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Help with the Intelligent Gardener Worksheets  RSS feed

 
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The book seems so clear, but when I compare my soil test to the expected targets, I'm completely bewildered. My county offers 5 free soil tests, so I did that instead of Logan. It's limited to the major elements, but at least I can try to get that right. Here's the source of my confusion:

My TCEC is 16.7
My pH is 6.1
My OM is 24.4 (I know!)

First confusing thing: Using the N calculations, I have too much N. And no wonder. But the lab says my nitrogen levels are very low (maybe tied up by imbalance?). I'm not sure how to deal with that. I'm inclined to go ahead and add some.

Next confusing thing: I'm showing a P deficit of 125/acre, but my soil test is showing very high P - expected in Western Washington. So do I follow what the local lab sees and don't add any, or add what the worksheet shows? I'm using the Weak Bray number (135 x.44= 59.4) as opposed to NaHCO3-P. I think that's right.

Then there's the K. According to the soil report, my K is 314ppm, which is a medium amount. The worksheet sets my lb/acre at 628 and my target at 395 - so it's way too high!

There's a similar difference of opinion in the Mg - the soil test shows 335ppm as average, but the worksheet (16.7 x 240 x 0.12) puts my Mg in the substantially too high range.

About the only thing I'm not confused about is Calcium. I haven't missed the point that I'm rebalancing an out of whack system... I just expected the soil lab to underestimate the level of elements necessary for good nutrition, but it seems like the worksheets want me to have way less - except for P. The P question is really leaving me frozen in my tracks. I'm convinced that I'm doing magical math and screwing it up completely.

Someone should start a cottage industry doing these worksheets! Any help you can offer will be greatly appreciated. I need to plant some trees and I really want to amend the soil first. My garden isn't doing well at all.

 
pollinator
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Hi Melody-

I wouldn’t be too concerned with trying to achieve some “perfect target levels” according to the book, and certainly not according to recommendations from the county soil lab. Most soil labs, and I’m going to assume the county soil lab falls into the group, provide recommendations for conventional agriculture systems using and recommending synthetic petroleum fertilizers. Those recommendations can be tossed out the window. I own and have read The Intelligent Gardener book and use its information and advice. This book is about getting adequate values of minerals into the soil, not determining annual additions needed to grow a crop like conventional ag.

Based on the information you’ve provided, my advice is to nudge your pH closer to 6.5, and then focus on adding and nurturing the soil microbial life. It appears you have plenty of the minerals you’ve listed in the soil, now you just need healthy populations of bacteria and fungi in the soil to bring everything together. The microbial life will provide those minerals in the right quantities to the plants you choose to grow. Permies resident soil scientist Redhawk has generously provided the community with tons of information on how to nurture and add fungal and microbial life to a soil. Here’s the link to his threads: https://permies.com/wiki/77424/List-Bryant-RedHawk-Epic-Soil#637639

My only concern is you mentioned the test you got is limited to the “major” elements. Those other micronutrients such as copper, manganese and boron are extremely important. They all work together to sustain a healthy plant. Low levels of boron for example will affect a plants ability to efficiently utilize all the other minerals. In my opinion, a soil test that doesn’t provide micronutrient information is not a quality soil test, and is practically worthless. Another example, I helped someone here who provided a soil test and the results showed 0 ppm copper in one of the samples. Clearly a little copper needs to be added, and if the soil test hadn’t offered that information, one could spend their entire life trying to amend a soils other minerals and have perpetual plant problems with a soil containing zero measurable copper.

My advice, would be to make compost and compost teas, add fungi, feed and nurture that soil microbial life and get another soil test that offers micronutrient data. It’s important.
 
Melody KirkWagner
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I guess I should clarify that I've been an organic gardener for decades. There's actually too much compost in my beds. The soil is all imported loamy topsoil added to a hugel bed that included wood shavings for a quick start on breakdown. It's been well mulched with leaves and had comfrey leaves, fava and peas left to decompose. It's had comfrey tea added as well, although intellectually I dispute the value of compost teas. All the plants had a high-quality mycorrhizal product appropriate to the plant added to the planting hole. Last year I added cottonseed meal and alfalfa to compensate for any nitrogen loss from the wood breaking down, but I think not enough. I thought it should be ok because it was already a year old, but apparently not. In any case, there should be plenty of fungi and microbial life. The fungi is visible, so I'm pretty confident on that count.

I am raising the pH in the bed that is down to 6.1, though given where I live, I have beds that are for acid-lovers, mostly. But for this particular bed, definitely. And maybe that will be enough to solve it - it's lower than I thought it would be.

My real questions are:
-Am I doing the math incorrectly?

     - For N: 24% OM = 15x24 (15 pounds per each percentage point), yes? Not 15lbs x24%?

-How do I determine whether or not I have too much phosphate, given the contradiction between the county (which encourage organic growing and offers Peaceful Valley's recommendations and explanations of soil balancing , so I don't completely dismiss them) and the worksheet? Would you go with worksheet recommendation?

 
pollinator
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I would do another Logan test, it is not all that expensive if you are in the US. I find it is very difficult when you are not in the subject to work across with several sources.
I did that soil test and added P and see already better cabbages.
 
Melody KirkWagner
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Can anyone answer this question?
-Am I doing the math incorrectly?

     - For N: 24% OM = 15x24 (15 pounds per each percentage point), yes? Not 15lbs x24%?
 
Melody KirkWagner
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Angelika Maier wrote:I would do another Logan test, it is not all that expensive if you are in the US. I find it is very difficult when you are not in the subject to work across with several sources.
I did that soil test and added P and see already better cabbages.



I don't have the hundred dollars to spend on the five I'd need. Maybe next year. Meantime, I'd really love it if there's anyone out there who can answer this question about the worksheets:
-Am I doing the math incorrectly?

     - For N: 24% OM = 15x24 (15 pounds per each percentage point), yes? Not 15lbs x24%?
 
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