LK04
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Charlie Brown Tomato Plants - help

Hi,

I am in northern OH, and I am using raised beds with 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 peatmoss and 1/3 compost. My transplants have been growing but nothing to brag about by any means. The trunks aren't thick and there is not a lot of foliage. I visited my father in law and his look 2 to 3 times my size. His soil is much healthier from years of composting etc.

I feel like my soil just simply doesn't have any nutrients even tho the compost was supposed to be good - but I now doubt it. I have homemade compost that is from the winter but I don't think it is 100% "finished".

It's been cool here weather wise and Spring was late, so that might be on my side.

Some plants have a flower or two and one or two tomatoes.

Question is -
1. what do I need to add to the soil to help these plants along? They are about 12-14 inches tall and thin. Some are smaller! The branches aren't really spreading out. I have Blood meal and a generic Tomato fertilizer with low Nitrogen (2 I think). I can't work it into the soil b/c I'm afraid i'll disrupt roots etc.

2. Can I use my compost to add nutrients even tho it is not fully finished - meaning it's not a nice perfect earth dirt - its still very moist, but broken down.

3. Lastly, since it is raised beds and I have good drainage, would it be more likely that any fertilizer added would deplete/drain away quicker than if in the ground? I'm wondering with all the tons of rain we've had if that is part of the lack of nutrients. I know everything relies on good soil.

I'd appreciate any responses. I'm so very disappointed and disheartened. I did these from seed and the seedlings were awesome - just like the stores.

Thanks in advance.

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Charlie Brown Tomato Plants - help

You should understand that compost is not fertilizer. It has lots of nutrients, including micro and trace nutrients, but in low concentration and slow release form. Just because you put a bunch of compost in something, does not mean those nutrients are available to your plants now:

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 compost to break down.

I also had some concerns about your mix. It's the Mel's mix for Square Foot Gardening, but Mel's mix specifies coarse vermiculite. Don't know if that is what you have. If I were doing it, I would use perlite instead. Perlite improves drainage, while vermiculite tends to hold water. Since the other ingredients are very water-holding, I think you need something to make it better draining. does your mix tend to stay damp a long time? Also Mel's mix specifies good blended compost from a variety of sources:

This should include a minimum of 5 types of compost that you buy separately and mix together. Examples are aged
cow manure, aged chicken manure, kelp meal, bat guano and worm castings. https://www.jungseed.com/files/SFG%20soil%20recipe.pdf

Ingredients like the kelp meal, guano and worm castings would be more concentrated and more quick release nutrients than the typical garden compost.

Once you have been gardening for awhile and have built a good rich soil and just need to replenish what you are taking out, you can rely more just on compost and mulch for nutrients without needing to supplement. For now, I would treat your tomato plants to a bag of Tomato-Tone or other good organic fertilizer.
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applestar
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Re: Charlie Brown Tomato Plants - help

When did you plant them? Are they in full sun?
How many inches apart? How high raised bed? With bottom or open to what kind of soil beneath, prepped how?

These info will help to get a better picture of their condition.

Do you have anything else growing in addition to tomatoes? If you have crops with greater nitrogen requirements, I would reserve the blood meal for them.

Tomato tone -- follow package instructions for amount per plant -- spread about 4 inches away from trunk in a circle or approximately just below the tips of the leaves. Just scatter shallowly with fingertips, then I would spread that unfinished compost over the fertilizer after tossing through 1" to 1-1/2" opening wire fencing to screen out the larger bits.

Then get something to mulch with -- 2-3" deep all over -- to cover the fertilizer and compost, and run your finger around the stem to leave the stem clear of the mulch, pulling back as needed.

You can also quick feed them by making liquid fertilizer tea with tomato tone. Directions are on the package. Pour 2-3 times diluted as direct soil drench or this can be strained through cloth (old T shirt, socks, or wire strainer -- depends on if you want to clean the mess or not. Cotton T-shirt can be put in compost pile), diluted with 7-9 times rainwater, then sprayed on as foliar feed.
-- Note that quick feed is for immediate boost but don't last long wheras fertilizing with dry solids provides slower release even after dissolvable nutrients are gone.
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LK04
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Re: Charlie Brown Tomato Plants - help

Thank you very much for the replies. My spacing is about 2 feet or 3 feet. They get full sun all day and I planted them around May 20th. The sides are 11 inches but the soil/mix is only abut 6-7. Typically the drainage is very good but we've had some serious rain over the past few weeks so now the mix is moist top to bottom - but usually it is just the top.

Vermiculite- I'm not 100% sure - it may have been medium. I remember looking for coarse. Do you think it will be bad if I add clay soil to these beds? They are getting ready to dig a house next door and I could have them give me a nice pile of deep dirt - albeit OH clay.

The boxes have cardboard and a weed barrier underneath (which i regret now).

Attached is an image of one of my plants.

I think I will try using the tomato tone as liquid for my weaker ones and perhaps solids for around the plant. I will start adding some of the compost I have in on top making sure there are no large clumps.

Perhaps this fall i will take out the underneath now that weeds should be dead and till it in with some of the soil although we have hard clay.

I'm curious what you think once you see the pictures.
0624151226.jpg
0624151225a.jpg
0624151226a.jpg
Thanks again!

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applestar
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Re: Charlie Brown Tomato Plants - help

I might be jumping to conclusions here, but it looks to me like your tomatoes encountered the cardboard and weedblock fabric and stalled, as you said, regrettably.

The cardboard alone would have been fine as it immediately attracts earthworms to come and party from all directions, generating a nice layer of EWC (earthworm castings) in the process. Sometimes if nitrogenous layer is inadequate a little yellowing can occur when the roots are at the cardboard/soil interface, but not for long. But fabric barrier would have blocked them so their only access is from sideways.

Fertilizing and mulching should help.
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applestar
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Re: Charlie Brown Tomato Plants - help

If adding the clay soil, it should be mixed in equal proportions with organic matter and sand.
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rainbowgardener
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Re: Charlie Brown Tomato Plants - help

Yeah, if you can get rid of the weed barrier at the end of the season, that should help.

But your plants are looking spindly - tall and stretched with long internodes and not much branching. This look (aka leggy) is typically found in plants that are not getting enough light. That should not be the case in plants that are in full sun. Are they really getting at least 6 hrs of direct sun a day?

If so the weed barrier may really be the problem. I found this re leggy tomato plants (it's re younger plants than yours, but may still apply): The shallow cells or trays of seedling starter containers don't allow adequate growth for the tomato plant's sizable root system. When the roots are stunted, tomato plants put their energy into stem production, resulting in legginess.

As an experiment, I would try carefully digging one out with as much of the root system intact as you can. Then dig down to the weed barrier and cut a hole in it for your plant. Then re plant the tomato plant six inches deeper than it was. Tomatoes will put out roots all along the buried stem, so you increase the root system that way. Keep the soil around it moist but not soggy for awhile until it is rooted back in and starts growing again.

See how the one treated this way compares to the others.

This is a picture of tomato plant roots, two months after transplanting the tomato:
tomato plant roots.jpg
Those are one foot squares.

The picture comes from here https://www.soilandhealth.org/01aglibrar ... 7ch26.html and if you go to Table of Contents at the top, you can find info about the root systems of a whole bunch of different vegetables.

Link courtesy of jal_ut, who has posted it several times. The book is actually from 1927, but the nature of plant roots has not changed.
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Re: Charlie Brown Tomato Plants - help

A suggestion that shouldn't contradict what's said before. Build up, add soil to the beds. It's hard to work down at this point, but can work up. I like Black Kow, the bagged poo (I get it at Lowes). It has some poo, sand and other stuff. Try mixing this with the native soil from neighbor's pile. Some people grow their plants in Kow, so not too strong on its own. You can work in a few handfuls of Tomato-Tone, or add after around each plant. Tomato stems will send out roots in the fresh soil, giving you more root base, and hopefully healthier plants.
Have fun!
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Re: Charlie Brown Tomato Plants - help

Another suggestion besides removing the weed barrier and replacing it with cardboard or newspaper which will degrade.
When you plant tomatoes next time, plant them deep. tomatoes will root along the stems and they are the exception to the rule and should be planted as deep as possible. I remove all of the lower leaves and leave only the top whirl and four leaves and plant the stem up to a couple of inches of the bottom leaves. If you cannot go deep, you can lay the stems sideways. You will end up with a stronger root system that way.

It takes awhile to build up organic soil. In the first three years plants will need supplemental fertilizer and things may not grow as large as conventional methods. It would help the soil if you take the time to build it first with green manures and planting vegetables that are not heavy feeders. Tomatoes and corn are very heavy feeders. Tomato tone and weekly fish emulsion should help. Plant inoculated beans cowpeas, soy beans, or sirius field pea to build up the nitrogen fixing bacteria in the soil. They need to have a lot of compost in the soil to provide the carbon.

Here's the catch. Although the cowpeas (aka black eyed or pink eyed peas) and soy beans can be eaten, if you are using them for green manure, you should cut them down and till them in when they flower. That is when they peak with nitrogen fixation. If everything went well you should see the nitrogen fixing nodules attached to the roots. The benefit is reaped when you plant the next crop when the nitrogen stored in the bacteria and bean residue is released back to the soil.
Inoculants are living bacteria so they need to be stored in a cool place and they don't last more than a year so only buy a small quantity. They need to be applied directly to the seed before planting as they need to be near the root zone to infect the rhizosphere. You need to make sure you get the right inoculant for the legume you are planting. I use the cowpea inoculant for cowpeas and soybeans.
https://www.bountifulgardens.org/Fungal- ... roducts/9/
https://www.johnnyseeds.com/c-217-inoculants.aspx
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