Vegetable garden soil fertility

This past winter we spread chicken manure compost on two beds in the garden. As a result, we are seeing a huge difference in these beds compared to past years. For example, the picture below is the biggest and most glorious looking cabbage I’ve ever grown. I almost expect to see a baby in it every time I go to the garden.

The entire cole row seems to be doing quite well despite some pest problems. I’ve had to BT it for cabbage worms and squished many offending cucumber beetles.

At the end of the cole row are three Brussels sprout plants. We ran out of chicken compost to spread, so the end of the row only received a light sprinkling when the bed was hand tilled. You can really see a difference in the size compared to the rest of the plants. (Admittedly, Brussels sprouts may not grow as aggressively as the other Brassicas.)

When I reached the end of the cole crop bed there were still two Brussels sprouts left, so I planted them in a neighboring bed that did not get any compost this year. These two look positively anemic compared to the other three.

The onions we planted are also shaping up to be the best we’ve ever grown. We are in shock at how big they are. This row also had chicken compost applied to it.

Our garlic is also doing well. There seems to be a difference between the two rows but it’s not because of compost. The row on the right had the weeds hoed down and Solomon’s fertilizer mix applied to them much earlier in the spring. Even though the row on the left was neglected longer, it is still growing nicely and will be the best crop of elephant garlic ever (assuming there aren’t last minute R.O.U.S. problems).

If the weather is nice this weekend we are going to buy a truck load of compost to add to some freshly tilled areas in the garden. Compost can also encourage certain soil dwelling pests (specifically Symphyla), but the striking contrast between our various existing beds has inspired us to risk adding a little more organic matter. It has been raining ever since Monday and the weeds are taking off in the garden. I predict a lot of hoeing when the weather breaks.

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13 Responses to Vegetable garden soil fertility

  1. HOE!!!!..hehe..we have been adding in compost for years but we had to add fertilizer as we think we were not giving enough essential nutrients. Looks great duders!..but it makes me wonder..what are these onions talking to each other about, hehe

    • lee says:

      The class we took on pasture management helped me appreciate both the value and danger of compost. Using only compost as fertilizer (especially manure compost) can drive up P and K values to levels which are actually unhealthy for the plants. (This takes decades of over-fertilizing a garden.) While it’s possible to use compost as fertilizer, we are presently treating it only as a source for organic matter, which acts as a buffer for other sources of plant nutrition.

      Soil tests are a handy way to assess your current garden soil state. We had our soil tested a couple years ago (I still haven’t blogged about it), and at present it is almost indistinguishable from our pasture soils.

      • I did some PH level tests and I always seemed to be in a good level..but I was talking to my neighbor on the weekend and he said the same thing as you just I am doing some modifications..I think this was my issue last year with the mini-veggies.

  2. olemike says:

    Nice looking garden.

    • lee says:

      Thanks! Every year things to seem to improve. Five years ago we lived in suburbia and our garden was 41 square feet, so it’s been quite the education to get this far. ­čÖé

  3. Rachel says:

    Very nice! I LOVE looking at your soil… it looks almost tasty!

    But it’s really hard for me to think about growing cole crops in the summer. It just seems sooo weird, but I guess a Texas winter is more like a northern summer?

    • lee says:

      Yes, that’s probably true for Texas. Brassicas are a year-round crop here in Oregon. They do tend to bolt in late summer, but at the moment our nighttime temperatures are between 40 and 50 and daytime temps are between 50 and 80, so the coles are pretty happy.

      We are lucky to have sandy-loam floodplain soil, as much of Oregon is covered in heavy clay soils that present their own unique set of challenges. I feel like we still have so far to go to improving the garden soil though.

  4. Anne Taliaferro says:

    I would like to subscribe to your blog, but I don’t see an option for that. Can you tell me how to do it (if possible)?

    • lee says:

      I’m not sure what reader you use for your other blogs. You should have the option to subscribe to an arbitrary RSS feed. Our feed can be found here:

      There should be some way to paste that into a text box and hit “Subscribe”. (I use Google Reader, and this is how it works.)

  5. Lynn says:

    It’s amazing the differences in your beds! Your garden looks great!!!!!

    • lee says:

      The differences surprised me too. I’d like to run some trials next year with different parts of an otherwise identical garden bed getting different levels of fertilizer, and then track the results for overall productivity.

  6. Ann says:

    I have to laugh at Rachel’s comment, because it’s exactly what I was thinking. Your soil looks good enough to eat LOL. Your elephant garlic looks amazing, well, everything looks amazing. That chicken manure is doing it’s wonder. I hope the weather cooperates, because I think you’ve got your weeding cut out for you.

    • lee says:

      Well, I can assure you that it’s dirt and not crumbled Oreo cookies. ­čÖé Our earthworms seem to think it’s pretty tasty, but I’d recommend broccoli over broccoli soil any day. (I guess this depends on one’s opinion of broccoli.)

      Since we’ve got the tiller, weeding is a bit easier. We’ve increased the walkway size so we can keep them weeded with the tiller. We still have to weed all the beds (and there are more of them), but it’s less work when you aren’t fighting established sod down every path.

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