Hi! I'm new here and need some NPK help.


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Hi! I live in zone 6 Connecticut USA. Been gardening for several years since my wife and I moved into our own home. My father always had a garden and I guess it just caught on. Anyway....on to my first problem. The last couple of years my garden hasn't done very well, so this year i bought a soil test kit as i haven't had my soil tested in a few years. What I came up with is that my nitrogen and potassium are depleted. Phosphorus is fine, assuming I did the test right, and I did do it several times and always came up with the same results. My pH was 7.5 in one part of the garden ( the older section) and 6.5 in the newer section ( I've been expanding the garden since i retired) While Googling how to fix my N and K problem everything I came up with shows fertilizers with higher P numbers as an overall fertilizer to use making it a bit confusing to me as the P in my soil is what's OK. Is it possible or even normal to have this situation? Do you think my test kit is sub-par? I used a Environmental Concepts Soil Test Kit #1662. https://www.google.com/search?ei=1jvIXJzWIYOg5wLkgoXgDQ&q=environmental+concepts+soil+test+kit+1662&oq=environmental+concepts+soil+test+kit+1662&gs_l=psy-ab.3..0j0i22i30l2.20440.21703..24153...0.0..0.103.462.4j1......0....1..gws-wiz.......0i71.ru0aT39GYS0 Anyway......should i just add dried blood to fix the N and some muriate of potash to fix the issue? Do I mix it in the soil now and roto till it again, or add some to the plants when i transplant them into the garden? Or do any of you have a better solution? Looking forward to hearing from all of you. Thanks!
 
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I am a totally organic gardener. Having said this it is my opinion that ALL home soil test kits are a waste of money and this is why. None of them show what is possible for the plants to uptake and they are all based upon the assumption that you are going to use chemical/oil based fertilizers and each gardens soil is different and no two are alike.

IMO all I would do is add soil amendments and plant fertilizers that feed the soil, not the plant. Chemical fertilizers only feed the plant and they, over time, subtract anything in the soil that will feed it. As far as the Ph of your soil I wouldn't worry about it as it is what it is and changing the Ph for the long term is just about impossible. If your kit was accurate you have a good soil, not too alkaline and not too acidic. If you add copious amounts of compost or any other organic material into your soil you will see a big difference and if you are still not satisfied with your plant growth add commercially made organic fertilizer. If it were me all I would do is till in a generous amount of manure based compost or any GOOD compost for that matter, as all of it is able to be taken up by the plants. If you have some plants that seem to need something, just side dress the plant with whatever that particular plant needs whether it be nitrogen, phosphorous or potassium.
 
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I have tried tests like yours, they read high, and had me putting out sulfur when lime was the right choice. I ended up with the burpee 3 prong soil test stick. I cannot use it the day it rains, nor the week after it rains. When I use it the day after a rain, it supports every high level local soil survey mentioning pH that I have ever seen. The addition of distilled or tap water is the odd thing about your test. They all seem to have roots in pool pH or stream pH. Soil has a different density and its electrical (sodium) properties differ. Nonetheless, every water using test I bought read high. And I bought a lot of them. Because I have a lot of dense shade, I struggled with lawn under trees. After finally figuring out a vetting process for my tests against government publish tests for the general area, I put out 2600lbs of dolomitic limestone and have enjoyed the results. I would encourage you to not take a single test as gospel, and very importantly, look to the plants that grow well as an indicator of what is actually going on in the soil.
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Here's the other side of the story. I never use a soil test kit. They work, or not, but I consider them a waste of time, too, because it's a snapshot and I'm a long-term player. pH is either pretty close to neutral or normal gardening is impossible. You add N,P & K to about the same extent that you grow vegetation each year and add as much mulch as vegetation grown & removed each year and you stay in approximate balance. (I send all garden plant remains to recycle to eliminate over-wintering of pests & diseases).

Every year I do about the same things, all intended to maintain if not build better soil. My garden always has a complete cover of mower-chopped leaves as a mulch. In summertime I spread collected grass clippings on top of that, except when the grass has had Weed & Feed applied within 3 weeks. I only turn with a shovel as big an area or hole where I am planting something in spring. Once in a while in autumn I will turn a plot of soil with the shovel, but only if I feel like it. Occasionally, I intern a rabbit or squirrel that has drowned in the canal, or a batch of fish guts. Earth compacts only if you walk on it or the rain packs it down. Since I always have a good cover of mulch and add ~6 to ~9" of leaves and clippings every year, the soil is highly organic and concurrently open and friable. I broadcast 20-20-20 every autumn which dissolves into the mulch over winter and so, is readily available the following spring. I use Jersey Green Sand and Mennefee Humate in my potting soil so I have in the past applied both to the garden to guarantee all micro-elements will be present. That only has to be done once in a blue moon. I also dig in a cup of Bone Char in each planting hole. All the amendments can be had at any farm supply. I do the other things every year, so whatever the analysis is, it is high in everything, has great tilth, retains moisture, prevents most weed seeds from finding a home and/or makes pulling the occasional weed easy, and grows everything I want easily.

I never walk on the planting part: I have 24" square cement pads on each side of 30" wide beds about 12 feet long. I have four planting plots and I rotate crops religiously. The layout is permanent and makes life a lot easier than turning a whole garden every spring and tramping around on otherwise fine soil and mud. The amount of space between plants and rows doesn't really vary that much from year to year, and I don't grow more than my wife and I want to eat so I don't have more plants than I need. I have one indeterminate tomato, 2 cukes, one 8 foot row of Snap Peas, a dozen leaf lettuce in-between, wherever, one giant pumpkin that overruns an adjacent gravel area for two grandchildren, and a separate asparagus plot and a bonsai growing-on plot.

It's not really necessary to get all the numbers just right. After all, home gardening has been around for a lot longer than the science end of it has. Good general practices on a continuing basis will yield a pretty good crop on a continuing basis. Composting is a lot like work. Nothing is as nice as well composted compost and I steal some whenever I can, but I've been there, and I'm lazy.
 
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Thank you all for your replies! Where to start...? The soil test that I bought doesn't use water, although our water is from a well, but anyway, the test kit came with solutions that are added to the dry soil to form a liquid, so water isn't an issue with the results. I did a lot of research before buying the kit and almost didn't buy it because many reviews said basically what I'm being told here, but for $18 i figured I may as well see what results I got. I figured it would at least give me an idea of where I was soil wise. I do compost. I have an area in the corner of my yard where all the eggshells, coffee grounds, etc go and I turn it with my roto-tiller. Problem is I don't get enough compost for my entire garden now that I've made it 3 times it's original size. One thing that I have been doing, which I'll stop is that we have oak trees all around and I've been told oak leaves make the soil acidic, so I've been removing the leaves and putting them in a pile in another corner of the yard. I guess from now on I'll just roto-till them into the garden in the fall. One side of my property has quite a bit of moss so that's why I figured that my soil had too much acid and that's why I haven't been using the oak leaves. But now, back to my original issue. Chuck says to feed the soil, not the plant. So should i add the dried blood to the soil along with the compost before planting, as the dried blood is not a chemical fertilizer, or not use it at all? If i use a 20-20-20 fertilizer as treeguy mentions, won't that bring my phosphorus level way up as it's in the normal mode now? Just trying to get a better garden than I did last year. Thanks again for all your comments.
 
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Available P is impacted by the pH of the existing minerals, and it is different in different soils. Here, my base clays are 5pH and are full of Iron and Aluminum. By adding fertilizer I improved available P temporarily, but it would revert of course, and I was not benefitting from the vast reserve that is already in the soil. This was a driving reason I limed heavily.

soil-ph-phosphorus.jpg

There are sweet spots, and like an acid loving blueberry that uses little calcium, plants have found niches. The pH of my blueberry patch is near 4 pH on my meter and they do very well.
 
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Thank you all for your replies! Where to start...? The soil test that I bought doesn't use water, although our water is from a well, but anyway, the test kit came with solutions that are added to the dry soil to form a liquid, so water isn't an issue with the results. I did a lot of research before buying the kit and almost didn't buy it because many reviews said basically what I'm being told here, but for $18 i figured I may as well see what results I got. I figured it would at least give me an idea of where I was soil wise. I do compost. I have an area in the corner of my yard where all the eggshells, coffee grounds, etc go and I turn it with my roto-tiller. Problem is I don't get enough compost for my entire garden now that I've made it 3 times it's original size. One thing that I have been doing, which I'll stop is that we have oak trees all around and I've been told oak leaves make the soil acidic, so I've been removing the leaves and putting them in a pile in another corner of the yard. I guess from now on I'll just roto-till them into the garden in the fall. One side of my property has quite a bit of moss so that's why I figured that my soil had too much acid and that's why I haven't been using the oak leaves. But now, back to my original issue. Chuck says to feed the soil, not the plant. So should i add the dried blood to the soil along with the compost before planting, as the dried blood is not a chemical fertilizer, or not use it at all? If i use a 20-20-20 fertilizer as treeguy mentions, won't that bring my phosphorus level way up as it's in the normal mode now? Just trying to get a better garden than I did last year. Thanks again for all your comments.
Bloodmeal is a high nitrogen (12%) quick release fertilizer. It doesn't last long. It should be used on individual plants as needed so tilling it in would be counterproductive. 20-20-20 is a slow release water soluble chemical fertilizer. About 50% of the product is quick release and about 50% is slow release. Manures and most commercial organic fertilizers are about the same although an organic fertilizers slow release lasts longer than a chemical based fertilizers slow release component. A rule of thumb in fertilizers is N is for foliage, P is for blooms and K is for everything else. The main thing about high phosphorous fertilizers is that it can interfere with calcium uptake in plants which is the main cause for Blossom End Rot in some vegetables. High nitrogen content, if not used according to directions can lead to root damage. High potassium can lead to deformities in plants and reduced production in some circumstances.

I wished oak leaves lead to acidic soils. I have alkaline soils and using tons of oak leaves in my garden hasn't done a thing to lower the Ph. All in all I think the only thing your garden needs is organic matter tilled into the soil and for a jump start also apply molasses at 2 oz per gallon of water. This will give a big boost to soil micro-organisms which break down organic matter into a form that plants can uptake. This and a bunch of manure is all you need.
 
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Moss instead of grass usually means conditions not conducive to grass, like low light and high moisture. Not always, but almost always. Oak leaves may perpetuate low pH, but by themselves are beneficial as organic content anyway. It is very difficult to alter pH significantly, as 2600 lbs. of dolomitic limestone testifies to, and virtually nothing is a permanent change. It might be easier to install raised garden beds with imported soil of your choice. They only need to be 12" deep. As in my example above, the actual gardening plot doesn't need to include the paths between them that provide walking surface and empty space between plants. The customary tilling of the whole garden plot is a artifact of earlier home gardens that mimicked farms on a small scale and just evolve to a larger and larger size. It's ~easier~ to just add another strip of garden to expand, but the soil space/pathways in-between plants more than double the tillage necessary. smaller permanent beds are a lot less work and a much smaller volume of soil that needs to be upgraded to "garden" in place of "dirt".
 
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Thanks all! Chuck, how much of an area will the 2oz/gallon of water cover? Or do you just add it to the base of the plants?
 
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Treeguy, I've thought about raised beds, but over the years my garden has gotten pretty large, we can many veggies. I'm at @ 1300 sq feet!
 
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Thanks all! Chuck, how much of an area will the 2oz/gallon of water cover? Or do you just add it to the base of the plants?
All I know about the sq footage is that farmers around here use it t between 4 and 7 gallons per acre. The way I use it is in two ways. I add it to my compost pile which enables it to break down faster. I use about one gallon @ 2 oz a month there. In the garden proper I use about a quart where each tomato and pepper plant will be. On row crops I use a 2 gallon watering can and still use it @ 2 oz per gallon and lightly pour it around. If you do it often you don't have to use as much but feed molasses is cheap. My garden this year is a little under 1/4 acre and is all raised beds. The wide walkways are where the soil for the "raised" part of raised bed comes from.
 

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... Or do any of you have a better solution? Looking forward to hearing from all of you. Thanks!
In my view, it should be a continuous process of soil building. I'd advise against getting hung up on one specific soil test...The plants will tell you what they need if you are observant. I'd also advise to use a variety of soil amendments which should include various composts of animal manure and vegetable composts. Often people overlook one of the greatest soil building tools available which is cover crops which produce N2 and add tons of green matter not to mention weed prevention. These can be virtually free and on site and you can't beat the convenience and utility.

Its a journey, not a destination and after a few years soil tests become something in the past. Good gardening!
 
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Treeguy, I've thought about raised beds, but over the years my garden has gotten pretty large, we can many veggies. I'm at @ 1300 sq feet!
My patch is about that size.
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It is interesting that you describe a lack of N and K. It is also a common description here. The local co-op sells bulk 30-0-30, called 3030 in slang, for field fertilization. If your pH is only slightly high, I could point to the acidifiying nature of fertilizers, or that manures except for cow are considered acidifying. I do not know why exactly as it is not my interest. If course any sulphur bearing product like epsom salts would help as well. You would need 23 lbs of sulfer to lower your 7.5down to the better range on the whole 1300 foot garden and less if you just had high spots.
 
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OK, my bad, by raised beds I thought you meant making a surrounding base with wood and filling it in with soil. OK, lots of good info. I won't dwell on the soil test, I'll just spread out what I have in my compost pile and add some oak leaves of which I have a huuuuge pile rotting away right next to my compost. Thanks for all your help. Oh, you haven't heard the last of me! :)
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Wish I had seen this earlier. Living in Ct you can make use of service provided by Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station to get soil tested for various things and they will make suggestions on what to add , including organic if asked for. Price of $0 for service works for me :) . Follow the link and click here and there for info beyond first page.

Ct Ag Experiment station
 
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Perfect!!!!! I was looking for the co-op extension office and only found one on Asylum Ave in Hartford. I wasn't in the mood to drive out there but Windsor is the next town over from me, more or less. I'll give them a try. This will also give me a chance to see how accurate my soil test kit is. Thanks!
 
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Perfect!!!!! I was looking for the co-op extension office and only found one on Asylum Ave in Hartford. I wasn't in the mood to drive out there but Windsor is the next town over from me, more or less. I'll give them a try. This will also give me a chance to see how accurate my soil test kit is. Thanks!
The only trouble you should have is they want pretty dry soil, maybe sometime in June :)
 
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I'll bring some in and dry it in the house, if I wait for dry weather around here............. :)
 
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I'll bring some in and dry it in the house, if I wait for dry weather around here............. :)
If they are running a financially deficit office, then it makes perfect sense. A major measure of soil is organic matter. This is not a measure of water content. Normally, the samples would be dried and not suprisingly thatis usually gas electric energy, preparation money for which is a primary expense. All you need to understand is that to dry your sample, you do not want to oxidize the carbon content, so whether you use your truck bed or oven, sub 175 ftemps are probably fine. The idea of a ruined steak or a dehydrated meat comes to mind temperature wise. Once the moisture content is appropriately low, they will measure its mass. Then they willburn it out and weigh it again. The difference is organic matter mass as a percentage.
 
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