Last year was a great year for a lot of us. Being locked down in 2020 revived a lot of long put aside hobbies and unused skills. We put a wonderful garden in and got some perfect compost from a nearby horse boarding stable. And the garden did amazingly well.
So this year, we were calling ASAP to get the next round of horse compost and expanded our garden even more now that we knew it worked so well. I started more seeds than last year and was so excited to nurture them into plants to put into our bigger garden!
But about a month or so after I planted everything into the compost, I first noticed that some of our potatoes were growing very weird. I researched all the reasons that potato leaves would curl up and couldn’t find anything exactly like what mine were doing. But figured it was probably either that they were too dry (it’s been a super dry spring/summer here in Oregon) or the compost was still too fresh and they had too much nitrogen.
Here’s a normal healthy potato plant (in the old section of my garden)
and my sick potatoes in the new, expanded area:
And then, when my tomatoes and beans started doing the same thing, I went back online and continued my research for what could be causing this.
Healthy bean plant…
…and the poisoned bean plants. The ones that did manage to germinate (near the old compost) had leaves that were misshapen, shiny, heavy looking and fell off the plant with the slightest touch. The seeds sown directly in the new compost didn’t even germinate or poked their little head out of the poison and dropped their leaves immediately.
When the tomato and tomatillo starts grew in slow motion, or stopped growing at all and just curled up their leaves, I knew it was a compost problem.
Healthy tomato (in the old compost)…
…and the poisoned tomatoes.
Some more digging on YouTube lead me to this video.
and this one:
So the bad news, all the compost was unknowingly contaminated with this aminopyralid broad leaf herbicide. As near as I can figure, some of the people at the horse boarding stable brought in hay to feed their horses that had been sprayed with this herbicide. And since the herbicide passes through the horses digestive system and comes out in the manure undamaged, the compost was full of enough of it to cause major damage to my garden (and some of my friends’ gardens that we helped deliver the poison to also).
The plants that are unaffected by this herbicide seem to be growing just fine. For us, those are the brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts), and most of the flowers, and most of the squash, onions, and garlic. But we won’t have any beans, carrots, peas, or tomatoes from the garden expansion this year.
Praise God I didn’t spread any on the raised beds because they were already full, so everything grown in there is fine. But I did lose all my potatoes (even the ones that survived the poison I’m afraid to eat) and all the tomatoes and tomatillos, and all my french green beans, which is so sad.
So what do we do now? It seems like there are a few options:
- Keep it on the garden and keep testing it for one to five years by planting a bean plant and watching it grow for a month or so, and wait for the microbes to process the herbicide out of the soil. During this time we could continue to grow unaffected crops on those beds, and save the raised beds for those affected by the herbicide.
- Shovel it off and get rid of it. The only place we have to get rid of it to is our yard debris bin that gets emptied by the garbage company (not crazy about this because it would take months and months to fill and empty that).
- Shovel it off and spread it on our very sick looking lawn and reseed. Since grasses are unaffected by this we could go with this option and just be very careful not to use the grass clippings to mulch anything in our garden and not add any to our compost. Our lawn needs a makeover anyway, so this is a viable option.
- Build up the soil. We could try a hugelkultur technique and add a bunch of rotting logs, wood chips, and top soil over the top of the bad compost and build good soil over the top of the bad. This would take years to decompose down to the level of the affected compost and hopefully by then it will be gone.
So I’ve learned that it’s best to just do your own in-house compost. (I’ve heard even the compost in bags from the store can have it!) And to be extra careful where you get your compost. The boarding stable had no idea about this as they don’t check the sources of food that the boarders bring in to feed their horses. (I’m sure the horse owners didn’t know either.) I’m wondering if any of you gardeners out there had this sort of damage to your garden, and what you did about it. Please let me know.