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rose macaskie
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I am still reading up about rchemistry but if i add what i learn here  bit by bit i wont suddenly have masses to write all at once. I hate reading it till i have got it digested a bit and then i enjoy it a lot. I did not know that chemistry is fun.
  This ties up with liming the ground and with humic acids and why they are good.

   Atoms and molecules can become like magnets, want to corroborate this look up atoms in you tube that has millions of clases at all levels on chemistry. When the atoms and molecules have a charge like a magnet does then fun things start happening in the soil.

  The nucleus of atoms is full of protons that are positively charged + and of neutrons that are neutral.
     This means that the nucleus of the atom is positively charged  and so would the atom be if it did not posses an electron for every proton out side th enucleus, electrons are  negatively charged. The electrons fly round the nucleus. The whole atom therefore is neutral. the positiveness of protons cancels out the negativeness of electrons.

    If the atom were always neutral then it would not matter to the farmer how atoms and molecules were. One of the interesting thing about atoms is that they lose or gain electrons so becoming positively or negativly charged, which makes them behave like a magnet attracte¡ng other charged particles or sticking to other things and this is where they begin to effect farmers.

     When they have a positive or negative charge they get called ions, that’s why I call this section ionic earth.

      When they become charged positively or negatively they stick to other things and form other substances that could be useful to farmers or not and also they can stick to other things which can be bad for farmers.
    Bad for farmers would be that some nitrate gets so strongly attracted to a bit of clay that the roots of plants can't get it off the piece of clay to gobble it up. This means you can have nitrogen in the soil that plants can’t use. The cure is to put in lime because lime takes the place of the nutrient stuck to the clay particle and then your plant can eat up the nitrogen.

       I am not sure where permaculture comes in here. Maybe the bird droppings that are full of lime are permacultures answer to this problem  and maybe,  if you have a good permaculture soil full  of fungi whose enzymes and acids  are dissolving the  lime from the mineral rock particles in the soil than you don’t need to apply lime. Maybe some of our experts know the answer to this.

   One thing is sure that crops take up lime and if you take them away to another farm to feed the cows that now live in a different place from the one in which their food is grown then the lime the plants have taken up will land up somewhere else. This did not used to be the case, if the crop was grown to feed your own animals, then their manure went back on your land and the minerals they took up returned to the land. When you take the hay grown on your land to feed cows in another farm, then the lime the plant has taken up ends up in the cow and its manure in a different place from the one it grew in robbing your soil of its nutrients.
      If what is grown on the land is eaten by the inhabitants and their animals whose bodies and manure are all returned to the bit of land that fed them then the land does not lose its nutrients.
      Just think how many nutrients are carried off the farm when it sells a maize crop. Maize is a crop that takes a lot out of the land. Another crop that takes up a lot, it grows so fast is  a crop of eucalyptus trees that grow quickly taking up the nutrients from the soil that include iron and calcium silica and such leaving the soil depleted.
  Not losing the nutrients that the crops you produce take up and so not having to bring in lime and other things from outside, which cost money is the base of the organic rule of return of Sir Albert Howard. As we now have farming so compartmentalised, one man keeping pigs and the other growing the feed, we have  everything so distributed to different places that it will be a head ache getting the waste products with their minerals in them back were they belong. Rationalising transport  is a factor that enviromentalists mention, it would stop us  our goods making uneccesary journeys. agri rose macaskie.
 
Daniel Zimmermann
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Not sure either.  Ironic earth, OTOH, is my specialty...
 
rose macaskie
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  Ironic earth eh, that’s fun anyway.
As Joel Hollingsworth says clay is complicated and I think what is written in the book i am using to write this piece I have also been following some you tube classes on atoms and how they ioniz and how bases and acids annihilate each other. What i write here about colloidal particles and how they affect the element plants take up as food  is a simplification but it gives an introduction to the sort of things that go on in earth that have to do with plant roots and alimentation that helps me understand why humus or chalk are necessary in soils to give one example of why write about ionic earth.

 
`It is not only atoms and molecules that behave like little magnets clay particles also behave like little magnets. Clay particles are tiny and that means they have an electric charge and tiny particles are called colloidal particles.
    (The other tiny particles in the soil also colloid particles  are humic ones or sesquioxides. Sesquioxides  are molecules of metals and oxygen atoms. )
  Clay particles may be bigger than other colloidal particles which is to say particles  that have magnetic forces  because the length of clay particles  is an enormous  0,002 millimeters long but they can be less than 0,0001 in width and that is small enough to be the size of colloid particles.

      Clay particles which are more complicated in some soils than the ones I talk of here are but to talk of all complexities of all types of clay would not help people understand the basics.
      This book narrows things down to talking of two types of clay particles,  particles of silica and others of aluminum. These particles much thinner than they are long or wide are laminar or leaf like.

  My information comes from the book EDAFOLOGIA Y FERTILIZACION AGRICOLA . Jose Garcia Fernandez and Rafeal Garcia del Caz. A book for farmers, on how to apply fertilizers to your soil, not a purely organic persons book. It was published in 1982, as micro science is changing fast, i probably need a new book. 

    Tiny particles have electromagnetic forces and as the microelements and chemicals that plants need as food are electrically charged like the clay particles, they get stuck to clay particles.
      This has its advantages and its disadvantages, it keeps the nutrients from getting washed away but you may need chalk or humus to get them unstuck as chalk and humus are more highly charged than many of the other chemicals plants need.
      If there is plenty of chalk in the soil it will displace potassium held by clay particles of silica so that the potassium becomes part of the aqueous solution in the soil and the plants can use it. While humus displaces the phosphorus from its place retained on the aluminum particle and so humus helps place phosphorus at the reach of plant roots.
  That is why it is important to know about the earth being ionic.

    In fact there are other things like mica in clay but my book keeps it simple and I find it hard at this stage to manage what I have now without making it more complicated.
agri rose macaskie
 
rose macaskie
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How many angstroms in your interface or internal space!!!
I have revised this it was a bit aof a muddle.

       The very tiny slices’ of aluminum and silica that are clay particles, get arranged in set layers like the slices of a  sandwich an. In a bad soil you get a aluminum, silica, sandwhich a bit of bread and ham not a whole sandwich. And these pieces of bread and ham pile up.
     In good soils you get silica, aluminum, silica, a bread, ham, bread sandwich, and in good clay soils the spaces between the layers of your silica, aluminum, silica, sandwich in what they call the  interface or internal space of th e alunminum silica, layering  will be big and you will have an airy sandwich.   
    Also in good soils the spaces between sandwiches will be big the sandwiches of alulminum ans silica also tend to pile up in set patterns in the earth.
     You measure the spaces in angstroms, which are ten millionth of a millimeter, that is a tiny space, to tiny to believe in it.

      A spacious roomy sandwich will have some 4,4 angstroms between its silica and aluminum layers and a whole 21 angstroms between sandwich and sandwich and these spaces will expand in the heat and in humid conditions dragging in air as bellows drag in air when you pull them open and so they will make a good airy soil and having air in your soil means the air spaces  may always be replaced with water, so a soil  that takes up more water than more compact soils would.

       In a bad soil it seems, they call kaolin soils bad, kaolin soils are clay soils  in which the iron and aluminum has been washed out. In a bad soil you get only get 2,8 angstroms between aluminum and silica,  bread and ham layers, these are bad, tightly knit, clay kaolin soils  and between each sandwich , bit of aluminum and silica and you get 7 angstroms and as angstroms are tiny that is ridiculous, absolutely no good.
      The book says that good and very good soils can degrade into kaolin ones.
      The good soils are called illitas or vermiculitas and the very good are called  montmorillonites, and montemorillonites can degrade into illlitas and vermiculite's and illitas and vermiculites can upgrade into montimorilllonitas. I ¡magine they can upgrade with enough  calcium and humus in them though it may also be with less ploughing and trampling and things that compact soils that they upgrade or a bit of both. Agri rose macaskie.

 
rose macaskie
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The clay particles of silica and aluminum are so thin that as I said before, that they have an electric charge. Their molecules have a bipolar charge.

Clay particles of silica in the ground.
     In the case of silica the outside part of the silica molecules that are on the surface of the silica particle have a negative charge, and the inner bit of the molecule is positive. As the negatively charged bits are on the outside, the surface of silica is negatively charged and attracts positively charged things.

       This means that ions that are positively charged, hydrogen, the microelements and calcium manganese, ammonia, potassium, and sodium, stick to silica.

     The above list of things that stick to silica is a list set up in order of the force of the electromagnetic charge of each article. Calcium comes before potassium on the list because it has a higher charge than potassium so it can displace potassium nudging it off the silica particle and into the soil solution where plants can take it up.
       The result of this is that one of the reasons for putting calcium in the soil is that it will take the place of potassium so leaving this last nutrient at the disposition of plants, so you don’t have to put so much potassium on the soil if you have treated the soil with calcium, if there is calcium in the soil you don’t lose any of the potassium to the electromagnetic forces of the soil.





aluminum clay particles.
       If you get one set of mineral nutrients collecting on silicate particles of clay, you get another, different set, the negatively charged molecules and atoms and such sticking to the aluminum clay particles because the molecules of the aluminum particles are also bipolar but this time the positive side of the molecule is on the outside so the aluminum particle is positively charged and attracts negative particles.

     The list of the particles in this set, according to my book, is, humic ions, carbon anhydride, citric, oxalic, tartaric acids, silicate y phosphorus
  As before the first elements in the list are the ones with the highest charges and so the most strongly attached to the clay particle and the most capable of dislodging things of a lower charge. In this case it is the humus that is specially useful to farming, it has a high enough charge and is often present in big enough quantities or should be if we have not messed things up, to detach an important nutrient for plants, in this case  phosphorus and leave it in the aqueous solution at the disposition of the plants. This is an important reason to have humic acids in your soil.
   Citric acid and silicate can also displace phosphorus stuck to aluminum.
    Humic acids are not acid they have some base components and some acid ones and the whole are mostly neutral.
   
    A high content of humus and calcium in the soil will also mean that you don’t have to put on so much fertilizer, if though you are permaculturist, you think of using chemical fertilizers. The calcium and humus stick to the clay particles so the fertilizers you add do not and so all the fertilizer you put on goes to feed the plant instead of just filling the soil in such a way that the plant can’t access it.
      Also humic acids can take up  up to  fifteen times their weight in water  so they help keep your soil damp. agri rose macaskie.
 
                              
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Location: Coast Range, Oregon--the New Magic Land
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yup, that is a concept that was super helpful to me here. Where I am in this particular forest (acid-y clay soil), fire used to go through periodically and deposit ash. The ash worked like lime for the soil to release nutrients. A description I read (I think it was Solomon, Gardening West of the Cascades) was that clay soil is like a shut book--a root can't get into the coarse blob of book to get the nutrients inside. The ash/lime chemical thing opens up the book and fans out the pages so the roots can get inside and read the nutrients off the page.

So ash is like magic here.

 
Larisa Walk
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If you'd like to see the chemistry of how this works there's a diagram of the process on the last page of a free hand-out I used to provide for clients of our soil consultation service. It's found at http://www.geopathfinder.com/SoilDynamicsInANutshell.pdf

Bob.
 
rose macaskie
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  Wld thang, its good to knw from someone whose tried it, it makes it sound more real as if it works and you seem to have experienced a difference in the soil.
  In the book i have been using "Edafologia y Fertilizacion Agricola"Jose Garcia Fernandez and Rafael Garcia del Caz,  it says that if calcium does half the work of making heavy soils better humus does the other half.
      You can buy humates, i saw cotainers of it by a new banana plantation in the Canary Islands where they were growing on pretty new vocanic soil like the soil of a eruption of about ten years ago. There is a company called TNN industries that sells it in mineral form. It seems that brown coal is humates. There are other companies too that sell it, that was the one that had a paper i found on the topic years ago.  It comes from and leornardite and is a sustance half way to being coal. does not sound so attractive putting coal on the garden as having humic acid from your own humus in the soil.
      The lime holds on to negatively charged particles that plants need and the humus positively charged ones like manganese and carbon ++ and iron ++. both stoping them from getting so attached to clay particles that the plants can't get them off the clay and stopping these nutrients getting leached away in the rain.
    As it is humus more than anything else that got forgotten when people started to pour chemical lfertilisers on the soil because Carl Sprengel in 1828 had found out that plants feed on chemical elements not dead plant or animal matter, an idea normally atttributed to Liebig, he really is called that, Justus Von Liebig made the idea wel known, gave it coverage. It is easy to cheque this out there are lots of articles about all of these men that the google search engine will throw up for you.
        Liebig decided plants only need in organica matter, so starting our compulsive use of chemical fertilisers. As he decided that the other components of manure that weren't nitrogen and potasium . phospphorus NPK and a few microelements, were not important theyeir importance has been increasingly ignored since then. In fact and you need greater quantities of  fertilisers if you don't have humus. 
      It was the ideas of the Liebig lot that won the day  though there were other scientists the famouse Sir Albert Howard micologist and agricultural reseacher 1873 - 1947 father of organic farming, who insisted that it was also necessary to have humus in the soil for plants, something born out by modern research and he said that  plants did also nourish themselves from organic nitrogen, something also born out by modern scientist who say plants can take up amino acids, i had an expensive fertiliser for the pots on my balcony with amino acids in it.
        It is also important to enphasis the importance of humus as normally understood by most of us, composted bits of vegetable and animal matter with big bits of leaves and sticks in it as it  is also important, it breaks up clay soils and gives more constituentcy to sandy ones and absorbs water.
   
Walk. Thanks for the back up information. agri rose macskie.
 
rose macaskie
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I am not a chemist I am bound to make some mistakes in the details but I set out the principle parts of it so it can be understood.

  I have been talking about anions,  nutrients  stuck by magnetic attraction to clay particles . Though i did not mention it i was talking about the magnetic attraction of anions to the outside edges of the clay particles. I think you can imagine clay particles like tiny rough edged slates tiles.  well nutrients don't only get stuck to the outside edes of the clay particles also get inot the sanwiches and get stuck stuck between the clay particles so your sandwich is silica and aluminium with a spreading of a mustard of things like iron anions and calcium anions and nitrate anions etc.,  nutrients in your interface. These are much harder to dislodge than the ones that get stuck on the outside rims of the clay particles, they only get dislodged by ploughing which breaks up the soil and the action of microbes and insects breaking up the soil and weathering the soil gets broken up by freezing and grying out. So if the plants in your soil grow better when the land is ploughed then you know why, ploughing breaks up some of the silicate aluminum sandwiches and leaves the nutrients that can get between the slices free.
    The best thing to stop soil compacting is lots of roots and stems growing out of it and into it. And insects burrowing in and out of it. These also break up the soil releasing the nutrients caught in the clays interfaces.
      The chemical elements, the nutrients stuck in the interfaces of the clay particles constitute a reserve of nutrients in the soil, they are held in reserve because the plants can’t absorb them. They are the slow release part of the nutrients in the soil, released if bacteria or insects or hot and cold break the soil up but otherwise inaccessible to plants.
  Another important point about having them stuck in the clay interfaces is that while they remain stuck to the clay they don’t get washed out of the soil unless the whole clay particle gets washed away. 
  This is way those smallest of mineral particles and the easiest to get blown away in the wind are a important part of the soil they hold on to nutrients and as they are light along with the humus they are the first to get blown away and when they have all blown away then you are left with the sandy particles, the sands of Arabia, you have managed to turn your land into extreme desert. That is why soil should not be left fallow without a cover crop of green fertilizer. Water caries lighter particles to the rivers and to the sea, the wind carries them off too and wind borne particles are also likely to go on being blown till they fall in water and end up in the sea.
      Also you should not leave soil bare because we have trouble cooling down so it is better to reduce heating up and soil under the sun heats up better than more insulating things like dried leaves and plants do  keep the world as cool as possible now it can’t cool itself down because the green house gasses reflect light back in an dodn’t leave land bare.

      If you have a lot of humates in the soil and calcium these get stuck in the clay interfaces and then plant nutrients don’t get stuck in the interfaces. This reduces the amount of fertilizer you need in the soil. Calcium and humates are good in other ways keeping the interfaces of clay open is not their only role..
 
                              
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HI rose! yes, I can truly say I only saw real progress after adding the ash(as a liming agent) to my soil. I used to till in (mix by shoveling it in double digging etc) ltos of compost and it didn't make a difference("difference" being progress in tilth and how vigorous plants sem to get along). I have lots of ash from my woodstove use, and all that goes on the garden through winter. In the beginning I actually burned slash wood and spread the ashes. I have the book Growing Veg West of the Cascades and the guy said basically he could dump as much lime as possible on his land and he would never over sweeten it(he tested his soil to back this up by numbers). So I figure dump away!

SO yeah, the ash(as a liming agent) has been the secret ingredient to enable the soil to use the compost and unlock nutrients and develop that humusy nice tilth. And my plants are VERY much more vigorous. In adding more beds/planting area I'm coming to the point where I'll have to burn slash again to have enough to spread--but I love a good bonfire!!!

I also don't do the double digging anymore. Just the compost on top mulching method. ALso have made some hugelkultur beds, which that will be interesting to dig down into in a few years.
 
rose macaskie
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Wild thang, I think the garden my mother had in Somerset was maybe full of ash and cinders from the fires of former owners of the cottage, the soil was all black and as the rock was chalk it would seem you would need a lot of char to make the soil black. There were also a lot of privies in the garden so humanure too was  probably responsible for the color of the soil.
 
      I have been doing more reading and if you want the benefits of calcium to change the texture of soils or because plants need calcium as a nutrient and your soil might lack it rather than to change the Ph of soil you can use gypsum, gesso not agricultural lime.
      Gypsum is composed of calcium and sulfur atoms so it is not base which is to say alkaline, and so gypsum won’t change the Ph of your soil.
        One bit of writing I read said gypsum could make soil acid, the others that it is what you use if you don't want to change the Ph of your soil.

        I don't know were ash comes in on the making soil base or maybe too base or to sweet scales. Whether it is like gypsum or if it is like agricultural lime, maybe if you put on manure it counters out the alkaline content of your ash and maybe ash is not too alkaline and maybe your soil is very acid and needs alkaline or vbase material in it.

      If it is Gypsum rather than lime that you are using to increase calcium in soil then gypsum is also good for getting rid of salt in the soil.
  A long time ago I read, in scientific American, a magazine I don’t read often in an article on forests that was about how our using less fires and driving around less on dirt tracks was prejudicial to woods because they need the, calcium I think it was, tossed into the air by smoke or by cars kicking up dust.

      I recently read the writing of a person  who seemed to be worried about the price of calcium and whether poorer farmers he advised could by it or whether the benefits warranted the expense, he said he did not usually advice it as a young man. He in this bit of writing was selling a calcium, humus, or humates fertilizer mix.

  This worry about whether the price of calcium was worth it was mirrored in another paper that was about a scientific study on how much calcium the leaf litter of trees can add to soils because they were worried about the price of lime for poor farmers. Their finding was that leaf litter does contribute calcium to soils . Deep rooted plants can pick up calcium from a lot of different levels in the soil.
      One of the trees they were studying was a quercus rubor, a oak and someone in these forums suggested oak leaves make soils acid. Mind you there are a lot of oaks and maybe some other part of the leaf is acid and cancels out the effects of calcium in the leaves creatures  of base background. They were looking for an answer to lack of calcium in soils for the poor farmers in the world.
      So Bill Mollison’s theories about what is necessary to build up fertile soils like plenty of trees is backed up by the studies of other scientists. Obviously pines cannot be a good idea if your soil is acid, they acidify it. I think this contributes to the leaching of nutrients in the soil and so to creating barren soils. That’s why people like sepp holzer and some people i know round here who live near pine woods talk of pine deserts.
      Of course another answer is Wilde Thangs, if you heat your house  with a stove or a open fire you can use the ash the ash from the fire on your garden.  This is a bit the same as using leaf litter burning is a fast way to reduce organic matter to parts that survive decomposition like calcium.
      Maybe pine can be used burnt. If you use ash instead of detritus, leaf litter, fallen bits of bark, flowers and seeds, you lose the benefits of bits of plants breaking down in your soil that  and produce nitrogen as they break down and absorb and retain water for a  bought of dry weather that break up soil. With detritus in the soil the soil becomes a pudding of  bits of tree and plant and clay instead of just clay,. Maybe it is just the fallen leaves of pine that create a acid soil one way trees have of reservign the ground for themselves is havign leaves that poison the soil beeches do this i have read their leaves contain a substance that inhibits the growth of other plants. , so maybe the wood of pines is is all right for soils but the leaves aren't. I think sepp holzer uses pine wood for his hugglkkulture. Agri rose macaskie.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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I've had success in my clay soil by digging in gypsum and compost, then maintaining permanent mulch & constant growth of deep roots.

At a home scale, gypsum can be salvaged from old plaster or wall board. Perhaps a large enough demolition, of a recent-enough building (so as not to include lead paint) could supply enough gypsum for a significant acreage.
 
Al Loria
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Joel Hollingsworth wrote:
I've had success in my clay soil by digging in gypsum and compost, then maintaining permanent mulch & constant growth of deep roots.


Joel, I've read so many conflicting opinions regarding gypsum I still can't determine who is right.  I had used it on my front lawn and was not able to really tell if it had made a difference.

In the raised beds we made this year, using toby hemenway's method, I found the organic material on top of our heavy clay had leached down into the clay about 2 inches since May.  Last week I pushed a hand shovel in expecting resistance when I hit the clay and I almost buried my hand in the process.  The clay was loose even way down past what I could see organic material in.  I did absolutely no tilling at all when we started them in May.  I used cardboard as the base over the lawn, (no gypsum was applied on the back lawn for the garden) put bagged topsoil on top and mixed in bagged composted cow manure, topped by straw, Sweet Peet composted horse bedding mulch and my own own compost.  Then used fish emulsion to fertilize, meal and liquid kelp, dolomite lime and wood ash when the pH was too low, and compost tea on it a couple weeks ago.  The veggies started off great, then slowed down a lot.  About 3 weeks ago they kicked into high gear.

I will do the lasagna method to the beds this fall, and might consider the gypsum if it really works, but so far, no need to use it.  The organics just filter right down and have improved the tilth dramatically.


Al
 
rose macaskie
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I have read that calcium is usefull for four reasons.
  1. Plants need calcium it is a neccessary part of their diet.
  2. Putting calcium on the soil  changes the pH of the soil so if the soil is acid it reduces its acidity.
  3.   It helps with the [glow=red,2,300]c[/glow]ation [glow=red,2,300]e[/glow]xchange [glow=red,2,300]c[/glow]apacity ,callled cec by those addicted to talking in letters and there is also the aec the [glow=red,2,300]a[/glow]nion [glow=red,2,300]e[/glow]xchange [glow=red,2,300]c[/glow]apacity. if nutrients are stuck to soil particles because of electric attraction , calcium can take their place so freeing up ppther  ions. It seems that the cation exchange capacity is not so important according to some,  plants and micelium can excrete things that serve for cation and anion exchanges.

Cations are  positively charged ions and anions are negatively charged ones. ions are atoms and molecules with a charge to them that are not neutral.

4. Calcium helps with the texture of the soil.     
 
rose macaskie
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It seems i made a mistake talking about how much water humates can absorb and said a fifteenth instead of fifteen times their wieght in water . i  have corrected it. they behave like gelatine and other amorphoise susbstances  and take up many times their wieght in water. agri rose macaskie.
 
rose macaskie
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I read and described above, how bad soils, kaolin ones had bad soil structure because the negatively charged silica particles stuck to the positively charged aluminum ones.
     Another paper a more modern one, maybe, than my book, a paper that I found in the internet, says that it is not that the aluminum particles get stuck to the silica ones it is that oxygen atoms get stuck to the silica particles and hydroxide molecules get stuck to the aluminum particles and these two interlock and stick the aluminum and silica very close together.
     Kaolin clays are ones that are in or once were in a tropical areas of the world with daily rainfall and so a lot of things have been washed out of them, like I as far as I can make out much of their silica.
   In one paper it seems to say that in better, less washed soils, there are iron and manganese atoms in the aluminum layer and there is a bigger ratio of silica to aluminum to and  there are bigger cations in the soil that get between the silica aluminum silica sandwiches, hydrated manganese cations for example all of which helps to make these better clays have bigger spaces between the layers their clay particles form. The big cations hold the layers of aluminum and silica apart.
  Also in some soils the bonds that the oxygen and the hydroxide make just don’t make such a strong bond, as they do in kaolin soils, a lot of writing does not go into all the details and that leave the unlucky student guessing. It is when you read a lot of bits of work that things start to make sense.

     It seems that calling clays good or bad depends on the article or book you are reading. it maybe is incorrect, all clays can be good if you add the right things to them.
  I don’t think this serves much to help people look after their soils it justs corrects a bit what I wrote before.
this chemistry busines bogs me down so i don't write anything else. agri rose macaskie.
 
rose macaskie
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There are two factors that are to be considered in the structure of clay soils as far as I can make out.
One is the type of clay.
Clay without additives is a very dense sticky homogenouse heavy and when wet cod mass, . according to scientist it sticks together in layers sheets of ofwith one alluminium layer and one or two silicate layer so it has a layer structure though to the lay man it seem homogenouse and merely dense. However if you think of slate it has a layer structure and I think slate is made of compressed clays. 
    There are swelling clays that are also cracking ones, as they swell a lot when you add water to them they also shrink and crack when they dry out, they are good clays but need careful watering according to one writer, and there are clays that don’t expand when they get wet and are more dense than expanding ones.

    The other question with the structure of clay soils is
   Turning them into soils with a granulated structure by flocculating the soil with lime, or maybe lime and humates, and as vegetable matter adds lime and humates to the land, plants can take up the chalk or lime from deep in the soil and put it in their leaves and when these fall the chalk ends up on top of the soil, vegetable matter and manure, duck does, bird dropping are full of chalk, would be a flocculating agent for a permaculturist.
     If your clays are flocculated they begin to lose the layered and very dense quality of quality of clays that are pure. They certainly look more granulated than layered. If clays flocculate and have aggregates added to them, plants and mushrooms secret aggregates into the soil that make clays stick together in lumps instead of sticking together seamlessly, that make clays crumbly instead of sticky, then clays become a collection of pellets of clay, more or less, first the clays stick into microscopic pellets and then these stick together making bigger pellets. As pellets, water can get between them and so the soil wets to some depth more easily if it is dry and also the wetness drains through it more easily and so the plants rooted in the clay don’t get waterlogged.

   It seems that it is normal, in chemistry, for things to have the same structure they have at a microscopic molecular level as they have on a normal sized level. Salt crystals are square at a molecular level and split on straight lines, perpendicular to each other to make rectangular shapes if you break a big piece of solid salt according to one you tube video. I have seen table sea salt that has formed in a pyramidal shape. Mica peels off into sheets of mica and is the same at a microscopic level. Agri rose macaskie.
 
                    
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rose macaskie wrote:
It seems that the cation exchange capacity is not so important according to some,  plants and micelium can excrete things that serve for cation and anion exchanges.


Well, organic matter is the main source of cation exchange capacity in most soils. Some soils that are low in organic matter get moderate CEC from some types of clay. But if the soil is low in CEC, it becomes like a hydroponic media - good as long as someone keeps pumping water and nutrients in, and very poor once people stop. I live on an old sand dune, and the low organic matter means low fertility, low productivity, tendency to drought, nematodes, etc. In the areas where I have built organic matter levels, things are much better.

CEC is not a substitute for calcium, magnesium, ammonium, or other ions. CEC is great for acting as a sponge, so that those beneficial cations are held by the soil and time released back into the soil water, not all washed away with the first heavy rain.
 
rose macaskie
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  yes they say that clays with their masses of bits that will  hold on to cations are good for cation exchange. I have read about clay described that way as having a high cation exchange capacity  in the sense that clay particles  retain a lot of cations that wont get washed away because the magnetic force of the clay particles holds on to them.

  A quick divulgation to give what scientists call an intuition about clay having a big surface area. For me its a totally new use of the word intuition. Intuition in this sense is what lay person usualy calls -a feel for- whatever, in case nayone needs it. i learnt this sort of concept learning about the intestines in biology at school anyone who has cooked tripe will understand me, about how and how lots of folds or sticking out bits in the intestines increase the surface area they present through which surface we absorb nutrients .
      When things are made up of lots of small bits they have more surface area. For instance a folded fan does not have much much surface area for anyone to paint on, it is a more thick than surface full object when its folded, while an opened up fan has more surface area, it is not a solid object  but an extensive thin one.  As clay his made up of so many small clay pieces instead of being formed of big lumps like gravel is it is sas if the gravel has been unfolded in three dimensions instead of two and so there is plenty of room for molecules, of nitrogen say, to fix on to. A lot of clay particles make a lot more surface area for masses of different things to get stuck to, than the outside of a bead say would. 
    End of divulgacion on surface area.

    On the other hand, to go back tocation exchange capacity, instead of the question of how many cations get retained so increasing the cation exchange capacity of the soil, there is the question of whether or not there is anything in the soil to dislodge the cations from their place on the clay particles. It seem they get so firmly fixed to the clay that plants can't get at them. then liming the soil to increase the cation exchange capacity makes sense because calcium has a stronge enough charge to dislodge the cations from the clay particles.and humates will increase anion exchange capacity because they dislodge phosphorus. Some plant nutrients are anions negatively charged molecues. rather than cations positively charged molecules. Maybe the article i was talking about and you quoted to answer it was talking of this apect of cation exchange  capacity, when they said it it does not matter if you have enough lime or not because the plants can excrete stuff that will dislodge the alimentary cations from the clay particles knocking them of into the water of the soil  where the plants can pick them up.

    I am making this up, to make sense of the bit i talked of that you quoted. Not quite making it up, that is what i understood these people to be saying though i had not thought how what they said  contradicted the fact that clay is good for cation exchange because it holds on to so many nutrients. It is just that i am not dead sure of what i say maybe it is not a uqustion of dead sure but at all sure. on this topic.
    I think i have to draw some atoms for the first part of this on ionic earth, what a chore.

  Thanks Jonathon byron for the comment it makes the subject much more intersting  and comprehensible if there is some discussion on the themes. I think discussing things leads to flexibility in my understanding of them.  Leads to looking at them from variouse sides. agri rose macaskie.
 
Richard White
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Rose, your post seems dated now but I'll give a view from a soil scientist that has embraced organics.

In my opinion the only way conventional (ionic) agriculture works is to base your nutrient inputs upon a soil, tissue and water analysis. These are specific laboratory tests and the recommendations are crop specific. Everyone who looks at the conventional approach should consider it a mining operation; nutrients and organic matter do not accumulate here. Nutrients are removed in the crop; that's why nutrients applied to your farm end up on someone else's table. There are specific nutrient balances (i.e. the concentration ratios between the 17 essential nutrients) for each crop. ANYTIME one adds an ionic fertilizer or amendment to the soil you have then disturbed the balance. Always there appears a loss of yield or another problem related to poor nutritional balance. Like humans, plants are susceptible to disease, and I find much disease that has to be controlled with fungicides or insecticides. I've worked with miners ( I hesitate to call them growers at this point) who apply potassium this week as potassium nitrate and the following week calcium nitrate, and so on. In affect they continue to upset the balance, and waste some of the goodness to leaching or volatility, and further instigate the problem of disease. Applying the "guess method" costs the grower in profits; hiring my services to correct the problems costs the grower in profits.

There is a better way. I learned from an individual (John Agulia) who was pioneering an organic approach for convention growers. The catch 22 problem he ran into is in the definition of the organic standard. USDA has an approved list of nutrients one can use as inputs and many of the macro and micro nutrients come in the form of sulfates (CaSO4, MgSO4, K2SO4). That's a lot of sulfates that will eventually cause nutrient imbalances. The trick John taught me is to complex the ionic nutrients within an organic system before it is applied to the crop. He prepared what many describe as a compost tea, except the description is a misnomer. It is not a 'tea' that is the simple leachate from compost. He used an activated bio-conversion process of inoic minerals to organic forms. He did this in a vat with active oxygenation. He essentially stimulated the same biologicals that would be present in the soil (bacteria and fungi) to work in a controlled environment vat. I am simplifying the process for sake of clarity for readers, but the result was the balanced nutrition the crop required in an organic form that once placed in the root zone stayed in the root zone. He achieved the balanced nutrition required, with soil and tissue analysis and conventional fertilizers. His approach could not and would not meet the organic standards; his production could not be labeled organic. However, his yields and product quality were equal or better than 'pure organic methods' and he virtually eliminated the need for pesticides (because the plant health didn't give the signs that attract the pests). And all this could be gained on production sized plots we view as mono-culture cropping.

This is a Permaculture blog and as a PDC graduate the principals I work toward are to feed as many as I can with quality whole foods. I work with organics because this is the secrete to good wholesome food, clean water and clean air. I work with conventional farmers because much of America feeds itself from supermarket shelves and fast food vendors (and I do hate to call that food). When an if there is a 'free-market' failure and people return to the land, there will first be the inner city 'victory gardens' and the many markets for fresh food; the souls that eat there today deserve a more nutritious meal.

Those of you who adhere to the organic standard or better come in two categories; struggling to make it work because the soil and the site are ill-suited to the food you want to grow and apply conventional farming logic with conventional mineral amendments and have mixed results; or you are blessed with decent climate and rich loam soil that is full of earth worms and organic matter. We wish we could all be the latter description. My personal ranch fits the first description. All around my site is conventional soil mining-farming. We pump groundwater in this valley and it carries ionic salts; my well water ranges from 1400 to 1900 ppm. When I pump water, I am effectively fertigating with water soluable ionic solutions; I understand this and supplement the nutrition that lacks in the water. They grow a lot of carrots here that require much water in this arid climate, and the result is that the land has to lie fallow for three years before it can be planted again; it takes three rainy seasons to clean the soil of excess salts.

My soil is fine sandy alluvium that is old flood zone terrace and that support natural grass and sage. Typical farming uses the disc and plow to turn the soil over to till in the stubble mulch to prepare the new seed bed. When this is done, the soil dries rapidly and becomes wind blown dust. The soil on my ranch is typically wind blow sand for the top 4 to 6 inches. The individual grains of sand are uniform round and pack like marbles in a dense packing arrangement. I have no clay; there is some silt; there is little organic matter. The soil holds little water and has virtually no nutrient exchange capacity. An ionic solution applied to this soil can move beyond the root zone with little water. I have a 20 acre parcel that had been dry land horse pasture 10 years ago, but it has the signs that it was once irrigated pasture when there use to be plenty of water in the valley. I draw my meager supply from a well that supported 500 acres of alfalfa in its day. High water use crops like alfalfa and further over cropping, has reduce the water table and the water quality at this end of the ground water basin. The upper portion of this valley is blessed with high quality water. The land is almost a flat as a billiard table. This is the proverbial nightmare for an organic farm, but it is the challenge I have taken on.

I have to qualify the 'organic farm' status. Right now I have to make nutrient inputs, but my goal is to become sustaining. I am in the soil building phase which means always incorporating the organic composts and mulches, feeding the soil biology, reducing mechanical cultivation, and stubble cropping. I used a modified "Keyline" approach in my first ground breaking in a semi-circle partial arc to shed the prevailing winds and I used tall furrows (more like micro-swales) that I knew were working from the first day I installed them as I could see the wind blown dust exiting the end of the arc and away from my house rather than being in my house as was normal. I planted sunflower, corn and milo in rows for in-season wind break (summer hot dry air at 20+ mph daily), while I establish Chilopsis linearis (Desert Willow) for permanent wind breaks an borders. I intercropped with water melon, cantalope, and Chantrais melons. Plus several varieties of squash. I have found that these are crops that tolerate my climate and the many animal pests that surround me, and command a market price that can sustain my activities. My objective was to produce market quality produce. I achieved that goal and have improved my soil while increasing the soil biology and its water and nutrient holding too. I am not 100% organic yet, but that is the ultimate goal.

If you are going to farm an economic crop, And if you are going to use a mineral fertilizer or amendment (as you will have to until you have enough biological nutrient capitol in the bank/soil to sustain a crop) I recommend two approaches: add it as an activated biological conversion (as I described above) or add it in your compost. In my arid climate I compost all green waste from my production and trees in winter. I know my soil is weak in almost every nutrient and have achieve success by complexing the addtions of nutrients in an organic form before they reach the plant.

I have been fortunate to obtain 17 truck loads of wood chips and fresh leaves from commercial tree trimmers this summer. At the end of a composting period, I sieve the compost through a 1/4 inch screen. That which passes can be incorporated into the soil. That which does not becomes surface mulch. In this arid climate, if I let Mother Nature do the job, the leaves would still be recognizable as Mulberry or watermelon 5 years down the road. In this climate conventional farming opens the soil by disk and plow. It first looses the moisture the organisms require, and further increase the loss of organic carbon to the atmosphere. Minimum tillage keeps much of it in place.

I can achieve an economic crop of whole and nutritious food, while I convert to a permaculture design.

There is one more (actually more than one, as saline water management has its own challenges) not so secrete ingredient that makes all of this work. I have found that it is an essential ingredient for quality and flavor, and in many ways like the 17 essential nutrients that I personally consider it essential to the health of the plant. The ingredient is Humic Acid. Humus if you will. It is the ingredient that rich loamy soils have an abundance of, and why these soils can grow abundance. And it is the reason that a loam soil is on everyone's wish list. I make organic amendments to my soil to make it more loam-like.

The most amazing part of organic growing is that once you have the soil capital in reserve, the plant naturally takes its nutrition in the balance it requires. Gone are the soil and plant tests; water quality is a separate issue. But when you achieve balance, you are no longer mining the "ionic earth".







 
Marc Troyka
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Well, I can add to that that iron and aluminum form acids in soil that are poisonous to most life and prevent the buildup of topsoil (although iron is also a nutrient). Most 'liming' chemicals are meant to dissolve quickly and just leach out of the soil, tainting groundwater and/or runoff, and leaving no permanent change in soil chemisty. They do disturb the balance while they are present in the soil, however.

There are two solutions in permaculture to dead, iron-aluminum rich clays. The first is biochar, which raises the pH for long periods of time, suppressing the toxic effects of Fe/Al, and retaining nutrients that would otherwise leach out. The other is rock dust, which can supply nutrients that have leached out over long periods of time in a format that additionally takes a long period of time to become depleted. Rock dust also acts as a liming agent that will suppress Fe/Al activity, and can also hold nutrients and stop them from leaching out.

Some clay soils can hold nutrients very well, however, and are not high in toxic stuff. Vermiculite is the biggest example of that type of clay.
 
Richard White
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My experience is out in the west in well drained sands. I'm not convinced that any amendment is permanent, especially if your water chemistry is extreme. It's good to learn what can be achieved in your soil.
 
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