Ask a Question forum→No dig gardening method compost issue.

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WVmountaingardener
Jun 13, 2020 12:41 PM CST
Hello, I am trying to start a no-dig garden and because it was kind of a spur of the moment thing I didn't have enough compost on hand to create the perfect bed, instead I sourced my compost from the woods around my property. I had a pile of logs on my property that had decayed over the course of about five to ten years and I had the idea to move them with my tractor and scoop up all the organic material that had collected/settled in between them as they too rotted/decomposed. There were some chunks of wood in there as well but it was so far along in decomposition that i could squeeze water out of it like a sponge so i figured it would be safe to use. The problem is the plants I have growing in this compost don't seem to be doing very well and now I'm worried that there is too much wood in the mix and that its robbing nitrogen from the soil. What do you think? are my plants salvageable? is it likely a nitrogen problem? how should I proceed? The wood compost hasn't been tilled into the old bed, I laid down a layer of cardboard over the old bed and added 4 inches of the compost on top and planted my vegetables into the compost.
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
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DaisyI
Jun 13, 2020 6:13 PM CST
Welcome!

No dig gardens are not instant gardens, taking 5 or 10 years to actually work. What you have is a layer of cardboard with some rotting sawdust on top. It is probably devoid of all nutrients, not just nitrogen. Time to fertilize those plants. Use a well balanced fertilizer with micronutrients.

Four inches in not enough depth to grow most vegetables. Tomatoes root 6 ft down, given the chance. Hopefully, the vegetable roots will grow through the cardboard and root into the old soil.

If you want more advice, please post some photos.
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Arico
Jun 13, 2020 6:31 PM CST
Woody material used as a mulch does take some nitrogen at the soil-mulch interface during composition, but not to an extend that it causes a deficiency. This only happens when this woody material is incoorporated into the soil.

Nevertheless, did you test your soil? There are so many nutrients - macro and micro - that it's difficult to tell by just guessing. Either one could cause stunting since plant growth is regulated by the limiting factor (nutrient)
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NMoasis
Jun 13, 2020 6:56 PM CST
I think the mistake was the cardboard on your existing bed. I was just reading today about planting in a new no-till bed, but it was mentioned that the roots will quickly go through the compost layer into the soil. Usually cardboard is used a weed-suppression base, like on a lawn, to create a brand new bed, in which case you'd put a much thicker layer of soil and compost over it. Based on your description, the forest wood sounds pretty well rotted. If dismantling the whole thing to remove the cardboard isn't practical, you could try cutting holes in the cardboard and replant if they're still small enough. Depends on what you're trying to grow.

Good luck with your project. After decades of tilling, I've become a no-till convert in the last few years. Thumbs up :thumbsup:
For me, gardening is really just an excuse for playing in the dirt. Admittedly, plants are a satisfying by-product.
WV
WVmountaingardener
Jun 13, 2020 7:25 PM CST
Hey, im not used to forums so i hope I am replying correctly. I wanted to clarify that although I stated that it was a garden bed to begin with, it has gone unused for years so the weeds had pretty well taken over. I weed trimmed the growth, put down the cardboard mainly for a biodegradable weed control and thought that the rotten forest material would suffice in a pinch, it seemed to be high in humus and lots of worms and fungal growth. I did not test my soil previously. I tried to base my bed off of the recommendations of Charles Dowding's method, the only real difference being that his compost is far superior to what im using and im as green as it gets (except for my thumbs clearly). I made some liquid feed from steeping nettle, comfrey and yarrow for twoo weeks, i plan to dilute that 10-1 and apply to the plants starting tomorrow. Do you think this will be sufficient fertilizer to bring some vigor back to my tomatoes?

northeastern NV (Zone 5a)
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HighDesertNatives
Jun 13, 2020 8:03 PM CST
In my opinion using your decomposed wood pile as compost was an excellent idea. This 5-10 y.o. humus is probably nutrient-rich as well as rich in microbial life, but the 4 inch thickness above the cardboard was probably too shallow to plant in. If it's not too late into your growing season, pull-back the compost, cut/drill individual holes through the cardboard into the underlying soil, and move each plant into a hole. If it's decomposed enough, you could mix some of your compost with the soil in these new planting holes and slightly mound this mix above each hole. The crown of each plant should be placed at or only slightly below the crest of each mound. Then pull your compost mulch up to each mound and re-cover any exposed cardboard. The soil mounds I'm envisioning are small and ideally would be no higher than the top of your mulch when you are finished re-planting. If you can, do all this on an overcast day, early in the morning, &/or when soil moisture is high to avoid over-stressing your plants. And of course, treat these plants like starts and water thoroughly and regularly until they're re-established. Hope this solves the problem or provides you with some ideas.
northeastern NV (Zone 5a)
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HighDesertNatives
Jun 13, 2020 8:16 PM CST
The planting depth is less of an issue if you are only planting tomatoes. They can be safely planted below their crowns in the soil/compost mix mounds I recommended you create. Tomatoes are able to develop new roots along buried lengths of stem. In fact, it could be an advantage to bury them slightly deeper into the new holes to provide greater anchorage and provide increased depth for roots. But be careful not to bury other plant varieties too deeply.
Name: Lynda Horn
Arkansas (Zone 7b)
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gardenfish
Jun 14, 2020 1:11 AM CST
I've made several of these no till gardens and found how long it takes for them to be ready for planting depends on the climate and the materials used. Very thin layers of each item, lasagna style, if you will, decompose faster for me than large layers. And since the ingredients shrink over time, you have to have a huge pile to provides a garden bed with the right depth to grow your particular plants.
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