April 29, 2013

Soil Remineralization: Year 2

Soil health is one of the top priorities on our homestead. If our soil is healthy, then our plants will be healthy. In turn, we and our animals will be healthy. This applies not only to our garden, but to our field and forage areas as well. Each year, we plan to choose another field and remineralize it. Last year it was the pretty green pasture you see in many of my recent photos.

The first field we remineralized. Previously, it was a sea of poison ivy,
blackberry briars, and hundreds of sapling cedars, pecans, oaks, and pines.

This year it's going to be the buck pasture. In preparation for that, I ordered a soil test last month. Recently, we got the results.

Click to biggify (takes you to Photobucket)

The results surprised me. I thought the field we did last year would have had the worst soil. This one was worse. To help me understand what the results meant, I got out Neal Kinsey's book, Hands-On Agronomy. It's the best guide for this analysis because it was done by his soil testing service.

Not surprisingly, the soil there is acidic, but I didn't think it would be that acidic (5.0). Also, all the minerals tested were deficient, except sodium. Sodium was very high.

Sodium excess is apparently caused by excessive irrigation, or a soil compaction layer which doesn't allow the water to move the sodium through the soil. The latter would likely be the case here. The solution for excessively high sodium is calcium, which must be brought up to a minimum level of 60%. Ours is only 30%. Calcium will be added in the form of dolomite, which will also raise the soil's pH. Two things accomplished with one substance. Plus, dolomite will add much needed magnesium to the soil.

The recommended form of nitrogen is feather meal. This is one of the more expensive forms of nitrogen, so I was tempted to substitute something cheaper. Then I read that feather meal is one of the slower releasing, longer lasting forms of organic nitrogen fertilizer. Blood meal is quick acting and cotton seed meal lowers the pH (which is too low as it is!).  The amount is as recommended for what we intend to plant there, corn and cowpeas. (That's assuming it ever stops raining so we can get the soil turned!)

Of phosphates, the soft rock phosphate is also a long lasting, slow release form. Almost everything I grow shows signs of phosphorous deficiency (purplish leaves and often stunted), so this is an important addition to our soils.

There are numerous trace minerals called for as well. Some say these additional micronutrients aren't necessary, that once the soil pH is corrected the minerals will correct themselves. This can be true if they are already present in the soil. If they have been washed or eroded away, or used up by vegetation, there will still be a deficit even after the pH is correct.

At one time we thought we'd just rely on compost. Compost is good, but not all compost is equal and can be deficient or imbalanced just like soil. Neil Kinsey's recommendations are based on the Albrecht system, which focuses on mineral balance in the soil. Besides making sense, we've seen the results for ourselves, in our new pasture.

You can read more about the Albrecht System at Fair's Biofarm Assist.
You can find out more about Kinsey Ag Soil Testing Services here.

Where did we buy most of our soil amendments? Some (dolomite and borax) I found locally. The rest I ordered from Seven Springs Farm. They have good prices but the shipping is not cheap. We consider it an investment in our land, however, and so worth the expense.

Soil Remineralization: Year 2 © April 2013 by Leigh 


Tanya @ Lovely Greens said...

Fascinating post Leigh... I've never heard of feather meal as a nitrogen supplement for acid soils but will definitely pass on the word. The soil that I work with in the garden and at my allotment is quite acidic but I try to balance out any added acidity from manure with garden Lime and mushroom compost. It's great for small areas though not a solution for sorting out pasture land.

Farmer Barb said...

I am almost afraid to test my soil. I have been very busy trying to clear and get set up. There are places that even weeds refuse to grow. This is mostly because the rocks are so big and close to the surface that no root thinks it is worth it. I am planning to mark off areas and test a little at a time.

BTW, Serena the Sheep is not eating very much, but this is her first 24 hours without her mom. She also is alone. I don't think it is healthy. I am going to take her to the farm today for some sheep company.

Renee Nefe said...

So pretty and green!

We might have parasites in our lawn this year. We have watched as they have slowly worked their way through our neighbors' yards. Hubby has treated the grass, but so far we don't see any results. Living in a high desert I try to figure out what is native instead of fighting the elements...alas, grass is not native, but required by our hoa. :p

Leigh said...

Tanya, I don't think the feather meal is for acidic soil per se, the warning for acidic soils is not to use the cottonseed meal! I reckon the lime is the best solution, and probably the cheapest for large areas. It can be got for about $40 a ton here. Of course, there are different kinds of lime! I needed a high magnesium variety that would raise pH. Sounds like that's what you're using too.

Barb, I hope Serena does better soon. I think it's great you volunteered to care for her for awhile.

I worry about every soil test I send in. I figure though, that nothing should shock the folks at the testing service, LOL. Neil Kinsey has some pretty severe examples in his book, but they helped them all.

Renee, there should be some sort of native grasses that you can grow. Either that or you need to fire the HOA board members. :o

Michelle said...

Leigh, I realize that cost will very greatly depending on a particular plot's needs, but would you be willing to share what it cost to do, say, one acre, or maybe what it cost to do your pasture and how big that pasture is, just to give me a ballpark of what we would be getting in to. I think we desperately need to pursue this. Our pasture and yard are both lime green/yellow compared the the more normal looking deeper green of the adjacent pasture of our neighbor, who uses conventional farming practices.Our neighbor owned our property previously, and I believe that his repeated applications of synthetic fertilizers has bound up any organic nutrients that exist in the soil.

The Stay @ Home-Gardener said...

Have you also thought about rock dusts such as Azomite for all the other trace minerals once you get the ph and macro nutrients in balance?

Leigh said...

Michelle, sure. This particular area is about 1/4 acre, and we asked for results for growing corn and cowpeas (which means a higher nitrogen input). Total cost was around $500 for everything. Of that, around $170 was shipping. If you can find it locally, you can obviously save a lot. Last year we did 1/2 acre and it was more like $400, because the soil wan't as bad and we were testing to grow pasture grasses & legumes. I figure I'll recoup the cost in goat health, not to mention not having to buy as many minerals and other supplements (that Diamond V yeast and Thorvin kelp get expensive!) BTW, I buy a 50 pound bag of Thorvin kelp for the goats along with the rest of my order. It costs $54 per 50 pound bag from 7 Springs, with no additional shipping.

Cloud, for my vegetable and herb gardens, yes. In fact I recently bought some azomite for the goats. For the pasture areas and field crops, I'm trying to follow the recommendations given because it's a balanced system. Switching the inputs around would change the balance. Obviously the Albrecht system isn't the only way to go, but we're committed to it so it's what we'll stick with for now.

Leigh said...

Oh! And Seven Springs has absolutely the lowest price for azomite I've found. Not sure about shipping though.

Michelle said...

Thank you so much! That's pretty frightening! We have two acres to do. Is this something you do once and you're done, or do you have to recheck and reapply every few years?

Leigh said...

Kinsey Ag recommends retesting every year for several years, so adjustments can be made. We've got about 5 areas we're going to work with, so I plan to rotate through them and have one tested and amended each year. So that will be about once in every 5 years. Longer than recommended, but it's what we can do. The second time around it shouldn't be so expensive! Our biggest area is about an acre, but we plan to subdivide that in two, to make the initial investment more affordable.

I should add that with Kinsey Ag, a program level can be chosen: excellent, building, maintenance, or minimum input. Excellent, obviously, would be to bring one's soil up to the best possible level. A building program would be less. Helpful options, I think.

There are other services and approaches, but after reading Neal Kinsey's book, this is the one we chose. We already see that it works, so we'll stick with it.

Foy Update said...

Bravo! So few people it seems soil test and even fewer of them don't realize that not all compost is created equal! As someone who preaches soil fertility this makes me happy!

CaliforniaGrammy said...

Amazing what a bit of knowledge does for your soul and your soil. The picture of that beautiful green pasture . . . and then to think of what it was before you tackled it. Fantastic job . . . and the goats look so happy!

Su Ba said...

I'm finding this information very useful! Where I am in the tropics the soil needs constant attention if one expects fertility out of it. Rather than dealing with just soil depletion, farmers and ranchers need to add nutrients and minerals that are lacking in the first place. Plus organic material breaks down very rapidly. Nitrogen disappears quickly. Soil amendments are very expensive here, so too many landowners opt to do nothing.

As a farmer relying on the land for my food and part of my income, I'm trying to improve my soil, just like you. My main efforts have been in the food growing areas, but I need to pay attention to my pastures. I've gotten pretty good at figuring out what to do for garden soil, but I'm no expert when it comes to pastures. I think I'll try sending soil to that lab as a start. Do you know if they could make recommendations based on fish meal rather than feather meal? I've got close to a ton of homemade fish meal stockpiled, but no access to feather meal unlessi I ship it in from the mainland.

...Su Ba
...kaufarmer.blogspot.com - the story of my homesteading in Hawaii

A Home For Your Heart said...

Wow, have I got a lot to learn when we get out to our property! Thanks for sharing this wealth of information!

Leigh said...

Foy, so nice to know you're a kindred spirit!

Janice, it's the results that always win us over, isn't it? I know it will require maintenance, but at least we've made the first big step.

Su Ba, that's a good point about the differences in soil.

In answer to your question, the Kinsey Ag soil submission form has a place on it to write in preferred fertilizers, for nitrogen materials, phophate, potassium, limestone, also compost. They do recommend having the compost tested though. So if you have fish meal, they'd be able to give you recommendations for that, plus whatever else you need. Even if you can't get it all, at least you can make an important start.

A Home For Your Heart, thank you for the comment! This was all new to me at one time too. Sounds like you've got the property, hurray for you! Exciting times ahead. :)

Mama Pea said...

You're so right in that building up your soil is a true investment. It's all part of the infrastructure of our places, isn't it? I think being able to raise food for ourselves and any livestock is going to be so important in the future. When we learn that the very best food (assimilation and nutrition-wise) for us is that which is raised in our very own local environment . . . well, we can hardly invest our time and money in a more important thing.

dakotaspring said...

I stumbled onto your blog in researching remineralization. I live in Oregon and have 9.5 acres I am trying to heal. I am reading a book by Steve Solomon, our local gardening guru, called "The Intelligent Gardener". He recommends a different lab, but his theory is still Albrecht. Any experience with your lab you can pass on before I commit to a lab would be helpful.

Leigh said...

Mama Pea, well put. It's better than money in the bank. :)

Dakotaspring, hello! I appreciate your visit and your comment. Since I've only used Kinsey and our state coop extension lab (not recommended!), I obviously can't give you a comparison, but I can tell you that I've been very happy with Kinsey Ag. I first learned about them from reading Pat Coleby's Natural Goat Care. She referred to Neal Kinsey quite a bit. Then I found his book by the same publisher.

For our first test I called with questions and they were very helpful and willing to answer my questions. On the soil submission form you can ask for the results in conventional fertilizers or organic amendments. There's also a place to request recommendations in any specific amendments you have available. If you're interested in a cost comparison, Kinsey Ag charges $50 for a basic soil test, and I paid an additional $15 for a cobalt test.

I'd at least recommend Neal Kinsey's book. I think having several approaches to the same subject is helpful. In turn, I'll have to look and see if our library has Steve Solomon's book. Is he affiliated with the lab he recommends?

Neal was a student of Dr. Albrecht, and his book makes for an interesting read. Also I believe some of his articles can be found at Acres USA.

I hope that is helpful to you. I am absolutely sold on the Albrecht method. The results were all the proof we needed.