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Soils ain't Soils

posted 14 Sept 2016, 21:06 by David Banks   [ updated 14 Sept 2016, 21:47 ]
Soil Improvement Is seriously underestimated for achieving that healthy and hassle free garden you've always dreamed of.

What is Healthy soil? 

Truly healthy soil consists of the following 5 elements:
  1. The correct ratio and levels of the major soil mineral elements: Calcium and Magnesium (for soil structure)
  2. The full range of essential macro and micro minerals (for plant, human, and animal health)
  3. Carbon in the form of organic material such as mulch and decaying plant matter (feeds soil life and provides "sites" for soil minerals to attach vs being washed away by water)
  4. Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC or TCEC - explained in more detail below but refers to the soils capacity to hold onto minerals in a form plants can access when needed)
  5. Soil life such as microbes, insects, and worms etc (These help break down organic matter and also convert inorganic matter into forms plants can use).
A soil without sufficient levels or total lack of any of the above are sick soils and significantly reduce plant health and the health of anything which feeds on those plants, including you and your family.

It's safe to say that the vast majority of Australian soils are missing one or more of the above and are therefore not producing the best results.

Why is the Calcium/ Magnesium ratio so important?

The Cal/Mag ratio is primarily responsible for soil structure, and when they're in the correct ratio and level the soil structure is fine and crumbly.

Soils with good structure ensures:
  • good exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide for healthy plant roots and
  • it helps the soil hold onto water without drying out too quickly or becoming water logged - both of which stress plants and attracts pests and disease.
In almost every gardening magazine and TV program you've read or seen you would have been taught to believe that the best way to do the above is to add more and more compost but this way is expensive and very, labour intensive, and worst of all it is only temporary.

Compost breaks down over a short period of time and if you stop adding compost the soil would return to it's original condition.  

  • If you started with light and sandy soil it will return to its original sandy structure, which won't hold water or nutrients, very quickly. 
  • If it was heavy clayey soil which holds lots of nutrients and water/ becomes water logged during winter (poor oxygen and CO2 exchange) and cracks during summer, without regular additions of compost it will return to it's poor condition.
Once you have the correct Cal/Mag ratio, your soils structure will remain consistently good for years, if not decades, which:
  • significantly reduces your costs of importing compost,
  • saves you hours of back breaking labour digging it all in, and
  • significantly reduces your need to water your plants and apply fertilisers which
  • saves you lots of cash.
  • your plants grow stronger and healthier which means less pests and disease
It is that good!

How do I get my Cal/Mag levels right?

Start by giving Lush Gardening Services a call to see if you need a simple soil test which will tell you exactly what your soil needs.

The home gardener can add Ag Lime, Dolomite Lime or Gypsum, each has it's own benefits and drawbacks depending on what type of soil you're starting with. This is why it's important to do a soil test at the start to know which of the above to add, or what combination of the above to add.

Without a soil test you can actually make the situation worse.

Would my garden benefit from getting the Cal/Mag levels right?

Absolutely, South Australian soils have too much magnesium and not enough calcium as a general rule, it's called "Bay of Biscay soil", and I've seen the massive benefits to getting it right, which is why I keep harping on about it all the time!

Seriously, if you do nothing else for your soil then this is it.
  • If you grow fruit and veggies for your family's health then I'd highly recommend it as it will:
  • significantly improve your plants yields,
  • greatly reduce plant pests and disease attacks,
  • reduce your work load in the garden,
  • significantly increase the nutrient levels of your food,
  • greatly improve the taste of your home grown produce, as well as
  • greatly improve the health benefits to you and your family which is why we all want to grow our own in the first place.

If you have an ornamental garden which constantly gets attacked by bugs and disease then adjusting your Cal/Mag levels will significantly improve:

  • your gardens health for the long term, and
  • significantly reduce your need for nasty poisons and toxic chemicals in the garden which is good for your health, and good for the planet.

Why should I be looking at the minerals in my soils?

If you are going to the effort of growing your own food at home, which includes your veggies, fruit, nuts and berries, then surely you want to get the best nutrition from those home grown foods.

Our health is entirely dependent on what foods we put in our mouths, full stop!

The modern, large scale, agricultural model is failing us! It's full of toxic chemicals designed to stop pests and disease, increase shelf life, and reduce waste to maximise profit for the large food supply companies at the expense of flavour and nutrients and ultimately your health.

The main reason the modern agricultural model has failed is because they've killed their soils, they've ignored the lessons of 1000's of years of natural, organic, farming practices humans have followed since the dawn of time.

Dead soils results in pest and disease ridden plants devoid of nutrients, flavour, and any health benefits the food is naturally meant to give us.

This is the reason why people choose to go organic, for taste, flavour, and health because people don't want to put chemicals into their bodies.

However buying organic is very expensive so it makes sense to grow your own; from simply having a lemon or orange tree in the back yard, or a few pots of herbs to the fully converted back yard full of in season, tasty, healthy, low cost food with no chemicals.... or so you think.

What about that bag or bottled fertiliser you put on your crops? It's potentially full of nasty man made chemicals, and if it contains animal manures, which are mostly likely sourced from high intensity feed lot farms, then it's potentially full of antibiotics, and vaccines etc which then get absorbed by your veggies and your body!

Another important issue to watch out for is heavy metals in some of today's fertilisers! Some fertilisers, especially the man made stuff, contains nasty toxins and heavy metals such as cadmium and lead which accumulate in our bodies and create serious long term bad health effects.

Lush Gardening Services only uses 100% organic fertilisers which have the full range of essential macro and micro minerals, crammed full of beneficial microbes for a long term, slow release supply of all the minerals for truly healthy soil and healthy crops without the nasties.

By using Lush Gardening Services healthy soil prescription you get all the benefits you're looking for when you choose to go organic or grow your own, minus the guess work and effort.

Why should I know about the minerals missing in my soil?

Australia is acknowledged as having the worst soils in the world because they're so old and they're missing quite a lot of the essential minerals for good human and animal health.

Selenium and iodine are just two of these elements missing in our soil.

The Australian government realised this a long time ago and started putting iodine into our table salt and also introduced selenium into our bread at one stage. Sadly the iodine put into our table salt is not in a form good for your body, and it should be added to our soils so the plants can give it to us in the correct form.

Our bodies can withstand quite a long time without certain things but after time it starts to succumb to degenerative disease, aches and pains, lack of energy and vitality, poor concentration etc, etc which are all unnecessary sufferings because all we need to do is feed our bodies correctly.

It is also a fact that people are getting degenerative diseases earlier and earlier in their life because our foods contain ever smaller amounts of the minerals our bodies need. It's become an epidemic, but it's a simple fix - grow your own food in soil which contains all the essential minerals to human health by following our healthy soil prescription.

If you're going to the trouble and effort of growing your own, at least do the right thing by your body and put all of these essential minerals into your soil, in the form which the plants can utilise (not man made chemicals which kill microbes, making unhealthy soils).

Lush Gardening Services provides you with organic fertiliser, sourced from an Australian company, which exports to around 40 countries, containing all of the essential minerals which is long term, slow release, and feeds the soil microbes. The benefits to you are:
  • Your body will start to get the minerals it's been lacking for true health
  • Your plants will no longer be getting nutrient deficiencies
  • You will see a huge reduction in plant pests and diseases
  • Your workload in the garden will drop
  • No more trying to figure out why your plants yields are dropping
  • Your plants will grow bigger and stronger
  • Your overall cost in the garden will drop
  • No more chemicals and toxins in your garden for your overall health
  • buy following our healthy soil prescription it takes out the guess work and provides you with reliable, long lasting results.

The importance of Carbon/ Organic matter in your soil.

Soil should contain around 4-5% organic matter in the form of decaying plant matter, compost, fallen leaves, etc to feed soil life and also hold onto minerals.

The most important form of carbon comes from humic and fulvic acids (humus) which are only formed after long term decomposition of organic compounds in combination with soil; mainly clay.

If you make your own compost, the missing ingredient is almost always garden soil or clay; you will rarely read about this vital ingredient because they simply don't know.

Add clay or garden soil approximately 3-4% by volume of compost, as you build your layers of carbons and nitrogens, to get humus. Without the soil or clay your compost will only form tiny amounts of this beneficial humus for your efforts and you won't be getting the best results.

Humus is the long lasting, fully decomposed element of organic matter and it's role is to hold onto minerals, in a form plants can access when they need it.

This is why your gardening magazines and TV programs constantly talk about it but their belief is that compost is the solution to building soil structure. Whilst this is true, for the short term (as explained above) most people miss the true benefits of adding compost to the soil and as a result very few articles or stories explain why.

Another, less labour intensive, but more effective alternative to making your own compost is the application of liquid humic and fulvic acid to your watering can.

Humic and fulvic acid is still relatively difficult to find at your local gardening center, but applying it can increase your soils mineral holding capacity from anywhere up to 400%.

It's amazing stuff and is one of the specialised ingredients Lush Gardening Services supplies to their customers for it's excellent results in soil and plant health.

Lush Gardening Services is passionate about only supplying you the best so you get the best gardening results.

One last comment about compost; every gardener should be returning their fallen leaves, lawn clippings and kitchen scraps to their soil.

Even if you don't have the time, strength or energy to dedicate to a compost pile you can dig a hole and bury kitchen scraps, you can make a pile and leave it for 12 months to do it's thing, or buy a plastic bin with no bottom and allow the worms and insects to do their thing to make wonderful compost.

I will talk about Bokashi and it's benefits in my blog  to show just how easy it will make home composting and also tell you about it's amazing benefits.

What on earth is Cation Exchange Capacity and why is it important?

Cation Exchange Capacity ( or CEC for short) is a term which talks about a soils ability to hold minerals in a form which plants can absorb.

Minerals must be present in the soil in a form which plants can absorb through their roots with the aid of water. But water soluble nutrients would be washed away by rain or when you water the garden unless they have something to attach to.

We've already spoken about compost, and humus as well as the massive boost to CEC which humic and fulvic acids provide to the soil but I'd like to add a few points here:

We all know that sandy soils are very dry and nutrient poor because they don't hold onto minerals or water for long, so it's essential that organic matter is constantly added to help the sand hold onto water and minerals.

Sandy soils also need the addition of clay to maintain long term soil structure, plus mineral and water retention. Without it sandy soil will always return to sandy soil, and this is very expensive and labour intensive long term.

On the other hand clay soils hold onto large amounts of minerals and water (once water logged) but it's very difficult for plants to absorb those minerals because the clay particles hold onto minerals very, very tightly. Plus the dense structure of clay makes it very difficult for plant roots to grow and breathe.

The addition of organic matter helps release and hold onto the minerals in the clay for plants roots to absorb and it also opens up the clay so roots can grow and breathe, but clay soil will always return to clay soil unless the Cal/ Mag ratio is corrected (as discussed above).

The best soil is a combination of sand for aeration, clay for the supply of minerals, and organic matter for helping to combine the other two in such a way as to improve aeration, water retention and nutrient retention, plus it gives something for the soil life to feed on.

Hopefully this is starting to build a picture for you about why the above list of 5 important healthy soil elements must be included for maximum success in the garden.

No need for you to worry about getting your CEC right, by following the Lush Gardening Services prescription for healthy soil you will automatically achieve good CEC.

Why is Soil Life and Microbes on the list for a Healthy Soil?

Microbes are responsible for many vitally important roles in the soil, without microbes almost all life on earth would cease to exist.

Yes, they're that important.

It wasn't that long ago that scientists believe that allmicrobes were bad and must be destroyed. It was considered that soil was only there for holding the plants and they could be fed by applying man made fertiliser salts.

There's a whole history of modern industrialised agriculture which I won't bore you with but needless to say man in his supreme arrogance determined that he ruled over nature and he could do a better job!

Oh how wrong we were and it's taken us nearly 100 years to figure it out!

Science is now just starting to understand that not only are all microbes not bad but quite a few of them are essential to plant, animal and human health.

When the first scientist discovered fungi could attach itself inside plant root cells it was assumed the fungi was parasitising the roots and draining the plant of it's essential fluids and minerals.

Scientists now understand that the beneficial species (there are some which are actually bad) not only work with the plant but the relationship is beneficial for both plant and fungi.

The plant feeds the fungi sugars, made in the plants leaves, and the fungi mines the minerals from the soil and feeds these back to the plant. It has been found that the fungi can be up to 1000 times larger by volume than the plants own roots so you can imagine how much benefit the plant receives by not having to find the minerals by itself.

Not only does the fungi supply minerals to the plant but it also stores these minerals in it's tissues, along with water, to act as a kind of storage vessel for when the rain stops. Plants which have a relationship with fungi have a far greater capacity to survive drought and heat.

The benefits don't stop there, some fungi and bacteria produce natural antibiotics which defend the plants roots from the bad microbes. There is one bacteria which is responsible for something like 30 of our existing antiboitics used in modern medicine.

Some microbes help convert nitrogen in the air into plant available nitrogen which reduces the need for us to add fertiliser. It's common knowledge that by planting legumes into the soil they help revitalise soil which has been cropped for several years.

Recent research is revealing that microbes can also remove toxic chemicals and nasty man made substances in the soil, so if your soils were previously exposed to chemicals then it's possible to use microbes to help get rid of it.

Another benefit of microbes is they help make minerals which are "locked out", which means they're in a form plants cant absorb, and make them available to plants. This is great news to large scale agricultural properties whose soils can contain huge amounts of phosphorous, and other minerals, applied in chemical salt forms.

In fact broad acre farmers are discovering that by using microbes they can effectively unlock these huge reserves of previously locked out mineral salts to the point where they don't actually need to apply any more for decades which saves them huge amounts of money!

They're pretty amazing things really!

Last, but not least, microbes such as bacteria and fungi help break down anything which was once alive and return the minerals it contained back to the soil. Without microbes nothing would break down and be returned to the soil hence the statement above that life on earth would cease to exist without microbes.

How do I know if my soil needs microbes?

If you've experienced the following your soil will greatly benefit from the addition of microbes:
  • Soils which have been heavily cropped,
  • Soils which have been fertilised with chemicals,
  • Soils which produce stressed plants (ie they have mineral deficiencies, and get attacked by pests and disease),
  • Where chemical pesticides and herbicides have been used
  • If leaves and grass clippings take a long time to break down
If you don't see a lot of worm activity in your soil (I don't mean you see one or two worms when you dig a hole, I"m talking about seeing worm castings in the lawn after rain, and you should see worms in every handful of soil. A large number of worms indicate a well formed soil food web due to a good number of microbes)

What are the benefits of having microbes in my soil?

Soil microbes ensure the following:
  • Your plants can tolerate heat and dry much more than plants without microbes which reduces your need to water, saving you time and money.
  • Your plants are able to take up nutrients far more easily producing healthier and stronger plants,
  • You'll see a huge reduction in plant pests and diseases,
  • You'll spend far less money on fertiliser and pest/ disease treatment
  • You'll gain far more pleasure from your garden because it's actually healthy
  • Your plants will produce higher yields
  • Your home grown fruit and veggies will contain more minerals and therefore taste and smell much nicer than you thought possible
  • Your flowers will smell stronger because they're getting what they need thanks to the microbes working for your plants
  • Your soil will hold more water, the soil structure will improve meaning less work for you in the garden
Certain microbes can be applied as a non chemical alternative remedy to plant diseases such as black spot, powdery mildew, etc. (There are even scientific studies which show that diseases such as Tomato Mosaic Virus can not only be treated but actually eradicated from the plant! This is stunning as typically the gardener is advised to rip the plants out and the soil treated for some time with anti pathogenic chemicals before being replanted some years later with tomatoes)

The list just goes on.

Remember that the addition of microbes won't make up for the incorrect ratio of Cal/Mag in your soil but they will make a big difference on their own.

Each of the 5 Healthy soil factors listed and explained above (in brief) will make a big difference on their own, but in combination your gardening results will simply stun you.

Our focus is Health Soil because we know that is where gardening success or failure begins and it is why our motto is:

Healthy Soil, Healthy Plants, Healthy People

"We only recommend things which we've researched ourself and we've successfully tried in our garden first, and we are also happy with the results". 

David Banks: Owner of Lush Gardening Services.