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PH of conifers

 
Sam Barber
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Paul asked me to put out some feelers to see if anyone knew what the PH levels of various parts of conifers are. We have alot of Ponderosa and Lodge pole pines here. We are looking for the PH of the bark, wood, and needles. Or if any one has a resource for this that would be great too! Thanks!
 
John Elliott
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This reference says that pine straw mulch is pH 4.5-5.0.

But as a chemist, it rubs me the wrong way to hear someone ask "what is the pH of wood, bark, or needles". The pH is a property of solutions, and not just any solution, but aqueous solutions. If you have a solution of wood, bark, or needles ground up fine and stirred in water, and you measure that with a pH meter, you are measuring the pH of the water, not the stuff stirred into it. And if you dilute it up, the pH will change, heading more toward pH7 the more water you add.

I'm not trying to be pedantic here, but I want to get to what motivated this question. What property of the wood, bark, and needles are we trying to work with, that is reflected in how "acidic" they are?
 
Alex Ames
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John I would imagine they are trying to discover how to best use it since
they have plenty of it. Walter Reeves "the Georgia gardener" says pine
needles are pretty close to ph neutral as they break down. There are lots
taboos in gardening that are based on false assumptions. What practical
guidelines do you have for the use of conifers?
 
Philip Durso
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We are interested in learning if using pine in a hugelkultur bed would influence the PH of the surrounding soil. If so are some parts of the the tree more acidic then others?
 
Victore Hammett
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If you have a ph test kit for a fish tank you can test it yourself by soaking each of the various parts in water for 24 hours then testing each sample.

The test kits usually have a range from about 5.0-9.0. Test the plain water as well so you have a control and a reference level. Not all ground water is exactly 7.0 ph. Also, this method will give you readings specific to your locale and soil rather than a generalized number.

Hope that's helpful.
 
Garry Hoddinott
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Speaking of conifers did anyone catch the story on using tree branch as an excellent water filter.. Pinus species was used in the experiment - 1" length and about 1/2inch diameter with bark and cambrium layer stripped. About 1 gallon per hour 99.9% free of E- Coli in tests. took feint ink completely out of waater. Low tech - Brilliant for back woods or third world

http://www.plos.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/pone-9-2-boutilier.pdf

filter.PNG
[Thumbnail for filter.PNG]
 
Bill Erickson
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John's point is very valid. The value of pH (power of Hydrogen is what I was taught, although potential of hydrogen is also used) is based on the molar concentration of hydronium ions (H30+) to hydroxyls (OH-) in a liter of water at 25C (had to look that part up, kept thinking it was 20C). It is a logarithmic scale so varying concentrations of hydrogen in the water will occur due to impurities in the water. When you use a soil pH meter, you are dependent upon a certain amount of water to be available to get an accurate reading. Pure water is a pH of 7, and is made more acidic or alkaline based upon the -log10 ratio of hydrogen ions to hydroxyl cations. Lots of science there.

Basically the question is how the acidic products of pine (for a broad definition of pine) will affect a hugelkultur bed. The other observation to find out about then it what is the "normal" pH of hugelkultur beds that have been successfully demonstrated with other woods? Most of the trees that have been spoken of for hugelkultur, I believe, are fairly acidic in nature. But I'm not totally sure on that since I haven't researched it thoroughly enough. If they are alkaline in nature, then the solution would be to use lime in a correct ratio to raise the alkalinity level such that it is on par with beds that are successful with an alkaline character, if that is what they are. I don't know if any of that data is available.

Since the goal of the wood in a hugelkultur is to spongify it so it acts a sink for moisture, that is freely available for the roots of the plants during drier times, and replenishes through natural water migration of surface water into the soil/bed during wetter ones. This is a function of the woods decomposition to its cellulose base as the non-cellulose material is decomposed away and is available for the nutritional use of the plant systems put on it. If a pine wood based hugel is constructed, I would think that the cover trees/bushes would be more productive if they loved acidic soil - which is the natural ecology of fruit bearing plants in Montana. Does pine rot to its cellulose base in the presence of moisture - yes it does, especially with insect activity to accelerate it. I've had many a "solid" pine log collapse when I stepped on it due to this.

Part of my intended experimentation this coming spring/summer/fall season is to see what this effect will have on a hugelbed and whether it will be productive with cover foliage I'm intending to use. The foliage being specific native fruiting plants and "weeds" that the critters find so tasty. I know that pigweed and amaranthus grow the best under my pine trees and in the part of my garden that is fairly acidic. The raspberries, my apples and native plums all seem to like it as well. In fact, one of the outcomes of my neglect of my garden and mini-orchard the past couple of years has been the propagation of the native plums and the raspberries to the more acidic part of my garden. Potatoes seem to love it as well once I put some inert material (composted mint silage) into that soil to loosen it up.

A long winded post, hopefully it gave you something to think about and didn't make your eyes roll back in your head. If I have made any errors in assumption, please feel free to correct me.
 
Josh Ritchey
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Science, Cool. Pine water filter, Pure Frigg'n magic. I've got to tell everybody!
 
John Elliott
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Philip Durso wrote:We are interested in learning if using pine in a hugelkultur bed would influence the PH of the surrounding soil. If so are some parts of the the tree more acidic then others?


I'm going to say that the bark is the most acidic and the wood the least, with needles being somewhere in between. My reasoning is that the acids that one finds in mulch are humic acids, which are formed by the decomposition of lignin and the greatest lignin concentration is in the bark. The white structural wood of the pine is mostly cellulose, and while it can generate formic acid during breakdown (especially if there are a lot of termites present), formic acid is fairly volatile and will not stick around. Humic acids are much less volatile and will influence soil pH.

The various terpenes that are present in pine sap don't have an effect on pH until something gets a hold of them and oxidizes them. Then you can end up with medium length carboxylic acids, which are still weak acids. Have you ever smelled freshly cut pine and thought that it was reminiscent of rancid oils? That would be because of the terpenes that got oxidized to butyric acid, which is responsible for the odor of rancid butter.

But back to the motivating question, a hugelkultur bed might influence the pH of the surrounding soil, however if there is an appreciable amount of limestone (or marble or seashells) in the soil, I would be surprised if it could generate enough acid to make the pH meter budge. Where you get acidic soils from buildup of humic acids is here in the southeast, where you find lots of pines on very sandy soil.
 
paul wheaton
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Kinda hoping somebody will take needles, put them in a blender with distilled water and then test the ph. Then do something similar for bark. And then wood.

 
Dan Ellis
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Location: Howard County, Maryland
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Paul,

I like the objective you have in mind: evaluating pine's utility as a base for hugelkulture. I've got 500 white pines around my property. I'm very interested in the answer!

But, besides having fun with a Vitamix, I don't see the point of the experiment. It won't give you data that's useful for evaluating the question above. What you want is not the pH of a component, but the effect of the component on the pH of the system over time.

A better experiment to run would be to make a few hugelkulture mounds using similar soil: one from pine, one from a common hardwood, one with nothing but soil. Measure the pH of those soils over time. That's what you care about. Yeah, that will take longer.

From a practical perspective, why not just use the pine and measure the pH along the way. Add potash from burning surplus pine to lower the pH, if necessary.

Or am I missing the key link between the pH of water with blended pine needles in it and world domination?

Cheers,
Dan
 
Bob Schubert
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FYI
I just happen to be listening to podcast 12 right now and they appear to be discussing this very topic. At the very beginning anyway.

I will be interested in the outcome of this topic. I will have my first hugelkultur bed this year and have some of these trees already down on my property that could be and likely will be used.
 
Sue Rine
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Pines are what we used as the base for our first hugelkultur bed...radiata to be precise. It's all we have available so there was no option really. There are some poplar and tagasaste small branches, (a few centimetres diameter). So far there doesn't seem to be a pH problem. I've been growing salad greens, potatoes, globe and jerusalem artichoke, amaranth, linseed, strawberries, courgette, chinese brassicas and a few herbs. I've been pleasantly surprised by it's performance in the first season. It doesn't prove anything about pH and I haven't measured it, but no obvious problems have shown up, which could be pH related.
 
andrew curr
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I did notice that yacon grown under a cut down Cedrus Deodara took on the cederwood oil flavour!
Im sure its only temporary
 
Drake Dorosh
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https://plus.google.com/112956030026438294986/posts/6o7EG2YWAqo

I don't have a fancy ph meter. Here is pine bark tea compared to green Douglas fir pine needle tea. Looks the same.

https://plus.google.com/112956030026438294986/posts/TPmhRR6Jb2P

Here is brown needle tea compared to distilled water.

Not much going on. Used boiling water and let the stuff soak for five minutes.

Sorry it's not terribly scientific. I didn't want to use the blender. I think the green needles gave up the most juice. Still I think I should have got better than neutral. I guess the chemist was right? My Ph papers were dead and didn't change. Rather expect if I had a better indicator solution it would have taken it lower than the yellow?

 
Tyler Omand
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From my understanding of soil science the amount of organic matter and biology present has a large influence on how the pH of the soil affects the growth of plants. The more biology (micro and macro) present the more the organic matter is being cycled to humus (the lowest decomposition state of organic matter). The more organic matter and biology present the higher the buffering capacity of the soil. Typically areas with large populations of conifers are areas of low organic matter (i.e. sandy etc) and relatively low concentrations of biology when compared to productive agricultural soil or soil with mixed deciduous and conifers present. Now there are large parts of the world where the coniferous ecosystems have developed naturally and there are also large parts where humans played a large role of perpetuating and or creating these ecosystems. I live in Maine and the evidence of this is all around me. Due to the intentional planting and cultivation of primarily coniferous trees over large areas, the overall productivity of the soil and the surrounding ecosystem has been greatly diminished. Unfortunately this is true all over the world. Sepp points it out over and over again, as do many others. These coniferous trees have shallow root systems that are very limited in their reach to subsoil minerals and negatively effect the water table by doing little to raise it. The intentional mono cropping of these conifers creates less fertile soil with less biology and a shallower water table. The high concentration of shallow root systems causes more runoff and less sinking of water creating less and less fertility over time. Not to mention the dense shade created by the conifers which negatively effects the growth of the under story further disrupting the deposition of mixed organic matter. Most of the time these systems favor the regrowth of more conifers continuing the trend of less fertility and disrupting the nutrient and water cycling abilities of the diminished biology.
That being said it seems to me that hugelkulture by definition has a large amount of organic matter present in many different stages of decomposition and this high amount of organic matter greatly affects the Cation Exchange Capacity, or CEC, of the soil. It is the CEC that has the greatest effect on the productivity of the soil in regards to plant growth, not necessarily the pH. Typically the higher the CEC the more nutrients and organic matter is being cycled which typically creates soil that becomes less acidic over time. the higher the CEC the more buffering capacity the soil has in regards to pH, water quality etc. This buffering capacity is why many people (including myself) who have used coniferous material in the construction of their hugelmounds can often get away with growing plants that typically require soil closer to neutral or alkaline. Of coarse the size and amount of the material affects the speed of the breakdown of the material and thus the cycling of nutrients and retention and release of water. The source of material used in the construction of the mound does affect the composition of biology present and its the biology that is producing humus, or perfect plant food. Each plant has evolved with specific biology and its this biology that proves most vital to the success and productivity of the plants growing on that soil. My suggestion is typically to brew aerated compost tea with a handful (or more for larger batches) of soil from a local natural area where the plants (or closest relatives) are thriving as a main source of the beneficial biology in the tea. Tailor your tea to be more fungal for woody perennials, balanced for grasses, biennials, and long season annuals, and more bacterial for short season annuals and brassicas, by what type of inputs you use in your tea. In my experience, adding the correct biology, or making sure it already exists has a profound effect of the success of your plants. I also usually suggest adding as much diverse biology to your system as possible, typically the organisms you want or are appropriate will reproduce and the rest will become food for the organisms you want. Also to ensure greater success of your hugelkulture, source materials from an environment similar to the ideal native environment of the intended species, i.e. white pine with highbush blueberries etc, this will enhance the propagation of the correct soil biology for the intended plant. Over time pH becomes less of issue or even a non issue because the soil biology corrects and tailors it the specific species. Also by choosing the correct pioneer species to help create the right conditions of succession (i.e. biology, structure, nutrients, etc) for your intended cultivated species will also greatly affect the productivity of the particular intended species you would like to promote.
I know its a rather long winded for my first post and feel free to correct or comment on any of it. I will work on fine tuning my posts to be more concise in the future. Thanks
 
Ann Torrence
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Why is it that decayed pine trees are acidic and wood ashes are basic? Is it the addition of water in the hugel vs the driving off of water in the fire?

Might one be able to balance the pH of a conifer hugelbed by adding in wood ashes?



 
Lucas Harrison-Zdenek
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I always thought wood ash was acidic. Huh. In regards to the xylem filter using the inside of a tree, does anyone know how many gallons one of these filters would be good for? I see one gallon per hour as a rate, but how many can you run through it before it is no longer usable?
 
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