Friday, August 24, 2012

Soil Amendments

Soil Amendments are defined as any material which is added to a soil, in order to increase plant growth and improve plant health.

Water - It important to remember that water must first penetrate a soil and the quality of water will dictate how well the water can penetrate. Rain water is better at penetrating the soil than hard well water, because rain water does not have the concentration of minerals that well water does. This concentration of minerals is measured as hardness of water. Because of the mineral hardness of well water there is higher surface tension, limiting the water's ability to penetrate the soil. 

A healthy soil will retain water for a much longer period of time and buffer higher pH levels than an unhealthy or depleted soil. Humic Acids play a huge role in water retention, because a single molecule of Humic Acid (if Supramolecular) can hold over 10,000 molecules of water.


Humic Substances Humic Substances are complex Carbon compounds found in soil. They sometime, but not always, contain active fractions call Humic, Humin and Fulvic. The common term for Humic Substances is Humus, often confused with compost, mushroom compost and peat moss. 

Humates are often sold as a source of Humic Substances and Humic Acids. Humates are an ore, more properly called Oxidized Lignite. Lignite is coal, oxidized means it is not useful in a power plant. However, Humates are not able to associate with water. Soil Secrets with the technical assistance of the National Labs has performed the only molecular analysis and characterization study of Humic Acids, which has allowed us the ability to formulate a Humic Acid product that works, because it is capable of associating with water and functioning with Supramolecular capabilities. 

For more detailed information see our blog on Carbon Compounds . 


Mycorrhizal Fungi (Mycorrhizae) - Mycorrhizal fungus improves a plants ability to get water and mineral nutrients out of the soil, while also protecting the plant roots from disease and from damaging nematodes. It's important to make sure that the mycorrhizal product is applicable to your objective, agricluture versus home and garden. For this reason we ask our clients to compare the products living spore count per pound and ask for 3rd party lab guarantees. For example, EndoMaxima® a product of Soil Secrets contains 1,450,000 living spores per pound!


For more detailed information see our blog on Soil Structure .


Minerals - There are 19 minerals which have been classified as essential for plant health. In order for a plant to sequester any mineral, the mineral must be in a soluble form. Humic Acids and Mycorrhizae help in this process.

Fertilizers - While not officially recognized by government agencies as a soil amendment, fertilizers can provide the many major and minor nutrients of plant nutrition*. A fertilizer is defined as any product that contains the major and the minor nutrients at measurable levels by qualified labs. This can include acid-based chemical fertilizers, as well as compost.  

While a bag of chemical fertilizer can green up your lawn, or increase your crop yield, you're compromising the future health of the soil. Fertilizers, if used at typical prescribed label rates, are detrimental to the biological health of soils. This includes, using high levels of compost, for example good compost made properly will average about 2% Nitrogen. Therefore, a crop needing 100 pounds of Nitrogen per acre can be satisfied with just 5,000 pounds of compost spread over the entire acre.  

* Fertilizers are label approved under the Fertilizer Act, not the Soil Amendment Act.

Composts - A quality compost is a difficult product to manufacture. It is said that when a compost is aggressively manipulated - when the pile is turned regularly and rapidly heated -  that compost will be bacterial dominated. A static pile, which is not aggressively manipulated, rarely turned and kept on the dry side is said to be fungally dominated. All this really means is that a heated compost pile is decomposed by bacteria, while a static pile is decomposed by molds and saprophytic fungus similar to what you find on a forest floor. What really matters is the fertilizer nutrient value of the compost. 

Compost is primarily nutrients and rapidly decomposing (labile) carbons. Since compost does not have a significant level of the recalcitrant carbons of Humic Acids it is difficult to claim that compost is a soil builder. 

Compost Tea - While officially recognized as a soil amendment, by most state regulatory agencies, compost tea is actually more of a fertilizer, because compost tea does not have enough technical substance to be able change the structure of a soil. However, it does contain in solution the many trace minerals needed by plants. As a foliar spray containing these nutrients, plants can be easily satisfied, therefore improving the overall vigor and health of the plant.


Earth Worm Castings - An organic fertilizer, excellent for use on delicate plants. In the healthiest soils earth worms are present, they digest organic matter and leave castings which become available for plant use. However, worms will not inhabit a depleted and/or compacted soil. In this case, worm castings can be added to the soil surface.