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Lime & Fertiliser First Results

Back in July I decided to do a little demonstration / experiment of the effects of lime and fertiliser on my pasture land. Now, just three weeks later, I’m starting to see some result.

Three of the test plots are showing a deeper green and more growth than the others. And they’re NOT the ones I expected. After discussions with my neighbours who reckoned the pH was as low as 4.5 and the farmer who rents some fields, I was firmly convinced that lime would have the most beneficial effect, above that of the fertiliser.

But it’s the fertiliser plots that are showing a positive result. Now this is very early days for a horticultural test but it goes to show I don’t know it all (despite what my wife says!).  It’s very possible that the limed plots will just take longer to show some benefit. Lime does take longer to work into the soil than fertiliser.

It’s also possible that the fertiliser will give a flush of growth and then peter out whilst the lime has a longer benefit. Whatever the cause or final result, it’s interesting to see how this develops. The farmer, with his years of experience honed by the need to make a living, is certain that liming is more important than fertilising in the first instance.

My broad beans have perked up a bit after being given some nitrogen in the form of chicken manure  pellets and a liquid feed of urea. That’s not to say they’re looking good. Something isn’t right for them by any means.

It’s pretty obvious to me that I need to know what the exact pH and nutrient levels of my soil are. Everyone agrees it is acid, but I want know exactly how acid so I can calculate how much lime I need to add to get it right. The three main nutrients, NPK, are probably very low as well. So even making them available by reducing the acidity of the soil won’t help a lot if they’re not there to start with.

A general fertiliser like fish, blood and bone or Growmore will help increase nutrient levels as will manure. Adding manure and compost will also increase the humus in the soil which acts like a sponge, absorbing and holding water and retaining nutrients that would otherwise wash out.

Now a farmer wouldn’t just bung on fertiliser willy nilly. It’s wasteful and expensive. He’d find out what was needed, that is to say the base level in the soil and top it up to meet the nutritional requirements of his crop.

I don’t see why home growers shouldn’t take a tip from the professionals so I’m getting a soil test kit. After all, it’s pointless adding phosphorus if I really need potash. I’m not attempting the precision of an East Anglian arable farmer but I’d like a good idea of what I’m up against.

Now there’s a number of things that can effect the nutrient level in any one sample of soil. Maybe that’s the spot where a sheep had urinated (which is rich in nitrogen) or an animal’s rotting corpse has increased the phosphorus. I mean something like a mouse, doubt there are any bodies buried in the field!

So I’ll take a number of samples from the veg plot area and average them out to get a fair impression and some guidance as to the best course of action. Now the basic nutritional elements, NPK, are not all that there is to it. Plants need a range of micro-nutrients in the same way we need vitamins to thrive. We can live for a while on protein and carbohydrates but lack of vitamin C will give us scurvy and eventually kill us.

But eating vitamin C pills is pointless if we’ve not got the basic foods to fuel us. Luckily micro-nutrients are rarely a problem for plant growth if we add manures and composts. Adding artificial fertilisers alone is likely to result in a lack of them though.

That’s why I view fertiliser as corrective aid rather than the long-term, continual solution. Good growing needs a good soil and that takes time, effort and some knowledge.

Posted in Allotment Garden Diary
4 comments on “Lime & Fertiliser First Results
  1. Su says:

    Thanks John. A really useful article. Have put the soil test kit on my present list. Looking forward to using it come January. I have used a test for acidity /alkalinity before now, which was very interesting, but like the idea of testing for all the other stuff too. Think I must be a frustrated scientist.
    Up to now I have just been adding compost, chicken manure and rock dust, plus tomorite and seaweed feed when it seemed appropriate. Things do grow but it would be nice to be more systematic about it.

  2. John says:

    My kit arrived after I uploaded the article – just need a bit of dry weather to take the samples from now. According to the weather forecast it’s white cloud here – looking out of my window it’s raining 🙁

  3. John M says:

    Hi John

    Often follow your diaries and find them entertaining, challenging and informative.

    Have to say your farmer friend is right on this one. Soil pH is going to be your biggest challenge – it’s all to do with soil chemistry. In a nutshell at low pH many nutrients become unavailable to your plants even if they are present in the soil. Raising the pH by adding lime makes more of the nutrients available, pH 6.5 being about optimum for most plants. Adding fertilizers wiil only ever be a short term solution.

    Raising your soils pH will also be beneficial for the soil micro organisms that play an important part in releasing nutrients to the soil – if your soil really is about pH 4.5 bet your don’t see many worms.

    Yours

    John M

  4. John says:

    Thanks John M – you’re right on all that including the lack of worms. I hadn’t connected the acidity with the worms, putting that down to the number of stones in the soil. Thinking on it, the worms can go round the rocks!

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