Calcium availability and cation balancing

fortyonenorth(6b)March 5, 2012

Neil Kinsey writes that finely ground calcium will become available for uptake over a three-year period - 1/3 each year. With this in mind, here's my question: Let's say I want to raise my calcium levels and I'm only concerned with this year. Do I need to add 3x the amount lime? For example, let's say my soil test says I need to add 200 lbs./acre of high calcium lime in order to achieve 68% base saturation. Would I add 600 lbs instead - again, assuming I want to get to 68% this year, without regard to any excesses I might see next year or the year after?

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jolj(7b/8a)

If you want calcium, not pH change, then maybe gypsum is better.
Gypsum is good for calcium, but does little, if any thing to change your pH level.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 12:14PM
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fortyonenorth(6b)

I'm not too worried about pH - though in this particular instance, I need a bump anyway.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 1:48PM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

I'm a little stumped by the "only concerned about this year."

I suggest adding somewhere between 1/3 ans 1/2 the total amount...and do it last fall and have worked the calcium in fully so that the whole spectrum of topsoil is converting the calcium to whatever useful material is needed.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 2:22PM
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pnbrown

It's an area you will not be using again after the next season?

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 2:49PM
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fortyonenorth(6b)

It's somewhat theoretical. It's part of a series of experiments I'm doing with container fertility. The baseline for my experiments is a "balanced" substrate. The research will be for single season crops and the mix will be composted after one season. For my in ground plants, I've never given the "3-year" availability much thought - since the process is ongoing. But, like I said in the opening post, I want to get my Ca levels to 68% base saturation. But, if I'm only getting "credit" for 1/3 of the lime, I'm worried that I'll be short.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 3:02PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Your soil Calcium and Magnesium levels need to be in balance because plants cannot properly use one or the other without each other. If your soil test suggests adding 200 pounds of calcitic lime that is what you need to add. More will simply create problems for you you do not want to have.
Keep in mind that in nutrition more is not always better, for us or our plants.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2012 at 6:49AM
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Kevinitis(5)

JolJ has a good point that I think you may have missed (not sure you did). The biggest reason to add lime is to balance your PH. I would recommend that you do a little research on how PH affects soil nutrient availability. If a soil test suggests that you add lime in some amount and over 3 years you would achieve x results that means that you would expect it to take that long to balance your PH. Changing your soil PH (and thus freeing up Ca), is a long slow process in most cases. If you add 3x the amount you might have good results this year but in 3 years you would have ruined your soil more or less permanently. I live in the west where few tests recommend lime. Thats because we have naturally high PH of from 7.8-8.3 mostly because of our low moisture and in some locations because of our calcareous soils (high lime content). Changing calcareous soils from high PH to lower ph takes the addition of lots of sulfer, and/or pete, and/or organics. Months after adding these things the soil will have changed 0.5-1.0 (maybe) in PH level. A different school of thought is that maybe instead of trying to change ph, you should just add what is missing so that it is in high enough amounts to be available to plants. Hence the gypsum instead of lime suggestion. That way you would add enough calcium that you don't need a ph change.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2012 at 1:33AM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

People put lime down every year, often in not large enough quantities to really do much and most often at the wrong time of year (spring). Even some horticulturists will add lime every year, "because our soil is always acidic" but not enough to really change anything because a few handfulls probably is not.
If your soil test says you need to add 200 pounds of Calcitic lime per acre to your soil their years of studying soil nutrition are being used to aid you in getting it right. Calcium takes some time to work in soils and if enough is put down will last for some time. Calcium, added to your soil this spring, probably will not make a significant change to your soils pH until fall.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2012 at 7:22AM
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kennesaw

The answer to the question in your post is "Yes" you would have to add 3 times the recommended amount of pulverized limestone to increase your base saturation this year to approximately 68%. Since the pulverized limestone rock dissolves at a slow rate, approximately 225-300 lbs. of the 600 lbs. would dissolve in the first 12 months. (The effect would be somewhat front-loaded since more limestone is present to dissolve in the first year, and the more acidic conditions the first year would result in faster reaction of the limestone with the acidic compounds in the soil.)

Your soil will be only very slightly PH overcorrected after three years since 600 lbs. per acre (14 lbs per 1,000 Sq. Ft.) of pulverized limestone will only have a small inconsequential effect on the PH. Typical application rates of pulverized limestone on acid soils are often a ton or more per acre.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2012 at 8:34AM
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fortyonenorth(6b)

Thanks for the comments. As I stated upthread, I'm conducting specific experiments and I'm only concerned with this year.

I consulted an agronomist and he clarified the 3-year breakdown that I mentioned earlier. He said that this is a general assumption, and applies more to lime "left on the surface or in a minimum till situations [which] may take up to three years to totally dissolve because once the pH in the immediate area of the lime rises to 7 the solubility of the lime will drop to about 5-10%."

His recommendation was that I apply extra lime (roughly 2x) but not the 3x rate that I pondered.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2012 at 9:15AM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

Are you like moving in a year?

    Bookmark   March 10, 2012 at 10:10AM
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fortyonenorth(6b)

Nope. As previously mentioned:

It's part of a series of experiments I'm doing with container fertility.

and

As I stated upthread, I'm conducting specific experiments and I'm only concerned with this year.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2012 at 10:19AM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

In my mind the soil in containers will react differently then the soil in the ground. Using garden soil in containers is not very satisfactory. If you are using a formula developed for ground soil it would be all off for container soil. I don't know what formula one would use for containers since you could buy some perfectly balanced soil, and it would not be necessary to do complex calculations and soil tests on the containers.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2012 at 12:14PM
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fortyonenorth(6b)

you could buy some perfectly balanced soil

I'm not aware of any commercial bagged soil mixes that are both minerally balanced and offer the appropriate porosity and water holding characteristics.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2012 at 12:40PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

I don't mean perfect, but at least it would not have a gross imbalance that would require lime.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2012 at 1:56PM
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piedmontnc(7b-8)

Wouldn't hydrated lime give you the quick boost you desire?

    Bookmark   March 11, 2012 at 11:18AM
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fortyonenorth(6b)

That's a thought, piedmont. I know it's fast acting as a liming agent to adjust pH. Something to think about.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2012 at 2:06PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

What about bone meal to raise the calcium. I once bought some calcium carbonate. You can get it kind of cheap. It is like pills women take. Even tums is made of calcium carbonate, but has colors and flavors. It may be possible to buy calcium carbonate powder in bulk.

I don't know if it would work to add calcium carbonate. If you had to ad magnesium, I think you could get the pills with both calcium and magnesium.

If it was in a pot, it would be small, grind it up or maybe dissolve it in water. Then you should be able to measure the pot to see if it has higher calcium levels before you compost the contents.

I just put the calcium pills in my compost bin and composted them and I think I have more calcium, but I can't tell. I have no way to measure it.

There are sales at Walgreens buy one get one free and that sort of thing. Walmart or Costco has the large discounted sizes. Ebay sometimes has deals if you buy it bulk. A case of 12 bottles at a low price.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2012 at 7:12PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

Tropical- you can get calcium carbonate up in Petaluma. There's a place they process oyster shells.
I thought you could buy it by the pound, but it only comes in a 50 lb sack! I'll never have to buy any again! Nancy

    Bookmark   March 11, 2012 at 7:39PM
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inespilar

What's the downside to adding lime in the spring? Doesn't it eventually help raise the PH? I have very acidic soil (5.6). I never got around to applying lime last wall. I have the bags in my garage...Am thinking my vegetable garden doesn't do as well as it could because of the PH situation. Shouldn't I go ahead and apply it and work it in the soil before I start anew? Thanks.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 12:42PM
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jolj(7b/8a)

I think the reason for adding lime in the Fall is so it has time to break down into a useable foam over the Winter(4-6 months).
If you put it out in the Spring, it will do little in the next4-6 months & your Winter will cover your garden with snow. But your plants can use it the next Spring.
So if you read this post NOW in the Spring put the lime out so it can break down.But it would have been better to put it out last Fall.
A Chinese gardener said "The best time to plant a tree is 20 year ago. The second best time is today."

    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 1:01PM
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inespilar

Thanks! I like that Chinese proverb....that's my garden :-)

So I put it down now, I would bypass the fall right as that would be overkill?

    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 1:11PM
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fortyonenorth(6b)

If you put it out in the Spring, it will do little in the next4-6 months

Finely ground lime will can affect pH within a week. Pelletized lime takes somewhat longer, but you still see results within a month. Yes, it can take much longer to become fully effective, but spring application, if it is required, will definitely help the next crop.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 1:53PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

50 pounds is a lot. Maybe it is possible to over do it. I can,t add lime to my soil so calcium would be the way to go, but when I compost I increase the plants ability to absorb what little calcium may be there. I actually need to increase acid levels in my soil.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 2:06PM
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inespilar

Oh good! I am using finely ground lime. So hopefully I will see some benefit this season.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 6:51PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

Tropical, if you're up in the Santa Rosa area, look me up and I'll give you some calcium carbonate! I have about 49 pounds! Nancy

    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 8:44PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

ok, that is nice of you. Email me. But, I am sure I don't need all that much. LOL

    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 8:53PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

I can't email you from this site, but you can contact me on twitter or flickr, or email me from this site. I did not get anything is you sent it, but yahoo may block it.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 9:13AM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

I found a way to get calcium carbonate. I was in the pet store to by the stuff for the frog tanks, and there was a bag of calcium carbonate for reptiles to live in as tank substrate. I just wanted to share that, since the lady who had to buy it got stuck with 50 pounds. This is handy sized, you can carry it home.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2012 at 8:24PM
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