Sidestep the high cost of fertilizer by using animal waste as a plant nutrient source
Farm-generated wastes are a widely available and inexpensive alternative to commercial fertilizers. Animal wastes provide essential plant nutrients and also improve soil physical properties, such as water infiltration, aeration and nutrient-holding capacity. Before applying waste material as fertilizer, send a sample to the NCDA&CS Plant/Waste/Solution section. This laboratory tests for levels of plant nutrients and, when necessary, can measure pH, lime value and soluble salts. Based on analytical results, the Waste Analysis Report provides estimated rates of nutrient availability for the first growing season. With this information, you can figure out how much waste it will take to meet the specific nutritional needs of a crop. Supplemental applications of commercial fertilizer may be necessary, depending on rate of nutrient availability, cropping system, environmental guidelines and other factors.
Tissue sampling improves crop production
For high-value crops, in particular, plant tissue analysis is a valuable tool for optimizing monetary inputs and yield. It is a way to monitor the effectiveness of an ongoing fertilization program. It is a way to identify existing or potential nutrient problems. It can also be a way to gauge plant readiness for harvest.
The part of the plant to be sampled and the time of sampling vary by crop. Visit www.ncagr.com/agronomi/pictorial.htm for specific sampling instructions for several major crops. Samples can be dropped off at the NCDA&CS Plant/Waste/Solution lab in Raleigh, mailed through the U.S. Postal Service, or shipped via UPS or Fed Ex. Basic tissue testing costs $5 per sample, and results are typically posted on the NCDA&CS Agronomic Division Web site at www.ncagr.com/agronomi two business days after samples arrive at the lab. Special tests to measure chloride, molybdenum or petiole nitrates cost an extra $2 per test per sample.
Spring and summer are the best times to take soil samples from established lawns and gardens
It is always a good idea to take soil samples several weeks before planting a garden or renovating a lawn; then if lime is needed, you have time to apply it properly and let it begin to work before planting. For established plantings, spring and summer are good times to submit routine samples because that is the laboratory’s off-season and reports are available in about 10 days. If you want to use soil samples as a tool to identify a suspected nutrient problem, collect samples whenever you observe the problem and be sure to fill out the (orange) Diagnostic Soil Sample Information sheet instead of the white Soil Sample Information sheet.
Soil sample boxes and information sheets are available from all county Cooperative Extension offices and from the Agronomic Division office in Raleigh. Information sheets, sampling instructions, and completed reports are also available online at the Division’s Web site.