need info and help if you please?

ladybugsmom192(9)June 17, 2010

hey neighbors!

i'm quite new at this (only 6 weeks in)and have a few questions that i'm hoping you all can help me with.i'm in the east bay of the san francisco bay area - eastern contra costa county - and i'm wondering

1. where i can find good organic compost in my area? i've already found a place in richmond called american soil, that i got all my 'start up dirt/compost from, but they only sell in bulk, way too much for me going forward. and making my own is out of the question due to where i live.

2. is there any decent compost only product that can be found at your local chain garden center (HD, Lowes,OSH)? at home depot i can only seem to find 'enriched' potting soils/mixes, either miracle grow (MG) or scotts products. i hear from these boards that one should stay away from (MG) and i'm wondering why exactly, although i have my suspicions, lol! they have a susposedly organic mix...any thoughts?

3. should i bother with steer or chicken manure? i have two 3ft by 3ft raised beds, 16inches deep originally filled with a compost mix from american soil called local hero. i've got way too many veggies planted, which is another story, and i've been fertilzing with either fish emulsion or an all purpose 10-10-10, depending of the veggies.

so what do you think? any and all input so very greatly appreciated!!


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1. All "compost" is organic. "Compost" is the product of a decomposition process and it is wholly organic material; no mineral component of any kind making it unsuitable for using "as is" for growing most anything.

2. Almost every garden center and independent nursery carries bags of some kind of "compost". Sometimes it's labeled "compost", sometimes "planter mix", sometimes "mulch", sometimes "amendment". This is the material that needs to be blended with your native soil.

3. "Potting mix" and "potting soil" contain composted organic material of some kind or just peat moss or manure PLUS some kind of mineral component. This is the material that can be used "as is" in pots, planters or raised beds (should you wish to not use ANY native soil). This is the expensive stuff and it's not usually used on a large scale.

4. Just "amendment" ("compost", "planter mix", etc.) is available in bulk from many landscape supply places in your area (within an hour's drive). Check your yellow pages. This is what you can buy if you want to "amend" your native soil (my recommendation). These same places also contain complete "soils" (actually, "soil-less mixes"). They sell them in bulk and the prices is always much cheaper than buying bags of "soil" from the stores. Most of them will sell any qauntity you want; bring in a bucket or small truck, they'll fill it and they'll charge you accordingly.

5. Manures have their place in the home garden. I recommend fresh manure as a starter for compost piles. I don't recommend fresh manure to be applied in any way directly to a garden or planter bed. Some people do exactly that and have luck but manure is too variable to be safely used. Bags of dried manure should be left at the garden center.

6. "way too many vegetables" -- very common mistake among newbies.

7. Fertilize ONLY if you think your vegetables need it. That is, ONLY if they did poorly last year or if they're showing signs of malnutrition this year. If you've planted in a complete potting mix of some kind, they shouldn't need any fertilizer for a while. If you do see signs of "need", fish emulsion is a good start. "10-10-10" is not a good vegetable/fruit food. Look for something that is "0-10-10" (or proportionately similar). Here in California soils, I find that "Citrus Food" is the best all-around fertilizer for fruits and veggies.


    Bookmark   June 18, 2010 at 1:07PM
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gardenerme(z9/21 inland socal)

I use the compost I believe called N Rich? from Home depot. It is 3 cubic feet, very heavy and very compressed so that when you get it out of the bag it expands and covers a lot.

I don't dig it in just lay it on top about 3". I have good soil and do not want to disturb all the worms, etc. I just let it filter down as it would in a natural environment and replace it as it disappears, usually a couple of times a year or when I start a new planting.

The only other thing I do that makes a huge difference for me is that I use about a tsp of vinegar per gallon to improve the acidity of the soil so that the plants can take up the nutrients available to them. I went to the website for our water company and found out that our water was very alkaline and very base. It seems california is famous for this. So I use the vinegar once a week or so as a supplementary watering using a 5 gallon paint bucket and a large plastic cup. My results have been amazing. You may want to check your water as well. Just my 2 cents . . .

    Bookmark   June 18, 2010 at 8:16PM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

I like N'Rich too- I spread it around on my beds to make the dirt prettier after I run out of compost. I don't use fertilizer on veggies since the tomato plants get too big as it is. If I fertilize I get all leaves and no tomatoes.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2010 at 12:41AM
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gardengaru1950, I seldom find anything in your posts that I can disagree with. However when you suggest 0-10-10 as appropriate for vegetables and then in the next sentence recommend "Citrus Labeled" fertilizer as ideal for the same crop, the two are in conflict. Citrus fertilizers are heavy suppliers of nitrogen, usually 3 times the phosphorus or potassium. Al

    Bookmark   June 19, 2010 at 9:31AM
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You're absolutely correct. And I should qualify what I said.

First, leafy vegetables do like the nitrogen. Roots and fruits would rather have the phosphorus and potassium.

Second, California soils are low in nitrogen and a LITTLE extra won't hurt.

Third, although most citrus experts state that citrus food should be high in nitrogran (in fact, many citrus orchardists feed almost exclusively with N), almost every commercial citrus food at the retail level is pretty well balanced -- usually about 6-4-6, 7-4-2 or some such. Theory and reality don't match in this case.

Fourth, and most importantly, most manufacturers of citrus food formulate their fertilizers to work in California soils rather than forumlate them based on the theory of what plants need. That's because the largest market for citrus food is in California. And that means the fertilizers contain all those wonderful trace elements that our native soils don't let go of naturally. I firmly believe that the healthiest plants are nurtured from these trace elements and not from N-P-K.

For good gardeners such as Renee, who get tomato plants that grow like redwoods without any fruit when fed wrong, you DO need to stay away from nitrogen and hence, you do need to stay away from ANYTHING with N.

By the way, does anyone know what N-Rich is made of? I went to their website and it's pretty darn vague.


    Bookmark   June 19, 2010 at 11:52AM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

Joe- N'Rich looks like wood to me. Little bits and splinters. I don't know how they make it that nice dark color and I am afraid to ask. I use it because it's cheap and I can lift the square bags.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2010 at 1:22PM
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Okay. My mistake. Kellogg's "N'Rich" is a composted forest by-product with kelp meal, worm castings and bat guano. Sounds like terrific stuff.

I found a website for "N-Rich", a manufacturer of synthetic fertilizers.


    Bookmark   June 19, 2010 at 1:57PM
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thanks for all your wonderful words of advice - i've clearly been doing the wrong things since i started on may 12, in addition to the unusually warm weather.

much of what you've said probably explains why my bell peppers and tomatoes have yet to bear fruit - well, my yellow pear tomato plant has two little ones on it, but that's it! the other ones (roma and sweet 100) are growing like weeds, with only a few flowers, no fruit.

now my bell peps seem to be doing ok after saving them from being swallowed by the squash, but they're growing smaller shoots of leaves underneath the main 'canopy' of leaves (where the main flower budding is happening) that are developing flower buds too - is that normal? should i trim them off?

i'm quite worried about the cabbage and broccoli. like i've said, we've had a couple of unusual warm weather spikes here in western coco county (hi's mid/upper 90's) in may and the first part of this month, and i think they're bolting, but i honestly can't tell and i wish i new how to post pics to show you what i mean.
i planted them as transplants almost 6 weeks ago, and one of the cabbages has lots of space between groups of leaves and is getting tall with no real compactness nor head formation, but no sign of a flower stalk either. the other 3 are nice and compact and are just starting to get head development, but i'm still skeptical. the broccoli is getting quite tall with beautiful leaves, but absolutely no sign of heads. the collards (vates) are growing, but slowly it seems. all are at day 47 from transplant.

is it too late? should i just throw in the towel with the broccoli/cabbage/vates since it seems like it's gonna be a warm summer for us here in the bay area? and if it is too late, then what can/should i plant in their place and how do i do it (rip them out, amend soil, how long to wait before planting...)?

i am happy to report that it looks like i haven't destroyed the squash and that it looks like i'll have plenty of them along with lots of italian green beans!

now after my drive down to Tulare and seeing all those wonderful rows and rows of things growing, i'm excited, anxious to grow more, and heartsick!

thanks again for all your help!

    Bookmark   June 21, 2010 at 2:42AM
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