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Post  mrcmb99 on 7/22/2019, 8:57 pm

Ok, so I know something has gone wrong with my Square Foot Garden, I’m just trying to diagnose what it is (this is my first try at a SFG, so I’m trying to learn from my mistakes).
 
I am growing several varieties of bell and hot peppers.  I planted six in an Earth Box (https://earthbox.com ; that I used last year when I was living in a condo and didn’t have room to try a SFG) and the same six plants in a Square Foot Garden.  All the plants were planted on the same day, and are in the same location (full sun).  Currently, the six pepper plants in the Earth Box are extremely leafy, have many flowers, and are between 32-36 inches tall.  The same plants in the SFG are currently between 12-18 inches tall, and have far fewer leaves.  Some of them are staring to produce peppers, but there are far fewer flowers and the plants are far less developed.  So, obviously something has gone wrong.  Any suggestions?

Thanks for your help!
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Post  OhioGardener on 7/23/2019, 9:19 am

Assuming the water availability was the same for both beds, Mrcmb99, it has to be related to differences in the soil between the two beds, or more specifically the nutritional level of the soil in the beds.  What blend of composts did you use in building the SFG bed? Has the soil been kept damp in the SFG bed so that the peat does not dry out?  Does the soil in the Earthbox have high microbial activity, which the SFG bed has not had time to build? Pepper plants are heavy feeders, and if they don't get sufficient nutrition they cannot fully develop - they require Nitrogen for plant growth, and Phosphorus for setting blooms/fruit. If the composts you used were not nutrient rich, the plants cannot develop.

I know, so many questions and so few answers, but hopefully it will give some help in exploring areas of concern.
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Post  countrynaturals on 7/23/2019, 9:30 am

thinking  Any chance you could post some pics?

After viewing the video of the Earthbox, I'm guessing the only differences between that and the SFG bed are watering and the weed cloth covering in the Earthbox. Can you elaborate on those differences?

Did you plant the same varieties in both or were there some differences there?

What about the planting mix? Are those the same or different?

Depth? Is your SFG box the same as the Earthbox?

Drainage? Does your SFG have a bottom that could trap moisture or is it on the ground?

Finally, if you didn't have the Earthbox, would you be happy with your SFG? In other words, is the SFG really disappointing or is the Earthbox super-performing?

I'm still a beginner here, but when the experts weigh in, we will get to the bottom of this. geek

LOL! One of the experts posted as I was writing this. You are in good hands, now. I love you
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Post  sanderson on 7/23/2019, 1:44 pm

mrcmb, The more information you can provide, the easier it will be to help you trouble shoot the problem. Very Happy

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Post  mrcmb99 on 8/20/2019, 7:59 pm

First off, thank you for taking the time to respond!  I’m sorry it took so long for me to get back.
 
On the Earthbox, I always kept the water compartment filled.  On the SFG, I installed a drip irrigation system with mostly 1gph drippers at each plant, running about 7 minutes per day.  From what I read, the drippers deliver water directly to the root system.  Should I be watering all the surrounding soil too?
 
I used four different composts available at local hardware stores, and only one contained maneuver. 
 
I added Jobe Tomato & Vegetable Organic Fertilizer (2-5-3) once a month in the bag recommended quantity. 
 
Any advice on how to get the nutrients in the soil up, or really, any other advice in general?
 
As far as I can tell, yes, those are the two major differences.  The Earthbox uses dolomite mixed in with potting soil (I used Mel’s Mix for the SFG).
 
There were the same varieties in both the box and the SFG.  All were started by seeds.  For example, I have an Ozark Giant Pepper in the Earthbox and one in the SFG.  Both looked equally healthy when I transplanted.
 
The Earthbox is about 8 inches, which is about the Mel’s Mix level in the SFG.
 
In the SFG, I used weed fabric at the bottom, so hopefully excess water could escape.


I’m a beginner myself -  this is only my second year gardening, and my first with the SFG.  I don’t have much to compare to, other than to say the earthbox is preforming about the same as last year (bountiful harvest) and the SFG has been a disappointment, at least for the peppers.  For example, my jalapeno in the SFG currently has three peppers, while the one in the Earthbox has about two dozen.  The Ozark Giant has  about a dozen in the Earthbox, and no peppers yet in the SFG.  I am growing tomatillos in the SFG this year, and I’m pretty happy with those yields – I’m getting about the same as in the EarthBox last year (I didn’t plant in the Earthbox this year).  My tomatoes, I dunno – I only planted in the SFG, and each plant has maybe three our four heirloom tomatoes on it (I expected more, I’m not sure if this is typical).

I’ll try to upload pictures in a second.

 
Any help and advice is greatly appreciated!
 
Thanks again!!!
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Post  mrcmb99 on 8/20/2019, 8:07 pm

Here is a picture of the Earthbox.  I've included a yardstick for scale.  Most are about 25-25 inches.

SFG Troubleshooting Img_1010

The next few are from the SFG, as you can see, very few peppers, not a well developed leaf structure, and hovering in the 6-12 inch range...

SFG Troubleshooting Img_1011SFG Troubleshooting Img_1012SFG Troubleshooting Img_1013SFG Troubleshooting Img_1011
SFG Troubleshooting Img_1012
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Post  OhioGardener on 8/21/2019, 8:59 am

There are a lot of variables, mrcmb99, so it is hard to tell exactly what the problems would be.  I am a proponent of "Feeding the Soil Feeds your Plants", and "Watering the Soil Waters your Plants". So, I don't feed individual plants, and I don't water individual plants.  It is very important to keep the soil moist -- not wet, but moist -- in order for the microbes to function. It is the microbes in the soil that take the nutrients in the soil and converts them to a plant available form. Thus, building nutrient rich soil, with a good living soil web will ensure healthy, productive plants.

The problem I have with using drip irrigation to water the individual plants is two-fold: The plants do not develop good root structure because they don't have to reach out for water, and the remainder of soil dries out and causes the microbes to go dormant. An additional problem is that peat must be kept moist, or it becomes hydrophobic and starts repelling water.  I have my drip irrigation set up with 1/4" driplines (6" spacing with .5gph emitters) running the length of the beds, and spaced 10" apart (there is a 20psi pressure regulator after the timer).  The timer is set to run every other day for 15 minutes to soak the soil.  I periodically use a moisture meter to make sure I am not over- or under-watering.   

I know this is providing any direct answers, but just my random thoughts, for what it is worth...
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Post  mollyhespra on 8/21/2019, 10:04 am

Is it the pictures or are the leaves of the peppers in the SFG a little yellowish?  Have you tested your MM?  My first year with SFG I  ended up with a nitrogen deficiency because one of the manures (horse) had too many woodchips from the stalls which took up the N as they decomposed.  Get one of those soil testing kits and see if that might be part of your problem. HTH!
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Post  Yardslave on 8/21/2019, 11:12 am

You mentioned that you added dolomite to your mix. Dolomite is used to neutralize acidic soils. It is a source of magnesium which but, when used in large amounts, can chemically bind with calcium and potassium. When magnesium levels are too high the magnesium binds with potassium or calcium and plants will begin to show signs of deficiency, such as poor growth and yellowing and sometimes curling of the leaves. These deficiencies can also cause black-spotting on tomatoes and peppers as well.
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Post  mrcmb99 on 8/21/2019, 1:45 pm

Thank you!

The dolemite was only added to the Earthbox, not the SFG.
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Post  mrcmb99 on 8/21/2019, 1:51 pm

@OhioGardener wrote:There are a lot of variables, mrcmb99, so it is hard to tell exactly what the problems would be.  I am a proponent of "Feeding the Soil Feeds your Plants", and "Watering the Soil Waters your Plants". So, I don't feed individual plants, and I don't water individual plants.  It is very important to keep the soil moist -- not wet, but moist -- in order for the microbes to function. It is the microbes in the soil that take the nutrients in the soil and converts them to a plant available form. Thus, building nutrient rich soil, with a good living soil web will ensure healthy, productive plants.

The problem I have with using drip irrigation to water the individual plants is two-fold: The plants do not develop good root structure because they don't have to reach out for water, and the remainder of soil dries out and causes the microbes to go dormant. An additional problem is that peat must be kept moist, or it becomes hydrophobic and starts repelling water.  I have my drip irrigation set up with 1/4" driplines (6" spacing with .5gph emitters) running the length of the beds, and spaced 10" apart (there is a 20psi pressure regulator after the timer).  The timer is set to run every other day for 15 minutes to soak the soil.  I periodically use a moisture meter to make sure I am not over- or under-watering.   

I know this is providing any direct answers, but just my random thoughts, for what it is worth...


Ok, I think I get what you are saying.  So I should basically water where the squares are instead of directly to the plant?
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Post  OhioGardener on 8/21/2019, 7:05 pm

@mrcmb99 wrote:Ok, I think I get what you are saying.  So I should basically water where the squares are instead of directly to the plant?

I would recommend trying that.  One of the primary causes of pepper plant leaves being light green is excessive water or poor drainage.  With Mel's Mix, drainage is seldom a problem, but drip irrigation directly at the root can make it look like too much water and keep the roots from growing outward.  Peppers need 1" of water per week, but not more than 2". They also need the soil to "dry" between watering. I would move the driplines so that they run between the plants. Stick your finger into the soil down the 2nd knuckle. If the soil feels damp on the end of your finger, do not water. If the soil feels dry at that depth, water until it is damp at the end of your finger. Then, check daily to feel for dampness, and don't water until your finger says it is time. Soon, you will get to know how often and how long to run the irrigation. Do you have a 20psi or 30psi pressure regulator on your drip irrigation?  If not, you are watering to heavy and too fast, not giving the soil time to absorb the water.
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Post  Dan in Ct on 8/22/2019, 7:45 am

mrcmb99, leaf curl is sometimes a symptom of herbicide exposure. I have never seen it but have heard of it coming in horse manure because hay sprayed with a broad leaf herbicide was eaten by the horse and the herbicide survived the intestinal tract trip. If you have some of the horse manure left I would plant a couple of pea or bean seeds as a test, legumes are even more sensitive to herbicides than peppers.
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Post  sanderson on 8/22/2019, 12:53 pm

mrcmb, I'm late adding my 2 cents, but others have offered some good suggestions.

Take care of the Mel's Mix and it will take care of the plants. Microbes need moisture and they convert the composts into usable nutrients. I agree that the whole bed needs to be watered, not just the plant. Move the drippers around to get a better coverage. Or, turn them off for a few days and use the hose wand to water the whole bed until all spots are moist.

You shouldn't have to use any fertilizer if you used a variety of composts. If you do, say, at mid season for heavy feeders, I recommend Espoma Garden-tone which contains blood meal, feather meal, bone meal, etc., which all are slow release.

The leaves on some of the peppers are wrinkled. Disease? Soggy root zone with too dry of surrounding MM? Herbicide drift? See if uniform bed watering or moving the drippers away from the plants helps.

Just a note. I have drip lines with drippers every 6" (from Dripworks). That's just to keep the plants alive if I am not able to water with the hose wand, like out of town. I want all of the MM moist, not just 4 spots in each square foot.

Keep us posted, please.

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