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Problems and Solutions

by Tom Gibson
www.camaspermaculture.org

All over the country [some soils are] worn out,


depleted, exhausted, almost dead. But here is
comfort: These soils possess possibilities and may be
restored to high productive power, provided you do a
few simple things. —C.W. BURKETT, 1907
Definition of Soil *
 SOIL—the natural medium in which plants grow.

This definition, however, may be a little too simple. Here’s a better one:

 SOIL—a natural body that develops in profile form from a mixture of


minerals and organic matter. It covers the earth in a very thin layer and
supplies plants with air, water, nutrients, and mechanical support.

Our definition is, of course, the one we prefer:

 SOIL—a living, dynamic system at the interface between air and rock.
Soil forms in response to forces of climate and organisms that act on
parent material in a specific landscape over a long period of time.

*Oregon State University Extension Service-Manual for Judging


Oregon Soils.
Soil Components

Pore Space
Mineral Matter

Organic
Matter
Making a poor garden better often begins with the soil. If your
garden soil is poor, consider giving it some help. Adding organic
materials to sandy soils improves their nutrient- and water-holding
capacity. Adding organic materials to clay soil improves drainage
and aeration, and helps the soil dry out and warm up more quickly
in the spring.
“Conventional”
Agriculture
Intensive tillage, soil erosion and insufficient
added residues
Soil organic matter decreases
Surface becomes compacted, crust forms
Most soil organic matter is lost
Crop yields decline
Aggregates break down
Erosion by wind and water increases
Less soil water storage, less diversity of soil
organism, fewer nutrients for plants
The soil
ecosystem

Residue decomposition
Nutrient cycling
Aggregation and porosity
Enhance plant growth
Break down contaminants
Soil Organisms

Bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods, earthworms

Pictures courtesy M. Fauci and D. Bezdicek


Energy and nutrition in soils starts with organic matter. Maintaining organic
matter helps soils release other nutrition through chemical action of humic acids
and chemicals created by life forms that depend on organic matter.
The Soil Food Web

Root heavily infected with mycorrhizal fungi


(note round spores at the end of some hyphae).
Photo by Sara Wright.

Many plants develop a beneficial relationship with fungi that increases the contact
of roots with the soil. Fungi infect the roots and send out root like structures called
hyphae. The hyphae of these mycorrhizal fungi take up water and nutrients that
can then feed the plant. This is especially important for phosphorus nutrition of
plants in low-phosphorus soils. The hyphae help the plant absorb water and
nutrients and in return the fungi receive energy in the form of sugars, which the
plant produces in its leaves and sends down to the roots.
Soil air and water
Water Movement
How quickly water moves through soil
Water Holding Capacity
How much water a soil can hold
available for plant growth
The plow is one of the most ancient and
most valuable of man’s inventions; but long
before he existed the land was in fact
regularly ploughed, and continues to
be thus ploughed by earthworms.
—CHARLES DARWIN, 1881
Pore space and air-
water relations
Soil acts like a sponge
Macro pores control infiltration and drainage
Capillary pores control water holding capacity
Micro pores hold unavailable water

Why are soils which in our father’s hands


were productive now relatively impoverished?
—J. L. HILLS, C. H. JONES, AND C. CUTLER, 1908
Soil properties that
affect porosity
Soil texture
Soil structure
Compaction and disturbance
Organic matter
Soil Particle
Sizes
Sand .05-2 mm
Silt.002-.05 mm
Clay <.002 mm

Coarse Fragments >2 mm


Approximate surface areas of

1 gram samples
Coarse sand Half Dollar

Fine clay Basketball court

Under the microscope, clay particles resemble playing cards in


form. They are flat, hexagonal, and thin, like cards. When
wet, the particles can 'slip' across each other, as in a deck of
cards.
Soil Minerals

…with methods of farming in which grasses form an important part of the


rotation, especially those that leave a large residue of roots and culms, the
decline of the productive power is much slower than when crops like wheat,
cotton, or potatoes, which leave little residue on the soil, are grown
continuously. —HENRY SNYDER, 1896
What Kind of Soil Do I
have?
Texture
Structure
Compaction
Organic matter

The soil-fist test can be used to determine soil type. Compact wet soil in your fist to
determine whether it is sandy, loam, or clay/silt. If it is sandy soil, it will refuse to form
itself into a ball in your fist. If it is loamy, it will form itself into a ball, but remain friable
so that it will crumble when poked with your finger. Clay/silty soil will form into a ball
that has sufficient plasticity that it will remain a ball when poked with a finger. The more
clay you have in your soil the longer the ribbon you can squeeze out.
Texture
Structure
Compaction
Organic
matter
The depletion of the soil humus supply is apt to be
a fundamental cause of lowered crop yields.
—J.H. HILLS, C.H. JONES, AND C. CUTLER, 1908
Aggregation of sand, silt, and clay particles

Structure affects:
Macro porosity
Infiltration
Aeration
Formation of soil structure
Growth of roots and movement of organisms create pores
and aggregates
Soil organisms break down organic residues, producing
glues that stabilize aggregates
Fungi provide structural support to aggregates
Physical, chemical processes also involved

Moisture, warmth, and aeration; soil texture; soil fitness; soil organisms; its tillage,
drainage and irrigation; all these are quite as important factors in the make up
and maintenance of the fertility of the soil as are manures, fertilizers, and soil
amendments. —J.L. HILLS, C.H. JONES, AND C. CUTLER, 1908
Structure Factors
Texture
Structure
Compaction
Organic matter

Because organic matter is lost from the soil through decay, washing, and leaching,
and because large amounts are required every year for crop production, the necessity
of maintaining the active organic-matter content of the soil, to say nothing of the
desirability of increasing it on many depleted soils, is a difficult problem.
-- A. F. GUSTAFSON, 1941
Human compaction:
Natural compaction: Clearing
Basal glacial till Construction
Very compact.
Nearly
Traffic
impermeable. Livestock
Improving Soils
Texture
Structure
Compaction
Organic
matter
Where no kind of manure is to be had, I think the cultivation of lupines will be found
the readiest and best substitute. If they are sown about the middle of September in
a poor soil, and then plowed in, they will answer as well as the best manure.
—COLUMELLA, 1st Century, Rome
Using animal manure
safely
Incorporate manure into
soil before planting.
Wait AT LEAST 120 days
between application of
fresh manure and harvest.
Well aged (>six months)
and thoroughly composted
manure do not have
pathogen risk.
Don’t use cat, dog or swine
manure.
Why is organic
matter important?
Structure and
macropores
Water holding
capacity
Infiltration
Nutrient supply
Biological activity

•Improved root environment


How does topography affect soil
water?

… generally, the type of soil management that gives the greatest immediate
return leads to a deterioration of soil productivity, whereas the type that
provides the highest income over the period of a generation leads to the
maintenance or improvement of productivity.
—CHARLES KELLOGG, 1936
Plant Nutrients
Major Nutrients Micronutrients
Nitrogen Boron
Phosphorus Iron
Potassium Manganese
Calcium Zinc
Magnesium Copper
Sulfur Chloride
Molybdenum

About 90 nutrients found in soils are thought to affect health of


animals and humans.
Chlorophyll -
photosynthesis

Amino Acid

Amino acids and


proteins

Plant and Soil Sciences, U


DNA Nebraska

Bern Kohler, Ohio State Univ.


Nutrient Deficiencies
Reduce plant
growth, health, and
yield.
Nutrient deficiencies P deficiency in corn
can sometimes be
identified by
observing symptoms.
Mg deficiency in corn
Problems with excess
nutrients
Nitrogen:
Plant health, fruit yield and
quality
Groundwater quality
Boron:
Toxicity
Mineral Matter

Organic Matter
Nutrient N
K s P
Ca Mg Generall S
yNot Organic Matter
Mineral Matter availabl
e
Not N P
available
S
Weathering
K
Ca Mg

K+ Ca++
soluble,
available
Not N
Weathering available P
K S
Ca Mg
Biological release

K +
Ca
++ NH4+ SO4-2

soluble, available
Fertilizer Labels
 5- 10 - 10
% N - % phosphate -% potash
Phosphate = units of P
1 lb P = 2.3 lb phosphate (P2O5)
Potash = units of K
1 lb K = 1.2 lb potash (K2O)
How much fertilizer do I use?
Fertilizer should be added after determining
what the available amount of nutrition is.
 The available amount is often less than the
total amount.
Available phosphorous in the spring is often
higher than the input amount after adding
manure in the fall. Manure increases the
biological activity in soil which liberates
phosphate and other minerals that are
“locked up”.
Soil pH
Indicates relative acidity or
alkalinity
pH 7 = neutral; less than 7 = acid;
more than 7 = alkaline or basic
Logarithmic scale

Adapted from library.thinkquest.org


Why is pH important?
Nutrient availability
Availability of toxic metals
Microbiological activity

Acids in soils generally result in higher levels of metals


being available to plants like copper, a necessary
nutrient for blueberries. Can also cause heavy metals
that are toxic to humans and other animals to be more
available. The widest amount of biological activity is
seen in soils that have a near neutral pH.
Soil Acidification
A natural process in humid areas
Accelerated by fertilizers
Sulfur and ammonium sulfate are
strong acidifiers
Has a tendency to leach calcium and
other rock minerals from soil
Desirable pH Ranges
Vegetables 6 to 7.5
Pastures 5.5 to 8
Acid loving plants 4.5 to 5.5
Increasing pH
Lime (CaCO3) neutralizes acidity
Lime supplies Ca, which is often
deficient in acid soils
Dolomite lime also supplies Mg
Magnesium may raise pH six times
faster than calcium
Apply lime based on soil test, and
lime only those crops that need it.
For gardens without soil test: 50
lb/1000 sq ft/year
Taking a Sample
1. Don’t wait until the last minute. The best time to sample for a general soil
test is usually in the fall. Spring samples should be taken early enough to
have results in time to properly plan nutrient management for the crop
season.
2. Take cores from at least 15 to 20 spots randomly over the field to obtain a
representative sample. One sample should not represent more than 10 to
20 acres.
3. Sample between rows. Avoid old fence rows, dead furrows, and other
spots that are not representative of the whole field.
4. Take separate samples from problem areas, if they can be treated
separately.
5. In cultivated fields, sample to plow depth.
Taking a Sample
6. Take two samples from no-till fields: one to a 6-inch depth for lime and
fertilizer recommendations, and one to a 2-inch depth to monitor surface
acidity.
7. Sample permanent pastures to a 3- to 4-inch depth.
8. Collect the samples in a clean container.
9. Mix the core samplings, remove roots and stones, and allow to air dry.
10. Fill the soil-test mailing container.
11. Complete the information sheet, giving all of the information requested.
Remember, the recommendations are only as good as the information
supplied.
12. Sample fields at least every three years. Annual soil tests will allow you
to fine-tune nutrient management and may allow you to cut down on
fertilizer use.

—MODIFIED FROM THE PENNSTATE AGRONOMY GUIDE, 1999.


A & L Labs
Complete Soil Test - 503-968-9225
http://www.al-labs-west.com

Kinsey Agricultural Services


Soil fertility problems/Albrecht Method (feed the soil)
http://www.kinseyag.com/

Wy’East Environmental Services


Soil Lead Test - 503-231-9320
http://www.wyeastlab.net
Many soils require irrigation for
maximum productivity. Both the
amount of
irrigation water needed and the proper
method of applying it depend on a
soil’s permeability rate and water-
holding capacity.
Installing an irrigation system can save money/water and increase yields. It
can also mitigate pest and disease problems caused by over or improper
watering.

Drip or weep hose irrigation will maximize delivery of water and nutrients to
the root zone while minimizing splashing and watering that causes disease.
You can build simple effective systems with off the shelf components from
hardware stores. A typical drip system can easily recapture the entire cost in a
single season by limiting excessive watering while ensuring plants get the
needed resources.

Best results will occur with the use of some kind of mechanical or electronic
control system that measures the water or the amount of time the water is
allowed to run.
Thank You
Material provided by:
Dr. Craig Cogger-WSU/NRCS, Puyallup
Dr. Charles Brun-WSU Extension Clark County
Kinsey Agricultural Services
National Center for Appropriate Technology 
U. S. Department of Agriculture
Additional Resources
 USDA National Agricultural Library
http://www.nal.usda.gov/
 Building Soils for Better Crops
http://www.sare.org/publications/bsbc/bsbc.pdf
Additional Resources
 Soil Survey of Clark County
http://soildatamart.nrcs.usda.gov/Manuscripts/WA011/0/wa011_text.pdf
 NRCS Soil Survey Explorer
http://websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov/app/WebSoilSurvey.aspx
 Guide to Soil Survey Reports
http://smallfarms.oregonstate.edu/sites/default/files/Soil_survey_brochure.pdf
 Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)
http://www.sare.org/index.htm
 Clay
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clay
 National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service
http://attra.ncat.org/soils.html
 OSU Extension Service-Improving Garden Soil
http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/html/grow/grow/soil.html
 Soil and Health Library
http://www.soilandhealth.org