Archive for Fon du lac
To understand how soils work in conjunction with plants, you really need to understand cellular biology; however, in this article, we are going to take a much simpler look at how soil nutrients, plant function and soil biology work together to form a sustainable environment.
As indicated in February’s article, most of us who are trying to “fix” or “maintain” our soils are concerned about the NPK numbers on fertilizer bags; however, knowing the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium levels of a product is only the start to creating a sustainable soil. “Generations of gardeners have been brought up on 10-10-10 and 39-9-12, but nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are just three of many nutrients that plants need to survive.”
Two additional nutrients to consider when evaluating soil’s sustainability are calcium (which stabilizes pH levels and biological activity, loosens soil, is a major component of plant cell walls and is a key indicator of weed growth) and magnesium (which holds soil particles together and is a major component that promotes plant growth). An equally important factor to consider is the relationship between calcium and magnesium. Evidence shows that soils low in calcium and high in magnesium tend to exhibit greater weed pressure and are prone to compaction. There are additional secondary nutrients and micronutrients to consider, but we’ll address that in future discussions.
A good soil test will provide you with nutrient levels currently in your soil. Here are a few suggestions to assist you:
- Don’t use a cheap test. Inexpensive tests are likely to paint an inaccurate picture of your soil, which can result in over-fertilization and further damage to your soil.
- Make sure your test is checking for soluble nutrient values. Our soils in the Midwest are typically heavy in clay, which binds up nutrients and makes them inaccessible to plants. Soluble values tell you the amount of that nutrient that is available for the plant.
- Make sure your test checks for the pH, organic matter percentage, cation exchange capacity (CEC) and base saturation levels. Ideally you are looking for a pH value of 6-7, 5-15 percent organic matter, CEC of 10-15 and a calcium to magnesium ratio of 7:1. Anything above or below these numbers will likely require inputs to adjust and this could take months or years.
So, now that we have a basic understanding of nutrients, how do we get the nutrients into the plants? This is where biology plays such a critical role in soil sustainability.
Plants have a symbiotic relationship with their soils. Plants give up nearly 60 percent of their energy to their roots, which release exudates. Exudates are a food source for bacteria and the start of the nutrient cycling process within the soil food web as well as the start of sustainability.
If you are applying a dry fertilizer to your lawn, garden or farm, and you have insufficient biological activity in the soil, there is no way for your grass or other plants to take up those necessary nutrients and very little defense against pests and diseases. If possible, have a bioassay test done on your soil to get a basic understanding of your biological activity.
In an organic environment, soil organisms need to digest the organic material (nutrients) and smaller organisms (soil food web) before any plant can benefit from the micronutrients. This is why synthetic fertilizers are so harmful and why we have become so dependent on them. Once the synthetic nutrient is absorbed into the plant, the runoff leaches into the ground, thus killing off the microorganisms in the soil. Once the organisms are gone, you become dependent on the synthetic fertilizer.
To speed up the nutrient cycling process, many organic farmers and land care professionals create and use custom blended compost teas. By suspending the micronutrients of quality compost in a liquid form, the plants and soil organisms can access the benefits of the compost/nutrients far more quickly and, if the soil is lacking in biodiversity, we can inoculate the soils with the necessary biology to ensure all necessary components are available for a healthy, sustainable soil.
Diversity is important because every soil is different. Having a wide variety of bacteria and fungi handles a wide variety of deficiencies. In order for the bi-products of the microbiology to be of any value, however, the soil food web needs to continue its cycle with the help of arthropods, nematodes and protozoa (the shredders, predators and grazers found in the third trophic level of the soil food web). Backyard Organics provides the necessary predators by using good quality compost, naturally rich with nematodes and protozoa, and extracting them using an actively aerated brew process. We then add a variety of appropriate nutrients that help the microbiology live and prosper until your soil is able to sustain itself.
So, if you are considering taking a healthier, more sustainable approach to maintaining your yard and gardens, consider not only the nutrients the plants need, but also the biology and the whole ecology necessary to sustain that environment.
Todd and Tara Rockweit are owners of Backyard Organics, LLC, Wisconsin’s first organic land care business accredited by NOFA, one of two organizations in the country that accredit Organic Land Care Professionals (AOLCPs). Since 2004, Backyard Organics has been supplying natural and organic products and services for people, pets and property, including a complete do-it-yourself program. To read more about our products and services, or if you would like to submit a question, please visit us at www.backyardorganics.net, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 920.730.3253/888.200.0446.
Dec. 01, 2011 |
Very little customization can be done with dry applications (early spring and winter applications), so they will remain the same for 2012. However, I have asked our agronomist to re-evaluate our wet applications in an effort to improve on the effectiveness of the application. The result of his findings and numerous conversations with professionals in the industry is new equipment, new products, and a new process.
We will continue to apply products based on soil type; however, the rate of the application will now change, depending on your specific soil type. For example, soil types A and C will get a slightly higher rate of products (perhaps 1 to 3 gallons/1000 sq.ft vs. 2 gallons/1000) applied because of their lack of certain microbial activity. More product = more microbes which is lacking in soil types A and C.
Compost Tea Brewer
We have purchased a Greater Earth Organics compost tea brewer and will be setting that up in the shop during the off season. The brewer will allow us to formulate a tea that is more specific to our clients’ needs and is rich in numbers and diversity of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and the more complex nematodes. “As these organisms eat, grow, and move through the soil, they make it possible to have clean water, clean air, healthy plants and moderated water flow,” according to Elaine R. Ingham. Each day of applications will start with a freshly brewed batch of extract and, when combined with our custom nutrient blend, will form the most diverse and active blend of microbial activity offered.
Click the link above to see how Harvard is using the same equipment that Backyard Organics uses.
Modifications will be made to our compost tea application equipment in order to “protect” the microbes as they are being applied.
In 2012 Bio Humus will be used as a standard nutrient to all soil types. In 2011 we added Bio Humus only at certain times during the year or to certain soil types. We have since discovered that Bio Humus can benefit all soil types, depending on the application rate.
We will continue to work with our agronomist, local professionals, and the Soil Food Web professionals throughout the country on the optimal biology and nutrient combination that is best for our soil types. Certainly, this is a science and a number of variables go into healthy productive soil; the key for us is to live, learn, and apply as we go.
Natural Thatching Additive
We will continue to use an additive in our final, early fall wet application that naturally expedites the decomposing of dead plant material (thatch) into organic matter; however, we have been told that with our new brewer we should no longer need the additive. We will keep a close eye on the wet applications and make necessary adjustments as we go. Please email me to let me know how your thatch looks in 2012. BYO’s Email Address
Testing Products for 2012 – We will be experimenting with a product called Cedar Gard, an insect control product we can add directly to our Summer applications. We would apply it at a preventative level, and an added bonus is that it would add a cedar smell to the tea. Initially, we’ll be exploring client interest and will experiment with it on a few yards during the summer applications.
Chemical Free Insect Control - Testing Phase only
Our Summer 1 and Summer 2 applications will include Cedar Gard to drive non-beneficial insects from the area. The aroma of cedar oil is lethal to non-beneficial insects which are driven by pheromone (odor) and heat stimuli. Cedar oil stifles the ability of the insect’s receptors to detect food and mates, and the oil disrupts its reproductive habitats. The affected insects are grasshoppers, mosquitoes (adults), springtails, and ticks.
Garden applications of Compost Teas. Following the success at Gardens of the Fox Cities and the feedback we received from this years clients that received garden applications of compost teas, we have decided to add the application to the services offered. Pricing will vary depending on garden size and will only be available during the early spring and late fall applications.
Tree and Shrub applications. Our new brewer and application equipment is now allowing us to provide the same benefits to trees and shrubs as we do with soils and turf. Pricing will vary depending on size and quantity. Application can be done throughout the growing season.
What They Are and A Few Interesting Facts
Bacteria are minuscule, one-celled organisms that can only be seen with a powerful light (1000X) or electron microscope (we’re talking TINY). They can be so numerous that a pinch of soil can contain millions of organisms. Bacteria are tough—they occur everywhere on earth and have even been found over a mile down into the core of the earth.
Bacteria can be classified into five functional groups. Autotrophic (literally, self-feeding) bacteria are photosynthetic. They are the primary producers. Decomposers consume soil organic matter, plant litter, and simple carbon compounds, releasing the nutrients in these substances for use by living plants. Mutualists, such as nitrogen-fixing bacteria, form associations with plants and help them absorb nutrients. Pathogens are the bad guys— they cause disease in plants. The last group, the chemolithotrophs (literally, chemical and rock-eating) obtain energy from minerals rather than from carbon compounds.
Bacteria are common throughout the soil, but tend to be most abundant in or adjacent to plant roots, an important food source.
Actinomycetes are a broad group of bacteria that form thread-like filaments in the soil. They are responsible for the distinctive scent of freshly exposed, moist soil.
Why They Are Important
Bacteria are important in the carbon cycle. They contribute carbon to the system by fixation (photosynthesis) and decomposition. Bacteria are important decomposers in grassland environments. Actinomycetes are particularly effective at breaking down tough substances like cellulose (which makes up the cell walls of plants) and chitin (which makes up the cell walls of fungi) even under harsh conditions, such as high soil pH. Some management activities, particularly those that change nutrient levels in the soil, can shift the dominance of decomposers from bacterial to fungal. When one group becomes dominant where it shouldn’t be, there is also a shift in the rest of the system. The shift from bacterial to fungal dominance, for instance, can enhance the conditions favoring weed invasions on rangelands.
Bacteria are particularly important in nitrogen cycling. Free-living bacteria fix atmospheric nitrogen, adding it to the soil nitrogen pool. Other nitrogen-fixing bacteria form associations with the roots of leguminous plants such as lupine, clover, alfalfa, and milkvetches. Actinomycetes form associations with some non-leguminous plants (important species are bitterbrush, mountain mahogany, cliffrose, and ceanothus) and fix nitrogen, which is then available to both the host and other plants in the near vicinity. Some soil nitrogen is unusable by plants until bacteria convert it to forms that can be easily assimilated.
Some bacteria exude a sticky substance that helps bind soil particles into small aggregates. So despite their small size, they help improve water infiltration, water- holding capacity, soil stability, and aeration.
Wait! Aren’t there also “bad” bacteria? Yes, there are, but some soil bacteria suppress root-disease in plants by competing with pathenogenic organisms. The key is in maintaining a healthy system so that the good guys can do their work.
Bacteria are becoming increasingly important in bioremediation, meaning that we (people) can use bacteria to help us clean up our messes. Bacteria are capable of filtering and degrading a large variety of human-made pollutants in the soil and groundwater so that they are no longer toxic. The list of materials they can detoxify includes herbicides, heavy metals, and petroleum products.
The process that Backyard Organics uses to cleanse and enrich the soil, focuses on the quality, quantity and diversity of the microbiology that goes into our applications. Diversity is important because, (depending on your soil conditions) every soil is different. Having a wide variety of bacteria handles a wide variety of deficiencies. In order for the bi-products of the microbiology to be of any value, however, the soil food web needs to continue its cycle with the help of arthropods, nematodes and protozoa’s, (the shredders, predators and grazers found in the third trophic level of the soil food web). Backyard Organics provides the necessary predators by using good quality compost, naturally rich with nematodes and protozoa, and then extracts them using our brew process. We then add a variety of appropriate nutrients that help the microbiology live and prosper until your soil is able to sustain itself.
“BLM NSTC Soil Biological Communities – Learn More.” BLM – The Bureau of Land Management. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <http://www.blm.gov/nstc/soil/learn/index.html>.
Ingham, Elaine. 1998. The soil biology primer, soil bacteria. USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Soil Quality Institute.
Kennedy, A.C. and R.I Papendick. 1995. Microbial characteristics of soil quality. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 50 (3) 243-248.
Vollmer, A.T., A. Au, and S.A. Bamberg. 1977. Observations on the distribution of microorganisms in desert soil.Great Basin Naturalist 37 (1) 81-86.
Here are some interesting facts that will answer that question.
A research project conducted at Michigan State University, using radioactive tagged nutrients, proved that foliar feeding can be 8 to 10 times more effective than soil feeding. Foliar feeding stimulates an increase in chlorophyll production, cellular activity and respiration. It also triggers a plant response that increases water and nutrient uptake from the soil. The Research headed by Dr. H.B. Tukey at MSU in the 1950’s comparing the efficiency of plant use of foliar-fed nutrients versus soil-applied nutrients near roots, found foliar feeding provided about 95% efficiency of use compared to about 10% of use from soil applications (MSU).
Further, according to Iowa State University research; “Because plants can absorb nutrients through their leaves, spraying fertilizer nutrients on the plants can prevent nutrient depletion; keep leaves more active in carrying on photosynthesis.”
How Foliar Feeding Works
1-Direct and Efficient Nutrient Uptake
Small amounts of nutrients at high utilization uptake into the plant without soil interference.
2-Stimulation of Rhizosphere
The application of foliar nutrients stimulates the plant to release plant exudates, which then stimulates the organisms in the rhizosphere, who then interact with the plant.
3-Colonization of beneficial organisms on leaf surfaces, into the plant, and onto the soil
Sets of organisms on the plant leaf can independently fix nitrogen from the air, colonize the leaves for the competitive exclusion of disease organisms plus fix nitrogen on the plant surface.
In summary, Foliar feeding can be the most efficient method of feeding a plant since MSU research shows that 95% of a fertilizer solution can be found in the root hairs within 60 minutes with good conditions! Clay and compacted soils bind up available nutrients causing soil feeding to be less affective and foliar feeding bypasses the soil and feeds the plant directly.