Any tips on establishing a better soil in my garden?


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Hello all,

Hope everyone is doing as well as expected in these trying times.

I am posting to see if I could get some advice on my garden. This is an area in the backyard that has been used for quite a few years for gardening. I was in charge of it for 3-4 years now. About 2 years ago I took the city up on the offer for free compost. I'm thinking this may be the source of my problems. Last year I added chicken poop to the soil before planting. I got a feeling that the soil is too rich now. Almost all the plants planted seemed like they went into shock when planted. Most seemed like they recovered then started to grow. Never was it where they were thriving and "happy", it seemed. Some just ended up dying.

I'm not looking to grow the biggest ever, just have a garden that the plants can thrive in, instead of managing to survive. Any tips on what I should shoot for? I also have a soil kit. So I could get some info for you on that.

Much appreciated for any and all info provided, and thanks for supporting this rookie.
 
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Compost won't hurt your soil at all, no issue there. You didn't mention if it was fresh chicken manure but I suspect you likely burned the roots of your plants with excess nitrogen from the hot manure.
 
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It was a bag from Lowes. Also my garden is about 8x8 feet. So how does someone reduce the nitrogen?
 
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If it was a store bought bag it is not hot as it has been composted so that shouldn't be your issue. Do a soil test and also do a ph test for sure because that can certainly affect plant growth if it's way out of wack. Usually a well constructed garden soil with plenty of organic matter is OK for ph though
 
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Nitrogen goes into the air or helps break down material like leaves or hay/grass. If i we're you. I would add a layer of brown material and leave it.
When you plant, dig through the layer and plant in the dirt.
The brown helps with water, and breaks down into compost with help of the nitrogen.
 
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Nitrogen goes into the air or helps break down material like leaves or hay/grass. If i we're you. I would add a layer of brown material and leave it.
When you plant, dig through the layer and plant in the dirt.
The brown helps with water, and breaks down into compost with help of the nitrogen.
There was actually a barrow of deposing leaves that I also added about 2 years ago. Comparing to the compost added, it was about 1/5 of the compost. Not much I thought.

What I might do this round on planting is mix in the regular soil bought at the gardening store. Just disheartening seeing the plants suffer.
 
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Could you take a picture ... show us the texture and colour of the freshly turned soil? As a gardener I'm all hands and eyes on and it's like reading brail trying to guess from myriads of issues your soil could have.
A pic of a typical suffering plant in the garden would be helpful too.

I had trouble with city-type compost (either dry as dust or wet and rotting the roots with little 'goldilocks' zone to be had.
But a mix of textures can always help. You can add used potting mix, or get coco coir/chip to dig in to help with your air/water ratio.
(I LOVE coco, preferably coarse grade, for adding softness and air while helping water penetrate the surface, coco is one of my fave ammendments!)

From what you've done so far ...
You're unlikely to still have 'too rich' soil still after chicken poop last year it'll be nice by now ... and the leaves you added 2 years ago are long gone. Add more on top of your next crop:)

Adding more manure/mulch/leaf/straw/lawn clippings is a constant thing in our garden, we dig manure in before planting, and use thick mulch for weed control which we dig in after every crop. Spent plants are chopped back in: weeds even become mulch after being pulled.

Basically adding more fiber back into your soil every year is always good.
 
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My two pennysworth....Many years ago I Planted a Bramble Apple Tree, added manure and the tree was dead in a week...Ignorance was not bliss and the manure was fresh...lesson learnt...
 
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@goatherd, gonna have to wait a little bit on that picture. We had some high winds here. It blew over a fence on to the garden area. I've got some major work ahead of me that I'm hoping to get to fast. I'll post something in the next 10 days with some luck.

So far it seems that I should have some pretty good soil this year, if I just clean it and turn it over. There was some plants that did grow, just didn't seem to be all that thriving.
 
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Here's a pic on the garden currently. Just cleaned out the weeds and getting ready to start my current adventures. The weeds loved the soil! Had no problem growing weeds!
 

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You live in an area that is world re-nowned for agriculture so obtaining answers to your gardening problems is probably only a short distance to your county's free services. Well, maybe not completely free because they often operate from your annual tax payment.

You could begin by doing some testing of your own such as soil structure ( easy and completely inexpensive ) and chemical analysis. It's pretty much a shot in the dark to begin adding to soils without knowing what is there originally.

And lastly, soil moisture content. Plants can be damaged by excess water just the same as too little water.
 

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Here's a pic on the garden currently. Just cleaned out the weeds and getting ready to start my current adventures. The weeds loved the soil! Had no problem growing weeds!
I'd be looking to add a lot of 'organic matter' to that soil for a start, yes hay and wood chips will be ideal but take months to incorporate, so use them as mulch (THICK mulch) every year and it'll help with your structure and water/nutrient retention.

In the shorter term I'd be keen to add manure, not chicken manure, unless it is Really well composted and old, it is too strong, depending on how much you added that may have definately been your problem last year, or something like overwatering, it's hard to say.

The soil doesn't look like something that has had too much manure (more not enough by my gauge) but probably too fresh/strong could have been a big problem.

I'd start by adding a whole wheelbarrow of dry sheep or goat manure to each bed and digging it in deep. Horse manure could be OK at half the rate if aged for at least several weeks.

If your plants suffer again, take a photo of them, and post it.
 
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You live in an area that is world re-nowned for agriculture so obtaining answers to your gardening problems is probably only a short distance to your county's free services. Well, maybe not completely free because they often operate from your annual tax payment.

You could begin by doing some testing of your own such as soil structure ( easy and completely inexpensive ) and chemical analysis. It's pretty much a shot in the dark to begin adding to soils without knowing what is there originally.

And lastly, soil moisture content. Plants can be damaged by excess water just the same as too little water.
I LOVE those tests, absolutely if you can get something like that for free from your local govt. you should do so!!

I wish New Zealand councils offered perks like that, something useful, I wouldn't mind the land rates half so much ... the only services I get out of WDC are a library membership and a potholed gravel road.
They offer pest control baits etc, but you have to pay for them 'at cost' and from the prices I think their supplier saw them coming a mile off.

Again, if you can get soil testing supplies from your municipal authority, GO FOR IT!!
 
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I LOVE those tests, absolutely if you can get something like that for free from your local govt. you should do so!!

I wish New Zealand councils offered perks like that, something useful, I wouldn't mind the land rates half so much ... the only services I get out of WDC are a library membership and a potholed gravel road.
They offer pest control baits etc, but you have to pay for them 'at cost' and from the prices I think their supplier saw them coming a mile off.

Again, if you can get soil testing supplies from your municipal authority, GO FOR IT!!
You can do the soil structure test with a pickle jar, water and wait about 24 hours. Take soil samples, at approx. root depth of a half dozen locations, mix / stir and fill the jar about 60 % soil and add water. Shake vigorously for a minute or 2 and allow to set. The chemical tests can be purchased at wally world or probably on line. According to our daughter, that's a bio-chemist, those basic test kits are basically the same as a lab would use. She has been there-done that at one point in her life. And of course there are other more sophisticated up the scale of magnitude testing that you could pay for.

Gardeners that don't believe in testing remind me of mechanics that repair your car by selling you parts until they finally get lucky and his the nail on the head. You seldom like for that to happen because of the final tab amount.
 

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Funnily enough such test kits are not common in stores where I live (New Zealand) ... the test kits in garden centres are only PH kits.

I think my google algorithm has been messing with me, obviously such kits are common in stores where you are, yet I type up DIY soil test kit and I'm getting PH only kits, those green PH probes, and a coring tool for taking soil plugs to send to a lab.
I'll have another go at it and get one online from overseas.

For PH alone I'm all good, I use an electronic PH meter, dilute soil in distilled water (weighing everything with micro scales) and work it out from there - it's digital and accurate to .01, with no consumables (except a new probe every so often).

I got an aquarium kit for nitrogen to start and balance my bioponics system, it tests separately for the 3 forms of nitrogen Nitrate/Nitrite/Ammonia. But the ones I'd really like "Phosphate" for instance is $140 for the single bottle which is just a bit much to ask.

I also have test strips that do PH, Iron, copper, lead, nitrate, nitrite.

I'm interested in being able to test for Phosphorous, Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium.

I could get a 200g sample of soil tested in a lab for everything including cation exchange, ph, NPK, availability, macro, micro and trace elements all included for only $150 - but that would be only one test, I have a whole small farm to do with at least 2 different soil types, plus the garden, and my potting mixes.
 
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