Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What’s a simple way to test soil structure?
The ribbon Test. Here is how. A quick and easy way to test soil structure is to try the ribbon test. Simply place a small soil sample in the palm of your hand and rub back and forth with 2 fingers. If the soil begins to break down prior to achieving ½ inch in length you likely have predominately sandy soils. If the soil breaks down at 1 ½ inch you have a loam soil. If the soil breaks down at 1 ¾ inch or longer you have a clay soil. Knowing this information will help you better understand the current capabilities of your soil and what is required to achieve a healthier soil, however by itself, soil structure is only a part of the big picture in achieving our goal
Q. Why turn thatch into organic matter rather than rake it up?
When applying our Early Fall application we add additional microorganism that are specifically built to break down dead plant material (thatch) into organic matter. Why? Check out the following results of a study done using the same microorganisms on farm fields.
A couple years ago a study was done that measured organic matter on several farms which have used microorganisms for a number of years, including a research farm near Princeton, IL. With permission from neighbors, we pulled samples from biologically farmed fields and adjoining conventionally farmed fields with the same soil types.
Our soil samples were segmented into (a) the top three inches, (b) three-to-six inches, and (c) six-to-12 inches. Soils were tested by Midwest Laboratories, and in every instance the organic matter was higher on the biologically farmed field than on the neighboring conventionally farmed field.
The first set of samples we pulled at our farm compared our biologically farmed soil with the conventionally managed soil to our south, and showed our soil had:
· 23% more organic matter in the top 3 inches
· 26% more organic matter in the 3-to-6 inch profile
· 10% more organic matter in the 6-to-12 inch profile
The difference across a line where a fence once stood was amazing! Our side was dramatically higher in carbon content. So, we checked another side of the farm.
This time we compared our soils to the conventionally-farmed soils adjoining our west boundary. These tests showed we had:
· 40% more organic matter in the top 3 inches
· 49% more organic matter in the 3-to-6 inch profile
· 10% more organic matter in the 6-to-12 inch profile
Even more dramatic! Averaging these two sites, the biologically farmed soil has 3.9% organic matter compared to 2.9% on soils without microorganisms added.
The difference is 1% organic matter.
· 1% organic matter = 20,000 pounds of organic matter per acre.
· 1% organic matter also translates into the soil’s ability to store another 10,000 gallons of water per acre. That’s about one-third of an inch of extra rainfall captured each time it rains. We usually run low on soil moisture three or four times between summer rains, and an extra third of an inch of stored moisture delays severe moisture stress by one-to-three days each time. Through the growing season, that could give a crop a moisture reserve of an extra four-to-12 days!
What is organic matter? Sure, it is largely carbon. But what else?
That extra 1% organic matter adds:
· 1,000 lbs. nitrogen/acre
· 650 lbs. phosphate/acre
· 115 lbs. potash/acre
· 700 lbs. calcium/acre
Building organic matter/sequestering carbon on your far, garden or turf is “true fertility” gained. The additional carbon has countless benefits for your soil. The sequestered nitrogen and other nutrients have countless benefits for your wallet.
Q. How do I maintain Dormant grasses?
Here are some good tips regarding Turf Dormancy….
Responsible irrigation is the rule. This is a great time to assess the performance of irrigation systems, as the turf will quickly tell the story of any issues with coverage or output. When circumstances permit, however, dormancy of well-established and otherwise healthy turf can lead to savings of time, labor and management resources if approached properly. If dormancy is allowable, remember these important points for managing dormant turf:
• If you opt for dormancy, commit to it. Avoid irrigation unless adequate and consistent evapotranspiration (ET) replacement can be achieved. Irregular and insufficient irrigation during dormancy can actually further deplete valuable carbohydrate reserves and negatively impact later recovery. If dormancy persists for an extended period (perhaps 45+ days depending on turf species, soil, etc), however, reduced recovery can be expected.
• Restrict traffic on dormant turf to the lowest possible level. The turfgrass shoots that die back when dormancy progresses are not able to adequately cushion and protect the critical meristems that will ultimately facilitate re-growth and recovery.
• Mow only when absolutely necessary. If a mowing event is needed, avoid mowing during the hottest part of the day (this benefits the turf as well as the operator).
For full UMass article, visit: http://extension.umass.edu/turfmanagement-updates/dry-conditions-turf-dormancy
Q. How can I eliminate Creeping Charlie/Jenny?
A: Field bindweed (creeping Jenny) is very difficult to control because of its extensive root system. In turf situations, where cultivation is not practical, a post-emergent herbicide is recommended. Small infestations of bindweed in non-turf areas sometimes may be controlled by covering the area with mulch and not allowing any green plant material to emerge. Field bindweed control is best achieved when plants are actively growing and in the seedling to flower stage of growth. Multiple applications may be required for complete eradication. The reason for it not appearing to be as bad last year is probably linked to your persistence the previous year, which weakened the energy reserves of the plant’s root system. I really think your best approach is to follow a combination approach of spraying anything that comes up with Roundup and covering the area with a black tarp for this growing season to hopefully starve the plant to death!
Update!! 20 mule team borox (laundry soap) has shown some positive results against creeping Charlie
A. No. We use Corn Gluten Meal which has 60% protein making it much more affective as a pre-emergent while adding up to 10% Nitrogen. The cheaper corn gluten products are typically only 18% protein. Its the protein that is the catalyst to the pre-emergent affect and the nitrogen source.
Q. What ingredients are used in our liquid applications and is there manure in it?
A. We have a compost special made for us by an organic herb farm in Central IL, so it has lots of plant residues from many different herbs. We see this giving our compost tea a unique habitat for the microbes not only those that are native to the compost, but also the ones we specifically add to increase diversity. By keeping manure out of it, we have not had any issues with pathogens, and our supplier routinely checks for E Coli, Coliform, and Salmonella. If they did find any in our QC checks, they would dump that batch and not sell it. Since this is the same product used with commercial produce and fruit growers, they don’t take any chances with those pathogens.
This is one of the things that sets our liquid application apart from home-brewed compost teas or any product utilizing manures, where the chance of containing these pathogens is much greater.
Q. How important is the timing of the applications?
A. Timing is critical for the pre-emergent application due to the seed germinating process, however not so much with the remaining applications. Production farmers are using compost teas weekly so applying once a month will not harm your plant life and applying any amount of compost tea/extracts is better than applying no application.
Q. Is the organic approach affective on weeds?
A. Yes, but it may take time. Please refer to our article Controlling Weeds Organically for more details.