Magnesium and Calcium: keystone elements for plant health

Soil testing

Soil testing

Australian soils are notoriously deficient in calcium and magnesium. A simple soil test carried out by a soil testing lab will confirm if your soils are indeed inadequately balanced. I personally think it is worth the expense (somewhere between $50-$200 per test) if you’re serious about gardening ornamentals or edible plants, or growing healthy pasture.

You need to know what your soils are made of. Deficiencies in soils lead to stressed plant that will attract pests and diseases. These in turn will cause you lots of grief.

Calcium and magnesium are amongst the most needed nutrients for plants to uptake other nutrients. It has to do with their cation exchange capacities (their positive electrical charge) which, in short, binds to other nutrients.

Role of calcium in plants

  • Participates in metabolic processes of other nutrients uptake.
  • Promotes proper plant cell elongation.
  • Strengthen cell wall structure – calcium is an essential part of plant cell wall. It forms calcium pectate compounds which give stability to cell walls and bind cells together.
  • Participates in enzymatic and hormonal processes.
  • Helps in protecting the plant against heat stress – calcium improves stomata function and participates in induction of heat shock proteins.
  • Helps in protecting the plant against diseases – numerous fungi and bacteria secret enzymes which impair plant cell wall. Stronger Cell walls, induced by calcium, can avoid the invasion.
  • Affects fruit quality.
  • Has a role in the regulation of the stomata.

Role of magnesium in plants

Magnesium is an indispensable mineral for plant growth, for it plays a major role in the production of chlorophyll, on which photosynthesis depends. Without a ready source of magnesium the plant cannot grow.

  • Chlorophyll formation
    • Light-absorbing green pigment
    • Capture’s the energy of sunlight and turns it into chemical energy
    • Allows synthesis of organic compounds that are useful for plant growth and functioning (carbohydrates, lipids, proteins)
  • Synthesis of amino acids and cell proteins
  • Uptake and migration of phosphorus in plants
  • Vitamin A and C concentrations
  • Resistance to unfavourable factors (drought, cryptogamic disease)

So, it is good practice to sprinkle a handful of dolomite lime per square meter of soil prior to planting a new crop. Dolomite lime brings calcium as well as magnesium. Garden lime (cheaper) only brings calcium. Both types of lime help raise the pH. Soil pH are, in general, best around 6.5-7. Our veggie patch soils at the farm started at pH 4 (rather acidic) and now four years of soil improvement later, we’re at 6.5.

Another practice that I would recommend is to dilute Epsom salt (Magnesium sulphate) in a spray bottle (1/4 teaspoon for two cups of water) and apply as a foliar spray in the late afternoon, when the sun is no longer shining on plants, once a fortnight. This will give your plants an extra magnesium boost that helps with chlorophyll production. Strong chlorophyll metabolism lead to strong plants that pump a lot of energy and can grow big, healthy and resilient.

Finally, I also spray once a fortnight seaweed solution. I mix that solution with Epsom salts and spray once – that saves time. Plants get a real kick out of that and soils too.

Last but not least, organic matter. Add generous amounts of it, regularly, to feed the soil biota (aka soil life such as bacteria, fungi, arthropods, etc.).

Happy soils – happy plants – healthy gardener.

Come and talk to us gardeners at the Dooralong Produce Swap, 3rd Sunday of the Month, Dooralong Oval, 3pm!

Or sign up to our permaculture course to learn EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW about soils! How to analyze them, restore them, feed them, nurture them…

2017 Part-Time PDC (web)

2017 Part-Time PDC

Making laundry soap to reduce waste

We have been very lucky here to host Isa from Brazil who taught us and our PDC students how to make basic laundry-type soap from used cooking oil.

Used oil (cooking oil) is not easily disposable. You can compost it with lots of wood chips. I suppose you can give it to your chooks in small amount, and pigs perhaps. You can burn it in your converted diesel car, truck or tractor but that requires very large quantities.

So in reality, we don’t quite know what to do with it.

(There is always the option to burn that in oil candles but realistically, who does that anymore?)

Permaculture principle to Create no Waste is fully demonstrated in soap making as we transform a waste product into a useful product.

I’d like to share Isa’s recipe and process below.

I will share her recipe of cosmetic-type soap -Castille Soap-  in a future post, and this one uses olive oil, clean, pure, un-used olive oil.

Ingredients:

  • 3kg used cooking oil (we used food-grade linseed oil which edibility had expired)
  • 900gr cold water
  • 408gr caustic soda (sodium hydroxide, minimum of purity 97%).

Materials:

  • Stick blender
  • A (plastic, or glass, or stainless steel) bowl to measure liquids
  • A (plastic, or glass, or stainless steel) bowl to mix the liquids
  • A kitchen scale
  • A piece of clean pantyhose, to separate solid particles from the oil
  • A plastic spatula or a plastic spoon

For your safety, please wear:

  • protective goggles
  • protective gloves
  • a mask
  • an apron
  • closed shoes
  • Do note make the mixture inside the house (with doors and windows closed).
  • Do not mix with children and pets around.
  • Do not use aluminum utensils.

How to make:

  1. Separate the solid particles from the used oil using the pantyhose.
  2. Place the oil in a plastic bowl.
  3. In another container place the cold water, then add the soda (not the other way around – danger!).
  4. Dissolve the soda in the water thoroughly and wait about five minutes. This becomes lye water.
  5. Add the lye water to the oil.
  6. Then blend with the stick blender, for about three minute or until the consistency of the mixture looks like jam (or mango purée!).
  7. Put this mixture into a mold, which can be made of plastic, wood or silicon, but never use aluminum!.
  8. Let the mixture turns into the soap in a place with constant temperature.
  9. After one or two days (depending on the weather) you can cut the soap.
  10. Cure these pieces of soap for, at least, four weeks before using them.

 

Thank you Isa for teaching us your skills! See you soon!

Hydrophobic soil

There’s a spot in the garden that doesn’t hold moisture, no matter how much I water it in. In fact water seems to literally run off its surface or pool on top. This would normally not worry me sleepless if that wasn’t for loosing crops to desiccation, starvation or disease, or for wasting energy to keep that area moist.

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