Valley Permaculture Alliance

I've been having an awful time with my garden this time around, my previous in ground garden other than becoming over run with bermuda grass did so well I wasn't prepared for this at all.

My cucumber seeds have sprouted and died, once reaching about an inch tall. I keep having this happen. My bean plants are about two inches tall and yellowing out and dying... I've had slow growth and less growth than I would have expected everywhere. So I tried adding nutrients first, still no luck... tried vermiculture but I'm still a long ways off from being able to use it in my beds... Today I did a soil test kit and the results are in. pH is alkaline, nutrients are good. Soooo... what the heck do I do for this? The test  kit appears (and I might be miss reading it) to suggest lime to increase my pH which I do not want to do. I think it is suggesting flowers of sulfur to lower it but I'm not sure what that is... and it is also mentioning iron sulfate, I think I may have seen that at lowes but I'm not sure, I will head there this weekend. I wanted to know what VPA would recommend though.

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so you are supposed to keep the soil damp to sprout but not damp when there are seedlings but in a bed  ( that is actually a question :)

everything does not come up at same time especially working with multiple types of seeds near each other

Think I am going to go back to starting seeds in pots and transplant!

Linda, I think most people begin a type of seed in an area, so the "general" idea is you keep moist until they sprout then back off the watering a little at a time until you are on standard watering pattern to increase the deep root growth.  That works best for a 'row' of something or if you wanted to start plants from seed  which have the same germination characteristics -- tomato, eggplant, pepper, basil as an example would all sprout 'about' the same time under the best conditions e.g. warm soil, sunny days.  Hope that sounds clear.  If you are only doing a couple of plants of each variety it probably would be best to sprout first and then transplant - look into the jiffy pellets which I use - they make transplanting easier and less possibility of shock.

Drainage seems good but it is a possibility I am over watering I suppose. Hard when it seems dry to me but I'm also going to try backing off on watering once sprouted. It seems so odd that I would have these problems in my raised beds but not in the in ground beds. I have had great success planting in the past, I thought I was wise to the ways of growing in phoenix... guess not.

Today I added sulfur, some more chicken manure, and a little organic fertilizer. Hopefully I didn't over do it but I was worried that one box showed a little low on nutrients.

Erica, I strongly urge my readers to get and use a moisture meter regularly, particularly when starting a new or adding to a garden.  For the seedling area, insert the probe about an inch or two, for the mature area, insert the probe all the way down.  Most plants don't get water until it is about 3 on the dry side, meaning you water deeply, let it dry out some and they develop deeper roots.

thanks Catherine,

I have been using the probe but for the seedlings it made no sense so I have been doing the 2nd knuckle on my first finger... and I am not a long woman :)

The knuckle test is good :-)

Well since I'm returning my pH meter since it wasn't accurate, the little test tubes were much more accurate I felt, I might as well pick up a moisture meter. Odd if this is the problem since I've not had a moisture problem in the past four years of gardening here, but maybe the raised beds make a difference I didn't expect... although I would have thought it would have been too little water in raised beds not the other way around since everyone goes on about how they dry so much faster than in ground beds, and I'm watering less than I did in ground right now...

I am not a  successful old hand at this but will say with all my experimentation with different soil/amendment combos and different "brands" of compost etc etc.... I have found a huge difference in how much moisture is retained or not depending upon the mix, and the "vessel" ie side of container vs in ground. There is never just one way and that can be containers right next to each other. Or at least that is what I have found.

Erica, as Linda notes the moisture of a composition of soil mix can be very, very different.  The new bed and a container project I started a while back is interesting as they are both retaining more moisture than I expected - the moisture meter is truly right at the top of best tools for desert gardening.  Each bed or container can be very different from the one "over there."

The problem with pH meters is they go blind quickly if not properly taken care of, your test tubes are more than accurate enough for your garden.

Raised beds are okay, but only will work for about 9 months of the year, then the soil temp will become too high. As for compost, have not seen any sold here that is any good, all of what I have seen has very low nitrogen levels and high carbon levels, starves the plants without a lot of additional nitrogen, same goes for most of the compost made here. If compost takes much more than a couple of weeks to make, most of the nitrogen just flashes off, leaving lots of other good organic material, but really nutrient poor, should really be called mulch.

Treasa gave the best advice, high pH will stress a plant and actually starve it of water.

As for water if you have good drainage, then there is a good chance you are experiencing damping off, or some other fungus problem. Leading cause of seedlings doing what you describe.

Yeah, I think Mable may be on to something with the "damping off." This would explain why seedlings are dying, but starts are doing OK.

Now, what to do about it...well, I couldn't tell you.

Hi Erica, This may be really obvious but have you dug down in multiple places to make sure your soil is actually wet?  In my experience, all the soils and compost I've bought tend to be really dry.  You can put them in a container and water tons and have plenty of drainage out the bottom but all its really doing is just seeping down the sides and out the bottom.  It looks well watered on top but then if you dig down a couple of inches its bone dry.  You can water all day but its still gonna be dry. I can't imagine that your soil nutrients and ph are the problem, or at least not the main one. Especially if it was sold as a ready to plant mix. 

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