I have a 20X20-ish garden for my annual veggies that has been getting increasingly less productive over the years. It's getting a bit shady, so I blamed that, but last year not even my peas would grow, which get started before the trees leaf out. All the started/potted veggies that I put in never took off and seeds planted didn't come up well. I have been putting our chicken manure and shavings in the garden over the winter in rotating areas, then digging it in when the soil warms. Wondering if I am doing something horribly wrong, or even worse if something in the manure or shavings has gotten into the garden. We have been getting "regular" feed (not organic) and pine shavings. Would persistent herbicides be making their way in? and if so, any suggestions for soil remediation? Yellow dock, brown-eyed susans and herbs - thyme, lemon balm and chives - seems to do well, so never suspected herbicides until now, but starting to wonder. Will try a simple soil test in the spring and hoping it's just an imbalance, but would like to know if anyone else has this problem.
Hmm. I have never had any problem with chicken manure. I add copious amounts directly to the garden without aging or composting, and my garden seems to love it. I wonder if the problem could be with the pine shavings? Doesn't pine have an effect in the soil pH?
I grew up in commercial chicken country. When chicken houses were cleaned out the resulting stuff was spread out on pastures all over the area. Cheap and very effective fertilizer. I use the manure and shavings from my coop either directly on the garden or in compost. Never had any problems. I also use commercial, non-organic feed. Sounds to me that you need a soil sample taken and sent off to a lab to determine what you need, or have an excess of. Lots of times the ph being either too acidic or too basic can lock up your nutrients in the soil and they won't be available for your plants.
If you are tilling pine shavings down into the soil profile, they will tie up N, even with the extensive N you're adding with the manure.
I'd consider composting those shavings and chicken poo with a mix of other bio-mass, and then apply the finished (or semi-finished) compost as a top-dressing.
Consider also going toward a no-till approach. In order for this to work, a layer of mulch over the entire surface is the best way to keep weeds down and retain moisture and soil fertility. Spoiled hay, wood chips, or any one of a number of other mulches are commonly used in gardens. (I'm a HUGE fan of wood chips and use them extensively --- the so-called "Back to Eden" method.) If you were to use such a no-till/heavy mulch method, you can just top dress with your uncomposted pine shavings and chicken poo. The nutrients will make their way down into the soil with every rain.
Perhaps experiment a bit this year. Mulch in one area, till in another, go no-till in a third area with varying levels of mulch . . . mess around a bit and see what happens.
One last thought: it sounds like the lack sunlight and presence of cool air may be part of your issue. Can you open the neighboring trees up a bit so that more light makes it though to your garden? Take out limbs or even selectively thin the forest a bit so afternoon sun can make it through. More than just blocking the sunlight from reaching your plants, those trees will create a micro-climate that is much cooler. It takes much longer to warm up in the morning, and it will get much cooler later in the afternoon. Most garden plants like warm nights and quickly warmed soil in the morning. Your micro-climate may be continually cool, as a mass of cool air is held by those trees late into the morning. That cold air settles over your garden for 6 hours or perhaps more, until the sun is directly overhead and it warms up.
Have you ever taken a walk and noticed how much cooler it gets when you descend into a ravine or little valley? It'll drop 15 degrees in a matter of a hundred steps. Have you ever ridden on a motor cycle and driven past fields, stands of trees, up and down vales and glens? You totally notice the temperature change. Its significant. The difference between 60 degrees and 75 is huge. The difference between 12 hours of sunlight and 8, again, is huge. The difference between a microclimate where heat is stored in, for example, a block wall, and a micro-climate where cool air moves down a slope over the top of your garden, clearly makes a difference with how those plants grow throughout the night. My warm loving plants (tomatoes, almonds, peppers, citrus trees) are all planted on the west or south side of walls or other large structures that hold the heat into the evening. Other sun loving trees were planted on the east side of the swimming pool, because that late afternoon sun bounces off the pool and is caught by the trees. I've got apricot and aprium trees that continually lean toward the pool to get every possible available photon.
Anyhow, there may not be just one variable here (nitrogen), but several.
Best of luck with your garden this season. Mess around, make mistakes, and see what works better.
"The rule of no realm is mine. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, these are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task if anything that passes through this night can still grow fairer or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I too am a steward. Did you not know?" Gandolf
The simple soil test will definitely help and is a good place to start. One thing I learned early on in gardening is if the roots can't grow, the plant won't either. There's nothing more frustrating (at least to me) than putting in time, effort and love into a garden only to have lousy results. Here's what I believe may be the problem(s). Your plants lack of growth indicates to me that either the roots can't breathe (compaction, poor water drainage, drowning), excessive salts in the soil, pH is way off, or maybe pests/disease feasting on the roots.
Look on your soil analysis to see if there are base saturation values. Often the simple soil tests will state which elements are present in the soil. ok, that's good to know, but it doesn't indicate what percentages of the elements are actually available for the plant to use. A more comprehensive soil analysis like the kind that Crop Services International provides will give you base saturation values and Reams test data. Near ideal soil has a 10:1 calcium to magnesium ratio and a 2:1 phosphorous to potassium ratio and 1:1 potash to sulfate. Calcium plays a major role in soil microbial health, plant health and making the other nutrients available. There may be lots of calcium there but if there is twice as much calcium as magnesium (regardless of quantity) then the cal/mag ratio is 2:1, which is unhealthy. The Reams test will give you this data. These tests cost more than say a $15 test done by the county extension, but yield more usable data. I've barely scratched the surface here, and there are many more factors in soil health, but you can add fertilizers until you turn blue and not get healthy plants if those ratios aren't balanced. With those ratios in balance, soil will almost magically come alive, provided it also has sufficient organic matter present. The crops will grow well, the weeds will not, and the pests/diseases will struggle, all of this assuming the soil isn't toxic.
My advice? If you are going to garden long term where you live, get the soil tests with base saturation & Reams done annually so you can see the progress your adjustments make. It will take a while. If you want fast results, build raised beds and fill them with beautiful, healthy soil full of organic matter. That's what I did. I started with 3 raised beds, six years ago. I now have 19 raised beds, as my soil is atrocious. My soil is clay, and lots of it, and I live in an area that's considered an "upland swamp". I always have ponding water in the woods behind my house.
Regardless of what you choose to do, I recommend with no ill effects to always use quality compost and effective microorganisms. Don't till, unless maybe incorporating organic matter and amendments for the very first time in the first year. Just put the compost on top, maybe even scratch it in the surface with a rake. I also highly recommend reading Building Soils Naturally by Phil Nauta to any gardener. Regardless of what you grow, start with soil management. Don't grow the plants, grow the roots.
disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Crop Services Intl.
"Study books and observe nature; if they do not agree, throw away the books." ~ William A. Albrecht
One more thing I meant to add above. I tend to doubt it's herbicides. I do believe most herbicides are most effective when they come into contact with the above ground plant tissue. That being said, I do believe that herbicides are not very effective in the root zone. They may indeed have an affect but I am not a chemist nor have I studied herbicides and their interactions and bioavailability as a residue. I think herbicides (pesticides and fungicides too) are poisons, are killing us and the planet and have no business being deployed in any agricultural theater. There are companies that will test soil samples for synthetic chemicals. The tests can be very expensive, like hundreds of dollars per analysis per sample. If you haven't actually applied any "cides" yourself, then I tend to believe them to not be the direct cause of your poor plant growth. In the event that chemicals are indeed the culprit, soils can be remediated with microorganisms (bioremediation) and certain plants (phytoremediation) to aide in recovering the soil health.
"Study books and observe nature; if they do not agree, throw away the books." ~ William A. Albrecht
I'll add one more thing as far as a suggestion for soil sampling. You can get tests done through most states Ag Extension service or through other private labs. Logan Labs and Brookside Labs are two that I know of. I get my tests done by Brookside Labs ( http://www.blinc.com/intro.htm )each year and I run the results through Grow Abundant Gardens "organicalc" software. The soil test runs me about $15 per test and Organicalc is a subscription based service that costs me about $20 a year with no limit on the number of samples I run through it. Organicalc gives you the recommendations for your soil using organic/organic approved amendments. I've used it for the past three or four years and have been VERY pleased with my results. https://growabundant.com/ My one particular garden went from virtual desert to growing bumper crops of veggies using their recommendations. My ground was very devoid of nutrients and minerals in proper proportions and over the course of time I now have almost perfectly balanced soil and it now requires very few amendment inputs other than nitrogen each year.
Thanks for the great information. Looks like testing is definitely the way to go, as I have been adding compost for years and the soil has been friable and nice. That's what was so troubling about last year's lack of growth. I appreciate your input!
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