Soil Building, Soil Amendments, Rain Barrels that will not Make You Sick and Tired of this World

This planet is our one and only home. We have no other choice – we must care for it.

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The world is desperately in need of help. Everything seems to be polluted. Good thing, more and more people are becoming concerned with the environment that they start doing things to rescue the things that are still left.

This is why I came out with this idea of discussing soil building, soil amendments and rain barrels. The aim is to help give readers like you tips on how to maximize the things we have without adding effluence in this polluted world we have pretty much like the compost guide we published recently.

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We are going to tackle the following topics today:

Soil Building, Soil Amendments, Rain Barrels

1

Contents

Soil 101

Defining soils

The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness - Dalai Lama

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soil and water

We do not give importance to soil as much as we are concerned with water. I have seen so many people carelessly throwing non-biodegradable junks and even contaminated fluids in pits. They do not realize how vital soils are.

In our grade school science days, our teachers have emphasized how many life forms starts and depend on soil. The things we eat such as fruits and vegetables are nourished by soils. The things we eat such as animals also get their nourishments from the organic matters.

Soil is a rich source of minerals and elements. These nutrients are essential to plants, animals, and even human life.


Description

Soil comes in different forms. The majority of the populace do not really take a good look at the soil under our feet, but they are being studied and classified accordingly by gardeners like us. We understand that certain plants and crops grow bountifully under specific kinds of soils.

It is full of both inorganic and organic materials. It can appear in different colors brown, white, red and black. It also has various textures and thickness. The chemical composition of one soil also differs from others.


Soil Formation

Man carelessly adulterates soils which take as long as centuries to form. It undergoes four lengthy stages starting by pulverizing stones. This process is also known as weathering. Conversion of certain elements is needed to form beneficial compounds (examples would be nitrogen to ammonia).

Adding of algae and fungus would then be the next stage. The collaboration of this two (lichens) creates the environment more conducive to live in by providing glucose and oxygen. Stage three starts when plants start to grow in pockets of soil. This involves the building of humus and growth of soil horizons.

Lastly, the fourth stage serves as the mature soil, allowing abundant vegetation to take place.


Types of soils

soil-types

Soil profiles are necessary to understand the types of soil. Soil profiles allow us to see the layers beneath. There are 3 basic kinds of soils namely clay, sand, and silt. Let us discuss it one by one.

Chalk – Chalk deposits can be found in limestone beds. It contains high lime but low water rates. It is alkaline which makes it not conducive for plant growth as it produces them to become yellow and underdeveloped.

Clay – This is the finest type of soil. It is compact, have little to no space for water or air to circulate. This type is also not suitable for planting but is perfect for pottery.

Sand – Do you remember weathering? Sand is the end product of rock pulverization. It is not compact and granular. Sand does not hold water nor nutrient, hence, it should not be used in growing plants.

Silt – If you wanted a finer type of sand, go for a silt. It is still loose but it can tolerate water better.

Loam – This is a combination of the three abovementioned types. It can hold lots of nutrients and water. It is also well ventilated making it ideal for vegetation.

Peaty soil – Have you seen dark brown or black soils? This is what you call peaty soil. Although loam is good for plants, peaty soil is the best option. It has higher moisture and nutrient retention rate which can make plants stay healthy in both wet and dry season.

What are its functions?


  1. Soil maintains the ecosystem – soil serves as a great biological habitat for a number of organisms. We are talking not only about plants or plants serving as the food for animals. I would like to highlight bacteria, algae and the likes which are necessary for life on earth to continue.
  2. Soil serves as the foundation for natural and man-made structures – where can plants stand without soil? What about your house? Buildings and bridges?
  3. Soil act as a very good reservoir for elements and minerals – raw materials which serve as our resources in building products come from soil. Think about gold, diamonds, and iron to easily comprehend this idea.
  4. Soil recycles all life forms – as living substances die and decompose, the soil will absorb the nutrients and makes it available for others to use.
  5. Soil protects other sources of life – we are talking about water and other organic and inorganic matters. It regulates water drainage, stream, and storage.

2

What are Soil Amendments?

amend-soil

Kinds

Generally speaking, you can call any substance you add to soil to enhance its current state soil amendment. There are two classifications namely fertilizers and soil conditioners.

Fertilizers

Soil Conditioners

The main aim of fertilizers is to stimulate the healthy evolution of plants. Fertilizers have minerals and nutrients like carbohydrates and even proteins.

Primary nutrients are the ones which the soil needs in massive amounts. These are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. On the other hand, there are also secondary nutrients calcium, magnesium, and sulfur.

Trace elements or micronutrients are also an important component of fertilizers. Examples of this include zinc, chlorine, copper, iron, boron, molybdenum and manganese.

There are bulky organic fertilizers and chemical fertilizers. The latter is also known as inorganic fertilizers which are formulated in laboratories. These chemical fertilizers contain the primary nutrients and may be in a form of powder or granular.

Although the benefits of fertilizers are undeniable, improper use of it can destroy the tiny ecosystem in your nutrient rich soil. For example, dried chicken poop, inorganic fertilizers, and blood meals if not carefully measured can affect the root hairs of plants.

You might have encountered conditioners for the hair and you know that it makes the hair softer and full of life. That is the same for soil conditioners. They add nutrients, improve the soil and even repair damaged soils.

It aims to make the soil more compact so that there would be adequate spaces in which the water and air can circulate. This can even promote healthy growth of roots.

Soil conditioners are made up of organic substances such as animal manures, compost, and peat moss.

You have to understand, however, that not all animal wastes are good for the soil. Your pet’s excreta, for example, is not safe to use in soils for vegetables and fruits. Fresh manures are also not recommended, so only put animal wastes that have been stored for at least 6 months.

We can mix the conditioner to the soil or make it serve as a layer of covering depending on the type of land you have. It can consist of plain minerals or organic matters.


What are the Different Choices for Soil Amendment?

There are different kinds of soil amendments you can choose from. You just have to make sure that you know the profile of your soil so that you can really nurture it and not harm it in the long run.

Coconut Coir (1 part coir: 2-3 parts soil)

Chicken manure (0.0063 pounds: 200 sq. ft.)

Azomite (1 to 2 pounds: 100 sq. ft.)

Compost (1 to 20 pounds: 100 sq. ft.)

Sul-Po-Mag (5 to 10 pounds: 1,000 sq. ft.)

Kelp Meal (5 to 20 pounds: 1,000 sq. ft.)

Sulfur (10 pounds: 1,000 sq. ft.)

Worm castings (5 to 10 pounds: 100 sq. ft.)

Blood meal (10 to 30 pounds: 1,000 sq. ft.)

Bone meal (10 to 35 pounds: 1,000 sq. ft.)

Alfalfa meal (25 to 50 pounds: 1,000 sq. ft.)

Dolomite lime (25 to 50 pounds: 1,000 sq. ft.)

Shellfish meal (30 pounds: 1,000 sq. ft.)

Gypsum (40 to 120 pounds: 1,000 sq. ft.)

Green sand (50 to 100 pounds: 1,000 sq. ft.)

Rock Dust (50 to 150 pounds: 1,000 sq. ft.)

Rock Phosphate (50 pounds per 1,000 sq. ft.)


How to choose Soil Amendment?

Although there are so many options to choose from, we should not use amendments to our soil carelessly. In fact, when there is a huge list given to you, you should actually be more cautious. There are things you have to take into careful consideration and we are going to talk about it in succession.


Soil testing

soil test

You might think that this is another waste of money and time but you should not have that mentality. This will actually save your effort, time and money in due course. Do not buy fertilizers, soil conditioners or plant growers not until you have assessed your soil.

Soil testing will tell you which nutrients or minerals your soil is lacking. With this in mind, you can now narrow down your choices as to which soil amendment you should buy.


​Understand the texture, salinity, and pH of your soil

Whether you want a coarse, or sticky, or in-between, you have to understand how your soils hold water and nutrients. Do away with amendments that have increased salinity as it will not make your soil healthy. On top of the salt content, make sure you know the pH of your soil and chose your amendment accordingly.


Selecting the type of amendment​

Given all of the types and subtypes of amendment, conduct a research to determine what best match for the results that you got is. With that in mind, choose whether to use organic or inorganic matter.


Know the prolonged existence of your amendment

Should you be using a soil that decomposes quickly or slowly? Get an amendment that rapidly decomposes if you want to see results fast. On the contrary, go for the slow one if you want to see continuing results. And if you want both outcomes, buy the combination of the two.


3

What is Soil Building?

Importance of Soil Building

Feed the soil to feed the plants – mother earth news

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When you help in the natural process of the soil building, the long wait can be shortened. You will help encourage microscopic organisms to create a healthy habitat for them. The longer these bacteria, fungi, earthworms and even mites stay in the soil, the higher the nutrients the soil and plants will receive.

When you plant in these soils, there would be a mutual relationship between the abovementioned organisms and the plant. The crop will serve as a food source and in return, the microorganisms will act as a shield against diseases and insect attacks.

When you avoid tilling or disturbing the land, you do not only promote nutrient and moisture retention by thwarting fast decay of organic substances. This method also prevents the release of carbon dioxide. This compound is a great contributor to global warming. As a result, no tilling plus no carbon dioxide release equals reduced global warming.

When you save the soil from disturbance, you create an environment that is well-nourished, well-ventilated and well-hydrated. This is the type of land that is very conducive for crop growth and microorganism sustenance.

When you use cover crop, it will mature as the ultimate mulch for your land. You should just wait until the time your plant flowers, gather them and transplant other plants’ root ball onto it. This will protect the land even more in the long run as mulching suppresses weed growth and avoids crusting of soil that will lead to erosion. Just make sure that the entire land is evenly layered with your cover crop. If not, you may simply augment it with organic mulches.

How to Start Soil Building?

Failing to plan is planning to fail. – Allen Lakein

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Materials

  1. You will need the same testing kit that we have used in selecting soil amendment. In the same light, it is important to know your land profile before starting. If you are not sure how it works, you can always hire your local coop expert or send your land samples to a laboratory.
  2. You will be needing rake or shovel to help aerate the soil.
  3. Another thing that you will eventually make use of is your choice of organic soil amendment. Please refer to the previous section to know the correct measurement per square foot of soil.

Process

The flow rate and the pressure should also be highly considered especially if you would be getting electronic pump sprayers.

#1 - Testing

This test would basically serve as your doctor’s ‘blood chemistry’ test. It will give you a picture of the ranges of your land’s pH, micro, and macro nutrient.

If you are a seasoned gardener already, you may have an idea about the problems in your soil just by looking at the plants or crops that grow on it. You can easily identify whether it needs pH adjustment or a particular nutrition. If not, do not despair, because a lot of DIY kits are available. Also, you can always ask help from your agricultural community or land laboratories near you.

Let me repeat again, if you fail to test your soil, you will eventually waste more money, effort and time.

#2 - Determine pH Levels and Adjust as Needed

The key number that you have to remember is 7.0; this is the neutral point. More than 7.0 mean that your soil is alkaline and less than 7.0 mean that your dirt is considered acidic. The pH level that plants enjoy would range between 6.0 and 7.0.

Correct the pH of the soil if ever you found out that it is alkaline or acidic depending on the plants that you plan to grow. Azaleas and blueberries love an acidic environment. Pines like oaks and white pines prefer alkaline soil on the other hand.

If you do not fine-tune accordingly you will just predispose your crops to diseases, deficiencies and stunted growth. You may observe that your plant is starting to appear abnormal or that they may be weak; unable to withstand natural weather and they will have very minimal pest tolerance.

There are available organic and chemical products in the market which you can add to your soil to change the pH level. Alkaline soils will need acidifying nitrogen, aluminum sulfate, and elemental sulfur for example. Limestones can help acidic soils as well as wood ash.

#3 - Ventilate the land

Get your rake or shovel now because you will have to turn your soil. Dig and turn 1-thick soil starting from one corner of your garden. This will ensure that all parts were properly aerated. I understand that some of us simply don’t have the luxury of time. Now, if you have no time to do it manually, it is okay to resort to plows or Rototiller (check out our highly recommended products in another article).

#4 - Adding Organic Matter

Depending on the type of soil you have, you can now incorporate your preferred organic amendment to your soil. Consider the texture of the land and the results that you got from the test. You will have to find an organic matter that does not only match your needs; you will have to add what the soil lacks to achieve a perfect state of health.

Another thing to make sure that your measurement is correct because you do not want to overfeed or starve your land.

As you turn the soil, you can slowly add your amendment so as to distribute it evenly. Doing this can be done before planting and during mid-season.

On the latter technique, however, you do not have to undergo the process of ventilation anymore. You can just simply add your organic matter at the drip line or plant base. To do this, create a furrow by digging 1 to 2 inches deep at the drip line. Otherwise, you can dig 6 inches from the base of the plant.

#5 - Grow cover crops

In addition to the organic matter that you mix with the soil, you can also put cover crop to protect the soil from natural wearing (wind and water exposure). You may use rye grass and green manures. Leave them in the soil for 6 to 12 months. We usually till cover crops before planting in spring.​

Here’s a video about soil building I believe would be beneficial to you:​


4

Healthy Soil, Bad Soil

Healthy Soil

How can we describe a healthy soil? Let me count the ways…

  • Organic - Nowadays, the word organic is directly connoted with the word healthy. It goes not only for food because we can also do the same correlation with soils. If the soils you take care of do not have chemicals or toxins, we can consider it as a healthy land.
  • Rich - We are talking about the normal values in all the micro and macronutrients, as well as pH. A healthy soil will have values within the standard range; not in excess and no deficiencies. This will eventually come up with plants that are growing optimally.
  • Extensive - A land that can have a good tilth, sufficient layering, and good drainage is healthy. This will make your plants grow without exerting too much stress. The plants will have ample space to grow its roots. The soil can handle excess water well and at the same time, it is able to hold the needed amount.
  • Bio-diverse - There is a good amount of live microorganisms that are beneficial in building soil, growing and protecting plants. Although bad bacteria can also thrive, a healthy soil does not cater large amounts of pathogens and pests.
  • Resilient - A healthy soil is tough. It can withstand water and wind erosion and at the same time, it can bounce back to its healthy state in case it gets affected with natural calamities.

Bad Soil, Effects

bad soil

We all know that a healthy soil will eventually cultivate healthy bio-diverse environment and vegetation. But most of the people are not aware of the real effects of soil problems. Let me tackle them separately


Acidic Soil

Aluminum toxicity is the primary concern when your soil is acidic. There is a direct relationship between the aluminum content and acidity of the soil. As the latter increase, so will the aluminum. If the aluminum reaches the 2 ppm (parts per million), your sensitive plants will start deteriorating. More forbearing plants will manifest toxicity if it reaches 5 parts per million.

The primary thing that will be affected is the cell division in your roots. It will stop growing, shows a deformity, will become easy to break, and branching out will be decreased. As for the plants, do not expect them to grow well. There would also be a marked reduction of crop yields.

The microbial processes will also be affected when the soil is acidic. As their habitat changes environment, they will either die or transfer to another venue. Bear in mind that these microbes are your partners in building healthy soil.


Alkaline soil

If the problem a while ago is aluminum, you will be concerned with zinc, copper, iron and manganese deficiency when your soil has a pH of more than 7.5.

There would be problems in photosynthesis that will lead to underdeveloped vegetative growth if your zinc levels fall below normal. If you lack copper, you will see abnormalities in the leaves and stems of the plants. In addition to that, the production of enzymes will also weaken.

Iron is important because it creates chlorophyll, an important plant pigment. It absorbs the nutrients from plants and it produces energy and food. Given this fact, plants will become pale, yellow and eventually die. A deficiency on manganese will also manifest the same symptoms because it is also involved in chlorophyll production.

Checking your land

check land

We have mentioned the importance of land assessment several times in this article already but how do we really undergo this process


Testing kits

There are different commercially prepared sets of evaluation tools you can make use of. They come in singles or multiples and they can also be sold separately. They can also be sold as low as $5 to $30 depending on the features.

A kit can contain several strips to test pH, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium individually. You will see instructions which you have to follow carefully so you can get the most accurate result. There will be charts or diagrams which will indicate the actual levels of your nutrients and pH.

There are also digital analyzers in which all you have to do is to insert the probes in your land sample. Some probes only measure pH. But there are available analyzers that can measure more than 1 substance.

These tools can also measure the hydration or moisture content of your land but that is not all. They can also measure the light coming from the sun that passes through your soil. You can then read the results conveniently through the monitor.


Alkaline soil

If the problem a while ago is aluminum, you will be concerned with zinc, copper, iron and manganese deficiency when your soil has a pH of more than 7.5.

There would be problems in photosynthesis that will lead to underdeveloped vegetative growth if your zinc levels fall below normal. If you lack copper, you will see abnormalities in the leaves and stems of the plants. In addition to that, the production of enzymes will also weaken.

Iron is important because it creates chlorophyll, an important plant pigment. It absorbs the nutrients from plants and it produces energy and food. Given this fact, plants will become pale, yellow and eventually die. A deficiency on manganese will also manifest the same symptoms because it is also involved in chlorophyll production.


5

Soil Care

Do the soil testing routinely in an interval of 3 or 4 years. When you are getting samples, make sure that you get a sample from different parts of your garden. Follow DIY instructions properly.

Slopes and erosions are indeed natural but you can prevent this from happening. You can simply make retaining walls. Additionally, you can install a drainage to keep the water from destroying the compacted soil. You can also grade the soil and create terraces to maintain the solidity of your land.

If you have rocky soil, it does not mean you cannot do anything about it. Simply layer garden beds on top of it and you can now use the land for cultivation. Transport soils and maintain it without digging through the land. Create several layers of composts and other organic amendments and follow soil building process discussed above.

Choosing the perfect organic amendment is another key in winter soil care. Although it will not decay as fast as it does during summer time, it will still contribute nutrients to your land. Do not forget to install drainage system to prevent winter drought.

The manures you make use of can bring good but at the same time, it can harm your soil. Make sure that you add your manures that have not been composted in fall. Do not use it as crop cover; instead, you have to mix the manure 4 to 6 inches deep.

If you notice weeds or diseased plants, remove them as early as possible as this will harm the land as it can harm other crops.

Winter might be another concern for most gardeners. This cold weather should not stop you from building your soils. Primarily, what you wanted to avoid is making it compacted. You can prevent this by not walking over it or not running vehicles or machines over it. Using a hose-on clay breaker, you may drench your land as well.

Another winter issue would be frozen water, using sodium chloride, potassium nitrate, urea or any fertilizers with nitrogen and phosphorus will be hazardous to the foliage. Instead of these products, you may utilize calcium chloride, calcium magnesium acetate, and potassium chloride.


6

Rain Barrel

Apart from the land, we can also help save mother earth by making the most out of the rain. Thankfully, more and more people are practicing the collection of rainwaters just like how they did it centuries ago.

The percentage of the world that is in need of a clean water is drastically increasing as the years go by. Let us not wait until we run out of it before we appreciate its value.

Did you know that you can collect 24,000 gallons of water every year if your place has an average rainfall of 20 inches per year? Yes, you read that correctly… thousands, gallons. This statistic was from the CountryStudies.US.

Gardening is one of those hobbies that ‘wastes’ water unintentionally. We can minimize this by saving rainwater and using it the next time we hydrate our plants. Aside from that, cleaning is another task that utilizes massive amount of H20. Use rainwater to wash your fences, walls and even cars.

But how? Is this possible even if It does not rain every day? Rain barrels are here to the rescue!

These are containers made especially to store rainwater. They are located under the roof gutter’s downspout. At the bottom part of the barrel, you might see a connector which can be attached to a hose to release the water when you need it. Spigots are an important part of the rain barrel. That is where you attach not only your connectors but screens as well. The screen gets rid of mosquitoes preventing them to lurk in the stagnant water.

Types of Rain Barrel


There are many available choices for rain barrels in the market. You may see one that is made of bricks, ceramics, glass, metal, plastics, woods and even stones. Choose according to your needs. You can buy one or make one yourself.

If you have a permanent spot for your rain barrel, go for the heavy ones like ceramics, glasses and even metals. These would not be ideal, however, if you plan to carry your water barrel from one place to another. Aside from that, these types of materials are fragile and heavy.

The most practical type of rain barrels are the ones made of plastic. They are lightweight and easy to maintain.

When it comes to colors, it is advisable to get dark ones as it prevents light to pass through. Without light, algae will not grow. Also, water gets warm faster – makes it perfect for watering the plant.

Aside from the materials, rain barrels also come in different shapes. Others can be installed discreetly in your walls. Rain barrels are also offered in different designs. There are pop-up barrels, which can be stored conveniently during winter. Others are designed for practicality purposes. You may see rain barrels that have a planter on top or sides. This can complement landscaping.

Importance of Rain Barrel


Types of Rain Barrel

Conservation is the key reason why we should make use of rain barrel. It does not only save us water for future use, it can also save us money! Imagine the water bills going down because you no longer have to open the faucet when you garden or wash your car.

Rainwater does not have chemicals, minerals, chlorine and fluorine. You can just imagine how healthy plants in forests are!

There are special considerations to be remembered, nonetheless. You have to check your roof initially to know if you are using chemicals treatments on it. These formulations aim to prevent algae, lichen, and moss from growing on your roofs. If this is the case, do not use the water to hydrate your plants as it will be detrimental to their health.

If you are growing edible plants, it is also not advisable to make use of the water collected in your rain barrels simply because it is not sanitized – there might be bacteria, pathogens, and other pollutants. This water is also not safe for drinking.

Homemade Rain Barrel


In creating rain barrels, you will need a faucet, hose, and the 40 to 50-gallon plastic barrel. Painting the barrel is optional.

It is very important to measure all equipment before starting. Getting the accurate measurement will save you from repeating your work and can help you establish your rain barrel system faster. You do not want to chop up your gutter only to find out in the end that it is too short. You do not also want to start drilling holes on your bucket that are bigger than your faucet or hose.

To install the faucet, choose the best spot at the lower part of the barrel. Drill a hole in which the faucet can be inserted snugly. Add caulk to secure the faucet in place. It is very important to assemble the faucet perfectly or else you will end up wasting all your effort in the long run.

If we started at the bottom a while ago, installing your hose will be done at the top part of your barrel. Do not place it too high because you will still need to return the cover of the barrel eventually. Drill a hole based on the size of your hose. Secure the connection and clamp the hose to tighten.

For the lid, create holes by drilling circles with 1 and a half inches diameter. Make sure that the holes are properly distributed. Once you are done, place the lid on the barrel and screw it to secure.

In case you would like to paint your plastic barrel, you will need to make the outer layer rough. You can do this using a sandpaper. When you are done, wash the container with a mixture of water and vinegar. Let it sit to dry. Select a paint that is made for plastics. You may use spray paints or the traditional type.

Installing Rain Barrel


Once you already have your rain barrel, the next thing to do is to assemble it. You will need to find a way to elevate your rain barrels. You can use cement or blocks. The foundation should be sturdy and stable, meaning it can maintain its balance even if it is full of water. Make sure that the water is far from the spigot.Overflows should be anticipated. Decide whether you would like to direct your excess water in flower beds, lawn, or if you would like to connect it to another rain barrel.

Conclusion

With all of these topics discussed, I would never get tired of encouraging you, my readers to be proactive when it comes to saving our earth. Regular soil building and correct use of soil amendments will give us nutrient rich soils which we can make use to grow our trees and food sources for the future generation.

Water wastage can be combatted by installing effective rain barrel system; this would eventually save a huge amount of water in the long run.

These activities are not expensive. Yes, it may be time-consuming at first but it will actually give you passive benefits in due course.

I hope you learned a lot from this article. Please feel free to ask us questions, or comment corrections. We love continuous learning and improvement!

Till our next discussion! Don’t forget to share!​

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Image credits:

Amelia
 

Amelia Robinson is a lover of plants and gardens, as well as an educator on this topic. It’s her goal to make sure that you get the chance to learn what you need to about gardening to succeed with your own home garden at the blog RobinsonLovePlants.com. You’re not going to find just a collection of basic articles about gardening here. Instead, she wants to answer the difficult questions for you. She tweets at @robinsonplants

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