Category Archives: Soils and Plant Nutrition

So much more than just dirt!

 In the past few years I have learned a lot about taking and using soil samples to improve my garden. The samples have helped me change how I add fertilizer and other amendments to my soil. My experience mostly centers around my vegetable garden but because of my interest in growing berry crops I am trying to increase my understanding of taking soil samples for my berries. As a berry grower I am always searching for ways to improve my patch. One of these improvements involves adding nutrients to the soil and making the soil a good natural environment for good microbes; this will improve the growing conditions for my plants in the rhizome layer. A healthy rhizome layer can help a plant naturally fight off infections, and pests, it can make the plant hardier and better at absorbing nutrients from the soil (grow it organically.com). When I first took an interest in horticulture, I did not understand how important soil is to the health of my plants. I thought dirt is dirt and plants grow in dirt. If a plant looked bad my first inclination was to just add more fertilizer never considering the implications of adding too much or the wrong ratio. Over time the more I work with plants and dirt I am learning the delicate and incredible relationship between this growing medium and the living organisms that depend on it for sustenance. I took my first soil samples in 2012 and learned that the soil in my garden was so high in Phosphorous and Potassium that it was nearly toxic to my plants. I learned that it was greatly lacking in nitrogen and was very acidic in a few places. It needed more organic matter to help with better drainage in some areas and in others it had too much sand. The local Co/Op was very helpful to me and the experts there told me how best to take soil samples and told me I could mail them to a lab through their service. To get a base line to work with, I divided my garden up into four quadrants and took about 50 samples from each quad. I then put the samples in carefully marked buckets; I mixed the samples thoroughly and dried them. I ordered my sampling baggies from the Co/Op and was able to bag everything up and send it to them without much difficulty; a few weeks later the samples came back and I took them to a soil expert who told me what the report said and wrote up a recommendation for me. These recommendations were incredibly helpful and by following these instructions I have been able to raise much more healthy and productive crops. I have continued this practice every other year for the past four years.
I have every reason to believe that I should do the same for my berry patch. I am not sure what it needs and until I get some samples I won’t really know. This coming spring I intend to take an all-inclusive careful sampling of my patch and find out what is going on beneath the surface. I have healthy bushes but I want to increase production, I have a type of drip irrigation so I want to know what water soluble fertilizers I can use. Water soluble fertilizers will allow me to add nutrients right to the base of my plants by way of my irrigation system which would be very nice. The pdf by( foodroots snw.org) gives a clear picture of how to take effective and proper soil samples. I basically follow this method in my garden with some slight variations to suit my needs. The articles put out by SF gate are very informative when it comes to adding fertilizers or changing the pH of your soil I definitely recommend reading them. I like the idea of fertigation because I will not be wasting any fertilizer on the weeds that already threaten to take over my berries. In the past I usually just add very old horse or cow manure every few years to my berries. This practice results in large very leafy plants but my berry production is not where I want it to be. I need to sample my patch and then start adding fertilizers specifically designed to increase berry production. I am fairly certain that my pH is fine; if the pH in the rest of my garden is any indicator the soil in my berry patch, which came from the garden, should be a good level. If my pH is too acidic then I will need to add more organic matter to act as a buffer and add some elemental sulfur to lower the pH (grow it organically.com).
At this time the ground is frozen so I must content myself with doing the research, drawing up a good plan, and implementing my strategy for taking soil samples next spring. I can then follow the recommendations in a focused effort without wasting time and effort through trial and much error to find the perfect balance. Trial and error is par for the course but following recommendation can and will bring about positive changes much faster than just winging it.
I would like to recommend a book that I have found very helpful in my pursuit of learning all I can about dirt. The book is very aptly called (Dirt, the ecstatic skin of the earth) by William Bryant Logan and has a wealth of information about how this planet creates dirt and how it directly correlates to this planets ability to sustain life. AB Delta Junction
Websites:
By J. Kokemuller, 2016. How to take soil samples for blueberries. SF gate. Available online: http://homeguides.sfgate.com/soil-samples-blueberries-47516.html Accessed Oct. 18, 2016
By M. Fery and E. Murphy, 2013. A guide to collecting soil samples for farms and gardens. Foodfootssnw.org. Available online: http://www.foodrootsnw.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Collecting.Soil_.Samples_ec628.pdf Accessed Oct 17, 2016
By Smart Fertilizer management, 2016. Report on fertigation. Smart-fertilizer.com/ Available online: http://www.smart-fertilizer.com/articles/fertigation Accessed Oct.18,
By Grow it organically.com. Changing soil pH to match plant needs. Grow it Organically. Available online: http://www.grow-it-organically.com/changing-soil-ph.html2016 Accessed Oct. 18, 2016
By Good reads .com. Books written by author William Bryant Logan. Site sells his book Dirt the Ecstatic Skin of the Earth. Available online: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19933.William_Bryant_Logan
Accessed Oct. 18, 2016
Books:
By William Bryant Logan, published 1995. Dirt the Ecstatic Skin of the Earth. Riverhead Books, Co. Ltd, New York.

Soils Webinars

Here is a link to a wealth of information on soils and soil conservation. This site is full of webinars on all kinds of topics sponsored by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

NRCS webinars

New book on Alaska Soil Analysis

If you are interested in learning more about what all those numbers mean when you take a soil sample and get a bazillion numbers back that are pretty confusing, this book explains them all in great detail. Want to be a good grower? Then you must be good at managing soils.

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Blueberries and Soils

Soil pH wrong for blueberries? Blueberries like acidic soils and it’s unlikely that your garden naturally has the perfect condition.  The Alaskan Berries website has a soil recipe geared towards Alaskan soils.  It also has helpful hints for growing other berries. Soils and Blueberries

Mycorrhizal Associations and Phosphorus

If you think Mycorrhizae are pretty neat, there are lots of YouTube videos that will tell you more about this subject. Here is one on enhanced phosphorous uptake: Mycorrhizal associations and phosphorus

Organic Plant Nutrition

How about some organic ways to fertilize gardens and berry patches!

Organic  recipes   Remedies