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Reviving depleted soil


gearheadmb
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Let me start by saying I'm definitely not an expert farmer or agronomist. I have just a couple tillable acres at my house that I like to grow mostly for fun. The original part of the field was rented for decades before I bought it. I made it larger by plowing what used to lawn. For the last five years I've had alfalfa on it and the lawn area grew much better than the original field. This spring I plowed some of it and planted sweet corn. It is also growing much better on the new part of the field than the old part. Also the dirt just seems bad. Hard and clay filled. So I want to fix my dirt. I dont want to rely solely on chemical fertilizers. 

So as of now my plans I'm considering are this September hit it with maure, plow the corn and alfalfa in and plant rye. Then next spring more manure, bush hog and plow the rye under and plant some grass hay and more sweet corn. My hope is that all that organic matter will help to get the soil back healthy and get the microorganisms back in business. 

What do you guys think I should do? How would you do it different? 

Thanks

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Soil sample first as farmall 1066 says so you have a good idea what your short on. Organic matter in the soil would not be a bad thing but for top yields you will still need to maintain nitrogen, p and k levels. Hard to do without at least some fertilizer. 

As kwrb says consult some experts and lay out what your wanting to do and get their advice.

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In my area you’re wasting your time waiting on the extension office. A Co-Op or your local “chemical” fertilizer dealer may do it for free. Manure and cover crops will help, but if the soil has been “mined”, it will take years and years to build it back up. 

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I have a couple acres that I raise pumpkins on. I have been using rye as a cover crop and am happy with the results. I mold board it under in the spring and I am amazed at the root structure that is there, it goes beyond the depth that I'm plowing which is around ten inches. I also see lots of earthworm activity and the  the dirt just looks darker. I even tried planting radishes but its hard to get them in early enough for them to really do their thing.

One thing you must consider, you have to treat a cover crop like any other crop you plant. It isn't A miracle worker that will just build your soil if you throw some seed out. You have to feed it also.

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18 minutes ago, Farmall1066 said:

Sounds like the ph is low, and it probably needs lime?! A soil sample will help you diagnose some issues! 

There is a fertilizer dealer up the road that does it. I will give them a call. To be honest sometimes I get a little embarrassed calling places that deal with people who farm thousands of acres to come mess with my little tiny field.

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Just now, gearheadmb said:

There is a fertilizer dealer up the road that does it. I will give them a call. To be honest sometimes I get a little embarrassed calling places that deal with people who farm thousands of acres to come mess with my little tiny field.

I get that same feeling to at my local co-op, so I don't do much with them. I'm lucky to have another feed mill not too far away. One of the guys there used to raise pumpkins and is very helpful.

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10 minutes ago, gearheadmb said:

There is a fertilizer dealer up the road that does it. I will give them a call. To be honest sometimes I get a little embarrassed calling places that deal with people who farm thousands of acres to come mess with my little tiny field.

 

7 minutes ago, TractormanMike.mb said:

I get that same feeling to at my local co-op, so I don't do much with them. I'm lucky to have another feed mill not too far away. One of the guys there used to raise pumpkins and is very helpful.

My coop does soil samples for $25 I pay like everybody else so I don't feel a bit bad about that part. However sometimes I do detect a bit of an attitude when dealing with my small amounts thru them. But the small guy is where it all started so heck with them when they pull that.  Tho to be fair it's been a while since I have encountered that so maybe it was just the one manager who has since moved on. 🤷‍♂️

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Be careful using alot of tillage. Some soils tolerate it better than others.

Cover crops don't have to be tilled in.

Organic matter helps cure many I'll soils.

Thx-Ace 

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Penn State University has a lab where we can send off to.  They will email or mail  results.  I'm not an expert agronomist either.   We have 16 different fields that we have results for and pulled a blended sample from multiple areas within the field. The yields pretty much follow the results from best to worst.  Fertilizer and lime are expensive.  The test results that we get have recommendations.  By the time i get things the way I want them I will be dead or out of farming but I at least have goals that keep me striving.  My experience is there is no substitute for manure.  We just baled our sudangrass.  All the fields had nitrogen applied but the ones that had penpack manure performed better.  

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definitely get the ph checked.  for good reference you will want a sample from the old part that was rented out and a sample from the new part. you may be surprised at the difference.   in Ohio, you would like to have the ph in a range of 6.5-6.8 for most crops. alfalfa on it for 5 years has probably dropped the old part to low for any field crops to "like".

as far as the clay dirt, (especially if it is fill dirt) the best is to keep some sort of continuous grass in it if you wish to break up the hardness. that is essentially why your new part seems to do better.

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Be sure to soil sample first thing, its easy and tells you what you need. Ph imbalance will keep alfalfa from growing especially in lighter dirt. Clover is a commonly used cover crop here and adds a lot of nitrogen, most guys till it in green. We have used radishes to alleviate compaction with great success, noticing the difference the very next year. I am no expert and continue to learn, but soil samples are the best place to start in my book. 

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3 hours ago, gearheadmb said:

There is a fertilizer dealer up the road that does it. I will give them a call. To be honest sometimes I get a little embarrassed calling places that deal with people who farm thousands of acres to come mess with my little tiny field.

If that’s how you feel, you can bring your own samples in, and just use the fertilizer dealer as your middleman to the lab that tests your dirt! Just get some core samples of your field, 6 inches deep.  A lot of people in my area soil sample their gardens, and use the fertilizer plant as their source to the testing lab.  
But if you have a few acres in that field, don’t be embarrassed about asking them for the sampling help! Your property and dirt has every right to be as healthy as the guy farming 2500 acres! Your looking for quantity and quality as an end result, just like a big farm! 

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4 hours ago, gearheadmb said:

There is a fertilizer dealer up the road that does it. I will give them a call. To be honest sometimes I get a little embarrassed calling places that deal with people who farm thousands of acres to come mess with my little tiny field.

The Co-Op I deal with will be the first to tell you that some of the large operations around here are the worst customers. It’s mostly the sons that are now in charge of an operation that their dad built that they don’t like. The entitlement and arrogance doesn’t earn them any favors at all.

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43 minutes ago, Dirt_Floor_Poor said:

It’s mostly the sons that are now in charge of an operation that their dad built that they don’t like. The entitlement and arrogance doesn’t earn them any favors at all.

how true that is...I have seen that down under here, over the years of agriculture contracting...great old men...arrogant young pricks

...as for the topic..and as @acem implied....heavy cover crops , of legume  and straw mix...peas and oats  for example, lightly disced in, will work wonders..

Mike

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37 minutes ago, jass1660 said:

You lose organic matter by plowing you build it up in the soil by no till.

I've heard that before, one of the worst things that you can do for the soil ecosystem is tillage. The no till guys probably cringe when they read my other post where I talk about plowing my rye under. My goal eventually is to roll the rye down and no till the pumpkins but with the equipment I have now it works fine. I admit also that my tillage is part recreational.

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you can buy your own test kit to figure out were you are at

we don't have any source of fertilizer or lime up here so everything is shipped in

started out with Ph of 5.5 and n/p/k of 0/0/0 ya it was a abused farm

our biggest issue is wild berries but with the Ph up to 6.5 as of last year they are thinning out

here are 2 sources that are helping us out an d they don't care how big or small you are

green cover.com

agritecint.com

hope this helps

Mike

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   I just sent a sample in to Spectrum Labs via my local fertilizer dealer.  The cost was 17 dollars.  Organic matter is very important in rehabbing neglected ground.  One reason as to why I have worked more wheat into the rotation is clover will come voluntarily or can be seeded this time of year following wheat and can be killed next spring to make way for corn or soybeans.  

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Like others stated, start with a soil sample, be sure to get the full sample with all the micros. Post the results here and we'll set you on the right path.

While your plan is good, the soil sample results will give you a direction to go. You might just need lime to get the PH right. Organic matter is a moot point, I've got sand fields that have OM in the .8 range, yes .8!!!! If it rains they'll yield right up there with clay, bit they get plenty of fertilizer. 

In the end you need to decide what the end goal is. A grass to just look at won't take much money to put in and won't need fertilizer. if you want to raise a row crop for money you'll definitely need fertilzer, otherwise your just mining the soil making the problem WORSE. My rule is if anything leaves the field, it must be fertilized to replace what was taken off.

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3 hours ago, jass1660 said:

You lose organic matter by plowing you build it up in the soil by no till.

Deep moldboard plowing I believe, chisel plowing I don’t believe! We went from the moldboard to disc chisel about 20 years ago, our organic matter is great! I’m to far north for no till!! We have a neighbor no tilling, our yields are drastically better.  Location, location!

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3 hours ago, Mike H said:

you can buy your own test kit to figure out were you are at

we don't have any source of fertilizer or lime up here so everything is shipped in

started out with Ph of 5.5 and n/p/k of 0/0/0 ya it was a abused farm

our biggest issue is wild berries but with the Ph up to 6.5 as of last year they are thinning out

here are 2 sources that are helping us out an d they don't care how big or small you are

green cover.com

agritecint.com

hope this helps

Mike

Wasn't there a limestone quarry up your way that sold ag lime. I went up there with a friend of mine a few years ago to look at a pulverizer. I think it was near Pelkie.

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