Using Bulk Corn Meal or Soy Bean Meal to Improve Garden Soil

deep_roots(5a IN)February 14, 2007

Spring is around the corner, and I need to improve my raised beds. Instead of using a 4 inch layer of aged manure on top of my two 2.5 foot by 12 foot raised beds, I would like to use other materials. I am thinking of using 4.4 cubic feet of peat moss per bed, along with three 50 lb bags of corn meal and one 50 lb bag of alfalfa meal per bed. My thoughts are that I could increase my organic matter percentage to around 10 to 20 percent without burning my plants. Will this give my garden vegetables a good source of nutrients and condition my soil? What other organic amendments can I add in bulk from my local farm co-op for good gardening results?

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That is an awfully expensive way to try to get some organic matter into your soil, what is available for free?

    Bookmark   February 15, 2007 at 7:25AM
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Dibbit(z7b SC)

What's wrong with the aged manure that you don't want to use it again? If it's been well composted/aged, then it should add a lot of OM. You could add some of the corn meal or alfalfa meal if you really wanted, but, as kimmsr says, it will cost. If you are doing it on the basis of a soil test, then that would be another story.

Even though peat moss is accepted and traditional to use, and even though it PROBABLY isn't depleting its sources, as used in the USA, I see little reason to use it. Yes, it does add OM and hold water, but if it ever dries out altogether, it is extremely hard to re-wet it. Compost will do about the same thing, but better (it is a lot easier to re-wet, once dry), and if it's your own, cheaper.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2007 at 9:39AM
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deep_roots(5a IN)

Regarding cost, I live in the Midwest with low prices on corn and soy meal. So that does not really concern me. What matters is that I lost my compost pile, and I am not likely to have access to the old manure that I have used in prior years. Consequently, I am looking for alternative ways to prep the soil in my raised beds. I have used cotton byproducts, alfalfa meal, and liquid fish fertilizer in conjunction with good soil minerals. However, I want to make my soil rich and moist while keeping good drainage. If peat moss dries out and is hard to re-wet, I would be open to other ideas. I want to BOTH improve my soil and feed my plants. Additonally, I would like to add a lot of organic fertilizer for heavy-feeding, tightly-packed vegetable plants.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2007 at 11:01AM
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Deep Roots, do you have time to grow a quick crop of green manure in the spring, like buckwheat or some kind of fast beans? If you grow them even 6 inches high, you can then turn them under and they'll help feed the soil for you add more OM than the meals will. i've attached a link that might be useful. I grow them in between corn crops too, turn them under the next spring.

Here is a link that might be useful: Article on green manures for midwest

    Bookmark   February 15, 2007 at 5:05PM
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Dibbit(z7b SC)

One drawback to the seed and plant meals is that they do more to feed the microherd than to add OM. That's why you want(ed) the peat. I would look into seeing if you can find a source of aged manure or compost near-by. It sounds as though you are gardening in the same spot as last year - can you truly not get the manure or compost?

If not, sobeit. I would start another compost pile of your own as son as you can - compost serves a multitude of uses, and is a way to utilize all your plant wastes, etc.... I would also check and see if your municipality or county has a compost program - you can frequently get compost from those sources at little or no cost - some of them even deliver.

I don't know where you live, other than in the USA in zone 5a, but as I recall, there is a fair bit of frozen weather left to winter in your zone - you can still add "raw" OM to your beds and have time for it to break down, I think. If I am wrong, sorry. But if you sow peas (which don't mind cold soil as much as most other seeds) of some kind as soon as you can work the soil, or have bare soil exposed and thawed, you can have a at least a short cover crop to till in/cut down, before the soil warms up to where you can plant most of your seeds. If that doesn't appeal or won't work, then can you lay hands on spoiled hay or straw? The hay might add more weeeds seeds than you want, and the straw may sprout grains for you, but either will provide OM to your beds, as well as providing a mulch over the summer.

How long have you been adding 4" of aged manure to your beds? If for more than 3-5 years. you should have plenty of OM in the soil already, even with intense plantings. Adding less this spring should be fine. Not having seen your garden, nor knowing exactly what you have done in the pasat, it's hard to give more specific suggestions. If you have pure sand or heavy clay, you might still need the large amount of OM.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2007 at 7:20PM
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What about the leaves from deciduous trees? Are there none available around you? More often than not these are consifered waste by most people and tons of them are readily available, for free, no charge, very little cost which is mostly your labor.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2007 at 7:07AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

So you have 60 square feet and you want to put 200 pounds of ground grains down, do I have that correct? That is the equivalent of using 3,333 pounds per 1,000 square feet. A normal dose of ground grains, used to fertilize soil, would be more like 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. To me it seems like you're using almost 200 times too much grain. Most people find when they use more than 50 pounds per 1,000 square feet they start to get a very sour smell of the anaerobic decomposition of the meals. That smell lasts until the meal is decomposed. I think 1 pound total, for the entire 60 square feet, would be more appropriate.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2007 at 8:31AM
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I'd consider the seed meal as a fertilizer more than a soil amendment. I think soy meal can be 6 or 7% N. But when the soil warms the micorbial activity will "eat" it down. Tom

    Bookmark   February 16, 2007 at 8:40AM
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deep_roots(5a IN)

Good responses! I want to improve my soil structure AND organic matter. I am trying to create a rich soil that drains freely, retains moisture, turns organic material into fulvic acid, and feeds plants.
Here is what I have in mind

I have perennial beds around the base of trees in my back yard. My lawn leaves were chopped and piled to compost on those beds. With the additional unexpected unavailability of compost and manure this spring, I am forced to make other plans for my garden that is currently under a six foot snow pile.

If I grow a cover crop of peas to turn under, and also add corn or soy meal, then I will get good additional organic matter. For the soil structure, the Victory Garden on PBS television used several bales of peat moss. However, I have been told that peat is not a great soil amendment. Consequently, I could use corn meal and alfalfa meal as organic fertilizers, but would need something else to take the place of peat moss. I see that Walmart sells composted cow manure (shovel of dirt in a bag) and Lowe's sells a similar product.
Lowe's BlackCow

However, I was hoping to find something that I could buy in bulk. I found out that my farm co-op also sells a cotton by product. It is real fluffy and light. Is that a possibility? Or, would I gain much long term soil structure improvement from vermiculite?

    Bookmark   February 16, 2007 at 12:19PM
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Dibbit(z7b SC)

If you want to improve the soil structure then something like Nature's Helper (fine, aged bark chips) or another 'soil improver' would be better than vermiculite. The vermiculite is a permanent solution, so in one way, it's good, but it will NEVER break down and will be there for years to come. The benefit from adding OM, which will eventually be broken down by the microherd in the soil, is that it will all eventually improve your soil, making it more permeable and more fertile. The vermiculite will most likely do nothing, long term, for the improvement of your fulvic and humic acids.

I would check to see if there is a municipal source of compost, and see if they will deliver - if they won't, then borrow a pick-up truck, if you don't own one, and get a few loads. It should be free, or nearly so, esp. if you pick up. I know there is a commercial operation near here where a freind got a pick-up load of mushroom compost and top soil for about $30 (about 2 cu. yards).

Have you been adding the manure and compost to your garden beds for the past few years? I repeat what I wrote earlier - if you have been adding 4" or more of OM each year for a number of years, then you probably should have pretty good soil by now. If, however, this is only the second year or so you have been adding, then, yes, you could probably add more.

One source of free or nearly so, OM is the local tree services, and the companies that trim the powerlines - they end up with truckloads of chippings, and are usually happy to dump one or more loads if you ask. The main draw-back is that the chippings are fresh and pretty coarse, so you have to be able to let them sit for at least a year - 2 is better - before using them. They do make a decent mulch, 'though you have to pick out the bigger pieces. If nothing else, it's a good "brown" additive to your new compost pile.

You might also see if you can get the "spoiled" hay or straw. If nothing else, and for the future, see if you can get the bales people have used for fall/Halloween/Thanksgiving decorations. By the time that they have sat out in the rain for a few weeks, they aren't really usable for either feed or bedding. Most people would probably give them to you, rather than have the garbage collecter take them, if their garbage service will even do so.

I kinow nothing about the cotton by-products, they aren't locally available, so will let someone else comment on that.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2007 at 1:35PM
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Peat moss is not a good soil amendment because peat moss does not have any nutrient value and you need to add a lot of nutrients from some other source, and peat moss is a non renewable resource because of the length of time needed to regenerate and the harvesting of peat destroys the bog habitat until it is renewed and that takes years.
Since the tree leaves are pretty much the same as peat moss, except tree leaves have many valuable nutrients, they are a good replacement for peat moss. Tree leaves are a much better source of organic matter for your soil than anything else, because Ma Nature made them to replenish the organic matter in her soil many eons ago before we humans decided those leaves were a waste material.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2007 at 7:08AM
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I agree peat moss is not a good amendment, for all the reasons cited by Kimmsr, but also it is acidic. Here in the east, we live with the reality of acid rain, and have to consistently add lime to restore ph. Peat moss just makes things worse for some of us.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2007 at 8:16PM
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I used pig feed which is comprised of mostly ground corn as a source of phosphorus as the soil was deficient & alfalfa meal in the form of animal feed pellets which I soaked for nitrogen fert. This worked very well last year I put down a rather thin layer of each plus a little blood meal & bone meal then forked it into the top few inches. no problem other than a little too much nit. for the tomatoes. Dont over do it. I plan on doing the same this week without the blood meal. I thought it was inexpensive.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2007 at 10:39PM
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