Nine Mile Farm - Free Range, Non GMO, Non Soy Fresh Duck Eggs from Happy Birds

How to Make Your Veggie Garden Go and Blow the Easy Way

Let me say this article could have been a LOT longer, things get complicated and there  are so many variables when  you get into soil science and the soil food web, but this is about a quick fix to the most common reasons gardens look bad, produce poorly and are over effected by pests.  Let’s start out with a fact, the stronger your plants are the less they will be effected by insect pests.  This article addresses that, it doesn’t address “organic pest control” like neem oil, using DE, etc.

Okay, so your plants need the following to thrive, nutrients, water and healthy soil.  Starting out, no matter what myths you have heard about nitrogen being “bound up” by wood mulch, mulch with wood, about 2-4 inches in depth.  Yes the carbon in the wood will bind up with some of the nitrogen in the top layer of the soil, it will also break down and give it back over time.  And it won’t matter if you give up a bit of it as you are about to see.

Next I know what is en vogue is “let nature do it” and in time you can indeed do so.  When you are first establishing a garden though it takes time for soil organisms to get going and build up a strong soil food web.  If I try to explain all of that, then this brief article will become a small book so just accept this for now.  We need beneficial nematodes, soil fungi, good bacteria and many other tiny organisms doing their thing and something called plant exudates interacting with them to get this going.  In the mean time we are just going to give your plants what they need and season after season they will need less of it as you build soil

The truth is plants use many minerals, nutrients and micro nutrients but the following are the most important to growing healthy veggies because they tend to be so necessary and often lacking in new garden beds.  Often they are there but until the soil life gets going many are in non bio available forms.  So what we want to do is supplement them but we DO NOT want to do anythign that harms the soil life because in time we want nature to do as much work as possible and reduce our inputs, so we use all organic amendments.

The most often lacking needed nutrients in a garden bed are…

  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Everything Else

drearthNeed One- Nitrogen Phosphorus and Potassium. 

This is also known as NPK, most standard fertilizers organic and conventional are based on an NPK Ratio, if you look at the back of a fertilizer and it says, 5-6-2 that means it is 5 parts Nitrogen, 6 Parts Phosphorus and 2 Parts Potassium.  It also means that it is 87 parts something else, likely water, inert matter, etc.  Because 100 parts is the total, 5+6+2=13 and 100-13=87, got it?

So we are going to use a balanced NPK fertilizer My favorite is Dr. Earth 1014 Premium Gold Organic All-Purpose Fertilizer.  It is a 4-4-4 fertilizer giving equal amounts of NPK which I personally feel is very important.  It is also liquid and in a form that makes it immediately available to your plants and yet it feeds for a long times as well.  Just use it according to the label.  And give your plants a good drench of it.

garrettjNext as part of our NPK regiment and in order to get biological life going and cut down on pest pressure we are going to use my all time favorite foliar feed, (that means we spray it on the plants and they directly absorb it.)  It is called Garrett Juice Plus, it is made up of Apple Cider Vinegar, Compost Tea, Molasses, Dehydrated Seaweed, Liquid Fish, and Water.

Garrett Juice Plus is a terrific foliar plant food developed by the Dirt Doctor, Howard Garrett.  I use the plus version because you get a nitrogen boost of liquid fish.

It has an NPK of 1.5-2.2-1.5, not a perfect balance but good enough.  To use it mix 2 oz. of Garrett Juice per a gallon of water. Shake well before use. Spray the entire leaf surface of the plant weekly. Apply in early morning or in the evening.  This means a gallon lasts a full season or more.

With this you will be off to a great start and that tiny bit of N bound up in your mulch for a while means nothing.  If you want to you can also put a bit of blood and bone meal in the hole when you set transplants or plant seeds.  It helps but if you use these two products you likely won’t need it.

Need Two – Calcium and Magnesium

earthjuiceNext we are going to turn to Calcium and Magnesium.  These two are often deficient and you really need both in order for the plants to absorb them and use them well.  Calcium deficiency is usually caused due to low calcium availability or due to water stress which results in low transpiration rates. The symptoms of calcium deficiency include curling of young leaves or shoots scorching or spotting on young leaves, poor growth, leaf tip burns, stunted roots, and damage to fruit.

Magnesium deficiency, like any deficiency, leads to reduction in yield. It also leads to higher susceptibility to plant disease.  Since magnesium is mobile within the plant, deficiency symptoms appear on lower and older leaves first.  The first symptom is pale leaves, which then develop an interveinal chlorosis, which is yellowing of the leaves between the veins with the veins remaining green. In some plants, reddish or purple spots will appear on the leaves.

The expression of symptoms is greatly dependent on the intensity to which leaves are exposed to light. Deficient plants that are exposed to high light intensities will show more symptoms.   Any of that sound familiar to you?  Now as plants need calcium and magnesium together to effectively utilize both, most supplements come as a combination.

The best product I have found for this need is, Hydro Organics Earth Juice Cal-n-Mag Plant Food.  Again this is a liquid form, and that makes it available instantly.  We are also going to use it first as a drench and then in follow up treatments as a foliar feed.  You can even just mix it with Garrett juice and do it all at one time, how simple and easy is that?

Need Three – Iron and Zinc

ironzincMuch like calcium and magnesium, iron and zinc are best utilized together by plants, and people too for that matter.

The most obvious symptom of iron deficiency in plants is commonly called leaf chlorosis. This is once again where the leaves of the plant turn yellow, but the veins of the leaves stay green. Typically, leaf chlorosis will start at the tips of new growth in the plant and will eventually work its way to older leaves on the plant as the deficiency gets worse. Other signs can include poor growth and leaf loss, but these symptoms will always be coupled with the leaf chlorosis.

And what do you think zinc deficiency looks like, um, it is mostly chlorosis.  See how this is beginning to sound like a broken record!  Some other symptoms are, necrotic spots where leaf tissue has died due to chlorosis.  Stunted plants including stunted leaves, leaves that are smaller than normal and malformed leaves are also symptoms.   As you might imagine my favorite product here is once again a liquid.  It is Liquinox Iron Zinc Chelated Solution.  Again just follow the lable instructions but I recommend starting with a good soil drench then going to a foliar feeding schedule.

Again you can mix this right in with Garrett juice but I recommend you take your Iron, Zinc, Magnesium and Calcium foliar feed to monthly so long as your plants look happy.

Need Four – Everything Else

No doubt some experienced gardeners have read this and thought, well some of those symptoms could be boron, manganese, copper, molybdenum, or something else.   However in my experience most failed back yard gardens or ones that simply do not thrive are almost always made better by the treatments above, we can then go full spectrum on everything else using a product called, Azomite

Azomite is a highly mineralized complex silica ore, mined in Utah from an ancient deposit left by an volcanic eruption that filled a small nearby seabed an estimated 30 million years ago. It is used as a naturally rich soil re-mineralizer for plants, as well as a feed ingredient for animals. Azomite contains more than 70 trace minerals which include many that have been depleted from soils worldwide.   In the end any product marketed as Azomite is from the same source so I don’t really have a favorite brand.

The question really is how much do you need.  If you are establishing a new large bed you can buy large bags say 40 pounds or more and amend the entire bed.  If you just run a few beds you can just sprinkle a bit in each hole when you set plants out or sprinkle a bit in furrows when you direct seed the choice is yours.  I also always amend my beds with green sand.  Per 4×8 area I apply one 50 pound bag of it worked in when I establish the bed.  I do not use it on an ongoing basis.

Some Final Notes

Again there is a lot unsaid here, such as if you have high PH water this can actually cause a lot of deficiencies even if the minerals are in your soil.  Sometimes hard water that is loaded with calcium actually causes calcium and magnesium deficiency because it is so out of balance.   That is why for simplicity sake I go with liquid balanced amendments for calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc.  You know they will be absorbed, period even if only by foliar application.

In time you become more in tune with your plants, your soils, your water, etc.  You know what to look for and by developing healthy soils, most problems fix themselves in time leading to less and less use of amendments and fertility aids.  Simply mulching and adding compost every season or better yet, between seasons like spring/summer than fall/winter will do a lot of good.  Yet I see person after person with the same problems online and most are simply advised to use some organic pest treatment or to “add compost” and they remain frustrated.

I am not saying the above approach will solve all garden problems, what I am saying is as long as you mulch, as long as you don’t over or under water and as long as you do the above and continue to add fertility with compost and organic matter it will give 95% or more of people a happy, healthy and productive garden.

Lastly I realize some will criticize this and say, that is just a toss it all on and hope method or perhaps something like, you are just bringing in a lot of inputs.  Again let me stress, new beds take time to develop the life in the soil necessary for nature to do her job.  If your soil is healthy and your plants are happy none of this is necessary.  But if you have weird shaped leaves, yellow leaves, sluggish or stunted plants you can hold your breath or you can fix the dang problem with a few watering cans and a sprayer.

The other thing you will do is eliminate the most common problems, this means if you still have a problem it will be a lot easier to figure out.  And yes there is a ton you can do to go further, I grow comfrey and use it for dynamic accumulation as a mulch, I also make liquid green manure with it.  I add worm castings, I plant inter season cover crops, etc.  What is presented here is a quick way to get going strong, and improve from there.

Lastly many buy pre mixed soils, bulk composts, or make something like “Mel’s Mix” of square foot gardening fame.  These soils often look great, they smell great and they have a lot going for them.  However they often either lack some of these nutrients or often again the soil life web has not yet gotten up to speed.  Sadly many people figure since they mixed up “super soil” that something else must be wrong.

In the end, 90% of the time, if you have yellow or deformed plants and give them the N-P-K they need along with Iron, Zinc, Magnesium and Calcium, the problem either goes away or gets a lot better.  Again you can either fix the problem or stare at yellow leaves on your peppers and sagging leaves on your squash while holding your breath and waiting for it to fix itself, the choice is yours.

So Does it Work?

Well I have been doing this a long time.  While I have now focused more on perennials and livestock, yes it does, to that end, this is my garden all the way back in 2010.  Six years ago, again, this isn’t something we just started yesterday, this is what healthy plants look like and the basics above are how we have always done it.

Editors Note – All links to Amazon in this article do go to our affiliate links.  While we appreciate you supporting us these are simply the products we use, if you can source them locally or find a product that is as good or better, we totally support that as well. The primary reason we provide links is so you know exactly the products we are recommending. Not to make affiliate sales.


Why Our New Ducks Will Never See a “Brooder”

The Closest Thing to a Brooder Our New Ducks Will Ever See.

The Closest Thing to a Brooder Our New Ducks Will Ever See.

See the above picture, assuming our shipment from Metzer Farms arrives tomorrow it will be full of 60, 2-day old fuzzy ducklings by about 10AM tomorrow morning.  No brooder for us.

Now look I am not saying everyone should do away with the concept of a brooder just that we are in some ways and we have our reasons.  In fact right now we have 130+ quail only a few days old in a “tractor” on grass and not in a brooder.


Over the years we have lost more birds in brooders than any other way, that is why.  Today we lost three quails in a brooder.


Crushed as they all bunch up and form large throngs all seeking food or warmth or cool spots.  Sometimes it is from getting wet and then pushed aside.  Now I am not saying brooding is bad, or that it doesn’t work at times just that it often may not be necessary or as necessary as we are led to believe.  What is necessary are the attributes we believe a brooder should supply.

What are these?

  • Sufficient Warmth
  • Protection from Predators
  • A Dry Environment
  • Clean Food and Clean Water

That is it!  Nothing more, the theory is such can’t be provided or at least can’t be provided sufficiently unless we put small birds in a box or a stock tank or what have you.   Yet if we can a much larger environment is much safer in my view.  Let’s tackle each of the above in a “tractor” or in our case a small “yard” created with 4, 16-foot cattle panels.

Sufficient warmth – every article you read will say that baby birds need to be at 98-100 degrees constantly for the first few weeks to survive.  But this isn’t accurate at all.  When our ducks have babies they are out and about on day one often in temperatures in the 70s and lower.

But many say that the mother keeps babies warm.  Now let me tell you, we have mothers hatch 12 or more babies in one go, 12 babies do not fit under one mom folks and they spend most of their days out and about.

What they actually need is a place to get warm and dry when they need to.  This is easy to provide we simply put a few heaters under a portable table in the evenings, cover it with a water proof tarp in case of rain and during the day they just deal with it by huddling together, JUST LIKE THEY DO IN NATURE.

Protection from Predators – If we are honest here almost any predator that can kill a young duck or chicken etc. can also kill a sub adult or an adult.  Actually I once lost 13 chicks to a rat that got into a brooder by chewing a hole in hardware cloth.  That rat likely would not have entered a tractor, it attacked in the safety of a barn.  Whatever predator protection you provide for your older birds is likely sufficient for your young ones.

A Dry Environment – This may be the most important thing period.  I have found almost any bird suffering from cold is also wet.  In a brooder box this often happens with drinking water, the wet bird then gets pushed into a corner and can’t get warm and dry.  They then die of “cold” but it is the wet that makes the cold.  In a larger space they can always find room to preen and dry off.  They don’t get pushed into tight spaces and stay wet and cold.

When you have space the birds that need a warm spot can almost always access any heat you provide.  More important the ground absorbs water, a brooder bottom holds water.  It gets soaked, stinking and birds get matted fuzz.  Not that this can’t happen outside, it just happens less and is easier for the birds to deal with.

We also provide a tarp over a simple folding table, that provides both shade when it is too hot and cover if and when it rains.

Clean Food and Water – This is actually far easier to provide in an area contained by a small tractor or cattle panels or what have you.  Again spilled water isn’t a big deal, you can provide multiple feeders and waterers.

This does three things.  First it reduces competition and there by conflicts.  Second it provides a bigger buffer and prevents running out when one determined bird say causes a waterer to drain dry, trust me it happens.  Lastly it prevents big clumps of birds which often results in the smallest birds being crushed to death by the scum.

In the end I am not saying brooding in a traditional brooder is bad or that you should not do it.  Just that it may not be as important as many seem to think.  Birds have been giving birth outside for a long time.  Most birds we use as live stock like ducks, quail, chickens, geese and guineas give birth to active babies that largely see to their own needs from almost day one.

I am also not saying you can just toss young birds outside and let them fend for themselves or that you can do it any and all times of year.  You have to worry about seasonal temperatures.  In the north you have a more narrow window of warm temps to work with, in the south you also have a brutal summer period to avoid.  Some birds are more adapted to early outside living then others.  Rain can make cold dead baby birds anytime of year unless you provide good cover, care and oversight.

Ducks and geese can go out side almost at once, by two days they are fast moving, very capable or making decisions about where they want to be, etc.  Chickens I have found need say 3-5 days before they are smart enough to move and thermoregulate effectively.  I once put 50 red ranger broiler chickens in a tractor at a mere 2 days of age.  They sat in hot sun too stupid to move to the shade.

So into a brooder they went for two more days, then back outside.  From that point at 4 days of age they were fine, IN AUGUST in Texas.  We lost 2 of the 50 and both after three weeks of age when they would normally be out of the brooder anyway.  A loss ratio by the way consistent with most tractored and pastured broilers raised by professional farmers.

I was recently told by a very good farmer who does an amazing job with pastured poultry that he broods turkey polts for 6 weeks, I can’t even imagine this!  I raised 3 turkeys this year for meat birds this year.  We brooded them with some ducks, they were in the “brooder” for about 8 days, then outside and they never stumbled for a second.

Again I am not saying this approach is for everyone, what I am saying is all in all we have lost more birds in brooders than on grass even when we put them on grass at very young ages.

Our last run of 50 ducks we lost 2 in the brooder, and zero once on grass.  They went outside at 12 days of age, stayed outside after that.  This was in February, we even had ice storms when they were only 4 weeks of age.  We just gave them shelter with heat lamps in them and all was well.  Two years ago I brought up 8 geese, we lost zero in the first 12 weeks and guess what, they went into a tractor the day we got them at 2 days of age.

In the end you must make this decision for yourself and judge the timing and methods based on your goals and climate.  There are a lot of really smart people that will say I am wrong about all this but in the end, the birds are the ones I aim to keep happy.

I frankly see a brooder as a box of death in many ways.  Now at times you need to use it anyway, my goal is to use it as little as possible and get birds out into fresh air and sun shine as quickly as possible.