Jay Angler

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since Sep 12, 2012
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Recent posts by Jay Angler

The problem with my friend's pool test kit is that it only tests from about 6.6 to 9 on the pH scale. That said, the consensus above is that my soil mix was likely too basic, so using the test kit would help to confirm that.
First I took 3 jars and put about 1/4 cup of dirt in each:
Sample 1 - the soil that upset my tomatoes
Sample 2 - the above soil still in the bin with a good couple of liters of wet peat moss mixed in and left for a couple of days
Sample 3 - the commercial potting soil I used to re-seed my toms

Second I added ~1/2 cup of dehumidifier water to each jar, shook well, and let them sit and settle as best they would in 2 hours (perlite just doesn't settle).

Third, my friend arrived with her test kit. We tested the dehumidifier water and it was approximately neutral pH. The kit clearly was only going to give us a rough feeling, but we pressed on!
Sample 1 clearly showed as having high pH. No wonder tomatoes were upset, and no wonder the cabbage starts fared better.
Sample 2 seemed to still be slightly basic. It's clearly still over 7, but possibly less than 7.5, so the addition of peat moss has clearly improved the situation.
Sample 3 seemed to be close to neutral. A little addition of peat (very acid) or coir (slightly acid) would probably make tomatoes happier than using it straight. Adding egg shell would be a good idea if I was starting something like the cabbage. That said, if I omit ash completely from my soil mix, set up a better composting system for the horse manure to make sure it's really finished, and figure out some way to set up a functional vermi-composting system (in that small greenhouse I really want to get built!), I think that next year I will be more successful at mixing my own soil. I will also continue to look around for a pH test method that I feel I can have some confidence in.

In the meantime, two of my re-seeded tomatoes are starting to poke up 5 days after planting. It may be hard to get the plants as large as I'd like before they need to go in the ground with starting this late, but hopefully they'll do well this time around.

Than you all again for your input on my problem tomatoes. I'll post again if anything more significant takes place.
6 hours ago
This is a slight variation on this topic - https://globalnews.ca/news/4149344/mutant-enzyme-eats-plastic-bottles/
I just read this news report on "plastic recycling". It bothered me for three reasons.
1. They don't actually say what form the "back into their original building blocks so that they can be sustainably recycled" actually is. We don't have a good way to store CO2 so if that's an "original building block" this is still scary.
2. What if this enzyme escapes into the wild. I realize it's specific for PET, and I'm no expert on critical places PET is used as apposed to close relatives, but one way plastic is used effectively is opposite metal in moving parts (apparently metal on one side, "plastic" on the other is critical for efficient joint replacements just as an example).
3. Some people seem to think that if it can be "recycled" then there's no reason not to use it for a single use task. This enzyme will still be the last step in an energy intensive process of turning oil into plastic, shipping the plastic to a store, sending the plastic back to the recycle plant, and all the little steps in between. Getting people to reliably take their re-usable coffee mug instead of a disposable one would save much more energy (and eliminate much of the road-side trash that I see regularly!)

More on topic, I admit if I had to give up all plastic I'd be very sad. We get most of our plastic buckets from a food preparation company, so they've been used already, and we use them until the bucket part breaks. I replace the handles if that's the only problem. We try *really hard" to buy for longevity. I've been promised (but do I believe it?) that most warm-wear (artificial fleecy coats) is made from recycled pop bottles, but either way, the combination of our wet climate and the fact that most of the ones I have were from the Thrift shop is a justification I'm living with. Trying to find things that aren't plastic or don't have at least some plastic parts can be a challenge, but what bothers me more is that much of that plastic has been thinned/cheapened to the point that objects I bought 10 years ago will outlive a similar product if I bought it today. Buying quality, buying second hand, re-purposing stuff to meet the need we have, re-using glass jars for food in the fridge/cupboard, using re-use plastic containers in the freezer instead of plastic bags and using things until they're worn out (and who cares about the current "style"), repairing broken things despite the time that takes, are all daily approaches we use to keep plastic manageable.

Nicole - I sooooo... agree with you about those annoying stickers. Two years later I find them in the compost. Five years later I find them in the garden. Some days I swear they are secretly reproducing themselves.  Maybe when the enzyme above escapes into the wild those stickers will add a little nutrient to our soils.
16 hours ago
R.Steele - don't worry, I re-started 17 tomato seeds two days ago, but I've only got room for 12 of them to have bottom heat. Ones that germinate will get moved under the lights and then I can move the others to the heat. I've used all commercial products but I don't like to rely on them. This thread is to figure out what I did wrong so I don't screw up next year! I'm working on getting a suitable way of testing the pH, but that will take a bit more research. PH tester probes need to be cared for and tend not to last well - according to my spouse this is a known characteristic of them - so I don't want to buy garbage or even a good one if its probe can't be replaced easily. I've read a way of using a pool pH test to test soil and have a friend who has one not being used, so that will be the next step. I will set aside some of my problem soil for testing, and then I was going to add peat moss to the remaining soil in the bin as that should both lower the pH and suck up some nitrogen if there's too much there. I will save some of the altered soil for testing also.
This thread was also an effort to determine whether my problem is soil nutrition, soil contamination, or some sort of plant disease. I feel I need to confirm this to get myself on the right path. I'm notorious for not measuring ingredients (in the kitchen as well as the garden!) but I do when I determine it's critical. I may have to get some sort of "scale" be it weight or bucket size to improve my soil mixing.
Thank you for all your input.
3 days ago
R. Steele,
There is *no* way the plants were exposed to any pesticide/herbicide after germination as they’ve been safely sitting on my window ledge. This is part of my confusion. Why do they look happy for the first week or so and then they start putting out these curly leaves. I could understand if the cotyledons looked fine, since they come from the seed, and the first true leaves were curly. Is it possible that even the first true leaves get most of their strength from the seed? I would believe that with a pea or bean, but a tomato seed is pretty small. If anything, tomato variety seems to be affecting my results. I’m not a tomato expert, but I have observed that the San Marzano and the Paul Robeson seemed to produce more normal leaves before succumbing to the problem than the Juliette’s or the Sasha’s. The photos are of different plants, not the same plant over time, and the group of 3 plants are much younger. That said I believe they are showing signs of the problem in just the last 2 days.
I agree in principle about taking the scientific approach, but that’s never easy with a really small sample size. I'm thinking I should take one Sasha's, remove the paper and most of the dirt and transplant it carefully into commercial potting soil. Take the second Sasha's and leave it in the paper pot, but tear the bottom off where the eggshell is that could be lowing the pH further, and put it in the potting soil. I already tried transplanting the San Marzano with its paper pot still in place. In the short term I’ll leave the Paul R. alone. That gives a slightly different treatment to each of 4 plants, but doesn’t control for variety. What do you think? To some extent, I don’t have much to lose. If it’s a disease problem and not a nutrient problem I need to figure that out and I’m not sure how.
3 days ago
Thank you everyone for your posts:
James: You could be quite right – much of the soil available to me is heavily contaminated with invasive weeds which I’m trying to out-compete in situ and not inadvertently spread. The composted horse manure is relatively light and easy to work with. I’m not having any difficulty getting the seeds to germinate, but in the past when I used just potting soil, the seedlings just sat there and did nothing. Since using my own mix underneath seed starting soil, the plants have generally grown well and gotten large enough in their little paper pots that I could drop the pots right into holes in the garden. I’m generally only starting a small number of any particular plant, so not having to do multiple transplanting steps combined with not disturbing the roots when they go into the garden has balanced the up-front effort.
R. Steel: I think that you are correct and that I was too generous with the wood ash. I generally water seedlings with our house water which is a deep well, heavily mineralized and with lots of calcium – in other words, probably basic? I will switch to rain water for the tomatoes in particular. I’ve started kohlrabi, cabbage, and lettuces this spring which did well, but they were mostly started with last year’s bin of mixed soil and in retrospect I’m sure I added less ash.
The plants do get supplemental light. I’ve got 48” LED plant lights that run from 5:30 am to 10 am and again from 4 pm to 9:30 pm and which I raise out of the way during the day if it’s not too dull. Unless the break is an issue (could the plants think it’s two days?) the over-all hours of sunlight should be OK. On heavily overcast days I often push the timer override button and leave the lights on.
I admit I feel like a total failure in the composting business. My current compost bins are heavily shaded and don’t have a ready water source. The additions tend to come in fits and starts resulting in compost that sits there doing a very slow rot. Our farm tends to have too much nitrogen (chicken shit and fresh greens) and the only plentiful browns are wood chips or shavings. I have difficulty getting the moisture level correct consistently through it and don’t have a system set up where I can turn it by shovelling from one bin to the next. This results in compost which is high in residual woody material and probably still too high in nitrogen. Last year, I started using organic coffee sacks in the brooder in an effort to remove the wood shaving issue from composting. (Once out of the brooder, all our chickens are pastured so the field worms are responsible for processing the manure in situ.) The downside is that until those sacks break down there isn’t really any easy way in the current location to turn the pile. I try to use the fresh greens to attract the local worms but a warmer location would really help. Thus, the suggestion of using worm castings or worm tea isn’t easily available right away.
William: Herbicide residue is a fear, but my source of horse poop also uses it on her garden and she claims her plants have all been fine.  The coffee sacks I’ve been using are supposed to be organic, but one can’t always be sure how good foreign controls are. Considering the tomatoes are doing very poorly, but cabbage and lettuce family crops have been happier, I’m thinking pH and nitrogen are probably larger issues.
Walt: I would sooooo…. like to have even a small greenhouse. In the short term, I’ve reseeded all the tomatoes using a commercial potting soil (which unfortunately has a slow release fertilizer in it – so much for my permaculture principles) because time is running out.

No one has suggested I’m dealing with some sort of disease process which is a relief. The soil I have mixed can still be used to top-dress plants that need a boost or are heavy feeders but I may still try to extend it with a low nitrogen acidic material. I have tended to think of tomatoes as heavy feeders, but maybe that is really only true once they start producing fruit. I will make more of an effort to move my compost to a warmer location and do more research on worms. I’ve tried to do some research on soil testing. (https://www.gardenmyths.com/soil-ph-testers-accurate/) Our soil has been highly disturbed over its short and long term history, so I’m not convinced any test will be accurate over a meter or two of distance so commercial testing isn’t a viable option. I will search the permie’s posts on the subject. I do think a good quality pH tester might help me, but I’ll need some sort of test for nitrogen that’s easy to repeat often as even within a single compost bin I suspect it varies considerably.
3 days ago
I started about 20 tomatoes for my friends and myself. With our long cold springs, starting them indoors is our only hope of a crop. Last year, I only tried to grow 3 tomatoes for myself which I put in a new bed and they were a total loss. A gardener friend said she thought it was root burn, and since I'd added horse manure that hadn't decomposed as much as I'd expected, I was prepared to accept that.

However, this year the problem has affected all my tomato seedlings, usually starting when they're about to produce their 2nd or 3rd true leaves. I started them in my own soil mix with just enough sterile commercial "dirt" on top to stop damping off. My soil mix is calibrated by the "that looks like enough" method. To fairly well rotted horse manure, I add some soil, perlite, vermiculite, coir, wood ash, year old chicken shit from the brooder(ie mixed with wood shavings) and greensand. I stir it up as best possible in a wheelbarrow and download it to buckets. I'm thinking that I may be too generous with the wood ash, or possibly despite it's age, there really is too much nitrogen. Before I put the dirt into a paper pot, I normally add a little egg shell so lack of calcium shouldn't be a problem.

That said:
4 days ago
William Bronson wrote

I build raised beds, fill them with compostibles, and plant them with jerursalm artichokes.

William, do you chop and drop the Jerusalum Artichoke tops, or are you using them as a first crop in your new beds? In my climate, JA's tend to be very persistent in the soil, but that suggests to me that they might also be nice biomass for mulch.
1 week ago
My ARK2 bed is looking very happy, but it's mostly daikon starting to bolt.
1 week ago
You know you're a permie when: you tell your son's classmate that you got backyard chickens for a really shitty reason - you wanted their manure for your garden! (believe it or not, the teen-aged girl said in all earnestness, "That's not a shitty reason." The silence in the room was deafening.....)
.... and then your spouse finds out you've been transplanting dandelion roots to the chicken's paddocks. (the look of disbelief I got was priceless!)
1 week ago
I have read (sorry, can't remember where) that the nutritional content of Black Soldier Flies is affected by their feed. A big part of what originally focused interest in BSF was that they could be fed post consumer food wastes and you'd get "something for nothing". Recent readings I've done suggest a shift to BSF being fed products that could in fact be eaten directly by people or chickens which is exactly the "Big Business" approach that ruins so many good ideas. That said, Joel Salatin stopped feeding his pigs "past its best before date" food from the food bank because his pigs health was declining. That suggests to me, that if one is planning to feed BSF post consumer food waste, it would be good to supplement that feed source with some organic weeds and food forest leftovers to improve the micro-nutrients available to the BSF and subsequently to the chickens.

In case anyone missed the other key issue - do *not* feed chicken waste of any sort to BSF which are going to be fed to chickens. If you have chicken waste that would benefit from BSF pre-treatment (waste from processing or dead birds from losses) that needs to be kept separate and used to feed something like fish (some fish are omnivores and some are carnivores - I'm no expert, but I suspect fish that are vegetarian would not appreciate BSF).

I also support Chris Kott's question about the over-all planned diet. Chickens are omnivores with a fairly high need for protein. Our chickens *love* fresh grass, but it does not have anywhere near enough nutritional value to be considered a healthy diet on its own. Their 'scratch and peck' behavior (which is hard-wired in as I've seen it in day-old incubator hatched chicks) is all about looking for high protein seeds and bugs. In fact, I've offered fresh greens to those same day-old chicks and they've expressed no interest yet have made great efforts to catch bugs. Their interest in plants seems to take a week or two to kick in. Has anyone else observed this?
2 weeks ago