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Why you should pay attention to pH and alkalinity

Teresa Rusinek, Vegetable Specialist
Eastern New York Commercial Horticulture

May 9, 2018

Why you should pay attention to pH and alkalinity

pH and alkalinity, what's the difference?

Simply put, pH is a measure of how acidic or basic a solution is. Positively charged molecules such as H+ will make solutions acidic (lower pH) and the negatively charged OH- molecules will make a solution more basic (raise pH).  The pH scale runs from 1-14 with the value 1 being most acidic, 7 is neutral, and 14 most basic.  This scale is logarithmic, meaning a change in one whole unit is 10 times more or less acidic. For example, pH 5 is ten times more acidic than pH 6. Sometimes people will refer to basic solutions (high pH) as alkaline and this is where folks can get confused with the term ALAKINITY.

Alkalinity is the ability of water to neutralize acids due to the dissolved alkalis (bicarbonates) in the water.  Alkalinity is often reported in part per million (PPM) of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). As alkalinity increases in the water, more acid will be needed to neutralize the alkaline substances.   The primary source of alkalinity in ground water aquifers, rivers, ponds and lakes are limestone deposits that have reacted with water over time.  Throughout the seasons, water levels within aquifers can change.  High water levels can dilute alkalinity levels just as low water levels can concentrate them.  Sample your water 2 or 3 times during the year as you notice conditions change.  If your samples show significant change, then you know that regular sampling is necessary.

Water quality considerations in the greenhouse and high tunnel:

When alkalinity is high, it's likely that pH is above optimum as well and the alkalinity level of your water may need to be adjusted to manage your pH.    Think of alkalinity as "liquid limestone".  Each time you water, you increase the pH of the soil/media a little bit. Over time, the soil /media pH increases significantly and ties up nutrients. For example, we commonly see iron and manganese deficiencies in tomatoes growing in media with pH over 7.   This effect happens faster in containers.

Alkalinity regulates the buffering capacity of the water and affects how much acid is required to change the pH.   Many growers use, fertilizer injectors like a Dosatron or Chemilizer to add acid  to water to reduce alkalinity. The acid combines with the bicarbonates to form carbon dioxide and water. ENYCHP specialists can help you design an acid injection program to adjust your pH. The ideal alkalinity level for irrigation water is generally around 100 PPM CaCO3.

Alakinity and pH affect the performance of Pesticides and Sanitizers:

Another important reason to pay attention to water pH and alkalinity is that it plays a significant role in the efficacy of many pesticides used. This is true for both organic and synthetic pesticides.  In a pH over 7, pesticides can break down in a process called hydrolysis.   The higher the pH the faster the reaction. Adding a buffering agent such as LI700, is an easy way to change the pH of the water for mixing pesticides that require a lower pH.   To determine how much buffer should be used, applicators need to know the pH of the water and the volume needed to treat the crop/area.

Here is an example taken from a PyGanic label.

"GENERAL USE DIRECTIONS

IMPORTANT: It is recommended that the final spray mix be buffered to a pH of 5.5-7.0.

Outside of this range pyrethrins can degrade and the product will lose effectiveness."

Word of caution, fixed copper pesticides in a low pH become soluble and can cause phytotoxicity.  The pesticide label will often state optimal pH ranges. If you are unsure contact a technical representative of the product manufacturer.  Applicators should test their water pH prior to a spray application using a pH litmus strip or a pH meter.

Products other than pesticides are sensitive to pH. According to the label, the sanitizer Sanidate 5.0 works best when diluted in water with a neutral pH (close to 7), but sodium hypochlorite (bleach)works best when water pH is lowered to 6.0-6.5.

Water alkalinity and pH adjustments are easy to make and significantly improve the performance of pesticides and sanitizers. If you need help or have questions on the process, ENYCHP specialists can help. We have pH meters and titration kits to determine alkalinity  or can guide you to labs that can test water quality parameters.

 

 



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Upcoming Events

June Produce Field Meeting

Event Offers DEC Credits

June 5, 2024 : June Produce Field Meeting
Fort Plain, NY

Come join us for a discussion on greenhouse production, IPM techniques in the greenhouse, and a discussion of IPM strategies for tomatoes, cole crops and cucurbits. 

Meeting is free and open to the public.

2 DEC credits in categories 1A and 23 are available. 

View June Produce Field Meeting Details

Weed Management in Perennial Fruit Crops - Field Workshop

Event Offers DEC Credits

June 20, 2024 : Weed Management in Perennial Fruit Crops - Field Workshop
Tivoli, NY

Join us on the morning of June 20th as we hear from Cornell University weed management specialists Dr. Lynn Sosnoskie and Dr. Yu Jiang, who will discuss their recent research on autonomous orchard weeding systems.  

We will also hear from Mike Basedow of CCE ENYCH and learn about the ongoing results of herbicide research trials he is conducting.  Bryan Brown of NYS IPM will discuss pre-plant preparations and mulches that could be useful for controlling weeds without herbicides.   

Identifying the differences between weed species and key differences between annuals and perennials that factor into management will also be covered.     

This workshop is FREE to attend, but we ask that you please register ahead 

View Weed Management in Perennial Fruit Crops - Field Workshop Details

Champlain Valley Orchard Weed Management Field Trial Review

Event Offers DEC Credits

June 21, 2024 : Champlain Valley Orchard Weed Management Field Trial Review
Peru, NY

Friday June 21, 9-11:30AM

Meet at the Northern Orchard Walker block at 688 River Rd, Peru, NY

Join the ENYCHP on the morning of June 21st as we hear from Dr. Lynn Sosnoskie and Dr. Yu Jiang about their recent research looking at autonomous orchard crop management and weeding technologies.   We will then visit three of Mike's active herbicide research plots to see firsthand the level of control the trial treatments are providing during the critical weed free period. 

2.5 DEC Credits are available for this meeting in categories 22, 1A, and 10. Free to attend, but we ask that you please register ahead 

View Champlain Valley Orchard Weed Management Field Trial Review Details

Announcements

2023 Spotted Wing Drosophila Monitoring/Management

All berry farmers are watching for monitoring reports that indicate Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD) adults are in their region. Mid-season berry crops should be sprayed as soon as berries begin to ripen unless you've elected to use insect exclusion netting.

- For general information about SWD, and to enroll for free monitoring reports, visit the Cornell SWD blog https://blogs.cornell.edu/swd1/.
- Click here for the 2023 Quick Guide for Pesticide Management. 
- For some great instructional videos and fact sheets on insect exclusion netting, visit the University of Vermont's Ag Engineering blog.


Resources from CCE ENYCHP!

We are developing new ways to connect with the CCE ENYCHP team this year! We have a Youtube page located at this link. Check out videos on Table Grape Production, Pest Updates and the 20 Minute Ag Manager - in 4 Minutes series

We have a Facebook Page here as well as an Instagram page. We keep these places updated with current projects, events, and other interesting articles and deadlines.

There are also text alerts available. Fruit and vegetable farmers in 17 Eastern NY counties can now receive real time alerts on high risk disease and pest outbreaks texted directly to their cell phone. The Eastern NY Commercial Horticulture program, which is supported by local Cornell Cooperative Extension associations, will now offer text alerts to those that enroll in our program in 2019. 

The text alerts will be reserved for important crop alerts that could impact management decisions immediately. For instance, if there were an outbreak of Late Blight in the area, this would be transmitted to vegetable growers.

Farmers can choose the crop for which they wish to receive updates. Additionally they can request that Ag Business Alerts be sent to them. These alerts might include due dates for crop insurance deadlines, market opportunities etc.

If you have questions, please contact enychp@cornell.edu


Podcasts

Winter Greens Grower Interviews in Northern New York

October 22, 2022
In this episode, vegetable specialist Elisabeth Hodgdon interviews Lindsey Pashow, ag business development and marketing specialist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension Harvest New York team. They discuss findings from a series of interviews with winter greens producers in northern New York. Lindsey shares production and marketing challenges associated with growing winter greens in this cold and rural part of the state, success stories and advice from growers, and tips for those interested in adding new crop enterprises to their operation.

Funding for this project was provided by the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program. The episode was edited by Miles Todaro of the ENYCHP team.

Resources:
• Crop enterprise budget resources available from Penn State Extension (field and tunnel vegetables: https://extension.psu.edu/small-scale-field-grown-and-season-extension-budgets), UMass Extension (winter spinach budgets: https://ag.umass.edu/vegetable/outreach-project/improving-production-yield-of-winter-greens-in-northeast and field vegetables: https://ag.umass.edu/vegetable/fact-sheets/crop-production-budgets), and Cornell Cooperative Extension (high tunnel vegetables: https://blogs.cornell.edu/hightunnels/economics/sample-budgets-spreadsheets/). Use these budgets as templates when developing your own crop enterprise budget.
• The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook, by Richard Wiswall
• The Winter Harvest Handbook, by Eliot Coleman

For questions about the winter greens project discussed in this podcast, reach out to Lindsey Pashow (lep67@cornell.edu) or Elisabeth Hodgdon(eh528@cornell.edu).

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