Ag 101 Week 48

Buy One Get One Free


This post isn’t about a great deal on fertilizer or an early order discount program. I happen to be writing it on Black Friday, and that was the best title I could come up with.

What we’re talking about are amendments and fertilizers that do double duty.  The ones you get more bang for your buck out of. The ones that you could use by themselves or with others.

In addition to that topic, everything I’ve been talking about over the past year is all starting to come together.

In week 2 – Soil Health vs. Soil Fertility I started laying the groundwork for what I saw as a need in the agricultural industry. Farmers need to have an understanding of basic agronomic principles to be and remain a sustainable and financially viable business while utilizing the incredible resources offered to them by mother nature herself.

I followed that up with a post about the difference between amending and fertilizing in week 5

In week 11 I discussed the similarities between fertilizer blends and pajamas – one size does not fit all. In all seriousness, the fact that fertilizer blends can contain fillers is the real story. A farmer or gardener needs to be knowledgeable of how fertilizer fillers are capable of altering soil chemistry.

Moreover, we’ve talked about the need to understand how, when, what and where to fertilizing in weeks 6 & 10

So, what are some amendments and fertilizers that do double duty-

Fish/Crab/Shrimp Meal-

Typical analysis ranges from 5-30%N 4-6%P

Typically, fish varies from 5-9%N depending on whether it is a meal, powder or liquid

Crab and Shrimp range from 10-30%N with 11-18%Ca depending on the shell to meat ratio

Crab makes an excellent addition to a fertilizer blend for the extra calcium, and the addition on an enzyme called chitin that has been shown to help control nematodes in the soil. This also makes it an excellent fertilizer for tomatoes.

Bone Meal-

A typical analysis is 3-4%N

It is also a good source of phosphorus at 15-27% and calcium.

When mixed with a calcium source like aragonite, it supplies immediately available and season-long calcium.

Soybean Meal-

A standard analysis is 6-7%N ~2%P

It’s a good source for full season nitrogen supply as well as phosphorus

Soybean meal has been shown to burn new seedlings and reduce germination rates potentially. Care should be exercised when timing the application

Alfalfa and Cottonseed Meal -

Typical Analysis 1-2% K 2-3%P Slow to medium release

These are an all-around season long supplier of not only nitrogen, a small fraction of phosphorus, and potassium as well.

Alfalfa and cottonseed meal can be cost prohibitive in an organic system. However, if used effectively the benefits can out weight the price.

Benefits of alfalfa meal-

-Helps build organic matter

-If used as a cover crop it fixes nitrogen

-Alfalfa adds essential nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus, potassium, boron, iron, zinc, and magnesium

-Alfalfa feeds soil microbes

-It can be a compost stimulator

Some advantages to using cottonseed meal-

-Cottonseed meal is an excellent option for acid-loving plants like blueberries and roses. It’s a fertilizer, soil conditioner, and acidifier.

Both alfalfa and cottonseed meal both have growth stimulating properties that aid in overall plant health.


Typical analysis 22%K 22%Sulfur 11%Mg Medium to fast availability.

Much like SOP, it is relatively soluble depending on particle size.

SOP covers sulfate, potassium, and magnesium deficiencies at once


Typical analysis 4-13%K Slow to medium release

Kelp can be used as a liquid concentrate, powder, or meal. It can be attributed for being part of all five of the previously listed roles K plays in plant health. If I could only recommend one product, kelp would be it. That being said you still need to use it judiciously as not to decrease its efficacy.


Typical analysis ~5% K Prolonged release

Greensand is a good source of potassium, trace minerals, and soil conditioning properties. When I got into organic agriculture and was working for a fertilizer company, I had never heard of anything like greensand. They would explain greensand as being magic. It could loosen tight soils and tighten loose soils. Not being satisfied with the supernatural explanation, I came to learn the power of greensand is in the structure. It has a unique layered structure unlike any other clay giving it the ability to correct a variety of soil structure issues. Hands down I would use greensand before any others. I often recommend a 50/50 mix of greensand and kelp.

Liming products-

I talk at length about liming materials in the following post

Another critical point to remember is these materials are used as fillers in fertilizer blends to help products flow better or add to the volume of product for packaging. Just as with other chemistries listed in the NPK value, these interact with the soil and alter the chemistry as previously mentioned.


Raw manure is the most nutrient dense. The longer it composts it losses its nutrient value. Over applying it, can lead to not only environmental issues also pest and disease challenges.

Typical analysis ranges depending on the manure, however, if used judiciously from a trusted source it can be a great building block for any fertility program adding not only organic matter but nutrients as well.


Vinegar is to a farmer as a gym sock and paperclip are to MacGyver. You can do anything with it from kill weeds, clean and disinfect tools, use it as an extract for kelp, greensand or aragonite, and use it to mitigate pH issues in fertigation systems.

For even more ideas go to week 18

Ag 101 Week 47

Trace Minerals


Would you believe after this post there are only five weeks left in the Ag 101 52 Weeks of Agronomy Series!

Since I’ve started writing, a lot has happened not only professionally but personally as well. Last year I came on the speaking scene pretty strong presenting at four fairly significant conferences. This year I have had seven proposals rejected for silly reasons like they didn’t like my title or they felt I was redundant. Funny thing is, I said the title was not set in stone and I had never spoken at that particular conference before.  I’ve been called everything from a charlatan to a rock star. It has been brought to my attention that I should ask my family to purchase Grammarly for me as a Christmas gift. Even through all of that, I gained readers all over the world, doubled my email list, recorded a couple podcasts, presented for gardening clubs, and kept writing. Last but not least, I can now say I have clients in six states, and the consulting side of my business is steadily growing.

I’ve also gained a new appreciation for my health and hope to keep up with the small but necessary steps to get past some challenges I’ve had. I have completely given up coffee, alcohol, refined sugars, and processed foods along with some other changes without harming anyone in the process.

Moreover, that leads me to this week’s topic.

Trace Minerals- Small but necessary elements that are critical for plant health.

Roles trace minerals play in plant health-

The amount of trace minerals in soil is related to the parent material and the amending and fertilizing history

Trace minerals are often referred to as micronutrients because they are required in relatively small amounts by plants and the people and animals consuming them

It has been up to debate has how nutrients such as sulfur are viewed. For the sake of this post, I’m going to cover it.

Trace minerals have been linked to the following functions

Sulfur (S) – Sulfur is needed to manufacture chlorophyll and the synthesis of nitrogen. It also encourages overall plant growth and vigor.

Boron (B) – Boron aids in cellular growth and helps to regulate the uptake of nutrients. It is essential for water absorption and the translocation of sugars. Boron and zinc have been linked to aiding in the vegetative and reproductive stages of berry development.

Copper (Cu) – Copper works to help plants metabolize nitrogen and is essential for iron utilization. It has been linked to bacterial and fungal suppression as well.

Iron (Fe) – Iron assists in the creation of chlorophyll and protein synthesis

Manganese (Mn) - Manganese is known as an activator for several enzymes responsible for plant metabolism as well as nitrogen transformation. 

Molybdenum (Mo) – Molybdenum plays several critical roles in a plants ability to metabolize nitrogen.

Zinc (Zn) – Zinc is required in seed production. It has also been linked to aiding the vegetative and reproductive phases in berry development.

Potential sources of organic inputs for trace minerals


Kelp can be used as a liquid concentrate, powder, or meal. It is a powerhouse of trace minerals and plant growth stimulating hormones. If I were reduced to recommending one product kelp would be it. That being said you still need to use it judiciously as not to decrease its efficacy


An excellent source of potassium and trace minerals along with built-in soil conditioning properties.


Azomite is a hydrated sodium calcium aluminosilicate broad-spectrum soil remineralizing product


Raw aragonite brings with is biology from the sea, acting as a built-in inoculant as well as containing several trace minerals

Redmond Salt-

Redmond salt is an unrefined product containing more than 60 naturally occurring minerals

Chelated liquid forms-

This group of products can be mineral specific. The most common that I have worked with are Baicor Liquids. Care should be taken that your plants show signs of apparent deficiencies through tissue testing before applying to determine necessity and rates


Ag 101 Week 45

Calcium & Magnesium

Image courtesy of Google Images

Image courtesy of Google Images

One of the fascinating aspects of soil nutrient balancing is the interactions each mineral as within the soil matrix and other nutrients. The Mulder Chart is an excellent illustration of that. It also shows the certain dominance cations like calcium and magnesium have over others.

If you recall in week 39, we discussed pH and how you use pH to adjust cations and anions. The relationships they have with each other need to be taken into consideration as well as the roles they play in soil and plant health.

Calcium and magnesium are two of the major players when balancing soil nutrients. Their ratio is one of the most talked about in the world of soil nutrient balancing. Whether you are of the school backing the ideal 8:1, or some variation of, it can’t be denied the importance of both to not only plant health but soil health as well.

If you recall in week 29, we discussed cation exchange capacity (CEC), and I use two side by side fields to illustrate the power of calcium

It’s calcium’s critical role that brings it front and center in not only soil but plant health as well.

Here are nine critical roles it plays

1.     Calcium is a flocculating agent that helps stabilize clay and organic matter leading to aggregate stability.

Calcium and to some degree magnesium, help chemically bind clay and organic matter helping with better drainage and erosion control by making the soil more stable.

2.     Proper moisture balance, created by aggregate stability in soil leads to a healthier microbial environment

3.     Calcium can neutralize excessive soil conditions, dependent on the source, leading to more robust root growth

4.     Reduce weed pressure

5.     Reduce leaching of other nutrients

6.     Calcium has also been likened to a nutrient filter whereas it regulates the movement and availability of such nutrients’ as sodium, phosphorus, iron, aluminum, and boron

Specifically, in plants

7.     Calcium is responsible for proper cell division and cell wall development.

8.     It plays a role in nitrate uptake and metabolism

9.     It represents a role in enzyme metabolism

Calcium is not mobile on its own in the soil or the plant, leading to the need to be continually supplied. It is transported through the xylem in the plant and dependent on water to complete the process. This is why tomato blossom end rot is not a calcium issue as much as it is an irrigation issue. Without a consistent water supply, calcium cannot move into the plant, hence rendering it calcium deficient.

Magnesium is just as vital to a plants’ health. Several roles it plays are-

1.     It is the central element in the chlorophyll molecule

2.     Carries phosphorus into the plant

3.     It activates and is a component of plant enzymes

4.     Aids in plant oil and fat formation

5.     Helps control nutrient uptake by the plant

6.     Aids in nitrogen fixation

One of the main concerns with magnesium in forage crops is grass tetany. It is a metabolic disease when an animal is deficient in magnesium.

Factors that lead to it are-

1.     Low levels of magnesium in the soil

2.     Soils higher in potassium

3.     Long periods of cool or cloudy weather in spring

4.     Poor soil drainage

5.     Moving animals from indoor to outdoor feeding

Magnesium can be often overlooked due to the fact it does not always translate to a higher yielding crop, just a more nutrient dense one.

Potential organic sources of calcium and magnesium

Aragonite- Typical analysis is 33-40% calcium

Aragonite is a readily available calcium source. It can be applied in the spring and be available that growing season. It also has a far greater liming effect than once realized, while providing trace minerals and biology to the soil. Raw aragonite brings with is biology from the sea, acting as a built in inocculant.

High Cal Lime- Typical analysis is 38% available calcium

Best used when there are no need for magnesium. Sometimes referred to calcitic limestone

Dolomitic Lime-Typical analysis is ~21% calcium ~11% magnesium

Use when both calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate are needed

Oyster Shell- Typical analysis can be as high as 96% calcium carbonate

Used as a source of calcium and trace minerals

Wood Ash- Typical analysis is ~32% calcium oxide 3-7% Magnesium

Wood Ash is considered a liming material, supplying about 50% calcium carbonate. Care should be exercised that it is not over-applied due to its rapid reactive nature

Gypsum- Typical analysis is 18-23% calcium 18-29% sulfur

Gypsum is used to correct alkaline and sodic soils. It can improve the structure of heavy clay soil and supply calcium and sulfur when a pH adjustment is not necessary. Can be used to add calcium if magnesium is not needed and soil tests show lower sulfur. Does not remediate sodium issues alone, irrigation is still needed

Bone Char- Typical analysis is ~25% calcium

Has varying amounts of NPK, but is also high in calcium. Bone char has more surface area to bone meal making it more reactive especially at higher temperatures

Crab Meal- Typical analysis is 11-18%

Crab meal is a slow-medium release nitrogen source. It can also be a calcium source depending on how much shell is mixed in. Crab meal also contains an enzyme chitosan, which helps plants build a robust immune system, increases germination rates, and repels parasitic insects and nematodes. Due to the expense, it is often used in fertilizer blends more than a stand-alone.

 Epsom Salt (Magnesium Sulfate)- Typical analysis is 10% magnesium 18% sulfur

Epsom salts are a good source of magnesium and sulfur. Can be used as a dry application or foliar. Care should be taken when you spray so not to burn plant tissue

 Sol-Po-Mag- Typical analysis is 0-0-22 11% magnesium 22% sulfur

Sul-Po-Mag is a medium to fast release source of sulfur, potassium, and magnesium. It is also known as K-Mag or Langbeinite

Aragonite & Epsom Salt

Aragonite & Epsom Salt

Ag 101 Week 44

Potassium – Quality vs. Quantity

Last week was not my best post. Sorry. I explained how I haven’t been feeling the best and frankly writing on a good day is hard enough for me. It’s harder yet on days where I pretty much want to go back to bed.

I’m thankful to be in a position in life I can set my own pace, make my schedule, and I have supportive friends, family, clients, and followers.

According to the doctor, I’m not dying. I needed a different medication to reduce the inflammation and eight weeks of therapy. I’ve also decided to make a few more modifications to my diet to keep improving my health and help elevate the grouchy disposition I have had lately.  I’m giving up coffee; it might get worse before it gets better.                 

Enough with the pity party, now let’s talk about potassium!

I have to admit, potassium (K) is one of my favorite nutrients to talk about. I’m pretty sure it’s because it is a quality vs. quantity factor. I often refer to it as the dessert part of a meal for your plants, and let’s face it that’s my favorite part of the meal. Rely on nitrogen and phosphorus to push yields, but hand it over to potassium to develop kernels, fruit, and blooms. To top off my love affair with it, some of my favorite organic inputs are sources of potassium.

One of the best resources I have that talks about potassium is the Soil fertility Manual published by the Potash & Phosphate Institute of Canada.  I find it to be a valuable resource for soil fertility in general as well.

Here are a few things potassium plays a role in-

1.      Helps ionic balance in plant cells

Ionic balance is the relationship between cations and anions. Which leads to turgor, known as the pressure within the cell wall of a plant that keeps it from wilting.

2.      Helps a plant to overcome diseases

3.      Help a plant to over winter

4.      Helps with optimizing enzymatic systems that regulate plant growth

5.      Helps develop fruit quality, size, taste, color, and storage length

Potassium can be a difficult nutrient to manage in a sense it is not particularly mobile in the soil, except sandy or high organic matter soils. It also has an interesting relationship with calcium and magnesium making it a nutrient of particular concern in forages. Too much potassium can slow down bacteria develop in the gut of a rumen. Too little can lead to fertility issues. My dad is the animal nutritionist, and I’m the agronomist. We have a long-standing conversation about how to balance potassium for optimal plant health vs. animal health. He politely reminds me agronomist are notorious for being cow killers. Since certain crops like alfalfa are considered luxury consumers of K, meaning they will utilize considerably more than they need, much like when I eat cheesecake, the plant will take up as much as you put down. This will produce a great crop but not necessarily healthy for your animals. I can also hear him repeating, “ Alfalfa, Medicago sativa L., is the queen of the farm. Treat her well and she’ll treat you well.”

Thank you, Dad, for keeping me in check.

Potassium exists in three forms in the soil-

Unavailable- This is the form found in the mineral fraction of the soil. It takes the process of weatherization to release and is therefore only available in the soils that are in regions that are well weathered. They are often depleted due to miss management.  

Slowly available- This form is fixed in layers of potassium silicate clays such as greensand. As the clay shrinks and swells during dry and wet periods the potassium is slowly released.

Available- this form is found in the soil solution held by the cation exchange capacity -the fraction of the soil made up of organic matter and clay- but can only account for about 10lbs/acre or less of available K to the plant. Definitely not sufficient for a growing season.

What are some organic sources for potassium-

Manures- Typical analysis 1-3% Medium to rapid release

Great source especially sheep and bat guano. However, care needs to be taken that you are not over applying and causing the very issues you don’t want like disease and insect pressure.

Alfalfa, Cottonseed, and Soybean Meal- Typical Analysis 1-2% Slow to medium release

These are an all-around season long suppliers of not only nitrogen, a small fraction of phosphorus, but potassium as well.

Refer back to week 42

Wood Ash- Typical analysis 3-7% Fast acting

I list this one hesitantly, however, feel it should be talked about. It can be a good addition especially to a compost pile that has time to rest. The challenge with wood ash is it is over applied and changes the chemistry of the soil quickly due to its particle size and makeup. The adage, a little goes a long way is fitting.

Sunflower Hull Ash (K Ash)- Typical analysis 34-36% K Availability dependent on mesh size and pH of soil being used in.

Sunflower hull ash is a relatively new product. Although it has some added benefits of having about 4% phosphorus and trace minerals, it should not be used in the soil the has a pH of 7 or higher. It has a pH of 8-10 making its applications limited to particular situations.

 Potassium Sulfate (SOP)- Typical analysis 50-52% Fast acting

I often have greenhouse growers run SOP at certain points of the growing season to help keep the plant producing and yielding a marketable size fruit such as tomatoes and cucumbers. It is soluble and has sulfur which can help mitigate higher pH’s that greenhouse growers are sometimes challenged with.

Granite Dust- Typical analysis 3-6% Very slow release

As mentioned earlier this is a source of potassium that takes weatherization to release the available potassium that is in the matrix of the granite.

Sul-Po-Mag (Sulfate of potash magnesia, K Mag)- Typical analysis 22%K 22%Sulfur 11%Mg Medium to fast availability

Much like SOP, it is relatively soluble depending on particle size.

High K & Low K Seaweed Shakings- Typical analysis ~27% High K, ~5% Low K

Generally used as a component in a fertilizer blends.

Kelp- Typical analysis 4-13% Slow to medium release

Kelp can be used as a liquid concentrate, powder, or meal. It can be attributed for being part of all five of the previously listed roles K plays in plant health. If I was reduced to recommending one product kelp would be it. That being said you still need to use it judiciously as to not decrease its efficacy.

Refer to week 22 & 38 for more specific uses.

Greensand- Typical analysis ~5% Very slow release

I could list other clay-based materials as well. However, greensand is my favorite, especially considering what it is capable of while being a good source of K and trace minerals. When I got into organic agriculture and was working for a fertilizer company, I had never heard of anything like greensand. They would explain greensand as being magic. It could loosen tight soils and tighten loose soils. Not being satisfied with the supernatural explanation, I came to learn the power of greensand is in the structure. It has a unique layered structure unlike any other clay giving it the ability to correct a variety of soil structure issues. Hands down I would use greensand before any others. I often recommend a 50/50 mix of greensand and kelp.

Refer to week 28 for a brief overview of clays


Greensand & Kelp

Greensand & Kelp

Ag 101 Week 38

A Podcast and Garlic

This week the post for the 52 weeks of Agronomy is going to be a link to a podcast I’m recording tonight for The Vegetable Gardening Show with Mike Podlesny.

You can check it out at that link, Facebook, and YouTube

Since it won’t be available until Sunday the 23rd I though I would give you a bonus all about garlic.

20180807_145926 (1).jpg

It’s getting to be that time of year when you are going to be thinking about planting and I have the Cadillac of fertility recommendations for it. Old school rule of thumb says plant garlic around Columbus Day.

Typically, garlic is a scavenger when it comes to nutrients in the soil and will do well under a variety of growing conditions. But if you want to grow the best of the best I came across this all-purpose mix and cover crop rotation that is touted by the premier garlic growers in the northeast.

Cadillac Mix

25 pounds of Blood Meal

25 pounds of Bone Meal

25 pounds Raw Aragonite

12.5 pounds of Greensand

12.5 pounds of Kelp


Three Year Cover Crop Rotation

1st Mustard

2nd Buckwheat (Summer)

3rd Rye (Winter)

As always, I recommend a soil test before any amending or fertility plan can accurately be determined. But for a general fertilizer option why not use the Cadillac of all mixes!?

Ag 101 Week 30

I Screwed Up –

And Lost Sight of My BMP's


It has once again been a busy week. I let writing a post go to the last minute. So, I went into my files and found a piece I had written a while back when I might have been frustrated and upset about a few things. Thinking it was kind of fitting, considering earlier this week I had seen some things on social media and had some conversations that frustrated me. I thought what the heck, why not add to what I already wrote and put it out there for everyone to read. I spent my Sunday afternoon editing and adding a few pictures. I may have included more terse remarks about the industry. There may be the possibility I even used the phrase ‘narcissist ego driven jackass.’ I realize that's a bit harsh on my part, sorry. And then, I hit the publish button. Oh yeah, when I do stuff, I do it.

Instantly I came to my senses and deleted it. I wish. Truth, my husband sat me down and explained somethings to me. Only then did I delete it.

I am extremely grateful for his wisdom and the fact he is willing to talk some sense into me on occasion. He helped me realize I was not following my own Best Management Practices; otherwise known as BMP's that I have established to run my business. Did it feel good to have some reckless abandon and let it all hang out so to speak? You bet! However, it serves no good for myself, my clients, or the people I would like to help. Nor would it help me achieve my ultimate goal. 

So late last night I had to come up with a new topic. I was pretty upset I had wasted a whole day for nothing and kept thinking if I had just stayed on course following the objectives I already set out for how I want to operate I would have avoided all that from happening. If I had followed BMP's,  I wouldn’t have had to get up early this morning to re-write the entire thing.

Am I human and screw up occasionally? Yes

However, it is much easier to get back on course when you have a set of guidelines or Best Management Practices to follow.

Farming is no different. It is far to easy to listen to the latest and greatest trends, getting off course from time to time. However, if you determine your BMP's , all your choices will have a base from which you operate and help guide you towards reaching your ultimate goal, even if you stray occasionally. 


Here are

five essential BMP’s important to consider in any farming operation-


Reduce Compaction – All this means is controlling the amount of traffic in a field or the area you are planting in. Compacted soil leads to poor drainage, inhibited root growth, and an overall decline in plant health and yield. Create walkways or roads to be efficient and help to reduce the number of passes you have to make through a permanent bed or a field. I’ve read statistics showing that 90% of a field can be compacted by normal field activities due to conventional tillage.  I know me just walking all over my garden can cause issues, but impacting anywhere up to 90%, that brings huge implications.

Incorporate Cover Crops – Cover crops are beneficial by for several reasons. They add organic matter, reduce erosion, help fix nitrogen, improve drainage and soil structure issues. They can also be used to suppress weeds and disease problems. Some may be able to be used as a cash crop as well.

The best resource I have found for information on cover cropping is at-

Manage Crop Rotations – It’s succession planting, and just like the rest of the BMP’s one can implement them on any scale. Use crops that make sense for your farming system, climate, and soil. The idea of crop rotations is as old as farming is, however with all the added complexities of modern farmer we seem to have gotten stuck in either no rotations or repeating the same rotations depending on your situation. Rotating through a diversified group of crops helps with soil nutrient management, insect and disease-related issues, weed issues, and has been shown to have a positive effect on the diversity and health of naturally occurring soil biology.

Nutrient Management- is the implementation of the 4R Principles I have covered in Weeks 6 and 14 here-

Managing nutrients will not only have a financial benefit not having to invest as much in inputs; the environmental implication will be beneficial as well.

The following are fundamental concepts to keep in consideration when developing soil fertility management strategies-

-Having a soil test done

-Determine recommended amounts of nutrients needed to produce the desired yields

-Take into account other nutrient sources such as cover crops and manures

-Take into account previous field history such as crops and previously applied amendments & fertilizers

-Keep records

Tillage – The best definition of tillage I have come across is; it is the mechanical modification of soil structure. Tillage can be used to suppress weeds, prep seedbeds, incorporate manure, amendments & fertilizers, and previous crop residue. However, it can be destructive to soil structure causing compaction, erosion, and overall soil health issues if not managed carefully. It is a management decision a farmer has to make based on their unique situation. No-till is not for everyone nor is conventional tillage.

Just as any business or organization has to have management strategies to follow keeping them on track, so does your farm.

Every farm has that fence row where everything has it's place

Every farm has that fence row where everything has it's place

Ag 101 Week 25

Six Steps to Planning A Dinner Party


Don’t worry; you’re not planning a dinner party.

Last week while standing in a field with a farmer, I found myself saying-

“You have to start thinking about your next growing season now. In fact, depending on your cropping system you have to be thinking about the next crop before the current one is harvested.”

As I said that, he turned around only to look at like me like I was crazy. Since I have been saying this a lot recently, I thought to myself, “How can I make all of this not so overwhelming but get my point across?” I told the farmer to think of it as if they were planning a dinner party. Silly I know, but who doesn’t love a good party with a great meal? Your crops are no different. So, over the course of the visit, we broke it down into manageable size tasks that weren’t as overwhelming.

All that being said, I’m using the analogy of planning a dinner party for the next several weeks in the Ag 101 52 Weeks of Agronomy Series.

I also realize you are in the thick of this season and for most, it has been tremendously difficult due to the fact most of the northeasts spring was wet and cold. And that is why I’m telling you this now because I want you to have a successful sustainable farm. To do that you have to be taking care of this year while planning for next.

It is like a revolving dinner party where you are the host and are setting the table for what and who comes next. Your previous amending, fertilizing, management practices, and most importantly the crops that were grown or currently growing are all factors as to what happens next. You are setting the table for what’s to follow in a field, raised bed, or hoop house.

If we are planning a dinner party, and break it down into smaller management decisions, it isn’t as daunting as you might think. A party should be enjoyable whether hosting or attending. You are ultimately doing it to get some satisfaction out of it. If you lay out manageable steps ahead of time when things come up unexpected like crop failure, weather issues, etc., there is no need to panic because you have a plan.

So, if I were to plan my next dinner party, I would use the following six steps as a guide-

1.     Pick the venue – your farm or land you’re farming

2.     Make the guest list – crops/insects

3.     What type of tables – the soil

4.     Choose a place setting – management/inputs

5.     Create the menu – soil fertility

6.     Then party like it’s 1999 or till the cows come home – harvesting, taking to market, planting the next crop

This week I’ll talk about the first two

1.     Pick the Venue- Your Farm or Land You're Farming

There’s not much to say about this step; you probably already have land you are currently farming unless moving or add additional land. If you still are looking for property and have options, I strongly suggest you look at the Soil Survey Website. It is full of information regarding soil type, hydrology, etc. that is beneficial in narrowing options. If at all possible I suggest considering what is already growing there or what the land is currently being used. This type of information will help you determine if it is suitable for what you want to do.

For the sake of our conversation, I’m going to assume you have land and that is what you have to work with.


2.     Making The Guest List – Picking Crops and Insects

Next, picking crops should be based on the lands capabilities and market demand.

If you have land that can only grow blueberries, cranberries, or currents, but you desperately want to grow celery, cucumbers, and cauliflower, you might want to adjust your plans. Or tailor the rest of your dinner party to accommodate those crops in the form of amending and fertilizing. This option can be financially prohibitive depending on your situation.

But if you don’t have a market for any of the previously listed crops, you need to invest in research as to what will sell, what could potentially sell, or how you could create a market and demand for what you can or want to grow.

You may have to find a happy medium in the center, growing what works best on your land while incorporating a few things you desperately want to grow, and producing things to accommodate the existing market. The possibilities are limitless but finding what works to keep your farm profitable may take some trial and error. I’m your go-to resource for what will grow, what could grow, or how to make what you want to grow all work, but marketing is not my forte.

 I leave market strategy up to other experts.

The following are some tremendous resources I've come across that have been valuable for growers I work with-

BootStrap Farmer Business Network

3 Cow Marketing


Current crops need to be taken into consideration because they are the ones already eating at the party. They are one of the primary determining factors of the next crop because you will have to replace what has already eaten or used. If you grew potatoes last year and want to grow potatoes again in the same place you need to replace or fertilize to have the nutrients that crop needs to produce and yield successfully. This is just an example, not a suggestion. Each crop you plant needs a specific ratio of nutrients. This is why soil testing, rotating and keeping records are crucial for a farms sustainability. Knowing a crops nutrient removal and requirements are vital pieces of information when making rotation decisions.

One of the best resources I have come across is the book-

Crop Rotations on Organic Farms edited by Charles L. Mohler & Sue Ellen Johnson

It is free at the following link

The reason I put insects in this category is due to the fact often we unintentionally invite guests we didn’t want. Whether this happens because we over applied manures, miss used fertilizers, or missed an opportunity with cover cropping the balance between the soil and the plant has been altered, and insects know it. Overall it weakens the plant's immune system making it more attractive to the unwanted guests such as aphids, thrips, beetles, etc. Just as our health is reliant on the efficiency and effectiveness of our immune system, so is a plant’s. If it is compromised due to malnutrition, the plant then becomes more susceptible to insect pressure ultimately leading to increased disease pressure. The following is an excellent illustration of the three factors that determine a plants vulnerability to diseases.

When it comes to insect and disease management, think of it regarding who you’re inviting to the dinner party. The use of previous management types, inputs, and crops dictate whether you are inviting troublemakers or welcome guests that will benefit and you want to have over more often. Are you fertilizing at appropriate rates, overwatering, are you clearing debris for proper ventilation, and so on?  A lot of times you will hear me refer to them as good cultural practices.

Typically, an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs include seven steps-

Step 1: Scouting regularly. This is the cornerstone of an effective IPM program

Step 2: Preventive Action. This includes what I previously mentioned, overuse of manures, miss use of fertilizers, or just not paying attention to the overall nutritional needs of the plant

Step 3: Identification. The proper ID of insects is critical to being able to determine the appropriate course of action

Step 4: Analysis. What needs to be done to irradiate or discourage the pest in the first place

Step 5: Treatment Selection. Choosing what is the best product to use or can it be handled with cultural practices such as weed control, hand picking, etc.

Step 6: Monitoring. Keep scouting

Step 7: Documentation. Take pictures and make field notes

You’ve picked your venue and made the guest list; this means you are a quarter of the way to having a successful dinner party. Next week we’ll talk about the fun stuff- what type of tables and place setting you want.

Ag 101 Week 22

I Got Nothing...

I'm not going to lie, coming up with a topic for this week has been challenging. I usually get inspiration from things I've been doing or things I've been questioned about in the previous week. But these past couple weeks have been doozies. 

I have dealt with everything from gray mold on strawberries, hail damage on lettuce, making fertilizer recommendations, nailing down seeding rates, explaining my opinion on sap and Brix testing, etc. I've been to pasture walks and spoke for the Williamsport Herb Guild. I've touched base with clients and needless to say I came up with lots of topics and still no real inspiration as to exactly what to write about.  

To cap off the week, I spent 4 hours updating the terms, conditions, and privacy policy for the website to be in compliance with the GDPR.  Don't ask me what that stands for, I'm not good with acronyms or military time. All I know is feel free to stop reading at any point, feel free to unsubscribe at any point, feel free to not deal with me at any point. I will not be offended, TRUST ME! If you do stay, you will hear some ranting and you will wear down your red pen fixing typos. But hopefully, you will also get at least one piece of something that will help you to be the best farmer, grower, or producer you want to be.

So, when it came to writing a post, I was just not feeling it...

Then while I was taking pictures of my peonies after I had told my husband I was writing, I thought "Give them something useful. Something practical. Something to help them through the season." Then they can unsubscribe to go look for a highly trained world-renowned agronomist. Just kidding. 

Well-fed plants are usually less susceptible to soil-borne organisms than are poorly nourished plants. Good fertility may so enhance the resistance of the (host)plant that the parasite can not successfully attack the roots.
— U.S Dept. of Agriculture 1957 Yearbook

It can be said that having a well-nurished plant will deter insect and other disease issues as well.

Earlier this week I shared a liquid fertilizer program for strawberries. You can go to this link and sign up for the newsletter to get a printable copy.

This year growers I work with have had success in high tunnels, while those growing outside have been challenged. The weather is a dominant factor for the challenges. Sometimes all we can do is mitigate the best we can, looking ahead to the next crop.

So that leads me to give you some suggestions of things you can have on hand to help grow through any up and coming challenges that might be on the horizon. I've also tried to make them things that could be readily available at any home and garden or farm store. 

Kelp Meal/Kelp Liquid

Anyone that has been around me for five minutes knows I like kelp. It is effective and multi-purposeful. 

Kelp is not curative, however, it can be used to help boost a plant's immune system helping it to get through periods of stress. It has growth simulant hormones called cytokinins, gibberellins, and auxins that encourage cell health, strength, and growth. 

It has insect repellant properties due to the fact it has iodine which has been shown to deter sucking and piercing insects. I do caution that it is only effective if we use it judiciously. I have growers that use it in the insecticide box when planting corn. The first year the rate would be 6-8#/ac. If planting corn after corn, which is never recommended, however, sometimes practiced, the rate would need to increase to 10-15#/ac. 

Just as other chemistries, its overuse can diminish its efficacy. 

That being said, I add 1-2oz of liquid kelp per gallon to any irrigation water I'm using in my containers and vegetable garden. I generally water with it every 7-10 depending on rain amounts, which equals out to be roughly every other time I water.  

The meal can be steeped in water/vinegar to make the liquid, leaving you with the meal to use as an amendment and the liquid to water with.

For example:

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup vinegar

1 cup kelp meal

Let steep for several days, drain off the liquid and add 1-2oz. per gallon of water and apply every 7-10 days or as needed.

The meal can be used at the time of planting or as a side dress throughout the growing season. 

Aragonite/Oyster Shell

Aragonite can be harder to find, but well worth the effort. Oyster shell would be a good substitute. Both are an excellent source of calcium and can be used dry or steeped in vinegar.  This could be good for tomatoes when they are lacking calcium showing signs of Blossom End Root(BER). BER is really not a calcium issue but an irrigation one. However, a quick readily available calcium application can help the plant get through it and keep producing. I think I sense another idea to write about...

For example:

1 cup aragonite/oyster shell

1 cup vinegar

Let steep for several days, drain off the liquid and add 1-2oz. per gallon of water and apply every 7-10 days or as needed.

5% - 10%Vinegar

This has a multitude of uses. You can use it in liquid fertilizer blends to stabilize a mix and help balance the pH. It can be a good liquid to use an as extractant, like with kelp meal and aragonite. If used appropriately it will have a nominal effect on water pH but not to a level that would be detrimental. However, always use caution and test pH of any irrigation system and soil regularly.

Liquid Fish

There are several formulations on the market. I look for one that has sulfate of potash (SOP) and kelp in it.  If you can find one with sodium nitrate, then that is an added bonus. It is a great stand-alone fertilizer however, I have growers using it in the following mix and see great results.

Liquid Fish Blend:

1-2 gallon liquid fish

1-2 quart liquid kelp

1 pint 5-10% Vinegar

5 pounds sugar or 1-3 oz. molasses per gallon(optional, but recommended)

Add 1-2oz. per gallon of water and apply 1-2 times during the growing season dependant on the crop and soil tests. 

Another blend that is easy to mix yet effective is 

Fish/Kelp Blend:

1/2 Fish Fertilizer

1/2 Liquid Kelp

Add 1-2 oz. per gallon of water and apply every 7-10 days, or as needed. 

This is great for transplanting or times of stress, fertilizing and stimulating growth at the same time. 

As always soil and tissue testing are recommended before implementing any type of program. These are merely suggestions and not an exhausted list of things you could potentially have on hand. If you are experiencing challenges, a call to your local extension office or an agronomist might be necessary before making any fertilizer/amendment applications as well.

*Please take cation as to the time of day you apply liquids when using as a fertilizer, early morning is optimal, or in the evening. 

Once I have recovered from the whole GDPR thing, I'll put together a PDF with the information in this post. At that time you will be asked to subscribe to my newsletter to get it. Then, once you have done that and gotten your free printable fertilizer recipe PDF you can unsubscribe, no hard feelings. 

As always, if you have questions, don't hesitate to ask. Better yet send pictures and we can talk through some issues you might be having. 

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Several growers I work with are having a challenging year when it comes to keeping their strawberries healthy. Here is a simple mix you can use throughout the season to help keep them producing. 

Strawberry Recipe

1. Spray the plants once per week with liquid Kelp, using one pint per backpack sprayer of approximately 4.5 gallons of water
2. When plants are about 2 ½ inches tall and starting to bloom, spray them with liquid kelp again, twice per week, each time until they were dripping wet
3. Spray them with liquid fish and kelp, 1 pt. each per sprayer twice a week-right through the whole season

*When mixing spray add 1-2tsp of a mild detergent. I use Basic H from Shaklee because that is what the original recipe called for
**Use a liquid fish similar to Neptune’s Harvest Fish Seaweed Fertilizer 2-3-1 or any liquid that is a blend of fish and kelp                                                                                                                         ***As always, soil and tissue testing are the first steps to a healthier crop                                        ****Do not spray during the hottest part of the day, mornings are best




Ag 101 Week 20

I Only Eat Cheesecake


 Let me explain.

I have an available supply. The market down the road has the best in town, and sometimes the market has it on sale. I can stock up when that is the case. I can freeze it so I will never run out. I always have it on hand. I have been able to maintain a somewhat healthy weight while on my cheesecake only diet. Well, sort of. A healthy weight is a relative term. As long as I exercise and still fit in my sweatpants, that’s fine with me. I like my sweatpants. So far, my health is reasonably good while on my cheesecake only diet. I realize that eventually there is the potential for me to have some nutrient or vitamin deficiencies, but so far so good. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, right? I’ll know when I’m dead there is a problem.

Sounds a bit dramatic and crazy, right?

That’s what I think when a grower tells me they only use compost. Be upset with me, tell me that it’s working just fine for you, justify it all you want but that is how you are feeding your soil and your plants. You are feeding them a nutritionally imbalanced diet that even though you are intensely rotating crops things will eventually catch up with you. In reality, you are not feeding them; you are amending the soil. You are changing the physical characteristics of the soil while ignoring the nutritional needs of the crop because compost is an amendment, not a fertilizer. 

Let me ask you a question. Would you eat like that?

There seems to be a more significant number of farms starting in the business. A farm up the road has been composting for several years, another in the opposite direction is now offering its own brand of compost, and local municipalities in the area have started some windrows of their own. Compost business has started as a means to handle wastes from other industries. It is available year-round and at what seems to be a reasonable price, sometimes being free for the taking. 

Let’s look at an average analysis of your garden variety compost. Guess what; there is no average. First, compost companies source material from a variety of places. Companies in our area use mushroom waste, or food waste, some paper-based products, some use manures, some use peat or sphagnum moss, or combinations of all of the previously listed. These inconsistencies in materials and how long it is composted lead to the variabilities in nutrient analysis. Second, the nutrient analysis is negligible due to the fact nutrients are diminished as the materials are decomposed. It is an inevitable part of the process, leaving you with an amendment intended for adding organic matter and microbes. 

I am not bashing the industry.  A vendor questioned me after a presentation about this very subject, and they have yet to get the information I asked for. I wanted analysis and data showing me what’s in their compost. That’s it, that is all I asked for. What I got were marketing talking points that I later saw on their website. That’s all you see from any of them. I’m not singling out any one company or manufacturer. They are all doing the same thing. Go to the US Composting Councils’ Website. You get a lot of marketing points, but I had to spend an hour digging for some hard-core research, and it turned up useless for any grower I’m working with.

Do your due diligence and look into the source of the compost you are considering. Better yet source it from a reputable manufacturer or farmer that is willing to disclose what is in it and what the analysis is, making sure a reputable lab did it.

Composting your food and lawn waste is a great idea, however, to be done successfully it can be labor-intensive and time-consuming. The volume at which you need to compost can be prohibitive as well.  If applying 1 inch of compost on a 30X30 garden that is almost equivalent to 2.8 cubic yards. You would need anywhere from two to three times that volume in initial waste materials to produce that.  I’ve worked with several farmers that have tried to compost and farm and cannot find enough time to do either the justice it deserves.

You may be wondering how well the cheesecake diet works-

I have personally tried the cheesecake only diet, and I’m here to tell you it did not turn out well for me. I gained 75 pounds, and I ended up back in my fat pants. I am tired and cranky most of the time unless I am medicating with coffee or another form of therapeutic beverage. I am on the verge of exploding if I do not make changes. I have radically amended my physical characteristics while ignoring any nutritional needs I have. I’m on the brink of a health crisis if I don’t change.

What do I need to do to make changes-

Over the past few weeks, I have decided to get back to eating a balanced diet that consists of healthy proteins, fats, vegetables, and fruits. I have given up one therapeutic beverage except for coffee. My fern leaf peony and coffee will be buried with me. I am exercising on a regular basis and getting my family involved. As much as I love cheesecake, I have had to eat a more balanced diet. I have to find a balance between changing my physical characteristics and my nutritional needs using exercise and food.

Guess what – Your soil and plants need a balanced diet as well.

Your soil and plants will eventually send out signals just like what happened to me. They will not end up in their fat pants, but they will be tired and cranky. Yields will start to go down, plants will start and look unhealthy while being subjected to higher insect and disease pressure. An unhealthy plant is an open door to unwanted issues. I often hear “Well I rotate, and that ensures the plants are getting what they need.” You do have a point, but if you rotate into a crop that wants a nutrient that isn’t there because you might have overlooked nutrient removal from the previous crop? Then what do you do?

Just as I have to use exercise and food to be healthy, you need to use management strategies and inputs to balance soil and plant health.

What are simple steps you can take to get off the compost only diet-

Truth, I don’t want you to kick the habit entirely. I want you to use compost for what it is best suited, and that is an excellent source of organic matter and microbes. I want you to use it when it is needed to enhance your fertility program, not be the main component of it.

-Get a soil test that includes organic matter.

A comprehensive test that includes significant nutrients N-P-K, along with trace minerals and organic matter will be the best investment to understanding what your soil needs.

-Look your farm on the soil survey website to identify your soil type.

Understanding your soil type will help you learn how to work with the soil you have.

-If using compost ask the manufacturer for a lab analysis done by a third party reputable lab.

If they can’t provide one, you have to decide if you want to take the risk or look for a reputable manufacturer that can provide a current one. Before purchasing it take a minute and smell it. Smelling it may sound odd, but how compost smells can be an indication as to how well it is broken down and how healthy it is. Just because you are working with the rotten stuff, it shouldn't smell rotten. If it has been composted adequately, it should smell fresh and earthy.