Garden Q&A: Add compost to soil twice a year
By The Tribune-Review
Published: Saturday, March 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Q: I have two 8-foot raised beds that I use for vegetables. Even though I add compost in spring, turn the soil over, and have it tested every few years, I think the soil is tired. Can you suggest some things that a veggie gardener can do to stimulate the soil before the planting season to ensure the crop is robust? I guess in tandem with that, what should we continue to do through the growing season? My next dilemma is in the same raised beds — I seem to have acquired a huge amount of pill bugs in the last two years. You don't actually see too many when the soil is at rest, but just turn it over and there are literally thousands of them in any given spot. Supposedly, they are not doing any damage, but I have found them eating the leaves, roots, etc. Should I be concerned and try to get rid of them, and how?
A: Regular additions of compost are, hands-down, the best thing you can do to help rejuvenate raised beds. Because you are growing heavy feeders such as vegetables in the same soil year after year, it stands to reason that the soil will become depleted in many nutrients over the years. You are requiring a lot of the soil in a raised bed, and it's only fair that you replenish what the veggies remove as often as possible. I always suggest twice yearly additions of organic matter to raised beds. This should be in the form of finished compost, aged horse or cow manure, or leaf mold (or leaf compost) applied 1 or 2 inches thick across the entire surface of the soil in spring and then again in fall.
Because you bring up the pill bug issue as well, I'm inclined to think that perhaps the compost you've been adding is not “finished” — meaning it has not fully broken down. We gardeners are notorious for applying our homemade compost before it is fully cooked, simply because we are excited that we made it ourselves and we need to empty the compost bin to make room for more yard waste.
It is important to make sure none of the original pieces of yard waste are recognizable in the finished product; that's one of the ways to know it is “finished.” Pill bugs feed on partially decayed organic matter (including unhealthy/dying plant roots and shoots), and if the compost you are applying isn't fully decomposed, they'll make a lunch date out of it in a heartbeat.
I also would suggest you alternate your organic matter sources. This helps ensure a balanced diet, so to speak, and prevents any nutrient imbalances within the soil. I suspect it will also help with your pill bug problem.
I'm thankful to hear that you have your soil regularly tested. I've covered the importance of this many times before in this column, and it is exceedingly important in the contained environment of a raised bed. Especially the soil pH.
And one last thing you can and should be doing through the season to stimulate your plants and your soil: use liquid fertilizers. I'm not talking about the chemical blue stuff, but rather water-soluble fertilizers that will introduce not only the primary plant nutrients, but also trace nutrients, vitamins, amino acids and natural plant hormones that all serve to boost production and help maintain soil and plant health. Once or twice a month throughout the growing season, apply liquid kelp, fish emulsion (which stinks), fish hydroslate (which doesn't), compost tea, or other similar organic liquid fertilizers with a sprayer or a watering can. The difference they can make is pretty incredible.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.
Send your gardening or landscaping questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Kovacevic: Big Ben’s contract clock ticking
- Pitt’s Patterson second-team All-ACC, Zanna honorable mention
- Indiana County driver dies in crash with tractor-trailer
- Talented center Sutter is proving to be ‘pretty important’ for Penguins
- Parking tickets in Downtown Pittsburgh spark outrage
- NTSB: Corroded pipe, lack of inspections led to gas explosion
- Analysis: Kesler still on Pens’ radar as Shero aims to bring back ‘Big 3’
- Report: Man falls from roof of Bentleyville business
- Taillon among 6 Pirates send to minor league camp
- Penn State’s Franklin cherishes memories of time spent in Pittsburgh
- LaBar: WWE’s next stars have arrived