Compost Screw Up

I got my soil test results back and I guess the easiest way to describe it is,

“I screwed up!”

Those of you who have been following me know I have talked about the benefits of composting. I have not changed my mind about the necessity of composting. What I am changing is how to use compost to its most productive result.

Compost Screw Up

Shocking Results

I have included my soil test results from the University of Mass Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Laboratory, and I was shocked by what I did to my little raised bed garden.

When I was researching the “how much to add to a poor quality soil” I read everything from add 1” to 2” of compost every year (good advise), to grow your vegetables in straight compost (bad advice). In my mind, I thought that a 50/50 mix of soil and compost should have tremendous results.

Off The Charts

As you can see from the soil test results I am well over optimal levels for most of the micronutrients (and NO, more is not better in this case). One of my biggest problems is my phosphorus is off the chart. This is going to inhibit the intake of some of the other micronutrients.

Dead Seedlings Make Me Sad

According to the lab people who did my testing, I may get great plant growth but no fruit or I am going to get stunted growth or no growth in other plants. Another problem that I wasn’t able to recover from, was I started this years tomatoes in my compost, that I sterilized first. They got very leggy then stopped growing. This week they all died. Thank goodness I got the test result at the same time, so I knew what had happened.

After speaking at length with the Lab, I was informed that you should add no more than 1” to 2” inches of compost at a time. Gardens do better with an organic level of about 10% to 15% total. Mine is closer to 50%.

Everyone Composts Differently

That being said, it is generally recommended to add 1” to 2” each year to help replenish nutrient depletion, depending on what the garden needs.  Since everyone composts differently, especially with what is being composted,  one should never assume to use a general rule of thumb without knowing what their particular situation requires. So I recommend having your soil tested every year. For the curious, my compost was comprised of oak leaves, 1 yard of coffee grounds and filters, 35 gallons of spent brewers grain, 25 lbs. of alpaca poop, and a small of amount kitchen waste.

Salvaging The Beds

The other 50% of my garden was bagged garden soil and bagged compost/humus.  The other piece of information I was given is that they may have been over fertilized by the packager to make the dirt more attractive to consumers. I am going to try to leach out some of the phosphorus by flooding these two beds with water. Hopefully this will bring the amount of micronutrients down enough to salvage the beds this year. Since I am on top of red clay, the chances of it leaching into the water table, is very small.

Best $10 Bucks I Spent

The one piece of advice that I can give to anyone that is new to gardening or just starting a garden in a new area is to get your soil tested before you add anything to it. It cost me $10 for the test and I got a wealth of knowledge.

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