nutrients Do's and Dont's of Feeding the Soil?

I've been spinning my wheels for a few days regarding properly building and maintaining the appropriate soil biota for healthy growth. I've used chemical fertilizers in the past as well as organic fertilizers, compost, and fish/seaweed emulsions. My peppers grew very well until a few years ago. They still grew, but not quite as well as before. I got my soil tested and it came back that I was high in some nutrients (calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium) and that my pH was a little high (about 7.2). Assuming the high pH was decreasing nutrient availability, I added a little pelletized sulfur last month according to directions to resore pH, but even afterwards I started wondering if something else is missing. I'm wondering now if I were to boost soil biota (both beneficial bacteria and fungi, as well as adding humic acid) if I would increase nutrient availability to the peppers.

A few of the approaches that I've considered:

Grabbing some of the humus layer from a local forest floor and adding it to the garden. My one hesitation is that NJ is deer tick central and I really don't want any of that noise in my yard.

Using the aforementioned humus to make a compost tea/aerated compost tea

Using AACT with a blend of some compost/humus, myco inoculant, fish and seaweed

Adding humic acid and some of the leaf compost that I have, and just waiting and giving the humus layer some time to restore itself in my garden (note that I turned the soil a few times over the years, which probably didn't help the humus layer much).

My hesitation with any of the above approaches is that I really don't have a baseline of what the soil biota already is in my garden. Testing it would be expensive, and I've already invested quite a bit into my garden this year.

Can anyone please offer some guidance on how I might approach an inexpensive and foolproof way to boost soil biota for this year? I'm not necessarily looking for perfect soil this very year, I figure 7.2 isn't terrible for pH and eventually it'll restore itself, but I'd like to take some steps towards improving the health of my soil and within the next few years really get it on point. Any guidance is really appreciated! @Pepper-Guru I know you've talked about this in the past and would love to hear your input as well.

Many thanks!
 
Solution
The absolute fastest way to do this is to mow the lawn, bag the clippings and also run over heavy leaf litter areas in the lawn. Mix each green and brown bagged clippings together in 6ft tall pyramid piles, watering in each layer as it's applied. Within a day or so you should be at 140F. Keep turning and irrigating. WIthin a month or two, you have the perfect soil to grow in 100% in your beds or containers or top dressing inground plots. Then don't forget living mulch layers like leaf litter or pine straw.
The absolute fastest way to do this is to mow the lawn, bag the clippings and also run over heavy leaf litter areas in the lawn. Mix each green and brown bagged clippings together in 6ft tall pyramid piles, watering in each layer as it's applied. Within a day or so you should be at 140F. Keep turning and irrigating. WIthin a month or two, you have the perfect soil to grow in 100% in your beds or containers or top dressing inground plots. Then don't forget living mulch layers like leaf litter or pine straw.
 
Solution
I've been spinning my wheels for a few days regarding properly building and maintaining the appropriate soil biota for healthy growth. I've used chemical fertilizers in the past as well as organic fertilizers, compost, and fish/seaweed emulsions. My peppers grew very well until a few years ago. They still grew, but not quite as well as before. I got my soil tested and it came back that I was high in some nutrients (calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium) and that my pH was a little high (about 7.2). Assuming the high pH was decreasing nutrient availability, I added a little pelletized sulfur last month according to directions to resore pH, but even afterwards I started wondering if something else is missing. I'm wondering now if I were to boost soil biota (both beneficial bacteria and fungi, as well as adding humic acid) if I would increase nutrient availability to the peppers.

A few of the approaches that I've considered:

Grabbing some of the humus layer from a local forest floor and adding it to the garden. My one hesitation is that NJ is deer tick central and I really don't want any of that noise in my yard.

Using the aforementioned humus to make a compost tea/aerated compost tea

Using AACT with a blend of some compost/humus, myco inoculant, fish and seaweed

Adding humic acid and some of the leaf compost that I have, and just waiting and giving the humus layer some time to restore itself in my garden (note that I turned the soil a few times over the years, which probably didn't help the humus layer much).

My hesitation with any of the above approaches is that I really don't have a baseline of what the soil biota already is in my garden. Testing it would be expensive, and I've already invested quite a bit into my garden this year.

Can anyone please offer some guidance on how I might approach an inexpensive and foolproof way to boost soil biota for this year? I'm not necessarily looking for perfect soil this very year, I figure 7.2 isn't terrible for pH and eventually it'll restore itself, but I'd like to take some steps towards improving the health of my soil and within the next few years really get it on point. Any guidance is really appreciated! @Pepper-Guru I know you've talked about this in the past and would love to hear your input as well.

Many thanks!

It may not be soil microbes at all. Nutrient availability often depends on soil pH. Some nutes are more available in acidic conditions and some in basic, the best all-around pH is neutral to slightly acidic... 6.7 to 7
Pelletized sulfur takes a while to begin working because it's in pellet form. It needs moisture to dissolve. Have you been getting enough rain lately? I made the mistake early on of adding wood ashes to my veggie garden to increase potassium, but there's 4 times more calcium in hardwood ashes than potassium and I ended up kicking my pH up to 7.8 That was enough to lock out some of the nutes. To remedy that I've been adding powdered sulfur, which acts more quickly.
It's a dense read, but I strongly recommend reading a book titled: "The Intelligent Gardener, Or How To Grow Nutrient-dense Vegetables" by Steve Solomon. I followed his recommendations in my 2018 soil mineralization glog if you're interested.
 
@Pepper-Guru @stickman thank you for the advice!

Pepper-Guru I usually do this, but it was advised by my cooperative extension to not add any more compost to the soil because of how rich in nutrients it already was. I'm going to follow your advice, theirs didn't make sense to me. There are two 55-gallon pvc drums out back that have some composted leaves and grass in them, that's going to be put down this week as a mulch layer because we have some heat coming.

Stickman I think you're on the mark here with the pH. I also added wood ash about 2-3 years ago (not too much, but apparently it was enough to kick the pH up). Thanks for the book recommendation. Yes I'm definitely interested in your mineralization glog.
 
@Pepper-Guru @stickman thank you for the advice!

Pepper-Guru I usually do this, but it was advised by my cooperative extension to not add any more compost to the soil because of how rich in nutrients it already was. I'm going to follow your advice, theirs didn't make sense to me. There are two 55-gallon pvc drums out back that have some composted leaves and grass in them, that's going to be put down this week as a mulch layer because we have some heat coming.

Stickman I think you're on the mark here with the pH. I also added wood ash about 2-3 years ago (not too much, but apparently it was enough to kick the pH up). Thanks for the book recommendation. Yes I'm definitely interested in your mineralization glog.
Definitely go easy on wood ash. That’ll have you chasing your tail for sure. @stickman is on the money with the PH advice.

I tend to shoot for 6.5 or slightly lower in my medium and have a Blue Labs meter with soil probe, but in all honesty, I don’t even use it at this point or worry about PH. The composted humus I use is always pretty consistent and I have my input game down to a science. A soil full of life will generally sort out ph issues, but things like wood ash can really spike it for a bit.

Some other reading material that you may be interested in, that certainly changed my entire paradigm on this nutrient availability issue are Jeff Lownfels “Teaming With” series. Those books are single handedly responsible for opening my mind and giving me that “ah ha!” moment. Specifically Teaming With Nutrients. But they are all important. The most recent Teaming With Bacteria really hits home the role of root Rhizophagy and that will blow your mind.
 
Definitely go easy on wood ash. That’ll have you chasing your tail for sure. @stickman is on the money with the PH advice.

I tend to shoot for 6.5 or slightly lower in my medium and have a Blue Labs meter with soil probe, but in all honesty, I don’t even use it at this point or worry about PH. The composted humus I use is always pretty consistent and I have my input game down to a science. A soil full of life will generally sort out ph issues, but things like wood ash can really spike it for a bit.

Some other reading material that you may be interested in, that certainly changed my entire paradigm on this nutrient availability issue are Jeff Lownfels “Teaming With” series. Those books are single handedly responsible for opening my mind and giving me that “ah ha!” moment. Specifically Teaming With Nutrients. But they are all important. The most recent Teaming With Bacteria really hits home the role of root Rhizophagy and that will blow your mind.

Thank you again!
 
A decade ago, when I still lived in a temperate region, I applied the no-dig philosophy with good results. I had a sandy soil there, very poor in organic matter and minerals in general. I had made raised beds and topped the soil with mushroom compost, never working it into the soil. In the end, the garden can sorts of run itself and the gardener can dedicate more time on the fun side of gardening. As Pepper-Guru said:

I tend to shoot for 6.5 or slightly lower in my medium and have a Blue Labs meter with soil probe, but in all honesty, I don’t even use it at this point or worry about PH. The composted humus I use is always pretty consistent and I have my input game down to a science

Back then, I was inspired by the books of Charles Dowding. He was starting a farm those days and made very instructive videos. However, I have somewhat the idea that over the years fame went to his head. Still, the technique works and delivers good results.
 
Got my first Organic Farming & gardening magazine in 1974.
More important was the two lessons I learned from where I started
growing plants.

I found myself in Central Ohio after growing up in Tropical countries.
Farms were huge fields of yellowish brown soil that dried in the winter
with white salt crystals from salt base Chemicals.

I did ask some older farmers about how farmers turned up the clay &
buried the rich top soil. They said they did not till so deep in the past & used
more manure & farm waste.

The real lesson came being in the forest hunting mushrooms & herbs.
Northern forrest are unique, the are dark & cool with 6" to 8" cover of
black soil full of life. It grows great big trees & Luscious plants without tilling.

Mastered what to add a while ago. New Organic ideas come along
& beg to be tried. I discovered 2 Organic living Bio Fungicides & have
had some very dramatic results.

Tried Bacillus Amyloliquefaciens first & added Bacillus Subtilis the next season.
Soaked up coco coir pellets with the BF in water, then at every watering thereafter.

I have not had any damp off, Fungus gnats that weakened any starts & no sudden die off.

Since we are talking soil I will focus on what I believe is going on below the soil surface.
These 2 Bio Fungicides are alive & colonise the roots & plant surfaces & prevent the bad fungus
& bacteria from gaining a foothold. No Chemical strengthens the plants immune system like
these 2 living Bio Fungicides. What happens when you spray it on is just fantastic IMHO.

Side Note: I believe the Bio Fungicides prevented the fungus that Larvae of the Fungus gnat eats.




Bacillus Amyloliquefaciens GFF Garden Friendly Fungicide

https://www.starbiozyme.com/product/bacillus-amyloliquefaciens

Bacillus Subtilis CEASE​

 
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