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Changing pH?  RSS feed

 
Ferne Reid
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Location: SW Tennessee Zone 7a average rainfall 52"
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So the soil test came out with a pH of 5.5. What's the best way to get this closer to neutral? Of course the extension office has told me how much lime to add per acre, but is there a better way to do it?
 
William James
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Location: Northern Italy
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Some more info would be helpful.
-How much land are you working with a ph of 5.5?
-What crop do you want to grow?
-Big budget or shoestring?
-Would you be willing to adapt your cultivation to the ph?
-Do you have other info like presence and quantities of minerals?
-What is the overall soil profile, sand, loam, silt, clay?

With that info you can probably get a pretty specific answer to your question.

Ph being off target might be a sign of mineral imbalances. Lime is usually the go-to solution, but it only goes so far. That being said there are some plants that do just fine at 5.5 - you could just grow those, depending on the circumstances and what you want to do.

William
 
Ferne Reid
Posts: 122
Location: SW Tennessee Zone 7a average rainfall 52"
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It's roughly 3 acres and is pasture for horses and sheep. The soil is mostly heavy clay. It's also very wet ... we are slowly developing areas to contain all that water, but at the moment the front acre especially has a lot of areas with standing water, which means the animals don't get out there much. It's all divided and we rotate the grazing. We'd really like to throw some alfalfa back there, both for forage and for its deep roots, but I don't think it would be happy in such an acidic soil. I'm open to any and all plants that might be useful for grazing.

Budget? What budget? Seriously, we do have some money to put into this, but not a lot, which is why controlling all that water is going more slowly than I would like. We've only been able to work on one area at a time.

Dang, I didn't even think about minerals! I just got the basic report ... pH and NPK. Guess I will have to send in another sample.

 
Sam Boisseau
Posts: 155
Location: PNW, British Columbia
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I would solve your drainage problem before doing anything else. Anaerobic conditions due to standing water can affect your pH. Seems to me that this is your bottleneck issue, and applying amendments before solving that may be a waste.


Then there are two schools of thought out there (among others)

- Elaine Ingham, who claims microbiology will solve everything. It's all about life in the soil, and the microbes and fungi will balance your pH. She uses quality compost and compost tea to enhance microbiology.

- Steve Solomon (among others) is into the chemical aspect of soil. So it's all about the minerals. If you follow his advice, you'll have a mehlich-3 soil test with logan labs and then you'll buy a bunch of amendments to balance your soil. He wrote a book called "the intelligent gardener".


In reality it's probably a balance between physical, biological, and chemical.

I'd guess your limiting factor would be the physical factor at this point. Water+ animals is a recipe for compaction.


I think this article has some interesting info: http://permaculturenews.org/2011/06/15/soil-decision-making/
 
William James
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Between the two schools of thought, I think Ingham's ideas would cost you less and be a more sustainable approach in the long run. It comes down to making awesome compost and applying it judiciously. You can still a little lime. Since you're in heavy clay, I personally choose not to add the magnesium that's in normal ag lime preparations. I get carbonated calcium (CaCo3) or even drywall would work (CaCo4) as magnesium is said to tighten soils. I run the calcium-magnesium ag-lime through the chicken bedding / composting operation so that I'm getting it in a different form.

No magic bullets with heavy clay. Just persistence.

I agree with what Sam said about concentrating on your water first. All you need to fix that is a water level (or transit level if you can get one) and a tractor to dig out some swales on contour and some intentional water collecting elements. Pretty cheap there.
William
 
Sam Boisseau
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Location: PNW, British Columbia
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Wanted to add that while both Agrilcultural lime and dolomite should increase pH, Ag. lime is likely better because it has a higher Ca:Mg ratio.

 
Ferne Reid
Posts: 122
Location: SW Tennessee Zone 7a average rainfall 52"
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So deal with the water and then worry about pH ... that makes sense. The grass is actually looking fairly decent in the areas we have managed to drain.

The front pasture is as flat as a pancake, so I'm still working out where to put the water collecting elements. There are several places where it collects naturally, and I'd like to get that down to one area. I have a feeling we'll be moving a lot of dirt around come spring.

Thanks for your help!
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Do you plan on having a watering hole for this pasture area? If you do, then one of the natural water collection portions would be the easy fix for that space. If you can get the area to drain, I would go with ground covers for a while to build some fractures via root systems then chop and drop for organic addition. from there you can work on all the other aspects you want to develop. Lots of good advice has already been given by the others, just take it all in and work up a comprehensive plan of attack from there.
 
Ferne Reid
Posts: 122
Location: SW Tennessee Zone 7a average rainfall 52"
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We were not originally planning on a watering hole, but it's pretty obvious that digging one would solve a lot of problems. Our paint will probably think it's a swimming pool.

I was thinking of winter sowing some rye grass in the front. Realistically it will be at least June before I can go out there with a tractor and not sink to China. The grass would have a chance to grow some ... we don't put animals out there in the spring ... and then I can rent a piece of equipment and move some dirt around. Add as much compost as I can. Lime in the fall if it still needs it, but I will get another soil test first.

Sound like a good plan?

 
William James
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Depending on your weather, the "watering hole" would only last in the rainy months. Here that means from October to May. In the summer it's just a hole in the ground with no water. And it varies as to how full even in those months depending on rainy weather and animals drinking out of it.

I think the important thing when providing an element that animals can drink from is to think about how to make the water not filled with animal waste. The tendency of animals is to hang around a cool element like a watering hole and poop all over the place. That means pathogens in the water and pathogens in your animals.

So, ideally you would have the animals drinking from the water only on occasions when the watering hole was full of clean water. Less ideally, you would rotate them into the water area when the water was clean, and even in the worst of cases you would probably fence off the watering area and let them have access only when you were relatively sure it was clean.

One idea is to flush out the water in the pond every time it rains, so what stays in the pond is as near clean as you can get it.

I've noticed that my chickens prefer water that is on the land. Since the beginning they've preferred it to the "clean" water brought from our faucets at home. May be the minerals. I don't like the fact that they also poop 1 meter from where they're drinking their preferred water and I'm trying to resolve that.

Anyway, one thing to think about.

ps: I've limed in the spring and it works just fine to break up the soil particles if you're adding organic material, and disturbing the soil in some way. I haven't noticed ill effects on the plants, they grew just fine. Maybe somebody has some better info about why it's better to lime in the fall other than it showing up on a new soil test.
William
 
Ferne Reid
Posts: 122
Location: SW Tennessee Zone 7a average rainfall 52"
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I'm not 100% sold on the watering hole idea. We could arrange it so that the collection pond is outside the fence, and at the moment I'm leaning in that direction. But on the other hand, there's a place inside the fence that would probably require less digging and moving of earth.

One thing I do know, and that's that I'm not going out there and moving frozen ground, so I've got some time to figure it out.

Have you limed and then seeded? I've always heard that the seed won't sprout with fresh lime in the soil. I'm going to seed while there's still snow on the ground. We tend to go straight from winter to summer around here, and if I wait until it starts to warm up before I seed it will be 80 degrees just as the grass is sprouting.



 
Brian Cady
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Ferne Reid wrote:...

Dang, I didn't even think about minerals! I just got the basic report ... pH and NPK. Guess I will have to send in another sample.



I've heard that one can roughly test for sand, silt and clay content with a glass jar, some water, a big dash of salt, a crayon, and a day:
I remember something like 'put a cup of soil in the jar, add about a cup and a half of water, the salt (forgot what it does), and shake it very well, then let it settle a quarter hour or so. gravel, etc. will be at the bottom, then sand then silt. Above that will be water and clay together. Mark the top of the silt level with the crayon, then let settle for a day. Then there should be, above the silt, the clay settled out of the now-clear water.' Never done this; hopefully someone who has will chip in their thoughts.
 
Ferne Reid
Posts: 122
Location: SW Tennessee Zone 7a average rainfall 52"
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I remember doing something like that when I was homeschooling my kids. It's a cool experiment. Won't help much with soluble minerals, though.

Any thoughts on how planting a tree or 2 would affect the soil quality, other than the obvious leaf litter in the fall? There's no shade out in the front, and I'm sure the livestock would appreciate some. Something that LOVES wet feet ...
 
Brian Cady
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Ferne Reid wrote:I remember doing something like that when I was homeschooling my kids. It's a cool experiment. Won't help much with soluble minerals, though.

Any thoughts on how planting a tree or 2 would affect the soil quality, other than the obvious leaf litter in the fall? There's no shade out in the front, and I'm sure the livestock would appreciate some. Something that LOVES wet feet ...


Bald Cypress can grow as far north as Boston, in standing water, Dawn Redwood is nearly as water tolerant, too, and grows here too. Both lose their needles in winter. (Or there's Willow, too) But I don't know about their effect on soil, which is what you asked about.
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
Posts: 2834
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
233
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting toxin-ectomy
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another idea would be to fill in that area with a low growing mound (hugelkulture bed) it would not have to be tall, just a little higher than your well drained ground. Just a thought.
 
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