Choosing Your Soil Amendments

by KEEGAN UHLER Owner/Operator of
Desert Sage Farms Superior Soils, Bend

Farming and gardening in Central Oregon can be challenging due to many conditions from the ground up. Most of Central Oregon has young volcanic ash top soil, thus lacking the fundamental elements for successful harvests. Healthy living soil is the foundation for successful gardening. Houses with strong foundations help maintain their integrity through the uncertainty of what Mother Nature has to offer, as does a strong soil food web for the health and resilience of your plants.

Natural and organic should be the first thing verified before choosing a soil or soil amendment. An astonishing amount of life is in a healthy soil. Soil contains strains of fungi, bacteria, microorganisms, Protozoa, nematodes and many more that maintain the living biology in healthy soil. Natural and organic are key words for keeping those beneficials thriving as well as a soil pH of 6.5 to 7 which ensures the health of those beneficials that are pH sensitive. Without these abundant amounts of beneficials to help ward off “would be” predators and disease, your plant becomes prime real estate for the both.

Soils comprised of natural and organic ingredients such as compost, guano, coconut coir fiber, and worm castings as well as aeration from pumice or perlite (just to name a few) adds an abundant amount of beneficials as well as food and housing for them to thrive. Chemical fertilizers and amendments such as Polymer coated granular pellets jeopardize your soil biology and disrupt the natural soil food web. Thus, being said, when you are looking for a good soil to add to your field or just your garden, there are some things to look for to ensure proper health of your soil.

Mineral amendments such as perlite, pumice and cinder rock are a must to add air and increase drainage in soil, especially in Central Oregon where we have compacted soils. These amendments hold nutrients, water and air which is necessary for strong root penetration. Air allows the proper absorption of nutrients and provides a home for biology to thrive. These three amendments are close to neutral and do not negatively affect nutrient content or soil PH. Fast draining, well aerated soil can be fertilized frequently and helps prevent toxic fertilizer salt build up. Everything from cacti and succulents annuals, vegetables and herbs benefit from good aeration and drainage.

Coconut coir or “coco” is a favorite soil amendment for many growers. It holds a great amount of water while not becoming “muddy” or loosing structure. Some of the best coconut coir is manufactured from an inland source in Sri Lanka. This source will naturally contain fewer salts than coconut sourced from the coast. Coconut coir is rinsed three or more times with Reverse Osmosis water to ensure lower salt content and composted for at least one year. Soils comprised mainly of coconut coir hold water very well. Coco based soils may require more ventilation and less watering. As a grower you can go more days in between watering due to the water holding capabilities of coconut coir (based on watering preferences) which is a benefit when trying to conserve water resources. Coconut coir is very earth friendly as it is a renewable resource and it helps third world countries by providing jobs and income.

Premium premixed bulk or bagged natural and organic soil is the way to go for a soil that meets all of the needs of a healthy garden and the soil food web. Soils fortified with beneficial bacteria, mycorrhizas, quality aged compost and coconut coir are a sure fire way to achieve explosive root growth. Healthy roots improve nutrient uptake which leads your garden to vigorous growth and beautiful, bountiful harvests. Light fluffy aerated coconut coir makes for easy root penetration and drainage. When looking at a potting soil you want to ask yourself, “Does the soil absorb water evenly?” A good way to test it yourself is to squeeze a handful of moist (but not wet or soaked) soil in your hand, if it expands back out like a sponge, as it should, then its good! Coconut based soils meet both of these very important requirements for proper and even root growth.

Desert Sage Farms knows and appreciates the importance of natural, organic and sustainable gardening. Rich, tilthy, aerated, living soil is sure to liven up roots and get that natural food web working for you. Give back to your soil and it will give back to you.

Two simple rules to live by:

• As gardeners, we are responsible for what goes into our soil and food that our families eat — we should embrace the choice to grow healthy, natural and sustainable, and
• Don’t treat your soil like dirt!

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photos courtesy of Desert Sage Farms

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