Building Healthy Soils

Fish MixAs I mentioned several weeks ago, we are in the process of rebuilding our soil fertility in our garden. One great service that I will personally attest to is that provided by a local company called Organic Technology International. For $65, I brought them a soil sample and had it analyzed. Apparently, our soils were pretty poor in everything: carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous, calcium, and a whole slew of micro-nutrients. The good news is that our general soil structure and matrix is healthy and good for growing in; so, according to the good folks at OTI, we have a pretty good foundation on which to build a healthy soil.

The next step in the suite of services that OTI provides is the preparation of soil amendments that will ameliorate the deficiencies. Naturally, the purchase of these organic inputs also has its price. Our area is relatively small, and the price for the soil amendments was reasonable and fair. The soil supplements came in two forms. The first was an mineral and organic dust that is applied to the soils and tilled in, and the second was a set of three one-gallon jugs, each with its own mix of fertilizers and micro-organisms.

After 4 years of digging and tilling the hard, desert ground, I think it has been sufficiently churned up to promote a healthy soil building process. I am going to retire from digging, at least in this garden, and focus more on sheet mulches, organic soil amendments, and the use of mushroom mycelium to help build healthy soil.

This past weekend we applied the fertilizers to our garden beds. I first dug in the mineral powders, and then prepared a 1:1.5 fertilizer to water mix for the liquid fertilizers. I can tell you, the one labeled “Fish Mix” (see above) sure provoked a lot of “What’s that smell?” statements from my family. My response was: “That is the smell of life.”

Since the liquid fertilizers, and perhaps even the dust, are hopping with living micro-organisms, I tried to get the spray applied as quickly as possible on moist ground, and then covered liberally with barley straw. That should help to keep the soils moist and at a reasonable temperature, and this week I have been careful to make sure that the soil stay well watered.

Summer plants will include squashes, corn, tomatoes, potatoes, melons, amaranth, sunflower, peppers, basil, parsley, and onions, to name a few. Where possible, I will inoculate the root balls of these plants with Mycogrow®, a mycorrhizal root drench product available from the folks at Fungi Perfecti.

In late summer, I will once again apply the liquid fertilizers as a foliar spray, and then when the cropping season winds down I will plant everything to winter wheat or a similar winter cover crop, perhaps fertilizing again with some products from OTI, and then inoculating another liberal application of wheat straw with Elm Oyster (Hypsizigus ulmaris) mushroom spawn (See Paul Stamets Mycelium Running for the benefits of the Elm Oyster on garden soils and crops). By the way, I found a great site for purchasing very cheap sterile syringes of liquid mycelium. Great stuff for someone with access to a small mycology lab.

So, if you are curious about the results of this rather natural experiment, visit me here on Agroblogger from time to time for the results. Of course, this isn’t an experiment in the traditional sense, as I am not trying to isolate any single dependent variable as it relates to an independent variable. Instead, I am building a naturally dynamic system, and expecting that the overall results will be greater than the sum of the parts. I expect to see wonderful things this summer; last year we had a ladybug love fest in our backyard for a week straight in mid-summer.

I will try to get in touch with the folks at OTI in the next few days to see if I can get a more detailed breakdown of the soil analysis, and maybe post the results here online.


Comments

Building Healthy Soils — 2 Comments

  1. I can imagine the difficulties of ameliorating a SW soil, i imagine it’s saline and sandy. I would be interested in finding out the results of this “experiment”. Also, did you think about planting winter crops vs. winter cover crops? I am not familiar with the climate there, but if you don’t get hard freezes, you could probably grow some interesting stuff year-round, if your soils are good enough. Those SW soils can be tricky, though. You never mentioned your Na content.

  2. Your blog is very interesting to me as I live in New Mexico and am searching for a means to improve my silty sand soil in Farmington. In my opinion, the best advise I got so far was from Dr, Elaine Ingham in her online series about healthy soils, in which she said that every soil has all the nutrients necessary for life in abundance and that with the proper mix of mycelium and soil bacteria she could cure any soil problem. This seems to be where you are also headed as a read your blog entry.

    To that end I have been mulching my garden with wood chips from a local arborist to create mycelium, and making my own compost to promote bacterial input. I will be looking forward to your future posts.

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