PH Ruminations.

Discussion in 'Organic Lawn Care' started by Organic a go go, Jan 14, 2008.

  1. Organic a go go

    Organic a go go LawnSite Member
    Messages: 211

    So Im back with my head in the books as I always am every off-season and Im trying to wrap my head around what PH really means. To that end I'd like to bounce a couple of thoughts/questions off of the real experts here and see if Im in the ballpark or totally off the ranch. Here goes:

    Would if be accurate to say that instead of being a relative measure of acidity or alkalinity PH is ultimately a measurement of the relationships between relative amounts of Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, and Phosphate
    present in the soil?? So in other words acidic or alkaline soils are symptoms rather than conditions?? If Im off base about this then there probably isn't much point in reading any further but.....

    If Im in the ballpark there (big IF) then is the paradigm of lime or gypsum applications really the best way to address PH issues??

    Now keep in mind that Im totally self-taught here so don't worry about dumbing down your answers.
  2. ICT Bill

    ICT Bill LawnSite Platinum Member
    Messages: 4,115

    PH once you get to know what it is, in my mind is a bullsh$t reading but helpful overall to help with the beginning diagnosis of issues with the soil.

    PH is the reading of the activity of hydrogen ions in a solution. basically you are taking a reading of soil water. If the soil is dry the directions in the kit will tell you to wet the ground and take a reading after some time frame.

    I could go on for 20 minutes, and will at another time
  3. phasthound

    phasthound LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,121

    Funny this subject came up right now.
    I hosted a workshop for landscapers & lawn care companies on Friday. two of our speakers had a major disagreement regarding pH. The University side said pH was all important while the golf super said BS, the Ca/Mg ratio was the key.

    Anyway, it was an interesting day.
  4. Organic a go go

    Organic a go go LawnSite Member
    Messages: 211

    That's funny phasthound. Well just to be clear I don't know enough to have an informed point of view. I have long been suspicious of how valuable lime is at least in the way most lawn services apply it. Heaven knows I don't have the most sophisticated instruments in the world but the only soil I've ever seen in my area that was truly acidic was in my blueberry patch yet lawn services throw the lime around like it was going out of style. So Im just trying to understand the issue more completly rather than approach it like its just a lack of some product Lowes or Home Depot sells.
  5. Prolawnservice

    Prolawnservice LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 612

    I'm self taught also, for the most part, and as I view it, your on the right track. It is a measurement of whats happening in the soil at that point in time. pH can vary throughout time without adding a thing. I think of it more as how much hydrogen is currently occupying the exchange sites that is readily available to be moved. Looking at it that way I concentrate more on base saturation's and making sure there is a good ratio(for what your growing) of the elements you mentioned and the micros in the soil(different plants like different ratios, and there is no one perfect pH or base saturation ratio). For me the pH is a snapshot, real high or low, somethings wrong. I feel a lot of people put too much emphasis on the pH and don't really understand why it is where it is. Heck, most of my competitors don't even know there are different types of lime.
  6. Gerry Miller

    Gerry Miller LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 504

    In the real world, pH is controlled by the organisms in the soil. Aerobic bacteria push soil pH higher, while aerobic filamentous fungi push pH lower. Anaerobic organisms - both bacteria and fungi - push pH lower and lower the more they grow. The only way to lose your fungi by bacteria chewing them up is to be in low oxygen concentrations.

    The balance of fungi to bacteria is important in the soil. The form of N is critical to plants, and since the balance of F:B control the types and amounts of N, and they control pH, let the organisms do the work.

    Phosphate availability? Who really controls it?

    Is any human being out adjusting pH in that old growth forest to a pH of 6.5 to 6.8 for "best plant uptake"?

    Of course not. If you tried, you'd destroy the forest ultimately.

    Anyone out in the most productive pastures in the US adjusting pH to 6.5 to 6.8? The pH isn't even at those levels in those soil in those meadows.

    Why do we listen to people who have one purpose in mind, which is to sell you a product which adjusts pH so you buy their other product?

    Check the pH in the natural system where your plant grows. Who controls the pH, and who controls the nutrient cycling rate there?

    Those are the controls you need in your soil. Why do people keep giving themselves more work to do?

    We have to get out of the pH game, you cannot win that one and have good biology. Add a concentrated acid to your soil and watch your biology die. Add concentrated anything to your soil, and you will kiss disease suppression good-bye.

    Who changes plant-unavailable forms of nutrients into plant-available ones?

    Bacteria and fungi immobilize nutrients in their biomass and in the organic matter. Protozoa, nematodes and microarthropods mineralize those nutrients in the bacterial and fungal biomass, making them plant available. Where does most that happen? IN THE ROOT ZONE.

    Without all parts of the system, you will fail. Please remember that you have to get protozoa, nematodes and microarthropods correct, along with the bacterial - fungal balance.

    Aerobic bacteria make alkaline glues, slimes and waste products. They push soil alkaline, to the point that nitrifying bacteria will do the job of converting ammonium to nitrate. But remember, when nitrifying bacteria make nitrate, they merely remove the hydrogens from the N, and replace them with oxygen. The bacteria do not take up that inorganic form of N. They only do an oxidation - reduction reaction. They take a mineral form of N and convert it to another mineral form of N. This is not a mineralization step.

    Thus, soils where the plants require high amounts of nitrate need bacterial dominated soil. Let the biology do the job it is supposed to do.

    But if the plant require mostly ammonium, then you need fungal dominance, so organic acids will be produced, and balance the bacterial glues an slimes.

    It is a balance. Row crops need an equal amount of nitrate as ammonium. How you going to get that balance right?

    Let the plant do it. All we have to do is supply the MAXIMUM diversity of fungi and bacteria.

    We are really concerned with the growth of these organisms in SOIL. What you do in the tea needs to be to support what your SOIL needs.

    We have add the adequate FOODWEB diversity, the right FOODs for the good guys, and make sure the habitat in the soil (which thus means in the tea) is right for the organisms your plant needs.

    Do we have to get fungi so thick in our brews that they clog the nozzles?

    We need to get the biology growing in the SOIL.

    Check your soil to see if you have that balance right. Then get the things your soil needs into your tea.

    Maybe having a tea with high DIVERSITY of fungi and bacteria, with balanced fungal to bacterial biomass, with foods to feed the fungi, is the best tea.

    Once added to the SOIL, the fungi can then win in competition with the bacteria.

    Sometimes, tea high in bacterial foods may be what your soil needs.

    Please, check out what is going on in the soil.

    As Arden Anderson says, no number is right until all numbers are right.

    Look at the WHOLE system.

    Elaine Ingham

    DUSTYCEDAR LawnSite Fanatic
    from PA
    Messages: 5,132

    Please, check out what is going on in the soil
    what is the best way to do this?
  8. Prolawnservice

    Prolawnservice LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 612

    The info from Dr. Ingham is great, but if your running a business based on results(customer expectations),I believe you should get your base saturation's correct first(which in adverse soil conditions will bring the pH more in line), then add the supporting biology. The correct biology will get you there, yes eventually. However, by adjusting the base saturation's as needed, then working on the biology, it will get you there faster. On the flip side I remember reading somewhere that if you get the saturation's correct the biology will return on its own. Its a bit of a chicken and egg scenario, or as Dr Ingham writes look at the whole system.
  9. Kiril

    Kiril LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 18,334

    pH is a factor of many variables, biology is only one of those factors. Determining your pH is important with respect to making decisions regarding what you can expect out of your soil, beyond that, it doesn't mean much of anything as Bill stated.

    In short, don't use plants that require a pH of 6.5-7.5 in a pH 5 soil.
  10. Prolawnservice

    Prolawnservice LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 612



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