Soil Secrets

This year I’ve switched up my normal cow manure, magnesium, bone meal, biochar, top dressed with wood chip amendments for soil improvement. I’m incorporating in sea minerals, azomite, and mycorrhizae fungi. What methods are you using to improve soil this year? I’ve found fish emulsions far to potent for my fruits because of the high nitrogen content. The list below is materials I ordered for test crops.

I was fascinated with soil improvement books about 25 years ago and began researching alternative unconventional methods of agriculture. Here are a few of my favorite books


Good to see you posting here, Clark! Are you sponsored by amazon now;)?

Have you conducted soil samples to see what you might be deficient in?
I attended a workshop last year that seemed geared along the same lines as your thinking from this outfit:

One soil improving technique I want to use more of is livestock rotation, specifically my chickens.
I’ve used chickens and hogs in the past and gotten great results with ‘animal tractors’ or small paddocks moved every couple days. Amendments and cover crop/beneficial seeds can be broadcast just before moving the critters, they work it in a bit. It is a bit of work moving them around, but feed savings, happy animals, healthy animal products and the fertility boost to the soil balance it out.

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I need to get a soil test before I add anything else. I will in the spring. I know here in MI we have a few key micro-nutrients missing from the soil, so adding azomite for me works well. Also though what you add can influence uptake. Too much magnesium and you can hurt crops. I would not add any without a test. Although it is very soluable, still best to have a base test to figure out the best approach.

For my raised bed peach trees I made my own soil concoction to fill the raised beds. 2 parts bagged top soil, 1.5 parts of Scott’s tree and shrub soil, 1 part compost manure. To that I added humic acid powder, Azomite, kelp meal, bat guano, and cotton seed meal. In my opinion the trees really took off. Not only in growth, had one peach that had to grow a new lead that grew out well over 6 foot, but also in the amount of flower buds. If mother nature isn’t too mean this year they should crop pretty good. If not, well at least they have a nice framework for the next season lol.

Clark please don’t take this the wrong way. I was once infactuated with those beautiful loess soils in IL and elsewhere. Started out in college majoring in soils before switching my emphasis to plants. My interests over the last 50 yrs have gradually switched from corn/soybean to fruit crops. So here is my take.

I’m sure that regime makes for fabulous tree growth. But moderate vigor is better for fruit trees. I fertilize very little and probably have worse soil than KS. My trees usually bear the second leaf and require massive thinning. Fruit is very high brix.

Heavy fertilizer is for crops that need it like corn, not fruit trees. In my greenhouse I’d have to cut down most of the trees with high vigor. That won’t be the major downside. High vigor isn’t conducive to high brix and flavor IMO.

Could be wrong have been many times.


I absolutely agree with Fruitnut. Growing the best fruit is going for the Goldilocks affect- not too hot, not too cold… The art of growing fruit is quite a bit about maintaining moderate vigor- especially in parts of the country that get ample rain during the growing season.

My early years of horticulture were involved with growing plants that thrived in as rich a soil as possible and my tendency was to go overkill with compost,high N mulches and other amendments to create a super soil- kind of like a hellicopter parent of an only child that jams the child’s schedule with endless structured activities, from soccer camp, to piano lessons leaving the kid with no time for unstructured creative play and breathing room.

Even for growing corn, it is hard to improve on a good rich loam and even mediocre soils don’t usually need much human input to achieve near maximum productivity. Don’t overlook the magic that is already there.

People sell snake oil, sometimes in the form of products like mychorizal innoculants, sometimes in books with some tricks they market as revolutionary. What really works is usually broadly adopted by commercial growers. Any edge a commercial grower can get they will likely adapt to and the BS they can’t afford.

I generally do soil tests before establishing orchards, but not always. As long as the pH and drainage are good and already existing trees are growing well, you don’t necessarily have to fine tune things- just try to replace what you take out, especially if the trees show signs they need it and maybe give them some extra juice while they are filling out. .


I like your livestock rotation method. Amazon was used as a reference because I know they ship everywhere and some people have problems finding local azomite or sea mineral dealers since those are non traditional soil improvement techniques. I formerly used the chicken tractor technique which is a great method in my opinion. A trick I used was growing wheat in the winter when greens were scarce and moving my chickens onto the wheat in the months hardest on them. Our soil appears to have everything the body needs according to a soil test but the problem is our PH (potential hydrogen) is to high. The ideal soil for tomatoes among other things for example is 6.0 to 7.0 according to most experts but our PH is around 8-8.5. This is an interesting article related to ideal soil That being said sulphur and other things can be used to lower the PH which is necessary to make things such as cobalt, zinc, copper etc. available. This is an interesting article about soil and nutrients Hopefully most people reading this will tolerate the long winded explanation and stay with me for a minute and I will tie together the PH and micro nutrients. I’m going to use corn as an example since I already posted this to another site and can reuse the information and because it’s an excellent example. Open pollinated corn is much better quality than hybrid or GMO corn alternatives that came along later. Hybrid and GMO corn only produces more bushels but not better nutrition. Hybrid corn fails to pick up many minerals open pollinated corn picks up such as cobalt. These differences seem minor to the layman but the reality is each mineral has a purpose. Here are a several articles on the subject

Again I apologize for the long winded explanation but the points I was trying to make is the soil minerals must be there, the PH must be perfect to use them, and the correct types of plants must be grown to uptake the minerals.

I believe Alan is right here. There are a lot of things out there that aren’t needed, or not needed every year. I see a lot of people pushing Azomite as a once a year product. I have a hard time believing that the minerals found will leach out each and every year. I do believe that you need a good base, but once that base is established it’s all about maintaining what is lost.

My experience with my peaches is a great example. Very possibly way to much N, but from what I saw I got good growth, not the usual long whippy out of control growth you usually see with an over application of N. I could have possibly struck that balance with NPK that gave me the best of all three. This year based off of what I saw last I think I will only be adding Kelp.


Great to see another Kansan here. I was hoping you’d come over to this forum. We need to get Michael over here.

On the soil amendments, I don’t use much except plain old minerals which are based on soil tests, but I know you are farther west than I and those soils are typically poorer to start with the farther west you go. As you get close to Colorado, those soils look like a desert, tumble weeds and all.

I do use wood chip mulch as a top dress amendment, and like it for my trees, but there are a lot of different opinions about that.

This year I plan to try some chelated foliar mineral sprays for the first time. My leaf analysis has shown the foliage is low in Mn (on two tests) plus the foliage shows a little Mn deficiency as far as I can discern the symptoms. This in spite of the fact that soil tests show adequate Mn in the soil.

I was planning to just spray with Mn sulfate as a corrective, but I decided to just go with a chelate mineral pack, for the foliar spray, since that’s what my supplier sells, and it’s not too much more expensive than the Mn sulfate.

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I would think your soil and environment would be close to perfect in so many ways. You have ample rainfall, micro climate from nearby water, and ideal fruit growing soil, predictable weather, etc… You will have to let us know what you find out with the soil test.

That sounds like some very rich soil! Is your soil pretty bad clay like ours is naturally? Ours has little or no organic matter in it in many places. Years of heavy farming left the soil nearly worthless here in some places.

Olpea, I’m going to experiment with the same thing at a couple of sites as well as start applying some calcium where Honeycrisp and a couple other varieties consistently get rots- just for the customers that or on the Lexus plan. Gives me a chance to learn something while getting paid.

My applications won’t be based on leaf analysis, as there are no signs of deficiency, but instead based on Cornell’s general maintenance guidelines.

As you are aware I have a great deal of respect for your fruit growing ability and value your opinion highly. Kansas soil is clay in many places void of any organic material whatsoever. My farm has been tested to be deficient in magnesium specifically even though it’s glacial soil. The ph is very high. There are places on my farm where mulberries grow wild and after 20 years are still only 3-4 foot tall. They are void of fruit. If I add cow manure and magnesium and some wood chips to hold moisture etc. they grow. Every soil has specific challenges. I’m aware your absolutely right that high growth is not what I want.

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Always good to see your posts because you are aware specifically of some of the challenges we have here in Kansas. We are having the same problems with magnesium which seems unique to Kansas. I think based on my research as I mentioned in the reply to Jesse the problem is due to elevated PH at least in my soil. I’ve been compensating by applying additional magnesium.

For the most part my yard is about 1-2 inches of black dirt then clay for the rest. Get down about 1-2 feet and it turns from regular clay to grey clay with a not so pleasant smell. Did a water test in 3 places in the yard I was wanting to plant a few years ago. Dug down about 2 feet and filled with water. Came back an hour later… no change. Came back 3 more times… Very little change. It took about 5 days for the water to finally go away. That’s when I knew I needed raised beds.


Few people have more experience with growing fruit than you do and I’ve learned a lot from your posts. A thing unique to Kansas is this soil. It’s very high in minerals but it does not allow us to use them easily. We also do not have water available always. Once I get the tree tall enough it taps into the water table and the good substrate below which in my area is about 12-20’ below the surface. When a tree hits water it takes off and the many methods mentioned above are not as important. I grow blackberries here that get 15’-20’ tall and never fertilize them once they get established at 5’- 6’ tall they don’t need help anymore. The drought killed many of my blackberries because it caused a drop in the water table.

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I agree with Alan as well about excessive growth and believe me there have been times when I caused it and felt the pain in terms of fire blight. One problem we face is unpredictable rain. This year we are practically swimming in water we have had so much rainfall which will ultimately result in excessive growth of many trees if it continues. Those things are difficult to predict. When I first bought this property there was a pear here that did not produce fruit and the top growth had died back. I gave it some manure, a pruning, and fixed the dam of the pond where it grew and within 2 years it produced 6 five gallon buckets of pears. The neighbors have a pear that does not produce fruit and similarly has died back due to neglect. Everything in moderation.

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This is a very interesting thread. Being probably the most west of just about anyone (6-7 miles from the Pacific Ocean), my soils are very thin. Mainly consisting DG, as well as large (talking some as large as a VW) granite boulders. My trees produced second season, but not heavily. I don’t really want excessive fruit set or excessive growth, as I have a high density orchard planting, along either side of my walkway. I fertilize just once in the spring, probably should also fertilize after the fruit has been picked, but for me, it will mean more pruning. I have considered top dressing with GroMulch, but I am thinking I probably will not, as I think it’s just going to put too much N in the soil, and then I’ll end up with 30’ leafy green trees, and less fruit/lower quality fruit. So, I’ll probably stick with what I’ve been doing - fertilize now with a lower N fertilizer + micros, and top with wood chips to help improve my soil and retain soil moisture.

Patty S.

I think your right about the nitrogen I try to avoid it because to much leafy growth is a fruit growers enemy. As mentioned above I tried fish emulsions once on my soil and it took years to correct the problems I caused on that small 3’ x 5’ plot with that idea. It sounds like your soil is very good for growing fruit as it is now. When I try something new I do small test plots first. I grew three aronia plants for 6 years prior to planting 3 acres of aronia. If you do try something new I would limit it to one small area. I use controls as well. My biochar experiment was amazing because I doubled my nanking fruit production on many bushes over the control that did not receive biochar. I have tried biochar on other things and not had any yield improvements.

My neighbors were the ones who initially told me about the magnesium problem years ago that they had. Their expert apparently said " All soil in this area is deficient in magnesium" . To Olpea’s point magnesium is there but it is unusable. My carmine jewel cherries leaves were yellowing and as soon as I applied magnesium as expected they greened up and have had no more problems. My neighbor’s had rose problems they could not correct and had several soil tests done and finally had some one come out to their farm who determined it was in fact a magnesium problem based on the leaves. Most of my neighbors use Epson salts but I just buy a 50 lb bag of magnesium every so often and use it as needed. The symptoms are clear with yellowing leaves but the veins in the leaves sometimes stay green. I think it’s a problem from high ph and to much potassium. I forgot to mention my cow manure is the aged 10 year old stuff. I’m aware manure contains potassium as well.