February 15, 2011

According to John: The myth of gypsum to improve your soil

During my travels around the country, visiting retail nurseries, I have been surprised at the lack of products offered that genuinely improve soil. Many times, nursery personnel indicate to me that they recommend and sell gypsum to customers that want a solution for hard, terrible soil. Gypsum is a very soft mineral, composed of hydrated calcium sulfate, often used in drywall and plaster and has, historically, been used as a soil amendment. My friend, radio gardening host John Bagnasco, after being asked on the air about using gypsum to improve soil, asked the caller “Do you like popcorn?” After receiving an affirmative answer he said, “Using gypsum to change your soil is like using a match to pop your popcorn: it will work but it will take about a hundred years.” Actually, John was being charitable; gypsum is generally not appropriate for most urban soils around the country. The one exception is heavy, clay, salty soil and even then, the benefits, when gypsum is used alone, are frustratingly slow. The real miracle workers in changing every kind of problem soil are provided by nature; these are the beneficial soil microbes of all kinds. Favorable bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes can change soil more effectively, efficiently and permanently than any other system. However, nature’s miracle workers are sensitive to damage by synthetic fertilizers and most garden chemicals. That is why many of our soils never get better, year after year. They remain hard, sandy, alkaline or acidic and lifeless. Traditional gardening techniques damage soil life with salty fertilizer and destructive fungicides and other chemicals. Some amendments, like gypsum, are ineffective and take too long to have any positive impact. My best recommendation is to build your soil life with organic amendments that feed plants and the soil. Good quality compost is full of beneficial soil life along with food and attractants for microbes. Our John & Bob’s GrowGreen System mimics the ingredients and benefits of high quality compost with a lot less work. John & Bob’s OPTIMIZE, PENETRATE, MAXIMIZE and NOURISH work together in a simple, effective, economical and comprehensive way to fundamentally improve problem soil. If you don’t want to wait a hundred years for productive soil, focus on infusing your soil with beneficial microbes, food for microbes and attractants for microbes. High quality compost and compost-based additives work much better than gypsum and should begin to produce soil improvement within two months. Improvements will be ongoing and cumulative as long as lively amendments continue to be added. Life in our soil is a natural phenomenon and an incredible ally as we work to be productive, healthy gardeners.