21 September, 2007

22 Sept. Handout: Notes for Soils Lecture

We know more about the movement of celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot. Leonardo da Vinci

(note to class: the figures do not appear in this post, but all the data is the same)

Soil Formation

1. Climate – including temperature and rainfall
2. Organisms – from the itty bitty (microscopic) to the biggies (macroscopic)
3. Topography – (the book calls relief) – land surface
4. Parent material – the original rock
5. Time – the factor that weathers us all.

Components of Soil

50 % Water/air – in proportion to one another
45% Parent Material – underlying rock
5% Organic matter (OM) – more or less
Soil Composition

Characteristics of Soil Components

Property/Behavior Sand Silt Clay
Water holding Low Medium + High
Aeration Good Medium Poor
Drainage rate High Medium Slow/Very slow
Soil organic matter Low Medium + High
of organic matter Rapid Medium Slow
Speed of warming Rapid Medium Slow
Compactability Low Medium High
Storage of nutrients Low Medium High
Resistance to pH change Low Medium High

Soil Texture

Is defining how the proportion of these differing components are found in a given soil. An ideal soil is a mix of all these different components. While it is possible to have a soil that is composed of one or the other component, the likelihood is that it will be a combination of all three. The proportion of one to the next determines how you call your soil.

Each shovel of soil holds more living things than all the human beings ever born.


The following books were used in the development of this lecture with my notes on each.

Dirt, The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth,
Logan, William Bryant, 1995, Riverhead Books; A series of passionate essays pleading to respect the earth and to rethink how we define ‘dirty.’

Elements of the Nature and Properties of Soils,
Brady, Nyle et al, 2000, Prentice Hall; This is the simple version of the text I had in my soil class. It is really dense and a good reference when you settle in to teach soils, but unless you have a lot of organic chemistry under your belt, it will probably serve you as a door stop more than a book.

Out Of The Earth: Civilization and the Life of the Soil, Hillel, Daniel. 1991 Free Press; The paperback is published by University of California Press. Not strictly a soils text, I recommend this book very highly. It is a grand overview of how soils shape civilization and how failure to understand and conserve them has resulted in the fall of civilizations – much more than even losing battles! Worth every second you invest in it!

Soil Science Simplified, 4th Edition, Dohnke, Helmut et al, 1995, Waveland Press; Just like the title says it is very much a simplification of the concepts and scientific principles of soil. A lot of big scientific words, and not light reading, but still highly recommended.

Teaming with Microbes, A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web, Lowenfels, Jeff et al, 2006 Timber Press; Look up all the titles in the Timber Press catalog – one of the more important horticultural publishing houses in business today! I wish I had this book when I started gardening – this book presents the latest research on the ecology of the soil. A must read! My next book review in Touch the Soil will be on this book and, after careful reconsideration, I think this is one of the most important books to come out on soils and gardening in many a decade.

The Gardeners’ Guide to Better Soil, Logsdon, Gene, 1975, Rodale Press; The first book to turn me on to soils and a real page turner, although it’s out of print and a real bear to find. Gene Logsdon is brash, outspoken, political and opinionated. He goes on tangential tirades about the price of gas (in 1975!), but, in part because he is brash, outspoken and opinionated, still he pulls off a book that is informative and easily read and digested.

The Soul of Soil; A Guide to Ecological Soil Management, Gershuny, Grace et al, 1986 Gaia Services; This is a small book, only 109 pages including back notes, but is chock full of information about how to care for your soil. The ‘ecological’ in the title cues you to know that it’s a total organic approach. A great text and easy to read. This is a classic.


Converting Agricultural Measurements for Home Horticulture

Pounds Per Acre Equivalent Quantity per 100 Square Fee
100 3.5 oz.
200 7.5 oz
300 11 oz
400 14.75 oz
500 1 lb. 2.5 oz
600 1 lb. 6 oz.
700 1 lb. 10 oz.
800 1 lb. 13 oz.
900 2 lb. 1 oz
1000 2 lb. 5 oz.
2000 4 lbs. 10 oz.

Some Common Materials and Their Conversion

Material Pounds per Acre Pounds 100 Sq. feet Pounds per 1000 Sq. feet
Blood meal 100 @.25 (¼) 2.5
Sulfur 1000 2.3 23.
Mixed fertilizer
(i.e. 10-10-10) 1000 2.3 23.

Useful conversions
100 pounds per acres = 0.2296 lbs. per 100 square feet
.01 pound = .16 oz
144 sq. inches = 1 square foot
9 sq. feet = 1 square yard
43560 sq. feet = 1 acre
4840 sq. yards = 1 acre

ton = 2000 pounds

How to Take A Soil Sample Test

 Remove as much surface organic matter as possible before taking your soil sample.
 Put approximately one cup of soil into a straight-sided quart jar with lid.
 Add approximately one tablespoon of alum or Calgon bath beads.
 Fill the jar with water almost to the top.
 Shake vigorously for several minutes to get all the soil moistened.
 Let the jar stand undisturbed for at least one hour.
 The soil mix will separate into layers. The longer it sits, the more distinct the layers will appear.
 Figure out the percentages of sand, silt, clay, and organic matter. The sand will be the bottom layer. Silt will be the next layer, followed by clay. Organic matter will float on top of the water.
 Determine soil type by comparing percentages with soil triangle. Follow arrows in example—15% sand, 70% silt, and 15% clay—to merge at silty loam category.
 Understanding soil type will help you know how to properly amend, fertilize, water, and plant so that you will have healthy, disease-resistant, and pest-resistant plants.

What to do and How to do it:

Follow these steps to determine the name of your soil texture:

1. Place the edge of a ruler at the point along the base of the triangle that represents the percent of sand in your sample. Position the ruler on or parallel to the lines which slant toward the base of the triangle.
2. Place the edge of a second ruler at the point along the right side of the triangle that represents the percent of silt in your sample. Position the ruler on or parallel to the lines which slant toward the base of the triangle.
3. Place the point of a pencil or water soluble marker at the point where the two rulers meet. Place the top edge of one of the rulers on the mark, and hold the ruler parallel to the horizontal lines. The number on the left should be the percent of clay in the sample.
4. The descriptive name of the soil sample is written in the shaded area where the mark is located. If the mark should fall directly on a line between two descriptions, record both names.

Feel the texture of a moist soil sample. Sand will feel "gritty", while silt will feel like powder or flour. Clay will feel "sticky" and hard to squeeze, and will probably stick to your hand. Looking at the textural triangle, try to estimate how much sand, silt, or clay is in the sample. Find the name of the texture that this soil corresponds to.

17 September, 2007

15 Sept. Handout: A General Gardening Bibliography

These are not textbooks – there will be no ‘required reading’ from them – but they are books most gardeners will find extremely helpful over the years. I recommend you put them on your shelf as they will answer most of your questions and give you new windows of opportunity for you and your garden. The books that follow are general garden books – usually each subject we will cover in class will have its own specific list of references. Do not feel obligated to buy each book, but if you are interested in that particular topic, I have pointed you towards a place to go to feed your curiosity.

Sunset Western Garden Guide 8th Edition, Brenzel, Kathleen Norris, Editor, ©2007, Sunset Publishing All of the recent editions have their merit, but each successive edition has more plants and updates the scientific undergirding of gardening, so I encourage you to invest in the most recent edition you can afford (used copies are usually easy to find, either locally or at Amazon.com). This is the number one go-to book for horticulture in Southern California; no other book is as authoritative as this one for our area. We cannot take advice from most gardening books and apply it to what we do in Los Angeles because our climate and soils are nothing like the rest of the world – especially the east coast and England where most books about gardening originate.

Pests of the Garden and Small Farm, A Growers Guide to Using Less Pesticide, Flint,. Mary Louise, © 1990, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Publishing There is a second edition out that I have on order, but haven’t seen yet. This is another publication that is specific to us in California. It, and its sister volume, Pests of Landscape Plants also published by UC’s ANR division, are loaded with color photographs of all the pest (including insects, rodents, diseases, fungi and all the things that make gardeners grow gray hair) and the effects of the pests on our plants. A very valuable resource!

Common-Sense Pest Control, Olkowski, William, et al © 1991, Taunton Press This is a well written comprehensive text dealing with pest control. No color pictures, but lots of black and white ones and charts. This one is better for learning how to strategize against pests and so is better for more advanced reading into the art and science of pest control – if this is the kind of subject that cranks your tractor. Taunton Press is the place of origin for Fine Gardening Magazine among others.

How To Identify Flowering Plant Families
, Baumgardt, John Philip, © 1982 Timber Press This is one of a zillion good titles from the Timber Press family of books. No matter how obscure of a gardening interest you can come up with, Timber Press probably has a book of reference for it. They publish large books on orchids, roses, amaryllis, rock gardens and gardening of all kinds. If you want to learn more about how plants get named ‘lily’ vs. ‘amaryllis’ (which has been a topic of much debate in case you missed the headlines!), then this is the book for you to snuggle into.

15 Sept. Handout: The Principles of Organic Gardening

1. The garden is its own ecosystem - strive to work within nature, including the following…

2. Diversity - not monoculture, try to have a variety of species – and try to keep something in bloom year round

3. Right plant; right place - plant at the proper time, in the proper place, shade plants in shade; full sun plants in full sun

4. Feed the soil - not the plant; increase soil’s fertility as an ecosystem, not simply as something to keep your plants from blowing away!

5. Work with nature - don’t “declare war” on pests, try to understand their needs and cycles and deal with them appropriately – remember that a garden with the most insects probably has the least insect damage.

6. Recycle/Compost - “To everything there is a season, Turn Turn Turn” - the compost pile

7. Knowledge - research resources, they’re everywhere, i.e. magazines, retailers (catalogs and brochures), societies and clubs, TV shows, books, other gardeners, and the internet!


BAKER CREEK HEIRLOOM SEEDS; 2278 Baker Creek Road Mansfield, MO 65704; 417.924.8917 www.rareseeds.com

BOUNTIFUL GARDENS; 18001 Shafer Ranch Road; Willits, CA 95490;
707.459.6410 www.bountifulgardens.org

JOHNNY'S SELECTED SEEDS; Foss Hill Road; Albion, ME 04910-9731;
207.437.4301 orders

NICHOLS GARDEN NURSERY; 1190 North Pacific Hwy. Albany, OR 97321-4598; 503.928.9280 www.nicholsgardennursery.com

*PEACEFUL VALLEY FARM SUPPLY; PO Box 2209; Grass Valley, CA 95945; 916.272.4769 www.groworganic.com

PINETREE GARDEN SEEDS; PO Box 300, Rt. 100; New Gloucester, ME 04260; 207.926.3400 www.superseeds.com

SEED SAVERS EXCHANGE; Rt. 3 Box 239; Decorah, Iowa 52101; 563.382.5990 Membership fees $25. Free brochure. www.seedsavers.org

SEEDS OF CHANGE; 621 Old Sante Fe Trail, #10; Santa Fe, NM 87501; 505.438.8080 Catalog is listed at $5, but I’ve never paid for one. www.seedsofchange.com

THOMPSON & MORGAN INC.; PO Box 1308; Jackson, NJ 08525-0308 Phone 908.363.2225; 800. 274.7333 for orders seeds.thompson-morgan.com/

15 Sept. Handout: Suggestions for Cool Season Gardens

Artichokes (a perennial)
Burpee’s Golden, Chiogga
Premium Crop, Shogun
Brussel Sprouts
Cabbage (including Oriental cabbage-like greens)
Mokum, Parris Market
Cauliflower – there are purple ones too!
Argentata, Five Color Silverbeet,
Fava Beans
Windsor; Aprovecho (sometimes appended with “Select”)
Florence Fennel (bulbing)
Romy, Zefa Fino.
Garlic (this is a long season crop, plant in Fall harvest next Summer)
Dinosaur or Black Kale
Carina, King Richard
more varieties than you can shake a stick at – or grow a mix!
Onions (also a long season growing; find “short-day” varieties)
Other leafy salad things
All-Blue, Caribe, Yukon Gold
French Breakfast, Fluo, Easter Egg, Purple Plum

Include all perennial herbs and perennial flowers. In addition, try some fun annuals like calendulas, larkspur, poppies (bread, California or Iceland types), sweet peas, and venidium. Make room for cilantro! Lots of cilantro!!

15 Sept. Handout: Suggestions for Warm Season Gardens

Lettuce Leaf, Genova Profumatissima,
Beans - drying
Black Turtle
Beans - lima
Beans- snap
Roc d’Or, Romano, Royal Burgundy
Sweet Corn
Early Sunglow, Golden Bantam, Peaches and Cream, Country Gentleman
Lemon, Mideast Prolific
Asian Bride., Rosa Bianca
Peppers (Sweet)
Peppers (Hot)
Squash (Summer)
Zahra, Lebanese White
Squash (Winter)
Acorn, Spaghetti, ornamental gourds
Brandywine, Golden Jubilee, Italian Gold, Orange Sungold, San Remo, Stupice, Sweet 100’s, Yellow Pear and about a thousand others!

Plant from seed or buy transplants at a nursery of fun warm-season annual flowers like marigolds, cleome (watch the stickers!), cosmos, sunflowers and zinnias. These warm season flowers make cheerful bouquets. You can also grow everlasting flowers like statice and gomphrena. The widest selection of flowers and vegetables is available to those who start their own from seed and order by mail from the catalogs above and many, many others.