Coffee Grounds--TOO MUCH??? nearly short story

I'm having trouble with my corn bed this year, and almost everything else grown in it. I'll try to be as detailed as possible below to get an accurate description of the problem(s) as I don't get here very often. I'll try to pose a few things to kick around too. Thanks for your understanding.
I grow corn directly on my blacktop driveway. I have what is an area surrounded by 6x6 landscape timbers about a foot deep. It's about 6ft x 8ft. When I cleaned my raised beds out, the poor/clay soil was deposited into this "corn bed" plus some left over straw, both on the bottom, maybe 3-4" worth (maybe an inch or so straw.) Over this I added about 8-10" of municipal compost that had a rating of around 1-1-1 or so (P & K were less than 1, N was around 1.1.) In this bed I used drip irrigation between rows. I started this bed about 2-3 years ago. I may have added some granular & some super triple phosphate back then. Everything grew great, corn was often 7+ feet for varieties that were listed as 6.5ft, and many were 2 ears for varieties that give 1 ear. At that time I started my corn in 3.5" deep pots indoors & transplanted them when they were about 4" tall.
Last year, I freshened the bed with about an inch of compost & planted crimson & kenland red clover a little late and decided to use it as a living mulch, planting right thru it. The clover had a head start on the corn and started getting vigorous and I pulled some making narrow rows N-S & E-W, thru the clover. I then used a bulb planter & made planting holes about 5" deep & filled with a mix of compost & Pro-mix & planted seeds for the corn instead of transplants. It was tough keeping clear spots in the clover as thunderstorms & wind blew the clover around often shading the corn sprouts. So some got devasted by leafhoppers & other pests living in the clover. BUT, I still had a decent crop, though not a full grid. Keep in mind I plant close & grow about 60-70 plants in this 6 x 8 area (it's not a perfect rectangle due to a large 20+ gallon container of beneficial/companion plants in one corner. I thinned most plants down to 1 plant from 2 or 3 seeds planted, and still had around 40+, even with the plants lost.
Last fall, in an attempt to freshen the beds, I started collecting coffee grounds from Starbucks to add to this bed plus a raised area of the same type compost I use to grow AG pumpkins. In the fall, I added a bunch of bags & raked it level, and wherever clover was left that stuck thru I pulled it & added it instead to a separate compost drum. The next raised bed over, the soil wasn't the best so I started adding layers of shredded leaves, coffee grounds, leaves, coffee grounds, etc, followed by a single layer of the filters spread out and another inch or so of grounds to hold the filters down. I had a lot of grounds, collecting them 3 or 4 times/week for a few months, including the other stuff they sell (capuccino?) I even partially covered a 2-3 yr old bee balm plant mound to where the stems were still visible thru the grounds.
In the spring, come April/May (I'm in Buffalo & there's still snow in April here) I started to fork the corn bed and add more grounds. Maybe after all said and done, another couple inches. I didn't have a way to keep track, as the bags of grounds often had other stuff in like plastic knives, cup lids, empty packets, filters, etc and the weight of the bags are pretty heavy so they only stick 4-5" of grounds in a doubled garbage bag. Also, the unused grounds were left in their bags over the winter, often covered by snow. They covered an area about 6ft by 3-4ft by as high as 3ft tall.
When it was warm enough to work the soil, I forked stuff in the best I could and somewhere around the beginning of May or so I started getting it ready for planting. When I forked near the very center of the bed, down deep hitting the clay base soilmix, & turning it over, it steamed on a rainy 50 degree day. I checked other spots but that was the only area, maybe there was more straw there and it was heating. I turned it a few times til the steam disspated and a few days later there was no more steam, and I tilled it the best I could with a Ryobi tiller attachment. I worried there was composting going on so used a thermometer that went down about 6" and I think the temp was around 60-65. I didn't have any compost yet this year so I cut holes with the bulb planter and filled with damp Pro-mix and pushed in 3 seeds in each "hole."
Backing up a bit, to last Fall, Parkseed had a Fall seed sale and I bought 4 or 5 varieties, mostly triplesweet & supersweet types to avoid cross pollination problems. I personally don't have any way to know how old the seeds are. The seeds were stored at room temp over the winter, and come spring when I opened them, I found some tiny bugs, maybe thrips or something, maybe 1/16th inch long & very narrow. I threw out any seeds that looked like they were "tunneled" and started putting them into plastic sealed bags. When planting time came, I only used seed that looked good with no damage. The seed was untreated. I planted Serendipity, How Sweet It Is, Honey Select, and Honey & Pearl.
I started planting on 5/8, and within a week or so many of the corn sprouted. I actually planted 1/2 the bed, waiting 4-5 days & planted the 2nd half with a different variety. The leaf/coffee grounds raised bed I did likewise on 5/16, again staggering planting & varieties.
The 2nd half of the 2nd bed NOTHING sprouted (Honey & Pearl, a 1988 AAS winner,) and on 5/23, I replanted the blank spots in the first bed. I replanted the 2nd bed's blank half with Butterfruit on 6/10. The Butterfruit sprouted within a week or so, about 15 of 20.
Going back to the bed on the driveway, I planted some onions started indoors as well as a couple types of beets around the edge. The other onions sat in cells for another week or so til I planted some in 5" pots. ALSO, on 5/12, I scattered some mesclun & lettuce mixes in the same bed, as well as arugula & a few other lettuces, and on 5/22 I cut more holes & filled with Pro-mix and planted 3 types of melons & 3 types of watermelons. I also planted 2 seeds of a 182 pound watermelon that won 1st place at IPGA weighoff, but directly into the bed without using any hole filled with Pro-mix.
The drip irrigation is set up with a line running between 2 rows of corn, but not between every row; in other words, 4 rows of corn have 2 drip lines instead of 3 lines. The lines have emitters built in every SIX inches.
SO HERE'S THE PROIBLEM(S):
Today, the corn in the driveway bed is from 6" tall to maybe 16" tall, depending on if originally planted or if reseeded. (Others in my area have corn 4ft tall.) The lower leaves are brownish golden-maroon, with maroon stems near the ground (on the Serendipity at least; How Sweet It Is is greener.) The tallest corn is around the edges. The clover grew back along one edge but is flowering PINK not red, and the few beets that did sprout are solid maroon and about 4" tall. (Many sprouted green but died off after the initial true leaves.) The corn in the 2nd bed (the bed with the leaves added) is about the same size but more uniform, maybe 12-16" though started 8 days later, and the half started 6/10 is anywhere from 6-12" tall.
The onions that were transplanted to the driveway bed are about 4" tall with brown dried tips; the ones planted in last year's reused soilmix in 5" pots are about 12-14" tall.
The lettuce mixes initially sprouted but died off. The only lettuces that are growing are the ones that ended up over the Pro-mix soilless mix. Some are 6-8" wide or tall.
The arugula sprouted but the seed leaves turned brown and died off.
The melons sprouted but are no bigger than a foot long vines or so. Likewise for the watermelons. And the seeds from the 182lb watermelon NEVER SPROUTED..
The Bee Balm, a perennial, never returned.
WHAT I CHECKED:
I checked the pH with a $30 meter and pH was 6.2. (I have 2 different meters & both were within 0.1 of each other.)
The moisture was about 3/4 scale on the meter, towards the wet, not dry. We've been getting rain regularly, or even more than regular amounts.
The fertility reading on the meter was 1/3 scale, on the border of "Too Little" and "Ideal" on the scale.
The texture of the soil was hard to describe but black, sticky/staining.
WHAT I DID:
Got compost. Added about an inch or so to the surface; took a fork & stuck it into the bed & repeated, making indentaion holes all the way down the row and across the rows between all the corn plants, tried sprinkling compost into all the holes & watered in.
Used water soluble 15-15-18 with minors; my drip system has a fertilizer injector and I water nearly every day and the fertilizer injects whenever the water runs thru, though at a very tiny amount, like 1/8 the rate. Also calcium nitrate (15-0-0) and Maxicrop seaweed 1-0-4 thru an Ortho hose end sprayer.
Called my local Extension Service. Got an old timer with a hearing problem, had to hold the phone away from my ear, that told me to buy some 10-10-10, and that 6.2 was too low a pH for corn. After getting into some of the details to him, he said don't add anymore coffee grounds or peat moss.
SOME THEORIES/QUESTIONS:
Coffee grounds can be used as a soil conditioner without composting first; the acidity of the grounds is usually washed away in the boiling water brewing process.
Obviously the problem has something to do with the coffee grounds but better results are in the 2nd bed, which I didn't till but was more lasagna style of grounds & maple leaves.
DID THE COMPOST RUN OUT of nutrients and is down to just woody matter? The N in the coffee grounds is composting the woody matter & any remaining straw? Why didn't the bed turn hot the last two years? The woody matter is tying up the N from the grounds and taking it away from the corn?
IS THE RAIN washing the N down to the straw & woody matter? Is the coffee absorbing all the water & not drying out enough, hence "overwatering?" Is the asphalt of the driveway reacting with the coffee grounds & giving off other chemicals?
What are the NPK of coffee grounds? (One edu site said the P was in the 30's I think & sounded too high) Can I flood the bed to leech off the coffee grounds' N? Does this look like an N or P deficiency? excess? Can I add more compost & water it in?
I could probably go on & on...
I already know a soil test is recommended but don't know if that will help at this time of the season.
ANY HELP IS GREATLY APPRECIATED; THANKS for any comments/help.
Mark
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I'm top posting my response as a single summary. If there are points that I didn't answer directly, ask again in a followup.
I think you should take samples to send off for a professional soil test. It is very likely that you have a severe shortage of calcium, your pH is trending acid, and your soil seems to have gone over to some sort of highly organic muck. (What little I know of muck soils is that they need careful handling and are often superb for certain crops -- in the natural state where they generally overlay subsoils rather than blacktop or bedrock.)
I think you almost certainly should add minerals to your soil such as ground limestone and greensand. But get a soil test first. It might be that dolomitic limestone (contains magnesium) might be be the best type of limestone to use.
I've seen wildly different analyses for NPK in coffee grounds. According to the University of Idaho, dried grounds are 2-36-0.7 (very high in P) but are given as 1.99-0.36-0.67 by others (primalseeds.org is one) and both of them can't be right. Someone obviously misplaced a decimal point -- two orders of magnitude is a HUGE variation. If the UI number is true, you have seriously overdone the P -- but I suspect that is the bogus number.
IN any case, you put too much of a single good thing into your beds and have ended up with trouble.
We collect 4 or more 5 gallon buckets of coffeegrounds per week during the summer, but these are composted with leaves and other materials (or sometimes mixed with shredded leaves for a surface mulch) and NEVER tilled in fresh.
news.verizon.net said:

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Pat in Plymouth MI ('someplace.net' is comcast)

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Pat, thanks for your reply; I haven't been doing the newsgroups in a while now and still remember us conversing/replying about SVB's, AG pumpkins and also pollinating corn re: weather/rain & the webpage "Sex in the Cornfield." And I think your problem out there may have been pepper maggots or something at the time. I was thinking of e-mailing you but didn't want to clog your inbox.
I actually measured some of the tallest ones yesterday, near the outside edges, and some were 22-24" tall, still way off what they should be at this time, and some are still under a foot in the middle. Yesterday I manually ran ther drip system and flooded everything, plus it rained; I also flooded the beds (at least to the point of the isles being flooded) last week to see if it'd made any differeence. Yes, I too saw the U of I page; that's why I wondered if I overdid the P but even though the meter is a cheap one, according to the pamplet, it factors in all three NPK components so would think a P overdose would register higher on the scale than borderline low/ideal. From an xls file I saved from somewhere, I had:
Coffee grounds 2.08 0.32 0.28 Coffee grounds (dried) 1.99 0.36 0.67
Looks like the same you listed.
The original municipal compost was tested by the city way back when at 59.7 lbs/ton Calcium & 13.6 lbs/ton Magnesium, and NPK were 22.3N lbs/ton, 6.5P lbs/ton and 13.2K lbs/ton, so around 1.1--0.33--0.66 NPK, which ironically is very close to coffee grounds! I don't know how soluble salt content works but was 5.1-5.8 mmhos/cm. While they listed the compost's pH range of 7.4 to 8.0, I've never measured it (with 2 different meters) higher than 6.8.
I'll try to find an online lab like Kinsey instead of Cornell, which has only morning hours and is about 20 miles away; they wanted me to go there first, pay, get the bag, etc, take the sample & either bring back or mail back, at which time they mail it off to Ithaca anyway. I think a fert dealer or irrigation shop in town offerd something locally w/2-3 day turnaround, will have to call.
Maybe I'll take a couple pics & post links. Any suggestions on "quick fixes" please let me know.
Thanks.
Mark
korney19 at John Rigas' Bankrupt Company.net

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news.verizon.net said:

I think simy1 has got some quick fixes -- if you can get your hands on some wood ashes and bone meal. Long run, best to wait until you have a soil analysis. But IMO you will need to mineralize that soil.
Then you can ease into relying on a more varied and balanced input of OMs to keep things purring along.
--
Pat in Plymouth MI ('someplace.net' is comcast)

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snipped-for-privacy@someplace.net.net (Pat Kiewicz) wrote in message

I generally agree that Mg or Ca could be trouble spots. coffee is quite extreme in nutrient profile and pH (BTW, clearly 0.36 is correct. Even wood ash, which is pure minerals, or rock phosphate, do not have that concentration). If the bulk of nutrients is coming from coffee, extra P ad K are needed.
I till in nothing and make sure to always balance acid things (wood chips and coffee) with some wood ash, which has a pH of 10.4 and is 50% Ca and about 10% Mg (I have a wood stove and I store the ash in my garage for spring and summer use). That does not yet balance everything (where is the P?), but it is a good start. wood ash will always be better than lime because it has a better nutrient profile (besides Ca and Mg, it is 3% P and 8% K for example) and acts very fast. Probably at this stage of the game (need a fast acting amendment to try and get a crop out of these things), if I were to do things blindly, a mixture of wood ash and bone meal would get those plants kick-started. In fact, given a pH of 6.2, one could add 0.03 lb per sqft and the pH would not go above 6.7.
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simy1 said:

In the long run, though, I think Mark ought to mineralize that soil -- rock phosphate, (probably dolomitic) limestone, and greensand or some other potash-rich rock dust -- 'bankable' material. Even some decently mineralized 'fill dirt' might work. (I've seen that happen by accident in my own yard.)
--
Pat in Plymouth MI ('someplace.net' is comcast)

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Thanks Pat & simy. So far here's what I did:
I'm not really a granular guy so shot the bed with some calcium nitrate and mag sulfate, but first scattered some pelletized lime (only type I had.) I also sprayed both Neptune's Harvest (2-4-1) & Maxicrop seaweed powder (1-0-4) at 2-3x rate. I may be able to score some wood ash from GF's fire pit at her summer trailer but can't guarantee what else got burned there too.
The drip system uses Plantex 15-15-18 w/Micros (soilless mix formula.) It's on the trickle setting, I think 1000:1 (water to mixed fert) and runs anytime the drip is on (usually around 30 min per day except rainy days.) The bed is pretty much saturated from the rains the last week or two plus the flooding I did--the driveway started getting wet after 15-20 minutes of the drip being on. I also scattered some 14-14-14 Osmocote, though it's pretty tough to scratch in now. Maybe put some fresh compost over everything again? Or try spraying some high P water soluble like Miracle-Gro or Bloom Booster? I also have some muriate of potash I can disolve & spray, and may have some triple-super phosphate left but don't want to overdo things. Plus I'm noticing we are going in 2 different directions--soluble vs OG. I don't know how much OG can help this year and probably can add leaves & refresh all or 4-6" of the compost in the Fall, or next year, but what's best for an '04 crop? I always thought bone meal was slow acting.
Mark

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news.verizon.net said:

I'd maybe pass on rained on ashes of not entirely known origin...

That's likely not helping thing, your highly organic soil being so saturated. Roots need oxygen.

I like the Osmocote (slow, sustained release). The Miracle-Gro or Bloom Booster might help. (You could do a small area and see if it hurts or helps.)

I think your soil is highly organic already and needs some mineral bulk and from your descriptions maybe even something like perlite to pump up the volume and add airspace. I am highly devoted to compost and organic matter, but it *can* be overdone. I'm beginning to think that you might have better results with your drip irrigation w/soilless fertilizer if you were planting in nearly pure sand topped with a mulch of compost.
You're definitely having a soil test done before adding anything this fall, right?
As for not finding greensand locally, I'm not entirely surprised. It's heavy, and (seemingly) low-value as a fertilizer. But it provides a host of micro nutrients and improves soil texture (and the K it provides is not in a highly leachable form -- the low 'available K' rating is offset by the large residual amount).
--
Pat in Plymouth MI ('someplace.net' is comcast)

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I added bonemeal too.
You think I should turn the drip off to that section for a few days & see if everything dries out, and just foliar feed when necessary for a while, trying not to saturate the bed? Maybe just rely on rain for a week or two?

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news.verizon.net said:

Sometimes doing nothing is the wisest course. 8^)
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I'd like to do nothing as you say... but I'm the same kind who'll tuck my tomatoes back into their cages 8x per day!
I was hoping to get something out of this crop this year. Some of the 2ft tall plants are now starting to tassel so it doesn't look good, not out of the whorl yet but still visibly protruding. I've even shut off the drip in that section to see if it was too wet & if the stickiness/muckiness dries up abit.

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snipped-for-privacy@someplace.net.net (Pat Kiewicz) wrote in message

no doubt you are right. I was just focussing on him getting some corn this september, then he can do the vision thing in the fall. As my father in law often puts it: these tomatoes, they are going to be ready for Xmas.
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Add Espoma bonemeal to the list; I just added about 2-3 pounds (total) over the 2 beds (at least a pound each bed) and watered it in. It's nearly impossible for me to scratch anything in because the corn is closely planted plus the driplines plus the summer lettuce mix, etc. The best I can do is run a Garden Weasel with only 1 tine and even that's for short distances before running into some plant. Also, the nursery didn't have any greensand, and don't think they even knew what it was. And it's one of the busiest ones in the area. So will have to check the fire pit but I'd think much of the nutrients got leeched away with the rain we've been having...
Mark

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