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  • Caroline Abbott

A Tale of Two Beds...

This is the TOPS raised garden bed by the sidewalk. We will call this TOPS bed #1.

This is the second raised bed managed by TOPS, right next to the first one. We will call it TOPS #2.

You can clearly see that there is a BIG difference between the beds. Both beds were planted at the same time, with almost identical plants. The management has been the same. One of the TOPS ladies brought the situation to my attention, and we are attempting to unravel the mystery, with some help from my daughter, who has a degree in plant science with a minor in soil science. The only difference between the two raised beds is that I used the mulch from the pile on the sidewalk, which was quite well broken down and probably a few months old, on the first bed, and I used the mulch from the stump grindings by the road for bed #2, which was fresh and had not broken down yet much at all. Apparently, the little microorganisms that break down the wood, think fungus, i.e. mushrooms, need nitrogen to do their work. Since we provided a great source of nitrogen right on top of the mulch, in the form of our super duper soil, the little fungi sucked the nitrogen from the soil to break down the mulch under it. This basically starved the plants of nitrogen, which is a vital nutrient for growth. Who would have thought it would be so dramatic? So what do we do now? It turns out that whey is a good source of nitrogen. I have a lot of whey this time of year because I make a lot of cheese in the summer. On July 3rd, I watered bed #2 with about five gallons of whey. My daughter thinks if I do that about once a week, eventually the bed will recover from its nitrogen deficiency. So, when you go out to the garden, look at our experiment in progress. Since this is our first year with the raised beds, we are still learning. Once the mulch is broken down, the problem will not persist.

So, the next logical question, did I use the stump grindings in any of the other beds? Only the community bed which I am managing. I noticed the beans are a little yellow, and the flowers didn't germinate well. So, I added whey to that bed as well. It is not as dramatic in that bed. We think it is because I planted it a couple weeks later, and the mulch may have been a little more composted by the time I used it.

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