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Newbie SFGer in N. Virginia needing some advice

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Newbie SFGer in N. Virginia needing some advice Empty Newbie SFGer in N. Virginia needing some advice

Post  novablue on 7/28/2020, 11:28 am

Hello everyone! Just joined the forum and look forward to tapping the collective wisdom here. Started a SFG this spring with my kids, and we've had some issues that I want to get your thoughts on.

The main issue, overall, has been that much of what we've planted hasn't really thrived. Stuff has germinated well, started out looking great, but then yields have been mostly disappointing and many plants have petered out. I'm wondering if we have a disease issue that needs to be solved w/solarization. (Can't believe I'd have to do that the first year, though!) Let me talk first about what's happened with some specific types of plants, and then I'll give some context re: weather, what we used for our Mel's Mix, etc. I'll also try to post a few photos.

First, plants:


  • Tomato: Planted a nursery-bought Fantastico cherry tomato seedling at the start of May. We had some unusually cold/wet weather for much of May, with many nights getting down into the low 40s/upper 30s; as a result, there was a stretch when this plant was wilting, had some dark discoloration on some leaves, and looked like it wouldn't make it. I was THIS close to pulling it out, but I didn't. Then in June the warm weather finally arrived and it has thrived and grown unbelievably! I also started some Patio Choice Yellow cherry tomatoes from seed and planted those out later (one in a SFG bed, some others in patio pots w/Mel's Mix), and so far they're doing great.
  • Banana pepper: Planted a nursery-bought seedling at the same time. It didn't make it. It had started flowering but then it yellowed and wilted, leaves started falling off, etc.
  • Dwarf grey sugar snap peas -- started out great from seed, but then ran into two issues -- 1) aphids. Started using garlic/pepper spray and that helped; plan to use neem oil going forward. 2) The plants started yellowing and then drying out from the bottom up. The tops/ends would keep growing and even flowered and set pea pods (though not nearly as many as I'd hoped), even as the bottom leaves dried up and died.
  • Bush beans -- similar issue as the peas. Excellent germination, started out looking great, but yields have been very disappointing. Some yellowed leaves, and some discoloration. (Maybe rust?)
  • Lettuces - some have done pretty well, like a Bolsachica leaf lettuce. Others more mixed, e.g. Black seeded Simpson didn't produce much. Parris Island Romaine has done better, but -- and this has been a common issue with many of our plants -- the oldest/outer/lower leaves have usually yellowed/died off after a bit, even as the rest of the plant does OK. The romaine variety we got has grown much taller and less stout than I expected from pictures on websites. (Perhaps the heat is making it grow tall to prepare to bolt?) Some lettuce has also shown some drying/discoloration. 
  • Carrots -- started well, but have grown very slowly. e.g., some Mokum carrots we sowed on 4/27 should've been ready to harvest in early-mid July, according to the seed packet schedule. Well, here we are at July's end and the carrots I've checked are still small, about the thickness of a pencil.
  • Leeks -- started well but have since petered out. Maybe the recent heat has been too much?
  • Potatoes -- planted some Red Norland certified seed potatoes. Plants grew fantastically at the beginning, then started to have similar issues as other plants -- lowest/oldest leaves started yellowing and falling off even as newer parts of the plants did well. The plants survived, but only one actually flowered. Just pulled them all as the plants were beginning to fall over; the yields were lower than I expected.
  • Summer squash -- started out fantastically once it germinated after the weather got better, and was doing great. Then last week, I noticed the bottom of the main stem was starting to get dark from the soil line up. After a hard rain, I saw the stem actually partially broke and the plant fell over. Thought that was the end, but I left it there, and so far the plant is surviving. thinking
  • Swiss chard -- has mostly done well, though I've seen a little of the same issue re: oldest/outer leaves yellowing and falling off.


So there's some detail. As for context -- as mentioned above, we had a VERY challenging May; lots of cold, rainy weather and very cold nights for our region. Did our best to protect the plants -- we'd built cages over the beds to keep out squirrels, rabbits, etc., so we covered those with plastic and row cover fabric, even a tarp over all of that on the coldest nights. Also tried a hot cap over some individual plants, like the ill-fated banana pepper.

Since we were starting from scratch, we had to make our Mel's Mix w/compost from the big box stores -- a mix of Black Kow, leaf compost, and a bit of mushroom compost, along w/the vermiculite and peat moss. 

So my question: What's going on? Weather has definitely been an issue -- the cold, wet May, and then a very hot/dry July. My worry, based on some books and online sleuthing, is that some of our plants have suffered from some sort of fusarium or verticillium wilt and that this will be a long-running issue unless we bite the bullet and take a month to solarize our beds now while it's hot. Obviously, I'd rather not go that route unless it's really necessary, so I wanted to ask for advice here first. Could this really be the issue? Since everything starts out so new/sterile when making Mel's Mix, I'm very surprised to be having a possible disease issue the first year.

Another possible issue -- I suspect that early on we might have been overwatering (i.e., too often), though I know Mel says that's impossible b/c Mel's Mix drains so well...

Anyway, I'll post some photos below. Would appreciate any advice/thoughts -- thanks!

Beans -- see yellowing of some lower leaves, some spots/discoloration:


Newbie SFGer in N. Virginia needing some advice 20200610


Summer squash -- note the darkening of the stem near the soil line, which had started not long before the stem broke.

Newbie SFGer in N. Virginia needing some advice 20200710


Peas -- note the lower leaves/stems yellowing and drying up, even as the upper part of the plants look OK. (You can also see more beans in the background.)

Newbie SFGer in N. Virginia needing some advice 20200711

Finally, an oak-leaf lettuce leaf after harvesting -- I waited too long to harvest so some of the leaves had dried a bit, but note also the spotting/discoloration:

Newbie SFGer in N. Virginia needing some advice 20200712
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Post  OhioGardener on 7/29/2020, 8:40 am

Novablue, it sounds like you may have experienced two separate problems that combined to create the "perfect storm" in the garden. First, it appears that you may have put in the transplants a little too early, while it was too cold and wet. The plants couldn't get a good start without the sunshine and warm soil, so their growth became a little stunted. Peppers, in particular, are very fussy about that.  When they are transplanted into the soil when it is too cold and wet, they are known to just cross their arms, and pout for a very long time about how unhappy they are. Sometimes they never recover from the setback.

Second, it take some time for a newly made Mel's Mix to become microbially active. These microbes are necessary to break down the nutrients in the compost to become plant-available. Until this happens, the plants are starved for food. It can be helpful short term if you apply some external amendments to the soil to kick start the process. For example, you might want to apply a good coating of blood mean and bone mean, work it into the top couple inches of the soil, and then water it in. This will not only give the plants a boost, but it will provide some food for the microbes to get them going. If you want to feed the microbes to give them a kick start on providing food for the plants, dissolve some molasses in warm water, then drench the soil with it - this will get the microbes multiplying and feeding amazingly fast.

Just my thoughts....

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Post  sanderson on 8/1/2020, 5:17 am

Novablue, I'm so sorry you are having a struggle with your first SFG garden. Here are some of my thoughts.

Peas are a cool weather crop whereas beans are grown in summer. Summer plants and seeds should be set out or sown when the Mel's Mix is 60*F. I use a thermometer to check the various beds' temperatures. Swiss chard - the older out leaves do yellow and fall off. I think most gardeners pick a few outer leaves for dinner and leave the plant to continue growing. That way, you are using the outer leaves before they naturally die. Carrots - they do fine in the ground until the first frost and then some. So, just leaves those for later in the season. I don't know what the spotting on the beans leaves is. thinking

I'm thinking your best help is your local Master Gardeners. I think you did a great job pulling together three different composts. With the rush on home gardening this year, supplies flew off the shelves so quickly. By any chance, did you not fluff the peat moss before measuring?? If you did not fluff it, the MM may be short on compost. Was the leaf mold sold as leaf mold? Or did you use partially decayed leaves from a pile? I'm just trying to trouble-shoot your garden. While we don't use fertilizer in SFG, if there were glitches in the way you made it, a half dose of organic fertilizer, such as Espoma Garden-tone, would be acceptable. Follow directions (half dose) for application, staying away from the actual plants.

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Newbie SFGer in N. Virginia needing some advice Empty In NoVa too

Post  ReneeD on 8/2/2020, 8:32 am

Hi, sorry about all your issues. Every year it’ll be “something” - it’s just crazy Mother Nature here. 😋
I’ve learned to not plant before Mother’s Day weekend and that I still need mulch with SFG in this area. I use chopped up leaves from the previous fall mixed with chipped wood from our yard. I definitely try to only water what NEEDS watering and I check for pests daily (especially squash bugs). This year my zucchini died a miserable death for no reason. The summer squash planted right beside it was an amazing producer and they were planted at the same time. I just replanted zucchini for the fall to make up for it.
You may want to replant stuff now - we have a pretty long summer/fall, so you may have better luck with fall planting since the soil is warm and we “should” be about done with high 90’s (we do have a big storm coming this week, so maybe after the torrential rains...)
Good luck!!!
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Post  has55 on 8/2/2020, 10:19 am

You're probably not ready to put compost tea to your beds to quickly jump start put the microbes in your SFG's beds. Lets keep it simple like the others have said in their post. 

Garrent juice store bought or homemade formula for quick soil drenching and weekly foliar spray at this point. Do this only in the morning or late evening to prevent burning. This will get the microbes going as OG said. 
If I make my own juice , I use a hose end sprayer. If it store bought I use a pump sprayer because it cost effective. I get my ingredients from a feed store.

Mix the following in a gallon of water.
Garrett Juice (ready to spray):
1 cup compost tea
1 ounce molasses
1 ounce natural apple cider vinegar
1 ounce liquid seaweed



For more fertilizer value add: 2 ounces of liquid fish (fish hydrolysate)
For disease and insect control add:
¼ cup garlic tea or
¼ cup garlic/pepper tea
or 1 – 2 ounce of orange oil



For homemade fire ant killer add: 2 ounces of orange oil per gallon of Garrett Juice


Note 1: To avoid burning plant foliage, the ready-to-use solution should not have more than 2 ounces of orange oil per gallon of spray.


Note 2: We now know why the mix works so well, not only on the foliage, but also in the soil. The ingredients are a well balanced blend of nutrients and food for both beneficial fungi and bacteria.
 
Naturally Yours,
Howard Garrett
The Dirt Doctor




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Post  has55 on 8/2/2020, 10:31 am

It not over yet as ReneeD said, you have the fall and no more insect pressure. It seems your  summer /fall are longer like here in Texas. Prepare for the fall, esp greens and they are easy to grow.

from dirt doctor monthly calendar for my area. Your master gardener for your area will be a great help too.
In my area we are doing-

Plant*:for August

  • Plant portulaca, purslane, marigold, zinnia, copper canyon daisy, wild- flowers and ornamental grasses for immediate color. Many great types of salvia are available. Use spider lilies, fall crocus, fall amaryllis, mums and asters for later flowers.

  • Fall vegetable garden plants, especially the warm weather veggies.

  • Wildflowers seed if you haven’t already.


SEPTEMBER

Plant*:


  • Wildflower seeds if you didn’t plant them at the best time in summer.

  • Cool-season vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, beets, turnips, spinach, potatoes, lettuce, carrots, beets, radishes and English peas.


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Post  has55 on 8/2/2020, 1:11 pm

I forgot to add this note for each month:

·     
 Foliar feed all planting with Garrett Juice, compost tea or mycorrhizal products such as Garrett Juice Pro. Also drench the soil of any new or struggling plants.
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Newbie SFGer in N. Virginia needing some advice Empty pH, pH, pH!!!

Post  NEWBIE99 on 8/2/2020, 1:15 pm

We've all been newbies and gone through some of your trials and tribulations.  One thing that I did not see in the replies -- sorry if I overlooked it -- was whether or not you tested the pH of your soil before you started.  Regardless of whether you used Mel's Mix, every plant does not use the same pH.  Someone pointed out the difference between planting peas, an early crop, versus beans and tomatoes.  The same is true for pH.  Some plants require a more acidic soil:  your carrots and tomatoes; others like a more alkaline soil:  peas and beans.  Within those categories, there are ranges, highly acidic to highly alkaline.  You can purchase test kits and measure the pH yourself or you can contact a county agency and request their assistance.  Some high schools, colleges, and universities that have agricultural programs might also offer assistance.  As others have noted, you probably have more than one problem.  Be patient and take it one by one.  You will make it.   Smile
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Newbie SFGer in N. Virginia needing some advice Empty Compost in Mel's Mix

Post  Docwas on 8/3/2020, 7:37 pm

Why does one SG Garden using Mels' Mix perform superbly, while another SF Garden using Mels' Mix struggle?  I'm going to make some assumptions.  I assume that the gardeners planted specific crops at the right time for their location.  Planting at the wrong time for a specific location is a sure recipe for frustration. I also assume that the peat moss was fluffed up BEFORE measuring it.  Many SFG's claim that fluffing peat moss will almost double the cu ft, but that hasn't been my experience.  I use 3 cu ft compressed bales and I fluff it completely until there are no compressed pieces.  I consistently get 4 cu ft of fluffed peat moss out of a 3 cu ft compressed bale. I am also going to assume that coarse vermiculite was used in making your Mel's Mix.  Another assumption is that you actually measured each component in making Mel's Mix.  In other words, you didn't just assume that your 4 cu ft bag of course vermiculite was actually 4 cu ft, etc.  The bags of vermiculite that I get say "contains approximately 4 cu ft".  I measure everything using a 5-gallon bucket.  My final assumption is that you moistened your Mel's Mix well as you placed in your bed.  Peat moss is difficult to hydrate, and it is almost impossible to hydrate it if you fill your bed with Mel's Mix and then add water. Those are a lot of assumptions, but all are necessary to end up with good Mel's Mix ready to plant in.

The one thing I haven't yet addressed is compost.  If all the things I mentioned above are done, the only thing that can vary is in the compost.  Mel taught us that homemade compost is best, but if you can't yet do your own composting, or you don't want to, then blending 4-6 different types of commercial composts is second best.  A single source compost might be deficient in one or more essential plant nutrients.  By blending different types of composts, the chances of the blend being deficient in any nutrient is very small.  By the way, all manure based composts are considered a single type of compost. The problem I find with many commercial composts is that some of the organic material is not completely decomposed.  Wood is cheap and many commercial composts contain pieces of wood that are easily recognized in their compost.  Any organic material that hasn't finished decomposing will continue to decompose in the mix.  This process uses nitrogen for decomposition.  That means less N available to the plants you are trying to grow.  Because N is a negatively charged ion, the vermiculite doesn't hold onto it as strongly as the other positively charged ions.  The result is N is used by further decomposition of organic matter and much of what is left is washed out of the bed with a good rainfall.   You can't do anything about the rainfall, but you can do something about reducing the organic material that hasn't decomposed in your compost.  I now screen all of my composts using 1/4" hardware cloth.  The material that goes through the screen goes into my Mel's Mix.  What doesn't go through the screen goes back into my compost pile or can be used as mulch.  In my homemade compost, screening a 5-gallon bucketful will usually give me 4.5 gallons of compost ready to use.  The commercial composts that are available in my area will generally only give me 3-4 gallons of screened compost from a 5-gallon bucketful.  It's extra work, but I think it is worth it.  I am now confident that every batch of Mel's Mix will give me consistent results and superb growth on my SFG.
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Post  SFGHQSTAFF on 8/4/2020, 3:19 am

@Docwas wrote:. . . .  I now screen all of my composts using 1/4" hardware cloth.  The material that goes through the screen goes into my Mel's Mix.  What doesn't go through the screen goes back into my compost pile or can be used as mulch.  In my homemade compost, screening a 5-gallon bucketful will usually give me 4.5 gallons of compost ready to use.  The commercial composts that are available in my area will generally only give me 3-4 gallons of screened compost from a 5-gallon bucketful.  It's extra work, but I think it is worth it.  I am now confident that every batch of Mel's Mix will give me consistent results and superb growth on my SFG.
Doc, you addressed a problem with some commercial compost, the non-composted material, mainly wood pieces.  Even with homemade compost, there may be identifiable material in it.  Screening with 1/4" hardware cloth is a good set to insure enough true compost in the Mel's Mix.

This photo is from 2014 when I was still fine-tuning making home made compost. The large square works nicely with the wheel barrow. The small one is lighter weight and I use it for small batches like a 5-gallon bucket. Newbie SFGer in N. Virginia needing some advice Compos10
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Newbie SFGer in N. Virginia needing some advice Empty Thanks everyone

Post  novablue on 8/9/2020, 7:29 pm

I appreciate all the responses; you've given me a lot to think about. It sounds like the consensus is that I'm not dealing with a disease problem here, but some sort of nutrient deficiency. So rather than just quit for a month and solarize my SFG beds, I'm going to forge ahead with late summer/fall planting, and try some of these suggestions to give my plants & Mel's Mix a little boost. Fingers crossed!
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