nomoreklondikes
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Yellow, stunted vegetable seedlings

I have a veggie garden in my front yard. Originally it was weed infested lawn; I dug it up when we first moved it in, turned it over, added a heap of soil/compost mix to it and, that first summer, had a bumper crop of tomatoes and greens – everything grew really well.

The next year everything grew slower. I added manure and turned the soil, used pea straw for mulch and worm juice, but it felt like diminishing returns. Every year it got worse, and nothing – manure, mulch, fish fertliser, a whole winter of green manure crops – seemed to help. It got to the point where a greens patch I sowed from seed didn't grow more than a few inches in months.

So this summer I went back to the start and got two cubic metres of soil/compost mix, turned the soil over, forked the good soil through, covered everything with pea straw, and planted veggies: four kinds of tomatoes, cucumbers, greens (kale, rocket and lettuce), beans, basil – all stuff that had grown well before.

Alas, after almost a month, and despite watering every day and fertilising with fish emulsion, the plants look yellow and sick. The basil appears to have bolted already. Some of the tomatoes haven't grown at all (left over seedlings still in the punnet have grown more). Not sure quite what to do.

Any advice much appreciated :)

(My phone camera makes things look greener than they are for some reason).
garden-1-opt.jpg
garden-2-opt.jpg
garden-3-opt.jpg
garden-4-opt.jpg
garden-5-opt.jpg
garden-6-opt.jpg

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digitS'
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Re: Yellow, stunted vegetable seedlings

Please tell us about your garden's

Sunlight

Air circulation

Water, soil moisture/irrigation

Ambient temperatures

:) Steve
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Meatburner
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Re: Yellow, stunted vegetable seedlings

And, where you are located.

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Yellow, stunted vegetable seedlings

The answers to all those questions would help. But in the meantime, your plants do look nutrient deficient. That is odd, given how hard you have worked to provide nutrients. Some thoughts about that. You mentioned watering every day. That sounds like a lot. In the peak of summer, I was watering my veggies almost every day. But it was mid-to high 90's (degrees F) and baking in the sun day after day after day. Unless your weather is like that, watering every day may be too much. And over watering can lead to nutrient deficiency -- it flushes mobile nutrients deeper in the soil, away from the root zone, and all the water excludes oxygen from the soil, leading to a poor root system and difficulty uptaking nutrients. Your soil looks rich, but heavy and dense, which would make it hold water more and aggravate any over watering issues.

Whether from over-watering or disease or some pest like root nematodes, you may have some problems with your roots, which are making it difficult for your plants to take up nutrients.

Here's a picture of tomato plant roots:
Image

This is a mature plant, not a little seedling like yours. I couldn't find a good picture of seedling root systems. But at that stage, the roots should be longer than the plant is tall, and bushy and well branched, and firm and white. I would gently dig up one of your plants with the ball of soil around the roots. Rinse the soil off and inspect the roots. It may give you some idea of what is happening.

I hope you will hang in there with this process. The more information you give us, the better help we can be.
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Gary350
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Re: Yellow, stunted vegetable seedlings

Pictures look like something I did once 35 years ago. I think all that organic material has used up all the nitrogen in the soil that is why things look yellow and are not growing.

nomoreklondikes
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Re: Yellow, stunted vegetable seedlings

digitS' wrote:Please tell us about your garden's

Sunlight

Air circulation

Water, soil moisture/irrigation

Ambient temperatures

:) Steve
Thanks so much everyone for your help and questions so far, much appreciated!

80% of the garden receives full sunlight pretty much all day; the remaining 20%, at the back, gets sunlight for most of the day but is a bit more shaded.

It's in a very open area, so air circulation is good (it's actually a bit exposed to the wind sometimes).

I'm in Melbourne, Australia, so we're heading into summer right now. In F, the daily temperature ranges from the high 40s to the low 80s, but we'll get temps over 100 in summer.

I've been watering once and sometimes twice today, which, from the advice here, is probably too much. The existing soil, which I added to, is very dense and clay rich in parts. The top, where the new soil is, dries out reasonably quickly, but it retains moisture in the more dense layer below. Maybe that's where the problem is?

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Yellow, stunted vegetable seedlings

Oh yeah, I forgot to say, you might want to try giving them some actual fertilizer. All that good organic stuff you have been using isn't actually fertilizer. It is good stuff and it has lots of different nutrients in it, trace and micro nutrients, etc. But it is all at low concentration and not released until it breaks down more. Since they are seeming nutrient deficient, this might be the time to try rescuing them with a booster shot of some more concentrated synthetic fertilizer, perhaps as Gary suggests something high in Nitrogen , maybe like a 24-8-16 formulation.

Once you have gotten them off to a good start and figured out what the problem is, you can go back to organics.

Did your pea straw mulch get mixed in to the soil? If so, as Gary suggested, it could use up a lot of Nitrogen getting broken down.

This would be a good time to get a soil test done, to help you figure out what is going on.

And maybe back off from watering. What you want is to water deeply, but not often, so the plants are encouraged to grow deep roots.

You didn't say, have you been tilling? Tilling clay soil, can sometimes leave a hard packed layer just below the tilling depth. Then it acts like a bathtub holding water in.
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nomoreklondikes
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Re: Yellow, stunted vegetable seedlings

rainbowgardener wrote:Oh yeah, I forgot to say, you might want to try giving them some actual fertilizer. All that good organic stuff you have been using isn't actually fertilizer. It is good stuff and it has lots of different nutrients in it, trace and micro nutrients, etc. But it is all at low concentration and not released until it breaks down more. Since they are seeming nutrient deficient, this might be the time to try rescuing them with a booster shot of some more concentrated synthetic fertilizer, perhaps as Gary suggests something high in Nitrogen , maybe like a 24-8-16 formulation.

Once you have gotten them off to a good start and figured out what the problem is, you can go back to organics.

Did your pea straw mulch get mixed in to the soil? If so, as Gary suggested, it could use up a lot of Nitrogen getting broken down.

This would be a good time to get a soil test done, to help you figure out what is going on.

And maybe back off from watering. What you want is to water deeply, but not often, so the plants are encouraged to grow deep roots.

You didn't say, have you been tilling? Tilling clay soil, can sometimes leave a hard packed layer just below the tilling depth. Then it acts like a bathtub holding water in.
Thanks rainbowgardener :)

So the fish emulsion (I'm using Charlie Carp) wouldn't be enough? Happy to try a 24-8-16 formulation.

The birds love the pea straw and have been at it constantly, so it has been mixed with the soil a bit. In terms of tilling, to remove the winter weeds I went at it with a mattock/pick before adding the new soil/compost mix and then forking it through. I think you're right that there's a hard packed layer just below the topsoil. I'll back off from watering for the next while and get some nitrogen in there :)

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Re: Yellow, stunted vegetable seedlings

The problem with organic gardening is that you do get diminishing returns unless you put in as much as you take out. It sounds like you got good production in the beginning because there was some excess nutrients, but you planted heavy feeders and I am guessing you planted intensively as well. It takes about 3 years of continuously adding organic amendments to get an organic garden to be self sustainable, but you have to keep putting in as much or more than you take out. The purpose of organic gardening is to feed the soil and not the plants. If the soil is healthy, in theory it should be able to sustain the plants.

I would get a soil test if it is possible. I don't know what is available where you are. I suspect your pH is alkaline since you added compost and manure (chicken manure would make alkaline conditions worse.) Your tomatoes look nitrogen and phosphorus deficient. Most of the time that is because of actual nitrogen deficiency which should have been less of a problem with fish emulsion but would be aggravated by a high pH which would make nitrogen and micronutrients less available. Phosphorus can be present but bound and not available especially if you have a soil that is high in aluminum, iron, or magnesium.
It will also help the soil not to plant the same crops continuously but rotate them so they take out the nutrients more evenly. Rotate legumes (inoculated) with a high nitrogen feeder like corn or tomatoes. You can also set aside part of the garden to grow a green manure like cowpeas, buckwheat or vetch in the off season or by rotating plots so at least one part of the garden gets to rest. The rested part can be planted in the green manure which will be tilled in when it starts to flower. As the green manure decomposes it will enrich the soil.

If your soil tests alkaline, I suggest instead of compost you put in peat moss. Peat moss is acidic and organic, and it is not cheap but it will lower the pH longer and faster than sulfur which is the other choice. It will take 6 mos for the organisms in the soil to use the sulfur to lower the pH. In the meantime, try planting alkaline loving plants like cabbages, and plants that are not heavy feeders like beans,peas, kale, herbs, and chard. Some plants will tolerate a wider range of pH and still grow well.
Others like tomatoes, onions, peppers, spinach, celery, lovage are heavy feeders and like a narrower range of pH. These should be rotated with other crops that are not so demanding. As long as you continue to add organic matter, preferably from multiple sources and you make judicious use of commercial fertilizer, applying only what is needed and planting scavenger crops to mop up the leftovers, you can still have a healthy soil web and productive garden. Over time, with the addition of organic matter and the right balance of fertilizer and pH, the soil web should find its equilibrium. Organic fertilizers like manures, blood meal, bone meal and the epsoma products release their nutrients slowly over time, some may take up to two years to fully be released. In the meantime add both, organic matter to feed the soil, organic fertilizer that will be released over time and measured amounts of conventional fertilizer that will be available immediately to the crop now until the organics kick in. Your soil test will help determine how much you need to add and if you need to adjust your pH. Most soil tests will give you organic recommendations if you specifically ask for it. You just have to find the right balance of inputs and outputs.
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Taiji
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Re: Yellow, stunted vegetable seedlings

I don't really have anything to add except that this is an interesting thread to me because I will be facing the same situation next season, having planted for the first time in a new gardening area this year. I was wondering too, if my second garden to come next year will be as good as this year's. Only time will tell, but, I'm hoping for the same harvests.

I always do the same things you did, add manure, leaves, spent plants, compost, and grow green manure crops to turn in. I have started sprinkling a small amount of ammonium sulfate over all my beds before turning them in. Maybe that helps. I have alkaline soil.

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Re: Yellow, stunted vegetable seedlings

If the overnight lows are dipping down to high 40's every day, it might be still a little cold for tomatoes. That might also explain the yellowing and purple veins.
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imafan26
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Re: Yellow, stunted vegetable seedlings

It is hard to tell since the original poster never put in a location, but it sounds like it was summer plantings that got worse every year. It seems more like a nutrient imbalance more than cold.

I was thinking maybe there was some unfinished decomposition of old mulch and greens that could be stealing nutrients from the plants. Usually you want to put in organic amendments and fertilizer in the fall so that the nutrients will be available in the Spring, or at least get it in a couple of months before planting.

It was one of the dissapointments I encountered trying to go totally organic, since I can plant year round. I have to keep adding compost and organic fertilizer constantly; the results were usually healthy, but very short crops with reduced yields. A dramatic difference from what I got using conventional fertilizer. I also do not like to use animal by products and the highest organic nitrogen sources are from animal by products like blood meal, bone meal, feather meal, fish meal, and manures. So, I choose to use sulfate of ammonia for nitrogen especially for seedlings in the first 6 weeks of growth, but I still add compost everytime I plant. I do add some steer manure and organic lawn fertilizer for slow release nutrients and occasionally I will use fish emulsion but I can't use it too often since the neighbors complain about the odor and it attracts stray cats and flies. I test my soil every 3 years or so, and make adjustments as needed.

The local compost here was last tested at a pH 8.13. It is probably what contributed to the rise in pH in my alkaline plot fro pH 7.4-7.8. I have since added peat moss and sulfur to correct it. My acidic plot went the other way pH 6.4-6.0. I added dolomite lime as I use sulfate of ammonia as my primary nitrogen source.

It is why I am thinking that the problem that nomoreklondikes is having is more a problem of the quality of the sources of the organic products and the effect it is having on pH as well as the quantities added. Manures, green manures, fish emulsion weekly, and worm juice or compost tea should have been enough fertilizer if it is applied at the right time. Straw and greens mixed into the soil, would detract and use up nitrogen and compete with the plants for nutrients. There is also the issue of timing since organics should be put in 2-6 months before planting to give the soil organisms time to release the nutrients.

Some people can plant in compost and it does well, but with my compost testing so high at pH 7.8- 8.13, it has never worked for me. In fact, I have to be careful not to add too much. I add 4-6 inches of compost every time I plant. I do try to vary the sources of the compost because I learned after using Big R as my organic source for 5 years in a row, that a single source compost/amendment fluffed the soil but was not good for it in the long run. Here 2 cu ft of compost costs $10, 3 cu ft of Big R is $14, and 3.8 cu ft of peat moss costs $18 on sale.
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Re: Yellow, stunted vegetable seedlings

I would suggest watering once a week. Also grab a box of NPK fertilizer and use according to directions. You know plant roots go deep. They will go from 3 to 8 feet deep, yes even down into
those underlying clay regions.

Organic matter is best added in the fall and left to decompose over winter. Tilled in if possible.
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