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Blueberries, PH, and bicarbonates,

Posted by bamboo_rabbit 9A Inverness FL (My Page) on
Wed, Dec 5, 12 at 16:42

I'm tired of tearing out bamboo to make room for figs and have a ramble, a solved mystery to share that some I hope may find interesting and might even help someone.

Have a friend that I got in to growing blueberries. He decided he wanted to grow them in pots so he got a bunch of those blue 55 gallon plastic drums cut them in half drilled holes in the bottom to make two 30 gallon squatty pots. He filled the pots with a 3-1 mix of pine fines and peat with
a scoop of used coffee grounds in each pot and the top mulched with pine needles. I got 30 or so BB plants for him a combination of Emeralds, Jewels and sweetcrisps. We set up a water sysyem with conduit risers, sprayheads and a timer and he was good to go. I thought twice a week watering should be perfect but he set the timer for an hour every day which I thought was a mistake....but not my
plants. I got the fertilizer for him same stuff I used and he fertilized on my same schedule. Dry fertilizer only BB special from Helena chemical and he used no ammonium sulfate. Fast forward 1.5 years.......

This past summer his plants were HUGE......some of the biggest thickest bull shoots I have ever seen as well as leaves on the bushes that I kid you not were 5" long and pushing 3" across. Words do not do these young plants justice but these 3 year old Emeralds look like 7 year old monsters just loaded down now with fruit buds.

Knew I had to try and figure out what the difference was so we started brain storming our differences. We are only a couple of miles apart as the crow flies. I am at 42 feet above sea level on a lake and he is up on a hill and is 95 feet above sea level. He is quite a bit cooler than I am in the winter and he is hotter than I in the summer all due to the lakes influence on my temps. Now he does add azomite to his plants which I have not (though I am going to start) but I did not think that was it. Today I was at his place and when I came home I brought a gallon of his well water with me.

I devised a very simple experiment. First I tested my well water PH and it came back at 7.2. I then tested his PH and it came back at 7.3. I had to mess with volumes of water and 33% sulfuric to come up with an amount but finally settled on a level full 20 oz soda bottle of water which is 22.3 ounces and 1/2 of a Ml of acid measured with a fine syringe. Added the 22.3 ounces of my well water to a glass container then added the 1/2mL of 33% sulfuric acid and agitated for 10 seconds. Frothing happened which showed the acid was reacting to the bicarbonates in my water. When the PH was taken it had fallen from 7.2 down to 6 which showed the 1/2 mL had neutralized all of the bicarbonates and had enough acid left over to start lowering the PH. Next I took my friends well water and did the same experiment. I knew right away there was a difference as his water did not froth at all when agitated. After the 10 second agitation I tested the PH and it had fallen from PH 7.3 to just under PH 3. A huge difference and I had my answer. I repeated the experiment 3 times each and the results were the same. I was curious just how soft his water was so I again used 22.3 ounces of water but this time used just a single drop of acid. When tested the water PH had dropped, not by much but had dropped showing that his water has almost no bicarbonates.

What this all means is a couple miles can make a big difference. More than that I believe it is his hill as his well must be drawing from a perched water table, basically sand filtered rainwater. It goes to show that PH of irrigation water means very little when growing plants and what does matter is just how high or low your bicarbonate load is in your water.

Now that I am acidifying my BB water and over time as that acid neutralizes some of the bicarbonates in my soil I am interested in what changes I will see. Don't get me wrong my BB plants do fine and fruit well but I know they are not performing as well as they could be.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Blueberries, PH, and bicarbonates,

That's an interesting story bamboo rabbit.It looks like growing things has a lot to do with chemistry.Given the right amount and kind of components at the optimum time and big growth can happen.I appreciate reading about your experimenting.It's how new and better ideas and methods are realized.
I've heard Emeralds are vigorous,but that's impressive.Speaking of Emeralds,I have one from last year.It's in a pot and grew okay.During the Spring,I added some powdered Sulfur.Later in the Summer,it had some noticeable chlorotic leaves.I checked the soil's pH and it was way too acidic.I flushed it with tap water and now with all the rain we've had,it looks like it's healing.I killed two other container Blueberry plants in the past with too much of it.
I might try that small acid test with my tap water. Thanks,Brady


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RE: Blueberries, PH, and bicarbonates,

Im with you 100% on the water quality issue Bam. I wonder how many Blueberry plants are killed every year due to tap water or hard well water? Most info on growing these plants dont mention water quality either. One lesson I learned the past year was a pinch of sulfer goes along way if using rain water for potted plants. I had to flush 20 something potted plants this year from over using sulfer.

Not to get off subject Bam but I have a question. With this warm trend we have had here in Houston Im seeing all my buds begin to swell on all my SHB and of course some are breaking as we speak and its only Dec 5th. Would it be too early to go ahead and do my winter prune now instead of Jan? If I do prune now will it initiate a growth flush and kick them out of dormancy early? What time of winter do yall thin fruit buds/winter prune in your neck of the woods? Last year I didnt winter prune untill Jan but this year seems to be a few weeks ahead of schedual. Once buds start swelling and breaking will/can the plant go back toward dormancy again when it cools down or is too late once the buds start breaking?


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RE: Blueberries, PH, and bicarbonates,

Brady,

That is my biggest complaint with sulfer..it is just problematic. Some people use it and don't realize how long it takes to work and add more then the PH crashes. Sulfer is just such a guessing game.

Blue,

The bud swelling is normal this time of year and you will always get some that break bud and bloom. I only use to prune small stuff in the winter and frankly I don't do that anymore until the plants are blooming in the spring. I do almost all of my normal pruning and all of my renewal pruning after harvest. That whole prune in the winter thing seems to be geared for the northern growers.

I would not prune now as it would worry me they would flush, not saying they would but why risk it? I don't thin fruit buds until after I am sure we are safe from cold. If the plants break early and the top buds are killed by cold those lower down the limb buds that are slower to break will come in handy.


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RE: Blueberries, PH, and bicarbonates,

Bicarbonate is ~99% gone* when pH gets down to ~4.5, so there is still a considerable proportion of bicarbonate at pH ~7. Your well water has higher alkalinity (acid neutralizing capacity) even if the pH is similar to his. You both show evidence of at least traces of carbonate in your aquifers, as the rainwater/soil-moisture pH would be considerably lower. Basically the ratio of dissolved CO2 vs. bicarbonate reflects pH, while the amount (concentration) of bicarbonate determines alkalinity.

*Actually a little more complicated than that.


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RE: Blueberries, PH, and bicarbonates,

bamboo rabbit,
With your friend on a hill,it seems like the perched water table will lower than yours by gravity and at your location it should be closer to the surface.That is, if gravity has much effect on it. Brady


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RE: Blueberries, PH, and bicarbonates,

Brady,

Not real up on how the hydrological stuff works. I know here next to the house you hit water at 5 feet but that is not surprising as the lake is only 300 feet from where I type but that is surface water. Our well is only 30 some feet deep because that is where the limerock shell is. It is one of the reasons they have trouble with sinkholes here in Florida.

The perched water happens more than just in the earth. It is one of the reasons you have to be careful of what you use in a pot because perched water happens there also. Water will sit in a pot somewhere above the bottom and gravity is unable to pull it down any further...not sure why or how that works but know it happens.

This post was edited by bamboo_rabbit on Thu, Dec 6, 12 at 8:05


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RE: Blueberries, PH, and bicarbonates,

  • Posted by ericwi Dane County WI (My Page) on
    Thu, Dec 6, 12 at 11:10

Our tap water, supplied by the City of Madison, has pH of 7.6, due to the underground limestone formations that harbor the aquifer. When I test the pH of our tap water, my results agree with the annual water quality report that we get from the city. Given the amount of limestone in your area, I would expect that your groundwater would be more alkaline than what we have here in Wisconsin. What method are you using to measure the pH of your irrigation water?


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RE: Blueberries, PH, and bicarbonates,

Eric,

I am using both PH paper (0-14 and a liquid test kit that we use for our pool. The two tests agree so I am confident in the results. The difference could be that your water is from a municipal source and as such is probably a very deep well. My water is coming from just 30+ feet down from the water that is trapped on top of the limerock. That does make me wonder that if I dug a shallower well would the water have less bicarbonates?


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RE: Blueberries, PH, and bicarbonates,

Uhh. Too much chemistry for me.

Here's one - growing blueberries in bales of peat, for folks whose soil & water pH are inhospitable for bbs.

Here is a link that might be useful: Blueberries in peat bales


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RE: Blueberries, PH, and bicarbonates,

  • Posted by ericwi Dane County WI (My Page) on
    Fri, Dec 7, 12 at 15:58

There are dye indicator solutions that cover portions of the entire pH scale, and they give reasonably clear results. I use bromocresol green, yellow at 3.8, blue at 5.4, to keep the blueberries at pH = 4.5. I would think that either phenol red(6.4 to 8.0) or cresol red(7.2 to 8.8) would tell you the pH of your irrigation water. I am getting dye indicators from HMS Beagle, but I am sure that they are available elsewhere.


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RE: Blueberries, PH, and bicarbonates,

Bamboo, you might want to check out this site from U of FL extension, it is one of their extension bulletins titled, "Neutralizing Excess Bicarbonates in Irrigation Water". Heavy on the chemistry and very well written.

Some folks don't have success with Sulfur neutralizing those darned bi-carbonates but I have. Get a soil test from a representative sample taken in the root zone depth and get it analyzed for bicarbonates, a calculation can be made based on the lab test to determine the amount of S needed to neutralize whatever % of the bi-carbs. you want. The S must be incorporated in the soil and moisture must be present in the soil for the microbes to proceed breaking with breaking it down and forming the sulfuric acid which does the work. Patience is required.

Both my soil and water is chuck full of bicarbs., tons of fun and all that dry S for my trees is getting expensive, bummer, but, it's working. I also irrigate with acid injected water to deal with the bicarbs. there, no point in loading the soil with more after applying S.

Here is a link that might be useful: Extension bulletin


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RE: Blueberries, PH, and bicarbonates,

Bamboo, you might want to check out this site from U of FL extension, it is one of their extension bulletins titled, "Neutralizing Excess Bicarbonates in Irrigation Water". Heavy on the chemistry and very well written.
http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ss165

Some folks don't have success with Sulfur neutralizing those darned bi-carbonates but I have. Get a soil test from a representative sample taken in the root zone depth and get it analyzed for bicarbonates, a calculation can be made based on the lab test to determine the amount of S needed to neutralize whatever % of the bi-carbs. you want. The S must be incorporated in the soil and moisture must be present in the soil for the microbes to proceed breaking with breaking it down and forming the sulfuric acid which does the work. Patience is required.

Here is a link that might be useful: Extension bulletin


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RE: Blueberries, PH, and bicarbonates,

I have been too concerned with watering with well water in the past. My well water has a PH of around 7 and from June through October I am dumping several gallons of water daily on each of my plants. Last week I checked the soil PH on my plants and they ranged from 3.7 to 5. My plants are in the ground in a hole a dug and filled with peat, soil, and fir bark. I added a handfull of sulfur last spring and fertilize with ammonium sulf. I have been concerned about how the water might be raising the PH and then I get the soil test back only to find out the PH is generally too low!

RM


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RE: Blueberries, PH, and bicarbonates,

  • Posted by ericwi Dane County WI (My Page) on
    Sat, Dec 8, 12 at 22:58

My understanding is that ammonium sulfate has an immediate and powerful effect on soil pH, so it should be used with caution around blueberries. Soil sulfur, aka agricultural sulfur, has to be metabolized by soil bacteria before it has any effect on soil pH, and this can take several months. For this reason, I prefer using agricultural sulfur on our blueberry shrubs. We have several shrubs that indicate soil pH around 3.8, but the shrubs appear robust and healthy, so I am going to let the pH rise naturally next year, over time. My irrigation water has pH around 7.6, and I apply between 20 and 40 gallons of water to each shrub over the growing season. We had a good season in 2012, despite the drought conditions here. I did a lot of hand watering over the spring, summer, and fall.


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RE: Blueberries, PH, and bicarbonates,

Riverman,

Like I said the PH of your water means nothing. It could be that your PH is high but your bicarbonate load is low and in that case your PH will be maintained by the acidic soil mix.

Michael,

I have already read that link but thank you. Sulfur to me is just a roller coaster and you just are always guessing and if you do need an adjustment it takes forever.


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RE: Blueberries, PH, and bicarbonates,

Rabbit: Yep, dealing with bicarbs. in soil is a bit tricky and there are no quick fixes. If I were in a bigger hurry, I'd be injecting H2So4 into my irrigation water to deal with the bicarbs., the sulfuric would have the added benefit of adding S also for thesoil bicarbs. problem but, I'm tired of handling strong acids (and bases), been there, done lots of that. I just inject vinegar (expensive but effective) to deal with the water bicarbs. and apply ag. S for the soil.

Do you like that bulletin, I sure do, my old boss at the U of FL Vegetable Crops Dept. turned me on to it.


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RE: Blueberries, PH, and bicarbonates,

I understand that Bamboo but wanted to make a point that just because a gardener has a high PH water doesn't necessarily mean they need to adjust it for watering. In my case I am dumping an enormous amount of high PH water on my BB plants and yet the PH of the soil remains low. Many on this site over the years have suggested that the water PH be adjusted to a range more suitable for blues or that the grower use rainwater and my garden is proof that this is not always necessary.

Eric, it sounds like we are in the same situation. What do you plan to use for fertilizer this spring? I want to fertilize but have to be careful to not drive the PH any lower.

Thx. RM


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RE: Blueberries, PH, and bicarbonates,

Michael,

Yes I like that bulletin a lot. When Fruitmaven/Hammilton were telling people adding the sulfuric acid would kill them instantly and half the counntry that bulletin is what finally shut them up:) I am just about to switch from using 33% to the 97% acid. I mix 300 gallons of irrigation water at a time though it takes me 900 gallons to water the 3 beds so I suppose I should get 2 more 300 gallon tanks and plumb them in.

Riverman,

Ahh ok I get it now and yep you are 100% right. People need to check the bicarbonate level as that is far more important than the PH....unless of course you live in an area with water below neutral and then you are assured it isn't high in bicarbonates.


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RE: Blueberries, PH, and bicarbonates,

Hey Bamboo, what kind of injector are you using, a Mazzei, those things are slick and relatively affordable compared to a Dosatron though I'd love to have an adjustable Dosatron? Oh wait qa minute, I just realized you aren't injecting, just mixing the stock and irrigating with it directly. I'd love to direct irrigate with adjusted water directly but don't have a place to keep a multi-100 gal tank, darned it!


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RE: Blueberries, PH, and bicarbonates,

Michael,

Yep using a 300 gallon mix tank that has a shallow well pump mounted to it and it is plumbed to 3 irrigation lines one for each BB bed. The injector would be nice but a bit paranoid. I am seriously considering adding a pond to hold rainwater and just use that. I live on a lake but taking water from the lake is not allowed really plus the level of the lake rises and falls a LOT over the course of the year so would be problematic. I have room for the pond so may be a project down the road.


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RE: Blueberries, PH, and bicarbonates,

  • Posted by ericwi Dane County WI (My Page) on
    Tue, Dec 11, 12 at 19:40

Our blueberry shrubs are fertilized three times each year, in March, April, and May(or possibly June depending on the weather). Each shrub gets one tablespoon of Schult'z plant food-acidic formula, or Miracle-Gro, acidic formula, per application. So the total amount per season, per shrub, is three tablespoons of dry fertilizer. The fertilizer is dissolved in 4 gallons of tap water at the time of application. Also, the shrubs are heavily mulched with shredded tree leaves, which slowly decompose. I'm pretty sure that we have a healthy mycorrhizal association at the roots. But I have not actually dug up the roots and confirmed this to be true. Maybe next year...


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RE: Blueberries, PH, and bicarbonates,

Thanks eric.......


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