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Archive | Soil Fertility

Principles of Permanent Agriculture

When we look at the great soils of the world, we can see these principles of permanent agriculture in action. The prairies have the grasses and clovers that together structure the soil and incorporate nitrogen. The grass roots finely divide the soil particles and then decay after the tops are grazed. The mobs of bison on small acreages of the Great Plains, for short periods of time ate a small percentage of the growth and trampled the major­ity of the carbon back into the soil. The heavy animal impact included manure, urine and tillage from their split hooves. It is fascinating to watch a bovine’s hoof split apart and literally plow the soil sideways, as the weight of the animal comes down on it.

Corn growing at Long Hungry Creek Farm in Tennessee. Photo by Kristina Rossi

Afterward, the land rested with no animals, and grew back up better than ever. This cycle produced phenom­enal soil humus.

This same thing happened in Northern Europe with wolves chasing reindeer and in the African savan­na, with lions chasing water buffalo. Everywhere you find great soils in nature, you’ll find mobs of grazing herbivores moved by predators. This is how humans will reverse climate change — by sequestering carbon with the use of grass, legumes and large herds of herbivores on small acreages for short periods of time. Continue Reading →

Book excerpt: Bread From Stones by Julius Hensel

Translated from the German writings of Julius Hensel, the book was designed to introduce the people of the U.S. to the idea that plants require healthy food in order to flourish, just as a human being does. It describes a then-new and rational system for fertilization which has become science today — fertilizing with stone dust.

In the excerpt below, Hensel dives into the chemicals which are found in various fields with different mineral makeups, and the plant species which flourish within.

 

Copyright 1991, softcover, 102 pages.

From Chapter 2: Healthy and Unhealthy Produce

According to the chemical examination of the ashes which remain when plants are incinerated, the average result shows about as much potash and soda as lime and magnesia. Silicic acid is somewhat more than one-fifth of the sum of these four bases, chlorine about one-twentieth of the whole, phosphoric acid is one-sixth, but sulfuric acid is only one-fourth in weight of the phosphoric acid.

Continue Reading →

Plant Stress & Proline

In his 1995 State of the Union speech, President Bill Clinton highlighted a USDA program addressing plant stress as an example of wasteful “pet project” government spending. We knew then, and know even more now, that plant stress is a very significant yield-and-quality-robbing factor in agricultural crops to which little attention has been paid.

Samples ready for instrument analysis. Even without precision and absolute instrument analysis, comparative differences in proline (plant stress) levels can be clearly seen.

We try to optimize fertility, irrigation, weed and pest management practices to achieve the best production under the constraints of environment and economics. However, it has become clear that plant stress comes from everything we try to control; it is additive and it can be cumulative — resulting in loss of yield and quality potential.

For the grower, visual detection of plant stress often comes too late to do anything more than damage control by preventing further loss of yields and quality for the season. One visually obvious “too late” example is dropped squares and bolls in cotton. Another is shed flowers and pods or a predominance of two and three-bean pods in soybeans if stress is present early on, or empty pods if stress occurs later.

In plant health, as in human health, there are signs, although they may not be obvious, that stress is present. The trick is in detecting and interpreting those signs – ideally, before they can be seen. This is evidenced by many of us having annual physical check-ups and blood (in the case of plants, sap) tests to detect “hidden” problems. Certain biological signals accumulate in the plant during periods of stress. They are produced in response to environmental stresses such as water, light, temperature and salinity. Their appearance signals that something is hindering normal plant growth and development with consequent loss of yields and quality. Continue Reading →

Book excerpt: Humusphere by Herwig Pommeresche

Herwig Pommeresche, a German-Norwegian explorer of soil life, graduate permaculture designer and graduate engineer, shares his lifetime of research into humus. Humusphere, translated into English for the first time, digs deep into a myriad of little-known research papers, comparing their findings with the usual conventional methods.

Herwig Pommeresche offers an ecologically oriented understanding as a check to the still prevalent chemical-technical agricultural system.

In the excerpt below, Pommeresche discusses the cycle of living material and its biological and chemical roots.

PLEASE NOTE: This book is currently (as of December 2018) available for pre-order only. Put in your order at the special pre-order price of $26.60 by clicking the link above.

From Chapter One: Agrobiology and Agricultural Chemistry: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Whom Does Agriculture Serve?

I would like to pose an intentionally provocative question: Who should determine the future of agriculture and thus our food supply? Should it be the field of chemistry or the field of biology? Continue Reading →

Building the Microbial Bridge to Support Nutrient Availability

The root zone around plants, known as the rhizosphere, is an area of intense activity in the soil. It’s a lot like the snack stand at the state fair on a hot day. Everyone is crowding around trying to get to the cold drinks, funnel cakes and hot dogs. Snacks are being sold as quickly as the workers can make them. In return, the snack stand is bringing in a lot of cash.

Corn roots with lots of root exudates and soil sticking to the roots.

While the snack stand exchanges food for money, plant roots feed nearby microbes in exchange for plant nutrients. The roots put sugars down into the soil, creating an area of crowded, busy bacterial feeding in the rhizosphere, and exchange that microbial food for nutrients the plant needs but would otherwise have a hard time accessing.

We tend to think that plants photosynthesize entirely for their own metabolism, but in truth plants spend a good portion of their energy feeding soil life.

Plants fix sugars through photosynthesis, and while 55 to 75 percent of those sugars support plant growth, reproduction and defense from pests, the rest goes into the soil through the roots to feed the soil biology. This isn’t a waste of energy by the plants.

Those organisms living in the rhizosphere, primarily bacteria, not only make nutrients available to the plants — they also provide a protective layer against pests and diseases. It’s a win-win for the plants and the bacteria living in the rhizosphere. Continue Reading →

Gabe Brown on Ecosystem Stewardship

North Dakota farmer and rancher Gabe Brown stands at the forefront of the regenerative agriculture movement. He is perhaps best known for popularizing the concept of cover crop cocktails as a key strategy for jumpstarting soil health and nourishing soil biology, but that’s only one of his many contributions.

North Dakota farmer Gabe Brown stands among his crops

North Dakota farmer Gabe Brown grows crops, cover crops and trees and manages diverse livestock on 5,000 owned and rented acres outside of Bismarck.

To his life work, Brown brings an inquisitive mind and an infectious love of the journey. He revels in trying new things and is not reluctant to fail at some of them, as experiments always yield food for thought and generate ideas for future exploration. As a pioneer, Brown has forged close relationships with fellow seekers and fostered a stimulating community for trailblazers. Generous with his knowledge, he’s a consummate educator who strives to open minds and is known for making a deep and sustained impression on his audiences.

As science begins to catch up with what Brown has been demonstrating on the ground, his sphere of influence has steadily expanded to include more mainstream researchers, policymakers, and even leaders in the conventional food industry.

Brown grows crops, cover crops and trees and manages diverse livestock on 5,000 owned and rented acres outside of Bismarck. By area standards, Brown’s Ranch is not that big. But what is astonishing is how much more this dryland farm is able to produce than comparable operations — both for market and deep within the soil. Continue Reading →