Horse manure is too much for two five-gallon buckets of soil, so, I am
sorry for misleading folks.
I'm mostly asking for *technical* details like how I know if the soil is
good or bad in the first place.
I did look up how plants get their nutrients.
Apparently only about 1% of the root actually *touches* nutrients, which
soak into the root along a corky layer that surrounds each root cell. That
corky layer utilizes ATP to *force* the nutrients into the cell since there
is a *higher* concentration inside the cell so simple osmosis won't work.
However, 99% of the nutrients get *to* the roots by osmosis of the
fertilizer. That is, if I put a nodule of fertilizer a few inches away from
a root tip, the root can't get to the fertilizer until the nutrients
*diffuse* out by simple osmosis from the nodule to the root.
So, what seems to happen is that a *water flow* is set up where the leaves
transpire water, which then causes a vacuum in the root which pulls in
water by pressure, where that water flow brings the water close to the root
where that water contains the fertilizer nutrients that diffused by osmosis
into that water.
Once the water is pulled next to the root, then an active (and complex)
process begins to actively pull the nutrients into the cell.
That's as far as I got, so any added value you can provide as to the
technical process of fertilizing a bucket of soil would be helpful as the
goal is for the kids to learn how the whole process of growing food works
That's easy. Have a sample of the soil tested. Most universities will
do it for a small fee. Contact your county's agricultural extension
office and ask about getting a soil sample tested. They usually have
the instructions and submission form available, plus the address to
mail or drop off the sample. They may have a listing of additional
places that you can send your sample to for testing, besides the
In general, a soil test report will report on the amount of organic
matter present, indicate the type of soil, test for pH, phosphorus and
potassium levels. Testing for nitrogen levels usually isn't done
because nitrogen generally is not persistent in the soil. They'll
recommend how much nitrogen to apply based on what you tell them
you're intending to grow in it.
Or you could bypass all that and just start gardening. You could make
it a science project for the kids - one bed or container with the soil
as-is; another bed or container with the soil augmented with a small
amount of fertilizer. You could further tweak the experiment by having
a third bed, where you apply half the fertilizer at planting time, and
the other half about 6-8 weeks later. Have the kids keep records as to
how well the plants grow in each situation, and which produces the
most of each particular vegetable.
On Tue, 06 Sep 2016 15:23:55 -0500, Moe DeLoughan wrote:
This is along the lines that I was thinking also.
Having the soil tested is good because it would be a concrete proof of
whatever it is, while doing the experiment will back that up.
The closest school is UC Santa Cruz, but their soil lab number is odd in
that it either displays busy or not in service: 831-459-4089
I'll look around for another number...
(Amazon.com product link shortened)
This is the one I use. It's a science experiment in itself as you
collect and prepare the samples, mix them with reagents, and compare the
results fro color or density.
There are inexpensive soil testing kits that will give you some idea of
what minerals, if any, are present, and the alkalinity. What are you
trying to grow? Different plants prefer different profiles and soil types.
Be warned about growing horseradish: where ever you plant it, there it
will always be, forever and ever amen. It is impossible to completely
eradicate that stuff. If that might be a problem, plant it in a pot.
On Tue, 6 Sep 2016 08:26:18 -0500, Terry Coombs wrote:
If I do fertilize the soil, I think what I'll do is take an empty bucket
and fill it half way with soil, and then sprinkle a handful or two of the
fertilizer and shake it up.
Since there are only two full buckets, that won't take long.
I don't ever fertilize (don't ask me how my lawn is doing!) so I have zero
experience with fertilizer.
Does it go on top and then you let it soak down?
Or can I mix it up with all the soil in the two five-gallon buckets by
shaking it about like I shake flour and my potato wedges?
different plants need different types and amounts of
i usually start each new garden by planting the heaviest
feeding plants first (tomatoes) and then after that amend
or not as needed. crop rotations extend the time between
amendments (i get three or four years in some gardens and
the soil keeps improving because i'm burying organic materials
in there sometimes even if i'm not adding anything else -
the stuff i'm adding is usually either weeds or the left-
overs from plants grown in there and/or leaves, wood chips,
pieces of bark, etc.).
my fertilizers for gardens are the worms (worm pee/poo
and the worms themselves along with whatever garden soil
has been reprocessed by the worms over the year that i go
between taking the worm buckets out) and some green
manure crops used to add more N and organic materials. i
also have wood fire ashes and charcoal pieces to use once
in a while.
in the arid southwest you're going to need larger
planters IMO and some surface mulches to keep the water
situation from getting too horrible. raised beds will
also be likely a bit hot if they are too small for some
plants. it may also be very hard to have any worms
stick around and be very expensive (water costs). rain
barrels can help catch the infrequent rains and to
help. many other methods worth adopting for arid
climates also help (wind breaks, swales, partial
shading, plant selection)... whatever rains you do get
you want to capture as much as you can and soak it in,
but you also should have a good idea of the area you
are in and how stable it is. don't need to create any
On Tue, 6 Sep 2016 23:41:48 -0400, songbird wrote:
While this is almost certainly true, getting to that level may or may not
be too much for me to handle at this early stage of learning.
But I do agree with you, in that I have waged a genocidal war against
scotch broom and spanish broom, where, my research tells me, they're
"nitrogen fixers", which, AFAICT, means they sort-of-kind-of make their own
nitrogen (so to speak) with help from bacterial friends.
Apparently that ability to colonized nitrogen-poor soils enables them to
thrive where other plants can't take root yet. So, it's complex, I agree.
Who knew that plants make their own fertilizer?
Hmmm... what does that mean?
What's a "heavy feeder"?
Is it a big fat plant that sucks up nutrients?
How do you know tomatoes are "heavy feeders" and not, say, melons or
I looked up what the "organics" do, and, apparently, it's complex (like
evertyhing else) but we can simplify it by saying the organics aren't
"rock" so there are spaces for water and they act as a sloooooooow release
of fertilizer (to the tune of about 1% a year of their nutrients).
Why Soil Organic Matter Is So Important
That article above literally says that soil organics promote fertility,
whatever that means, and that the organics make for better compaction, less
erosion, more water availability, fewer parasites, less diseases, and fewer
I find it hard to believe that there are "fewer parasites" or "less
disease" and "fewer insects" but that's what they say.
So, it seems that organics in soil are the panacea for all ills!
I haven't seen a worm in months. We have them. Somewhere. But not many.
Maybe once every six months I see a worm. So that's not gonna happen here.
Sun we have plenty of.
There is no water from rainfall. None. Zip. Nada.
We have to water them daily.
Did I mention my grass is brown in summer and green in winter?
The opposite of yours, probably.
I don't get the raised bed thing.
What good is the extra height?
OK. So I know it's not the height.
So what is it?
Can't plants drain water on the ground?
(Remember, it never rains here, except in the winter.)
Heh heh .. rain barrels. My neighbor has a 22000 gallon rain catchment
basin, and its' dry within a month of the rains stopping. And it won't rain
a drop until November.
We are on a mountain so, there is both plenty of wind and plenty of swales
to hide from the wind. But basically, there is no wind in the summer and
the wind is ferocious in the winter (coming off the Pacific).
There is zero rain. Not a drop. Between something like May and November.
Not a single drop.
There is no such thing as a rain date.
In fact, when I first moved out here, I asked "when is the rain date?" just
in case, and they all looked at me funnily'.
Partially the height, makes working on them easier, but mostly because you
can create the type of growning medium you want. The lack of ground contact
also keeps undesireable critters like nematodes out.
not only do they harbor nitrogen fixing
bacteria they can also encourage other bacteria
experience, study, observation. and like i noted
elsewheres a moment ago (in another post) red peppers
seem to do better with more nutrients while green
peppers don't. there are many other kinds of peppers
i've not even grown so i don't know what their needs
i grow many different kinds of beans too, and some
seem to grow about anywhere i plant them and do ok,
others are more finicky and demanding to produce well.
that and are habitat for the many other creatures.
in compacted subsoils there is no room for the complex
soil community so it is less fertile. every organism
is an energy source/nutrient source for something
else (eventually one way or another). plants can use
various nutrients in the soil, but they also encourage
bacteria and fungi in various ways to trade nutrients.
in subsoil without much organic material you won't see
such networks (this is why no-till practices are
interesting to study).
it is certainly fitting to my experiences and results.
so far a few instances of diseases and pests have been
corrected by amending the garden with wood chips or with
we've had a long dry summer that finally improved
the past few weeks. normal for us is about 3 inches of
rain per month. we had four months with that total rainfall.
i had to water the veggie gardens every three or four days.
last year i hardly had to water at all.
i consider it mostly an expensive fad but some
people do find it easier with things being up
higher. i don't want my gardens isolated from
the subsoil/minerals/worm hiding places, etc.
every edge or container is just to me yet another
thing to maintain. when you have almost an acre
of such things the fewer number of things the
better. i can work a larger garden much easier
than many smaller ones. able to rotate or change
where i plant following crops, reuse pathways
or whatever. much easier to weed along one edge
than around four edges of a smaller garden. and
all the wasted space in pathways that i can use
instead for production. much nicer. i'm gradually
taking out extra useless pathways and consolidating
smaller gardens into larger areas. what i don't
have is enough fill and organic materials to bring
up the elevation yet in some spots where they can
flash flood. eventually it will get done... :)
better than nothing, but if you can capture water
and hold it underground then you don't lose as much
from evaporation. as long as your ground doesn't
slip when saturated...
that's harsh, but do you have control of any upslope
areas? there's things that can be done which will hold
water back and soak it in and then that can be a source
of a spring further down the slope eventually. some
changes can take years to see obvious results, but are
if you have buried organic materials around they can
also act as a reservior for moisture.
i think the major problem in many arid areas is
that any growth during the wetter times becomes a
fuel source during wild fire times. that's another
good reason to get things buried. :)
On Tue, 6 Sep 2016 05:51:30 -0700, Taxed and Spent wrote:
If I eventually put in a vineyard, I'm sure I'll go the commercial
fertilizer route (if the neighbors don't mind the stench).
However, in this case, I'm just asking for *technical* advice, such as ...
Q: How do I know if fertilizer is even needed?
Q: How do I know how good (or bad) this soil is?
Q: Is *your* soil half stones like mine is?
I used to live in glacial till, so I know what that's like!
Here, there are no boulders. Just the Franciscan sandstone (aka red chert)
for entire mountains. You can dig 3000 feet and it's the same stuff through
and through (all mashed up like it was blended in a kitchen blender, which,
in effect, it was because the oceans mashed into the continent and
schmushed it all together 30 million years ago).
So your soil is stonier than mine.
Mine is weathered on the top to what I pictured.
I have been looking up the importance of organics, and, it seems they're a
mysterious elixer that pretty much does everything good possible, but the
plants don't actually "eat" the organics.
Function of organic matter in soil
The organics are a *slow* source of N and P.
They affect the microbial flora of the soil.
And, they act as pH buffers and moisturizers.
It's super complex though ... and it's kinda like toothpaste. It, in and of
itself, doesn't do anything directly to the plants but it seems to be a
"good thing" overall to what we're trying to accomplish in that it does a
bunch of indirect things for the plants.
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