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Need help reviewing my soil test results  RSS feed

 
Jayden Thompson
Posts: 120
Location: Danville, KY (Zone 6b)
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I had my soil tested by the county extension office.  It's a free service, so I wanted to see what I'd learn. 

History: This is on 8 acres of pasture that was completely overgrown with brush and weeds after a decade of sitting idle.  I moved here 2 years ago, and brush hogged the whole thing down about 18 months ago. I've since added 5 sheep (and a dog), fenced it into 8 paddocks, added 4 rows of silvopasture (still tiny seedlings), and I plan to add about 10 to 15 more sheep over time.  There is native grass growing, but I've never seeded.  It's not a very dense grass, since it was shaded out for many years.  I'm planning to seed my pasture in the Spring.

Based on my soil tests, the extension office is recommending I spread 2 tons of lime, per acre.  I've got a few places that will do this for me, but first I wanted to see whether you guys thought it was worth it.  No doubt my soil is on the acidic side, but I wonder if I'll get a positive ROI on the lime, or if I'd be better off just rotationally grazing my sheep and waiting for the benefits of carbon sequestration to kick in and neutralize the soil a bit?

I'm attaching a picture of one of my soil tests.  They vary from 5.6 to 6.3 soil pH, and from 6.5 to 6.8 Buffer pH.  Thanks for any help/advice you can provide.

soiltest.jpg
[Thumbnail for soiltest.jpg]
soil test
 
Travis Johnson
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Your soil is not low on PH, it is REALLY low! (But don't feel bad, so is mine).

Lime surprisingly has a very good return on investment. Once you move the PH towards 7.0 for pasture, you will get amazing results. You can substitute wood ash for lime, but it takes a lot of it. On my farm I use seaweed from a local seaweed plant that makes food grade carrigean, but that is probably unavailable to most. Even then it takes 10 tons of algefiber to equal 1 ton of lime. Yikes. It is free, but moving that much tonnage certainly isn't.

To kind of illustrate the benefits of lime, on average a commercial farm does really well every 7 years, and it is recommended that a farmer, in those highly profitable years, invest in lime (or an equivalent). It not only nets a quick return in production, that return lasts many years.

My fields that was in the same shape as yours, also at 5.4 PH, did go to 6.0 with a little time, but even now it does not grow grass for my sheep well. Sweetening it with lime and hitting it with manure would certainly go a long ways to improving that field.



 
Jayden Thompson
Posts: 120
Location: Danville, KY (Zone 6b)
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Travis - thanks for sharing your information.  It sounds like I'll go ahead and pull the trigger on having lime spread.  There is literally a limestone quarry 1.5 miles from my house, so I'm pretty sure lime should come pretty cheap. 

My guy at the extension office told me that seeding was optional, but that lime was a no brainer.  No doubt he knows more than me, but he's also a conventional farm guy that recommends all sorts of pesticides and herbicides as well, so I just wanted to get a feeler from the permie group. 
 
Travis Johnson
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Just to be fair, I would say I am half and half. That is a little conventional and a little permicultural.

Honestly I have seen too much. I live in the permicultural capital of the world and sadly see people come in to my area, apply some ideas, and in despair move out about 8 years later on average. Yet I have also farmed along conventional farmers all my life and seen them file for bankruptcy. So I DO NOT have the answers.

In your situation, I would lime for the first time as 2 tons is a lot. Then maybe after that research some other alternatives like wood ash.

Around here neither the conventional farmers nor the permicutural crowd cares too much for the Cooperative Extension. Maybe it is just my area, but they like to pass out brochures to beginner farmers and cannot carry on a conversation with anyone that knows anything about farming. It is sad.
 
Tj Jefferson
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Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
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One thing they left out is the organic content. Normally that is included, it would be worth knowing. Travis has said what I would have said pretty much, because I have read probably 200 of his posts and he knows his stuff. Bryant will probably pop in here and he is in Arkansas and may have some really good input.

Jayden, I was in your shoes about six months ago, with about six acres of dust bowl. I can send you the sample if you want to see, but basically same pH and even lower CEC. I bit the bullet and limed. Not only did I use regular lime, I also used CalTurf, which is a faster-acting lime, because the pelletized lime takes about six months IMO to really do much, but will release over the timeframe Travis describes. The reason I think it makes sense is that minerals are neither created or destroyed. They can be leached, but once they are gone, they are gone. You may be able to use accumulators like chicory or comfrey to dredge them up from the subsoil, but it will take a long time for the tons you are deficient, and it is controversial if it works. Those deeper soils may be depleted as well, depending on how burned out your land is. I was also deficient in Mag and sulfur, so I used dolomitic lime, but the same principle applies. I am actually concerned about your phosphate levels, as that will compete for uptake with calcium and win on the basis of relative quantity.

With that pH clover will not probably live, so you are left without a very important family. Others in the same family are even more picky (I'm looking at you alfalfa). Without N fixation you will not have carbon growth, and without cover you will have scalded soil until the frontier species can do their thing, which is decades if you are that depleted.

I have looked at doing this the natural way, planting frontier species and doing earthworks, but it is a long horizon. I had an experiment going on with two areas, similar awful samples. One I limed and one I didn't, but I planted some accumulators (chicory and buckwheat, mullein already was present). Preliminarily, the unlimed area was doing so poorly (after earthworks!) that I just limed it too. Literally the limed area has many times the cover on it from the winter crops (which were scientifically chosen by being on clearance), and I feel like if I am doing earthworks (which is pretty unnatural), I might as well restore the minerals and then increase the carbon and CEC in a couple seasons. If you have a lot of acreage and this is a major financial hurdle, or you are philosophically inclined against it, then planting some accumulators and waiting is an option.

Once you have spent that money on the minerals, you need to plant stuff to continually draw them back up as they try to leach out, or have a soil web to do it. Buckwheat is pretty reasonable, germinates OK in my experience from broadcast seeding, and is a great forage and good pollen producer. Unfortunately it is an annual. I did plant some chicory, but it is a lot more expensive and I am lurking around trying to get a good deal. I only have five pounds down so far and it hasn't done much, so I may need to do the bad thing and disturb some strips to get it going. Comfrey so far has not been successful, but only a small scale planting. OK, it's probably dead. Basically you want some plants that have deep roots and participate in the soil food web, and you want them every year. Lots of trees need calcium to prosper and that is part of my long-term plan. I may have to lime every so often, but once I have some organic content in the soil (mine was <2% in both fields), then not as much will be lost. Once I get a viable soil web things should improve.

I will admit I am a bit type A, and some of this is science fair, but $800 in lime to get at least a couple growing seasons ahead made sense to me.
 
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