Soil Analysis and Balancing Nutrient Levels

Chemical Analysis and more…

Recently customers have been asking about nutrient concentrations of our finished product. So we decided to post the results online! Click below to view the chemical analysis of one of our recent vermicompost samples*. Further down the page I address the importance of balancing nutrient levels in the soil.

Chemical Analysis of our vermicompost

Analysis of our vermicompost

What a Plant Needs

Plants need 12 essential nutrients to grow to their full potential. They are Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Sulpher, Iron, Manganese, Zinc, Boron, Copper, & Molybdenum. Of these twelve, plants require much larger amounts of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), & Potassium (K). These tend to be the only nutrients the fertilizer companies seem to stress. This is why the N-P-K values are prominently displayed on the front of fertilizer bags.

All these nutrients must be taken from the soil by the plant’s root system. While it is possible to grow in nutrient deficient soil, plants are more susceptible to disease and pests… not to mention their produce will lack these nutrients too. To further complicate the matter, various vegetation absorb different quantities and types of nutrients from the soil. So it is important for gardeners to replace these nutrients to prevent damaging the soil and making it infertile.

So where do you begin? Luckily for you, most states have local agronomic departments that will perform the soil analysis for free. This is your starting point! Once you know the levels of your macro and micro nutrients, then you can work to correct any imbalances.  Here is the link to NC State’s Agronomic Division for soil testing.

Note: Before you add any fertilizer or additional nutrients ensure you have the proper level of humus in your soil. Otherwise, you could be throwing money away and polluting local streams too. This is where the compost comes into play.

What role does vermicompost play?

If you have clay soil or are in the Eastern coast of the US, then your soil is not going to hold the nutrients very well. The reason is that the clay has lost its ability to bind with the essential nutrients. So any water traveling through the soil can wash away the fertilizer and/or nutrients before the plant has a chance to absorb them. In addition, clay particles are so small, they allow the soil to become very compact. This can lead to poor soil drainage and insufficient oxygen intake by roots.

The solution is to add humus to the soil. Humus is an organic material comprised of decomposed leaves, plant materials, etc. How can you get humus…. by composting of course! Either vermicomposting or thermophilic (using heat) composting can give you a good amount of humus for our garden or lawn. But by vermicomposting you will get a richer microbial population and faster composting results. In addition, the compost will also contain some of the essential nutrients. These can be used to balance the soil’s nutrient levels.

Benefits of humus include:

  • Easily binds and hold essential nutrients
  • Holds moisture in the soil
  • Keeps soil from compacting -aids aeration

Adding humus to your soil will help in many ways. First, the humus will bind to any of the nutrients that you determined are deficient in the soil. Adding the nutrients without the proper level of humus and you risk having it washed away with rain. If humus is present, it provides thousand of electrical binding sites where the nutrients can collect. These weak electrical connections then hold the nutrients in place so the plants can absorb them when they are ready.  Secondly, the humus helps hold moisture in the soil so it takes longer for soil to dry out. This means less watering to keep your garden or lawn green. And lastly, the fluffy characteristic of the humus keeps the soil from compacting. When added as a soil amendment it gets between clay particles. The bigger humus particles allow more oxygen to get into the soil and the roots.

The last step is to add the nutrients into the soil. Remember to use the soil analysis as a starting point. Then take into account any compost and its nutrients which were applied to the soil. Then finally add the recommended quantities to your soil for the plants or crops you intend on growing.

*Due to variations in food waste and manure percentages, not all compost will have these exact values. They should be relatively close, but not exact.

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