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Old February 11, 2019   #1
lubadub
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Default Too much soil life?

I have seen where many growers are inoculating their seeds and soil and using aerated compost tea in order to increase their soil life. I am wondering if there is such a thing as too much soil life? Could excessive soil life upset the balance in the soil relative to the plants being grown? Is it possible to release too many nutrients via soil life?
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Old February 11, 2019   #2
maxjohnson
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If you look at the lecture by soil scientist Elaine Ingham, different soil system promote growth for different type of plants. The ratio of fungi and bacteria is important in determining the type of plants that will benefit more in that soil. Leafy vegetables seems to prefer higher bacteria where trees benefit from more fungi.

As for aerated compost tea, I can't say if too much soil life is bad, but I don't think compost tea will make the biggest difference in number. I'm very skeptical of how helpful it is for already healthy soil, seems like the benefit is more from the fertilizer in the tea than the amount of microbes. Physical composts will have much more active life than the tea. It seem more effective and less work just to mulch and add compost. Where compost tea might be useful though is when you can't make enough physical compost and have poor soil, or maybe for use indoor, or for a specific grow system.
This study makes the comparison between compost, compost tea, and other amendments: http://joa.isa-arbor.com/request.asp...ID=3337&Type=2

I was a sucker who spent a fortune on compost tea, rockdust, biochar, sea minerals, etc to grow in South Florida sandy root knot nematode soil. There is a very popular youtube growing channel that promote these stuff, which I will not name. None of that stuff helped, it only became better once I started using compost and mulching.

Last edited by maxjohnson; February 11, 2019 at 03:18 PM.
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Old February 11, 2019   #3
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Yes.


A huge increase in soil microbes, such as adding fertilizers, will increase the short lived microbe activity to a point where the organic matter breaks down much quicker thus reducing the soil's ability to store organic nitrogen.
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Old February 11, 2019   #4
PaulF
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Good question! Another maybe related question: Can the organic material level in the soil be too high? Somewhere, sometime this went through my head but I have never seen the answer.
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Old February 11, 2019   #5
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Things do grow in pure compost.
Quote:
Originally Posted by PaulF View Post
Good question! Another maybe related question: Can the organic material level in the soil be too high? Somewhere, sometime this went through my head but I have never seen the answer.
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Old February 11, 2019   #6
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I do think you can spend a lot of needless money for inoculum, which may be no different than the healthy community in your own backyard compost pile. Or adding a special inoculum may not change the community overall because there is a balance in that soil community which depends on structure, composition etc etc the properties of the soil itself will dictate how the community balances out.
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Old February 11, 2019   #7
oldman
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My answer would be that you can't have too much life, but it's possible to have too much of the wrong kinds of life. The point of innoculating the soil is that bacteria are a naturally occurring element in healthy soil. So a healthy root system is adapted to function best in an environment with bacteria. I've found that bacteria seems to control fungus in the soil too. Basically, it gives the plant time to develop its defences before coming under attack.

When starting seed I wet my growing mix with water removed from an aquarium during a water change. That gives me a reasonable amount of healthy, beneficial bacteria, some nitrates and/or nitrites, and very safe water. But I wouldn't stir spoonfuls of cultured bacteria into the mix or even culture my own from topsoil dug up in the garden. Moderation and balance will work in your favor no matter what you're amending your soil with.

As for too much organic matter, that can inhibit drainage and deny the plant the stability it needs to grow a strong root systems. There are plants that will sprout in pure organic matter, but they need inorganic components in the soil to do well. Think about what role rockwool or mesh pots play in hydroponics systems and root development. You'll undrrstand why soil needs sand, perlite, or gravel, not just peat or compost, for plants to grow well.

There is a good book on the subject from Timber Press call Teaming with Microorganisms.

Last edited by oldman; February 11, 2019 at 09:10 PM.
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Old February 11, 2019   #8
lubadub
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I am surprised to so quickly get so many responses. Thank you one and all. I grow mostly giant tomatoes and every year I am trying to get bigger tomatoes. I will be trying soil inoculation and aerated compost tea this year but with lower expectations than I started with. My soil is unusual as it is 100% silt with lots of organic matter. I wish I had some sand and clay but I don't. I thought about adding some perlite or sand to my soil in the hope that that would increase the aeration and increase the aerobic organisms.
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Old February 11, 2019   #9
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From what I have consulted I have never read anything about too much organic matter, but it is a good question. There might be an issue with too much of the same material. My experience is that more organic matter the better, especially compost. There is a great short book on soil health by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis, Teaming With Microbes, that I would recommend for all organic gardeners.

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Old February 12, 2019   #10
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That's the one I meant. Apologies for being too lazy to Google the details.

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Old February 12, 2019   #11
bower
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lubadub View Post
I am surprised to so quickly get so many responses. Thank you one and all. I grow mostly giant tomatoes and every year I am trying to get bigger tomatoes. I will be trying soil inoculation and aerated compost tea this year but with lower expectations than I started with. My soil is unusual as it is 100% silt with lots of organic matter. I wish I had some sand and clay but I don't. I thought about adding some perlite or sand to my soil in the hope that that would increase the aeration and increase the aerobic organisms.

What you need to improve that soil texture and aeration is some coarse organic matter. I use coarsely chopped or crushed kelp in my containers but it does break down completely in one season. There is really nothing better that I've found, than my own garden compost which although 'finished' still contains some material that breaks down more slowly - bits of herb straw mostly - and this I believe is the reason it manages to be superior to the (also wonderful) bagged compost which we can buy here.


Maybe for your climate there is a type of wood chips that would help. I've heard good things about deciduous wood chips from people in warmer areas. (Our wood chips are conifers our soil acid clay and our climate too cold for them to break down in a year or even two).
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Old February 12, 2019   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lubadub View Post
I am surprised to so quickly get so many responses. Thank you one and all. I grow mostly giant tomatoes and every year I am trying to get bigger tomatoes. I will be trying soil inoculation and aerated compost tea this year but with lower expectations than I started with. My soil is unusual as it is 100% silt with lots of organic matter. I wish I had some sand and clay but I don't. I thought about adding some perlite or sand to my soil in the hope that that would increase the aeration and increase the aerobic organisms.

I'm not entirely sure what silt is like, but mineral balance in soil is incredibly important to taste at least, as I found trying to grow in peat mostly organically. And not all varieties have same mineral requirements, some seem to love Mg rich soil while others can't live without high Ca for example. One can usually tell when something is amiss however.
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Old February 12, 2019   #13
lubadub
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My soil started out being 100% silt, essentially rock dust, obtained from soil along a stream. It was trucked in by the builder of the house I now live in. As I read about silt the only thing I could see to do was add organic matter and so now I am at 23% organic matter as per my most recent soil test. I have decided to grow as organically as I could this year and have read and now follow the suggestions mostly from a book titled" The Ideal Soil." I also have read Solomon's book "The Intelligent Gardener" and McKibbin's book " The Art of Balancing Soil Nutrients." Now I am working on understanding soil life. I will be using aerated compost tea and soil inoculants this year and will be buying brew mixes and soil inoculants. I may be wasting time and money but "nothing ventured, nothing gained,"
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Old February 12, 2019   #14
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Maybe I meant optimum organic levels in the soil. I came across this when I lost my lazy and checked for myself.

Ideal Organic Matter Percentage
The University of Missouri Extension suggests that organic matter make up at least 2 percent to 3 percent of the soil for growing lawns. For gardens, growing flowers and in landscapes, a slightly greater proportion of organic matter, or about 4 percent to 6 percent of the soil, is preferable. The percentage of organic matter that occurs naturally in soil varies greatly, according to the University of Florida, from 1 percent to more than 90 percent in muck soils. Organic matter itself is composed of living biomass like microorganisms, dead tissue or partly decomposed materials and stable, fully decomposed humus.
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Old February 12, 2019   #15
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Average levels of organic material in soils in my area are 3-4% according to Penn State University. My organic garden usually tests at about 10% which I think is ideal.

My soil holds water well and is fluffy. Too much organic material can tie up nitrogen so that it is not available to plant roots.
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