• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

reading the soil without a lab  RSS feed

 
Angelika Maier
pollinator
Posts: 985
Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
7
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
OK in the olden days farmers did not move around and farmed the same piece of land for generations. These circumstances made it easier for them to read their soils without a lab.
I don't want to discuss the usefulness of soil test here (of course they are !), I want to gather methods to read the soil without a lab.
1. Say weeds which grow (we have a lot of buttercups and in the chicken run there is a lot of plantain which chicken don't like), what does the occurence of weeds tell us?
2. Crops which don't grow well (i.e. my beets don't get really big)
3. The tilth, structure.....
4. The geology of your place, were to find information and how to interpret it.
Which indicators are there for the lack or excess of certain nutrients?
 
Nicole Alderman
garden master
Posts: 1534
Location: Pacific Northwest
200
cat duck forest garden hugelkultur cooking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I noticed that the plantain in my duck yard is most heavily congregated around where I put their oyster shell. Perhaps plantain likes--or can withstand--areas of high calcium? There's usually quite a bit of calcium in their poop, too, from their oyster shell...
 
Travis Johnson
pollinator
Posts: 1266
138
books cat chicken duck rabbit transportation trees woodworking
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
As a 9th generation sheep farmer I am kind of what you describe. I learned from my Grandfather what plants indicated what the soil needed for amendments by tasting them. Yes tasting them. If they were sour tasting they might need lime, if they were sweet tasting they might need sulfur. Obviously I do not taste the plants now, I know what they mean, like milkweed means the soil needs lots of potash, and smooth bedstraw requires lime. Queen Annes lace means phosphorus is low, etc, etc, etc.

Sadly none of this does me any real good. Due to the required Comprehensive Nutrient management Plan, soil samples have to be done anyway. And as alluded too, knowing what has to be applied...and EXACTLY how much...is two different things. Putting down potash to eliminate milkweed is a good thing, applying twice as much potash as what is required is pollution.
 
Kyle Neath
pollinator
Posts: 133
Location: High Sierras, CA 6400'
30
dog hugelkultur trees woodworking
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I left my copy at the ranch, but if I recall correctly sepp holzer's Permaculture has a whole section that lists indicator plants — plants that tend to thrive in specific types of soil. This strategy has been really useful for me as I'm still really in observation mode for my land, and it's quite large and diverse. The most useful ones I rely on:

- Corn Lillies and Cow Parsley indicate wet ground and if found on a slope indicate a shallow spring.
- Lupine and Mules Ears indicate disturbed, nutrient-poor soil.
- Oaks (trees & bushes) indicate summer drought conditions
- Mountain Whitethorn indicates large-scale disturbance (logging)
- … and maybe obvious but always notable: high concentrations of conifers indicate acid soil

One of the coolest things I've done recently is invite a forester out to my property and take a walk. We hiked around for about 4 hours while he pointed out everything he noticed. I came away with a ton of information about the types of soil, types of trees, common diseases, wildlife paths, and history of logging on my property.
edefb40feeff25491098c7561985cadf.jpg
[Thumbnail for edefb40feeff25491098c7561985cadf.jpg]
Indicator Plants
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
Posts: 2839
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
233
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting toxin-ectomy
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Angelika Maier wrote:OK in the olden days farmers did not move around and farmed the same piece of land for generations. These circumstances made it easier for them to read their soils without a lab.
I don't want to discuss the usefulness of soil test here (of course they are !), I want to gather methods to read the soil without a lab.
1. Say weeds which grow (we have a lot of buttercups and in the chicken run there is a lot of plantain which chicken don't like), what does the occurence of weeds tell us?
2. Crops which don't grow well (i.e. my beets don't get really big)
3. The tilth, structure.....
4. The geology of your place, were to find information and how to interpret it.
Which indicators are there for the lack or excess of certain nutrients?


Awesome set of questions Angelika, thanks for asking these.  Kyle mentioned Sepp's book and the list of indicator plants (weeds) so I'll limit myself to answering the other questions to the best of my knowledge.

Lets start with crops that don't grow well of which I consider beets a prime test plant since they really want nearly perfect conditions to do well.

If the crop plant doesn't perform well, it is usually soil condition, makeup and tilth that are the factors, most will do fairly well even if mineralization isn't super.
In a soil you can do a simple jar test to determine what makes up your soil in the garden bed, in fact you can do this for every square foot (if you feel the need for that). We are looking for at lest 35% sand no more than 10% clay and 30% particles between sand and clay, the rest needs to be humus materials, in this blend beets go crazy since water can penetrate easily and that moisture will be held well. Soil with this makeup will show good tilth it will form a ball when compressed but fall apart at the first poke of that compressed ball. Nutrient quantities are more about the quality of the humus and the organisms that are present, along with which minerals and how much of them are there. Minerals can be added by sprinkles of rock dust and green sand, kelp powder, fish emulsion etc. as you water your garden and otherwise care for your plants, it is hard to overdo most minerals in a growing environment if you use small additions per application.

The geology is usually easy to find on the web site of your state government geological office. If they don't have it then you can go to the US geological survey and probably find most of the needed information. If you have a nearby University or even community college, they probably have a geology department that either has the local information or can direct you to where to find it.  The US Government did a comprehensive soil survey in the early 1970's and this survey covered most of the US., some of the high mountain areas were not tested in this survey because no one was living there.

Now about the nutrient observations. For these you need to look at the plant you are growing, yellow leaves, yellow leaves with brown edges, spotting on the leaves, misshapen stems, leaves, lack of flowers all point towards different mineral disparages. There are good photos of each condition and which mineral(s) indicated as lacking at NRCS

Hope this helps you out

Redhawk
 
stephen lowe
Posts: 45
7
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Another good book on indicator species is Weeds and What They Tell Us by Ehrenfried Pfeiffer.
 
Angelika Maier
pollinator
Posts: 985
Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
7
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Interesting info! As my whole land is on fill I do create soil, which makes it even more difficult. That means for me personally the geology only matters as much as the material I bring in. If you build up the soil you will end up with patchy  soils one different to the other. With the beets I know they need boron and I do 1/4 teaspoon on ten litres of water but it is a trace element and too much is dangerous.
I will make jkar tests I never did these.
I have some beds were chickweed grows like mad - is it too much nitrogen?
 
Travis Johnson
pollinator
Posts: 1266
138
books cat chicken duck rabbit transportation trees woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
My problem is I do not know what the names of weeds and plants are so I cannot help anyone else. For me it is a "see these weeds, this means this" sort of thing. Thankfully from people posting on here I have learned the names of some weeds, but also have realized weeds can be a regional thing. My NRCS Conservationist is from MN and what she calls weeds is totally different from the same weed we have here. Its okay, just different.
 
R Jay
Posts: 36
Location: 54 North BC Canada
2
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
For plant nutrient deficiencies, here are a couple websites with pictures

bigpictureagriculture.blogspot.ca/2015/12/plant-nutrient-deficiency-leaf.html


organicagardensupply.com/disease-pests/plant-nutrient-deficiencies-with-photos/

Here is site with a chart:

extension.arizona.edu/sites/extension.arizona.edu/files/pubs/az1106.pdf
 
Peter Ingot
Posts: 131
7
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Angelika Maier wrote:Interesting info! As my whole land is on fill I do create soil, which makes it even more difficult. That means for me personally the geology only matters as much as the material I bring in. If you build up the soil you will end up with patchy  soils one different to the other. With the beets I know they need boron and I do 1/4 teaspoon on ten litres of water but it is a trace element and too much is dangerous.
I will make jkar tests I never did these.
I have some beds were chickweed grows like mad - is it too much nitrogen?


I've heard that chickweed generally likes well balanced, healthy soil. However, it also likes "poorly decomposed surface residues" which is what you or I call "mulch". Mother nature has an answer to everything we do! I've found that if you stop mulching with stuff like grass clippings and instead weed and carefully cover the soil surface with a thin, layer of really well composted manure, the chickweed becomes much less common.
 
Angelika Maier
pollinator
Posts: 985
Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
7
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
In the vegetable garden I only mulch tomatoes and such, most is unmulched, but I dump woodchips on the pathways. That means that the soil in the areas were the chickweed grows in balanced - and there are beds were no chickweed grows. There is as well a type of veronica, tiny with blue flowers and fumitory is  an abundant weed here as is herb robert. I think latin names are better chickwee stellaria media,and the rest I forgot.
 
You can thank my dental hygienist for my untimely aliveness. So tiny:
FT Position Available: Affiliate Manager Who Loves Permaculture & Homesteading
https://permies.com/t/69742/FT-Position-Affiliate-Manager-Loves
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!