Q. I’m concerned about my alkaline soil. What should I do, so that I can plant and hope to get a good crop? I’ve been told to get a soil test for starters, is that a good, or important thing to do, of is it a waste of time and money?
A. We have nothing against soil testing – as a matter of fact Dr. Jacob Mittleider kept a soil testing lab on regular monthly retainer for several years.
Here is what he learned: For the home gardener soil tests are almost never necessary, and the money and time spent are better used, first to buy natural mineral nutrients, and then to plant and care for the garden.
One of the things a soil test will tell you is the same thing that you can learn simply by checking your average annual rainfall. If you receive less than 20″ of rainfall each year your soil will be alkaline, with a pH above 7, and more than 20″ of rain annually will give you a pH below 7, or acidic soil.
This simply means that if your annual rainfall is above 20″, you need to apply lime to your garden as the source of calcium, and if it’s below 20″ you should use gypsum. Lime raises soil pH and gypsum does not. You may also need to apply some extra sulfur, if your pH is extremely high, as in a desert environment. This will lower the pH.
You may be told in a soil test, or by some county Ag agent, that you do not need to add certain fertilizer elements to your soil because “there is already 20-40 tons of potassium per acre in the soil” as an example of a common response. While that statement is very likely true, because potassium is ubiquitous (everywhere), only a fraction of one percent of it is water-soluble at any given time, and thus available to your plants.
What works for trees, shrubs, flowers, and lawns, does not work well for vegetables, and here’s why. Most plants grow fairly slowly, or they are only trying to make leaves, or flowers. Vegetables must grow to maturity very quickly, completing their entire life cycle in 60-90 days, plus they are required to produce fruit in substantial quantities. Both of these require that the 16 elements that plants need for healthy growth must be available in relatively larger quantities all of the time.
I recommend you stop spending time and money testing and/or amending your soil. Instead, use a nominal amount of money and very little time applying small amounts of a scientifically balanced natural mineral nutrient mix to your soil – first before planting – and regularly during the peak of the plant’s growing cycle. Mittleider Magic Pre-Plant and Weekly Feed mix formulas are available for you in Dr. M’s books, CD’s and in the Fertilizer pages of the Learn section on the website.