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Chapter 4: Soil Preparation and Containers

Soil is several things to a plant. It is the medium which holds the plant upright. It is also the medium that holds the nutrients so that the plant can gather them in order to grow, flower and fruit. Soil must also hold water in suspension. So the plants can gather nutrients from it. There many substances that, if modified slightly, might provide these three processes for a plant. Cat litter will hold a plant upright and will suspend water quite well. If the proper nutrients were added, cat litter would make an excellent medium in which to grow plants. The problem is that there are many such nutrients, elements and minerals. To provide them all, in very particular and sometimes minute quantities would be a difficult task. Not impossible, but difficult. Growing hydroponically uses such a process.

Certainly we dont have to start with some neutral medium. Right in your neighborhood, or down at the local nursery, you can find soil that will fulfill the three basic requirements to support plant life. Some are better than others, some are easier than the others, but with some minor modifications, which will be described in this chapter, most soils will support your cocal.

For beginners, it might be well to examine the three support systems that the soil will provide for your plants: 1) supports the plant 2) holds and provides nutrients, and 3) suspends water. In this way you can get a clearer conception of how to provide the proper soil for your coca. You can be as exacting as you wish, but there are certain basic minimum requirements.

1. SUPPORTING THE PLANT: Of course, the plant must be held upright in order that it can function, but the matter is somewhat more complex than that. It must be held gently but firmly. Firmly so that when it reaches six or more feet in height, it does not fall over. Gently so that the plant has room to move and expand to grow. The physical texture and structure of the soil also plays a vital part in its ability to store nutrients and provide them to the plants. Remember that the soil you choose must hold the young plant gently but firmly.

2. HOLDING NUTRIENTS: Pedologists (soil scientists) have learned that there are many nutrients that are important to plant growth and more particular for our purposes, coca growth. The main elements that must be in the soil for plant growth are nitrogen, phosporous, potassium, magnesium, and sulphur. If the particular soil you choose has a growth deficiency in any particular one of these it can be made up with the addition of some special substances. Sulphate of ammonia will provide nitrate and sulphate; superphosphate, bone meal and basic slag will provide phosphate; woodash and kainite will supply potash. Though these are a few of the main constituents of those used in plant tissues, they are by no means the only ones. Others which occur in minute quantities, but which are just necessary for growth are known as trace elements. This list of trace elements is constantly being added to and increased until it may be soon shown that all of the chemical elements - in however small an amount are necessary - for really healthy plant growth. Although we only need concern ourselves here with the main constituents of the soil, it is well to note how complex the nutritive process is. The three main nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorus and potash are those contained in fertilizers. The three numbers on fertilizer bags are the indices of how much of each is contained in the fertilizer. The first number gives the amount of nitrogen, the second number the amount of phosphorus and the third number the amount of potash. The Sudbury Soil Testing Kit, which is available at nurseries, uses color charts to help the cultivator determine the percentage of each plant food that is needed in the fertilizer mixture when it is applied at the rate of 5 lbs. per square feet. The kits are easy to use and a must for a serious coca cultivator. The soil tests may show, for an example, that the fertilizer should contain 10% N, 20% P and 12% K. A fertilizer analyzing 10-20-12 would be ideal. Of course, fertilizer analyzed at 5-10-6 would work equally as well, but the amount added would have to be doubled. Caution should be exercised whenever fertilizer is added. Fertilizer is easily overdone and over fertilizing will burn your plants up. It would be a good idea for every grower to touch a bit of fertilizer to his tongue and see how it stings. It would give him a much better picture of why fertilizer must be applied with caution.

3. HOLDING WATER: The size of grain of which the soil is composed is of considerable importance to plants because this affects its water-holding capacity. Between the grains of soil there are gaps through which the water will travel. If the gaps are big, water will pass down very easily, but it will not pass up. It is only in soil where the gaps are small, as in clay or loam, that water will travel up as long as there is surface evaporation and enough water to keep supplying the surface. This process is called capillarity. Much less water is lost by evaporation when the surface of the soil is kept loose. In close conjunction with water, it is important to remember that the roots will need air as well. Therefore, it must not be concluded that plants need wet soil. Almost the opposite is true. If the soil were so wet and waterlogged that air couldn't penetrate, the roots would be unable to breathe and the plant would die. It follows then, that the texture of soil must be such that it can hold some water between its granules, yet be loose enough to allow the water to drain and the plant roots to breathe.

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