Addressing Compost Issues
As our opening year of Market Gardening gets close, we have already had to learn some hard lessons. It’s all well and great to plan and dream about this utopia you’re trying to build in the dead of winter when the realities of nature are out of your mind. Pests, invasive weeds, plants diseased, weather are all a reality far from mind and you can simply dream about how perfect it will all be. Well, then the growing season hits and you brace yourself for the, “oh! I wasn’t expecting that!”s.
Weeds I’ve never seen have popped up, we were hit with a drought that had us scrambling to get out and water early every morning for hours on end, and then between the chickens and geese that’s a whole other set of challenges we’ve had to sort out.
Aside from the big weather challenges we have been dealing with, we also had a compost issue that has set us WAY back on our crops. The few things we had started early and we’re able to transplant into our no dig beds at the end of March, were simply not growing. More than that, they were nearly dying. Peas, greens and cabbages especially, were withering and outer leaves were turning brown and purple, a sign that something wasn’t right.
After further investigation, we tested our soil and found the PH of the beds we had laid out in the fall, was HIGHLY acid. The soil had a PH of 5 which is very acidic. Brassicas are especially vulnerable to high acid soil and were withering in the poor conditions.
Luckily This is easily remedied. An application of lime helped balance the soil. The compost we had used wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t great. Often large scale composters can’t guarantee the absence of things like herbicides that can contaminate compost, usually from manure from animals who have eaten contaminated grass/hay. It is incredibly common to treat hay fields with herbicides to kill weeds, but it often means these same chemicals get into the animals, and then into their manure, and eventually into compost. Peas are particularly sensitive to this so a great test is to try seeding some peas in some and see how they do.
We then added the following item scattered on top to help provide optimal nutrients for the plants:
- Alfalfa a nitrogen fixer
- Kelp Meal which is great for adding micro & macro-nutrients of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium
- Blood Meal which adds more nitrogen
- Bone meal or Crushed Oysters add phosphorus and calcium
You can always over-do these things, so we simply scatter a handful of each to top dress the beds, (only adding about a tablespoon of blood meal per bed), use a large rake to gently scratch in, and then pre-water the beds. This provides perfect conditions for planting into.
We were also to get some great quality compost delivered to help remedy the beds as well. It tested a PH of 6.5 which is great for growing. It did bring to light the point that we really should be producing all of our own compost. This will ensure the quality and ‘cleanliness’ of our compost and thus, the health of our soil and our plants.
For more information on soil health, here are some great resources:
- Charles Dowding of No Dig gardening: https://charlesdowding.co.uk
- Conor Crickmore of Neversink Farm: https://www.neversinkfarm.com
- “The Living Soil Handbook” by Jesse Frost: https://www.notillgrowers.com/livingsoilhandbook/d9z5gkf1bbnhu0w5xxb3trngiqhwgo
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