Sometimes we don't think to much about pouring on great amounts of soil amendments like Cow Manure to increase soil fertility - or Pine Needles or Cotton Boll etc. to help the til of the soil. With just a little for sight and study, it could mean the difference between Great Soil and Disastrous Soil.
Pine needles for example, are highly acid. They are a great amendment in itself if you need less alkaline soil. I'm pretty sure, when the corn silage (as one person added to his soil) broke down in the soil, it also produced a lot of acid. At a certain stage of breaking down, it will actually produce alcohol. Alcohol slows down growth in plants. To much kills them. Add a little cow manure, and you may find that your plant leaves suddenly turn yellow for awhile or even die! Fertilizer Burn.
I build a nice raised bed last year. Added bagged top soil, cow manure and cotton boll. I planted close to 300 onion sets in this bed. The onion sets were planted at the correct depth, placed 3 to 4 inches apart, and watered Religiously in early spring. Most of them came up and grew - for a while. However my onion bed was a complete bust! Most of the onions died and I only got a handful out of the whole plot.
Move forward to this year. After the plot had lain fallow over the winter. I again planted 300 or so onion sets just as before. I changed nothing. Added nothing to the plot. Didn't even cultivate it. Just made furrows about 4 inches apart, plunked down the onion sets the correct distance apart and at the correct depth and again watered them religiously. ( I'm very religious...) Lo and behold, the onions are tremendous this year with Beautiful big healthy bulbs on Yellows, Whites, and Reds alike. Do you see what made the difference?
The summer and wintering "aging" process produced a wonderful soil for my onions this year. This same plot of soil last year was just too Acid I believe. It burned my onions up. I recently tested this Onion Plot to see what the pH was now, after a year and one/half of time to mellow out. The pH is at 6.8. Somewhere between Good and Great for Onions.
Now that I have learned to use it, my Ferry-Morse Electronic Soil Tester is great. I bought it early this spring. I had never tested soil before. It's the best $24.99 garden tool I ever bought. I got mine from True Value but I have seen them in most Plant Nurseries and Big Box Store plant departments.
The first one was a complete bust. I put new batteries in it and it never moved past neutral after several tests. I took it back and they happily replaced it. I got a winner this time. However, the 800 number I called on the first tester bulletin they included in the box, didn't work. Soooo. Trust your Hardware Man to get you a good one...and read the instructions well throughout until you are sure you know what your doing so you don't ruin the instrument the first time out.
Don't always think a lot of fertilizer is the answer. If your going to amend your soil, try to do it in the fall so it has time over the winter to mellow out a little. Your plants will love you for it.