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Salinity super high soil test

 
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Just got soil test results back from 3 spots in my garden beds, and all have very high salinity.  The extension office says to flush with lots of water to leach out the salts, but any other thoughts?  And how did it get that way?  What is the permaculture method to correct this?  I'm guessing compost?  But I've already done a lot of compost in these areas and I wonder if that's contributing to the problem?  Or do I just need more?  Also phosphorus is very high.  Is that a problem?  Anything else stand out as an imbalance?  I live in the mountains in Idaho (near the Tetons).  See test results attached.
Soil-test-results-multi-cover-back-10-20.PNG
[Thumbnail for Soil-test-results-multi-cover-back-10-20.PNG]
 
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Since your Nitrogen is none existent, I would go to your local garden or farm store or order some N fixing root inoculant, and plant some nitrogen-fixing pioneer species.  Depending on your plans for the site, these would be annuals or perennials.  Put compost around them and give them lots of water.   I've read that gypsum can help to deal with salts in soil.  I did a quick google to find that.  Also came up with   This PDF Document from the USDA  about salt-affected areas.  
 
pollinator
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Its possible tzhat your compost is contributing salt, it depends on what its made with. Do you make it yourself or import it?

As far as correcting high salt levels, I think it comes down primarily to leaching it out over time. But it seems like you need to ID the source of the salt in the first place so you're not just adding more. It could be in your water even?

There are biological products designed to help growers deal with saline soils (a growing problem in the prime ag lands in southern coastal CA) but they may or may not be available in your market and that's not really a solution anyway.

I'd think step one is find the source so you're not adding more salt. Water (if its spring or well), compost, and native soil would be my first suspects.  Also, have you noticed any issues with your plants growth?
 
pollinator
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Roberto pokachinni wrote:Since your Nitrogen is none existent, I would go to your local garden or farm store or order some N fixing root inoculant, and plant some nitrogen-fixing pioneer species.  Depending on your plans for the site, these would be annuals or perennials.  Put compost around them and give them lots of water.   I've read that gypsum can help to deal with salts in soil.  I did a quick google to find that.  Also came up with   This PDF Document from the USDA  about salt-affected areas.  



I was under them impression that 34 mg/kg is a moderate level of nitrogen, which would also explain why there is no recommendation for a nitrogen addition on the right of the table.


To the OP are you irrigating? if you are salt build up is a very common side effect and their water flushing recommendation would be the only way to remove it faster than you add it with irrigation.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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I was under them impression that 34 mg/kg is a moderate level of nitrogen, which would also explain why there is no recommendation for a nitrogen addition on the right of the table.  

 I'm not  very familiar with these tests, so I might have made an error there.  I based my assumption on the facts that the other substances which are deemed most essential for plant growth were given a rating such as high (K potassium), very high (P phosphorus),  et cetera, and N nitrogen was blank, and also on the fact that generally these are mixed at ratios in NPK grow mixes, like 20:20:20.  While Potassium has 899, and Phosphorus has 353, Nitrogen has only 34.  My apologies, if my assumptions led anyone astray.  I'm still not sure what a healthy balance would be in this case.  
 
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I've been slowly reading a book about biochar and they are highly recommending it for abused soils that have build ups of a great variety of things, so it might be worth reading about and making some. (There are lots of threads about it here on permies - not sure if there's one that's better than others, but there are members who would know.)
 
Alison Godlewski
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Thank you all!  To answer your questions: Yes, I am irrigating.  We have hard water.  Would that add too much salt?  I make my own compost from food scraps plus newspaper and all the other usual inputs.  I added a fair amount of manure also.  Maybe it wasn't aged enough?  Native soil: we live at the foothills of the Teton Mountains - high in minerals likely.  Plants are doing ok in some spots, good in others.  Not many are doing great though.  Any additional thoughts on the source?
 
Jay Angler
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Alison Godlewski wrote:

I added a fair amount of manure also.

What type/s of manure? I've heard that some manure (I think steer in particular was mentioned, but don't quote me as it's not one I have access to, so I didn't pay too much attention) is higher in salt than others.

There are plants that tolerate higher salt levels, and plants that absorb some of the salt:
https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2014/589341/  I haven't read that whole article.

However, that doesn't make it "go away" - you'd have to grow "salt removing plants" and then actually remove the plants so they didn't just release the salt again as they compost. If you can "remove" them by eating them (a portulaca was mentioned and some of those are edible for example) that would lower the soil salt level. Alternatively, you can at least reduce the concentration in some areas while increasing it in areas planted with salt-tolerant plants like Seaberry (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippophae), but growing salt accumulators where you don't want the salt and using them as mulch around plants that like or tolerate salt.

What I don't like about the idea of "flushing" the soil with a bunch of water is that you need to know where that water is going to? If it's going fairly directly into the ocean (which it might where I live) I'm good with that. If it's going into the ground water and I was your neighbor, I'd be less happy (I'm also on a well -  we bought an expensive chunk of forest just to help protect our well!)
 
Roberto pokachinni
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I think I recall that manure can be a problem for salinity.  

The hard water is definitely another potential problem source.  

Watering is especially a problem if your irrigation is evaporating, leaving the mineral salts behind.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Many desert climate farmers go to drip irrigation to minimize and focus watering.  Geoff Lawton was able to greatly reduce salinity at the Greening the Desert Project in Jordan. <<-He did this using compost, mulch, drip irrigation, and food forest strips on the contour.

Staff note (Roberto pokachinni) :

This might not be the right video where he talks about the salinity. I'm watching it right now to find out.

Staff note (Roberto pokachinni) :

This wasn't the video I thought. However, he does mention the reduction of alkalinity due to the increase in biomass/fertility around 35minutes to 37minutes. healthy citrus being the indicator species that this was successful. I know your PH looks only slightly alkaline, but these organic matter additions might be part of the solution. I'll find the other video and post it to follow.

 
Roberto pokachinni
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This video is the project where he discusses salinity.  Also in Jordan, but not in the city or on a hill.  This is near the dead sea, and fairly flat, but he made swales all over it.  It's a much larger project than the one in the urban site.

 
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Has your water been tested? I’d consider that as a possible salt source. Even trace salts from irrigation water can accumulate to problematic levels.
 
steward
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The math is easy on this one. 900 mg/kg of K is approximately equal to 2 dS/m. I suspect that the potassium in the compost is almost solely responsible for the salinity.

 
Roberto pokachinni
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I suspect that the potassium in the compost is almost solely responsible for the salinity.

I  That might be the answer here, Joseph.

Has your water been tested? I’d consider that as a possible salt source. Even trace salts from irrigation water can accumulate to problematic levels.

 I think it might be a combination of the high potassium and the water of that region.

There is definitely a relationship between high potassium exacerbating the sodium in soils.  They have a synergistic effect with each other producing an antagonistic effect on plant growth.     Here's a link to a paper discussing that:  Potassium–sodium interactions in soil and plant under saline‐sodic conditions  And here's another one: Ameliorative effect of potassium sulphate on the growth and chemical composition of wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) in salt-affected soils
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