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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #1
lubadub
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Default Organic Gardening and Soil Tests

I have been gardening for over 30 years. For most of those years I grew using chemical fertilizers. Recently I decided to go organic. I read everything I could and worked on figuring out how to balance my soil and improve the life within my soil. I worked on making great compost and dabbled in aerated compost tea and foliar feeding. In short, I have been trying to do better, better as I am now seeing it. My question is this. Since I am presently adding materials to the soil that I depend on the soil life to break down into forms useable by my plants, how can I interpret my soil test, since my soil test will not tell me much about what is in my soil not yet broken down? How will I go about balancing my soil when a lot of what I am putting in it is not measured by the soil test I am getting?
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #2
brownrexx
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Congratulation on going organic. I have gardened organically for years with very good results.

I use Pa State's analytical lab for my soil tests, www.aasl.psu.edu

A basic soil test costs $9 and for an additional $5 you can have your %organic matter tested. This is the amount of organic material that has not broken down yet.

They told me that the average %organic matter for my area is 4% but mine is usually anywhere between 8 and 14%

After years of adding compost my soil actually has nutrients in excess so I am not adding compost for a few years. I just add organic materials to improve soil friability.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #3
b54red
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I have been improving my soil for decades with organic matter and a soil test even the most basic kind can give you some good guidance to help you avoid some of the pitfalls that can even happen with organic methods. I added far too much fresh mushroom compost for years and ended up raising my ph levels so far that many nutrients could not be absorbed until the ph was lower. Another error was using too much manure from cattle and horses which raised my levels of phosphorous to extremely high levels. So now I try to keep my additional fertilizing as low in P as possible and I try to use more acidic organic matter like cottonseed meal and peat.

Bill
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #4
Salsacharley
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I got this book and it is changing my entire approach to growing everything. It addresses how to analyze your soil web.

https://gardenerspath.com/gear/garde...crobes-review/
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #5
lubadub
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Thanks for the comments. I am glad there is so much excitement about growing organically. But, I can't really see where anyone has actually responded to the question?
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #6
Worth1
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lubadub View Post
Thanks for the comments. I am glad there is so much excitement about growing organically. But, I can't really see where anyone has actually responded to the question?
Everyone ""responded ""to your question but you may not have gotten the answer you were asking for or an answer at all from your perspective.

Bill/b54red did a fabulous job of responding and I remember his dilemma when he added acid by why of vinegar to the soil to lower the pH.
All the locked up nutrients came rushing to the plants with catastrophic results.
Your biggest pitfall will be having too much P and K and not enough N for the most part.
Personally I am not a fan of compost tea or foliar feeding.

First, compost is a product of the action of composting.
That product can vary to a huge extent depending on what your are composting.
Many years ago 1989 I read in a book, "not on line" about the variability of different tree leaves and the nutrients they put back in the soil.
The Hackberry tree had the least amount of nutrients to give back.
It was a fantastic book I checked out from the library put out by Texas A&M.

So how can you tell about your soil test about organic matter not yet broken down.
You have to know the nutrient bank of the organic material you put in it and go from there.

Probably not the answer you were looking for but it may help to get you there.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #7
PaulF
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lubadub View Post
, how can I interpret my soil test, since my soil test will not tell me much about what is in my soil not yet broken down? How will I go about balancing my soil when a lot of what I am putting in it is not measured by the soil test I am getting?
If this is the question, this is my interpretation of soil tests that I have been doing for more years than I care to count: A soil test tells you what the condition of the soil is at that moment you dig up samples. It shows the balance you are in (or imbalance). The test will tell you which chemical properties need to be increased or left alone to achieve balance. Most tests do not include nitrogen any more since most soils will need a nitrogen source of some kind every year. The organics not yet broken down is another option that will let you know potential depending on what form the organics are. A soil test will not explain potential, but by paying attention to your plants you can tell if what you have done is working.

Since I am not a strict organic gardener I am unable to give you in what form you need to add of the N-P-K-trace minerals-pH formula your test should give you. A soil test is a guideline for achieving balance. Periodic tests (my extension experts? say every other year or even three years if everything has become stable) will let you know how what you are doing is affecting your soil health.

My soil test says I do not need to add anything but sulphur in some form to lower pH. Since elemental sulphur is considered organic the only other thing I do is till under the straw/newspaper mulch for organic material and a nitrogen source.

Again maybe not an answer because I am not an expert, but that is my take on soil tests and their results. The work and preparation you have done is more than most would do, so you are most likely on the right track. Good luck.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #8
Labradors2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Salsacharley View Post
I got this book and it is changing my entire approach to growing everything. It addresses how to analyze your soil web.

https://gardenerspath.com/gear/garde...crobes-review/
Funny. I bought the book "Teaming with Microbes" and was not impressed at all, probably because it didn't come up with anything new. I am already an organic gardener, using the "no dig" principle.

I usually add some aged compost to the whole garden every couple of years, while adding "goodies" in the form of Tomato Tone, or my own aged chicken manure compost to the planting holes.

It works and I'm happy with the way my veggies grow and the harvest that I get.

Linda
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #9
brownrexx
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lubadub View Post
My question is this. Since I am presently adding materials to the soil that I depend on the soil life to break down into forms useable by my plants, how can I interpret my soil test, since my soil test will not tell me much about what is in my soil not yet broken down?
I did answer this question by telling you about the % organic matter being the amount that has not yet broken down and even told you where it could be tested in our state. Sorry that my answer did not suit you.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #10
Worth1
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I did answer this question by telling you about the % organic matter being the amount that has not yet broken down and even told you where it could be tested in our state. Sorry that my answer did not suit you.
From my point of view you did a fine job of answering it.
I read and re read every post and the question too.
But it is only my point of view which isn't much to speak of around the experts.
I have good results by accident and nothing more.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #11
Salsacharley
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The book, "Teaming With Microbes", details what microbes should be in your soil, and explains how you find out what is in your soil, and what to do to make your soil balanced. Some things have to be estimated because sophisticated labs are necessary for some analyses but the book provides ways to get a fairly good assessment of what youv'e got. It even details the different soil structures for annuals and perennials. You can modify your compost, compost tea and mulch to remedy deficiencies or excesses. I found it extremely game changing for me.

I don't know what else you want to know. The same author, Jeff Lowenfels, has written 2 other books, "Teaming with Fungi", and "Teaming with Nutrients" which I will read next.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #12
Salsacharley
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For your purposes I think you have a good approach and works very well without all the in depth scrutiny required from the book, but if you want to grow giants or you have issues with your plants like disease, or poor production, the info in the book is very valuable.

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Originally Posted by Labradors2 View Post
Funny. I bought the book "Teaming with Microbes" and was not impressed at all, probably because it didn't come up with anything new. I am already an organic gardener, using the "no dig" principle.

I usually add some aged compost to the whole garden every couple of years, while adding "goodies" in the form of Tomato Tone, or my own aged chicken manure compost to the planting holes.

It works and I'm happy with the way my veggies grow and the harvest that I get.

Linda
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #13
lubadub
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Thanks everyone for your answers. I think I have a feel for things a bit more than I did before posting. I am probably oversensitive about posts that, to me, veer away from the actual topic which was more about soil tests and how to know what to add in the way of nutrients. Again thanks to all.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #14
seaeagle
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This is almost all you need to know when growing organically.

The benefit of using organic fertilizers is that the plant can only uptake the nutrients it can use at the current time and no more. Whereas with synthetic fertilizers, if too much is applied to the plant then it can burn the plant's roots and leaves and can also kill the plant.

So you cannot have too much organic matter in your garden. For the record I have never had a soil test



If you need to test the PH, you can buy those cheap testing strips and mix your dirt up with water and test. Never done that either. Everything grows great. If it wasn't for those green stinkbugs I would have a garden paradise this year. I hope whoever brought those over here from Asia 25 years ago is still in prison.

Last edited by seaeagle; 4 Weeks Ago at 01:51 PM.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #15
Labradors2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Salsacharley View Post
For your purposes I think you have a good approach and works very well without all the in depth scrutiny required from the book, but if you want to grow giants or you have issues with your plants like disease, or poor production, the info in the book is very valuable.
Thanks Salsacharley. I will read the book again to see why it disappointed me so much. I do have diseases on my tomatoes, although I think they blow in on the wind and rain.

To Lubadub, sorry for veering OT a bit. I think you asked a very complicated question without an easy answer. I had my soil tested a few years ago (at the end of the season) and was told it was good, just low in nitrogen..... I don't think we can go wrong when adding organic matter.

Linda
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