Q: I just had a conversation with an experienced gardener and told her about some of our plants dying right at the start of last year. I told her we put in chicken and/or steer manure. She asked if we waited a week between putting in the manure and planting. She said if we didn't, that may have killed off the ones that died and stunted the growth of the rest.
I guess the manure will kill the roots if it hasn't had time to breathe. So we can either skip the manure and plant, or put the manure in and wait until the next weekend to plant.
We want to plant tomatoes, peppers, basil, etc., this spring in raised beds. I was told to put in one-third peat moss, one-third vermiculite and one-third compost (or bone meal, steer manure, etc).
I was going to get the "Garden Soil & Compost" bag that I saw at Orchard Supply Hardware and possibly also some manure.
What is the correct thing to do to the soil that we use each year in raised beds? What about the manure comment? Please advise the best way to get the soil ready.
Laura Sorella, Sacramento A: According to UC master gardener Bill Pierce, chicken or steer manure fresh from the animal pen must be aged prior to being added to the vegetable bed.
Because blends can differ, when using purchased manure blends, read directions regarding planting times before planting your vegetables.
In general, when you add well-rotted manure to a garden area, it is not necessary to wait a week before planting. Chicken manure in bags from a nursery or home improvement store is well rotted and is mixed with other organic materials; it is an excellent soil-building additive for garden soil.
Steer manure in bags is not always well rotted and can contain too much urine salts that will kill seedlings. Some stores sell bags of blended steer manure, a mixture of manure and composted forest products.
Another thing that will kill or stunt seedlings is too much water.
Many gardeners water seedlings every day; this compacts the soil and eliminates the air. Without air in the soil, the roots of the seedling die or the roots are so damaged that they only partially recover and a stunted plant results.
Seedlings should be watered only when the top couple inches of soil are dry. Test the soil with your fingers to determine its dryness.
In many cases, seedlings do not need to be watered more than twice a week until growth begins, and then a good weekly soaking may be sufficient.
Peat moss, although expensive, is a good soil additive; however, it doesn't have much food value for the plants, so fertilizer has to be added, too.
Compost made from kitchen and garden waste is the best thing to add to raised beds.
The Sacramento County Master Gardeners provide compost making information during workshops at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center in Fair Oaks Park. The schedule can be found online at http:// cesacramento. ucdavis.edu. The first 2012 workshop will be held from 9 a.m. to noon Jan. 21.
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