A question I've been dying to ask

Discussion in 'Planting, growing, nurturing Plants' started by SueUSA, Mar 6, 2011.

  1. SueUSA

    SueUSA Junior Member

    Joined:
    Dec 23, 2009
    Messages:
    212
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I've been part of this forum for a few years now, back when Joel first came up with his brilliant Aquaponics ideas.

    And in that time, I've noticed a consistent aversion to getting soils tested. It has been said that Australia is the flattest, driest, and geologically oldest vegetated continent, and it has a uniquely high proportion of nutrient-poor soils.

    So what's the problem? Why not know what soil deficiencies or excesses you have, so you can deal with them?

    The usual excuse for not having a soil test is the FALLACY that just adding tons of organic matter will fix all your soil problems.

    I don't understand. If most of the soil within 160 km is totally lacking in a set of minerals (primary, secondary or micro-nutrients), and you're either growing or importing organic matter from within that range, WHY would you think it is magically going to appear? How do you make something from nothing?

    If you get out all your fishing gear and drop your hook into a rain barrel, how long do you think it will take to catch a fish that isn't there?

    Some people here have said that the plant roots will mine the minerals from deep in the soil.

    BUT THE MINERALS AREN'T *IN* THE SOIL! And if you added every bit of minerally-deficient organic matter in the whole area, you would STILL have nutritionally-deficient soil and nutritionally-deficient plants and nutritionally-deficient food.

    So, please, would you tell me why you don't get your soil test, REALLY? (And don't make me import a 'rolly-eyes' smilie!)

    Sue
     
  2. Michaelangelica

    Michaelangelica Junior Member

    Joined:
    May 2, 2006
    Messages:
    4,771
    Likes Received:
    8
    Trophy Points:
    0
  3. sun burn

    sun burn Junior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 4, 2010
    Messages:
    1,676
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Its good to see you ask a question like this. I don't know the answer really apart from whwat MA suggests. I haven't even looked at the cost of it because I assumed it would be pricey. As usual i am just woffling a bit. The thing is if we can see the plants growing well, we don't see the need to get the soil tested I guess. If the plants are not growing well we would try to diagnose the problem. It may well not be something lacking in the soil but insect damage.

    I'm not sure what the thing that is lacking is supposed to be but i do know that highly acidic soils or highly alkaline soils lock up the minerals so the main focus should be on getting the right pH so that those minerals are available to the plants.

    Also if many people are bringing in soil improvers from outside their property they may be getting the missing ingredients. I have just started buying dynamic lifter. I put on blood and bone and dolomite or lime.

    Then again, many of us live on ground that does not fit your description. Where the land is bad not so many people live. That is where they farm cattle and sheep. Also if they are farming wheat and such you can be sure that those farmers are adding tons of synthetic fertilisers. But most of us on here are not from those places where the soil is so terrible. I think.
     
  4. Grahame

    Grahame Senior Member

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2008
    Messages:
    2,215
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    36
    Hi Sue, there are a couple of ways to answer your question.

    The first is...

    Soils tests are for pussies.

    The second is...

    While it is true that Australian soils, broadly speaking, are often deficient in some specific nutrients, a lot of the talk is in relation to unsustainable, intensive farming practices. The main deficiency in Australian soils is, in fact, organic matter.

    There is no point applying any remedy to other deficiencies until you have sufficiently built up the organic matter in your soil. Otherwise it is just going to leach out and not be held in the soil/humus where your plants need it, and moreover, cause more environmental damage due to said leaching.

    Second to the lack of organic matter the often referred to deficiencies are Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. You don't need a soil test to tell you you are low in Nitrogen, and a lot of that will be solved when you solve the organic matter issue. All manures contain phosphorus, particularly from grain fed animals. So you could feed your chickens grain and problem solved. Potassium deficiency can be a problem in sandier soils, again no point adding it until you have build up your organic matter. Wood ash is high in potassium, this as part of your composting regime to build up the organic matter levels solves that potential problem.

    Then you get into the other lesser problems Calcium, Magnesium and Sulfur. Sulfur is not generally a problem in high organic matter soils - its potential for deficiency comes from the fact that it leaches easily. Calcium and Magnesium are more of an issue on sandy soils and over farmed soils than anywhere else (particularly with high potassium fertiliser use!). If you do find you are having symptoms of deficiency, its definitely worth having your organic matter sorted before you consider using lime and dolomite, and rather than using them repeatedly should really only be used sparingly or once with good management - extended use can cause other soil balance problems. For calcium, better to go with slow release, local solutions such as bone, shell grits, fish bones etc.

    Then you get into trace elements. Whilst they are important you only need small amounts of these. With good management of your soil with high levels of organic matter and a 'symphony' of plants and animals thriving on the land these will tend to be available. And where they aren't they tend to show obvious symptoms, negating the need for a 'soil test'

    There is no point applying any remedy (or relying on any test) until you have sufficiently built up the organic matter in your soil. Otherwise it is going to leach out and not be held in the soil/humus where your plants need it, and moreover, cause more environmental damage due to said leaching.

    Which brings me back to the first answer ;)

    Happy to discuss futher
     
  5. milifestyle

    milifestyle New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2008
    Messages:
    1,573
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    0
    If we didn't have the technologies to test for deficiencies... what would we do? That's the question I always ask myself when these topics come up.

    I reckon one (or all) of three things will happen...

    1) The soil will adjust if we keep adding to it with naturally derived decaying plant matter.

    2) The plants will adapt over time to the nutrient availability present in their environment.

    3) We will adapt to the types of plants that thrive in the area we choose to plant them.

    When it comes to human nutrient availability if we can grow Red, Orange, Yellow, Green & White Vegetables... we are getting a solid range of nutrients.
     
  6. Grahame

    Grahame Senior Member

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2008
    Messages:
    2,215
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    36
    That was my third way of answering it Eric ;)
     
  7. eco4560

    eco4560 New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2009
    Messages:
    5,925
    Likes Received:
    8
    Trophy Points:
    0
    My concern is where the remedies that are recommended after soil testing come from. A crushed up coral reef somewhere? Something that must be extracted, purified and transported using fossil fuel?
    So if I'm not prepared to use the "solution" why identify the "problem"?
    Stuff grows and if it doesn't do well then I try it somewhere else and keep adding organic matter to the soil.
    I may not get the highest of yields but then I don't have to "max out" my garden. I can work it at the level that it is capable of producing.

    And $$$
     
  8. eco4560

    eco4560 New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2009
    Messages:
    5,925
    Likes Received:
    8
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Oh - and when you get that extra 200 days to grow in each year there isn't time time pressure to "max out" your production. ;)
     
  9. Grasshopper

    Grasshopper Senior Member

    Joined:
    Nov 19, 2010
    Messages:
    1,016
    Likes Received:
    9
    Trophy Points:
    38
    I add molasses,urine, blood and bone,worm wee and poo and gypsum,have a few acacias,throw charcoal from the barbie around and grow green manure
    If I've got money some cane mulch, mushroom compost,seaweed extract and mill mud.(not for a few years)
    and I live on top of solid rock with a very thin layer of pathetic grey clay rocky subtropical soil.
    All my plants look healthy so I don't think I need a soil test
     
  10. SueUSA

    SueUSA Junior Member

    Joined:
    Dec 23, 2009
    Messages:
    212
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Okay, let's eliminate the fear of the cost.

    I can't find anything online about the price of doing a basic soil test. Does anyone there know?

    Here, the cost is $8-10 USD. How much more could it be there?

    More thoughts later, but I've got to get to work.

    Sue
     
  11. sun burn

    sun burn Junior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 4, 2010
    Messages:
    1,676
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Post #2 gave you a link indicating the cost. Also even a soil testing kit costs $20 here. But i did buy one of those.
     
  12. frosty

    frosty Junior Member

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2005
    Messages:
    852
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    we had our soil tested back in 2005 when I first joined the forum ......... yes it did cost a lot https://www.swep.com.au/assets/files/SWEP PRICE LIST 2011 v3.pdf

    but we did find out it was lackng in just about everything

    but the main problems was we just couldnt find anyhere in WA to buy most of the minerals needed in Organically safe form........ all you can buy is chemical based stuff that further wrecks your land

    so now we just keep putting on manure and hope that works

    frosty
     
  13. purplepear

    purplepear Junior Member

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2009
    Messages:
    2,456
    Likes Received:
    10
    Trophy Points:
    38
    Occupation:
    Farm manager/ educator
    Location:
    Hunter Valley New South Wales
    Home Page:
    Climate:
    warm temperate - some frost - changing every year
    I believe that the design science that is permaculture should and must belong to everyone. We need a process that relies on nature, observation and the resources at hand to achieve the result. We must not IMO develop a system that involves restricting access by everyone. It needs to be doable in farms and backyards everywhere. If you have access to this science and you can make the adjustments within the ethics of Pc then do it but you must not move to say that it is the only way.
    There has been so much said here that you seem incapable of reading - Nitrogen comes from the atmosphere.
    Sue - you seem like a reasonably well read and intelligent person = please read up on quantum physics and antrophosophy. If all knowledge was the size of a watermelon then we would be aware of about a seeds worth or less. Bacteria play a role in acquiring elements and they live in humus which is built from organic matter.
    Perhaps this is not a debate you have to win but one you have to learn from.
     
  14. eco4560

    eco4560 New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2009
    Messages:
    5,925
    Likes Received:
    8
    Trophy Points:
    0
    From memory $150 was the price for a backyard garden - done by Nutritech who are a local mob with a good reputation. Then the cost of the remedy....
     
  15. geoff

    geoff Junior Member

    Joined:
    Apr 14, 2009
    Messages:
    83
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    The plants in my garden are always testing the soil for deficiencies. There are a number of good keys to discover what they're telling us. One of the permanent bookmarks in my designer's manual is to page 210 "Key to mineral deficiencies".
     
  16. purplepear

    purplepear Junior Member

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2009
    Messages:
    2,456
    Likes Received:
    10
    Trophy Points:
    38
    Occupation:
    Farm manager/ educator
    Location:
    Hunter Valley New South Wales
    Home Page:
    Climate:
    warm temperate - some frost - changing every year
    re reading my entry - it seems condescending - sorry - it is too late for an edit.
     
  17. matto

    matto Junior Member

    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2009
    Messages:
    685
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    16
    Hi Sue,
    Your original post you say that you cant bring up what isn't there, but these being essential minerals, they are there just in limited doses or locked up in the typically acid soils of greater Australia. This is mainly due to compaction and topsoil being lost, so I think adding any organic matter is the best start along with bacterial brews to kick start the process. Two months of tree planting work essentially failed last year due to a lack of rain.
    I think Geoff and Frosty would see the worst of us, there was a campaign early in West Oz's settlement to COMPLETELY denude 1 million hectares, and from what I have seen north of Perth,it looks pretty bad. But nature still persists for the moment, so their is life in those soils. I know of biodynamic wheat growers up that way that are doing fine. All with a bit of rotation and Cow Horn prepartation.
     
  18. Finchj

    Finchj Junior Member

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2010
    Messages:
    330
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    We had our soil tested here in North Carolina for free by the state. Our county extension agent said that we are one of the last states to provide free tests to residents. Our phosphorus levels came back 1, 5, 6 and 10 in 4/6 of our zones. A local farm store owner told us that we must have taken the samples completely wrong. I don't think we did them perfectly, but the other nutrients listed seemed more normal. The cost of adding bone meal for our entire site would have run in the hundreds of dollars, so we will just have to wait and see what adding organic matter (compost, vermicompost, mulch, and hopefully a small spring crop of clover), double digging, inoculating with the right mycorrhizae will accomplish for us.

    My parents, who will ultimately be responsible for keeping the garden, are perfectly fine with waiting another 3 years for our cover crops and organic maintenance to work their magic. Luckily we are in the position to wait. We can't afford an instant succession, in both monetarily and experientially.

    So, even with a soil test in our hands, we are going with the "add OM and observe" approach. That said, as long as the state offers free tests, we will send in samples every fall to see if we are progressing.
     
  19. SueUSA

    SueUSA Junior Member

    Joined:
    Dec 23, 2009
    Messages:
    212
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    $200 for a basic soil test PLUS $60 for the interpretation???

    Let me pick myself off the floor…

    Okay, that answers that question. No wonder you just guess! Ours are about $10 with the interpretation. So those of you who like to make snide remarks about the capitalistic U.S. may keep your mouths firmly closed.

    Do you have any type of government office that will do tests, or at least tell you what deficiencies the soil in your area is likely to have?

    One thing that drives me crazy about this site is the absolute DETERMINATION of your beliefs in permie soil fairy stories. They would gag a goat. It’s like no one does any kind of local soil research at all, many of the permie people just keep passing around the same old false information. Maybe you think if you repeat it enough times it will come true. Yeah.

    1. ‘With good management of your soil with high levels of organic matter and a 'symphony' of plants and animals thriving on the land these will tend to be available.’ FALSE.
    2. ‘The soil will adjust if we keep adding to it with naturally derived decaying plant matter. FALSE.
    3. ‘The plants will adapt over time to the nutrient availability present in their environment. FALSE
    4. ‘If we can grow Red, Orange, Yellow, Green & White Vegetables, we are
    getting a solid range of nutrients.’ FALSE.
    5. When you brag about your abilities to recognize ‘symptoms of deficiency’, you pretty much have to be talking about GROSS symptoms. So what do you do about it? How do you know how much of any given nutrient to effect an accurate improvement?

    Find a copy of Pat Coleby’s book on Natural Land Care and pay attention.

    The U.S. grows a tremendous amount of food. Recent government testing indicated that the nutrient level of our food has dropped by about 40% since the serious uptick of chemical fertilizers (ca. 1940s). The food looks fine, but it’s seriously deficient in nutrition. So, if our food looks fine and is deficient, how can you tell about yours by eye?

    Grain is not a natural food for cattle, they are pasture animals. If your sources of manure are being fed grain, does that mean that their pasture isn’t good enough to provide sufficient nutrients? If so, where does the grain come from? Is the grain whole or is it ground with additives mixed in (pellets)? Do you know? Do you ask? Or are you just assuming again?

    * * *

    Okay, *I* did some research on Aussie soils. You have 17 kinds of soils, according to the FAO World Reference Base for Soil Resources. Look through the brief descriptions below and see how good soil descriptions DON'T jump out at you. Here https://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/media/19253/Soils-of-Australia-distribution-of-soil-groups-as-classified-by is a map so you can find what type is near you.

    1. ACRISOLS - Low levels of plant nutrients, excess aluminum, acidic.
    2. ARENOSOLS – Mostly unconsolidated coarse sand, low in humus and other nutrients (esp phosphorus), no subsurface clay accumulation, excessive permeability.
    3. CALCISOLS – a layer of migrated calcium carbonate to some depth in the soil profile, usually well-drained, high lime content.
    4. CAMBISOLS – absence of a layer of accumulated clay, humus, soluble salts, or iron and aluminum oxides; because of their favourable aggregate structure and contain at least some weatherable minerals, they usually can be exploited for agriculture subject to the limitations of terrain and climate.
    5. DURISOLS – a substantial layer of silica within 1 metre of the surface, occurring as weakly cemented nodules or as hardpan and accumulates as a result of downward migration when solubilized during weathering of the soil; often high in dissolved salts.
    6. FERRALSOLS – red and yellow weathered soils from an accumulation of metal oxides, particularly iron and aluminum. Because of the residual metal oxides and the leaching of mineral nutrients, they have low fertility and require additions of lime and fertilizer if they are to be used for agriculture.
    7. FLUVISOLS – found typically on level topography that is flooded periodically by surface waters or rising groundwater. Some are Acid Sulphate Soils, with low pH, toxic aluminium levels and high concentrations of salts.
    8. LEPTOSOLS – very shallow soils, often containing large amounts of gravel; especially susceptible to erosion, desiccation, or waterlogging,
    9. LIXISOLS – Lixisols are old soils with low levels of nutrients (including low reserves) and a high erodibility, making agriculture possible only with frequent fertilizer applications, minimum tillage, and careful erosion control.
    10. LUVISOLS – The mixed mineralogy, high nutrient content, and good drainage of these soils make them suitable for a wide range of agriculture.
    11. PLANOSOLS – characterized by a subsurface layer of clay accumulation, poor in plant nutrients, and their clay content leads to both seasonal waterlogging and drought stress.
    12. PODZOLS – a coarse, acidic material that is high in quartz, with a subsurface layer known made up of accumulated humus and metal oxides, usually iron and aluminum. Above this, there is often an organic acid-bleached layer from which clay and iron oxides have been leached, leaving a layer of coarse-textured material containing primary minerals and little organic matter. Podzols usually defy cultivation because of their acidity and climatic environment.
    13. REGOSOLS – shallow, medium- to fine-textured, unconsolidated parent material that may be of alluvial origin; lack of a significant soil layer formation because of dry or cold climatic conditions.
    14. SOLONCHAKS – high soluble salt accumulation within 30 cm of the land surface and by the absence of distinct subsurface layering, except for possible accumulations of gypsum, sodium, or calcium carbonate.
    15. SOLONETZ – defined by an accumulation of sodium salts bound to soil particles in a layer below the uppermost layer; a significant amount of accumulated clay. Because of the high sodium content and dense, clay-rich subsoil, irrigated agriculture of these soils requires extensive reclamation—through leaching with fresh water and the construction of engineered drainage systems.
    16. VERTISOLS – Heavy swelling clay, very hard when dry, very sticky when wet, almost impermeable when saturated. One of the few soils in AU that aren’t deficient in available phosphorus.
    17. UMBRISOLS – a surface layer that is rich in humus but not in calcium available to plants, owing to high rainfall and extensive leaching that lead to acidic conditions.
     
  20. adrians

    adrians Junior Member

    Joined:
    Jul 14, 2010
    Messages:
    143
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    yes I think the ~$200+ is the main reason people don't do it..
    alot of people do simple tests like pH though, of course.

    Of course, more knowledge is better, if it was $10 I'd be them.. but one test at $260 isn't going to tell me much, I'd want at least 5 tests from different areas, and that, I cannot afford.
     

Share This Page

-->