Organic Materials as Soil Amendments in Reclamation: A Review of the Literature

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  • A review of pertinent literature was conducted to examine the effect of various organic materials when used as amendments to disturbed soil. The review was designed to be a reference document for government and industry staff involved in soil conservation and management of disturbed land. A literature base was established through extensive computer database and library searches and a survey of Alberta companies and government services was conducted to obtain information focusing on the use of organic amendments occurring in Alberta. Little of the literature dealt with the use of organic amendments specifically for land reclamation conditions similar to those found in Alberta. Organic amendments reviewed included animal manures, crop residues, peat, wood waste, sewage sludge, municipal yard waste, humates, vermicomposts and spent mushroom compost. The effect of these organic amendments on soil chemistry, soil physics and soil biology was examined. Organic amendment application, costs, longevity of effects, and use in reclamation were also examined. Benefits and drawbacks for each of the amendments was discussed. Adding organic amendments to soil quickly raises the level of soil organic matter, often resulting in improved biological, chemical and physical properties of the soil. Benefits of a single application of an amendment are not permanent. However, improved soil conditions provide a more favourable environment for plant establishment, critical for the buildup and maintenance of adequate soil organic matter contents. Growing plants provide a continual supply of organic matter inputs to soil. Organic amendments do not take the place of normal topsoil salvage, storage and replacement. An organic amendment may be required when topsoil degradation has occurred or on an old disturbance where no topsoil was salvaged. Type of organic amendment used depends on the purpose of the amendment, cost and availability, and location and future use of the reclamation site.

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