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can we please role play as soil scientists  RSS feed

 
Ashley Clark
Posts: 10
Location: 9a central florida
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in order to make this topsoil into soil suitable for growing edibles (whatever ordinary fruits/vegetables), what would you personally do?

3.8 pH
high nitrogen >159 ppm
low potassium 16 ppm
medium magnesium 22 ppm
calcium 183 ppm

ps its composition looks reasonable, it's black and nice and soil-y
pps youre not allowed to go to home depot sorry
 
Ashley Clark
Posts: 10
Location: 9a central florida
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also no volcano eruptions even though i think that would probably be the most ideal solution
 
Joseph Lofthouse
garden master
Posts: 2344
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Ashley Clark wrote:what would you personally do?

3.8 pH


First thing I would do is check the calibration of my pH measuring equipment and training of the staff.
Then I would test with different measuring equipment and staff.

If everything checked out, and demonstrated that the soil really is that acidic, then since I'm not allowed to buy amendments I would grow in a different location.

Since this is only a thought experiment, perhaps you'd allow me to bring in one amendment? That would be about 6" of dolomitic limestone -- coarse sand -- to mix in with the soil. I'd choose a coarse sand because it's slower and might be expected to last for decades while I'd expect finely ground lime to have a temporary effect.

 
Ashley Clark
Posts: 10
Location: 9a central florida
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thank you so much for your response

amendments are fine, i just meant to imply that i do not want to go and purchase potting soil and miracle grow and other related things. ideally i would love to have the resources on site to fix these problems myself (ash, compost, etc). but i don't fully understand the way these things work on soil on a molecular level, i guess? all the soil is rich in OM but extremely acidic which is obviously really problematic

anyway so instead of reading the same things over and over and various eHows, it is important to me to know how creative others can be and based on their experiences which routes they would take

(e.g. after studying up pretty hard on sheet mulching it was helpful to know from some people in this forum that cardboard actually takes ages to decompose in some cases)
 
Craig Dobbson
master steward
Posts: 1738
Location: Maine (zone 5)
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I'll start with a few questions that might help some others add their two cents.

What is currently growing in this space? If nothing: what is the closest living plant species to this space?

Shade or sun? How much sun (hours)?

Major tree species in the area?

What is living in the soil? Bugs, worms, microorganisms?

What types of wildlife are visiting the area?

Aside from your comment about the soil-y look I might have suggested that the soil lacked oxygen.

Is it crumbly soil? chunky? flat? compacted? loose? wet? dry? clay? sand? silt?

If there are stones... what kinds? How big? How many?

What about the land's history? Was it previously farmed? for what? Any idea of past usage? How long ago?

How large is the area? square feet? acres? square miles?

Is it possible that the soil has been contaminated by something?

What is uphill from this location?

does it flood?


I'll stop there.







 
Joseph Lofthouse
garden master
Posts: 2344
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
434
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Organic matter tends to acidify soil. So adding mulch would be like throwing gasoline on a fire. At pH 3.8 the soil is already about as acidic as soil can get without having been contaminated by industrial waste. That's a low enough pH that it's likely to burn the roots of many plants, and those that do grow in it are likely to accumulate unhealthy levels of Aluminum. The pH is so out of wack that it makes me question the reliability of the testing...

So things that reduce acidity are:

Wood Ashes: Contains highly soluble lye so very fast acting.
Lime: Sorta water soluble, so fast acting.
Baking soda: Also highly soluble and thus very fast acting.

Because the above are highly soluble, they are fast acting, but temporary. It's easy to apply too much and get too basic of soil. Because they are more soluble, they can wash away or burn plant roots.

Oyster shells,
Limestone

These are insoluble solids: The speed at which they act is determined by how big the particles are: So large particles work slowly, but last a long time. But powders act quickly and then get used up. A limestone gravel might be easy to source and use, but I hate to add too large of pebbles to my soil, because that makes working the soil harder. Pea gravel might be OK.
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 2302
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
183
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Ashley, Joseph gives good advice on what items will help your situation.

I would add; that probably the best method for soil this acidic would be a two stage approach, treat with a fast action amendment along with a slow release amendment.
You are in Florida so you can get crushed sea shells pretty easily or you could collect shells and crush them up yourself, that will be the slow release amendment easiest and cheapest.
Most folks keep a box of baking soda in their fridge to adsorb odors, this has to be replaced every month or two, so, dispose of the used box by spreading it on the soil that is so acidic, this is the fast action amendment.

If you BBQ and use natural lump charcoal, you have good hardwood ashes, just empty those on the acidic soil for another fast action amendment.

if you don't have them, get some litmus papers so you can do easy and quick checks of your progress. Best method is to go ahead and buy a pH meter so you have a more accurate method of testing your progress.
 
Ashley Clark
Posts: 10
Location: 9a central florida
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Craig Dobbelyu wrote:I'll start with a few questions that might help some others add their two cents.

What is currently growing in this space? If nothing: what is the closest living plant species to this space? in this particular area, lots of blackberries

Shade or sun? How much sun (hours)? no shade whatsoever, it's right in the middle of a field

Major tree species in the area? the terrain and soils change throughout the property, but where the soil appears to be similar to my example, there are lots of water oaks, willow oaks (i think?), pine trees, red maples

What is living in the soil? Bugs, worms, microorganisms? i know there are worms and probably grubs

What types of wildlife are visiting the area? rabbits, deer, raccoons, snakes, cranes, etc

Aside from your comment about the soil-y look I might have suggested that the soil lacked oxygen.

Is it crumbly soil? chunky? flat? compacted? loose? wet? dry? clay? sand? silt? it's dark and crumbly but takes on a clayey consistency when wet, as far as i can tell it's not compacted but rather soft and easy to dig into

If there are stones... what kinds? How big? How many? some when dug up, as in MAYBE 5-10 per yard, i'm not sure what kind, probably the size of my fist at the largest

What about the land's history? Was it previously farmed? for what? Any idea of past usage? How long ago? i don't know a lot of details but that 10 or more years ago there were two crops grown here, watermelon and squash i think. since then there have been trailers on the property but not where i'm looking at dirt

How large is the area? square feet? acres? square miles? the area with this particular topsoil, if i had to guess, around 2 acres

Is it possible that the soil has been contaminated by something? i don't think so

What is uphill from this location? there's a trailer about 100 ft away

does it flood? some areas are low enough yes but not all of it


I'll stop there.


i realize the soil here is like on par with coca cola, which seems odd to me too... 3.8 is the lowest, other areas vary between 4.2 and 4.8. i sent a bunch of bags of soil to UF about a year ago.

also, for what it's worth, i've experimented with this stuff a little bit -
in a 20 ft bed i put about 1/2 topsoil and 1/2 compost for sweet potatoes which are overflowing more than they ever have and the leaves are the size of my head, i assume from an excess of nitrogen?
in another area i made a mixture, off the top of my head i can't remember the exact measurements but i believe it was like 5 feet of topsoil, 4 feet of compost/manure, 1 foot perlite, 5 gal of worm castings and the results are mixed. most stuff i stuck in there (cucumbers radishes watermelon mustard greens) not surprisingly ended up spindly and weak. others plants, however, like pole beans and especially tomatoes *appear* to be fabulous.

i'm getting a little frustrated just because of constantly mixed results - nothing is as easy as "this works" and "this doesn't work" which i gUESS IS WHY ONE CAN BE FORMALLY EDUCATED IN THIS JUNK (which i plan to in the near future, i've only been fooling around with this for less than a year)

maybe it's a pipe dream but i guess the desired result would be to stabilize whatever it is i'm working with and not rely on purchasing stuff from nurseries or w/e
 
Ashley Clark
Posts: 10
Location: 9a central florida
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yes! thank! you! everybody!
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 2302
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
183
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I would bet that who ever it was that gardened there in the past used chemical fertilizers, which have the wonderful tendency to acidify soil.

The crops you indicate doing well are acid lovers, the ones that don't do so well are not so tolerant of acidic soil. Blue berries would do quite well in that space if you didn't want to do any amendments at all.
those along with some of the other acid lovers, used as food plants then chopped and dropped would, over time, stabilize the pH of the soil.

These are just a few ways to get away with out doing anything to the soil and still being able to grow food in the garden.

biochar would also add stability to the soil profile, biochar can be as easy as dumping the left over ash and unburnt charcoal from the grill and turning it into the top layers of soil.

mycorrhizal fungi would both benefit the crop plants and take care of the acidity, once you started raising the pH a little.
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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