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Archive | Fertilizers

Magnesium, the Unheralded Star

Although nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and even calcium are often discussed, magnesium is mostly unheralded and misunderstood. In this article I will examine the nature of magnesium deficiency and show how ignoring soil magnesium can lead to dire consequences in human, plant and animal health.

Unlike nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, magnesium is often overlooked in conventional fertility.

Like the other aforementioned macrominerals, magnesium is essential for plant and animal health and productivity. In man, beasts and plants it is found in substantial amounts and can wreak havoc when it is deficient.

Our health is rooted in our soils both as vegetables we consume and as animal products, which are nourished from the soil. Since the vast majority of what we eat comes from the soil, our health partly depends on earthworm activity, but the overuse of modern chemical fertilizers and pesticides has left many soils deficient in earthworms. This in turn impoverishes the soil.

As soils lose their vibrant microbial activity they become depleted in critical nutrients even as fertilizers are applied in larger amounts. Synthetic fertilizers are not a solution and often aggravate soil issues they supposedly cure. Remedying this downward spiral is more critical than ever because a growing population needs not only more food but better food quality for present and future generations to thrive. Continue Reading →

Bone Char Benefits

Farmers have been experimenting with animal waste for centuries, using it as a fertilizer or as a way to recycle healthy nutrients back into the soil: While some focused on traditional forms of waste, others directed their attention to the benefits of “bone black,” bone char or animal char.

Bone char at Callicrate Cattle Co. in St. Francis, Kansas.

Many see its benefits as a soil amendment. If the soil was dry, it could help retain water. If the soil was wet like a sponge, it could be crushed and sprinkled in to retain nutrients.

Bone char is derived from carbonizing crushed animal bones using a high-heat process known as pyrolysis. When processed through an energy-efficient airtight burner, charcoaled materials can be cleanly burned, finely ground and added to compost.

Primarily rich in calcium phosphate, calcium carbonate and micronutrients, bone char is granular and useful as an adsorbent. Since prehistoric times, it has been used to create bone black pigment used notable painters and artists. Modern uses centered on sugar whitening and defluoridating water. Continue Reading →

Book of the Week: Organic No-Till Farming

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from an Acres U.S.A. book, Organic No-Till Farming, written by Jeff Moyer. Copyright 2011, softcover, 204 pages. Normal Price: $28.00.

From Chapter 1: No-Till Basics

Organic No-Till Farming book

Organic No-Till Farming by Jeff Moyer

It is the hope and dream of many organic farmers to limit tillage, increase soil organic matter, save money, and improve soil structure on their farms. Organic no-till can fulfill all these goals.

Many organic farmers are accused of overtilling the soil. Tillage is used for pre-plant soil preparation, as a means of managing weeds, and as a method of incorporating fertilizers, crop residue, and soil amendments. Now, armed with new technologies and tools based on sound biological principles, organic producers can begin to reduce or even eliminate tillage from their system.

Organic no-till is both a technique and a tool to achieve farmer’s objectives of reducing tillage and improving soil organic matter. It is also a whole farm system. While there are many ways the system can be implemented, in its simplest form organic no-till includes the following elements:

  • annual or winter annual cover crops that are planted in the fall,
  • overwintered until mature in the spring, and then
  • killed with a special tool called a roller/crimper.

After the death of the cover crop, cash crops can be planted into the residue with a no-till planter, drill or transplanter. Whether you grow agronomic or horticultural crops, this system can work on your farm, and we’ll show you how to get started with this exciting new technology. Continue Reading →

True Soil Health: Create the Capacity to Function Without Intervention

My philosophy is that whatever you do on your farm should improve soil health. But how do you know what that is? The USDA defines soil health as, “The continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and humans.” I would add to that definition and say that soil health isn’t just the capacity to function, it’s the capacity of soils to function without intervention.

The same field pictured below, three months later. This is the result of managing the field to promote healthy soil life and maximize biological nutrient cycling: a beautiful organic seed corn crop, just after detasseling.

What counts as “intervention?” Does intervention mean biotechnology, insecticides, fungicides and tillage? Is fertilizer an intervention? Do these interventions make your farm better for future years? I believe money spent on interventions needs to be shifted to inputs that yield soil health.

Appropriate intervention when absolutely needed is wise, but the goal is minimum intervention — in other words do everything you can to get the soils healthy and mineralized. Mineralize your soils using exchangeable nutrient sources that come from the carbon biological system. You have to create an ideal home for soil life and feed them in order to build soil health.

Remove the negatives, which include monoculture crops and excessive tillage. Reduce the use of other possible negatives added through harsh soluble fertilizers and excessive nitrogen, not to mention chemicals and biotechnology.

Farming for soil health means treating your farm like a system. For years we have been promoting the “rules” of biological farming (Six Principles of Biological Farming). Following these rules will lead to healthy soils that produce good yields. The soil health guidelines you now see published in many places focus on minimum disturbance with an emphasis on no-till. In my opinion not all soils are capable of being farmed no-till. Continue Reading →

Book of the Week: Biodynamic Pasture Management

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from an Acres U.S.A. book, Biodynamic Pasture Management, by Peter Bacchus. Copyright 2013, softcover, 160 pages. Regular price: $20.00.

From Chapter 3: Organic Soil Fertility, Soil Biology & Whole Farm Management

Front cover Biodynamic Pasture Management book by Peter Bacchus

Biodynamic Pasture Management by Peter Bacchus

To grow healthy plants and animals and high-quality food products, you need fertile soil. Soil fertility in turn is related to the growth and reproduction of soil organisms and to the plants that grow in the soil. In due process this affects the health, well-being and fertility of the animals and humans who live as a result of the plants that grow in the soil.

We often do not recognize that soil fertility depends on the carbon cycle, which starts with photosynthesis in plant leaves and the absorption of light and carbon and other elements from the air into the plant. The carbon taken in from the air by plants and transformed into sugars is the basis of the carbon cycle, which maintains life in the soil by providing food for soil organisms.

Continue Reading →

Book of the Week: Foundations of Natural Farming

By Harold Willis

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Acres U.S.A book, Foundations of Natural Farming, by Harold L. Willis. Copyright 2008, softcover, 367 pages. Regular price: $30.00.

Foundations of Natural Farming by Harold Willis

My, it’s dark down here in the soil. No wonder most people know so little about it. But that’s why we’re here, so let’s learn. Soil is the absolute basis of agriculture, and thus of all human existence, for as we have seen, we either eat plants grown in soil, or animals which eat plants grown in soil. Our soil has been called our most important national resource. Wise use and management of the relatively thin upper layer, the topsoil, is vital for maintaining good health and a high standard of living.

But through misuse, about 7-10 tons of topsoil per acre are being lost to erosion each year in the Midwest (the figure can be much higher in the worst areas). It may take several hundred years for 1 inch of soil to form. Obviously, we can’t keep on sending our topsoil down the river much longer.

Continue Reading →