IEatMyYard
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Preparing Raised Beds / Soil Question

I have several raised beds I want to use for some Fall vegetable gardening. I need some advice on soil.

In years past, I have amended the sandy soil with organic compost & manure bought in 40 Lb. bags from Home Depot (around $1.30 a bag). I usually follow that with some bone and blood meal just prior to planting. Is this adequate or just plain incorrect?

I ask this because I've struggled for several seasons to grow anything of real quality of quantity. My tomatoes seldom ripen on the plant, and are typically plagued by Blossom End Rot. My cucumber plants aren't real productive. My peppers don't produce any real quantity and do not ripen to color. In most cases, I seem to average one palatable vegetable per plant. So, I'm wanting to correct any soil problems to get myself on the right foot for this fall.

Any thoughts/comments?

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Kisal
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Soil doesn't only have to contain all the right amendments to provide the proper nutrients for the plant and the proper rate of drainage. It also has to have the correct pH ... acidity level ... to make those nutrients available to the plant. That might be the cause of your blossom-end rot, which I understand to be due to a lack of calcium. Your soil might contain plenty of calcium, but if the pH is wrong, the roots won't be able to absorb it. After you add all your amendments, have the soil tested to determine the pH. That should help.

Have you read the Sticky about BER? :)

https://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=25876
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IEatMyYard
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I've read it now! Thanks. I suppose a soil test is in order. I suspect the problem is a number of issues added together to just create bad environment for the plants to thrive. I just wanted to start out by eliminating a bad planting medium as a problem.

Just curious, but if you were going to start beds from scratch, what would you combine?

If I had to live off my gardening, I would have starved years ago. :wink:

DoubleDogFarm
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Just curious, but if you were going to start beds from scratch, what would you combine?
75% native soil and 25% compost. I will also recommend a permanent mulch layer on top.

Eric

IEatMyYard
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I'd love to make my own compost. However, I think my yard just doesn't yield enough material (in the way of leaves, small branches, and grass clippings).

Will any compost from one of the big box home improvement stores do, or should I be a bit more picky?

DoubleDogFarm
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Will any compost from one of the big box home improvement stores do, or should I be a bit more picky?
I'm a little more picky. Do you have a landscape material yard nearby? With bulk you can see, feel and smell before buying. I've heard that some even taste, I don't recommend. :wink:

Eric
Last edited by DoubleDogFarm on Tue Aug 23, 2011 10:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.

john gault
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You live in central Florida and say you have sandy soil. I think I know what you're talking about since I live not too far north of you and have sandy soil that is so sun-beaten that it looks like it's devoid of any organic matter, much like an ash tray. However, if you look under my mulched area under the live oak and magnolia trees you'd see a very vibrant commuity of soil organisms and very much loaded with organic matter -- the distance between these two areas is only separated by a driveway.

So I know what you're dealing with, in my sandy sun-beaten area of the yard nothing, but the hardiest of weeds can survive and there's no way I could expect an earthworm to survive in there, even if I digged a hole for him. I can't give you great advice, because I'm still in the process of building soil in this area and I've had some setbacks. However, I've had some sucess on a smaller scale.

I refuse to pay money for soil amendments, but this is basically what I do:
1. Get mulch -- I do this by going around neighborhoods with big oak trees all around. These people leave large bags of leaves on the sidewalk for city disposal. Or, you can contact local landscaping companies, many haul away the leaves and would be more than happy to give away, usually easier than driving to the dump.

2. Compost every thing
You don't need to build a compost bin, you can just throw your kitchen waste in the mulched area that you are trying to build up.

3. start planting easy stuff to grow, such as sugarbaby watermelons and sunflowers. Also look into planting beneficial "weeds", to help build up the soil. BTW, I don't rip the plants up by the roots when they're done producing. I simply cut them up and put them under the mulch so the will become soil.

If you look here
https://s1128.photobucket.com/albums/m484/76gunner/Banana%20Plant/

you'll see on area of my yard that I've had a lot of success with, but only because I've spent more time in that one area. My problem is that I don't produce enough kitchen scraps to build up the entire yard (right now at this moment!!!) as I would like, so I gotta work in sections and since I wanted to plant a banana tree and knew they were heavy feeders I concentrated my efforts in that area first (about an 8' x 10' area).

The secret to mulch. Everyone will tell you that you mulch so the soil does not lose the moisture to evaporation, but that's NOT the case in very sandy soil (I know I've tested that before). Very sandy soil, regardless if you have mulch or not will lose the moisture due to drainage and will not retain moisture, like healthy soil does, so mulch or no mulch sandy soil will lose water. However, what the mulch does do is create a microclimate for the organisms that work to make a soil healthy -- they need moisture and they need shelter from the sun.

garden5
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John gave up a lot of good information and pointed you in the right direction.

However, since you are in FL, I wonder if you aren't planting at the wrong time? I know that in FL you all plant at much different times that we do up north. Since I'm not familiar with your planting dates, perhaps John or someone else can post about the times they plant various vegetables in the south.
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rainbowgardener
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Yes, you got a great answer from jg who obviously has experience with your conditions.

Just a little more re some of your questions. It does sound like your sandy soil is very lacking in organics and nutrients. You were going in the right direction buying compost, but buying from big box stores, it is very questionable what you are getting.

The secret really will be in mulching and in having your own compost. Get started on your compost pile now (browse in our Composting Forum if you aren't familiar with it). Your yard may not be producing a lot of yard waste yet, but you have kitchen scraps (for me that's 2-4 gallons a week), as jg pointed out you can bring home others yard waste (I brought home a dozen big yard waste bags of other people's leaves last fall), Starbucks type places give away free coffee grounds, you can use shredded newspaper, torn up paper grocery bags, sawdust, etc etc.

The more of this you do, the better your garden will get, year by year!
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cherishedtiger
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Awesome tips! I too have raised beds and have wondered am I putting in the right things? I cant complain, my garden usually grows pretty good so I just keep doing what I am doing.
I too have a soil test, but I don't think its doing any good sitting on my dinning room table... I actually have to break it out and run the tests...
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IEatMyYard
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Thanks for the great info everyone.

I'll snap some photos of my beds and post them so you can see what the soil looks like. I'm in the process of arranging some soil analysis. I'm interested to see the results.

As for composting, I unfortunately have one of those properties where there's nowhere to "stick" something without it being visible to everyone. My yard gradually descends away from my house towards a pond; the backyard is visible to everyone around the pond, so hiding a composting pile (or composter) is a bit difficult. I'll figure something out though. Fencing in the property will be pricey.

I'll have to source to decent compost for the time being. This is the stuff I've been using:

https://navigator.gardenpilot.com/Tag.aspx?prd=4185&pr=172

Not sure of its quality.

By the way, what mulch is recommended? Seems like your standard flower bed mulch would be a bit woody and would take a long time to break down. I've always used rolls of synthetic ground cover.

As for the issue of planting at the right time, I've been researching that. Doesn't look like I've been that far off. I might post the data though, so it's useful for someone else in my zone. Thanks again!

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TheWaterbug
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Also, contact your county department of sanitation to see if they offer free compost. Here in Los Angeles they collect all the yard clippings from the entire county, compost them in a big composting facility, then distribute the finished compost at a variety of locations throughout the area.

My local distribution site is almost on my way home from work.

The quality is not 100% known, because it's from yard clippings, but it's worth looking into. I picked up 6 very large bags a few weeks ago, for free.
Sunset 23/USDA 11a, Elev. 783', Frost free since 8,000 BC. Plagued by squirrels, gophers, and peafowl, but coming to terms with it!

IEatMyYard
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Okay, here are my soil results:

pH: 6.8
Nitrogen: Below Average
Potassium: Average
Phosphorous: Low

Evidently, my soil is highly susceptible to compaction. Although the soil is dark, and obviously contains components beyond sand, the particles are very small, so the soil settles after repeated watering.

john gault
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Sandy soil does compact because the grains are all about the same size, so in a way they fit together like a puzzle. Unlike irregular shaped/sized objects (i.e. good crumbly soil doesn't compact, plus it absorbs moisture -- obviously sand cannot absorb moisture.) that don't fit together well, therefore don't compact. It's kind of like using saw dust as mulch, not a good idea because each piece is basically the same size and shape and compact over time and create a barrier to air/moisture.

With sandy soil the problem is exasperated by the fact that not much lives in the soil, since it's much like a desert environment. People normally think of compaction as only an issue with clay soils, but not true, although clay soils take compaction to a higher level, but sand will also compact pretty well.

There's always going to be some organic matter (black stuff), this is from organic stuff that died in the area plants/insects as well as stuff blown in... I can find minute organic matter in my driest parts of my yard, but without the other ingredients of a good soil those organic particles are pretty much useless, except to the hardiest of weeds.

BTW, do you know the history of the soil? Was there a tree there at one time or whatever?

What's growing in this area, i.e. one type of grass, various weeds...and if you dig into it do you see any life?

Father's Daughter
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Another option for compost in large quantities and good quality is a local nursery. Since I started from scratch and my soil is rather sandy, I ordered what they labeled "garden compost" from a nursery in town to initially fill my two beds. I have since started composting so I will be able to amend the beds between plantings.

IEatMyYard
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John Gault, the yard use to be citrus grove before it was developed for residential. The soil I sampled is from my raised beds, which are mostly comprised of the underlying native sand, and a 0.5 0.5 0.5 manure and organic compost mix I purchased at HD. I've added about a cup of blood meal and a cup of bone meal per 32 sq ft for several seasons. Plants in these beds have had regular feedings of Maxi-Crop, a water-soluble seaweed mixture.

The problem is the lack of aggregate material, I think. I need some irregularly sized material to prevent excessive settling and compaction during the growing seasons. I have used peat moss (or "moss peat") in the past, and have been able to maintain decent moisture levels (I was growing bush beans, though, so the soil was a bit shielded from our considerable sun and wind. Also, I need to source a decent mulch (seems like all you can find around here is cypress mulch and pine bark).

I'm going to start my own composting this year. We'll see how that goes. My property does not produce a lot of yard waste that can be used to feed the pile, so I'm concerned about having a consistent supply of material to create any real volume of home grown compost.

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rainbowgardener
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See my notes on previous page re how to have plenty of homemade compost. Also if there are any farms/stables near you, they are usually glad to have any one take home all the manure they want, which can also go in compost pile. If you can make a connection with a friendly local restaurant, they can give you plenty of table scraps... It's just up to the imagination and putting a little energy into collecting things...
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Tilde
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Ash tray leavings. Yes. That is exactly what my "soil" under the grass looks like. Ugh.

Sorry, nothing helpful to contribute. It's why everything around here is highly pesticided and chemically amended - it's simply not a suitable growing medium, this drained swamp land of ours. :(
USDA Zone 10, Sunset Zone 25, 16 feet above sea level, surrounded by chem-turfers.

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jal_ut
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Sand particles are much larger than clay. Clay soils retain moisture very well. Sandy soils not so well. Clay also usually has many more available minerals than sand. Silt is particles between the size of sand and clay particles. A good soil is a mix of sand, silt and clay with generous amounts of organic matter mixed in.

Where do you find such a soil? I don't know. It is rare. However if your soil is mostly sand, perhaps you could find a bit of silt or clay to add? You need a wheel barrow full of my soil which is 20% clay and 70% silt with very little sand. Could we trade a bit?

[url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rockdust]Look at this![/url]
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