E-mail - Composting Questions

I just finished reading your first article about compost/composting, where you explain how to do it. I gladly inform you that after doing more than a little reading on the subject, your article has helped me achieve a higher, more comfortable level of understanding

As far as manipulating the compost pile goes, I would like your opinion of how much wood ash I maybe should add to counter act a 5 gallon bucket of coffee grounds (and a much lesser amount of vegetable scraps and egg shells) per month - into the compost pile. my pile is 4' x 4' x 4', contained by pine boards (they may not last a decade, but by the time I need to rebuild it maybe i can afford to use cedar). i do add all my grass clippings, fallen leaves and garden wastes - and i mix it up every 3 - 4 weeks. I wet it down with rain water collected in a barrel (which brings up another question I would like to add: could I use the waste water from my RO filter to water the pile occasionally since the chlorine has been removed?) every 2 weeks, as it doesn't get much rainfall. I purchased a product from my local feed store called "compost maker," but have not yet used it because I cannot find anyone else I trust to offer me an opinion.

To further complicate my question, I would like to pick your brain (if I may) about adding my poultry's manure to the pile (duck and chicken). The manure easily available to me is usually dry, but not rotted. I will have the 4 inch thick layer of pine/cedar shavings mixed with the manure (which supposedly has already rotted somewhat because I employ a "deep litter" system in the coop, and will need to change it this fall. The bedding/manure has been on the floor of the coop for 2 years. What might be the best way to incorporate this bedding into the pile (other than mixing it in) - the coop floor is 8' x 8' and 4" thick.

Thanks, you have some great questions. Wood ash is basic, and coffee grounds are acidic, but it would be hard for me to give an exact measurement. I know adding too much wood ash can kill a compost pile. (. By kill I mean it will kill off the beneficial organisms that grow in the compost. Yes, not only does compost reduce environmental waste, increase nutrients, especially micronutrients, it also adds beneficial organisms to the grow medium. What more could you want?) I don’t think I’d add more than a 5 gallon bucket of wood ash to your size pile over a year. You want the pile to be slightly acidic so coffee grounds are not too much of a problem.

Adding your water is fine, so long as you don’t make the compost pile too moist. I tend to build bins, just like you have done.  I tend to make a lot of compost, and most containers are too small, and if you look at my post on composting, you can see they are probably cheaper than one’s you buy.

I think you are going to have to mix in the bird manure. If it is over 2 years old, it should be composted a bit already. This is going to be a nitrogen source, so you will want to have equal parts of brown material like dried plants/leaves or soil. You could try to add a gallon bucket of the manure every time you mix the pile. If you don’t notice any smell or anything funny with the compost, you can add more than that. I have not used chicken or duck manure, so I can’t talk from personal experience here.

Thanks, and keep up the great work!
Good Growing,
Dr. E.R. Myers


E-mail – HPS and Internode Stretching: Is It Time for an LED or Conversion Bulb?

Dr Myers,
    Is it true that hps bulbs cause more Internode stretching if the spectrum is not balanced with blue? do you believe an LED could be used to provide blue light to the flowering plants effectively enough to decrease Internode stretching?

I have only used hps bulbs so far. The 18 month mark came and I replaced all 3 with new htgsupply hps bulbs just like the ones that came with the light kits, and I feel this "pang" of wondering if i could get better results by either adding a halide conversion bulb or adding LED's. I understand the only way I can find out would be through scientific experimentation myself but my emotions keep me from spending the money on LED's. I am afraid to swap out 1 of the 3 hps bulbs with a conversion bulb because I don't yet have a light mover and the conversion bulb would light only one 3' x 3' bed - and that doesn't seem like an actual change to the spectrum in the entire room would take place. Is it time for me to bite the bullet and start the experiment or do you think I’m way off track here?

Thanks for the E-mail. Yes, HPS will cause internode stretching in most plant species. This is due to the light output being more in the yellow/red range, and a lack of blue light. However, if your plants are flowering, I’d not use a conversion bulb, they have a much lower output of light. (Read my post on flowering and HPS vs. MH)You may want to bend or prune your plants. You want the maximum amount of light to maximize your yield. If you are using this room for vegetative growth, then you may want to use a conversion bulb, or get an MH, which is much better for vegetative as far as internode stretching (there is no problem with MH’s)  but and HPS putts out a lot more light intensity than an MH.

As far as LED’s, you could put in an all BLUE LED to correct the problem. You could get 2-3 panels and put them beside the HPS you already have to cover the grow area. This blue light won’t need to be as intense; you just need to increase the blue to decrease the internode stretching. A Tri-Band LED would also reduce the internode stretching. I have only used a 90 and 120 Watt LED, but I am going to use a 300 W from HTGSupply.com this semester, and I am assuming it will be compatible to a 400 W HPS. I will let you and other readers know.

You may want to think about a light mover, since you have multiple lights. You could increase the grow area, and at the least you would get better growth on the peripheral areas. Without moving the light or plants the plants on the edge of your grow area won’t get the optimal amount of light. You could then put an LED or MH in the room and move it around with the other lights. I think this is the best option, but it is also the most expensive one.

Good Growing,
Dr. E.R. Myers


What To Do If You Over Fertilize Your Plants

If you know you have acute (very serious symptoms) of over fertilization (nutrient surplus) you need to act fast to save your plant. If you are growing hydroponically, empty the reservoir and start over. You may want to flush the medium once before refilling the reservoir. Read on for soil and soilless mixtures.

First, leach the grow medium. Leaching means you basically flush or run water through the mixture. Nutrients will be carried by the water and into the tray you use to catch water over flow. You should water your plants until it runs out the bottom into the trays. You will need to empty the trays a few times, so it is a good idea to have a spare tray to put the plant in when you empty the tray. (The plant will continue to drip out water so you want to have a second tray to put the plant in to keep down on the mess).

I use tap water, but you can leach the growing medium with a professional leaching agent to leach away metals, calcium, sodium, chlorides and other compounds, which can build up in the growing media. This leaching agent will bind to the nutrients and a good one will help remove nutrients that are not water soluble. Check the HTGSupply.com website for specific products.

Second, you need to check the pH if you are using a soilless mixture. Overwatering and leaching of nutrients will affect pH. If you are using soil this won’t be such a problem. Adjust the pH to the proper range for your plant.

Third, I would then administer a beneficial product like stump tea to the soil. The microorganisms will help to bring to balance any remaining nutrients and those lacking due to leaching. You could also use a high quality vitamin B-1 product such as Superthrive (1 drop per gallon). If your plants have been in the medium for a few weeks, you should also use a ¼ strength organic fertilizer to supply some nutrients for a week or two. Once you see good grow again increase to the manufactures recommended strength fertilizer.

You also may want to reduce the light intensity for a few days. If you are using an HID or LED you may want to raise the light a bit. Most indoor growers have the lights as close as possible to the plants to maximize absorption. But if you over fertilized your plants, they are stressed so reduce the light intensity and let the plants recover. Or, if it is not a hassle use fluorescents about 1” from the plant tops for a few days. The low output but excellent light frequencies provided by fluorescents are easy on plants.
You won’t see results instantly, it will be days. But you should see new growth lacking the symptoms.
Perhaps most important, write down how this problem happened and take steps so that it does not happen again.
Good Growing,
Dr. E.R. Myers


Seed Stoage - Revisited

It is a good idea to save your seeds especially if you grow outdoors and your plants are producing seeds as summer comes to its end.  Plant breeding is also a fun hobby, and storing seeds safely to maximize the number that germinate is an important part of plant breedingPlease read my previous post on seed storage.

Good Growing,
Dr. E.R. Myers