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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Fixing Exhausted Soil for Tomatoes

Q. After 17 years of growing tomatoes, I feel I have depleted most of the nutrients so I am going to dig it up, remove it and replace it with new soil. My idea is to lay down a layer of fruit pulp in a sufficient quantity and then cover with at least 12" of planter’s mix. I would do fish guts but I can't find any quantity. By the 2018 spring planting season I think I'll have a super soil. What do you think?
Compost is added to soil growing vegetables every year to replace nutrients that were "harvested" with the crops and rebuild the structure of the soil for better drainage, water holding and root growth.
A. Any time you use raw plant products, like fresh fruit pulp, it is best decomposed or rotted first before using it in a garden. Otherwise it causes numerous problems. The process of rotting releases nutrients tied up in fresh pulp in any raw vegetable or fruit. It’s also true of fresh versus aged or rotted animal manures.
            The process of “controlled rotting” is composting. The ingredients needed for composting include water, air and warmth and whatever it is you are trying to rot. As long as these ingredients are not restricted and in abundance, the speed of this “controlled rotting” is regulated by the size of whatever it is you’re rotting and temperature.
Compost can be made in a "static" method, piled and left to rot on its own. This takes longer than other methods. This is the "lazy man's" way to do it. Just water it and let it breakdown and rot.
            By burying fresh juice pulp under 12 inches of soil I fear you are restricting oxygen. This is a major ingredient. This type of rotting is dangerous to plants because the compost becomes “anaerobic”, without enough available oxygen from the air. Anaerobic composts produce large amounts of acids, sulfur dioxide (the smell of rotten eggs) and methane gas; all of them toxic to plants.
A good compost should be dark in color, fine textured and smell good.
            Pulp from juicing attracts a lot of varmints, mostly insects and rodents. Your garden area might be a magnet for varmints unless they are kept away from it when it first begins to rot. Once the rotting is firmly underway, it’s not a problem anymore..
            However, if you take this juice pulp, mix it with sawdust or very fine wood chips, and turn it on a regular basis, you could have something valuable to plants in 2 or 3 months; composting it with enough find wood products will make the gardener’s "Black Gold" or humus.
The ingredients in compost can be chopped up, watered and turned by  hand or a tractor. This speeds up composting alot. The finished time can be as quick as two to three months if you do it this way. 
            Regarding your current tomato growing area, the soil does not need to be replaced. It just needs to be again “enriched” with compost. A 3 to 4 inch layer of compost applied to the surface and “double dug”, or rototilled into the soil as deep as possible, will do the trick and you will be back in business.
            Soil nutrients are removed quite quickly from a soil depending on the crop grown, the intensity of growing and how plants are managed. A small amount of compost should be added to growing areas every 1 to 2 years.
            You should also be rotating your vegetables. If you don’t know what this is, “Google it”. Problems resulting from a lack in vegetable rotation cause declines in production and contribute to disease problems.

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