Help me utilize this soil please.

djoyofficial(5-6)May 19, 2014

Hello, and thanks for taking a minute to take a look at my post. I am growing in the western Rocky Mountains altitude of about five thousand feet. Our property supports a hugely diverse eco system (even seen shrews). I have started reclaiming a few areas that were overgrown with periwinkle.

The soil is full of earth worms, centipedes, some
black beetles and snails come out of the Periwinkle from time
to time.

I tested the ph and it's 6.5-7.0. for now I am digging five gallon bucket sized holes and I am experimenting. with different mixtures of this local soil and various garden mixes.

My primary crop are peppers and tomatoes but I want to do some melons in another area that I have been clearing can anybody give me some recommendations on utilizing this soil to its potential, if it has any?

Should I mix in compost, garden soil or what. Any tips would be greatly appreciated.


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johns.coastal.patio(USDA 10b, Sunset 24)

This would be so much fun, and everyone will share how they'd have fun doing it.

Soil looks great.

If it was me, I'd search craigslist and do googles combined with my zip, looking for cheap materials ... free horse manure, wood chips, municipal compost, whatever. I'd do "raised rows" to make locally improved soil for this summer, and then mulch everything good for the fall.

(search "OMRI" and your zip, as another trick. OMRI has an organic certification.)

Raised rows are like raised beds, but when you have the space, you make them bigger and spread out, say 2-3 feet of raised row and 2-3 feet of path. That gives you raised bed benefits without the hassle of "sides."

Another way to say it is that I'm recommending the "lasagna method" without the "pan."

(If you don't have a pickup, start buying beer for those who do!)

    Bookmark   May 19, 2014 at 7:32PM
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Horse Manure! What you calling me!! jk ha ha. I'm considering your advice on rows for next year Coastal. Here is the area I'm playing with a little further back... Still do raised rows maybe three the long way?

I do need to consider the grrape vines in all this too. Don't want to make them Grapes are staying alive but meeting with a
swift, decisive blow from a blade this winter. Just cut back.... a lot.

This post was edited by djoy on Mon, May 19, 14 at 20:35

    Bookmark   May 19, 2014 at 8:22PM
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johns.coastal.patio(USDA 10b, Sunset 24)

That looks like a good site! You can judge how raised rows across the slope would hold irrigation water. But you know, raised hills, or beds, could work in there too. There are a lot of ways to skin the cat.

(In gardening forums horse manure is a complement, of course!)

    Bookmark   May 19, 2014 at 9:13PM
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Could always order a soil test to be done by a state university extension if you want to get a scientific recommendation. But if you don't want to bother it seems that your soil is already pretty good-- plants grew on it before you cleared the land and there are worms and bugs living in the soil.

Mixed in some compost or aged manure probably won't hurt but may not be needed either. Some mulch (wood chip, leaves, etc., whatever is available, preferably for free) would also be beneficial in keeping the soil evenly moist and adding organic content to the soil as the mulch breaks down.

How is the drainage in the area? I have an area in my garden with poor drainage so I made a short raised bed on top of it and things grew better even with just about 7 inches of extra height. You may or may not have that issue.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2014 at 11:45PM
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I really feel like drainage is going to be the biggest problem. While I was digging I noticed that around 12 to 15 inches down a clean cut with the shovel would leave a pretty solid wall that looked like clay but it didn't take much to make it crumble into a fine sand (not much sign of life down there either).I just can't see much if any water escaping Could just be from so many years of being compacted by people, animals, the elements....

There is a nice slope to work with and once the soil is turned it is easy to shape and easy to pack. I think mulch will be one of the keys. Probably needs to be more loamy.

No shortage of mulching material here, I have a bunch of bark from a Black Locust tree that finished out its days not far from the location, Black walnut leaves, sycamore leaves, maple leaves, cherry leaves, oak leaves and wood, and more dead fall branches, than I know what to do with in a year. Most of it ends up out front for picknup. Do any of those raise red flags as mulch?

Maybe is time to invest in a chipper.... :-)


    Bookmark   May 20, 2014 at 3:25AM
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The presence of earthworms, centipedes, etc. is an indication that you have some Organic Matter in that soil, the question you need to solve is how much.
With a soil pH of 6.5 to 7.0 (determined how?) it is in the range that most plants prefer and most all nutrients are most readily available.
Are the major nutrients, P, K, Ca, Mg, in balance?
How well does that soil drain?
What is the tilth of that like?
What does that soil smell like?

Here are some simple soil tests the might be of some help.

  1. Soil test for organic matter. From that soil sample put enough of the rest to make a 4 inch level in a clear 1 quart jar, with a tight fitting lid. Fill that jar with water and replace the lid, tightly. Shake the jar vigorously and then let it stand for 24 hours. Your soil will settle out according to soil particle size and weight. For example, a good loam will have about 1-3/4 inch (about 45%) of sand on the bottom. about 1 inch (about 25%) of silt next, about 1 inch (25%) of clay above that, and about 1/4 inch (about 5%) of organic matter on the top.

2) Drainage. Dig a hole 1 foot square and 1 foot deep and fill that with water. After that water drains away refill the hole with more water and time how long it takes that to drain away. Anything less than 2 hours and your soil drainsâ too quickly and needs more organic matter to slow that drainage down. Anything over 6 hours and the soil drains too slowly and needs lots of organic matter to speed it up.

3) Tilth. Take a handful of your slightly damp soil and squeeze it tightly. When the pressure is released the soil should hold together in that clump, but when poked with a finger that clump should fall apart.

4) Smell. What does your soil smell like? A pleasant, rich earthy odor? Putrid, offensive, repugnant odor? The more organic matter in your soil the more active the soil bacteria will be and the nicer your soil will smell.

5) Life. How many earthworms per shovel full were there? 5 or more indicates a pretty healthy soil. Fewer than 5, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, indicates a soil that is not healthy.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2014 at 7:16AM
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If the subsoil breaks up into fine sand easily, it's not clay. It may be silt, even wind-blown glacial soil (loess). If it's silt it should drain pretty well. The photo appears to show an uphill slope to the right and downhill to the left, which should provide very good drainage. You can always dig a hole, fill it with water and see how long it takes to drain away.

The soil looks and sounds pretty good, I think moderate compost applications would be about all you need.

What kind of grapes?

    Bookmark   May 20, 2014 at 11:00AM
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Kimmser, I determined the ph using a tester from the nursery that has you ad soil, a powder then water (I used the secondary irrigation water that supplies the gardens) then you compare water color to a coded scale. I performed the test in several locations all with the same results.

I have started all of the tests you (kimmsr) suggested. Preliminary on the column test is looking like I will need more organic matter. I will post pics and details on all of my results when I am finished, and before I take further action. what part of MI you from? I have family up there. Its a beautiful state.

In the mean time I'm going to go look for some compost options. The hardware store had 6 cu ft for $10 of a chicken compost. Being new to all this I'm not sure if that's a good deal or product. I will research it more.

Oh!... toxcrusadr I am not sure what variety of grapes we have. The ones in the pictures are white, have seeds and get extremely sweet in the late fall. In other areas we have a purple and red variety. All have seeds and have been here for more than 30 years.
I hope to identify them one of these days......

stay tuned for the test results, thanks everyone!


This post was edited by djoy on Tue, May 20, 14 at 18:53

    Bookmark   May 20, 2014 at 2:48PM
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Here are the results from kimmsr,s five point exploding garden technique ;-)

1. Checked for organic matter. I used a half gallon beer jug and put four inches of soil in it, then filled with water and gave it a thorough shaking. this is how things settled out. Still a lot of organic matter floating on top.

2. Drainage. I dug holes in two different locations, first hole was in an un-worked area and the second was in the bed that I had turned three times and removed weeds.

The first fill took 18 and 19 minutes respectively to drain. Interestingly, both holes took 26.5 minutes to drain the second time. That's pretty quick drainage from what you are saying kimmsr.

3. Tilth. From what I would call slightly wet (first photo) I
opened my hand and it fell apart as shown.

When I mixed it with a little soil that was slightly more moist but still not what I would call soaked it held its shape and crumbled easy when poked.

4. Smell. When the soil is completely dry it has almost no smell. When it is wet it ranges from poopy, smelly shoes to the smell of the inner flesh of a ripe white puff ball (mushroom).

5. Worms. The newly reclaimed areas are at best one worm per shovel. The areas that have been gardened in previous years by someone else are close to five per shovel.

Now what do ya think?

Compost for sure I'm thinking maybe mix in some straw and or some wood chip fines?


    Bookmark   May 21, 2014 at 7:02PM
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Since Kimmsr is off looking for a link, here's the beginner's plan (and the experienced gardener's best tool):

This year, stick with compost, in, or on top of the soil, plus a mulch that breaks down easilly.

In later years, you can experiment with different materials, but it'll be tough to beat the "beginner's plan".

(This works very well for sandy soil like yours, and all other soil types, aka the "KISS" principle.)


    Bookmark   May 21, 2014 at 8:14PM
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djoy, I see less than 1/4 inch of organic matter In that jar telling you there is not enough organic matter,
The drainage is fast, too fast, something adequate levels of organic matter will help with.
The tilth test indicates there is some organic matter there to aid in binding the soil particles together, but the rest of the tests say "not enough".
A good healthy soil will have a nice pleasant smell, odor, aroma, not something off putting or unpleasant. I have found that many people do not know what good healthy soil smells like since they have never experienced it, but the best description I can give is what you might smell in the spring as the ground warms, or possibly in the spring when you rake a pile of leaves up.
The earthworms are a visible indication of the Soil Food Web, those wee buggers that live in the soil and convert organic matter into nutrients the plants can use and include those fungi that form that Mycorrhizal relationship with some plants. Low levels of organic matter in soils will cause these wee critters to either go dormant or die off but they can not do the job they were created to do without that organic matter.

Your next step should be to have a good reliable soil test for soil pH and major nutrient levels done. That soil test at the nursery might be okay but it lacks essential information such as the ratio of Calcium to Magnesium in your soil that a good reliable soil test will tell you.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2014 at 6:37AM
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Compost will bring the pH toward neutral, and contains both calcium and magnesium in ratios that are appropriate to the plant's needs, Kimmsr. All you have to do is look around at the lush foliage growing on the OP's land to see there are no significant problems with his soil, other than lacking some organic material.

If the OP wishes to get a soil test, it will cost him money and most test results will recommend complex synthetic fertilizer ratios that are designed for agricultural purposes, utilized in the case of abused farmland soils with low levels of carbon.

The recommened applications wil flush out soon and the OP will be right back where he started if he doesn't add compost. The compost will add nutrients, and it will be impossible to know if he has overamended his soil with the compost/synthetic ferilizer cocktail until next year.

Soil tests are designed to be performed annually by farmers to maximize yield, and the recommendations are often deleterious to the soil.

If the OP wishes to get a soil test because it satisfies a technical curiosity he might have, better information can be provided by a lab that uses carbonic acid rather than the harsh acids used for the agricultural world. This will provide useful results for a soil rich in carbon, and would report what nutrients are available to the plant, rather than a ratio of the mineral profile within the soil.

The mineral profile can often be found for free on the internet, in the first place. The carbonic acid test is best performed after, rather than before, his soil is brought up to the proper carbon level of 5-8%. In most cases, it will simply confirm he will not have to add anything other than, perhaps, a small amount of nitrogen.


This post was edited by Mackel-in-DFW on Thu, May 22, 14 at 15:22

    Bookmark   May 22, 2014 at 11:09AM
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Lemme get this straight, you read years of kimmsr's posts just so you could crap on threads posted by innocent visitors? And he's a troll? Okey dokey.

djoy, sounds like you are doing the right things, compost will help, and BTW when you measure pH it's best to use distilled water so the minerals and resulting pH of the water don't influence the test. Happy gardening! And send me all those grapes, they sound useless and I will dispose of them properly for you (in a fermentation vessel). :-D

    Bookmark   May 22, 2014 at 11:35AM
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There's an edit feature, Sir Toxalot. I'm glad you pointed that out. (You should try it sometime.)

Mack the Crusader

This post was edited by Mackel-in-DFW on Thu, May 22, 14 at 15:27

    Bookmark   May 22, 2014 at 12:26PM
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I would like to add, Stooge # 1 and Stooge # 2, the ability to change one's mind when confronted with new information, ideas, or opinions, is a hallmark of an intelligent and healthy mind !

Mackel Rooney

    Bookmark   May 22, 2014 at 1:00PM
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Thanks everyone. The OP has learned a lot about HIS soil.

toxcrusadr, I like the way you think.... fermentation vessel hmmmmmmm.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2014 at 2:56PM
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You and your buddie ought to be able to substantiate claims you make on this forum. You and him make right out false statements many times over the years, easily disprovable, and when you're called out on it, you run and hide, or make implications you can't back up either.

You know darn well nobody follows around kimmsr at this website.. If you google "kimmsr gardenweb" there are over 50,000 hits. He posts on nearly every thread on several forums, and makes harmful-to-the-consumer claims, contrary to other people's advice who know better. You run into the dude, no matter how hard you try to avoid him.

If you want to stand by your suggestion that I am a troll, have at it. You're hiding behind a screen name with no email address, and that indicates about how much courage that it took for you to print that. None. When you complained, I edited my post. If either one of you had more common courtesy , you could stick with the facts and rarely ever be confronted on what you print.

If you notice, the only ear you really have is the novice, who is at the your mercy of trusting what you have to say. You're relying upon a blind trust that you didn't earn. You ought to be real careful if you truly care about other human beings, whenever you get to pecking away at that keyboard, somewhere out in the middle of Missouri.


    Bookmark   May 22, 2014 at 7:38PM
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I've got to ask. How do you come to possess a typesetter"s line gauge/ruler?

Edit: upon closer inspection, that may not be agate delineations. Still, what is that ruler?

This post was edited by yardtractor1 on Thu, May 22, 14 at 23:35

    Bookmark   May 22, 2014 at 11:31PM
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In spite of the trolls, I have learned a lot. Thanks to some sincere people on and offline. One thing is for certain, once I have collected enough FACTS, I will ,over years, use them to develop the methods that works best for what I have and what I grow.

I completely expect to have some pains along the way. Pains that are way worse than someone having a little laugh at a newbies expense. Should that be their intent, they can laugh it up when my belly is full from enjoying the fruits of real labor.

Its just to hard to care about douche buggery (can I say that) when things like this are happening outside your window every day.

Respect Mackel! Layin it down! Love it!

    Bookmark   May 22, 2014 at 11:55PM
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I wasn't trolling. I am honestly interested in knowing what type of ruler is pictured in the jar test picture and where it can be purchased

    Bookmark   May 23, 2014 at 7:10PM
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I wasn't calling you a troll yardtractor. Ruler, Snap-On tools has them, the one in the picture was a promo version from a fastener company. Those little steel rulers are awesome for so many things I love that it has inches and mm

    Bookmark   May 24, 2014 at 12:32PM
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Thank you.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2014 at 4:58PM
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I lost track of this thread for a bit. From the jar test it's clear you have very coarse fast-draining soil. I am not sure why it would retain too much moisture. What plants are you having problems with? Are things staying damp because they are in shade? That could cause some other issues I suppose. I've never gardened in CO but I have in the high plains of NM at similar altitudes.

The soil does look like it would benefit from more organic matter, just based on the color. Only a soil test would say for sure but I bet the OM is below 5%.

I doubt that one can find the mineral content of THEIR particular soil on the internet. Particularly in the case of glacial soils in a mountainous region, where the contents can vary substantially over very short distances. Having said that, if your garden is growing fine, you may not need one. I can tell you that after adding a lot of compost and not testing for 15 years, mine got too high in P and K, and I'm glad I got a test. YMMV.

Mack: Upon rereading I am not clear what incorrect claims I have made in this thread. About all I've done is make a few comments about slope, drainage and soil particle size. If there is something incorrect in there please specify. Perhaps you are unable to separate me and kimmsr in your mind. He is not my buddy, and we often disagree, but when you stumble into the china shop, those issues pale in comparison at least temporarily. I'm not defending kimmsr so much as trying to keep this forum a pleasant place.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2014 at 11:45AM
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djoy. I have not stopped posting because someone accused me of being a troll, I am one according to those that live in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, because I live under the bridge. I stopped posting here because the conversation has become inane.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2014 at 6:55AM
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