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dave55
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Diagnose my Raised Bed Failure..

Hello all, newbie here. I'm requesting your input to help me figure out why my raised bed garden is dying.. Here's the narrative..

Eastern TN, Raised bed 4' x 10' x 1'.
Soil Mix: 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 topsoil, 1/3 manure.
This is my first year gardening, installed the garden the first week of May and transplanted the vegetables from containers.
For the first two weeks, the soil seemed almost constantly bone dry.. Watered daily, but leaves were yellowing, falling off, brown spots.. Started watering more aggressively but no improvement in condition. Green beans are all but dead, peppers are barely surviving, cucumbers only have a few green leaves, etc. Got a soil test to see what things look like... See attached photo..

What do you guys think? Need some help here. Would really appreciate your input.

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Right after planting

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About two weeks in...

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Current status..

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Soil Test Results

Rairdog
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Re: Diagnose my Raised Bed Failure..

How old was the manure? I'm leaning towards nitrogen burn.

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dave55
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Re: Diagnose my Raised Bed Failure..

Not sure, I got the manure at the local nursery and that info is not available to me. On the soil report interpretation it seems like its recommending that I should add EVEN MORE nitrogen...

One thing that does stand out to me is the water pH... 7.7

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sweetiepie
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Re: Diagnose my Raised Bed Failure..

I know almost nothing about soil tests, I just kind of look at the dirt and add to it. If it was me, I would add more topsoil. It looks like the drainage is a little to good and the nutrients have gotten washed away with having to water it to much. I would add more topsoil on top around your plants. Maybe water with some miracle grow once or twice a week. A bed like that, I would think should be able to be water every two to three times a week with good soil. Depends on the wind.

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Diagnose my Raised Bed Failure..

Not nitrogen burn. Lack of nitrogen. You need to understand that even though you put in a lot of manure, you have yet added no nutrients (except perhaps what little bit was in the topsoil). Because the nutrients are there in the manure, does not mean they are available to the plants. That only happens as the manure gradually breaks down over time:

Nutrient Release Rates from Compost and Manure

Gardeners need to understand that the nutrient release from compost and manure is slow, taking years. Adding compost or manure to improve soil tilth is not the same as fertilizing.

The typical nitrogen release rates from manure is only 30 to 50% the first year (fresh manure), 15 to 25% the second year, 7 to 12% the third year, 3 to 6% the fourth year, and so on. With compost and composted manure, the release rate is even slower, 5 to 25% the first year, 3 to 12% the second year and 1 to 6% the third year.

Since the nitrogen percentage of compost and manure products is typically only 2 to 4%, the amount of actual nitrogen release to support crop growth is very small.
##For soil with 4 to 5% organic matter, the mineralization (release) of nitrogen from soil organic matter will likely be sufficient for crop growth.

##For soils with 2 to 3% organic matter, the mineralization of nitrogen from soil organic matter will not likely be sufficient for heavy feeding vegetable crops. Supplement with 0.1 pound nitrogen fertilizer per 100 square feet.

##For the typical garden soil with 1% organic matter or less, the mineralization of nitrogen for soil organic matter will be minimal. Add 0.2 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer per 100 square feet.
https://www.ext.colostate.edu/mg/Gardennotes/711.html

Over time (years) as you keep adding compost and organic material to your soil, you will have lovely soft black enriched soil with lots of earthworms, that things will grow beautifully in. In the meantime while you keep adding more organics every couple months to work towards that long term goal, you need to be supporting the plants you have with some kind of quick release nutrients.

So you need some kind of good liquid fertilizer, fish emulsion, kelp products, etc to provide some nutrients now, while waiting for the manure to break down.

The water being pH 7.7 could be a problem too. That's pretty alkaline and most veggies like their soil slightly acid. Too much alkalinity can lock up nutrients so they are not available to the plants. Do you have a water softener system? That is one reason people end up with alkaline water. You might benefit from a rain barrel or other rain collection system, to have some less alkaline water for your garden.
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dave55
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Re: Diagnose my Raised Bed Failure..

rainbowgardener, thanks for the informative reply... can you recommend a good liquid fertilizer, and maybe something that I could use to make it a bit more acidic? One person told me that aluminum sulfate would work, but I've also heard that aluminum isn't good for the plants...

my water source is city water, i don't have the ability to use a rain barrel, the HOA might shoot me if I modify the drain spouts...

imafan26
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Re: Diagnose my Raised Bed Failure..

I also think the manure may be a problem. Usually 1/3 drainage material (perlite, vermiculite, cinder), 1/3 good quality topsoil, 1/3 multi sourced finished compost. Usually if I use manure I only put down a 1/4 inch and work it into the bed. My beds are about a 100 sq ft. and I use one bag (3/4 cu ft composted steer manure) or less.

Fresh manure can burn. Composted manure does not have a particularly high NPK about (1.5-3.0) -(1.0-0.5)-(1.0 or less) and should not burn. Chicken manure is higher than steer but also contains calcium which if fine if you have acidic soil but will make alkaline soil more alkaline Manures are high in salt and too much salt is not a good thing and that could keep plants from growing well or at all.

I looked at your soil test results. The recommended nitrogen 60 lbs per acre translates to about a couple of ounces per 100 sq ft. I don't get the potassium recommendation unless a lot of it is bound. It would also be a couple of ounces.

Here's how you convert pounds per acre to pounds per 100 square feet. Soil tests from my local extension supplies results in lbs per 100 sq ft and I can get organic recommendations if I ask for it.

https://aces.nmsu.edu/desertblooms/nmsug ... hap1.i.pdf

It really isn't a lot of fertilizer that is being recommmended. Nitrogen recommendations are usually divided, so even less for the nitrogen.

pH of 7.7 is not that bad, I would not add chicken manure or anything alkaline to make it higher. Compost in the soil will buffer the pH so it will behave more neutral. You are not growing blueberries or gardenia which would require very acidic pH to do well.

The salt on your test was not flagged so it doesn't look like the manure caused a salt problem.

You said the soil was bone dry initially and you watered daily and the plants are yellow.

How did you mix your soil and did you water the soil well before you planted? Sometimes , actually everythime I put Big R in the soil, it floats up to the top and it dries out fast so the top appears dry but the lower part is moister. I have less of a problem when I wet down the soil as I mix it and then after it is all mixed in. I add the fertilizer, in my case 1/4 of the recommended nitrogen, I will water the soil for 20 minutes every other day or so to bring up any weeds near the surface to pull them out. I try to wait a couple of weeks before I plant for the soil to settle and get as many of the weeds out. My cats are in the house, but I put down plastic fencing over the ground just in case of strays. I only add about 3-4 inches of compost to my garden every time I plant and I have a clay based soil. By the time I plant, the soil has had time to settle, the fertilizer has started to dissolve and the soil is evenly moist so I don't have dry spots.

You probably don't have the weeds I have to deal with but when you mix a new bed you should give the soil a thorough mixing and watering to settle it in before planting. If the soil was dry at the beginning, it can be hard to wet, depending on your soil. If it is sandy to start with, it takes much more water than clay. if your ingredients were not thoroughly mixed in and wet down, you might possibly end up with pockets of dry spots. That is why I like to mix and water lightly as I go (and it keeps the dust down). This same thing happens with potting soil. If you put dry potting soil in a pot sometimes peat especially can be hard to wet and there are pockets of dryness and it acts as a barrier and blocks the media from draining.

After it was wet, if you continued to water more than needed, you would end up with yellowing plants with falling leaves and possibly rotting roots.

Have you checked the roots of any of the plants?
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CharlieBear
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Re: Diagnose my Raised Bed Failure..

I see several issues that need to be addressed like what kind or wood did you use, some are treated and leach into the soil with over watering. The top soil could be the problem. When we bought this place there was a section about 15' wide and 25' long that wouldn't grow anything. Soil tests reveal nothing out of the ordinary, but there was something in that soil that was poisoning the plants. We finally covered it with paper and placed a thick layer of mushroom compost over it and planted strawberries because they are shallow rooted. In the other smaller area that was acting the same we amended with homemade compost, straw, leaf mold from the neighbors and even after 8 years only shallow rooted plants are successful. If they get down too far they die. Since you purchased that top soil, it could have been sprayed with something that is still in the soil. I hope that is not the case. If that top soil wasn't almost pure clay then the amount of vermiculite you used may be too high. If you got something like sandy loam then it didn't need any vermiculite at all. You may have mixed something that is not acting like sand, that is too well drained. When you say it was bone dry, how far down were you checking. If you were gauging by the appearance on top, you were way over watering. Instead, you need to check the moisture by inserting a finger. If it is damp an 1" or slightly more below the surface you don't need to water unless you are over 90 deg. Most of the early damage looks like water stress too me, that is wet-dry, wet-dry over and over like you might find in pure sand in hot weather. The problem with pictures, is that without feeling the mixture and asking a lot of questions about what you planted, when, how etc. all of the answers you get are surface guesses.

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Allyn
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Re: Diagnose my Raised Bed Failure..

I can offer no wisdom on the yellow plants. I see, though, that you have the bed gridded out in what looks like square feet. Are you following Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening method? Mel's recommended mix is one part peat moss, one part coarse vermiculite and one part of a five-part compost mix. I would pay close attention to what the previous posters have recommended because they are much wiser than I am, but I'd offer that that's the mix I use in southern Mississippi and I found it very easy to overwater because the surface (if it isn't mulched) dries out but under the surface is still moist. I'd see the dry soil and water and nearly drowned my plants early on.

lexusnexus
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Re: Diagnose my Raised Bed Failure..

Concur with the comments on manure. Use composted products (manure, leaf, etc.) for enhancements. Your pH is WAY too high. Ideally, that needs to be dropped at least a full point to around 6.5. One number that is conspicuously absent from your report, CEC (or Cation Exchange Capacity). It's a measure of the soil's ability to deliver nutrients to your plants. That's important because, although there may be lots of nutrients in your soil, if the plants can't absorb them it doesn't matter. The higher the CEC the better. Compost is wonderful for CEC. Use as much as you can get your hands on.

I also recommend you contact your county extension office, or, if you have a Master Gardener program in your county contact them. They will happily help you and provide recommendations.
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dave55
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Re: Diagnose my Raised Bed Failure.. {updates}

I wanted to thank everyone for their advice... based upon your responses I made a few changes -- added some sulfur to move the pH a bit more toward acidity.. also learned from you guys that just because you get good manure it does not mean the nitrogen is not immediately available to the plants... So I also started fertilizing weekly with some Miracle Grow... Well the beans didn't make it and died off but everything else immediately started to perk up. Should have my first cucumber and cherry tomato this week. Still way behind with the growing season but will get a better start next year.

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On a side note, any advice for june bugs munching on my basil? Heard something about nematodes, what do you guys think? Don't want to do anything aggressive like Sevindust or acetylcholinesterase inhibitors or anything nasty like that.

Also, I added some old leaves from last year as "mulch" and a bit of the black compost underneath to the soil, hopefully to attract some earthworms... Now I have a bunch of mushrooms always sprouting up. Is this a problem or don't worry about it?

lexusnexus
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Re: Diagnose my Raised Bed Failure..

A lot of information, isn't it? Topsoil has been mentioned but be careful just going to Home Depot and piling bags of it in your beds. You will have no idea where it came from and what is in it. Personally, I'd add surface dirt from your yard and mix in as much compost as you can. Already mentioned is that compost will break down over time to provide some nutrients. If you are covering the bottom of your beds with a non-porous substrate (i.e., plastic) then you are going to have to maintain water levels for your plants, as well as nutrients. If you are going to add manure it has to be composted manure. Don't go to the local farm and buy manure. Composted manure will have been "cooked" to kill bacteria in it, as well as starting the breakdown process. Compost has one additional benefit, it increases the CEC (cation exchange rate). This property is important because it allows nutrients and water in the soil to be delivered to your plants. Your soil may have plenty of each, but if the plants can't get to them they are useless. Compost from plants also has the additional benefit of providing trace elements to the plants.

You might want to check the "Container Gardening" forum below to check for raised beds. I can't give you much advice other than what I've already done because I don't use them. I know they have their own unique set of problems and requirements. You should ask some questions there. Good luck...
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sweetiepie
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Re: Diagnose my Raised Bed Failure..

It did a great recovery. I don't think the mushrooms will hurt your plants but mushrooms usually mean wet conditions and may be to wet for garden plants. Looks great!

imafan26
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Re: Diagnose my Raised Bed Failure..

Mushrooms usually mean for me at least that there is still some organic matter decomposing.

Milky spore should be applied to the grass now to control grubs of the beetles. It won't help now but will help reduce the number later.

I use a beetle trap with a floral lure and it is set the farthest point away from the garden to lure bugs away. Another trap was to use a bucket or pan with a couple of inches of water and neem oil or soapy water with a white light over it. The bugs are attracted to the light and fall in the bucket and can't get out. The trap is also set apart from the garden since it is a lure.
Happy gardening in Hawaii. Gardens are where people grow.

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jal_ut
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Re: Diagnose my Raised Bed Failure..

Way too much manure.
Vermiculite? Don't waste your time.
Next time you want to grow a garden get some good topsoil.
Add a little peat moss and amend it with one handful of NPK.

Topsoil, that miraculous thin covering of the earth in which plants grow.
Topsoil varies a lot. Generally it contains clay, silt, sand, air, water and some organic matter, along with assorted small life forms, from bacteria to bugs worms etc.
Heavy clay soils can be loosened up some by the addition of some sand.
Never work clay soils when they are too wet or you will have a cloddy mess that won't
break down all season.

Manures should be added in the fall and tilled in and let to decompose over winter.
Gardening at 5000 feet elevation, zone 4/5 Northern Utah, Frost free from May 25 to September 8 +/-

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