OVERVIEW: Much as if you are able to fight off the common cold when your health is at its best, plants are better able to withstand pest and disease pressures when your soil is at its optimum. Healthy plants produce vegetables with better flavor, greater yields, and food with higher nutrient densities. By naturally encouraging soil life and keeping your pH in balance, you build a solid foundation that unleashes the power of the soil, enabling plants to thrive, obtain the nutrients they need, and reach their full potential.
HEALTHY pH: While fertility is obvious as an aspect of any good garden soil, pH is equally as important. Soil that is either too acidic or alkaline creates an upset in the soil chemistry. This locks up nutrients so plants cannot absorb them. Knowledge of your pH allows you to make sound decisions when adding organic matter, either to bring your soil into balance naturally or to maintain the healthy ecosystem you have already built. Most vegetables will thrive and do well if the pH is between 6 - 7.0 and many tend to prefer neutral conditions.
ALKALINE SOILS: (pH of 7.5 or over) Seek out organic matter that will not only buffer the soil’s pH, but also have an acidifying effect as it breaks down. Things such as oak leaves (most acidifying of all leaves), leaf mold, ground bark, aged sawdust, peat moss, pine needles, and mini pine bark mulch will all work well.
These types of amendments can take several months or more to work. However, their benefits will far outlast any form of sulfur. Moreover, while sulfur is most often the recommendation for lowering your pH, some forms can have very damaging effects on soil organisms. Because alkaline soils lock up the ability of plants to uptake many of the micro-nutrients, foliar feeding is a good choice for alleviating any deficiencies.
Plants that do well in alkaline soils are asparagus, beets, cabbage family or brassicas, garlic, green beans, lettuce, melons, okra, onions, spinach, and Swiss chard.
ACIDIC SOILS: (pH of 6.0 or under) In acidic soils, organic matter is unhurried to break down as soil organisms slow, therefore, reducing nutrient availability. Add abundant amounts of organic matter above the 1/3 rule to increase both the buffering capacity of the soil and the plants ability to tolerant acidity. Seek out organic matter that will also help with raising pH levels to where plants will be readily able to obtain nutrients. Well-aged manure (Black Kow) is a good choice as it supplies both calcium and magnesium and is slightly alkaline. Avoid acidifying fertilizers and look to things like bone meal, rock dusts, or guano for nutrients.
Wood ashes are wonderful for raising the pH if used carefully. They supply potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Their maximum application rate is 1.5 pounds per 100 square feet. Wood ashes can impede germination and burn plants, so it is wise to add them a few weeks ahead of planting.
Oyster shells are also another good option to raise pH.
Plants that will thrive in acidic environments are blueberries, gooseberries, potatoes, raspberries, and strawberries.
Denise, Beds 25 & 29