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Cheapest way to test soil pH using red cabbage

11 years ago

My B.S. is in computer science, minor in chemistry. I wrote this procedure for the English Roses Forum ... benefited mostly international folks. What Kimmsr wrote is right about pine needles are neutral, and the NET result of decomposing leaves is alkaline. Google "University of Illinois and Organic Mulch", and you'll see.

I still recommend getting your soil tested by University Extension, local county, or Earthco. first, but if you need many samples tested afterwards, my $1.50 cent procedure will save you money and time.

See the link below for the procedure I wrote to get fast soil pH using 50 cents red cabbage and $1 bottle of distilled water.

Here is a link that might be useful: Cheapest way to test soil pH using red cabbage

This post was edited by Strawberryhill on Mon, Feb 25, 13 at 10:46

Comments (42)

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    This is great! I'll give it a try.

    This post was edited by haname on Mon, Feb 25, 13 at 21:45

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Anthocyanins (specifically flavin in this case) turns colors based on pH. It's a major reason for hydrangea pH-based color changes. Litmus, itself, is extracted from mosses and lichens.

    You can get a far wider range of colors in flavin doing a pH test...practically every color under the rainbow if you test stuff with mega-low 1 pH and mega-high 12 pH.

  • Related Discussions

    Red Cabbage pH testing

    Q

    Comments (3)
    Thank you, Debbie for the positive feed back. Thank you, Gracin, for an excellent picture. I'm glad it helped you. Red cabbage is also useful to test the SURFACE soil pH, to prevent fungal growth. I don't have blackspots on roses mulched with horse manure, even with the year with 49" rain, plus 32" snow. My horse manure pH is 7.5 in spring, and pH 8 in late fall. My mediocre horse manure on woodchips bedding and lime has 2 advantages: 1) woodchips dries out faster than clay (staying wet longer means germinating fungi better). 2) Lime suppress fungal growth with its high pH and anti-fungal properties. I tested the surface pH around roses in relation to fungal growth, and the degree of surface wetness, mixed in with my soil pH 7.7: 1) surface wet rotten tomatoes (pH 4.5) - worst blackspot 2) surface Hollytone with sulfur mixed in - equally bad 3) surface wet alfalfa meal (pH 6) - second worst BS Wet decomposed leaves weren't bad, just a tiny bit of BS. University of Illinois documented the end result of decomposed leaves as slightly alkaline, and not neutral. Here's a research which explains why bagged cow manure is reported as very acidic (pH 4), or very alkaline (pH 8). Contrasting Soil pH Effects on Fungal and Bacterial Growth ��" 1 by Department of Microbial Ecology, Lund University, Sweden . 2. Soil Science Department, Rothamsted Research, United Kingdom. ABSTRACT The influence of pH on the two principal decomposer groups in soil, fungi and bacteria, was investigated ⦠This experimental location provides a uniform pH gradient, ranging from pH 8.3 to 4.0, within 180 m in a silty loam soil. .. The growth-based measurements revealed a fivefold decrease in bacterial growth and a fivefold increase in fungal growth with lower pH. ⦠Below pH 4.5 there was universal inhibition of all microbial variables." Here is a link that might be useful: Cheapest way to test soil pH using red cabbage This post was edited by Strawberryhill on Sat, Mar 2, 13 at 17:08
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    Testing soil pH the Red Cabbage Style !!

    Q

    Comments (8)
    Thank you, ceth, for those great pics. you took. Your soil looks slight blue, slightly alkaline, around 7.2 to 7.3 ... I wonder how that would compare to tea leaves, at 7.2. I'll boil some cabbage, and test tea leaves against other reported values for cooked oat meal, rice, potato, bread, frozen cooked green peas, tomatoes... I might take some pictures. I can't test my soil since it's covered in snow. I posted the info. to alert folks about the danger of over-fertilizing. If the pH is between 6 and very alkaline, and if the soil is clay rather than sandy, there is no need of dumping nitrogen ... nitrogen is plenty in my clay soil of pH 7.7, and air is made of 78.09% nitrogen. I never fertilize my decidous trees, yet they are taller than my house. Nitrogen is needed only in pots or sandy soil that leaks out. After using chemical fertilizer that leaks out from pots, I switched to blood meal (has iron) and dried chicken manure. Both are sticky, with slow-released nitrogen ... so plants in pots stay dark green. To fix my heavy clay at pH 7.7, these holes are from best to OK for my roses. 1) Hole mixed with pine fines (pH 4 to 5), lots of blooming from the humic acid released by decomposed pine, and its 21% water-retention ability. 2) Hole mixed with leaves - lots of bloomings. NPK of leaves is 0.8 / 0.35 / 0.2 Leaves retain water well, and phosphorus is released with decomposed organic matter. 3) Hole mixed with grass clippings - kind of stingy, it might be from the high value of nitrogen. NPK of grass is 4 / 0.5 / 0.2 ... my clay retains nutrients well so higher in nitrogen can make it stingy. Below is a picture of own-root Sonia Rykiel rose turning chlorotic from nitrogen and iron leaching out of a pot (I watered it with soluble NPK of 18-24-16, with 0.1 iron, plus a high nitrogen soluble NPK of 32-10-10, with 0.33% iron). Compare that to the dark green, own-root Golden Celebration rose to the right. It's planted in heavy clay mulched with horse manure and alfalfa meal. Both are slow-released nitrogen, and horse manure has iron to make it dark green.
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    yellow rose leaves, clay soil, please advise me, soil experts...

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    Comments (15)
    Lux again, after considering everything, I think the failure of Marachal Niel' to thrive, might be the clone. Because in the same bed, and c. 7-8 feet on- center from M.N. is a 'Mrs. B.R. Cant' that was given to me as a house present in January 2013, it arrived in a gallon pot and was c. 8 inches tall by nearly as wide, now it has grown to be c. 3 feet tall by nearly as wide in less than 7 months. I had planned to keep it in that bed for a couple years until it grew to be about 3 feet tall until I had cleared a strip of lawn to move it to, but it's grown three times faster than I thought it would have done. I'm still moving Marachal Niel' to a rosebed that gets a couple hours of afternoon shade, because two canes are sunburnt at the top of the plant, The yellowing leaves may be due to using Epson salts,this year and last, a tip I read in an English rose book. I should have understood that a method and means used in England may not be a good thing to use in California, because our soil and climate is so different. Thanks again, Lux.
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    Peat moss, alfalfa hay, alfalfa pellets, or alfalfa meal?

    Q

    Comments (38)
    Jeri made me laugh, that was funny! Humor is badly need in this forum. Dry air is made of 78.09% nitrogen, 20.95% oxygen, and the rest of argon and carbon dioxide. That explains why poor drainage wet clay soil can turn roses yellow ... the roots can't breathe. My Eglantyne rose was yellowish, until I fixed the drainage. MiracleGro potting soil comes with enough nitrogen for 3 months. I had one geranium in MiracleGro and was annoyed that the leaves are so dark green with few flowers (I don't fertilize that pot). There's one pot that I ran out of MiracleGro and put 1/2 garden dirt in ... I actually like that geranium better: it was shorter, more blooms, and lighter green leaves ....easier on the eyes. A friend asked me about phosphorus, so I'll post the info. here: The NPK value of oak leaves is 0.8 /0.35/ 0.15 Maple leaves is similar to that, so it's twice higher in nitrogen than phosphorus. Once decomposed, the value of phosphorus rises. Most decomposed organic matter is high in phophorus, such as sewage sludge at NPK of 2/ 1.9 / 0.3. Animal tankage (manure without the fat and gelatin) with NPK of 8 / 20 / 0. Other high sources of phosporus are rock phosphate and bone meal with NPK of 4 / 21 / 0.2. Drawback of rock phosphate and bone meal: they can only be utilized at pH at or below 7, according to University of Colorado Extension. Since I'm lazy in pruning I would rather sacrifice top growth for more root and flowering, or less nitrogen and more phosphorus. Leaves and stem store plenty of nitrogen, and unless the plant is completely yellow, there's no need for nitrogen. Even then, fixing the drainage and fluff up the soil with organic matter helped my roses to green up without the need for chemical nitrogen (also highest in salt). Adding air to the soil by making it fluffy is the cheapest way to give nitrogen to roots, considering that dry air is made of 78.09% nitrogen. Composting scraps from kitchen is another cheap source of nutrients, considering Cantaloupe rinds has NPK value of 0 / 9.77 /12.0 ... high in phosphorus and potassium. Potato skin has NPK value of 0 / 5.18 / 27.5 ... also high P and K. Nothing beats banana peels in potassium, with NPK value of 0 / 3.25 / 41.76. Potassium is need to counteract the salt in manure, and to fight diseases. This post was edited by Strawberryhill on Wed, Feb 20, 13 at 11:48
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  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I am using bromocresol green indicator solution to test the soil around our blueberry shrubs for pH. The solution is yellow at pH = 3.8, blue at pH = 5.4, and green at the mid-point, around pH = 4.6. A bottle costs around 2 dollars, but it's not locally available. I have to mail order it from HMS Beagle.

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    So you see something that indicates your soils pH but what tells you why it is what it is? Does your soil need Caclium? Which one, Calcitic or Dolomitic? Does your soil need sulfur? How much is needed to correct the problem?
    If your plants tell you that you have a soil nutrient problem it most likely is too late to correct it for this crop. Have your soil tested, by a good soil testing lab, periodically so you can be proactive about any problems that might arise, don't wait for your plants to tell you there is a problem.

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I have NEVER got a soil test ever and my garden has thrived for years and years. I grow heavy feeders like tomatoes and peppers in the same rows year after with NO soil tests. I use a slow release fertilizer that has every micro and macronutrient needed by plants.

    Why would I get a soil test, see what I "dont" need, only use what I "do" need to then have to get another test to see what I "do" need again, and again, and again....What a funny thing to do when your a small farm or gardener not using TONS of fertilizer and looking to save.

    What happens if I need only Sulfur? Now to the store to get some sulfur. Next year my soil 'test' says now I need calcium, off to the store for some calcium. Wow. When your a small gardener why not just get a slow release fertilizer like Vigoro and be done....?

    If you grow organic, why not just spread compost from manure and kitchen waste knowing they have evey needed nutrient....

    Why keep getting soil tests?

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    That's not usually the way a soil test works MG. You can get one test right at the beginning and then if you are making major changes you should periodically spend the 10 bucks to see where you are with that work. However, if you just plant stuff that likes the native conditions, you are pretty much done. Your method is environmentally reckless. If I were to do that, I would be massively polluting the environment with phosphorus. Plus, without a soil test, I would have thought the boron toxicity some of my plants exhibit was drought stress. That very hih phosphorus reading means I should probably avoid australian plants.

    For the life of me I can't figure out why someone would actually advocate ignorance and recklessness.

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    "For the life of me I can't figure out why someone would actually advocate ignorance and recklessness."

    "Your method is environmentally reckless."

    Really.

    Besides the fact that even using the synthetic fertilizer is fine being I use a lot of OM which will buffer and keep the nutrients from leaching out of the rows.

    But lets look at what else I said for good reason:

    "If you grow organic, why not just spread compost from manure and kitchen waste knowing they have evey needed nutrient.... "

    So even using composts that have different nutrients is "environmentally reckless". ?

    So working with the land and not using tests that go to and come from a lab is a 'green' way to grow, is it not?

    This post was edited by TheMasterGardener1 on Tue, Feb 26, 13 at 12:14

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Testing soil for pH is not always necessary, most garden plants do well over a wide range of pH values. However, if you want to grow blueberries here in Madison, you will have to learn how to test soil pH and amend the soil with agricultural sulfur, or pay someone else to test pH for you. I think the crop of blueberries we harvest every year is worth the effort, and that is of course my personal opinion. The original poster mentions "English roses," and it may be that these plants benefit from adjusting soil pH, as well.

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    That was a fun experiment! My daughter and I watched as we saw the colors change dramatically depending on the substance added. My soil test came out perfectly blue, which means it is alkaline as I already knew and expected.

    To make the testing solution, we used this method:

    1. Chop a few outer leaves of red cabbage and place in plastic beaker (we used the mixing cup for a stick blender).

    2. Pour boiling distilled water over cabbage to cover.

    3. Mix and chop the cabbage and water together using a stick blender.

    4.Let steep 5 minutes.

    5. Strain the purple liquid into a glass measuring cup,

    (Feed spent cabbage to the compost)

    Thanks again for the idea. :)

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Yes MG, adding organic matter can cause the same leaching problems that synthetic fertilizers can cause.

    warning: links are for PDFs

    From Dr. Lind Chalker-Scott
    "Organic matter is fertilizer and is composed of the same elements that make up commercial fertilizers. If it is applied in excess, it will cause pollution problems just as surely as those commercial fertilizers do. It is true that organic matter provides a slow release of nutrients if used in moderation, but applying organic matter at unnaturally high rates means the nutrient release is likewise increased, as Figure 1 demonstrates. A heavily amended landscape soil (e.g. 33% OM) releases much greater amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and other nutrients than an ideal soil (i.e. 5% OM)."

    water quality issues from organic material addition

    again from Dr. Chalker-Scott
    "If you don’t know what your soil already contains in terms of nutrients, how can you possibly determine how much OM to add? It is simple and cheap to have your soil tested for OM content and nutrient levels and this should be done at least once to determine baseline values. This information can help you determine if you need to add more organic material, and which nutrients in particular are at minimal levels. It wastes resources, both financial and natural, to add excessive amounts of OM without these baseline values"

    organic nutrient overload

    Now she is talking about permant plantings,and a strictly compost based fertilization regiment in a vegetable garden is unlikely to turn into a problem. This is because so much of the nutrient load is used for the crop production and most people won't add nearly enough OM. However, if you already have high levels of a macro and continuously dump excess of the nutrient whether orgnic or synthetic, it makes no difference, there will be leaching. Ignorantly dumping nutrients regardless of whether organic or synthetic is reckless. It is especially so considering the test is 10 bucks from UMass. Sure, you can be successful by adding more nutrients than necessary, but that doesn't mean you should do so. How about those micros? Why add micros if you have enough? They can build up to toxic levels. It would be unconscionable for me to add boron to my landscape since I'm already at 2.6ppm. There seems to be a trend with the naturalism fallacy that organic additions can do no harm because they are organic. This is not the case. Nutrients are nutrients.

    Now if you are talking about just mulching a permanent planting and that's it, sure that is going to be perfectly safe and reasonable. I can agree with that.

    But I still can't understand why someone wouldn't sped 10 bucks on a test that will provide them with an enormous amount of information and allow them to precisely steward their land.

    I know you are an adept gardener and take great care of your plants. We have all seen the results of your hard work MG. I just think not getting at least one soil test is a terrible idea. Without it you are shooting in the dark.

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I would also encourage people to check out the full myth section of the urban horticulture site.

    Horticultural Myths

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Extremely high OM soils are pesky...it's hard to get some people to "get" that one...mostly because "the more OM, the better" has been beat into their brains.

    I've seen more than a few people around my area dig numerous feet of clay out just to dump pure compost in...heartbreaking...and costly in some cases.

    Clay is awesome stuff. 5-7-10% OM...sure, fine. A good clay + topsoil mix rounding that out is even more awesome.

    Having clay in your soil is almost like having "time release fertilizer" in your soil based on the nutrients it can hold and release when roots/pH interact with it.

    Topdressing with an inch or two of composted OM once you're got a good "base soil" in order mix down (watering, earthworms, plant roots, etc all move it down) usually does a good job of keeping your soil "charged" with "good stuff" while not disturbing your overall soil profile.

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I posted "testing soil pH using red cabbage". I agree with BOTH the Mastergardener and those who advocate soil test.

    No one has identical needs nor garden. Henry David Thoreau said it well, "Let each march to his/her own drummer". There was a fruit farmer who tested his/her soil to be deficient in boron ... and it made a big difference once corrected.

    My soil was tested by EarthCo. to be deficient in phosphorus, potassium, and calcium. I traced the problem to limestone in my soil, and lime in my well-water. Calcium binds with phosphorus at my pH 7.7, making both unavailable. Once I water my pots with high phosphorus soluble fertilizer, plants tripled in blooms.

    I also agree with the Mastergardener approach of "if it's not broken, why fix it?" Earthco. recommended sulfur to fix my alkaline soil. I put sulfur in 10+ holes for roses, they didn't bloom well, so I dug them up and all the earthworms were killed.

    To solve the phosphorus-tie-up in my pH 7.7 heavy clay soil, I made a variety of holes for roses, some had bone meal, some had 46% superphosphate, some had peat moss ... The best blooms are from the holes amended with fine pine mulch, with no phosphorus added.

    University of Georgia College of Agriculture stated that "Pine bark have a pH between 4.0 and 5.0 ... with 13% water-retention when fresh, and 21% water-retention when decomposed.

    This post was edited by Strawberryhill on Wed, Feb 27, 13 at 11:43

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    There are several issues here, being considered in parallel. How much soil testing is really necessary? I would argue that if the plants you are interested in growing are healthy and vigorous, no testing is needed. People can and do rely on gardening lore, passed from one generation to the next, and the results are often good. Gardeners might develop an interest in growing plants that are sensitive to soil pH, including azaleas, camellias, rhododendrons, and blueberries. Unless you happen to live in a spot with acidic soil, and also pH neutral well water, you are out of luck, without pH testing. The advantage to doing your own pH testing is that it now becomes possible to spot test several locations on the property, without spending much money. Using dye indicator solutions, the cost per test will be something like 20 cents. It is true that highly acidic soil is not compatible habitat for earthworms. I am not finding worms in the soil when I take samples from around our blueberry shrubs, where the pH is generally between 4 and 5. However, I am finding lots of worms in our native soil, when I dig out dandelion roots, often two or three feet away from the blueberry shrubs. So, we have plenty of worms in our yard, despite the presence of 16 blueberry shrubs. Soil pH testing might not be absolutely necessary, but I suspect that a lot of gardeners would benefit from learning the methods and making a few tests.

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    "I also agree with the Mastergardener approach of "if it's not broken, why fix it?"

    Agree. And remember everyone, we farmed way before there were soil tests......

    ;)

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Thank you, Ericwi, for the info. about earthworms. I appreciate your kind words. I respect the MasterGardener for being cool, and not attacking back .. everyone is entitled to their choice on their own garden.

    Respecting others' freewill is the foundation of a democratic society. We have different soils/gardens, why imposing one's choice on someone else?

    I agree with nc-crv on "Clay is awesome stuff. 5-7-10% OM...sure, fine. ...Having clay in your soil is almost like having "time release fertilizer" in your soil based on the nutrients it can hold and release when roots/pH interact with it."

    Below is a picture of my heavy clay garden, pH 7.7, zone 5a. I have 26 trees, some are taller than 2-story ... I fertillized evergreen trees the first 2 years when they were 1 foot tall babies, and nothing afterwards. I NEVER fertilize corkscrew willow trees, and they lose leaves every winter. Air is composed of 78.09% nitrogen.

    I googled "photosynthesis" and found this quote "Since plants get carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen from the air and water, there is little farmers and gardeners can do to control how much of these nutrients a plant can use."

    I tried to convince folks in the Rose Forum that they don't need to dump high nitrogen fertilizer on roses just to attract aphids, contaminate groundwater, and have tall roses with less blooms. What's going on here is tame compared to the nit-picking I got from the Rose Forum, just because I present info. that's contrary to what's practiced.

    Picture of zone 5a deciduous trees with no nitrogen added:

    Here is a link that might be useful: Photosynthesis and plant nutrients

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    " I respect the MasterGardener for being cool, and not attacking back .. "

    What? lol

    I am Not sure what you are saying here?

    I have only been rational.

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    "why not just spread compost from manure and kitchen waste knowing they have evey needed nutrient...."

    Because this is an incorrect notion. I did that for years and yet still have various problems. Manure and other OM will in most cases not contain every needed nutrient for optimum crop vigor.

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Yea. I guess thats why I use a slow release nutrient. Worked good so far.

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Hi MasterGardener: I meant you are nice, and present your opinion, rather than putting others down. =)! I have the nutrient deficiencies chart associated with low pH and high pH from EarthCo:

    Nitrogen: plenty at pH 8, but short at pH 5.5. Molybdenum: very low at pH 5.5 and beyond.

    Phosphorus: very deficient at pH below 6, and somewhat deficient at pH 8. Correcting low pH by adding lime had been documented to increase yields in crops.

    Potassium: plenty at pH 8, but less at pH 5.5 (not as deficient as phosphorus). Calcium: plenty at pH 8, but very low at pH 5.5.

    Magnesium: plenty at pH 8, but very low at pH 6 and beyond. My alkaline clay is tested high in magnesium

    Boron: can be short at neutral and alkaline. Copper: low at pH 8 and beyond. Iron: very low at pH 8 and beyond. Zinc: somewhat low at pH 8 and beyond.

    EarthCo., or University Extension, or pH meter ARE NOT PLANTS, and cannot speak for plants. EarthCo. tested my soil to be deficient in potassium, yet I don't have diseases with my 45+ roses. Potassium is needed to fight diseases and for strong stems.

    EarthCo. tested my soil to be deficient in calcium, yet my soil is high in limestone and dolomitic lime, and I NEVER have blossom-end rot in my 12 years of growing tomatoes here. Check out what Wikipedia wrote about calcium deficiency:

    "Calcium deficiency may be due to water shortages, which slow the transportation of calcium to the plant, poor uptake of calcium through the stem,[2] or can be caused by excessive usage of potassium or nitrogen fertilizers."

    The best way is to pay attention to plants, and let the plants speak for themselves. I recognized the pinkish-purplish streaks on my roses' stems, and it matched with phosphorus deficiency, caused by phosphorus tied-up with lime in my soil, and lime in my well water. I'm next to limestone quarry.

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    "Hi MasterGardener: I meant you are nice, and present your opinion, rather than putting others down. =)! "

    I found that everyone on here have always been very nice and helpfull! :)

    "The best way is to pay attention to plants, and let the plants speak for themselves."

    Good point!

    For example, When my jalapeno plant's leaves turn yellow; I then fertilize them. With in a few days they get dark green. This is the best way to be sure nutrition is needed.

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Quite often plants will grow lush and green because more then ample amounts of Nitrogen are available in the soil and those plants will be more attractive to insect pests then plants growing in a good, healthy soil. That nice lush growth can also hide many other nutrient deficiencies so the grower may not be aware that the plants are not growing optimely.
    What does a good, reliable soil test do?
    It can help the grower makethe soil into a good healthy soil.
    It can help save the grower money by telling that grower there is no need to add "fertilizer".
    It can help the grower know when a nutrient might need to be added so the plants can grow up strong and healthy.
    It can help the grower prevent pollution by not overloading the soil with unneeded stuff.
    How often does one need a good, reliable soil test? Maybe once a year at the beginning and then probably only every 5 years once the soil is in good tilth.
    I see many people that have never had a soil test state they do not need one and are always looking for pest control ideas. Maybe that should be an indication that a soil test is needed,

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago


    "I see many people that have never had a soil test state they do not need one and are always looking for pest control ideas"

    Didn't we farm before soil tests?

    I have been famring the same land year after year with NO soil tests. Have NEVER had a pest issue.
    _______

    This stroy shows why "soil" tests are not needed. Some people dont have the money or technology yet they grow their own food.

    A funny story- Farmers where using ash on fields and some manure. Scientists came and tested the soil to find a 8+ ph with crops growing perfect. The natural buffering of nature at it's best. :) The OM from the heavy amounts of manure they were adding buffered everything.

    This was a post in response to that stroy:
    Hope this info helps.

    Posted by Masbustelo 5B Illinois (My Page) on Fri, Feb 1, 13 at 12:20

    "The master gardener makes a very good point often misunderstood and ignored. In very healthy soils, say 5%om and higher ph is essentially irrelevant. The cat ion exchange capacity is what determines the availability to plants of nutrients. A cation (+) (pron.: /ˈk�t.aɪ.ən/ KAT-eye-ən), from the Greek word κατά (kat�), meaning "down", is an ion with fewer electrons than protons, giving it a positive charge. The positive ions are to simplify things "open to" or hunting for negatively charged particles. In soils the desirable negatively charged particles are the nutrients, these will chemically bond with the cat ions. The higher the organic matter, the higher the cat ion capacity of a soil, and the higher its ability to keep or maintain the nutrients in the root strata. With high organic matter soils pH becomes irrelevant because there is so much nutrient available at basically any pH that the plants will not have any lack of access and availability therein. Organic matter may be very low in plant nutrients, such as peat moss. Or organic matter may be very high in plant nutrients, such as compost and manures. So then determining factors in soil science regarding high organic soils is not pH, but, is there sufficient NPK etc. bonded to the cat ions"

    This post was edited by TheMasterGardener1 on Thu, Feb 28, 13 at 9:50

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Kimmsr made a good point about nitrogen fertilizer and pest, top growth at the expense of shallow roots. Previous years I did not use any fertilizer on my tomatoes, the roots were so deep that could not dig up, I had to wait until the spring. Last summer I used lots of alfalfa meal NPK 2-1-2 on my tomatoes ... they became tall & less fruits, and the roots were so shallow that I could pull up with one hand. I had to water those tomatoes constantly!!

    Nitrogen is tied up in acidic soil, I can see the need for fertilizer. But there is no point in neutral or alkaline soil, where nitrogen is plenty, according to plant nutrient chart in relation to soil pH.

    Mother Earth News wrote: "As a result, about 60 percent of the nitrogen contained in applied fertilizer is never incorporated into plants and so is free to wash out of root zones, and then pollute rivers, lakes, aquifers and coastal areas through eutrophication. Eutrophication is a process caused by excess nutrients that depletes oxygen in water bodies and ultimately leads to the death of animal life."

    eHow wrote on the effect of too much nitrogen: 1) Too leafty ..., this new growth is often weak, soft and sappy, which makes the plant attractive to various pests and unable to sustain the stress of drought. And if the plant is aromatic, it loses much of its fragrance.

    2) No fruit or Flowers. It's difficult for fruit and flowers to grow when there is too much nitrogen in the soil. Fruit that does grow is distorted or doesn't ripen properly, while flower buds fall off or are disfigured if they do bloom.

    Gardening-Know-How website wrote: "When there is high nitrogen in soil, plants may not produce flowers or fruit. As with nitrogen deficiency in plants, the leaves may turn yellow and drop. Too much nitrogen can result in plant burning, which causes them to shrivel and die."

    Let's consider the salt index of nitrogen fertilizer: 74.4 in urea, 88.3 in ammonium sulfate, 90.4 in ammonium, and 104 in ammonium nitrate. It's like dumping a cup of salt on your plant. Lesser salt are in animal manure and blood meal. See the link below for salt-index of chemical fertilizers:

    Here is a link that might be useful: Salt index of chemical fertilizers

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Yes we absolutely farmed before soil tests. But when I think of some of the practices we did growing up on my grandfather's farm in rural Ohio, I feel some regret. That big pile of uncovered horse manure 20 feet from a creek with no mulch basin to process the runoff certainly polluted that creek. But that was a long time ago and he didn't know any better. Now we do. Now we know that excess macros will leach into the watershed and cause problems. Shouldn't we as gardeners alter historic practices in such a way as to still successfully grow plants while limiting the damage we cause to the environment? Some people seem to think that one gardener can't cause too much damage. That would be true if the harm were limited to one gardener, but expand that harm to an aggregate of millions and the impact can become substantial. The problem with leaching is that you can't see it. If someone dumps used motor oil in a stormdrain, there is an obvious slick of pollution. If you dump excesive amounts of Phosphorus on your property, there is nothing that you see that will indicate the harm. You will be successful at growing plants in much the same way that the person dumping used motor oil in the stormdrain is successful at disposing of used motor oil. Is that the measure of success that we want to use or should we aspire to be more responsible?

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Hi Nil13: I'm not concerned about leaching from manure since the salt and NPK ratio is MUCH LESS than chemicals. As the wood chips that horse manure comes with break down, it utilizes nitrogen.

    NPK of cow manure is 0.6 / 0.4 / 0.5 ... and NPK of horse manure is 0.7 / 0.3 / 0.6 Compare that to chemical fertilizer NPK of 20-20-20.

    I wish I had read what the MasterGardener wrote, before fixing my pH 7.7 with sulfur, killing earthworms. I agree with what's written: "Scientists came and tested the soil to find a 8+ ph with crops growing perfect. The natural buffering of nature at it's best. :) The OM from the heavy amounts of manure they were adding buffered everything. "

    Roses grow best at pH 6.5 to 7. My soil pH is 7.7, my water pH is 8. I still get lots of blooms, deep green leaves, no diseases, no pest by mulching with horse manure (it has iron). Here are my English roses:

    This post was edited by Strawberryhill on Thu, Feb 28, 13 at 12:48

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    People did soil tests before modern scientific methods were developed. They would look at, smell, feel and even taste the soil. They would dig down to see how deep it was, and observe the roots of existing plants. They would take note of what kinds and the health of plants growing in it and the animals/insects living in it. These may not be considered accurate tests by modern standards, but they could understand quite a bit about the soil by making these kinds of observations, and know if a plot was useful for the purpose they intended for it.

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Strawberryhill, I rather doubt that you killed any earthworms by using sulfur on your roses. Worms are animals, they can crawl about. The worms simply moved elsewhere when the spot they were in became too acidic. Your roses look happy. It may be that you have lowered soil pH with fertilizer, or there might be some residual sulfur left in the soil. I do not think the acidic soil around our blueberry shrubs is deficient in microbial life. The sulfur I use to lower soil pH has to be metabolized by soil bacteria before there is any acid generated. So this is a living process, dependent on soil microbes. I would expect to find all sorts of microbes and single cell life in the soil, and very likely some multi-cellular life as well. Sulfur is an essential element for life, it is part of important plant and animal proteins. Agricultural sulfur, used with mindful caution, is an inexpensive and effective way to lower soil pH. The process can take several years, it is not instantaneous.

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Nice English Roses! :)

    Posted by ericwi Dane County WI (My Page) on Thu, Feb 28, 13 at 13:11

    "Your roses look happy. It may be that you have lowered soil pH with fertilizer, or there might be some residual sulfur left in the soil."

    Well, one things for sure, it was not magic!... ;)

    Even after the original poster (OP) showed a pic of those roses. Showing that what I said is right, with proof in a picture. I showed the sience, the OP showed the proof in the picture, there is not much else I can say. I am just glad the OP is taking in this info and open to learning...

    Remember:

    "The higher the organic matter, the higher the cat ion capacity of a soil, and the higher its ability to keep or maintain the nutrients in the root strata. With high organic matter soils pH becomes irrelevant because there is so much nutrient available at basically any pH that the plants will not have any lack of access and availability therein."

    This post was edited by TheMasterGardener1 on Thu, Feb 28, 13 at 14:17

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Strawberryhill, you're not worried about leaching from manure? Did you look at those PDFs? Leaching can occur with simple compost that is much lower in nutrients than manure. Manure runoff and leaching can be a serious problem due to the urea. Any addition of organic matter to the soil has the potential for leaching. Nutrients are nutrients. Being an organic nutrient source is not some magic amulet that prevents harm. Sure, it's less concentrated which means it is harder to add excess but that doesn't mean impossible.

    Sure, there are ways to divine information about the soil from looking at it and the plants grown in it if that observation is coupled with an enormous amount of expertise. In a society that is no longer agrarian, that expertise is hard to find. Even when that expertise was not hard to find those experts unknowingly caused damage with runoff and leaching. Now, anyone with a shovel can dig up some soil samples, which are easy to collect properly if you follow some simple instructions, send it off to a lab and get valuable information back that will allow them to steward their land in a more informed way. And for those with enormous amounts of gardening expertise, the detailed information in a soil test is even more useful. I test for nitrogen the same way MG does. Plant chlorosis is a very useful indicator. Sometimes looking at the plants is the best way. Other times you need the information in a soil test to rule certain possibilities out. For instance, if you get BER on your tomatoes and your soil tests for hih Ca levels and you are in sand, it's probably a watering problem and there is no need to add more Ca.

    I still don't understand why there is so much resistance to the notion that one should try to have as much information as possible regarding the nutrients they put into th soil. Unless maybe people are afraid to find out that they have been unknowingly polluting their watershed for decades.

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I just dont see how I coud be polluting though if I never got a soil test. I till in crop residue and add plenty of composted leaves and horse manure. Then I add very very little fertilizer that has every micro and macro nutrient in it. There is no way I would want to have all these different nutrients, whether organic or not. Once one thing is now needed add only that? Then when something else is needed only add that? I add this slow release which has everything in it in very small amount, plus the OM i keep in my soil I feel nothing is leaching. It is also slow release, not soluble. I do use a bit of synthetic soluble fertilizer only if needed.

    I do agree its good to know what your soil is. I want to say for the record there is nothing 'natural" about farming or gardening! Dont take my words like I am against soil tests, I was just making a point. A bit of skepticism if you will. :)

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    MG, you contradict yourself often.

    For example, in this thread, you ask why not "just" use manure and compost since it has "every" needed nutrient. Why not ask yourself that question?

    Apparently because you already knew the answer. One has to wonder if you are intentionally disingenuous, or simply become confused while writing.

    So let's cut to the chase: which do you believe, that every plant nutrient is contained in the natural environment, in any given soil or batch of decomposed OM, or does every gardener and farmer need to use synthesized slow-release fertilizer salts?

    If my question seems contrived and overly simplistic, or contains too many qualifiers, then it should be familiar to you.

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I'm not saying that you are polluting MG (you've always seemed very conscientious), only that without a soil test as a baseline, you can't know whether you are polluting or not. In most places a small application of micros will not be a problem. In others they can be. But if you don't have a baseline to reference, you don't know. One thing I learned out here in CA is that making generalizations about soil is not a great idea.

    Just because a nutrient is in a slow release form doesn't mean that it can't be a problem in excess. But I agree that soluble forms are easier to overdose than slow release forms. Unfortunately, I think people then think that soluble forms are bad when they can at times be a less harmful solution if applied carefully and at appropriate times. These false dichotomies like soluble is bad but slow release is good or synthetic is bad organic is good seem to keep a lot of people from focusing on using whatever strategies will give them the best results for the least amount of harm. (and I'm not directing that bit at you MG)

    We as horticulturists need to realize that simply eschewing synthetic forms of chemicals for organic forms of chemicals (let's remember the cellulose in wood chips is a chemical) does not prevent us from causing harm. We should strive to cause as little harm as possible. And I think the best way towards that goal is to start with as much information as possible. The easiest way for anybody of any skill level to acquire information about their soil is to have it tested. You don't have to do it every year. It's not a prerequisite for successfully growing plants. I'm just saying that it should be done at least once. From there, conscientious and informed decisions are easier to make by people of all skill levels.

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I don't put any sulfur in the holes of the roses pictured. The other holes with sulfur didn't bloom well.

    My heavy clay is very retentive, there is no leaching here.

    Here's a quote from Nutrient Stewardship site: "Phosphorus is the nutrient most affected by pH. ..Nitrogen, Potassium, and sulfur are less affected.

    At alkaline pH values, greater than pH 7.5, phosphate ions tend to react quickly with calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg) to form less soluble compounds. At acidic pH values, phosphate ions react with aluminum (Al) and iron (Fe) to again form less soluble compounds."

    It's good to test if one's tap water is alkaline, some cities add lime to water so pipes won't corrode. Calcium in lime will bind with phosphorus, and less is available. In my 12 years of growing flowers in pots, the year that I got continuous MOST blooms despite my pH 8 water was when I used high phosphorus SOLUBLE fertilizer, and low nitrogen.

    Granular phosphorus like bone meal and 46% superphosphate are useless in the planting hole here in alkaline clay. My results confirmed what University of Colorado stated "bone meal and rock phosphate can only be utilized at or below pH 7". My pH 7.7 soil was tested most deficient in phosphorus.

    Here's a quote from David Neal, CEO of Dyna-Grow Plant Nutrition in CA: "There is some evidence to believe that low N helps to convince a plant to stop its vegetative growth and move into its reproductive phase (flowering), but environmental factors are probably more important. P is typically 5th or 6th in order of importance of the six macronutrients. There is little scientific justification for higher P formulas, but marketing does come into play ...."

    He's right, just a tiny bit of SOLUBLE phosphorus made more blooms and more roots - but beyond that is wasteful.

    The site, Robert Morris NOBLE plant foundation, rated the mobility of NPK: "Let's compare the mobility of NPK on a scale of 1 to 10. Nitrogen is a 10 ... extremely mobile and can be lost to leaching. Potassium is a 3. It has limited movement in the soil. Phosphorus has a rating of 1. It is immobile in the soil and is likely to stay wherever it is placed."

    Here is a link that might be useful: Soil pH and availability of plant nutrients

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I agree with that qoute from Dyna gro 100%

    PN,

    I am saying that plants need to get all needed nutrients whether it comes from organic sources or not, and you dont need a soil test to do so....

    I am sorry if I 'sound' contradictory.

    This post was edited by TheMasterGardener1 on Thu, Feb 28, 13 at 18:58

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Strawberryhill, with regard to growing plants in heavy clay soil, we have the same problem here in Madison, WI, so I suspect that our soil is similar to yours. Our garden plot has been heavily amended with composted tree leaves, every spring, for 20 years, so that soil is now easily worked, to a depth of 10 or 15 inches. Our blueberry shrubs are growing in soil that is amended with composted tree leaves, about 50/50 by volume, at time of planting. It takes some effort to break up the clay clods and mix thoroughly with the compost. I'm sure a powered cultivator would help, but I do this manually. We have several native prairie plants growing directly in the clay soil, and also we have everbearing raspberries growing in clay, with no problems. So there are some plants that do well in our native soil, and others that do better in amended soil. In the past, I have amended our soil with peat moss, which also works well.

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Thank you, ericwi, for the info. - I appreciate that very much. I amended my clay with half peat moss and it worked great for my 10 azaleas and rhodies, I never water them for the past 12 years. Last year I put acid-fertilizer high in nitrogen and had to water them for the first time. Two died, it might be from the salt of the fertilizer, my poor-drainage soil retains well.

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    People have grown food crops for eons without soil tests. My grandfathers and father did as well as many of my uncles. My grandfather also had horses to help with the plowing and transportation and burned wood and coal for cooking and heating in his home. However, when automobiles became available they used them and when natural gas became available they switched to that. Somewhat better and somewhat less expensive.
    Same with soil testing. It was not available to my grandfather of my father, although my farmer uncle did have that sometimes. As appropriate technology becomes available we can make use of it to help us make decisions. Not using appropriate technology indicates something about us.

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    "Not using appropriate technology indicates something about us."

    Well said. Like using new crop strains from GMO that use less fertilizer, and can be grown in places that no other crop could, thus better on the environment ? Like new effective synthetic fertilizer that does not leach and is taken in by the plants instantly?

    This post was edited by TheMasterGardener1 on Sat, Mar 2, 13 at 13:10

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Respect for each other's freewill is the foundation of a democratic society. What MG does or doesn't do .... doesn't harm anyone, why try to change him?

    As Henry David Thoreau stated, "Let each man march to his/her own drummer" If we all march to same drumbeat, it would be a dictatorial, communistic, and robotized society, and we have nothing to learn from each other.... if we all do the same thing.

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Yes. It is good to have a Rational view.

    The person who I qouted that talked about the Science of why ph is irrelevant with soil OM above 6%. Its not about what "I" feel is right, it is about science.

    Kimmsr made it clear that if there is a new technology, why not use it? And I am sure if I really had not so good native soil or was really getting into a large scale situation a soil test would really come in handy. I am saying soil tests save tons a fertilizer every year and are a very helpfull thing.

    All in all, the idea of using cabbage to be able to test soil ph is very interesting.

    This post was edited by TheMasterGardener1 on Sat, Mar 2, 13 at 17:08

  • 11 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    The use of a soil test can help you apply the appropriate amount of things to get your soil in the best shape to produce a given crop(s).

    If a soil is flooded with P/K and all you need is N...neat. Just apply N and save some loot (and potential leeching/runoff).

    If you could use some more OM you're closer to knowing how much.

    If you have a micronutrient deficiency, it's instantly identified with some tests.

    pH is a vital part of knowing what nutrients may be too-abundant or too-limited based on how they react with your soil type. It can be used as a predictive measure for current management as well as the time + amendments needed to get your soil closer to ideal pH for your given crop(s).

    It really matters a whole lot more when you're managing 10-100-1000+ acres rather than a home garden. You can save a lot of money, labor, headache, pollution, etc...

    This post was edited by nc-crn on Sat, Mar 2, 13 at 18:09

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