Soil pH and Nutrient Availability

It seems like 100 years ago I started college as a horticulture major and completed two years and romance got in my headlights and I married. Life is what happens while making other plans. 

Anyway, I quickly learned growing soil is fundamental to growing plants. I planted two identical Star Magnolias in different parts of my garden about 15 or 20 years ago; one is flourishing, the other died. The only difference was soil. So, out came my Ph meter and that explained the problem. 

I also learned at WSU how important it is to keep adding organic matter to the soil and as a freshmen in college at WSU (Washington State University), I went with the horticulture class to the cattle barns and loaded composted manure into big trucks and spread it all over the campus garden. I was running for class office at the time and my co-workers put big signs on the sides and back of the manure truck stating "Vote for Joan Denoo, the girl for you!" I still have people reminding me of my work on the "shit wagon". I am afraid that is the term they use. Well anyway, now I put a lot of it on my garden beds after the ground has frozen so that winter snow and spring rains soak it into the depths. 

My advisor at WSU, Dept. of Horticulture, was Woody Kalin. When I was in China seeking information about women's lives in China I ran across a group of USA agronomists touring Chinese farms. Many remembered Woody (deceased).  

Oh my goodness, this is far more information than you wanted or needed. 

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Wonderful!  Two years of horticulture means you should know a thing or three about growing plants.  I'm sure I'll have some questions for you.

I've looked-up several PH lists on the internet, and as usual, they disagree in places.  The list that came with my $25 test kit seems to agree with the average, so that's what I go by now.

One of the things that surprised me on my list is that Potatoes like a PH of 4.5 to 6.  Does that sound right to you?  I don't know what the normal soil PH is 90 miles north of here, where most of the potatoes are grown, but there are quite a few grown around my area also, and the soil around here is naturally about 8 or more.  I don't know how the farmers could acidify the soil of those large fields without spending a huge amount of money.  Perhaps I should ask one of them.

I'm definitely going to acidify a portion of my garden with a PH of ~5 for Blueberries and Huckleberries.  According to one site, Huckleberries like a PH of 4 to 5.5

I don't know if I can get Huckleberries to grow here, but I'm going to try because they're my second favorite fruit, especially on Ice-Cream.  Wow!  What a treat!  I haven't been up in the pine forest to collect any for about 35 years.  Too lazy I guess, not to mention the price of gasoline.  

This was my garden looking south 18 years ago, and you can see shots from this summer in my albums. Notice the three foot blue spruce in the background and the arborvitae. 

This is looking south east, sorry, I don't have a blue spruce to show you. The Alberta Spruce behind the Monarda was taken out of a garbage can at a local nursery and revived to all its splendor. 

Quite a difference.  No more lawn, more privacy, and a nice little jungle to play in.

Love the pictures!

More information than I asked for is definitely not frowned upon :) I will be checking the PH in all my gardens. It will be time consuming but worth it. I really want the gardens to be more successful.

I will be checking the PH in mine as well! Thanks for the information I love learning!

Joan, as always you are an inspiration!

I am a big believer too in adding organic matter.  My understanding is that organic matter buffers the soil, so that acid soils and alkaline soils both become more neutral.  Also, by using diverse organic matter, the minerals get into more balance.  Never checked the pH - I should do that!

I keep reminding myself to go to coffee shops to get grounds.  A great source of organic matter.  Ironic to import coffee from exotic places, only to make much of it into dirt!  I view my garden as being partly Sumatran and partly Columbian.

Of course, manure is wonderful at improving the soil. 

It's frowned upon, but I carefully bury what my 2 dogs produce.  Only for ornamentals, shrubs, trees, not food.  It's amazing how much is produced by two 50-60 pound dogs.   In one bed that I raised above ground level, I used a lot of doggie poop at the start, layering with soil, then topped off with soil.  That was a number of years ago.  The shrubs in that spot grow like crazy, and the lillies there multiplied like dandelions.

There is a chicken farm not far from my country 2-acres.  I plan to make a trip there soon, more enrichment for the yard and garden.

Yes, Sentient, the more variety the better. I like to use glacial sand or dust from the cemetery monument company. I don't have any routine about it, I just stop by every once in a while and gather dust. When Dad died, I went to the monument company and watched them carve his burial stone; it was a fascinating process. They are very nice and seem interested that I am interested in the process.

Buried dog and cat manure makes sense to me for trees and shrubs. Plant food is plant food, with a few extra billions of organisms that have the potential to cause problems, but on the whole, it is the same as elephant, worm, and bird dung.   

Chicken manure is so great! Just be careful to compost it well, it is very high in nitrogen --- you already know that. 

Thanks for the bit on watching the monument company carving burial stones.  Since you mentioned they were nice, I'm going to go watch now.  I've always liked learning how things are done.  That was always the best part of Mister Roger's Neighborhood. :)

With computer graphic art, and technical methods to carve stone, it is really an interesting process. Also seeing the varieties of stones they have available give evidence of the diversity of even stone. 

Now you've given me another project!  I also wonder about the places that fabricate counter tops.  I had a vanity top made from a scrap of granite, and the shop was a hive of stone cutting and grinding activity.   But a tomb stone maker sounds much more awesome.

Yes, if the counter tops are natural stone, not man-made with resins. Oh, yes, I love stone cutters; they seem to have a unique personality, and very nice. 


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