Feel free to post questions and corrections, I may have my facts wrong.


My soil test came back. To be honest the results came back in late August but it has taken me awhile to figure them out. The Colorado State University Soil Test Report is easy to read but it doesn’t really explain what all the elements of soil — organic material, nitrate, copper, boron, iron, potassium, potassium, phosphate, pH– actually do. That is where my mind got stuck.

“Hum , potassium, so what does that do for the plant?” I’d find myself wondering while standing in line at La Montanita Co-op.  Several Google hours and a few conversations with County Extension Agent John Garlisch later I have a better idea of what is really going on in my soil.

And having spent a lot of time pondering these soil elements I have a now a good idea about the character of each soil element–dangly earrings, flowery underpants and big calves. Read on….



pH is High at 7.5

Pretty much all of NM has high pH. Most vegetables have a pH preference. Outside their reference range they are more susceptible to diseases and under performance. Acid loving plants (blueberries, blackberries and potatoes) can have a hard time with NM soil. Keep in mind that pine needles are acid and therefor generally fine for our soils, while ashes are alkaline and should not be added to NM soil (despite many gardening publications recommendations).

pH is a lovely lady. She has dangly pearl earrings and keeps a strict schedule. Same place every Tuesday at 10 and Wednesday at 8. It is very hard to get her to alter her schedule, although she can be bribed with sweets.

My solution: do nothing, after all the report says ”most plants tolerate this higher pH with no problem.”



Organic Material is low

Yep. I have sandy, rocky soil. Organic mater helps water stay in the soil and not drain right down. Water in the topsoil facilitates nutrients being more available. Soil that retains moisture also ameliorates the effects of drought and our beating sun.

Organic material has big calves and even bigger ankles. She moves slowly. She is old, having seen many generations before her fall apart right before her eyes, and she has a certain sadness. Despite this, she stops frequently through her day to drink mint tea and watch the birds.

My Solution: add compost and chipped matter–leaves, bean stalks and corn stalks.



Potassium is low

This element assists the plant in converting sun energy and soil nitrogen into usable food for the plant. She is also critical to the plant immune system, which helps the plant cope with drought and cold. And to top it off she helps the plant utilize water. Low potassium can result in stunted growth, poor flower development and low quality veggie harvest (AH HA- all things I had this year!). You can raise the potassium content in your soil but adding potassium rich compost– compost that has lots of  bananas, orange, lemon peels, and beets, spinach and tomatoes. But if it rains a lot the potassium will wash out of your pile. You can also add potash or various seaweeds.

Potassium wears giant flowered underpants, has a shiny whistle in her lips and uses her boss lady gravely voice to get things done.

My solution: kelp meal, throw my orange and banana peels in the garden (both leach usable potassium)


Iron is low

As I understand it, alkaline soil binds iron and makes is less available to plants. Also dry and compacted soils predispose plants to iron deficiency. So in NM we have a riple whamy. Iron deficiency can lead to a problem called chlorosis– the telltale signs being a yellowing of the leaf, while the vein remains darker green. Many trees in NM suffer from chlorsis– susceptible trees are maple, pine, spruce, peach, apple pear trees– as well as raspberries and roses. This problem can be fixed by adding iron chelate or high quality compost to the soil, which helps with pH balance and makes iron more available.

Iron is twiggy and tall and trips easily. She dresses in pale yellow, with yellow eyelet gloves and green tennis shoes. You can most often find her taking a rest on a bench, after having given all her strength away.

My Solution: Not sure yet. Probably add compost.


Nitrate is low

Nitrogen is normally a gas. Our plants access it through the soil, in a solid form which is called Nitrate.Nitrate gets in the soil through the handiwork of soil micro organisms. This process is known as nitrogen fixation. Nitrate deficiency shows as a uniform yellowing of the entire leaf, including the veins (remember in  chlorosis the veins stay dark). Is your head spinning yet? If there is sufficient nitrates then photosynthesis can occur, if not then photosynthesis is weak, a very bad deal for a hungry plant. According to Organic Gardening Magazine nitrate “…availability in the soil depends on factors including the temperature and moisture of air and soil, the composition and condition of soil, and the activity level of soil organisms.” This, I admit, makes correcting the problem seem like trying to ride a chicken in the dark. Nevertheless…

Nitrogen is a large woman in a black dress. She has hairy arm pits, stinky feet and keeps cheese in her fridge until it is covered with mold, which she never bothers to scrap off, and eats voraciously.

My Solution: Cover crops in the winter (they help fix nitrogen), and add compost, aged chicken manure from my flock, and some “Happy Frog” fertilizer that I happen to have on hand (which is 7% nitrates)


Photos of my results:







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