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Aug 24, 2011 04:44 PM

Heavy and light feeders

My tomatoes are awful this year and I think the soil has been robbed because tomatoes are heavy feeders. Anyone know what plants besides peas and beans are light feeders?

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  1. Are you asking the right question? What are your plans for building up the soil? I ask this because last year I planted some spinach before I put down the spring layer of composted horse manure. The spinach was very good but a second planting after the composted manure was put down was incredible. I would imagine spinach is a light feeder but the bed still needs replenishing each year.

    Even though I rotate my plantings, I still add compost every spring. For the past couple of years I have also added 1/4 cup of ground up eggshells into each planting hole for tomatoes. The little plants are then watered with a solution of fish fertilizer to help prevent transplant shock. Maybe a month later I sprinkle an organic fertilizer around each plant and scratch it in.

    4 Replies
    1. re: dfrostnh

      So, this is my issue. My tomatoes and peppers this year are terrible. Apparently my soil needs to be regenerated. Do you make your own compost? I don't and my husband is pretty easy going, but refuses to do compost (smell). I know all the answers, but he grew up beside a neighbor who composted and it was not a pleasant experience.
      I add sheep manure. Going to add it this fall Ground up eggshells will do what? I am thinking I will start saving my eggshells mid winter. Do the eggshells have to be stored a specific way?

      1. re: itryalot

        I do a quick wash of the eggshells. Let them dry in a colander then add to a plastic bag I keep under the kitchen sink. They add calcium to the soil and are supposed to prevent blossom end rot. It gets stinky when I grind them in my food processor. You'll want to air out your kitchen.
        I have worm compost in the cellar. Once you get your worm bin started, you just dig a hole in one corner of the bin to add kitchen scraps and then cover with worm compost. I have too much kitchen scraps so I still use outdoor compost. After I add the scraps, I cover with old grass clippings from a pile next to the bins. There shouldn't be any smell. I forgot to add that I put a couple of cups of worm compost in each planting hole. The hard part is separating out the worms. We have young granddaughters who think it is fun. I put a plastic cover on a child's table. Spread a pile and we all start picking out worms. As it looks like we've got them all, I push that pile into a pail and resume the process. If I have a friend waiting for some worms to start their own worm composting, I'll put those worms aside with some shredded paper and coffee grounds.

        I found the composted horse manure on Craigslist one year and return every spring for another load as much as the utility trailer can safely hold. The horse owner adds kitchen scraps and wood ashes during the winter and turns the pile so it's well composted by spring. Nice black stuff and only charges $10 or $15 to use his tractor to load our trailer.

        1. re: dfrostnh

          We also compost, and there's no smell if done correctly. We regenerate all of our veggie areas each fall and spring (fall because we're in an arid area and that's the only time we get much rain to soak the nutrients into the soil). We also mulch heavily, which also helps a lot. We don't do a specific worm compost, but we do use worm castings (i.e., worm poop) which is great stuff.

        2. re: itryalot

          ... use some epson salts for tomatoes. tomatoes need some exotic stuff (was that boron? or magnesium?) to produce fruit.

      2. You can 'sheet compost'--save your veggie wastes, and just bury in-between the rows as it accumulates.

        Do a google for 'lasagna gardening--that is a good technique to add organic matter to your soil.

        One way to keep tomatoes healthy and to avoid blossom end rot is to mulch heavily--I lay down cardboard along the row and between plants, and then cover the cardboard with straw. Grass clippings or leaves will work, too. Lots of tomato diseases are in the soil, and the mulch helps keep the soil from splashing on the leaves--do it as soon as you plant. Blossom end rot is a combination of low calcium and low moisture--if you keep the moisture up, by mulching, you have much less trouble with it. By fall, the cardboard has broken down, and can be tilled right into the soil.

        Tomatoes do need food--but be careful with high nitrogen stuff (commercial fertilizer or cow/chicken manure. If you put too much nitrogen on, you will have amazing tomato PLANTS--but not much fruit.

        Your local extension office is a good place to go for info on composting and gardening. Google 'your state, your county, extension' to find the office. Lots of info is available on line, too.

        2 Replies
        1. re: sparrowgrass

          I saw this lasagna gardening - going to give that some more resarch. How about putting the egg shells in plastic bags and running the rolling pin over them while in the bag to crush?

          1. re: itryalot

            I'm going to just crush the egg shells like that next year. Pulverizing them in the good processor was too stinky.
            I built my beds originally using the lasagna method. I don't think she gives much information on yearly fertility maintenance. I have some paths that are still lawn and kept mowed and wide enough for the garden cart, etc. But other paths I put down newspapers and grass clippings. Everything breaks down during the season and I can shovel that onto the beds the following year.

            If you haven't been adding more manure and compost every year, it sounds like your soil is depleted. I would suggest using the lasagna method on top of existing beds as soon as you can start getting ready for next year. I read some place that every time you dig a shovel full of soil, you should see about 5 earthworms. Do you have earthworms? They indicate a healthy soil.

            Sheet composting is a great idea. I know lasagna gardening really isn't new. I found an example of the same method but un-named in a gardening book I bought in the 70s. It was just a side piece on how someone in the south handled a problem with soil that was too sandy.

        2. Are they awful because they are not growing well, being unfruitful, or have a bad taste? What type of tomatoes are you growing? How often do you water them? What type of soil do you have?

          4 Replies
          1. re: raytamsgv

            I was on sand originally, but when we put in our beds, we mixed high quality soil, sheep manure, compost and some lightening material. Been planting on it for years but the last two, terrible results. Not as fruitful as we used to be (beans, peppers, tomatoes - about 6 different varieties: fiorentine, long pear, large abruzzese pear, beafsteak to name a few). This year, the tomatoes that we did get, many of them looked bruised all over, like dots of rotting spots, starting out bruised looking and then (I let a few go to see what the scoop was) they have rot spots, some on the bottom, but not all. My padron peppers had flowers on them, only about one tenth bore peppers. My beans same thing, lots of flowers, no beans. Even my lettuces tasted bitter when I harvested them young. When I do get tomatoes, peppers (a whopping 3), the flavour is great.

            1. re: itryalot

              If they are rotting from the bottom, it might be blossom end rot, which is usually caused by inadequate calcium or irregular watering. When I plant my tomatoes, I always add in a handful of bone meal. Here's a link for other possible tomato diseases:


              Since you originally amended your soil, have you replenished it with more amendments? Do you amend the soil immediately prior to planting?

              1. re: raytamsgv

                It may be anthracnose. Thanks for that link. Will have to do some closer comparison.

            2. Mostly replenishing soil is the thing-vegetables and fruits are largely high energy plants; some types of herbs (mostly the perennial shrubby varieties) do pretty well in weaker soils. With tomatoes and other solanaceous plants especially, there is also something called "specific replant disease" that, as far as I can determine, is neither a disease nor really specific; seems to be more an accumulation of factors- depletion of individual nutrients, accumulation of pathogens, breakdown of soil structure etc. that occurs when these crops are repeatedly planted in the same soil- it's much better to rotate, if you have space, but of course you usually don't in a home garden.
              I mostly throw egg shells in the compost whole- they break down pretty slowly, supplying calcium and phosphorous. If pieces are still whole when I use the compost, no problem- they're good soil roughage and will continue to break down in the soil. If you have racoons, be sure to dig the egg shells in well, they'll go after them when they're fresh.

              1 Reply
              1. re: oldunc

                I toss egg shells into the blender periodically, along with a good slug of water. Breaks 'em down quickly and they get evenly distributred throughout my compost.