantly renewed soil profile. This is not new, or brain surgery, or expensive, or difficult work. A $25, 20Lb. bag of 20-20-20 will last nearly forever on a small plot as described. If micro elements are lacking, then a single application of Jersey Green Sand or Menefee Humate takes care of that, forever. If someone is a big shooter like me, add a $40, 40 lb bag of Bone Char to the arsenal and dig in 3 oz in each plant hole to provide all the carbon needed to facilitate the constant transition of elements into compounds that feed the microbes. Actually, nothing to it!
 
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Its a valid idea. The reason I do not is that same reason pebbles or gravel is used as a antifungal barrier instead of a more hospitable mulch on some plants. Its purely related to the summer humidity and heat, where we have too much water really.
IMG_20190414_065053.jpg
 
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Wow, that's a problem. I suppose someone put his garden in the lowest spot in the county? You've been at this too long to have not tried everything in the book. No way out? I can see the ripples in the water... Oh! This is the high ground?
 
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You have an observant eye! While it is at the bottom of a hill generally, as you see the water runs off, to the left middle of the yard. Hurricanes or 2 weeks of constant rain can hurt us.
 

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