Fixing the Soil

Discussion in 'Planting, growing, nurturing Plants' started by MicheleM, Mar 3, 2010.

  1. Speedy

    Speedy Junior Member

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    I agree with the content of Permasculptor's post re. soil biology and have been using this aproach for many years.

    the sticking point in this thread though, seems to be the soil chemistry issues ie. minerals.
    ...although when talking soils, you can never discount biology...
    I'm sure we're all in agreeance there.

    Also, that elements cannot be made from something else at temperatures needed for life...
    ie. not talking high temp nuclear transmutation of elements via fission or fusion
    ...though some may subscribe to Kervran's theory of Biological Trasnmutations.
    I see that as outside of science.

    what Sweetpea is arguing ( and correct me if I'm wrong) is that elements necessary for life are not made ,
    but are all there in the deep in the subsoil, and are accessed by deep- rooted perennials.
    The minerals are then brought into the plants and eventually deposited near the soil surface as the plants live and die
    and/or drop leaves and salts from the leaves, shed roots and so forth which are in turn used by microbes and kept cycling in the system.

    Also, that the value of well made compost is more than just the net nutrients ,
    but an inoculant for microbes that unlock nutrients that are otherwise unavailable to the plants roots ie. not water or citrate soluble.
    Who would argue against that?

    What SueUSA (Soil Witch) and Butchasteve seem to be arguing is that there are situations where,
    due to geological or other edaphic factors sometimes the necessary minerals (could be 1 or 5 or whatever)
    are just absent ie. not locked up as an insoluble , unavailable compound..
    ...but just not there.
    I'm sure we do agree that the possibility could occur.

    Justus von Liebig , y'know the guy who is branded
    by some in the organics movement as the devil incarnate. lol

    His findings were used as the foundation of the chem. fert. industry...
    ...some of his findings were incorrect and I seem to recall that he did later recant some of them,
    but you rarely hear about that.

    However, he did contribute quite a bit to science ,
    and he came up with the 'Law of the minimum' that still holds today.
    It's often illustrated as a barrel and the essential elements as staves in the barrel (you've probably seen it).
    the water level is the potential yield.

    If the supply of any one of those essential elements is in short supply (a shorter stave in the barrel),
    then that will be the one that limits the yield.

    It doesn't matter if we're growing wheat or pecan trees if there's a deficiency, it limits yield.

    And when we're growing plants we're harvesting solar energy,
    converting water and CO2 to sugars then to other compounds for life processes.

    that's why people test brix (%sugar) in plants for among other things, a general guage of plant health.

    The carbohydrates produced and are then converted to cellulose, lignin, amino acids and all the other compounds with the help of the Phos, Ca, Mg, S,K and trace elements (biocatalysts).
    If they're there in the right balance (from the right balance in the soil) they can carry out
    their functions within the plant(s) at optimum efficiency.
    Therefore the higher the Brix level of the sap for a given species then the better the level and balance of minerals.

    the reverse can be applied, the sweeter the produce (of a given species or cultivar) the more nutritious it will be.
    It's no accident that humans like the sweetness of sugar, natural sweetness is complimented with nutritients.

    If the nutrients in the top 4-6inches of soil is balanced, then the plant can function more efficiently than if not.
    but it doesn't just apply to the plant.
    If the Calcium/Magnesium ratio is within the ideal range , then soil tilth will be optimal for the right amount of air porosity/moisture retention for microbes to thrive and convert organic matter into humus to maximum efficiency.
    free living N-fixing bacteria operate efficiently.
    Rhizobia can work properly.
    If the plant can grow at optimal rate then the more quickly it can bring the minerals up from below.
    If the soil is imbalanced right into the topsoil then the plants cant grow as efficiently and it will take a lot longer to 'Fix the Soil' by relying on that alone.

    And again I come back to DJStudds patch.
    He couldn't even get pumkins or beans to grow.
    The soil test shows why, not enough Calcium or Magnesium for a start.
    And thats nothing to do with pH , it's a plant nutrient issue.

    After 30 odd years of fallow/ weeds 'fixing the soil' since the last potato crop.

    Deep-rooted perennials would work better than weedy grasses,
    but personally, I'd find the time scale a bit too long , and I woudn't want to bet on
    it that the Calcium is there in the sub-soil.
    It would be interesting to know what sort of vegetation the land supported before it was cleared.

    It might just be that the last farmers were sticking to a fert and
    spray program irrespective of soil nutrient status, and flogged the guts out of it.

    sometimes we may need to take radical steps to fix the results of radical abuse. :-?

    There are also minerals not essential to plant life but essential to the animals that eat them.
    Cobalt being one example, without it animals cannot produce Vit B12.

    If it was me, in that situation, and I could afford it , I'd put the fert and lime and dolomite on, split over 3-4yrs
    with a carbohydrate source as usual,
    and the full amount on the vege patch with a load of nice matured compost.

    I'd then rest assured that the right levels of minerals were there at the start and
    then I'd plant it up with trees.
    I'd then mulch around them with
    compost made from grass/weeds/hay cut fom the property.
    topped with woody mulch to push it more fungal for the trees
    that would then keep the system cycling the nutrients and building fertility
    ;-)
     
  2. Speedy

    Speedy Junior Member

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    Soil microbiology... yeah Sweetpea ,dont ya love it?
    it's a big subject thats why we speak of it in general terms and groups of organism depending on where they roughly fit taxonomically ( and even then some soil microbiologists can't agree with each other) and what functions they perform in the soil.
    The way I'd aproach it is to use the above mentioned treatment, with a fair idea what it will
    do to the different organisms in the soil, as a kickstart to the system.
    Apply the compost and mulch , and get the hell out of the way and let nature do her magic as slash and lay down weeds and I add my desired plant species over time as i can.
     
  3. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    What this thread started with was a general question. We never really found out if that person was even lacking in those things. Of course there are places where the soil can't support the non-native vegetables we are trying to grow. I don't know why that should start an argument about what, in general, soil needs.

    Speedy,
    I'm just not comfortable with this 4-6 inch amount. roots go way deeper than that. Tomatoes can go 3 feet or more sometimes. so few vegetables stay 4-6 inches, it's almost not worth mentioning. A plant just can't get enough nutrients in 4-6 inches. Otherwise we could grow everything in little pots, and that would be so much easier! :)
     
  4. kaviare

    kaviare Junior Member

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    I was listening to Herbmentor radio the other day and the guest said 'you aren't what you ear, you are what you assimilate'. That stuck with me. I would add, to the quote above, that something might be available in the area (eg, nitrogen in the air) but not available in a form that most plants can assimilate. Which is why you would plant legumes, to fix the nitrogen into the soil. Just for example - I'm not experienced enough to know if the exact same thing goes to Boron etc. But to completely agree with the way you put it, Speedy, those things are not 'made'. They are there or not there, or there but not accessable.

    I also have to wonder what people are doing in here if they think these ideas are rubbish. Not to say that they are necessarily wrong (maybe I misunderstood?), or that they shouldn't be here - I wouldn't want to imply that ever, and certainly don't have the right to here! But as Purple Pear pointed out earlier, this is a permaculture forum. I realise that means many things to many people, but if you find yourself in complete opposition to those things, maybe there are other parts of the internet that might suit you more.
     
  5. permasculptor

    permasculptor Junior Member

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    I just think that it is great to have so many knowledgeable people able to share their wisdom and experience.
    As with most things a little from column A a little from column b.
    Thank you all ,interesting thread I hope it continues.
     
  6. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    Oh, you mean make the grouchy people go away??
     
  7. butchasteve

    butchasteve Junior Member

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    I certainly think these things need to be discussed, as to provide balance to the forum. Or more pertinently, help us newcomers to understand..

    Now I know I in particular seem a little contrarian or argumentative, but asking the hard questions is how one gets a truer understanding.

    Comments like "organic matter fixes everything" or something of the likes, while maybe not untrue, does not assist in the deeper understanding of the subject or provide the scientific/experiential data that one needs to understand the "why" and "how" which is vitally important if we are to autonomously practice on our land.

    there have been some terrific posts in this thread. forgive me for agreeing with the "soil witch" but in essence if its not there, its not there..

    I mentioned in my previous post my awareness of deep rooted perenials, or that compost from and OUTSIDE source can bring it. But here is a question to fire up the discussion further..

    Locked up nutrients. Do they register on soil tests? Can we test for them, or is the attempt to release them a game of hazard as to whether they are there or not?
     
  8. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    steve, yes, a soil test reveals whatever is in the soil. If the nutrient is locked up, that means the plant is unable to uptake it, not that it's not present. Releasing it is a matter of chemistry.

    I hope you aren't reading my posts to say "organic matter solves everything". I'm saying compost, which is a very specific thing, balances out the soil condition, sometimes by adding nutrients, sometimes by adding its own special "brew." Compost is not just organic matter. It's been through a process and has actually created other substances that weren't there before, like glomalin and humus.

    And just out of curiosity, are you in this forum in a professional capacity for Monsanto, or do you want to grow your own food using Permaculture methods? :)
     
  9. purplepear

    purplepear Junior Member

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    I think we sometimes search too deeply for the "why' and "how" in things and loose sight of knowledge we carry deep in ourselves and in the experiences and messages in Nature all around us and we look to have irrefutable facts to avoid having to make decisions for ourselves and to have someone else to blame if things do not go perfectly.

    ..

    It is without doubt that Sue has a great degree of knowledge in horticulture. If by "if it's not there" you mean in the soil then starting with nitrogen we all know that the air is full of it and plants make use of that atmospheric nitrogen through leguminous plants. The work of Pffiefer shows that much of the nutrient uptake in plants can and does come directly from the atmosphere and is absorbed in a variety of ways including through the leaves (have you heard of foliar feeding?) and with the assistance of a range of bacteria.
    I know I should back that up with some links to the info but if you are interested it will not be too hard to find.

    With or without the soil test - the way to ensure the nutrients in the soil are available to plants is to ensure that there is organic matter in the soil to assist in the conversion of available minerals to a form conducive to uptake by plants. If the pH is locking them up then organic matter can and will adjust the pH from either acid or alkaline toward balanced.If they are not naturally in the soil then there is a very good chance that they are in compost made from a wide range of materials.
     
  10. purplepear

    purplepear Junior Member

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    Sue - don't mind Steves signature - he's just a stirrer - I think. LOL go to Singapore Daisy thread for background.
     
  11. mos6507

    mos6507 Junior Member

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    Soul health

    A couple issues that keep nagging me.

    #1 is whether it's 100% necessary to amend soil before doing the immediate tree plantings for a food forest. How dependent are newly planted saplings on surface soil fertility for their survival? Not as bad as annuals, I presume.

    #2 when continually selling produce, won't you still use up all the minerals that perennials suck up from the subsoil? It's still not an infinite resource.
     
  12. Grahame

    Grahame Senior Member

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    Here is something that is worth meditating on in respect to the idea of 'fixing the soil'.

    Permaculture Principle no.12 - Creatively Use and respond to change

    We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing and then intervening at the right time

    Courtesy of https://permacultureprinciples.com

    So, then we need to ask ourselves is it the right time to intervene and 'fix' the soil by importing additives as soon as we take possession of some land and do a soil test? Would you consider a soil test to be careful observation? Or might careful observation involve first trying some of the more local and slow solutions (Principle no.9 - Use small and slow solutions. ) such as improving the organic content of the soil (which one assumes you would be doing at some stage anyway). After these small and slow solutions there would be an ongoing and more careful observation to determine what other, if any, solutions/additives may be required.

    My personal thought would be that importing additives would be a final step, and that if we go through the process of applying the small, slow, local solutions we will get a better idea of what is really needed and not only that get better results from the addition of any additives. Although I can't give you the exact science on this I am pretty sure that if you have really good quality soil in terms of high organic content the retention and availability of any additives would be far greater than similar additions to poor soil.
     
  13. kaviare

    kaviare Junior Member

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    Does that mean I can't come back, either? :p
     
  14. butchasteve

    butchasteve Junior Member

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    I will come for your children in the middle of the night!!

    nah just stirring.. came on here to find out monsanto is the Permie equivelent of the boogie man (except real)..
     
  15. butchasteve

    butchasteve Junior Member

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    I agree there should certainly be an element of "feel" to our efforts. a connection to our land on a level that scientifically would be called emotional or such, but which "feels" more real, like how the idea that "love" is an emotion seems to cheapen the experience. But...

    Scientific "how" and "why" give us a truer understanding of the inner workings of what we are doing, and in turn educate us to the point of being able to solve problems and think for ourselves autonomously.

    My gripe with modern society is we fail to separate or distinguish between education and training.. We train dogs not to shit on the carpet, we shouldn't train people to do jobs. We should educate people to understand things and think for themselves. We should be educated to free ourselves from the moral bankruptcies of the previous generation.
     
  16. pebble

    pebble Junior Member

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    Monsanto are the jive dancers of the permie movement???
     
  17. Ichsani

    Ichsani Junior Member

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    A permie soil scientist cracking the sh*ts on a Thursday afternoon

    WOW!

    This conversation is still going - I seem to recall a similar thread not too long ago.... feisty then & feisty now...

    Ok, before I wade in to this continued debate I must confess a foot in both camps... a permie from birth and now also a soil test b**ch Soil test 'Witch' is a bit too esoteric for a product of science isn't it? (Sue your perseverance is amazing)

    To give some context - when younger I devoured all permie, organic gardening, traditional agriculture related information I could get my hands on, visiting where I could, listening always. Over time I ran out of new information, sure there were always more examples but ... I wasn't learning anything 'new' and still had many questions that weren't being answered.

    So later on, I went down the science route with the same topics - which, surprise surprise, I found didn't give all the answers either (yes like most young people I was pretty naive and probably still am!)

    Funny enough - there seems to be a middle path (thanks Buddhism :))

    Ok here it is - given the contrast between:

    A: A bag of 'chemicals' (provided by big 'evil' companies*, abstract single nutrients with no regard to soil biology, structure, function, nutrient cycles etc etc).... lumping mined amendments along with synthesized ones.... (i feel like screaming 'its not that simple' here but I'll refrain)

    and

    B: 'Truckloads' of compost (which, when used to address say the shortage of calcium from the soil test on page 1 would require approximately 1.2 m deep application (yes I actually bothered to calculate it) - which is nonsensical - might as well build (very) raised beds, mix your compost with sand and forget about the soil underneath)

    What on earth then, is an enlightened permie to do?

    So, let me propose C: minerals are quite necessary but they don't go far without soil biology to turn them over. Nor do minerals appear from nowhere. Yes biology can solubilise minerals from rocks but that mineral must be there in the first place (and don't say 'nitrogen' or 'carbon' here thanks - we're talking about the (majority) of nutrients/minerals that don't readily exist as gases). Organic matter build up then (from a degraded OM state) is the product of biological cycling of nutrients and the 'self-making' behavior complex ecosystems. Adding OM kick-starts this self-making, adding mineral sources (especially where deficient) increases the size of the turnover by the amount that couldn't be realised due to shortages of blah, blah or blah - AKA more PRODUCTIVITY.

    Someone asked if taking production off of land and transporting elsewhere would decrease the mineral content of soil.... well yes, it does. As to whether it 'matters' on a timescale relevant to you depends on how much is removed (ie not returned in some form to your soil) in combination with the soil/s in question.... but the phrase 'feed the soil first' didn't come about for no reason at all....

    To put all that clap trap in some more context then - have a listen to this... particularly when he starts to talk about 'big boys'... absolute classic. Old farmers are my favorite people to listen to having a yarn.

    https://www.abc.net.au/rural/telegraph/content/2010/s2862376.htm

    Now if the Biological Farmers of Australia have seen fit to certify the above product as suitable for use in organic agriculture then, as a proud forward thinking permie, would you accept it?

    I reckon lucky us in Oz, very old soils but kick ass mineral deposits... just have to put 2 & 2 together in a loooooong sighted way (see, still probably naive) yet that's one of the main things I love about permaculture - its regard of the long term paired with good design sense- surely such applications of minerals are right up there? Its not like it comes ready synthesized out of the chemical industry - yeah its mined, but so is pretty much everything making the computer I'm currently typing on - let alone the coal that's powering the whole shebang!

    .....but, having said that here's a contrasting brain teaser on the 'mining of mineral front'... if brown coal (or 'lignite' as it is politely referred too) is mined and used as a soil additive (so a type of very very very mature compost!), or added to compost blends or used indirectly as HUMATES (derived from leonardite which comes from - you guessed it brown coal) ... ... is it 'sequestering' carbon in the soil and so good for global warming? Or just introducing more 'old' carbon into the current biological system?

    Give me 'current' compost any day.... what permie wants ancient compost/brown coal/lignite/leonardite/humates for their soil?

    Weekend! Wooooo! :)

    Cheers
    Ichsani
    Disgruntled and somewhat grouchy soil test b*tch #2!

    *sorry Steve, just cause you work for the devil, doesn't mean we don't like you (OK maybe Monsanto is not the 'devil' but I certainly disagree fundamentally with what I see as current negative outcomes & potential future outcomes of its business model.... but its not like its in yours, nor my power to change that - up to shareholders & an alternative to the profit motive perhaps? I can't really say)
     
  18. butchasteve

    butchasteve Junior Member

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    Umm, yeah.. I don't work for them though.. I just put it in my sig to annoy the more militant permies.. stirs up a bit of fun.. agree they are a shit company though, and ruining agriculture. doesn't make it any less fun though.
     
  19. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    butchasteve,

    Actually, Monsanto is the boogieman of the world. They are trying to undo biodiversity. Ever seen the movie, The Future of Food? It's a good place to start to see what they are doing with regard to food on the planet, profit, greed, and power.
     
  20. pebble

    pebble Junior Member

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    I think you people mean 'bogeyman', not boogieman ;-)
     

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