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
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
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.
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
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
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
IS THE RAIN washing the N down to the straw & woody matter?
Is the coffee absorbing all the water & not drying out enough, hence
Is the asphalt of the driveway reacting with the coffee grounds & giving off
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.