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  • Author or Editor: Janet F.M. Rippy x
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Measurement of substrate pH entails procurement of the substrate solution and measurement of the solution pH. Acid-base reactions are completed at the time of testing. Determination of substrate pH during development of a titration curve is more complex because it involves initially the reaction of a base with the substrate. Five factors that can influence the resulting pH values were investigated in this study and include amount of water added to substrate, method to procure substrate solution for pH determination, chemical form of base used, time allowed for acid-base reaction and the addition of CaSO4. Substrate in this study consisted of 3 sphagnum peatmoss: 1 perlite (by volume) amended with wetting agent. Dolomitic limestone (6 g·L-1 substrate) was added to substrate for the water amount and solution procurement method experiments. Except for the water amount experiment, deionized water was added by weight to achieve 95% container capacity. Dishes were incubated at 20 °C for specified times. To identify the minimal level of water necessary to ensure complete contact between base and substrate for neutralization, additions equivalent to 95%, 100%, 120%, and 150% container capacity were tested. The 95% level proved adequate. The saturated media extraction and pour-through bulk solution displacement methods for pH determination resulted in higher pH measurements in the incubated substrate than the squeeze bulk solution displacement method. This indicated that the former two methods diluted the soil solution. The squeeze method was deemed most effective. NaOH resulted in higher pH endpoints than Ca(OH)2. This was apparently due to a higher affinity of Ca2+ for peatmoss exchange sites. Since Ca2+ is the predominant cation associated with liming materials for soilless substrates, Ca(OH)2 is more appropriate for titration. From the tested incubation times of 0, 2, 4, 8, 24, 48, and 96 hours, the duration of 24 hours was found to be adequate to allow complete reaction of base with substrate acidity. The best procedure for determining pH in a substrate titration situation included a water level of 95% container capacity, Ca(OH)2 base, an incubation time of 24 hours and the squeeze solution displacement method. The additional CaSO4 was not necessary. Chemical names used: calcium sulfate (CaSO4), sodium hydroxide (NaOH), calcium hydroxide [Ca(OH)2], calcium ion (Ca2+).

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Variations in moss peat cation exchange capacity (CEC) and base saturation (BS) can result in inconsistent initial pH in moss peat-based substrates created using standard formulas for limestone additions and can lead to subsequent drift from the initial pH in those substrates. This study was conducted to determine the extent of such variation. CEC and BS were measured in three replications on 64 moss peat samples that were selected from three mires across Alberta, Canada, to represent maximum gradients in plant species composition within six degrees of decomposition acceptable for professional peat-based substrates. CEC ranged from 108 to 162 cmol·kg−1 (meq·100 g). Averaged overall samples, BS ranged from 15% to 71% of CEC and calcium accounted for 68%, magnesium for 25%, sodium for 5%, and potassium for 1.4% of BS. CEC was positively correlated to the amount of Sphagnum fuscum (Schimp.) Klingrr. in the sample (r = 0.22). BS was positively correlated to the amount of sedge (r = 0.28). Neither CEC nor BS was influenced by degree of decomposition (r = 0.002 and r = 0.08, respectively). Moss peats with high CEC have a greater buffering capacity than those with low CEC, resulting in less pH drift. Moss peats with high BS should have a low neutralization requirement to achieve a target pH. Understanding the species composition in peat-based substrates can alleviate problems of inconsistent initial pH and subsequent pH drift.

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Problems of inconsistent initial pH in peat moss-based substrates that are created using standard formulas for limestone additions, and pH drift from the target in those substrates may be due to variations in the CEC and BS of peat moss. This study was conducted to determine whether such variation exists. Sixty-four peat moss samples were obtained from several bogs across Alberta, Canada. Adsorbed cations on each peat moss sample were displaced with hydrochloric acid (HCl), and flushed out with three deionized water washes. The displacing/flushing solution was collected and later analyzed for concentration of bases (Ca, Mg, K, and Na) using atomic absorption spectrometry. After cations were removed, the peat moss exchange sites were saturated with barium acetate [Ba(OAc)2] to displace the H+, which were then collected by a second flushing with deionized water. This second displacing/flushing solution was titrated with measured amounts of NaOH to a phenolphthalein end point. Base saturation and CEC were calculated. There were significant variations in CEC (ranging from 108.12 to 162.25 cmol·kg-1) and BS (ranging from 13.52% to 63.97% of CEC) among the peat moss samples. Ca accounted for 78.08% of the BS. For a given peat moss, the higher the BS, the lower the neutralization requirement to achieve a target pH. Also, high CEC peat mosses may have greater buffering capacity than those with low CEC, which may result in less pH drift.

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Agricultural limestone is classified based on particle-size distribution, a key factor influencing neutralization capacity. This property is an effective basis for liming recommendations for agronomic purposes which allow for gradual rise in soil pH and residual neutralization for three years. Inconsistencies are prevalent when agricultural limestone is used for horticultural applications which require rapid attainment of target pH and residual neutralization for only four months. Variations in pH among batches of substrate produced with the same limestone rate and pH drift from the same initial pH during crop production infer that factors other than particle diameter also influence limestone neutralization capacity. In this study the relationship between specific surface and diameter of limestone particles was examined. Limestones obtained from twenty North American quarries were wet-sieved into eight particle diameter fractions from 600 to <38 μm (passing 30 through 400-mesh screens). Specific surface (m2/g) of particles was measured in three replications for each fraction following the BET theory that dinitrogen gas (N2) condenses in a continuous mono-molecular layer on all particle surfaces. At each particle diameter fraction, specific surface varied significantly (five-fold differences) among quarries. Large specific surface may indicate many reactive interfaces, hence high neutralization capacity. In containerized production, typical to horticulture, preponderance of root over substrate mass and short crop duration dictate narrower characterization of limestone than is currently used. Specific surface may describe limestone neutralization capacity more finely than does particle diameter.

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