The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Nitrogen deficiency

Nitrogen deficiency

After sunlight and water, nitrogen is the most common factor limiting plants' growth.  Can you see how the corn plants on the right have leaves a shade yellower than the ones on the left?  These yellow-green leaves are a sure sign of nitrogen deficiency, in this case due to the spring cover crops eating up the compost and not rotting fast enough to give that nitrogen back to the corn.

Spindly and healthy tomatoes

Or take a look at the tomatoes above.  The two are the same variety, started from seed at the same time, but when I transplanted the tomato on the left into an old hugelkultur mound, I forgot to add any compost.  The plant looks okay color-wise but is spindly (which can also be a sign of too much shade, though not in this case.)  It's a bit tough to tell from the photo, but the healthy tomato is half again as tall and twice as bushy as its nitrogen-starved sibling...and that's after I cut off about half of the plant's bulk in a severe pruning just before taking the picture.
Top dressing corn
Luckily, a nitrogen deficiency is extremely easy to fix.  First, I look at the problem short term and find a way to give the plants a dose of liquid fertilizer.  I opted to water down some urine and pour it into the soil around the troubled plants' roots, but you could also make some compost or manure tea.

The next step is to solve the problem long term by top dressing around the plants with nitrogen-rich compost.  Cover the compost up with a little extra mulch and I'm all done.  No more nitrogen deficiency on our farm!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Because It Works. :-)

Of course as proof you should publish the results of your nitrogen donations. ;-)

Comment by Roland_Smith Mon Jun 27 13:11:58 2011

Unlike the biochar, urine fertilization experiments don't seem to lend themselves very well to taking real data in our garden --- I just pour on the pee when I think something needs a boost. However, I did take a followup photo of the corn so you can see for yourself how well my nitrogen applications worked. The photo in the post above was taken on July 20, and I just took the photo below one week later.

Tassling corn

To my eye, the color is nearly back to normal in the second photo, although the corn is a bit behind the other bed still development-wise. Looks like success to me!

Comment by anna Mon Jun 27 13:32:41 2011
The plants on the left look a bit darker green, but the plants in the right certainly seem much improved.
Comment by Roland_Smith Mon Jun 27 16:52:51 2011
I agree completely with your assessment. Maybe I should give that bed one more dose of urine?
Comment by anna Mon Jun 27 17:06:24 2011

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