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Organic Gardening – Lime – Do You Need It?

One of TMG’s readers wrote to me the other day to give me a progress report on what she had accomplished in her gardens on her day off.

During the course of the day she went to Southern States to get a few packs of seed and some seed starting medium.  The man who was helping her figured out she was starting to garden organically either by her various questions about the seed starting mix – or maybe she just told him.

Anyway – he kept telling her how important it was to lime her garden each year “since” she was planting organically.  She writes,  “I just listened but didn’t buy lime. You’ve never mentioned lime in all your posts or emails to me so I figured it wasn’t important.”

In my opinion, she made the right decision.  And frankly, I never had any intentions of EVER writing a post on lime.  But after her experience with the man at Southern States I thought it might be helpful to others to address the topic of “liming soil” in a bit more detail.

Adding Lime is “In” with the Majority

Allow me to lay the ground work for the remainder of this post by saying that I live in an area where it seems everyone uses lime on their soil. Farmers here use it on their fields in great quantities and home gardeners use it on their gardens.

I have been gardening and organic gardening for 33 years and I have NEVER used lime EVER on my soil. I’m in the minority.

Thought Behind the Use of Lime

The thought behind the use of lime (at least in this area) is:  the soil is clay and/or acidic therefore it needs to be “sweetened” — which is another way of saying the ph needs to be raised. Some see it (falsely) as a panacea for raising the alkalinity of an acidic soil.

What They Don’t Consider

What they don’t take into consideration is how complex the soil is.  Every time you add anything foreign (which is anything other than compost or organic matter) you run the risk of upsetting the delicate balance that has been created in your garden.

The vast majority do not garden organically. In most of these gardens – no organic matter has been added.  Thus, most of the beneficial microbes that make nutrients available to plants have been destroyed. In turn, these folks add all kinds of foreign things to the soil just to get it to produce crops – (lime being a favorite here).

If one follows the advice of the Southern States salesman and adds lime, a soil test should be done at the very least, to show what kind and how much lime should be added to minimize the chances of it having harmful effects on the soil.

What Organic Matter Will Do

It’s a fact that the best way to make your soil better is to add organic matter.  Nature will do the rest. Not only will organic matter  change the ph towards neutral, but over time it will add all nutrients needed to grow plants including nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, sulfur, copper, manganese, boron, etc.

If you like easy — (I do) — you can’t get much easier than that.

My Recommendation

I’d strongly recommend staying away from using lime.  Adding “foreign stuff” to your soil  is pretty much a waste of time, money, and effort. Why add things like lime and possibly disrupt the balance of nutrients already there waiting to grow your plants strong and healthy. Why take a chance on ruining your soil when you can just add organic matter and let nature solve all the problems.

Final words

In spite of all the brainwashing that goes on by sellers and makers of synthetic amendments, the fact is: Organic matter is the answer to all your ph, soil building and conditioning problems. If your soil is rich in organic matter —- everything else will fall into place.

 

29 comments to Organic Gardening – Lime – Do You Need It?

  • Beppy White

    Way to go!!Good advice.

  • Theresa

    Sounds like you’ve had some experience along those lines too, Beppy.

  • Farming Bear

    Well, I’m glad you wrote about lime! The hairdresser said I needed it to grow healthy veggies. She grew up on a farm so I figured her to be well seasoned. Even so, I gave her an answer which was similar to what you mention here – although I didn’t feel experienced in the matter. I am glad to know that I’m a good enough student of TMG to be in agreement w/ a post I’d not had the pleasure of thoroughly reading yet! THANKS THERESA!!!

  • Theresa

    You are more than welcome Farming Bear! I am so glad I could be of help.
    Theresa

  • dannicker

    My mom has two horses, she has essentially taken their manure and made a manure-and-dirty-hay garden by stacking it. She uses lime, it appears the fresher horse manure is acidic.

    The garden was amazing, in fact I’m eating one of the zucchinis right now.

  • Theresa

    From what you said David, I’m not sure what your Mom does, but composted horse manure will not be acidic.
    To be on the safe side — fresh manure should not be used in gardens if crops are to be harvested within 90 to 120 days. Lots of disease pathogens can be in fresh manure. You can Google and find many great sources that will tell you to compost manure at hot temperatures (towards 150 degrees) first OR dig in the fresh stuff in the fall when you will not be planting edible crops for some time.

  • Sarina

    whats a super easy but safe way to weed my organic garden?

  • Sarina

    Im new to your site but very pleased I found it….thanks in advance!!! Cant wait to learn more!!

  • Theresa

    Welcome to TMG Sarina.
    Regarding your question about a safe way to weed — start by reading the post http://tendingmygarden.com/weeding-never-make-it-a-job/
    There’s lots more about keeping the weeds down and you’ll see more info as you search the site.
    Some points to remember:
    Take wire grass etc. out when preparing the bed.
    Mulch always.
    Remove weeds before they seed.
    The longer you do this — the less weeds you’ll have.
    My garden is approximately 40 x 60 and I have borders surrounding and all over our acre of ground. I spend approximately 5 minutes a day weeding. Every once in while one of the borders on the property line will require 15 minutes or so – but not often.
    Theresa

  • Betty Dotson

    Thanks so much for addressing the lime issue, Theresa.

    Here in Central Virginia lime is the “King” of garden amendments! I’m so glad that I have a ready answer, straight from you, on this subject to give my husband when this issue comes up.

    If I’m going to spend money on my garden, I would rather for it to go toward purchasing straw.

    Thanks again,
    Betty

  • Theresa

    I know what you mean about lime being “King” of the garden amendments Betty. It’s the same in our area.
    Glad I could help you give answer.
    Theresa

  • ALLAN

    I DO CONTAINER GARDENING DO I EEVER NEED TO ADD LIME TO STORE BROUGHT GARDEN SOIL?

  • Theresa

    Allan,
    I’m not into container gardening except for the grow bags I use. (I use my garden soil in those bags.)
    I do not use lime.
    As far as store bought garden soil — one is never sure exactly what that is. You’d have to have it tested to find out.
    Theresa

  • Linda C

    Thanks for the info on lime in the garden. I’m just going to keep adding my vegetable peelings, coffee grinds, and egg shells as I have for many years which seems to work.

  • kerri

    hi…great article! makes taotal sense to me! someone recommended I use it but I wanted to research it first..now I definitely wont! what kind of organic matter would you recommend to balance PH? thanks so much! Kerri

  • Theresa

    Kerri, that’s another great thing about organic matter: over time it tends to balance the pH without your doing anything special.
    Add whatever you have: pine tags, leaves, straw, etc. It will all balance the soil over time.
    Theresa

  • Lawrence Hallman

    Great post. Letting nature decide is the best thing to do. You may have to go through several growing seasons to figure it out. So there is no instant results answer. In organic gardening, given time all things are possible. I live in middle Georgia and there is nothing but red clay here, the top soil is long gone from poor farming practice and you gotta build your own soil. The soil here is unbelievably poor. But be careful, knowing your vegetable or flower or any plant is a must. You can be mighty cruel to plants and not even know it. A good example would be how to pee farm with no till. Yes I said that. No till and pee, what a thing to say. There is a secrete formula there. There is a method to my madness. You do not have to get paranoid about it, just spend a few moments reading. And yes, I said the word read. Organic farmers use two things that are not normal and cannot be found in your local garden center. DE and Neem Oil. But not just any kind of stuff. And you just do not throw them on there. The DE is diatomaceous earth food grade is for bugs of all kinds and has to be let out at high noon on a dry day. It will kill everything that flies and pollinates. So you will have to self pollinate. Strong stuff. What about the Neem Oil. There are two kinds, the stuff (word edited) you get at some place like Home Depot and the good stuff that is cold pressed. Comes out of Florida or India. So what I am saying is simple, adding old habits to new gardens will work. It takes two or three years to see what I mean. Or this might happen, my wife person waters our grass with some of my souped up stuff and she has to mow the lawn (which I hate, it takes up space) once every day. The stuff goes wild! So be careful. The last thing I can say it this. The mycelium in the soil is the key. So dig down in your ole garden and see if you have some red wigglers. A sign of something good.

  • Theresa

    To TMG Readers from Theresa regarding Lawrence’s comment.

    I think perhaps the most important thing Lawrence said was that “– you gotta build your own soil” where he lives in middle Georgia. Keep in mind that you can build your own soil anywhere you live and it will be far better than anything you can buy.

    I’m not a fan of exchanging a bad chemical for a so called good chemical just because it’s ok for organic gardens.

    DE (food grade) is ok if you care to use it. If you’re going in the right direction and building your soil you probably won’t need it — at least eventually. Also, I don’t like the idea that it is not selective about what it kills. I used a little once. The rest of the bag sat in my garage for years until I threw it away.

    I really don’t care for Neem Oil — even the “good” stuff. It’s systemic — meaning it goes through the plants entire system — and I don’t care to eat that either even if it’s not suppose to be harmful.

    Lawrence, I appreciate your taking time to comment.
    Theresa

  • Lawrence Hallman

    Wow, I did not know I would wake a sleeping giant. DE works and you can even drink it. It is not a bad thing, but it does kill almost everything. It does not harm earthworms who happen to be my favorite friends in the world, but you have to know what it is and when to use it. If you misuse DE for the wrong reasons, it can be bad. It will kill any insect and that is a fact. That is when you put in the soil. Spray it and the bees as stuff will die when they come in contact with it. I have taken DE to clear my gut and it does. You just have to study the subject. There are problems with every method you use. Neem oil is native to India and cold pressed works. And if you do not know what to do with it, you are in trouble. I drink it and make soap with it and it is amazing. But the very best thing is what God gave us. If you can take it slow and do one thing at a time, you just might be amazed. We are talking about plants that just jump up and say, “Hey, look at me and how glorious can I get?”

  • ted Harcovitz

    You say that adding organic matter to the soil will solve the PH problems. I am a little confused because I have been told that the acid rain that fell on our environment is why many native species of plants have died off. If what you say is true then the organic state in the woods should have protected them. Why will my PH be correct in the garden when it is not correct in the woods and marshlands that have abundant organic matter? Also you mention the main stream of people believe in lime for the gardens. It is basically limestone that is ground up into lime. Isn’t that still meet the guidelines of organic gardening?

  • Theresa

    Ted I appreciate your questions. I’m thinking maybe you just found my site. You might have to read for a while to get the total picture of what my line of thought is on gardening.

    There are many things that are “approved” for use in organic gardens and “meet the guidelines” that I don’t care to use for various reasons.

    Regarding your question about acid rain — I’m sure there are folks who could give you a more detailed and suitable answer than I could. I have not studied acid rain, but am thinking if “severe” acid rain falls to earth and kills native species then it must have been acid enough to change the growing environment towards acid.

    What I know to be true is this: When you add organic matter to the soil, overtime it changes the ph more towards neutral.

    Theresa

  • Laverne Ljunggren

    My potatoes have scabs and I have been told to use lime. I am concerned that my vegetables will no longer be organic but I want to get rid of the scabs on the potatoes.

  • Theresa

    Laverne, if you want to use lime you can. Regular agricultural lime is considered ok for organic use. You can further research this for more info.
    I don’t and won’t use it, but some organic farmers do.
    Theresa

  • Laverne Ljunggren

    thank you. I would rather not use it, but how do I get rid of the bacteria that causes scabs on the potatoes.?

  • Theresa

    Laverne, I don’t have a sure-fix answer for you. I have a spot in my garden where if I plant potatoes they get that scab. I don’t plant potatoes there. Also I wrote about scab on potatoes in this post: http://tendingmygarden.com/potatoes-are-yours-disfigured/ That information may help you in the long term.
    Theresa

  • Sue

    Can you make your own lime out of egg shells if garden needs it

  • Theresa

    I would think so, Sue.
    There have been studies done on this.
    Of course those studies usually involved tons of shells and conventional agriculture.
    For the home gardener, I would think any eggshells added would be fine and would act the same
    as any organic material. It changes to soil more toward the neutral mark. Which is what you want to accomplish using the lime.
    Theresa

  • How do you fix Blossom End Rot in tomatoes then?

  • Theresa

    Shannon, I’ve covered Blossom End Rot in much detail. These two posts especially, will answer your question:
    http://tendingmygarden.com/blossom-end-rot-and-all-other-garden-problems-are-you-missing-the-big-picture/
    http://tendingmygarden.com/blossom-end-rot/
    Theresa

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