Analysis Guidelines For Organic Gardening

Analysis guidelines for organic gardening comes as as response to the question,I've got a soil test, now what? A soil test report provides you with an analysis of the composition of your soil. It gives basic information on what elements are present in your soil, thus making it perfectly clear what is missing. With this information you can begin to understand what your soil requirements are, as well as diagnose and remedy potential problems. This is a guide to specifically for organic remediation.

A basic soil test measures these important soil elements

  • the current pH (acidity/Alkalinity) level
  • organic matter
  • phosphorus
  • potassium
  • calcium
  • cation exchange capacity

    These are the major elements affecting your soil, and therefore your soil‘s overall health. With the proper organic fertilization, the correct amendments, and micro-organisms, your soil‘s fertility will improve dramatically! Your garden uses nutrients and minerals available in the soil to sustain healthy growth. Without replenishing these, plants produce less each season. They become stressed and susceptible to a variety of diseases, insect infestation, and weed overgrowth. We have all heard of natural selection, but seldom think of how that plays out in our own back yards.

    The philosophy behind organic gardening is to create and maintain healthy soil which in turn, sustains healthy plants and healthy food. Only use natural, organic fertilizers and amendments. These applications supply vital nutrients, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes and micro arthropods­, all of which are necessary to propagate a healthy bio-environment in which your garden can flourish.

    Now, let’s take a look at your soil test, and see what the current levels are and what you can do to improve your soil!


    Over ninety-eight percent of your garden‘s growth comes directly from organic matter. Not enough and your plants are handicapped from the very start. OM supplies many nutrients for your soil such as supplying carbon which is a requirement for the propagation all living things. Carbon helps by stimulating the growth of micro-organisms, earth worms, and other beneficial creatures that comprise healthy, living soil. OM contains microbes that secrete organic acids which help release nutrients contained in soil particles, they also secrete polysaccharides that glue soil particles into stable aggregates. The end result is abundant microbial activity that improves the overall soil structure, increases air penetration and water-holding capacity, and resists soil compaction.

    The smallest building blocks of soil structure are built by beneficial bacteria. Without bacteria, the bricks that hold the soil food web together would not occur and further development of soil structure will not happen. Bacteria occupy most of the leaf or root surface and thus are most effective at consuming the food resources that disease-causing organisms would otherwise consume. In soil, bacteria have additional benefits: they retain nutrients such as N, P,

    K, S, Ca etc., and they also decompose plant-toxic materials and plant residues thus building the soil‘s aggregate structure.


    I heard an "expert" state that OM should be applied at a rate of four to six inches. I think that is very poor advice. (Actually I think that is nuts but I am trying to be nice) This woman was a "designer and consultant" and it was obvious that the closest she ever got to a garden was when she walked past one.

    How much and how often are key components when you are considering an expense than can run into some serious money. I believe a more practical procedure is to spread no less than one third inch over the entire growing area in the spring, and then retest again in the fall. I use a commercial grade plastic lawn spreader to throw cotton burr compost on my lawn. If you are amending your garden soil simply till it in. If you are using containers or have raised bed gardening, you simply stir it in with a trowel or your hand.

    Remember, as you amend the soil with organic matter you are increasing soil fertility and therefore decreasing the amounts of amendments you need in the future! Organic gardening is a process -- not a race. The longer you stay with organic methods the better the results, and the lower the overall expense and the better the results.

    Ideally, you want an organic material that has been fully composted and free of pathogens. Locally available compost is always the best because you’re not paying extra for shipping Just remember the caveat: "buyer beware.”

    If the product is being advertised for sale as a quality compost, the seller should be able to produce some testing results to verify their claims. If they don't have recent (six months) testing results from a laboratory they have no real basis for their claim.

    The goal is to buy compost that is ”alive,” and it should have adequate levels fungi, bacteria, protozoa, and nematodes. If good compost is not readily available, see if you can find a farm and get a load of manure that you can compost yourself. It will require a little effort on your part, but what you save will make it all worthwhile. If you’re not already, consider starting a small compost with pulp left over from juicing, with the addition of some red worms and a little attention you can have a truly “high test” compost comparable to any you can buy at your local garden center.


    PHOSPHORUS (P) is aptly referred to as the “power broker” in many publications because it controls the root system, seed, and flower development in plant life, as well as the processes of cell division and sugar formation. (Sugar levels regulate the plant’s susceptibility to insect and disease.)

    To raise a low phosphorus level, compare your reading to the listing below and follow the guideline.

    01- 20 PPM;

    Apply soft rock phosphate or bonemeal at a rate of 50 lbs per thousand square feet.

    21-30 PPM;

    Apply soft rock phosphate or bonemeal at a rate of 25 lbs. per thousand square feet.

    30-50 PPM;

    Apply soft rock phosphate or bonemeal at a rate of 12 lbs. per thousand square feet.

    High readings (excessive amounts of phosphates) are indicative of soil that has a low pH level and the trapped phosphorus is released when the correct amount of lime is added. For more detailed information please read the text following the heading of "pH Level" on my Soil Chemistry

    Soil Chemisty page.

    POTASSIUM (K) is the "universal helper.” It stimulates rooting, photosynthesis, chlorophyll formation, starch formation, and sugar functions. Adequate levels of K reduce susceptibility to insect and disease outbreaks. Low soil test levels indicate the need for K fertilization, especially in soils with a low cation exchange capacity. If the CEC is low, I recommend increasing your soils OM level to help increase K availability. Soils which are predominately clay, have tight, lattice-like structures that keep potassium unavailable to the plant and typically test low. Conversion to organic gardening will naturally release unavailable K in the soil in the future. For the immediate future you need to amend the soil with sulfate of potash, kelp meal or wood ash at the following rates.

    0-100 PPM Apply 20lbs. per 1,000 square feet for kelp mealApply 15lbs. per 1,000 square feet for wood ashApply 7lbs. per 1,000 square feet for sulfate of potash

    101-150 PPM Apply 13lbs. per 1,000 square feet for kelp mealApply 10lbs. per 1,000 square feet for wood ashApply 5lbs. per 1,000 square feet for sulfate of potash

    151- 250 PPM Apply 7lbs. per 1,000 square feet for kelp mealApply 5lbs. per 1,000 square feet for wood ashApply 3lbs. per 1,000 square feet for sulfate of potash

    If soil test levels are over 250 no further K remediation is required other than regular organic fertilizer.

    MAGNESIUM (Mg) is considered a secondary macro nutrient. The chlorophyll molecule is built around the atom on Mg, so this nutrient is essential to plant growth and viability. Clay soil often contains excessive amounts of Mg which can cause anaerobic (oxygen deprived) conditions due to soil density. Excessive Mg can also cause N, P & K deficiencies. The nitrification process becomes reversed and nitrate is formed in a process called denitrification. Under these circumstances OM is processed into methanol which is toxic to the soil microbiology. The result is lifeless, sticky soil which becomes easily waterlogged during rainy periods and will not absorb water when it has become hard during dry times.

    Less than 150 PPM,Apply 50lbs. of dolomitic lime per 1,000 square feet

    151-300 PPM,Normal range, no other amending except for quality organic fertilizer which will naturally contain Mg

    301 PPM and higher,Apply 100 lbs. of Gypsum per 1,000 square feet and re test the following season.

    CALCIUM (Ca) is considered a secondary macro nutrient but it is considered the most important element for the following reasons. Ca helps to form stable soil aggregates which give the soil structural capacity to hold nutrients and absorb water and air. Soil with these characteristics promote prolific microbial growth and earthworm activity. Ca helps to neutralize toxins, assists in root development and carbohydrate movement as well as being involved in protein synthesis and reproductive tissue.

    CATION EXCHANGE CAPACITY (CEC) is the capacity for holding cations (Ca, Mg, K, and Na). This capacity is influenced by the amount of clay and humus present.It is measured from 0 for pure sand to 100 for pure humus. High quality soils range from 18-25 the best getting as high as 35. If your have a high CEC value it is holding a lot of nutrients which can be released for plant and microbial growth.

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