Matt Powers: Soil Science

Sept. 30, 2020, By Debby Ellis, Recording Secretary

Matt Powers

Our Organic Garden Club of Ventura County meeting on Zoom started with a tour of Michael Wittman’s garden:  He is planning to grow about 10 kinds of rare garlic.  He is currently growing tomatoes and peppers, carrots, kale, marigolds, strawberries, bananas, sage, rosemary, lavender.  He has a cherry tree, corn has been harvested, the fig tree needs trimming, He is also growing Cuban oregano, has an apricot tree, zucchini, blood orange tree, yarrow, verbena, pumpkins, pomegranates, avocados, elderberries, milkweed, peach, nectarine and plum trees, Mexican lime, miscellaneous flowers, two bird baths.  He has a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.  He is planning to build a hugelkultur raised bed and a mushroom area. He also has assorted succulents.  

Bill Brandt spoke to us about how he started growing mangoes in Thousand Oaks 20 years ago. He planted 3 mango trees that died due to frost. The frost killed the fourth tree to the ground; it re-sprouted a year later, but never flowered. He grafted “Paul Thompson” mango to it in 2015 and this year it produced 41 mangos! He put little bags around each mango to catch it before it falls on the ground.  He also strings Christmas tree lights on the tree to keep it warm if the temperature will be under 40 degrees at night.

John Brooks gave us a power point presentation on the Responsive Drip Irrigation system.  He started installing the system 2 ½ years ago when he bought the house.  It reduces water use and eliminates sprinkler heads and controllers.  All of it is underground and the tape, which is underground, sends a signal to add water.  The system uses a low-pressure meter.  Tape is placed 4-6” underground.  If tape is near trees, put it about 18” down to encourage deeper roots.  

Our speaker is Matt Powers, speaking on soil science, Regenerative Soil, the Science and Solutions.  In living memory, everything has changed multiple times.  Even in the 1990’s compost could hurt plants, or help them.  Some of that confusion is finally becoming clearer.  

What is soil?  Clay, sand, silt – all needs organic matter in it.  Indigenous methods have been incorporated into newer organic methods. Computers can be a metaphor for soil – clay, sand, silt are all silicates.  They act as the hardware, and the organic matter acts as the operating system.  Organic matter is a reservoir for electrons and protons.  Soil gets oxidized and dry without the organic matter.  Nature’s chemists are fungi.  Photosynthesis – CO2, water, light. Soil should be neutral or slightly acidic. Here in California, our soil is often oxidized (dry).  Reduction is is taking on electrons, while oxidizing is losing them.  

When Beavers were allowed to roam freely, we were holding many gallons of surface water – as much as three states worth.  The soil was then acidified.  Peats and mucks are highly acidic.  Soil needs to have more water holding capacity.  Vegetative growth comes from nitrogen.  Surface layers of soil are oxidized, while the first few inches, the “sweet spot”, are the most biodiverse with life.  Organic matter could be compost, but is also plant roots and photosynthesis.  

CO2 is heavier than oxygen – it descends on the plants and to the bottom of the ocean.  We need to increase the photosynthesis of the earth.  We could help solve our carbon problem this way.  We need to up our cover crops.  This includes C3 & C4 grasses, buckwheat, cowpeas, Daikon Radishes and all annuals.  Cowpeas are nitrogen fixers.  

Hot compost kills weeds, but could also catch fire if not turned often enough.  Woody compost vs kitchen compost – kitchen compost is too sugary – brings in too much bacteria.  Need to add other things.  We don’t want alkaline compost – allows the weeds to grow.  Compost extract is humic acid – fungal food.  Compost tea – use a bucket or barrel – match the power of the arriation to the solution. Can be ready in 2 – 5 days.  You can water it down if you like.  Water into the soil, or apply as a spray.  Worm compost, Vermiculture, tends to be more alkaline. Use various kinds of manure: Chicken manure – PH 4.5 – 8.5; Cow manure – PH 4-5 – 6.9; Goat manure – all depends on what you’ve been feeding the animals.  Matt adds charred bones to compost for phosphates.  Wood ash adds potassium.  Eggs shells are good for calcium. Biochar is the great magnet and holds up to 3 times its’ mass in water.   Add rock dust – it’s paramagnetic.  

Make regenerative soil happen!!  Check out Matt Powers’ website: Here is a link to his new book: Regenerative Soil!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Pamella and Robert Whitham says:

    I’d like to receive more information from the Organic Garden Club but have not. Please send me notices of meetings – zoom right now and talks.

    Also, someone pulled out my cuban oregano and I’d like to get a start. It grows well here but mine was all destroyed by some well meaning helper.


    1. gardenguru1 says:

      So happy you are interested in our club! Will check with members for Cuban oregano! Sign up to be a member at:


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