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Soil Presentation Recap

At our February General Meeting, we had an educational presentation on soil.

The first and most important step in a good soil program is soil testing!

The University of Minnesota Soil Testing Laboratory offers inexpensive soil testing for the lawn and garden.  Don’t blindly add amendments to your garden! Get a soil test and find out exactly what your soil needs. The U of MN Soil Testing Lab will provide a comprehensive report with recommendations based on the results and use of the soil tested (i.e. lawn, vegetable, flower).  The money you invest in a test will be saved by getting just the amendments that your soil needs and by have the most productive soil possible.

For more information on soil testing check out Soil Test

John Kooiman briefly discussed the products he has been using in his dahlia gardens, Vital Earth’s Organic Fertilizers & Soil Building Products.  You can check out the products they offer at

Handouts from the presentation:

JJohn Enstrom, of Ramsey Organic, Inc. and an MDS member, shared with us his over 20 years of knowledge and experience in organic soil production and landscaping.  John grows his own flowers and vegetables, produces and sells organic soils and custom blends, and plants and, maintains several gardens in parks around his area.  For more information on purchasing organic soil or custom blends, or speak to John about your soil needs, contact him as noted below.

Mr. Enstrom creates several soils commercially.  He says that the first ingredient is sand because lack of drainage is the biggest killer of plants.  He makes soils with different amounts, with up to one-third sand mix.  His sand is mined so that it is free of chemicals.

A vital (but much smaller percentage) additive is a natural lime that he gets from glacier sediment.  It is composed of tiny shells but turns to talcum-like powder in your fingers.  It is pure and will never degrade.  His soil will never clump, which makes pulling weeds (or tubers) a breeze.  If you have heavy clay soil, John Kooiman recommends a Gypsoil which helps to break down clay.

Both Mr. Enstrom and Mr. Kooiman agree that organic matter is also vital.  Mr. Kooiman likes to compost leaves, clean yard waste, and table scraps. Mr. Enstrom is adamant not to include anything that could carry fungus or virus.  For his soils, he raises seaweed plants in a manmade lake that is free of any chemicals and composts the seaweed to be used in his soil blends.  Organic material keeps your soil loamy and makes it easier for plants to absorb the nutrients in the mix.  Dahlias can attain heights of up to 8’ of growth in a single year, with lots of huge blossoms and foliage all from a single tuber from a spring planting.  For this plant to reach full potential, many varied nutrients and organic matter are needed to satisfy a hungry Dahlia plant.  Mr. Enstrom also uses several types of peat in his mixes.  Each has specific purposes but adds organic material.  Some of his peat is mined in Wisconsin, where it is considered a renewable resource. 

Mr. Kooiman recommends several commercial fertilizers, some get mixed in the fall, others are sprayed on the foliage.  Mr. Enstrom stresses not to use fertilizers that contain urea.  Urea is made from natural gas.  When it gets rained on or watered, it can evaporate, leaving harmful salt residue on the soil and plants.  He only uses ammoniated nitrogen instead of urea.   He sells commercial fertilizers but prefers natural turkey manure.  Both Mr. Enstrom and Mr. Kooiman stressed the manure should be added in the fall to have time to break down before coming in contact with plants.  The nature of fresh manure can be “hot” and burn the plants.

The recommended pH for Dahlias is 6.5-7pH.  If your pH is not correct, then your plants cannot gain access to the nutrients in your soil, so it is also vital to test and amend your soil to get the pH to the correct level for your purposes. 

These tips should make a significant difference in the success of your garden.

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