Sunday, June 21, 2009

Soil ≠ Dirt and Other Valuable Information from Sarah Krones

There are 40,000 species of bacteria in a gram of soil. When that soil is plowed, CO2 is released from it into the air. It takes 1,000 to 10,000 years to produce soil. when rocks -which have different mineral compositions- erode into sand, silt and clay. There are 750 soil types in Maryland-these are determined by parent material, rainfall, slope and drainage.

These soils exist in five different physiographic provinces in Maryland which are:

Coastal Plain Province
Piedmont Plateau Province (this includes Baltimore and is very nutrient rich, which makes sense as many cities were once agricultural centers)
Blue Ridge Province
Ridge and Valley Province
Appalachian Plateaus Province

Soil texture traingle:

Helps to classify soil type based on the amount of sand, silt and clay present in the soil.

Med loam is good soil.

You should never change the mineral content of the soil (e.g. trying to make a sandy loam soil into a clay loam soil).

A ribbon test is a very simple way to test your soil. To do this you get a
handful of soil and squeeze it between your index finger and thumb, forcing
the soil out into a "ribbon"; the longer you are able to press the soil without it
breaking apart or crumbling, the higher the clay content of your soil. One
inch is a good length.

To increase the water-holding content and structure of the soil, add organic

Organic matter contained in the soil is a combination of plant roots, fungi, insects, microbes and burrowing animals. These things in combination not only help to prevent the soil from becoming compacted, but also absorb heat and moderate the temperature of the soil during the growing season.

There are fifteen essential plant nutrients which are obtained through the soil. They are:

C, N, P, K, S, Ca, Mg

Mn, Cu, Zn, Fe, B, Mb, Cl, Co

Nitrogen moves through the soil vertically. Old leaves turn yellow when deficient in this element. It governs plants capacity to make proteins and promotes cell growth.

Cover crops such as clover, rye, oats, wheat and legumes put nitrogen back into the soil.

Phosphorus promotes the development of flowers and fruit. Unlike nitrogen, it moves horizontally throughout the soil and is needed to move plant sugars. Signs of deficiency may be noted by dull green or purplish leaves.

Potassium is beneficial for plant growth and disease resistance. It aids in good seed production. A plant may deficient in this nutrient if there are yellow, burnt-looking leaf edges.


There is a higher ratio of nitrogen in green matter (lettuce, avocado peels, spinach, etc.)

and a higher ratio of carbon in brown matter (straw, leaves, old newspaper, lint, soil)

32:1 ratio of nitrogen to carbon is generally considered good compost.
If the compost is too dry and not decomposing, add more nitrogen-rich matter.
The compost should feel like a dried-out sponge as the water helps the micro-organisms to move around. If left out in the sun, a compost pile can dry out. a slanted roof over the pile is a good way to keep out excessive rain but keep in heat.


To take a sampling of soil from your garden/farm/yard collect fifteen to twenty samples from somewhat typical areas of the space: 2" deep for lawns; 6" deep for gardens

Air-dry the samples and mix them together into one. The final sample should be no less than one cup, but no more than two cups.

Decide where you want to send the sample based on cost, speed, and what it is you want tested.

Your test results will tell you the pH of the soil, its texture, fertility, and what nutrients may be needed to be added to the soil. It may also tell you whether or not the soil contains lead.

The pH of the soil is very important as it directly affects the amount of nutrients that the plant can take up from the soil. A fairly neutral pH of 6-7 is generally the most beneficial, though certain plants can do well in acidic or alkaline soils.

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