Problems and Solutions by Tom Gibson www.camaspermaculture.

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

the natural medium in which plants grow.

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

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
y Intensive tillage, soil erosion and insufficient added y y y y y y y

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

S il Orga isms

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

Pict res c


. Fa ci a

D. ez ice

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
y Water Movement
How quickly water moves through soil

y 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. ²CHARLES DARWIN, 1881

Pore space and airwater relations
y Soil acts like a sponge y Macro pores control infiltration and drainage y Capillary pores control water holding capacity y Micro pores hold unavailable water
Why are soils which in our father¶s hands were productive now relatively impoverished? ²J. L. HILLS, C. H. JONES, AND C. CUTLER, 1908

Soil properties that affect porosity
ySoil texture ySoil structure yCompaction and disturbance yOrganic matter

Soil Particle Sizes
Sand Silt Clay .05-2 mm .002-.05 mm <.002 mm

Coarse ragments >2 mm

Approximate surface areas of 1 gram samples
Coarse sand ine clay Half ollar

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. ²HENRY SNYDER, 1896

What Kind of Soil Do I have?
yTexture yStructure yCompaction yOrganic 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.

yTexture yStructure yCompaction yOrganic matter
The depletion of the soil humus supply is apt to be a fundamental cause of lowered crop yields. ²J.H. HILLS, C.H. JONES, AND C. CUTLER, 1908

Soil Structure
Aggregation of sand, silt, and clay particles

Structure affects: Macro porosity Infiltration Aeration

Formation of soil structure
y Growth of roots and movement of organisms

create pores and aggregates y Soil organisms break down organic residues, producing glues that stabilize aggregates y ungi provide structural support to aggregates y 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. ²J.L. HILLS, C.H. JONES, AND C. CUTLER, 1908

Structure Factors
yTexture yStructure yCompaction yOrganic 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

Natural compaction:
Basal glacial till Very compact. Nearly impermeable.

Human compaction: Clearing Construction Traffic Livestock

Improving Soils
yTexture yStructure yCompaction yOrganic 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. ²COLUMELLA, 1st Century, Rome

Using animal manure safely
y Incorporate manure into soil before planting. y Wait AT LEAST 120 days between application of fresh manure and harvest. y Well aged (>six months) and thoroughly composted manure do not have pathogen risk. y

on t use cat, dog or swine manure.

Why is organic matter important?
y Structure and macropores y Water holding capacity y Infiltration y Nutrient supply y 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. ²CHARLES KELLOGG, 1936

Plant Nutrients
Major Nutrients
y Nitrogen y Phosphorus y Potassium y Calcium y Magnesium y Sulfur

y Boron y Iron y Manganese y Zinc y Copper y Chloride y Molybdenum

About 90 nutrients found in soils are thought to affect health of animals and humans.

What do nutrients do? Example: Nitrogen
Chlorophyll - photosynthesis

Amino Acid

Amino acids and proteins


Plant and Soil Sciences, U Nebraska

Bern Kohler, Ohio State Univ.

Nutrient Deficiencies
y Reduce plant growth, health, and yield. y Nutrient deficiencies can sometimes be identified by observing symptoms.
P deficiency in corn

Mg deficiency in corn

Problems with excess nutrients
yNitrogen: yPlant health, fruit yield and quality yGroundwater quality yBoron: yToxicity

How do nutrients become available to plants?

Mineral Matter Organic Matter

If Soil is Hot, Dry, or Cold
K Ca Nutrients Generally Not available N S P


Organic Matter

Mineral Matter

What happens to soil nutrients when it rains?
Not available N S P

K Ca


K+ Ca++ soluble, available

Natural processes

K Ca

Not available Mg K+ Ca++



Biological release

NH4+ SO4-2

soluble, available

Fertilizer Labels
y 5 - 10 - 10

% N - % phosphate -% potash
y Phosphate = units of P

1 lb P = 2.3 lb phosphate (P2O5)
y Potash = units of K

1 lb K = 1.2 lb potash (K2O)

How much fertilizer do I use?
y Fertilizer should be added after determining what

the available amount of nutrition is. y The available amount is often less than the total amount. y 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
y Indicates relative acidity or alkalinity y pH 7 = neutral; less than 7 = acid; more

than 7 = alkaline or basic y Logarithmic scale

Adapted from

Why is pH important?
y Nutrient availability y Availability of toxic metals y 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
yA natural process in humid areas yAccelerated by fertilizers ySulfur and ammonium sulfate are

strong acidifiers yHas a tendency to leach calcium and other rock minerals from soil

Desirable pH Ranges
y Vegetables

6 to 7.5 y Pastures 5.5 to 8 y Acid loving plants 4.5 to 5.5

Increasing pH
y Lime (CaCO3) neutralizes acidity y Lime supplies Ca, which is often deficient

in acid soils y olomite lime also supplies Mg y Magnesium may raise pH six times faster than calcium y Apply lime based on soil test, and lime only those crops that need it. y For gardens without soil test: 50 lb/1000 sq ft/year

Taking a Sample
1. 2.

3. 4. 5.

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. 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. Sample between rows. Avoid old fence rows, dead furrows, and other spots that are not representative of the whole field. Take separate samples from problem areas, if they can be treated separately. 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. ²MODIFIED FROM THE PENNSTATE AGRONOMY GUIDE, 1999.

Soil Nutrient Testing
A & L Labs Complete Soil Test - 503-968-9225 Kinsey Agricultural Services Soil fertility problems/Albrecht Method (feed the soil) Wy¶East Environmental Services Soil Lead Test - 503-231-9320

All of our food resources can be traced directly back to the soil.
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: y Dr. Craig Cogger-WSU/NRCS, Puyallup y Dr. Charles Brun-WSU Extension Clark County y Kinsey Agricultural Services y National Center for Appropriate Technology y U. S. Department of Agriculture

Additional Resources
y USDA National Agricultural Library y Building Soils for Better Crops

Additional Resources
y Soil Survey of Clark County

y NRCS Soil Survey Explorer

y Guide to Soil Survey Reports

y Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)

y Clay

y National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service

y OSU Extension Service-Improving Garden Soil

y Soil and Health Library

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