Perfect Soil? Not a Chance

We know that balanced nutrition plays an integral role in producing healthy trees and shrubs. One could not afford to build the perfect soil on a 550-acre farm, so when we say “Pioneering Sustainable Horticulture”, we’re saying through research and experience we are identifying our deficiencies and addressing them one at a time through soil building. I believe no one knows for sure what the perfect soil is. I personally have talked to some of the leaders of the sustainable movement and they all have bits and pieces that connect some but not all of the dots. So you have to build your soil like a puzzle using the overall goal to work backwards to achieve what works on your property. We at Abby Farms are doing just that and our results are good enough for us to be insecticide and fungicide free for 7 continuous years.
I’m sure you’ve heard me say before that growth is limited by the nutrient in least supply, so excess of any nutrient just causes problems in other areas. Identify your weakness first. Start with the cations. The mid-Atlantic soils are usually deficient in calcium, so correctly amending this nutrient helps balance the other cations. You could proactively bring in line potassium or magnesium at the same time you’re addressing calcium. Plants’ needs are in this order according to some experts: calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and sulfur.
In the mid-Atlantic area, we have a difficult time getting phosphorous to the correct levels because of the way the nutrient management state laws were written. The composers of the law still believe toxic chemical rescue is the way to farm and until we can get younger talent into these positions, with new training we will have to do the best we can. Magnesium is an exergy molecule and probably the most difficult I found to balance, so foliar sprays come into play. Magnesium; get it close in the soil and the balance through the tissue.
Sulfur brings into play the plant’s immune system and is used to make proteins and amino acids. Sulfur is now the red-headed step child. Back when I was young, you rarely had to worry about adding sulfur because of industrial pollution. Today, with better air quality, everybody forgets to add sulfur. Balance phosphorous and sulfur in equal parts.
Manage what you measure from the soil. Get it as close as money allows, but remember, this is no guarantee of success. This is where tissue testing comes in to play. There are rules to follow, not difficult rules, but it can become costly if you’re using an outside lab. The advancement in this segment is moving rapidly. We can now use sap analysis to predict insect and disease attacks. Science is a powerful thing. Keep in mind that you have to earn the right before you tissue test, having healthy fungi and bacteria in the soil, with some type of balancing of the cations coupled with good levels of organic matter, all complete the puzzle.