Fertilizing Question...

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I understand the idea of composting. I have started some piles and are waiting for them to be ready. This is my first garden. The soil was tilled then I layed cardboard between my rows and covered the ENTIRE garden with about 3" inches of peanut hulls. My idea is to never need to till again. I want to keep my rows where they are and just mix in the peanut hulls that are there with some compost in the fall and then use the same rows to plant in the spring. My "between the row" paths will never be touched, only add more hulls for weed purposes.

Here's the problem... I didn't have any compost to mix in my rows this year. I already have plants up (corn, squash, zuchs, butternut, pumpkin, watermelon, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, peas, and I'm sure a few others) and I will need to fertilize them. I was going to use Miracle Gro until I read some previous threads about the problems with it. How do I fertilize the already growing plants? I know how to make the soil good next year, but what about now? My tomatoes are looking sickly. The bottom leaves are yellowish. What to do, what to do?? I want to show people that I CAN garden. This board is where I come to learn all of the secrets of the trade! Thank you in advance for any help.

Oh, and if my no till garden idea isn't going to work and you know that, please tell me. I am certainly open to some suggestions. It gets SO HOT here in central AL that I simply can't do too much gardening in the heat. I want a simple garden and we don't have a tractor or tiller, I have to call my dad. I would like to be more self sufficent. Thanks!!

-- Rebecca (rebeccagallant@earthlink.net), May 03, 2002


Hi Rebecca, Sounds like you have a great garden in progress. I do have a couple of suggestions for what they are worth. For fertilizing established plants, a manure tea is very helpful. An example: Use a five gal. bucket - put in about 3 inches or so of manure. Fill the bucket fairly full of water and let it sit a day or so. Take some of the water off and dilute it; I'm not sure of the exact concentrations, but if it were me, I would use 1 qt. manure tea plus 3 qts. water. Just pour it around the root zones every now and again. Some manures (rabbit, goat, any pellet manure) can go straight onto the ground around the plants right after leaving the animal without having to worry about it. I wouldn't do that with root crops, tho'. Also, you can make a very good tea just by soaking any weeds you pull from anywhere, but be sure to strain the resulting tea through a cloth so you don't get weed seeds where you don't want them. You can get some buckets of weeds and/or manure soaking, and use them in rotation. You don't water with this all the time, just use it once in awhile as you would any fertilizer. As to the ground cover, we don't have access to peanut hulls around here, but something that works wonders for me is shredded newspapers. I thought it would fly around in the wind, but I swear to you, it never moves. I shred in the winter when I can, then put it thickly around the plants. It keeps the water from evaporating and cut down dramaticaly (sp) on my water use. It does keep the ground cooler by quite a lot, which is great for many plants, but I wouldn't put it around tomatos until they were well established for example, as they might not grow as well. If you try it, just water normally once after you put it down; it will stay right in place until you choose to move it.

-- Dianne Wood (woodgoat@pacifier.com), May 03, 2002.


I'd consider using a liquid fish and seaweed emulsion. It's mixed with water like you would Miracle Gro. It's an organic fertilizer and works very well. The brand I use is Neptune's Harvest. They make separate fish and seaweed emulsions but I much prefer the combination. Don't be put off by the odor of these products, it disappears in a few minutes. Good luck with your garden.

-- Murray in ME (lkdmfarm@megalink.net), May 03, 2002.

I 2nd the Neptune's Harvest it works great also you can buy Fetrell or a similar organic fertlizer its organic and will last the growing season

-- Gary (burnett_gary@msn.com), May 04, 2002.

For more information on manure tea (recipe for large quanity) you might look at ECHO's research paper on this at http://www.tropical- seeds.com/tech_forum/growingtech/chick_maure_tea.html

-- BC (desertdweller44@yahoo.com), May 04, 2002.

Rebecca, I also 2nd Murrays suggestion. A couple years ago the tomatoes I planted were looking sickly. Yellow leaves and wouldn't grow. I asked the forum what to do and someone suggested fish emulsion. I added it to my tomato plants and it worked wonders. It was a deficiency of some mineral (can't remember which) which caused the problem in the tomatoes and the fish emulsion really worked. Good luck, it's sounds as if you're going to have a great garden!

-- Annie (mistletoe6@earthlink.net), May 04, 2002.

I started a no till garden a couple of years ago, although this is actually the first year I haven't needed to till at all. When I first began gardening about seven years ago, I would till up the garden, rake the soil into rows, and then plant. That was a lot of work. This year, all I had to do was pull the mulch back off the wide beds I use now, and plant. Under the mulch was perfectly beautiful, weed-free soil. I could stick my fingers several inches down into the soil, so planting was a breeze.

Obviously, I think your no till garden is a great idea. Make sure you have mulch available if your peanut hulls break down more quickly than you had anticipated. Sorry I can't give advice on fertilizing...part of my mulch is chicken bedding twice a year, so I haven't needed to fertilize. I think the manure/weed tea is a good idea, though.

-- Sharon/WI (pinnow@inwave.com), May 04, 2002.

My Dad swears by the "manure tea". He used chicken or horse manure. He had veggies to die for! We just put our goats in the garden after the frost in the fall and they eat what's left and deposit fertilizer all around for us, till it up in the spring and voila! I'd try the tea if you have access to manure. After all it's free!

-- Cindy (ilovecajun@aol.com), May 04, 2002.

I've done no till raised beds for years.

The only problem I can see with your current plan is that the peanut hulls might be low in nitrogen. This might tie up a lot of your nitrogen in breaking down the peanut hulls instead of feeding the plants.

I would suggest that you get some feather meal, or look for the Ringer brand of lawn fertilizer (it is mostly feather meal). This is a slow release, organic source of nitrogen.

Paul Wheaton, certified master gardener

-- Paul Wheaton (paul@richsoil.com), May 04, 2002.

Somewhere I read about making "almost instant" compost by putting all of the kitchen refuse in your blender (with some water, if needed) then pouring on your garden. It sounds like it would be good for small areas, rather than large, but I like the idea.

-- robbie in So. CA (rraley@sbcglobal.net), May 04, 2002.

Not only are the peanut shells low in nitrogen, they will require nitrogen to break down, thus robbing the plants of what they need to grow. The yellowing of the leaves is a good clue to that. Blood meal, chicken manure(mixed in compost) or fish emulsion all have large amounts of nitrogen.

-- john (natlivent@pcpros.net), May 04, 2002.

There's nothing wrong with tilling in the hulls right off, you'll just have to add some extra nitrogen that first year.

Here in Florida the soil can be quite sandy in many places. When I've just moved into a new place (no more, no more!) I rake up whatever organic matter is at hand, usually leaves and pine straw, and till in a large amount right away. If I have the luxury of the time to wait for it to decompose I do but often enough I need to plant within days or weeks. No big deal, I just add nitrogen. Sometimes I'll even use MiracleGro, but never at full strength. Mix it half-strength and reapply at the same strength three or four weeks late IF if it looks like you need it. Shouldn't have to do that more than once or twice. The important thing is to get the organic matter into the ground NOW so it can begin the decomposition process and hold soil moisture.

Once you've got everything tilled in and planted use more hulls as mulch. I think one of the important secrets of succesful gardening in the south without constantly running your pump for irrigation is the proper use of deep mulches. The both fertilize (over time) and water your garden.

Three inches of hulls on top of the cardboard sounds a bit thin to me. I'd deepen it to at least six inches. After the first year you'll not need to till anything in, just keep adding to the mulch layer. Even if you didn't initially till anything in you can still be succesful.

I came up Ruth Stout's book at a formative age and she's done right by me ever since.


-- Alan (athagan@atlantic.net), May 06, 2002.

I have been no till gardening for 4 years now and so far it is working great.The only thing I do differently is I do not plant in single rows but in 4 by 4 foot beds.Every year the soil is better than the last year.We make compost for the garden but also get bags of organic fertilizer at our local feed store and sidedress with that during the growing season.We do not have any manure source except for a pet potbelly pig.Our summers are very hot and dry here in N/C Tx.so we use all our grass clippings for mulch.When it is time to plant anything I can just dig down about a foot with my fingers alone because the beds never get stepped on.Good luck with your garden.

-- Carla sloan (twosloans@gcecisp.com), May 06, 2002.

yeah! all of these ruth stout 'followers' make my heart proud!

ms. rebecca, ya got to go buy some fish meal or emulsion, kelp is also great for micro nutrients. but in the south the compost will be done quicker than those east coast/northern books say it will! sub tropical life is not all bad.:)

no 'till works , especially in the souths' brutal summers, a mix of mulches will help deficiencies too. add a layer of stable straw & manure, cover that w/ bagged leaves picked up in the niegborhood, your partially cooked compost, then the peanut hulls.

this is also called sheet composting and as long as you don't go wild w/ grass clippings or something else that is too high nitrogen [will burn baby plants] or too low/woody [will tie up nutrients to decompose it] it is a very satisfactory way to add nearly instant gardening space.

you will be the envy of all w/ your disease free tomatoes this fall!

-- bj pepper ,in central MS. (pepper.pepper@excite.com), May 08, 2002.

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