Sasha
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Location: Edmonton, Canada

Fast-acting soil amendments and other questions

I need some help preparing my garden for planting this spring. I have questions about improving the soil as well as light questions.

So in one bed I'd like to plant spinach. I've heard that spinach requires a lot of nitrogen, so I'd like to add some to this particular bed (I don't know how the soil fertility is at the moment, but in general the soils in my yard have been badly neglected). What could you recommend as a good, fast-acting, source of available nitrogen? What sources do you think are most effective? Easiest to apply (for a beginner)? Most environmentally friendly? Also, I'm hoping to to sow as soon as the frost is out of the soil. Should I add the nitrogen to the soil before sowing? After? At the same time?

My other question concerns beets. I've read that they require a lot of phosphorus (I think - I always confuse P and K). I've got some wood ash left over from last summer, which apparently is a good source of phosphorus. Would you recommend using that as a nutrient-booster? I think the soils here are naturally somewhat basic (we have chernozemic soils around here) but I also seem to recall reading that moderately basic soil is fine for most plants. If wood ash is a bad idea for this bed, can you recommend something else?

Also, this particular bed only gets partial sun. I thought this might be better for the beets as the soil should be cooler. It gets morning and some afternoon sun, but is otherwise blocked by a fence on the south and a tree on the west. Do you think that 4-5 hours of morning sun is enough for beets?

(I hope these questions haven't been addressed in another thread. I poked around a bit but didn't find what I was looking for. Though of doing a search, but somehow searching for "nitrogen" didn't strike me as being too useful. :wink:)

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Sage Hermit
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Location: Finlaysen, MN Coniferous Forest

Beets 60 - 65°F, pH 6.2 - 6.8, 55 - 70 days, sow 1/2", row 12-18", full sun.

Indeed you run into a lack of sun issue for beets. I have been talking about reflectors increasing the amount of photosynthesis and researching on colors and material. Mylar and white are your reflectors. Perhaps a placing white pots around your area or something will be helpful and cost effective. I grow indoors year round and the secret I guesse is ceiling flor and walls are all painted white. There is also earth tone cloths and carpets in some area just a speculation there. It just dawned on me why I have luck with light but then again my windows get full sun by the way they are designed I am so lucky.

I'm also going all out on some beets so this is a great question for both of us. In many cases I have been proven wrong and shown my own misconceptions. Its just my nature I am in such a hurry to find the knowledge to have success in gardening beets outdoors this spring too! Here in MN beets I believe are the biggest crop export or something like that. The industry cranks them out proper and You in Canada should have similar results.

Soil:
I leave that issue to the community. I have no experience other than in a small very unusual fasion as decoration. Honestly I love the way beets looks and they are my favorite food besides honey. My experience growing them is they sprout fast and you should have no trouble at all raising a great big yield in a short period of the growing season, relative to other plants.
You can solve all your problems in a garden/laboratory.

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Zapatay
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Location: 5a - Northern IL, WI border

Re: Fast-acting soil amendments and other questions

Sasha wrote:What could you recommend as a good, fast-acting, source of available nitrogen? What sources do you think are most effective? Easiest to apply (for a beginner)? Most environmentally friendly? Also, I'm hoping to to sow as soon as the frost is out of the soil. Should I add the nitrogen to the soil before sowing? After? At the same time?
I find these to be great questions - Though I do not have helpful input - I look forward to reading the thoughts of the wise peeps on this forum.

Thanks for sharing this post

top_dollar_bread
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Location: Inland Empire,CA

ii believe pea's and beans are good companion plants for spinach. these plants attract nitrogen fixing bacteria. meaning these bacteria(rhizonia i think) located around the roots of these legumes are able to take N out of the atmosphere and store in the soil. will save you money on fertilizer, build better soil and give some thing to eat. :)

compost or ewc [ed: earth worm castings ]would also be a good thing to add to the soil but alfalfa, blood and fish meal are all good sources of N. im also sure they will break down faster if you add compost or mix compost with them.
you can apply by top dressing, then cover with compost or work them in the soil a bit.
alfalfa can be made into a tea, that you can dilute and apply as a drench when you think the crops need an extra boost.

i would also add the amendments to soil, 2 weeks before sowing seeds but don't add to much. follow the direction given on the box or bag..less is always best

for P soft rock phosphorus would work well, again work in the soil. also bone meal is a good source of P with some N in it as well. i have never used ash so i cant help ther but i think it adds K not P..
hope this helped

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rainbowgardener
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Best thing you can do for the garden is compost - plants need lots of nutrients and micro-nutrients, not just NPK. Feeding one element just imbalances the system. If you are not familiar with Compost do some browsing in our Compost Forum.

If you are going to do amendments (compost or any of the things in T_D_B's nice post) a couple week before is ideal. But since they say spinach seeds can be planted "as soon as the ground can be worked," adding your amendments at time of planting is OK too (turn them under first and then plant).

K is potassium which is in woodash. P is phosphorus.

I never heard of chernozemic soil before. For those like me, here's the wikipedia definition:

also known as "black land" or "black earth", is a black-coloured soil containing a very high percentage of humus — 3% to 15%, and high percentages of phosphoric acids, phosphorus and ammonia. Chernozem is very fertile and produces a high agricultural yield.

Sounds like wonderful stuff.

"moderately basic soil is fine for most plants" No, I don't think so. My soil tends towards alkaline also. Most garden plants like neutral to a bit acidic. So I'd be careful with the wood ash, which does raise the pH (make the soil more basic/ alkaline). Banana peels are a good source of potassium and don't raise the pH.

Sasha
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Joined: Sat Feb 13, 2010 10:17 am
Location: Edmonton, Canada

Thanks for the info and tips. I do have a compost heap but it's only about half done, I'd say. I vaguely recall reading something in a soil science book that made me think that adding half-rotted compost to soil would not benefit plants in the short-term, but I can't for the life of me remember why that would be. Anybody know?

Given beets' need for sun, maybe I'll switch the beds around, and put the spinach in the shadier spot. I looked at the fence today and realised that the slats only cover about 2/3 of the space along the fenceline, so there would be some noonday and afternoon sun reaching that bed. With the morning sun it should be enough for hardy ol' spinach.

And I'll keep the ashes for the shady, pine needle laden flowerbed in the front yard.

Chernozem is fantastic soil. Too bad we're building urban sprawl all over it. :roll:



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