It s Our Garden The Importance Of Soll/Part 2

By Eleabeth and Crow Miller

Soil Analysis

A Tool For Balanced, Healthy, Productive


A doctor uses an X-ray or a blood test, so that they can make an accurate diagnosis of a person's health. We, organic farmers, gardeners, and landscapers use soil analysis, so we can make an accurate diagnosis of the health of our soil. A healthy, balanced soil will produce healthy, balanced crops that are free of insects, disease and weeds.

A soil analysis is a very practical way to learn more about the make up of any soil. First, test your soil, dig into it and find out what's there, and what isn't. By any one of several available testing methods get a dependable analysis of the essential plant nutrients your soil contains. Check, too, on it's acid/alkaline status (a p/H test) to be sure this condition is favorable for the crops you want to grow. Make your tests periodically, often enough to stay aware of changes and how well your soil program is working. Remember, your doctor won't prescribe for his patient without an examination first.

Next, you must treat the soil. Treat it according to the test results. Decide on a program of natural fertilizing that matches up supply with demands shown in your soil's check-up. Keep in mind the particular or heavy drain of any elements by specific crops you may grow. Work to increase the soil's organic matter content, (O.M.C) which is literally its lifeline, and exerts the greatest influence on desirahle tiIth, good drainage and moisture-holding capacities.

There are two basic ways to test soil accessible to the average organic grower. First, the simplest of them is a soil test kit. The kit provides solutions and guides for determining the approximate content of the three major soil nutrients: (N) nitrogen, (P) phosphorus and (K) potash, plus a similar means of establishing thr p/H standing. Their biggest advantages are that they permit you to make frequent on-the-spot tests of your soil, and help you adapt a fertilizing program in accord with your soil's prime needs.

The test is made simply by putting a small portion of the soil sample in a test tube, then introducing one or two reagents. A reagent is a chemical which reacts with the nutrients being tested, it shows the quantity of the nutrients available by changing color. Color charts are supplied with these kits, the finial analysis is made by checking the color of the solution in the tube with the test chart for the nutrient being tested.

The other way to have soil tested is to send a sample to a laboratory. There other testing methods, used only in technical or specialized agricultural research, include plant tissue or leaf analyses in determining nutrient deficiencies.

Soil samples can be taken at any time during the year that weather conditions permit. The soil should be free of frost, and fairly dry. If your growing area is quite large, taking a composite, or mixed sample from several points will provide more information than a spot sample.

For a composite sample, start at one end of your growing area and with a soil auger go down about 6 to 8-inches, then place the soil plug in a clean container. Now move about 12-feet in any direction and repeat this operation. Continue until the plot is given an over-all sampling. Note: On a field of an acre or more, samples can be taken several rods apart

Once you've covered the area to be tested, mix samples thoroughly in a clean bucket, remove one pint of soil. Damp or wet soil will give false test readings. Next, label the soil sample, indicating where and when it was taken, the type of crop grown last season, and type of crop to be planted this year.

Some soil test kits and most laboratory reports also make soil recommendations for improving weak or deficient nutrient levels shown in the test. An important point for growers who want their soil enriched in a way that does the most good is that they translate any general or chemical recommendations into natural fertilizers and organic soil amendments that deliver long lasting benefits, and improve the soil's composition at the same time.

Let's look at the major nutrients and consider how each one can be supplied when a soil analysis shows a deficiency. Nitrogen (N) of course, is one of the most vital elements for a productive soil, one which must be constantly renewed.

If your soil analysis shows a low (N) level, start applying one or more of the rich natural sources. Composted poultry manures are the best organic fertilizers relatively high in (N), and should be included in an organic soil feeding program whenever available. Fish meal, feather meal. and cottonseed meal, are especially rich in (N), are excellent for overcoming deficiencies.

Bone meal is another good supplier of (N), as well as a phosphorus rich material. Raw bone meal has between 2% to 4% (N), 23% to 27% (P) phosphoric acid. Steamed bone meal contains one to 2% (N), and up to 30% phosphorus (P). One of the richest sources of (N) is blood meal. Blood meal analyzes 15% (N), it can be used directly in the soil or composted.

Phosphorus (P) plays a leading role in plant nutrition. It's essential for healthy growth, strong roots, fruit development and resistance to diseases. (P) deficiency is considered by many agronomists to be the prime factor in limiting crop production.

When a soil analysis points to (P) shortage, the best source is using rock phosphate, ground to a powder, which contains about 30% (P). Colloidal phosphate, also a natural mineral product, is made up of sedimentary deposits of soft phosphate with colloidal clay. It contains from 18% to 25% phosphoric acid.

Potash (K) is the mineral that concerns itself mainly with plants carbohydrate manufacture. As one of the big-3 soil nutrients, it is essential for the development of strong plants, particularly in overcoming disease susceptibility and maintaining balanced (N) use. Plants lacking potash (K) do not resist heat or cold well, their process of photosynthesis is slowed down.

Greensand, an under sea mineral deposit, is an excellent potassium (K) supplier (7%) and also contains beneficial quantities of many trace elements, some lime and phosphorus (P). Plant residues, manures and compost also bring potash (K) to the soil in a free and available form. This is important because even in fertile soil the supply of free potassium (K) is seldom enough to meet the needs of a growing crop.

Note : Wood ashes are another potash (K) high source. Broad-leaf wood ashes contain as much as 10%; coniferous ashes, about 6%.

Another important part of a soil analysis is the acid/alkaline (p/H) balance, it is important because a lopsided p/H will block the release of major and minor plant foods. A soil that is too acid will not release unavailable nutrients properly; neither will a soil that is too alkaline.

Keep in mind, of course, that a soil analysis is not the only way to check on the soil's needs, and the requirements of plant growing in it. A soil analysis reveals the available, soluble nutrients, and these constitute about 3% of the total minerals present in the soil. Some growers feel that testing the actual tissue of a plant is a better method, since it reveals what the plant is lacking. but the trouble with tissue testing is that it shows the hunger after it exists, by that time the damage has been done. An accurate soil test can help prevent deficiencies, thereby serve as a valuable tool for the organic grower.

The more you know about your soil, the more productive it will be for you. Soil analysis and intelligent treatment as a follow-up to what they show can do a lot for Your growing success.