The Q&A Archives: Raised Bed Soil Problem - Vegetables

Question: I live in the intermountain area, 5290' elevation, very dry climate. This years vegetable garden was the biggest garden disappointment ever. This year, after much planning, I built 5 raised beds in my vegetable garden, much work. The beds are 4'x20' each and out of 2"x12" lumber. My problem seems to be with my soil. I took the advise of a garden video and took GREAT effort in soil preperation. First a soil analysis of my existing garden soil showed good phosphorus and potassium levels, fair nitrogen and a ph of 8.0. Our soil tends to be very akaline. My soil is quite sandy. I double dug the existing soil and added a large amount of peat moss and an additive called Soil Pep. The Soil Pep looked good and smelled much like old conifer mulch, perhaps coming from a lumber mill, I don't know. I screened and added more soil, moss, and Pep untill the beds were full.

The results were very discouraging. Root crops had fair germination but just sat there. Almost no growth. Even by the end of the season the carrot greens were only 8"-10" high. Parsnips were even worse. The beets tops never got over 6" tall. Onions plants were very slow and small. Green onions (from seeds) stayed immature all season, 9" and very thin. Tomatoes (in black plastic) very small plants, staked, only 3' tall. Pepers plants grew little if any. The lettuce growth was poor. Broccoli was fair, but slow. The worst, however was the legumes. I planted sugar snap peas 5 times, and 2 different seed suppliers; horrible germination, less than 3%. Pole beans also planted 4 times, less than 5% germination. Once germinated grew very little, with little production. The only thing that was fairly sucessful was okra, go figure. All crops except the root crops were grown in black plastic cover mulch. I straw mulched the tomatoes during the heat of the summer. The rest of the non-raised bedded

Answer: Unfortunately there is no obvious answer to your question except to say that "something" happened, possibly to do with the "soil pep" or possibly a combination of factors including a rather high pH and possibly high soil temperatures beneath that plastic. (Many seeds are sensitive to soil temperature. Okra loves warm soil -- and black plastic tends to warm it up fast as does using raised beds.) Since I am not familiar with the soil pep product I can only guess that it may have possibly tied up the nitrogen in your soil for the season after it was added. I would suggest running additional soil tests to check not only pH but nutrients and then making any changes based on the results of the tests. This is the only way to really find out what the problem is. Your County Extension (781-5452) should be able to help you with the tests and interpreting the results. In the long run, it is a good thing to have added so much organic matter to the soil -- feeding the soil is a long term project and eventually results in a wonderful garden. This does, of course, take some patience and gardening so often consists of learning by trial and error -- so don't be discouraged!

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