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Vitamins and humic acid-

Asharoken, NY

Am currently using several forms of foliage and root nutrition for my tomato, pepper and eggplant garden, but, even with a winter wheat over the fallow season,sometimes a light manure(not for several years) , I was wondering if I was to use something like Azomite and or humic acid for to replenish years of wear and tear on the same old plot. Are they two of basically the same purpose in application,or combined ,or one better than the other. I do use a kelp/fish foliage spray,which i might ask is that something like humic acid

Lake Charles, LA(Zone 9a)

you could do that or try planting some type of bean or pea in its place. these guys will replace what the other heavy feeders take out of the soil. Now, i dont know what your planting and growing season is like in New York, but i"m sure its shorter than Louisiana's growing season. I hope this helps.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I'm totally amateur, but here is my perspective: there's around four major aspects to improving soil.

You brought up humus, kelp and manure - they all address the most complicated and long-term aspects: the organic and biological health of the soil.

First, maybe there are some quick fixes your soil needs if it is really beat up. Once it is improved enough that you can grow vigorous cover crops, the last two aspects can heal themselves "from within", perhaps faster than you can buy and haul manure and compost to fix them "from above".

1. mechanical health, "structure"

I assume that you have OK grading, drainage and neither all-clay nor all-sand. Call that the mechanical aspect. Probably OK, if it was once good enough soil to be overworked.

If your soil was really overworked and you have deep compaction, or "elluviation" so that all the clay is washed down 2-3 feet deep, you might need to do some deep turning to get the "mechanical" structure back. I think of elluviation as "mechanical leaching"

If the mechanical "crumb structure" is really destroyed by either compaction or powdering, that's harder to deal with and can probably only be fully cured after you repair the organic health by adding or growing a lot of organic matter.

The chemical aspect is almost as cut-and-dried, and lends itself easily to quick fixes, especially if you buy a professional soil test or do your own.

The inorganic chemistry is simple: pH, NPK, and micronutrients. Either you have enough for vigorous growth, or you don't. (Some MIGHT be present but locked up due to odd imbalances and wrong pH.)

A soil test is a great idea even if it is a $6 Burpee kit from Home Depot. Or assume the rule of thumb that tired soil is always low in N, and probably PK & K, and if your budget is tight, you PROBABLY won't over-fertilize, and mjight not make any imbalances worse. But before you spend $60 on chemical fertilizer, consider spending $6 on a test kit to see if there is something you DON'T need to add.

Fix the pH! Most regions have acid soil and acid rain. I will bet you five bags of dolomite lime, sight unseen, that any old farm soil in NY needs five bags of fine dolomite lime, right away. How much do you need? Soil test. For any given pH, clay soil needs more lime than sandy soil.

Or ask a neighbor how much they add every few years, and bear in mind that you're many years "behind" on correcting the acid tendency. Once your pH is in the right ballpark, a coarser grade of limestone will last longer than fine.

On tired soil, any old NPK fertilizer will be helpful, and you might need that "quick fix" if you want anything to grow well while you gradually restore the organic content and biological health of the soil. If you need more Nitrogen than anything else, urea is probably the cheapest, but burning or toxicity is very likely unless you add it VERY sparingly in repeated small doses.

Don't waste money on any soluble fertilizer if you have fast draining, inorganic sand, because it will wash right out.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Now the fun ones that aren't quick fixes, and that are sustainable. The first two aspects can be fixed in one season, if you have the budget for it. But deep turning and adding soluble chemicals are not wise long-term strategies.

3. organic health

If I may be very crude and approximate and just wing out some random numbers:

Soil should be half solids and half fluid.
The fluid should half water and half air (equally important).

The solid part should be half organic and half mineral.
The mineral part should be one third each: sand, silt and clay.

The organic part is the most interesting. It should be half alive and half dead.

The dead part is humus, compost, manure, duff, twigs, trunks, bark, dead stems, dead leaves, dead critters, paper, garbage and anything else organic that can decompose further: OM for Organic Matter.

The living part has been called soil biota, which I think is cute. Just the fraction of a millimeter surrounding each root hair if the "rhizosphere" and has a population as diverse and interdependent as New York City.

Soil life includes, as the tiny subset that I know how to name:
- fungal hyphae and other microorganisms including mycorhyizzia, nitrogen fixers, bacteria, algae, yeasts, slime molds and other protozoa, spores
- worms, centipedes, slugs, insects, spiders and eggs of all those
- roots and root hairs, rhizomes, bulbs, corms, seeds
- moles, voles, prairie dogs

OM is sort of the central aspect of soil because it interacts with and supports all the others.

- you need OM like humus to support the mechanical crumb structure that allows drainage and aeration
- it lightens soil with too much clay, holding clay grains apart
- OM enhances capillarity so that water wicks sideways and up so the soil is more uniformly moist
- it makes too-sandy soil retain water and minerals
- OM holds water and existing chemical nutrients in any kind of soil so they don't just wash away
- enough OM gradually replenishes chemical nutrients that you remove form the soil, though it's a very dilute source
- as OM breaks down into humic acids, those help etch tiny amounts of insoluble minerals into soluble forms
- OM is the food source for the entire biological universe of soil life. They have to eat something! No OM, dead soil.

4. biological soil health

It's late and I'm ignorant. But there are dozens of microbes that root hair NEED: they live in symbiosis. They are like tiny hairs on the root hairs: increasing surface area and reaching out into the soil top pull in nutrients.. Some plants need MULTIPLE kinds of microbes living on and in their root hairs.

Most soil life helps break down dead OM as they eat it, releasing nutrients. Nitrogen fixers take N2 from the air and turn it into plant food. They are probably the only reason there's any life on earth larger than yeast.

Fungal hyphae also help create soil structure and keep it from compacting. They help hold water and move it aoru8nd the soil from spot to spot.

Worms, centipedes, slugs, insects and spiders burrow and churn the soil, restoring crumb structure and creatin g channels for air to enter the soil, and water to exit.

Roots also create channels and break up rocks into granite and grit. When roots die, channels open up and air has highways to enter the soil.

It is late ... end of rant.

Grosse Pointe Shores, MI(Zone 6a)

I just happened across your very informative posts. Thanks for sharing!


Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Thank you, Katherine! It was late one night , and thoughts about cultiuvating different kinds of problem soils have been perking around between my ears for years.

I think these numbers are off, but I do think that "some of everything" usually helps. Something like alchemy: you have to c ombine ALL the opposites.

Soil should be half solids and half fluid.
The fluid should half water and half air (equally important).

The solid part should be half organic and half mineral.
The mineral part should be one third each: sand, silt and clay.

The organic part is the most interesting. It should be half alive and half dead.

air - at least 10% but 20 wouldn't hurt. If compaction removes this, you must restore it. "Broadforks" let you loosen the soil without turning it over. Like a very gentle form of not-quite-tilling.

dead organic matter - 5% is desirable or necessary, but it breaks down so fast you might have to bring it up to 20-30% each spring and fall, just to still have 4% left six months loater.

living things: I don't know what % by weight they are in optimum soil, but they are crucial, especially worms and tunneling bugs, and microbes like decomposers, nitrogen fixers, mychorhyzzia (spelling?) I also reralized that roots (living and dead) help a lot wsith dsoil structure, and leave air channels behi8nd when they die and decay.

>> "The mineral part should be one third each: sand, silt and clay".

I should have said "grit, sand, silt and clay". I believe clay should be less than 15%. Grit, roots, and coarse, slow-decaying fibers should take up enough of the volume that silt and clay can't fill all the interstices.

But if you can contrive to have your soil form clumps, clods or "peds", in effect those peds become like very large grit or stones, and support air channels around each clump. But clods of soil will absorb water and minerals, and roots and worms can penetrate clods.

water: the % varies a lot and that's OK. As loonjg as it can penetrate deep, to the roots, and then drain AWAY from roots and let air back in, good.

Grosse Pointe Shores, MI(Zone 6a)

Do you have any advice as to how to improve the soil that already has plants growing in it? I'm concerned about the bed my peonies are in, and would like to work on improving it. It also has a couple roses and some creeping phlox in the bed.

(Ok, yes, I should have thought of this before planting. Newbie!)

I was planning on excavating around the plants, then replace with ammended soil. But that limits me to the upper few inches of the soil, and does nothing for under the plants. Still, it would probably be better than nothing!

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> I should have thought of this before planting.

Me, too! Actually, I did worry about it, then planted perennials anyway, and regretted it since.

The idea I LIKE best is to wait until you are ready to divide or transplant things in that bed. Move them out, then work on the soil in that spot, then move some back in. Or, in my case, wait until they die and start over!

But I don't think anyone ever plans to move roses.

The PRACTICAL idea (everyone tells me) is to let the worms and the rain do the hard work.

"Top-dress" with compost, partially aged compost, and even un-composted things.

Grass clippings, manure or coffee grounds laid on top of the soil will decompose gradually (weeks to months).
Finished compost and almsot-finished compost will decompose faster.l

What becomes soluble will leach down into the soil below and enrich it gradually. Worms will come to the surface, eat, and burrow back into the soil while grinding up organic stuff down to fine particles, leaving them behind as worm castings.

This works great over a period of a few years to produce great soil.

Don't let manure or "hot" things like green grass clippings touch plant stems. Keep them an inch or more away from stems. I think roses especially like to have air around them and are prone to disease.

And it never hurts to lay down organic mulch on top of the compost layer. Pine bark, pine needles, starw, whatever is weed-seed-free.

BUT, if you are impatient like me, and not dedicated to pure organic methods, buy a can or soluble plant food like Miracle-Gro. Tablespoon, watering can, garden hose: ba-da-bing ba-da-boom. Give them a little plant food every week or two while the compost is gradually improving the soil.

Don't give too much chemical fertilizer! Under-fertilizing is fine: at most they will grow slower. Over-fertilizing is bad for the soil life that you wnat to encourage, and can even burn or kill plants. Follow directions, or use half that much. If your fingers yearn to give more, wait until leaves are yellowing and growth stalls. Or confine the increased fertilizer to just a few plants to be sure they don't go brown or black.

Best of all, if you think the plants need more fertilizer, spray some of the soluble kind on a FEW plants' leaves once or twice per week for a few weeks. If THOSE plants are darker green and grow faster, then maybe the whole bed could use a little more. OR there is a soil problem like pH, mineral imbalance, or insufficient aeration that prevents uptake of something specific. Then you might think about foliar spraying everything, every week or two, until you figure out and correct the soil imbalance. Sending pictures of sick plamnts here to DG or a local nursery might help diagnose it. Also, waiitng a few years until "compost cures all soil ills".


Several people also say they just plain BURY kitchen garbage, fish heads, or other compost-makings in spots in the garden. They say it composts plenty fast even underground. It must be true, I read it on the Internet!

If you have room between established plants where you will NOT be chopping roots when you dig, you can remove some soil, insert compost-makings with more "greens" than "browns", cover it back up, and give those worms a head-start.

Don't bury sawdust or wood chips in soil! Those are notorious for consuming a lot of nitrogen as they decompose: they actually compete with plant roots and starve them. If you have sawdust, put it in a compost heap and add 10% green stuff. If you have wood chips, use them as mulch on TOP of the composting layer.

One thing I learned about digging holes below grade: if you have heavy clay soil that does not drain, establish drainage BEFORE you dig down very far. Unless yhou like mud-wrestling and drowned roots!

Thumbnail by RickCorey_WA

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