High Ridge Hopes

Living in High Ridge, Missouri for forty years and gardening every year, I learned how to deal with the heavy chert-flint rock, heavy yellow clay soil that we had. And we lived on a steep hill side that had excellent drainage. Seven years ago, we moved to Dent County, Missouri where we have very little drainage and a host of other problems. I am now trying to learn how to garden a whole new way.

We brought trailer loads of plants and shrubs from High Ridge. Ninety-five percent did not survive the transplant. I could not understand why. In our vegetable garden we could not get certain vegetables to grow. The ground here is a sandy clay mix. In the top twenty-four inches there is no rock. I thought finally we have ground that will be easy to grow plants in and easy to work as there are no rocks to fight to get good soil.

I could not be more wrong.

Early in 2008 I met Andy Seckinger, Marketing Manger for OHP, Inc., a chemical supply company to farmers and gardeners. He took four soil samples, one from each of the four growing areas of our property and had them analyzed. The results were hard to understand, even when Andy tried to explain them to me. The pH level ranges from 4.5 to 7.0. That is good.
Organic matter is low in all areas. That I can correct. There is a saw mill one mile from here with a pile of saw dust that is 25 to 30 years old. The owner told me to haul out all I want free of charge. So far I have hauled out and spread about thirty tons over the areas. I plan on getting a lot more.

Calcium levels range from low in one area, medium in another, and high in different area. The recommendation for the low calcium area is to add 228 pounds of gypsum because it will not raise the pH level. We are trying to raise blueberries in that area. Adding 75 pounds of limestone per 1000 square feet to the medium level area should cause the pH level of 5.5 in that area to rise. We are going to try growing grapes in that area. In the vegetable garden, the calcium level is high and no recommendation is offered. Why? The pH level 7.0. I have not added any lime. That is the question I will have to ask and see if I can get an answer.

In two of the areas, the phosphorus levels are very low, and in the other two areas the level is very high. In the blueberry area, 3.5 pounds per 100 square feet of phosphorus is recommended (we’ll use bone meal because we are trying to keep the soil as close to organic as we can). In the second low phosphorus area, the recommended rate is 2.5 pounds per 100 square feet.
The potassium level was low in two areas, very high in another area, and excessive in the other area. In the one area, the recommended amount is one half pound per 100 square feet of ground. In the second low area, the recommended amount is one pound per 100 square feet. No recommendation was made as to what to do with the two areas that are high to excessive.
Magnesium levels range from high to very high. A note that was included thought possibly the area where the organic level was the highest, the magnesium level was the lowest. We should add more saw dust to that area and I was planning on doing that any way.

The ground being almost flat with very little drainage does not help. Water sits on top of the ground for long periods of time in the winter. Then the plants drown. In the summer, the ground can bake and become as hard as concrete. After six inches of sleet and snow that has now thawed, the ground has water standing in large puddles everywhere. I hope by adding sawdust I can raise the level enough to drain the areas we want to plant.

I have now found two more sources of animal manure, one from a cow operation and another from a horse stable. With three sources, I may have enough every year to fertilize all the areas we will try to grow plants in.

I have a lot of questions to ask Andy when he comes back in March.

Now I see the reason to take several samples to have analyzed. Over a two acre piece of ground, who would have thought such a wide range of soil conditions would be possible.

We started working with the Missouri Conservation Commission employees last fall to do something with the fifteen acres of overgrown post oak forest on the east side of our property. As of this time, no firm decision or time line has been made. We hope that by July we will know something positive.

The Conservation forester told me that we have a large number of post oak trees that are 300 years or older and that the forest was probably last harvested 50 to 60 years ago. If we do nothing the area will continue to decline, not improve.

At the Christmas dinner, Jim expressed a desire for the Rock Garden Members come out and tour the farm. We would love to have all of you come and see our farm. I might have painted a pretty grim picture of the growing problems here in the first part of this article, but we do have some successes.

The last two weeks of May or the first weekend in June would be fine. After that I will be gone for six weeks teaching the Boy Scouts the Metal Working Merit Badge at a summer camp.

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