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Balancing Soil Minerals

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m_astera

Member
Balancing Soil Minerals

Hi All- Michael Astera here. I'm starting this thread hoping to get a discussion going about the connection between soil minerals and world class cannabis.

Some ICMag members know me from the soilminerals dot com website or from The Ideal Soil book, or from email correspondence and working together on soil fertility projects. I joined ICMag in 2010 but have had little time to read or post here until now. The last couple of years I've been working on several full time projects, but I promised myself I would get back to spend some time at ICMag, because cannabis growing is the cutting edge of agriculture today.

How and why is cannabis the cutting edge? Because, at least at the more refined levels, growers are concerned about aesthetics: flavor, aroma, subtle differences in physiological and psychological effects. Most of agriculture is concerned only with yield, appearance, uniformity, and perhaps shipping and storage qualities. This criticism applies just as much to organic agriculture as it does to chemical agriculture. When was the last time you ate a piece of fruit from the store that had truly outstanding flavor, sweetness, complexity? Neither organic nor chemical agriculture has much of a clue about how to grow sweet, flavorful fruit or high-protein grains or nutrient-dense tasty vegetables. Both are playing the NPK game; the only real difference is their sources of NPK and whether they are using synthetic or "natural" remedies for weeds, insects, and disease.

A further problem is plant breeding and genetics. For at least the last sixty years, fruit trees, grains, and vegetable varieties have been bred and selected solely for the attributes listed above: Yield, appearance, uniformity, and shipping/storage qualities, not flavor or nutrient content or health benefits. Cannabis growers, on the other hand, have put great thought and effort into selecting strains that produce the finest aesthetic and medicinal qualities.

I grew my first "successful" cannabis crop in 1976. At the time I was living in a small rental house in a large Midwestern city. I set out about a dozen plants, along with an equal number of Crackerjack marigolds, in the space between the sidewalk and the foundation on the side of the house. By midsummer both the cannabis and the marigolds were budding and beginning to bloom. The lawn hadn't been mowed since spring and was knee-high, so I hired a local kid to mow it one day while I was at work. When I came home I found that he had mowed the flower bed as well, thinking it was all just weeds. Luckily he hadn't raked, so I spent a frantic hour digging through the nearby grass clippings and managed to save almost an ounce of leaf and buds. Since then I have grown whenever the opportunity arose, including a few years of commercial growing and plant breeding outdoors in the Pacific NW.

In Venezuela where I now live the laws against cannabis are harsher than the US, so I grow only a vegetable garden; my involvement with cannabis growing is limited to advising others on soil fertility.
 

m_astera

Member
The Ideal Soil

The Ideal Soil

The Ideal Soil

My first organic garden was planted in 1973. From the start I didn't rely solely on compost, mulch, and manure, I also used the minerals that J I Rodale recommended: Jersey Greensand, Florida soft rock phosphate, dolomite lime. In the mid-1980s I added kelp meal and by the late '80s I was using glacial rock dust as well. All of these, along with manure and compost, grew nice gardens but there really was no rhyme or reason to it. I didn't test the soil and wouldn't have known what to do with the results if I had. The fog began to lift in 1999, when a friend passed along a newsletter written by Gary Kline, founder of Black Lake Organic nursery in Olympia Washington. Gary had read the works of William Albrecht and his students and followers published by Acres USA, as well as the books written by Carey Reams' students Dan Skow and Arden Andersen, and then had condensed the salient points into about 20 pages. The message was clear and I got it immediately: The source of fertility, health, and nutrition in the soil is the minerals in that soil, not the organic matter. Further, there were optimal amounts of minerals that would allow a plant to reach its full genetic potential.

Gary's newsletter inspired me to read the Acres USA books on agronomy, have my soil tested, and begin experimenting. After reading that small library (Albrecht, Walters, Kinsey, Zimmerman, Sait, Andersen, Skow, and Reams) I found that, beyond balancing the major cations Calcium, Magnesium, and Potassium to a 65:10:5 ratio, where Albrecht had left it in the 1960s, I had little idea what to do with the other primary and secondary elements such as Phosphorus, Sulfur, Sodium, Boron, Iron, Manganese, Copper, and Zinc. The books I had read did a great job of convincing me of the importance and worth of balancing soil minerals, but they didn't teach how to do it. Rather, they seemed more to be sales pitches, telling just enough to entice the reader to hire the author as a consultant.

This frustration led to almost a decade of further reading and experimentation. I sent soil samples to the lab from my gardens and from friends' gardens and pastures, paying for it out of pocket and even buying the minerals to amend their soils. From Carey Reams work I got the idea that P should equal K. From a chance remark in Graeme Sait's Nutrition Rules came the idea that Zn should equal 1/10th of P. Various college agronomy texts provided clues for optimum levels of Iron and Manganese. Through it all I was looking to tie Albrecht's base cation saturation ratios for Ca, Mg, and K with the other elements, not as absolute amounts but as ratios and proportions relative to the CEC (cation exchange capacity) of the soil. I made friends with Gary Kline and we began meeting weekly for long lunches and conversations. Starting in the 1980s, Gary had developed a line of 10 different organic fertilizers and wanted to improve them by bringing them into line with the Albrecht principles. In 2004 he asked me to do the mineral balancing and chemistry for the new versions. I felt that I had enough good results from my experiments to take a somewhat bold stance, and set the fertilizers up with the proportions that had worked best. The new fertilizer formulas performed well and got excellent customer reviews.

By 2006 I was spending much of my time writing custom soil Rx's for people in the Puget Sound region; by 2008 that had expanded to include growers from around the world. But, my goal was not to promote a consulting business; it was to spread the mineral message, and the best way to do that was to teach others what I had learned, so that they could write their own soil mineral prescriptions and, if they wished, do the same for others. In December 2009 the first edition of The Ideal Soil was published as a PDF ebook, followed a few months later by the hardcopy. Since then the principles and Ideal Soil method have been applied successfully, around the world. A revised and expanded version was published in 2014, which has since been translated into Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, and Polish.
 

m_astera

Member
Mineral Ratios

Mineral Ratios

Mineral Ratios

Below are examples of the the ratios and proportions that have worked optimally over the past fifteen years. The first list is the minimum amounts for a soil or growing media with a CEC less than 7 meq, and would likely work for a hydroponic solution as well:

Calcium 1000 ppm
Magnesium 100 ppm
Potassium 100 ppm
Sodium 25 ppm

Sulfur 50 ppm
Phosphorus 100 ppm
Nitrogen 50 ppm

Boron 1 ppm
Iron 50 ppm
Manganese 25 ppm
Copper 5 ppm
Zinc 10 ppm

For a soil pH 7 or less (< pH7), and a CEC greater than 7 meq, the "ideal" ratios would be

Calcium 68% CEC saturation
Magnesium 12%
Potassium 4%
Sodium 1.5%

Phosphorus = Potassium (with Potassium = 4% CEC saturation)
Sulfur = 1/2 x Potassium
Nitrogen = 1/2 x Potassium

Boron = 1/1000 x Calcium
Iron = 1/2 x Potassium
Manganese = 1/2 x Iron
Copper = 1/2 x Zinc
Zinc = 1/10 x Potassium

These are not hard and fast rules, they are general guidelines. It is expected that once one becomes familiar with the method, they will tweak it to reflect their own soils and preferences.

Edit to add: The numbers above are based on the results of a Mehlich 3 soil test.
 
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idiit

Active member
hey m astera!

discussion going about the connection between soil minerals and world class cannabis.
^ amen! :)

genetics, lumen intensity ( including od grows), lumen spectrum, properly chelated organic soil with correct proportions, structured water, ormus, tera preta, cure technique ( tangwena's cob type curing especially interesting to me: https://www.icmag.com/ic/showthread.php?t=309172), organic growth hormones, you name it we gots threads on it here at ic. :)

^ all of the above and more might play critical roles in producing the best of top shelf herb.

moringa leaf looks super promising and I want you to take a look at it as an organic supplement:

https://www.icmag.com/ic/showthread.php?threadid=311411

i'm using it and already after as little as two weeks looks like it's helping my organic grows. it could be a spectacular new soil amendment for cannabis and I want the experts to take a look at it.
 

hup234

Active member
ICMag Supporter
I'm in.I. need to learn all this.I've been eyeballing your book,now I'm going to pull the trigger
 

m_astera

Member
What is CEC?

What is CEC?

What is CEC?

CEC stands for Cation Exchange Capacity. Essentially, it is the total of the static negative - electrical charges in the soil. Cations are positively charged + atoms or molecules, anions are negatively charged. Positively charged ions are attracted to and held on negatively charged sites in the soil. The soil's CEC reflects its ability to hold onto nutrient elements so they don't leach away due to precipitation and irrigation.

There are 4 possible states that a mineral nutrient can be in, in the soil:
1. Free floating in the soil/water solution
2. Chemically combined in a biological structure, living or dead
3. Chemically combined as part of a rock mineral structure
4. Held to a positively or negatively charged site in the soil via static electrical charge

If a nutrient element is free in the soil/water solution, it will obviously be highly available to plant roots and soil organisms, but also can easily be leached away to a lower soil horizon. If it is part of a rock mineral, or part of a biological structure, it is protected from leaching but not readily available to either plants or soil organisms. Only if it is held on an exchange site by static charge is it both readily available and protected from leaching.

The "exchange" part of CEC relates to the ability of plants and microbes to trade positively charged Hydrogen H+ ions for positively charged nutrients held on exchange sites. The most important of these + charged cations for plants are Calcium Ca++, Magnesium Mg++, Potassium K+, Sodium Na+, and ammonium NH4+. Plant roots and soil organisms both exhale CO2, which reacts with the water in the soil to form carbonic acid. Acidity is defined as an excess of Hydrogen H+ ions. When the soil/water solution immediately next to an exchangeable cation, Ca++ for instance, contains a concentrated amount of H+ ions, two H+ ions can displace and replace the Ca++ ion on the exchange site, freeing the Calcium for uptake as a nutrient by plants or microbes. It takes two H+ ions to displace and replace either a Calcium++ or Magnesium++ ion, but only one H+ ion to exchange for Potassium+, Sodium+, or ammonium NH4+. (Ammonium is a Nitrogen compound that soil organisms use as an energy/food source.)

Agriculture would be pretty much impossible without the ability of the clays and organic matter in soils to retain essential nutrients via static charge, because the nutrient elements would simply wash away each time it rained, which is exactly what happens in soils that are mostly sand and lacking in exchange capacity.
 
Isn't balancing soil minerals within certain parameters a relative thing to do? there seem to be a lot of variables that this style of growing does not consider.

This seems like some Albrecht type shit, but with your twist on it.

How do you explain a permaculture/no-till style of gardening being as succesful/more successful than a soil balanced garden, when the permaculture garden has never had a soil test?

Don't get me wrong, I have had many soil test. However the more I research long term sustainable gardening, the further away from testing the soil I tend to get.
 

MountZionCollec

Well-known member
Isn't balancing soil minerals within certain parameters a relative thing to do? there seem to be a lot of variables that this style of growing does not consider.

This seems like some Albrecht type shit, but with your twist on it.

How do you explain a permaculture/no-till style of gardening being as succesful/more successful than a soil balanced garden, when the permaculture garden has never had a soil test?

Don't get me wrong, I have had many soil test. However the more I research long term sustainable gardening, the further away from testing the soil I tend to get.

He explains everything very clearly in his book and takes those "variables" into account. No need for the aggressive tone, giving him such a traditional icmag welcome will most likely scare him away...as has happened to many others. Let's be respectful please the icmag community can learn a lot from him

By the way, the way you phrase your questions make them odd/difficult to answer, especially with no evidence provided to back the statement he is supposed to respond to.
 

m_astera

Member
Organic Matter ≠ Fertility

Organic Matter ≠ Fertility

Organic Matter Fertility

Below is a good example of why to get a soil test. At 37.58% organic matter, the soil in these raised beds probably looks beautiful, rich and dark and crumbly. Those who think the secret to fertility is organic matter would likely give it first marks and expect to grow marvelous crops.

A glance at the laboratory soil report shows us that the only nutrients in evidence in any significant amount are Ca, Mg, and Fe. Likely the beds have been limed, accounting for the good level of Ca and Mg, and the soil is naturally high in Iron. Every other mineral nutrient measured is severely deficient.

Blacklick Ohio raised beds
Mehlich 3 test by Logan Labs

Click image for larger version.
 
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He explains everything very clearly in his book and takes those "variables" into account. No need for the aggressive tone, giving him such a traditional icmag welcome will most likely scare him away...as has happened to many others. Let's be respectful please the icmag community can learn a lot from him

By the way, the way you phrase your questions make them odd/difficult to answer, especially with no evidence provided to back the statement he is supposed to respond to.

He is the one coming on here "preaching" his dogma. I had nothing to do with that. This is an open forum. No punches held back. I have honestly never heard of him.

I just get to the point, don't beat around the bush, and just wanted some answers. Do you want me to wrap my question up in butterflies, cotton candy, and unicorns? :)

It will still be the same questions.

My big problem is the new growers hook onto the dogmas like a cult.

As I have always said, There is a million ways to skin a cat. He obviously has his way.

Am I barred from conversing with him because of the tone of my questions?

I apologize for that, but am still interested in hearing his answers. By nature Growers are a skeptical bunch. :)
 

Microbeman

The Logical Gardener
ICMag Supporter
Isn't balancing soil minerals within certain parameters a relative thing to do? there seem to be a lot of variables that this style of growing does not consider.

This seems like some Albrecht type shit, but with your twist on it.

How do you explain a permaculture/no-till style of gardening being as succesful/more successful than a soil balanced garden, when the permaculture garden has never had a soil test?

Don't get me wrong, I have had many soil test. However the more I research long term sustainable gardening, the further away from testing the soil I tend to get.

One might hypothesize that there is some frustration in chasing the nutrient balanced soil through Mehlich based soil testing. From commonly held perspectives, this does not release (test for) sequestered nutrients, which in my opinion are the major players in living soil gardening.

These nutrients are sequestered in organic matter in which case the testing involves baking and weighing which seems somewhat 'stabbing in the dark' or it can be tested with stronger acids and analyzed with mass spectrometry and other expensive means, which many hold to be accurate. (It is the testing I use when necessary)

These nutrients can also be sequestered in rock material (AFAIK) and then again testing involves the use of strong acids if one believes the broader scientific community.

Another method of testing 'hypothetically' is to examine the macro and microorganisms in the soil. Some recent test parameters involve assaying the numbers of bacterial feeding nematodes in the soil as a measure of potential fertility. One might say the same of bacteria, archaea and protozoa which are observed to come to life in the lab from a soil sample.

It is all interesting and I've chosen to sit on the fence, having spent lots of cash on ineffectual soil tests and subsequent advice. I do have the luxury of a biological lab though, which does help.

Suppose I do get the Albrecht-Reams testing and follow the saturation advice by purchasing and applying minerals? Probably no harm done right? So long as the nutrients ARE actually sequestered only to be exchanged for organic acids. (You can't believe how many different ones there are) No harm done and possible benefits and I feel like I've done my best.

Alternatively I might go the route of one straw bending with natural growing methods, rejecting fertilizers and exquisite measurements, using diverse local rock & clay dusts, ramial and plant residue. I might be just as happy, fill my belly with nutritious food but keep some extra coin in my jeans.

No offense to Michael - Good work.
 

m_astera

Member
Isn't balancing soil minerals within certain parameters a relative thing to do? there seem to be a lot of variables that this style of growing does not consider.

This seems like some Albrecht type shit, but with your twist on it.

How do you explain a permaculture/no-till style of gardening being as succesful/more successful than a soil balanced garden, when the permaculture garden has never had a soil test?

Don't get me wrong, I have had many soil test. However the more I research long term sustainable gardening, the further away from testing the soil I tend to get.

"This seems like some Albrecht type shit"

Lessee, oh yes, I mentioned Albrecht 5 times in my second post, and the avatar is a caricature of Albrecht as mad scientist. Good deduction, man.

"but with your twist on it."

Yup, my expansion from the Albrecht BCSR ratios. Covered that in the second post too. Maybe you should read it so you don't strain yourself speculating.

"How do you explain a permaculture/no-till style of gardening being as succesful/more successful than a soil balanced garden, when the permaculture garden has never had a soil test?"

Insufficient data.

"Don't get me wrong, I have had many soil test. However the more I research long term sustainable gardening, the further away from testing the soil I tend to get."

Are you sure you are competent and informed enough to comment on this?
 
C

Cep

Another method of testing 'hypothetically' is to examine the macro and microorganisms in the soil. Some recent test parameters involve assaying the numbers of bacterial feeding nematodes in the soil as a measure of potential fertility. One might say the same of bacteria, archaea and protozoa which are observed to come to life in the lab from a soil sample.

Another method of testing 'hypothetically' is to examine the macro and microorganisms in the soil. Some recent test parameters involve assaying the numbers of bacterial feeding nematodes in the soil as a measure of potential fertility. One might say the same of bacteria, archaea and protozoa which are observed to come to life in the lab from a soil sample.

This is really interesting to me. As much as I like the idea of knowing exactly what is attached to the clay I'm always unsure of how much Nitrogen (or anything else that interacts with organic matter) is not shown on tests.

Since I don't know enough about soil microbiology I've just been using tests to get as close to ideal numbers then trying build a robust microbe population on top. Foliar feeding plants extra energy seems to help quite a bit.

Michael,

In your years of growing in the PNW, did you ever have plants in soils with K saturation in the high range (6-15%) and in the same season have some growing in balanced soil (Ca around 68% and K around 4%)? If so, what kind of fungal pressure did you get when the rains hit?
 

m_astera

Member
One might hypothesize that there is some frustration in chasing the nutrient balanced soil through Mehlich based soil testing. From commonly held perspectives, this does not release (test for) sequestered nutrients, which in my opinion are the major players in living soil gardening.

These nutrients are sequestered in organic matter in which case the testing involves baking and weighing which seems somewhat 'stabbing in the dark' or it can be tested with stronger acids and analyzed with mass spectrometry and other expensive means, which many hold to be accurate. (It is the testing I use when necessary)

These nutrients can also be sequestered in rock material (AFAIK) and then again testing involves the use of strong acids if one believes the broader scientific community.

Another method of testing 'hypothetically' is to examine the macro and microorganisms in the soil. Some recent test parameters involve assaying the numbers of bacterial feeding nematodes in the soil as a measure of potential fertility. One might say the same of bacteria, archaea and protozoa which are observed to come to life in the lab from a soil sample.

It is all interesting and I've chosen to sit on the fence, having spent lots of cash on ineffectual soil tests and subsequent advice. I do have the luxury of a biological lab though, which does help.

Suppose I do get the Albrecht-Reams testing and follow the saturation advice by purchasing and applying minerals? Probably no harm done right? So long as the nutrients ARE actually sequestered only to be exchanged for organic acids. (You can't believe how many different ones there are) No harm done and possible benefits and I feel like I've done my best.

Alternatively I might go the route of one straw bending with natural growing methods, rejecting fertilizers and exquisite measurements, using diverse local rock & clay dusts, ramial and plant residue. I might be just as happy, fill my belly with nutritious food but keep some extra coin in my jeans.

No offense to Michael - Good work.

The Ideal Soil method was developed for use with the Mehlich 3 test. Mehlich 3 is a powerful extractant, a mix of strong acids, ammonium nitrate, and EDTA. It has a pH of 2.5.

The only test more powerful than the Mehlich 3 is a complete acid digest, a geology test where the entire mineral sample is dissolved in nitric acid or aqua regia. That is not necessary nor helpful if the goal is to balance soil fertility. The Mehlich 3 test extracts all of the mineral nutrients that are potentially available to the plant or soil organisms under normal conditions. The Mehlich 3 is fully capable of extracting minerals from organic matter.

Adolf Mehlich was a contemporary of William Albrecht. The Mehlich 3 method was first published in 1984, shortly after Mehlich's death, and ten years after Albrecht's death in 1974. Albrecht never had the opportunity to use such an advanced test.

"Another method of testing 'hypothetically' is to examine the macro and microorganisms in the soil. Some recent test parameters involve assaying the numbers of bacterial feeding nematodes in the soil as a measure of potential fertility. One might say the same of bacteria, archaea and protozoa which are observed to come to life in the lab from a soil sample."

Sort of like seeing which weeds grow and extrapolating a mineral assay from there? I don't think I would want to try writing a soil mineral Rx based on that. Besides, the thread is about balancing soil minerals, not balancing soil microbes. If you don't want to know an accurate mineral profile of your soil, fine by me. I'm sure there are at least 100 threads here on soil biota, organic matter, permaculture, and Fukuoka for every thread on soil minerals.
 
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