For most of us, the simplest knowledge of gardening and soils was something our educational curriculums deemed unnecessary to know. Yet, there are few people who have not considered, tried, or are actively gardening to raise vegetables, fruit trees or ornamentals. But, when we look at a plot of soil, our mind goes blank – or drifts to retail fertilizers.
At the baseline of gardening productivity is the presence of calcium in a plant-available form. Calcium is essential for living organisms. Calcium in plants it drives sugar production, photosynthesis, nutrient density and the shelf life of produce once it is harvested. Interestingly, the fruits and vegetables from plants with adequate calcium and nutrient density will tend not to rot, only dehydrate.
Calcium is king in the plant world and yet most consumer brand fertilizers do not contain calcium. Even as popular as compost is, most composts are very low in calcium. The probability of calcium presence in soils is high in the West – essentially from the middle of Colorado westwards. Soils to the East are often lacking calcium. Lime is a popular source of calcium in the Eastern U.S.
Whether calcium is naturally present in your soils or it has been added is not enough. Calcium, in and of itself, is not bio-available to plants. Imagine calcium as having an outer shell, like an egg. The shell is a protective layer that must be broken down to access the beneficial ingredients inside.
Good soil microbes can aid in breaking down calcium for plant uptake.
A good source of microbes comes from compost teas, mixed in a ratio of 1 to 5 with water. Avoid using plain water if you have access to compost tea.
Amino acids also aid in the breakdown of calcium. Amino acids penetrate the shell and commence the breakdown process. The presence of amino acids increases the speed at which calcium breaks down by four fold.
Humic acids and fulvic acids also work well in making calcium available to plants. Humic acid (a.k.a. carbon) provides homes for the microbes. Once available, fulvic acids help transport calcium to the plant.
Kelp can also help. Kelp provides bio-available nutrients and vitamins to the plants and microbes until the calcium is broken down.
Calcium should be applied separately as other nutrients can interfere with the calcium if mixed together for application. Popular forms of calcium include calcium carbonate, calcium sulphate, Cal Mag plus and calcium nitrate.
Without calcium, yields and quality suffer, as well as a produce having a shortened shelf life. The key to being a successful gardener begins with being calcium smart.