Disappointing garden

Discussion in 'Outdoor Gardening in the Pacific Northwest' started by soccerdad, Sep 3, 2021.

  1. soccerdad

    soccerdad Active Member 10 Years

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    At one time my garden was full of vegetables of all types. Yet in recent years vegetables do not grow there. Even carrot seed does not lead to carrots.

    I have ended up growing only flowers. But this year even they are not doing well. My dahlias are growing decently but producing no or almost no flowers.

    I planted two cherry tomatoes from a nursery this year and the plants are 2 m tall but generating only a couple of tomatos.

    I assume that some essential nutrient has been used up over the years. Does anyone have any suggestions?
     
  2. Sulev

    Sulev Well-Known Member

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    Did you rotate crops? Too many years at the same place leads to diseases, nutrient imbalance, pests and poor performance,
     
  3. Margot

    Margot Generous Contributor 10 Years

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    What kind of fertilizing do you do? This sounds like a deficiency of one or more nutrients in the soil. It may worth your while to have the soil tested at a reputable lab . . . they can tell you exactly what may be lacking. Search 'soil testing labs near the lower mainland'.
     
  4. soccerdad

    soccerdad Active Member 10 Years

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    I haven't fertilized for many years.
     
  5. Sulev

    Sulev Well-Known Member

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    For micro scale gardener it has generally no point to pay for laboratory tests. If the garden soil is not very homogeneous, several samples have to be collected and analysed. This can easily set you back by hundreds of dollars.
    Better learn, how to determine nutrient deficiencies by discoloration of leaves, or by growth and development disturbances. Fertilization does not resolve diseases and pests issues. In a small garden the most common issue is lacking of crop rotation. Only on very poor soils fertilization issues may dominate. For longer period it is not sustainable only to remove nutrients from the ground with every harvest, but never giving back.
    It is also possible, that recent years droughts have turned longer and more devastating in your area.
     
  6. Margot

    Margot Generous Contributor 10 Years

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    West Coast gardening authority, Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott (Washington State University) highly recommends soil tests for the simple reason that you can tailor the fertilizers you apply to what is actually deficient in your soil. Taking small amounts of soil from a number of different locations in your garden and mixing them together will provide a representative sample upon which the lab can make recommendations. The lab you choose should provide detailed instructions on how to do it. This is a single, one-time test – minimal cost over the life-time of your garden.

    Soil nutrient testing - Province of British Columbia

    Without a soil test, it can take years of trial and error to figure out what nutrients may be lacking . . . nitrogen for sure but you can’t necessarily tell by looking at leaves what else is lacking. Yellow leaves can indicate so many things, unless you are an expert in reading them. Kind of like reading tea leaves! Of the 3 major elements, (Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium - NPK), nitrogen is most quickly depleted. Research has shown that phosphorus is unlikely to be lacking in most soils but, if you haven’t fertilized for years, it may well be in yours. The third major element, potassium, is also very important but again, may or may not be adequate in your soil.

    Then, there are all the minor elements – how will you know if they are not present in your soil? It’s a waste of time and money to start adding this or that, just in case. Unnecessary fertilizers will wash away and potentially become an environmental problem elsewhere.

    Anyway, now that you know that fertilizer is what your garden needs, you can start improving your soil and, hopefully, have a good carrot crop next year.

    Why soil tests matter: lessons from my vegetable garden

    Linda Chalker-Scott | Washington State University
     
  7. Sulev

    Sulev Well-Known Member

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    A single mixed up soil sample for lab analysis is OK if you have a small field of mono culture. Different veggies consume different amount of nutrients, so often each bed can have different deficiency. Paying for lab analysis to still fertilize according to average needs, is totally pointless. You can find average nutrient needs for different veggies from agricultural handbooks or from the Internet. Just by applying generally recommended fertilizer amounts should improve your harvest the same amount as if to follow lab recommendation that is tailored by single mixed up soil sample from different beds.
    Most veggies have significant and pretty easily recognizable signs of deficiencies of all macro elements and main micro elements. Agricultural handbooks and numerous Internet sources provide information about those signs and recommended fertilizers and quantities by vegetable type/species to remedy the situation.
     
  8. Sulev

    Sulev Well-Known Member

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    Here one full analysis (soil density, general salt content, pH, NO3-N, P, K, Ca, Mg, Fe, B, Cu, Mn) of a single soil sample costs 43€. I suppose, it would cost a lot more in Canada.
     
  9. Sulev

    Sulev Well-Known Member

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    @Margot how often do you pay for laboratory analyses of your garden soil? Could you upload a photo of a sample results, to give OP an idea, how useful that information could be for him?
    My mother used to pay for some analyses, these results were pretty useless - I estimated the same results just by appearance of vegetables. I've studied in the Agricultural University and performed practical soil analysis laboratory tests in the course of soil science.
     
  10. Nik

    Nik Rising Contributor

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    I cringe every time I see the term ‘authority’ being used. So archaic and useless in nowadays academic circles. You are only as good as your peer-reviewed publications record. I could not find many by that author… posts on a website do not count..
     
  11. Margot

    Margot Generous Contributor 10 Years

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    My apologies Nik, for making you, or anyone, cringe. Having said that, however, Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott is an authority in many people's minds.
    I'm surprised you have never heard of her but perhaps she's more well known here on the west coast.

    Linda Chalker-Scott
    Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott has a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University and is an ISA certified arborist and an ASCA consulting arborist. She is WSU’s Extension Urban Horticulturist and a Professor in the Department of Horticulture, and holds two affiliate associate professor positions at University of Washington. She conducts research in applied plant and soil sciences, publishing the results in scientific articles and university Extension fact sheets.

    Linda also is the award-winning author of five books:
    • the horticultural myth-busting The Informed Gardener (2008) and
    • The Informed Gardener Blooms Again (2010) from the University of Washington Press and
    • Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: Good Science – Practical Application (2009) from GFG Publishing, Inc., and
    • How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do from Timber Press (2015).
    • Her latest effort is an update of Art Kruckeberg’s Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest from UW Press (2019).

    In 2018 Linda was featured in a video series – The Science of Gardening – produced by The Great Courses. She also is one of the Garden Professors – a group of academic colleagues who educate and entertain through their blog and Facebook pages. Linda’s contribution to gardeners was recognized in 2017 by the Association for Garden Communicators as the first recipient of their Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award. "The Garden Professors" Facebook page - www.facebook.com/TheGardenProfessors "The Garden Professors" Facebook group - www.facebook.com/groups/GardenProfessors Books: Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens

    Besides that she's very approachable and unpretentious.
     
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  12. togata57

    togata57 Contributor 10 Years

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    Soccerdad, I fear that you, along with many of us, are realizing the effects of worldwide change.
    Your own garden, as mine, is a microcosm of global transformation.

    Seasons begin and end earlier and later. Springtime cold and wet, or far too early---followed by blast-furnace heat.
    Rain, so much rain, that pounds soil solid.

    Insects and plants try to adapt to new conditions, but are confronted by invasive species that now compete for resources, species that just a few years ago could not live so far north.
    Now they can.
    Pests that were once killed off each winter now survive and teem in ever-greater numbers.
    Beneficial insects attempt to adapt---alas, they do so far less quickly than the earth is heating, changing, transforming.
    Vegetables cannot complete successful flowering and fruiting in an oven.
    Bees cannot pollinate blossoms dropped in the heat.

    Suggestions?
    Pay close attention to shade and sun in your garden, to drainage and moisture. Choose and cultivate native plants, and varieties bred to be tolerant of your specific conditions.
    Encourage beneficial insects.
    Be vigilant for intruders, both plant and animal.

    As ever, knowledge is power---observe as much as you can, make educated guesses, and act accordingly.

    Good luck to you, and to us all.
     
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2021
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  13. Margot

    Margot Generous Contributor 10 Years

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    What an excellent post @togata57! In so many different ways we are all trying to deal with the vagaries of climate change.

    I am finding that a number of non-native plants are coping better than those that have grown here for thousands of years.

    It's a whole new learning experience; heartbreaking in many ways but challenging too.
     
  14. soccerdad

    soccerdad Active Member 10 Years

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    Togata, I have observed most of what you say and like every other educated person I tremble for the future of our planet. But my plants are not doing as well as the plants of my neighbours so I must have a localized problem in addition.
     
  15. togata57

    togata57 Contributor 10 Years

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  16. soccerdad

    soccerdad Active Member 10 Years

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    Not as far as I know.
     
  17. Margot

    Margot Generous Contributor 10 Years

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    If I were facing the challenges you are with your garden, I would definitely have the soil tested by an accredited lab because it might reveal deficiencies you wouldn't be aware of otherwise. I think it could save you a lot of time versus trial-and-error. Just knowing your soil pH is essential! It would provide a baseline which would give you an idea where your soil is lacking but wouldn't be something you needed to repeat in future. The soil testing kits sold in garden centres are generally agreed not to be accurate enough to be of much use.

    From what I read online, late summer or early fall is a very good time to do a soil test.
    One of many websites: Fall Is the Perfect Time for Soil Sampling

    Whether or not you decide to have your soil tested, I don't think you could go wrong early next spring by mulching the area with a good, aged manure which would provide nitrogen and humous. Many people like Sea Soil but it is on the expensive side . . . there are other manures equally good but you need to check them out. Almost guaranteed, your soil is lacking nitrogen and likely organic matter as well. I know people growing vegetables often sprinkle lime on the soil several weeks before sowing seeds or planting but, unless you know the pH of your soil, you're just guessing if it's needed or how much to apply.

    Oh, that reminds me - another very well-respected vegetable gardening authority here on the lower west coast is Dr. Linda Gilkeson, an entomologist by training with decades of gardening experience. You can subscribe to her monthly newsletter: Linda Gilkeson || West Coast Gardening || Organic Year Round Gardening

    In this issue, Linda talks about "Planting timing, testing, testing, testing".
    http://www.lindagilkeson.ca/gardening-pdf/Spring Gardening - Mar 22 2017.pdf

    I hope this helps. Please let us know next spring how your garden is doing.
     
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  18. Sulev

    Sulev Well-Known Member

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    Do not waste your money on tests by someones recommendation, who has never tested his/her soil! In case of very strong nutrient deficiency, it's generally just recommended to provide double ration of annual fertilation amount. In case of moderate deficiency it's recommended to provide 1.5 times annual amount. The amount depends on your soil type and crops you grow. Knowing some average numeric values about the situation at the moment, does not change much. Lab results would vary a lot depending on when (season) you collect your samples, from how deep you collect them, etc. More than double ration of fertilation is generally not recommended because of leaching risk. So, if you haven't provided any fertilizers for years, providing 1.5 amount for couple of years and following the results, is the way to go. You save ca 50$ per testing sample. You can buy plenty of fertilizers for that money for small scale gardening. Tests do not do miracle.

    In case of nutrient deficiency being your main limiting factor, providing 1.5 times annual fertilizers amount would have strong positive effect on productivity. If this effect would be missing, then your limiting factor is something else. So you'll figure out with just a single season, no need for years of trial and error.
     
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2021
  19. Margot

    Margot Generous Contributor 10 Years

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    That's all well and good but you need to explain to @soccerdad how he could determine whether his soil has a very strong nutrient deficiency or a moderate deficiency. Wouldn't a soil test help?
    How is he to know what is the 'annual fertilization amount' he should double or 1.5 times apply? A soil test would help with that too.

    Vague advice is no substitute for specific information which is, I think, what soccerdad is looking for.

    As Linda Chalker-Scott points out time and again, applying unnecessary chemicals to a garden is irresponsible, because they simply wash away, often contaminating waterways.
    You can also save $ by not buying expensive chemicals that may not even be needed.

    Of course tests do not 'do a miracle' but I'm sure glad my doctor orders them when necessary. Even a little information is better than nothing, wouldn't you agree?
     
  20. Sulev

    Sulev Well-Known Member

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    No, soil test won't help. In case of very strong defficiency, 1.5...2 fertilizer ration is recommended. In case of moderate deficiency 1.5 times ration is recommended. So it does not matter if you waste your money on tests or not, 1.5 times ration is a safe bet.
    Your idols mythbusting religion is kind of ridiculous. If there has been only removal of nutrients from the soil for years, then providing some is a way to go.

    It would be difficult to interpret test results for OP anyways.
    But if he has a lot of free money, then the list of soil testing labs in BC is here:
    https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/f...utrient_testing_labs_factsheetno1_may2015.pdf
     
  21. Margot

    Margot Generous Contributor 10 Years

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    Yes, yes, @Sulev, you've made it abundantly clear that you have no use for soil tests. We get it.

    You still need to explain how to determine what is a 'very strong' or a 'moderate' (nutrient) deficiency. How is @soccerdad to going to figure it out all on his own?
    And, exactly how is he supposed to put such information into practical use in his own garden? He came to these Forums for practical advice, not esoteric arguments about the relative merits of soil tests!

    Please note: I gave the list of BC soil testing labs 'way back in post #6 - Soil nutrient testing - Province of British Columbia .
     
  22. Sulev

    Sulev Well-Known Member

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    @Margot, I wrote already, that it does not matter. It really doesn't! One should provide some fertilizers anyways. If provided on regular basis, each year, then single ration is enough. If there is a gap in earlier fertilizing practices, then deficiency has developed, and some extra is necessary to restore soil nutrient reserves..
    Suggested fertilizer amounts are always a range, not any single number. This is not a pharmacy.

    About the lab list, I'm sorry, that the list is so poor - most websites linked there won't workˇor redirect, there is no price list available even if the website opens. Several labs have multiple times changed name. It seems to be common practice to ask payment before providing results etc, these symptoms are common for scammers,
     
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2021
  23. Margot

    Margot Generous Contributor 10 Years

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    I hear you @Sulev . . . but what, exactly, would you advise @soccerdad to do? That is why he came on these forums and that is what he wants to know. I think, with your background, you are in a better position than most to give specific, useful advice.
     
  24. Sulev

    Sulev Well-Known Member

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    Before sharing any specific recommendations I expect answers to my questions I asked above. I suppose, that the main issue there is not nutrient deficiency but lack of crop rotation. Soil is usually pretty forgiving for lack of fertilizing, especially in case of home gardening (usually not very intensive). Only pure sand and peat are very sensitive about over exploitation. Most soils can provide nutrients tens of years non-intensive cultivation before getting depleted. I remind you, that modern fertilizing practices aren't that old.
     
  25. Margot

    Margot Generous Contributor 10 Years

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    Fair enough, but from whom do you expect those answers, Sulev? You're long on theorizing but short on specifics.
     

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