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How to add phosphoros, potassium, calcium... naturally  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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Location: Portugal (zone 9) and Iceland (zone 5)
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Hello all,

We often have some lack of nutrient in our gardens, which reduces our yields.

The challenge is finding local resources and ways of repleshing those lacking nutrients.

Recovering nitrogen is easy, just lay grass clippings, manure, liquid compost, nettle feed, or even diluted urine, or even better, growing nitrogen fixing species.

It is in finding the other nutrients there it comes a challenge. Especially, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and other micronutrients.
(I do understand that with time, and with deep rooted species, the soil will gradually correct itself, as plants bring those minerals from the bed rock parenting the soil. But I want to look for faster corrective alternatives; I cannot wait years for that)

I grow in a poor and shallow soil, to which I added compost (my own), and organic matter (hay, dead leaves, etc), but so far this is not enough! The neighbour adds manure and fish meal and grows much better than me. Well, they actually nearly add more new soil (rich in fish meal, minerals and manure) that what is already here. To me this is a easy fix but it's not sustainable practice, because those are not local resources. I am stubborn in that I only want to use only local resources (that I have easy access to). I don't wish to import large amounts of organic matter here, and neither buying rock phosphate, bone meal or fish meal. Only what occurs within 1km around my garden.

The resources I have around: poplar, birch, sorrel, nettle, yarrow, horsetail, moss, clay, volcanic rocks, pumice, volcanic sand, wood, and kitchen waste.

I have added generous organic matter, phacelia, mustard, lupins, broad beans, lentils, hay and grass clippings, and mixed my bed with the harvested herbs that was referred above. But I think this was not enough. First I only added last summer and this winter and spring, and to the 15cm shallow sandy soil I added about 15cm of organic matter and compost , which is not enough, it seems.
What I have seen is that adding dried yarrow and the poplar leaves is what brings the most significant improvement.

I also don't wish to destroy the existing soil by digging it again, so I only want to grow my soil upwards. Because I also have now potatoes, onions and sunchokes growing (and green manures) which all seem very healthy. It's the brassicas that are not. It's very important to have a perfect soil, because Iceland climate is already harsh, so one difficult factor is enough, if all others are perfect, then the garden will grow very well, as does in many neighbours.

I guess I might have to add at least 50cm of organic matter, perhaps making the soil more alkaline (any alternative to imported minerals?) and figure out how to add also extra phosphorus and potassium, by using only local resources. Maybe a good option could be to smash the local occurring rock, sand and clay and add it to the soil.
Sorry for my stubborness in going so local.

Any ideas?
 
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I'm a huge fan of Natural Farming methods (Korean Natural Farming, KNF) for addiing specific micro-nutrients. You can find out how to make Water-Soluble Calcium (WCA) and Calcium Phosphate, Fermented Plant Juice (FPJ) from local ingredients anywhere online. I make these things, if you happen to live around Whitefish MT I have a booth at the farmers market.

Then there are Nutrient Accumulating species, such as Comfrey for Phosphorus. Toby Hemmenway lists many Nutrient accumulators in his book, which I don't have with me.
 
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P = i use fermented camelia for fast P, bone for slow. There are no dead animals within 1km?
K = ash.
Ca = egg shell, dandelion.
 
pollinator
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Plant lots of flowers. Not only do they unlock, accumulate and turn phosphorus into available P. It will bring lots of insect life from orher places than your property. which will bring more minerals to your place.

Also dynamic accumulator plants help.

Mycorrhizal fungi will help make more use of what P there is too.
 
pollinator
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Listing of dynamic accumulators: http://oregonbd.org/Class/accum.htm
 
steward
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Paulo, good on you for your 'keep it local' convictions! It certainly makes for some interesting challenges
I'm importing stuff to get my soil minerals/nutrient levels healthy, then I'll try and close the loop, at least for mined inputs.
I'm currently using ground basalt and calcium, but once my micronutrient and C levels are better, I'll rely on growing plants and seaweed.
I know Iceland has good kelp stocks; what's your situation regarding using seaweed? I think it has nearly everything that's missing from the soil. Not surprising, since the soil's washing out to sea...
I'm on millions of m3 of sand, and as far as I know, unless there's rock decomposing down there, there's nothing for the plants to 'mine' and I'd just be continuing the same deficiencies unless I add something from somewhere else.
You have volcanic rock That sounds like a heck of a resource, if it can be finey ground. Grinding rocks finely sounds pretty...interesting... though!
Many animal manures are high in p; I have to be careful about adding it as my soil's p levels are already high.
Do you burn wood? That's a great k source, and it's very alkaline, so would help increase your ph.

 
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If you have bird attracting plants (berry and seed producers, such as Eleagnus, mulberry) and nearby perches, such as posts on a fenceline, you'll get phosphorus-rich bird droppings. Also, add a birdbath or other water source, bird houses, and bird feeders.
 
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I am finding yarrow to be just amazing as well. I also use a lot of comfrey.
The best so soil fixer and balancer i have found so far is making an active microbial tea from worm castings and herbs. Usually you use a little molasses, as a food source for the aerobic bacteria you are brewing up. But if you don't have any local you can use a small amount of other sweetness. Make an aerated tea with worm castings and comfrey and yarrow. I usually use kelp and fishmeal in the tea also. You said you don't have a local fish source… i am guessing that means you don't have a local kelp source either…
You don't need it, but it helps a lot.
 
Paulo Bessa
pollinator
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Location: Portugal (zone 9) and Iceland (zone 5)
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Thanks for the suggestions.

To the indoor plants, which are containers full of compost, I often water them with diluted urine, coffee grounds, kelp tea (from supermarket), yarrow tea and also often liquid compost. That works wonders. Yarrow and kelp are especially quick in their effect. Urine is also very rich fertilizer but its has too much nitrogen, so I only add a little.

Outside, because it is a wider area, it´s more impractical to do this, although sometimes I also add diluted urine, kelp tea over there. I guess I will have to go the coast (I am further inland) to pick some kelp. But I have a local source of wood ash (200 meters away from my garden). I am also now dumping the compost directly to some of the beds, to not lose the fertility when it rains over the compost, so it will the kitchen waste compost directly over the garden (under some grass clippings (I know this temporarily robs of some nitrogen but it´s ok). To that mulching I will add then the kelp, nettles, more yarrow and the ash, and also if I can, grounded volcanic rock and a mix of local clays. I will post how this will work out throughout the next months.

I still wonder which other herbs would be comparable to the yarrow and the nettles in their fertilization power (we don´t have comfrey here).
 
gardener
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First off, Dynamic accumulators have not scientifically been proven to work the way popular belief says they will work.
The reasons for using them and people seeing improvement in their soil may or may not be due to the plant pulling up nutrients from deep in the soil, but they do loosen soil with their deep root systems and they add the nutrients they do gather as the above ground and below ground plant parts decay.
Keep in mind that if any minerals are missing from the soil, these plants can't pull them in and make use of them simply because they are not present to begin with.
If there is a layer of soil that is more than 4 meters below the surface, chances are the plants will not be able to pull those minerals up simply because the micro biome isn't that deep but fear not, those roots that go that deep will tend to drag along some bacteria and fungi as they go down into the soil.
There is a question of whether or not those organisms that go along for the ride end up surviving but that is a different story all together.

This list is of plants that have been found to sink deep roots and thus end up on many lists of accumulators, trials are necessary to determine if they will work as desired in your soil.

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa): Nitrogen, Iron, Phosphorous.
Borage: Silica and Potassium.
Buckwheat (Fagopyrum spp): Phosphorous.
Carrots (Dauca carota): Magnesium and Potassium.
Cattail (Typha): Nitrogen.
Chickweed (Stellaria): Potassium, Phosphorous, Manganese.
Cleavers (Gallium spp.): Sodium, Calcium.
Clovers: Nitrogen, Phosphorous.
Comfrey: Silica, Nitrogen, Magnesium, Calcium, Potassium, Iron.
Dandelion: Sodium, Silica, Magnesium, Calcium, Potassium, Phosphorous,
Iron, Copper.
Dock (Rumex crispus, Sorrel, R. acetosa): Calcium, Potassium, Phosphorous.
Horsetail (Equisetum spp.): Silica.
Lamb's Quarters (Chenopodium alba, gigantium... Epazote, C. ambrosioides):Nitrogen, Calcium, Potassium, Phosphorous, Manganese.
Marigold (Tagetes spp.): Phosphorous.
Mustard (Juncea spp... Cole plants in general are high in Ca and P):
Calcium (can be used as a cover crop to buffer acid soils if calcuim is present, or to chelate Ca in same), Nitrogen, Iron.
Oats (Avena sativa): Nitrogen; oats produce more growth in late fall/early winter than in spring (unlike ryegrass and wheat, which produce more in spring,  55-65% of season total in fall for oats, as opposed to 38% for "Elbon" rye and about the same for wheat).
Oats are not as winter-hardy as "Elbon" rye, nor do they yield as much over the season, but the above varieties will yield more dry matter during the fall season.
Ryegrass: Nitrogen (ryegrass produces the most "forage" [read "green matter"] of the conventional winter cover crops).

Again, if these minerals (you desire the plants to "mine") aren't already present, they are not going to magically appear just because you planted the plants said to "mine" them.
Rock dusts and good, full mineral sea salt (un-refined sea salt) are tried and true ways to add minerals with the least effort but some expense.
Bone meals (made from the bones left from animal food stuffs) are a great thing to process yourself and use in your garden areas.

Redhawk

 
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Leaf mold and wood ash supply all of these. If you can gather a load of leaves from the poplar and other deciduous trees and let them sit for a year or two you’ll have all the minerals and nutrients, other than nitrogen, you’ll need.
 
pollinator
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I find the dynamic acculmulators to be interesting. Are there any studies done dynamic accumulators leave tests vs. what's in the soil? It is too expensive to conduct at home.
 
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Jonathan Rivera wrote:Leaf mold and wood ash supply all of these. If you can gather a load of leaves from the poplar and other deciduous trees and let them sit for a year or two you’ll have all the minerals and nutrients, other than nitrogen, you’ll need.



When making leaf mold, do the leaves need to stay whole or can they be chopped before letting them sit for a year? Or does chopping the leaves first make for a different kind of break-down that does not have the same type of properties in the end result as not chopping them?
 
pollinator
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Annie Collins wrote:

Jonathan Rivera wrote:Leaf mold and wood ash supply all of these. If you can gather a load of leaves from the poplar and other deciduous trees and let them sit for a year or two you’ll have all the minerals and nutrients, other than nitrogen, you’ll need.



When making leaf mold, do the leaves need to stay whole or can they be chopped before letting them sit for a year? Or does chopping the leaves first make for a different kind of break-down that does not have the same type of properties in the end result as not chopping them?




I am still sheet mulching so I put a ton of unshredded leaves under the cardboard...I'm hoping for future benefit.  I'm going to start just burying kitchen scraps in a trench for future trees.  I'm thinking this might be too much bacteria, not enough fungi upfront but I don't plan n planting the area for a year.   What do you think of this plan?
 
pollinator
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interesting questions (and answers), I'm going to follow this thread
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Annie, leaf mold is usually made with whole leaves since you are wanting a slower rate of decay and chopped up leaves decay at 4 times the speed of whole leaves.
The easy way to make leaf mold is to pile them up, wetting each layer speeds up the matting down of the leaves which is how they become leaf mold instead of compost.

Scott, using shredded leaves under  the cardboard for sheet mulching is a grand idea, the worms will love you for doing most of the work for them.
As I mention above, the smaller the bits of leaf the faster the decay rate, which in this instance is exactly what you are looking for.
By burying the kitchen scraps in trenches the bacteria will go to work first and their activity will be a fungal beacon, any fungi spores in the soil will bloom and grow rather quickly in this set up.
If you are concerned about not having enough fungal activity, just add some chopped up mushroom slurry to the area. Wild mushrooms will work very well in this case but even button mushrooms from the grocery store will do some good.

Redhawk
 
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Might I point out that while fish meal may be available from non-local sources, all that is really necessary to get locally sourced fish meal is a fishing pole, tackle, and a blender. 

Here in my part of the States, there are a couple of places I can average 1 fish per worm from Spring thru Fall.  I try to go fishing once a month during that timeframe and will be making my own hydrolyzed fish meal when things start warming up again in the Spring. 
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
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Good tip Chris Palmberg, I use my fishing trip leftovers to make fish emulsion.
 
Angelika Maier
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Fishmeal is made from leftovers and I find it wasteful to fish and not eat them (if they are edible), then you make broth with the bones and heads and the rest is fish meal....
Woodash is a good local source of fertilizer but it varies a lot in what it contains. I don't know if a soil lab would test that?
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
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Most soil labs are also in the chemistry lab business and can give you an assay of the wood ash, just be sure to ask about that and the cost for that analysis.
 
Scott Foster
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Redhawk,

Great idea on the shrooms! Thanks for the info
 
Chris Palmberg
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So to be honest, my wife isn't a fan of freshwater fish.  She grew up eating catfish out of the rather muddy lakes and canals near where she lived, and I haven't managed to talk her into eating crappie, bluegill, or bass, which is about all we have to fish for locally. 

I have enjoyed fishin' for the little scrappy fish that grow in the small farm ponds and sand pits in the area since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, and so in the spirit of full disclosure, making fish-based fertilizer is my excuse to goof off for a couple hours as a business expense.

 
Annie Collins
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:hau Annie, leaf mold is usually made with whole leaves since you are wanting a slower rate of decay and chopped up leaves decay at 4 times the speed of whole leaves.
The easy way to make leaf mold is to pile them up, wetting each layer speeds up the matting down of the leaves which is how they become leaf mold instead of compost.


Thank you for the whole leaves versus chopped leaves information. That brings me to another thought. I have noticed that when whole leaves lie on the ground and get wet and matted, whatever is under them seems to die rather quickly. The matting does not even need to be thick. So then, could one possibly do the lasagna layering with matted leaves instead of using cardboard? I would much prefer to use leaves and leave the cardboard out of it. I'd prefer to keep the whole thing all natural, if possible. Besides which, I wouldn't have to go dumpster diving anymore behind the patio furniture store.   (A great type of store to get very large pieces of cardboard, BTW, for anyone who is searching.) Has anyone tried it with the leaves on the bottom? I am thinking of doing a little experiment with that type of layering in a small part of my yard and see what the area looks like in the spring. I was thinking I would do a generous layer of whole leaves, then add wood chips, and top it off with about 6" of leaf compost. Or maybe do the leaves, a couple of inches of leaf compost, wood chips, and then top it with another 6"of leaf compost.
 
pollinator
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Phosphorus, collect egg shells, burn them in your bbq and dissolve them in pickling vinegar. Dilute and spray on soil/mulch (search for Gil Carrandang's CalPhos recipe on the net)

Calcium, dry egg shells, ground them to powder, sprinkle on soil

Potassium, collect orange peels, char them on bbq and sprinkle on soil

Catch carp from the rivers around you and burry them in soil

Rock dust and DE would also be good for missing minerals but hard to find them in certain areas. If you have access to these with good price you can afford, they are certainly a good way of replenishing soil minerals.

Also there are countless recipes for weed, manure, worm teas on the net which will top up the minerals in soil.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Annie, yes you can leave out the cardboard and create a mat of water saturated leaves, I have found that if you start with about 2" of depth (dry leaves) and saturate them with water then tramp or roll them down into a mat, they end up about 1/4" thick and do better for the soil than cardboard.
If you keep adding leaves on top of this you can end up with a very nice patch of soil underneath and those top leaves will decay slowly and become leaf mold, after a year the bottom leaf mat will most likely be there still but acting more like a filter by that time.
 
gardener
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Another natural source for phosphorous is tennessee brown rock phosphate, and it's OMRI listed, if that's important to anyone. It's been assigned an analysis of 0-22-0 of P2O5. It also contains a lot of calcium, approximately 40%. I have roughly 35 acres of pasture that, according to my soil analysis, currently has about 25ppm of phosphorous in it which is extremely low, and I need to get it over 100ppm. Tennessee brown rock is, for me, the really only practical means to apply the quantities of P2O5 I need for my soil.
 
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Paulo,
I appreciate you wanting to keep it local. I think you could vastly improve your soil this way. Do you compost your humanure? This is certainly a big step to closing the nutrient cycle. But on a relatively small homestead scale I think it judicious to import necessary minerals to bring soil back into balance (I was greatly influenced by Albrecht, Reams and Steve Solomon's The Intelligent Gardener) I am okay with importing minerals that are absent or severely limiting due to geology or past misuse of the land. For my circumstance, that is primarily P, and also some micros, which I have chosen to add back via Soft Rock Phosphate (and MAP on my more alkaline areas). I have only been at it a couple of years (and already started with overall excellent, fertile soil) but am seeing my soil come more into balance and produce more higher brix fruit and veg. I think of mineral imports as a temporary compromise that will reap long-term rewards for generations to come if the soil is managed and protected. Good luck!

Cheers,
Kirk
 
Annie Collins
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:hau Annie, yes you can leave out the cardboard and create a mat of water saturated leaves, I have found that if you start with about 2" of depth (dry leaves) and saturate them with water then tramp or roll them down into a mat, they end up about 1/4" thick and do better for the soil than cardboard.
If you keep adding leaves on top of this you can end up with a very nice patch of soil underneath and those top leaves will decay slowly and become leaf mold, after a year the bottom leaf mat will most likely be there still but acting more like a filter by that time.



Wonderful! Now I know just how I will use all the leaves I picked up from a neighbors huge pile! Grateful to you yet again, Bryant RedHawk, for your generous sharing of knowledge!
 
Angelika Maier
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Seaweed I sometimes took some when we went to the beach. But it might take time to break down it comes in long noodle like leaves. The question is how much to use? And would you run over with a lawnmower or put it in the compost? I couldn't find an analysis for seaweed though.
 
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:First off, Dynamic accumulators have not scientifically been proven to work the way popular belief says they will work.
The reasons for using them and people seeing improvement in their soil may or may not be due to the plant pulling up nutrients from deep in the soil, but they do loosen soil with their deep root systems and they add the nutrients they do gather as the above ground and below ground plant parts decay.



I have observed excellent result planting comfrey aroudn fruit trees, however I do not ascribe that to comfrey being dynamic accumulator, so much as:
  • It's ability to suppress grass - grass competes directly with tree roots
  • The organic matter decaying increases the carbon content of the soil, and water holding capacity of the soil, in the root zone of the trees.
  • The decaying comfrey shifts the balance of the root zone soil from bacterial to fungal which trees tend to prefer.


  • Any trace mineral accumulation seems to be of small significance in my conditions compared to the transformative effect it has on the overall soil composition and texture. In my garden, the consistently dampest, blackest and most alive soil is around a comfrey plant.
     
    garden master
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    Here are some notes that I have been keeping that might offer some suggestions:

    Something as simple as using aquarium fresh water after tank changes, can add nutrients from the fish waste and algae that tend to form in tanks.

    Molasses seems to increase microbes in soil. It is as simple to use as mixing 3 tablespoons of molasses in 1 gallon of water. Water plants as usual.

    Use banana peels to release potassium for bigger blooms in flower beds. Put them right into your garden to give the soil a quick potassium boost. Peels degrade fairly quickly.

    Green tea has antioxident properties and as a diluted watering solution can increase plant resistance to disease.

    White distilled vinegar is another enhancement for plants. Water with 1 teaspoon per gallon of water.

    Epsom salts are mostly magnesium with some sulfur. The magnesium is one of the basic micro-nutrients necessary for photosynthesis and sulfur accelerates root growth and assists with the formation of chlorophyll. This common muscle soak is easy to use by mixing 1 tablespoon of the salts with 1 gallon of water.

    Beer give soil microbes needed food.

    Ammonia adds nitrogen.

    Mix one part milk into four parts water. (Great use for expired milk) Milk is a source of calcium. It also contains proteins, vitamin B, and sugars that improve the overall health of the plant. Plants that are failing to grow to their full potential can benefit from a boost in calcium. Milk also helps with blossom end root, commonly ailing squash, tomatoes and pepper plants.
     
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