Solving High Soil Salts Problems - Mitigation

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Solving High Soil Salts Problems - Mitigation

By Mark Pagayon

Virtually all of Agriculture worldwide has reduced yields from reduced plant health caused by high soil salts (Na, Cl, K, & Nitrate). David Knaus (Apical-Ag) reports that 90% of the samples sent to him for analysis have a high salts problem.  It is well established that every crop is damaged by high salts and conversely is improved by lowering the salts level. Using full spectrum soil biology is a viable mitigation approach that is affordable and effective. 

Soil Salts are measured in Ec (Electrical Conductivity) or ds/m (Deciseimens/ Meter). Irrigation water quality is often expressed as total soluble salts (tds), an international convention being that 1 ds/m is equivalent to 640 mg/L of mixed salts. Low salts soils would be under 2 ds/m. Severe salts level would be over 8 ds/m. 

The conventional proposals for mitigation of high salts level has remained the same for a hundred years. These are 1) Deep tillage to allow flushing high salts soils with low salts irrigation water, 2) Flushing the root zone with low salts water, 3) Growing cover crops, and 4) Incorporating plant residue into the plant growth zone. A key problem with this approach is the absence of low salts water that is needed to perform the soil flush. These proposals are viable and beneficial but miss a key mechanism. 

A protocol that is far more effective and viable is to replenish the soil biology (bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, microarthropods, etc) found in a fully healthy soil matrix and increase the organic matter in the soil. Dr. Ingham (Soil Food Web Lab) has educated the agriculture community about the importance of a complete soil food web biology in the root zone.   

Most farmers understand the importance of healthy soil and that the absence of soil biology gives dead soil. Organic matter feeds the soil food web biology. When one bacteria divides into two, the division requires seven carbon atoms and one nitrogen. When one fungi grows from one to two lengths, this requires 30 carbons and 1 nitrogen. Keeping sufficient organic matter is key to maintaining healthy soil biology. 

In 1881, Charles Darwin wrote about earthworms, Darwin on Humus and the Earthworms: the Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms With Observations on Their Habits. Darwin declared how valuable was the presence of earthworms. The earthworms provide the most complete and diverse soil biology for soil health in the earthworm castings (a polite term for earthworm poop).  Earthworms will not survive in dead soil. The earthworms require healthy soil biology to survive. Using earthworm castings to replenish the biology is key.   Once the soil biology is replenished, earthworms will become present. 

California Vermiculture has learned over the past 25 years, there is a major difference in the efficiency of earthworm castings depending on what feed mix the earthworms are given. If the earthworms are fed beef or dairy manures, the level of the chitin recyclers and cellulose recyclers are only 1% of the potential. Since these recyclers provide the vast majority of nutrition delivery to any plants, this makes a great difference in the plant yield. Using properly fed earthworm castings as a key component of a mix to produce a balanced brew microbial solution (incorrectly called “Tea”) can be used to replenish the complete soil food web. The mix that California Vermiculture developed, reviewed and approved by CDFA-OIM (California Department of Food & Agriculture Organic Input Material) as organic.

Note that this mix is NOT just earthworm castings. The mix must be correct to produce a balance of bacteria and fungi growth. The Soil Food Web Lab can perform testing to confirm the mix is correct. The mix must be aerated in water with no chlorine at 65-85F for 12-24 hours. This can provide a multiplication of the biology several billion times. The brewing equipment requires both fine bubbles, 1-2 mm for sufficient aeration and coarse bubbles over 10mm to provide  mechanical impact strength.  

The organic matter in the soil needs to be about 2%. The Earthworm Castings Solution (Tea) can be used to mitigate high salts soils. The salts remediation will happen quite rapidly with only 120 gallons/acre. The results will be very evident and dramatic. Let’s look at a few real-life applications. 

Avocado trees have a low tolerance to high salts. Soil salts ECe above 4 ds/m cause real problems for avocados.  The irrigation water available in north San Diego County can be above 18 ds/m due to the high tds from the Colorado river water. The avocado leaves burned due to the high salts. 

The response of the fruit production is significant. The avocado production with no WGS at 125 lbs/tree. With 120 gpa the fruit drop decreased from an estimated 80% to under 20% first season. This resulted in a yield increase from 120 lb/tree to over 1,000 lb/tree. 

Remediation of High Salts (37 ds/m/ low moisture retention (7%) and no structure to 1 ds/m salts 33% moisture retention, and real soil structure using 60 gpa WGS took 60 days. Before high salts remediation, blueberry seedlings would not grow. 

The remediation, blueberry seedlings grew to over 6 ft the first season using only 60 gallons per acre.


Even weeds won’t grow in salt water.  Millions of acres of farmland around the world have become non productive as the salts levels have approached seawater salinity. This WGS application has shown remediation of saltwater soil.    

Near Wasco, CA, the saltwater lake evaporated over 20 years ago. Nothing would grow, not even weeds. A land developer asked, “could this saltwater soil be remediated?” This application proved it can. Twelve 5 gallon buckets of this salty soil were dug. Pistachio seedlings were used since pistachio trees are the most salt resistant. Six seedlings were planted in the harvested salt water soil. Five of the six seedlings died right away. Only one grew and after 60 days was only five inches tall.

The organic matter was under 1% so the equivalent of 1 ton/acre of earthworm castings/compost mix was added, then irrigated with 20% WGS water. All six plants began rapid growth with beautiful red new growth. In 60 days, all six of these seedlings were 40” tall. The picture shows the growth difference as presented to the developer. Three board members had planted pistachio seedlings in harvested high salts lake soil. None had survived. Only the seedlings planted in soil with the WG/WGS protocol survived and thrived. 

The ability to remediate salty soils without the necessity of finding large amounts of clean (low salts) water for flushing means: 
1. Any crop with a soil sample salts level above 4 ds/m will be able to see crop health and yield increase by replenishing the soil biology. 
2. Any crop with high salts irrigation water can reverse the damaging effects by replenishing the soil biology.
3. Cropland that has been removed from production due to high soil salts level can be brought back to production by increasing the organic matter to over 1% and replenishing the soil biology.

Article by: Mark Pagayon | (619)245-3045 | |