Posts tagged with soil

Soil Temperature – Soil Thermometer

Posted on March 28, 2016 by Leave a comment

Soil Thermometer

One of the first things I learned as an agronomist, was the importance of soil temperature. Almost every seed has a specific temperature range where it will germinate best. If the soil temperature is colder or warmer than that temperature range, the seed may not germinate at all. This applies to both desirable plant seed and weed seed.

A soil thermometer can be purchased most easily online. There are now a large variety of options to choose from, but the inexpensive simple “dial and probe” soil thermometer is still as good any any. They are durable and can be left in the soil for months. Just be sure to put it where it won’t get stepped on!

Two examples of weed seeds that are sensitive to soil temperature in a lawn and landscape environment are common crabgrass and poa annua. Crabgrass germinates when spring soil temperatures rise to 55 degrees or above in the top 1-2 inches of soil. Poa annua germinates in late summer when soil temperatures fall to 70 degrees or below in the top 1-2 inches of soil. This is very important if you are applying lawn a herbicide which needs to be applied prior to the germination of these 2 weeds. The soil temperature needs to be closely monitored to make the decision when to apply.

The same is true for vegetable or flower gardens. It is important to read your seed packet or seed catalog information to glean the soil temperature range for the germination of the seed you wish to plant. An example of this is the difference between tomato seed germination and eggplant germination. Tomatoes need 60-70 degrees, and Eggplants need 75 to 80 degrees.

Fertilizers are broken down in the soil by soil microorganisms. Soil microorganisms and fungus organisms are more active at higher temperatures as long as moisture is present. Certain microorganisms thrive in different temperature ranges; some at 40-50 degrees, some at 50-60 degrees, some at 70-80 degrees, etc. In order for the fertilizer to be broken down, the microorganisms need to be active to convert the nutrients into forms usable by the plants. Did you ever notice mushrooms suddenly appearing in the fall all at once. This is an indication that the temperature and moisture conditions were just right to make them grow.

The take home message is that for a small investment in a soil thermometer, you can increase your ability to manage your soil related actives where knowing the soil temperature will make a difference.

Tags: , , , ,

Growing Seedlings for Spring Planting

Posted on February 24, 2016 by Leave a comment

We wanted to grow a few seedings. Some varieties that are hard to find, as transplants, at garden centers. We decided to purchase a Jiffy® seed starter kit and add our own potting soil to the six-packs. We chose this system for several reasons: 1) It has trays that will separate into six-packs; 2) It has a tray to hold the six-packs; 3) The tray will also hold any watering overflow; 4) It had a clear plastic cover. 5) The Jiffy kit was also reasonably priced and individuals parts could be purchased separately later.

Jiffy® Seed Starter

Jiffy® Seed Starter

We liked the idea of the clear plastic top, however this top rests very close to the top of the seedlings and has no ventilation holes. If the clear cover is left for very long in direct sunlight, the plants may overheat and be killed. This not only happen to us, but also with a neighbor gardener who tried the same set-up. We will discuss our solution below in the post.

Separating the seed trays

Separating the seed trays

It is important that the potting soil for seedlings has several attributes. The soil needs to be made of fine particles that will hold water around the seed. The soil needs to be sterile so that it will not have weed seeds, fungus organisms, or other organisms. Fertilizer needs to be contained in the potting soil or needs to be added to the soil, so that the plants have nutrients until the time of transplanting.

Picking a potting soil

Picking a potting soil

The potting soil needs to be added to the individual cells and packed enough to eliminate any air spaces in the potting soil. This will help ensure uniform water holding capacity and root penetration. The potting soil should then be leveled a little below the rim of the cells so that the water can soak in when watering without running off.

Filling the trays with potting soil

Filling the trays with potting soil

The next step is to plant the seeds at the depth required as described on the seed package. If you have a lot of seed you may decide to plant one or two extra seeds in each cell to ensure all the cells will have at least one seedling. If more than one seed germinates, the extra seedlings can be removed, leaving the healthiest seedling. If you are limited on seed, just plant one seed per cell. Sometimes it is a good idea to save some seeds in case you have to re-plant due to unforeseen circumstances. Once the seeds are planted be sure to add enough water so that all the potting soil is saturated with water. Add the water a little at a time to prevent overwatering.

The seeds have been planted and watering begins

The seeds have been planted and watering begins

Now that the seeds have been planted it is important to meet the germination temperature requirements for each seed type. This information is usually published on the seed package or can be looked up online. Most seeds will germinate at a soil temperature between 65 degrees and 80 degrees. Some seeds will germinate at cooler or warmer temperatures. In order to keep the soil surface moist, a barrier of some type will help to do this. This can be in the form of a plastic cover or possibly a light colored, coarse weave fabric cover. It is important to have ventilation to prevent overheating especially if using natural sunlight. If you intend to grow a lot of seedings a heating pad designed for seedlings can be purchased through an online gardening supplier. The heating pad can be set for the exact temperature that your seed needs for germination. For indoor growing, special growing lights can purchased and installed over the seedling trays.

Mini greenhouse made from an upside down storage tub

Mini greenhouse made from an upside down storage tub

We seem to have had the most success using an upside down clear plastic storage container with ventilation holes drilled in the bottom of the tub which becomes the top of the mini greenhouse. This top covers the entire planting tray. The holes can be drilled with larger or smaller holes depending on the outside temperature. We have about eight 1/4 inch holes drilled in our tub. For a tub that is in direct sunlight all day, we increased the hole size to 1/2 inch diameter. The height of the tub allows the heat to rise above the seedlings and venting the hot air out through the top. The tub still holds most of the moisture under the tub keeping the humidity high near the seedlings. The high humidity helps with germination and prevents the potting soil from drying out too quickly. We have found that this type of cover is heavy enough to resist light winds and can be further secured by placing a weight on top such as a small brick or stone.

We have cool nights here and sunny days, so we have been putting the seedlings outside during the day and bringing them in the house at night. The house temperature is at least 70 degrees. The outside sunlight has been raising the temperature under the tub higher than 70 degrees for most of the daylight hours.

Add ventilation holes

Add ventilation holes

Seeds will take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks to germinate. This information should be printed on the seed packet or can be looked up online. In our case, the tomato seedlings are up and growing after a week, but we are still waiting on the eggplant seedlings which will take at least another week to germinate.

The seedlings starting to germinate

The seedlings starting to germinate

Update – 3/26/16:
After trying several configurations of small or mini greenhouses, we like the Coke® bottle mini-greenhouses, with 2 inch peat pots the best. It is easiest to control the environment, one on one, with each seedling. The 2 inch peat pots are easy to remove for transplanting without damaging the transplants.

We liked the Coke® bottle mini greenhouses best

We liked the Coke® bottle mini greenhouses best

We did need to fertilize the seedlings several times. The amount of nutrients in the potting soil was not sufficient to supply the necessary fertility until the seedling was ready for transplanting. The seedlings do require a lot of daily maintenance, including watering, managing sunlight availably, daytime and nighttime temperatures and wind. The seedlings also need to be thinned, most often, to one plant per unit.

We tried a variety of growing configurations

We tried a variety of growing configurations

Tags: , , , , , , ,

How a Disc Works!

Posted on June 14, 2015 by Leave a comment

How a Disk Works! A disc basically functions to move the soil and flip the soil over and mix it from top to bottom and side to side. Depending on the soil, speed, and pulling power, mixing can occur quite well with one pass, but many times takes more than one pass. If the soil can be plowed or chiseled prior to discing, this will help loosen the soil. If there is little or no, live or dead vegetation, this is also helpful. Incorporating heavy vegetation like dead corn stalks can be a challenge. The efficiency of mixing the soil can be increased if the field is disced perpendicular to the initial pass. If incorporating chemicals or fertilizers, a double pass can make the incorporation deeper and more uniform. Always follow label instructions when using agricultural chemicals. When the soil is mixed, it allows air to enter the soil and for vegetation to be covered with soil. When trying to control weeds, live weeds are many times killed by either the exposure to air or are smothered under the soil. On the flip side, a new crop of weed seeds is brought to the soil surface. Some discs have adjustable gangs. A gang is the row of disc blades which can be from just 2-3, like the disc pictured, or many many more. Our disc has adjustable gangs. Both the front and rear gangs can be adjusted, or not adjusted, individually. This allows the operator more control over how the soil is moved. When purchasing a disc this is a nice feature to have and allows the disc to be able to do more tasks. It also costs more money. You may have to go to another manufacturer or dealer to find an adjustable disc. An example of this is that our disc can be adjusted so that it will rip deeply into the soil or it can be adjusted so that it hardly digs at all, and used very similarly to a cultipacker. With this option we only purchased one piece of equipment insead of two.

How a Disc Works!

How a Disc Works!

Tags: , , ,

Using a Disk for Soil Preparation

Posted on June 14, 2015 by Leave a comment

Using a Disc for Soil Preparation. On our farm, we do not own a plow for soil preparation. Due to our way of clearing land, by cutting trees very close to the ground and leaving the stumps, it would not be practical to use a plow anyway. Once the trees are cleared, we spray any vegetation with glyphosate to kill it. When the vegetation is dead and preferably dry, we use the disc to till the soil, going slowly over the stumps. Initially this land is used for whitetail deer food plots and is planted with either annual brassicas or annual sweet oats. Because fields initially need to have their perennial weed populations controlled, annual crops are grown for the first year or two. To help accomplish this, glyphosate is used in between spring and fall annual cropping. Once the perennial weeds are controlled, we start planting perennial crops of Whitetail Institute, Whitetail Clover, Clover and Chicory and or Clover, Chicory and Sanfoin. After growing the perennial crops for 3 to 5 years and some of the stumps start to decompose, we can start to plant row crops like corn. In between each crop, we use glyphosate and the disc to control the weeds and prepare the seedbed for planting. One caution about using this practice is that a hardpan will develop about 4-6 inches down in the soil due to the repeated pressure of the disc. If you have the ability to chisel plow or moldboard plow every few years, this will help with internal soil drainage.

Using a Disc for Soil Preparation

Using a Disc for Soil Preparation

Tags: , , ,