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Old 09-15-2003, 11:33 AM
Dchall_San_Antonio Dchall_San_Antonio is offline
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Join Date: Aug 2003
Location: San Antonio, Texas
Posts: 330
What is topsoil?
Of course soil is considered to be any mix of sand, clay, and loam, but these are only the mineral component to soil. To my way of thinking, topsoil would be distinguished from a mix of pure minerals as having the characteristic of "organic fertility." It would have to have the living microbes that are thought of as being surface dwellers. I think there are microbes at all levels, but the surface dwellers leave their specific footprints behind in the form of organic residues such as biological slimes, humic acids, and specific waste products. These residues give the "topsoil" certain properties of fertility, structure, tilth, and water holding capacity that we recognize in topsoil. Humic acids are dark brown which would give topsoil the darker color usually not associated with subsoils. I think this visual indication is a traditional method of distinguishing topsoil from subsoil.

When you buy topsoil from a materials supplier, I'm not convinced they give you anything like what I've described. I believe most will deliver whatever came in from the nearest road construction or building excavation project. If it is pure sand, they call it topsoil. If it is pure clay, they call it topsoil. If it came from 50 feed underground (underground parking garages), they call it topsoil. For this reason I never suggest anyone renovating a garden use a product called "topsoil." Or if they insist on it, I suggest heavy amending with excellent compost and organic fertilizer to distrubute the top-dwelling microbes throughout the material (from the compost) and feed them (organic fertilizer).

Time does matter
The observation that organic materials do not give immediate results is about 90% correct. That slow release "feature" of organic materials has always been seen as a plus and not a minus factor. But I think it is obvious that being slow is not always a plus. This is a fact of life with organics - something YOU need to know about so your clients can understand things. If we are just talking about fertilizing, it is equally simple to apply a product 3 weeks ago as it is today, so YOU need to know about that timing factor to keep things green. As for pest control, that is an immediate problem to deal with. One thing I can say is with an organic program we quite often see the pest problems control themselves before being noticed. This is not always the case, but gardening professionals and amateurs report that they have many fewer pest issues with their 100% organic program. I wish I had real statistics. Your mileage may vary.

My totally unscientific experience is that the day (Feb 14, 2001) I started using corn meal under my four rose plants was the last day I had an aphid appear on them. Prior to that, for 8 years I had a nice even coating of aphids on my roses all season. Since then I have counted 12 aphids, total, in 3 seasons. I have reported this elsewhere and let the amateurs try it out, but they have not had anything like my experience. I don't know why this is happening to me, but I would not be surprised to find many of you trying organic programs to have different pest issues go away for you on a seemingly random basis. At the same time, I would also not be surprised to see your pest issues change from one pest to another as the organic methods and materials control some but allow others to thrive. Think of this as a journey for you and the gardens you maintain. Your observational skills may get a tune-up.
David Hall
San Antonio, TX
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