Sunday, June 16, 2013

Teaching an old dog some new tricks

Well this has been an interesting week. I have been spending the last several days reading some very educational books.  I think I may have mentioned in a past post or two about the poor condition of our soils and the large amount of repairs that need to be made over time.  However, I have been searching for information over the past year that would help me put what our soil problems are in perspective and help me make sense of our soil test data and come up with biological "Natural" solutions not an "industrial/chemical" solutions.

As we discussed previously we are fully engaged in using no-till practices to build and conserve our organic matter in our soil.  Putting that aside for a moment, we also have to work on our soil on a more micro level.  In the past our main farm field was used as animal pasture/hay or farmed chemically to produce annual ryegrass.  The tenants of this area typically fertilized their crop only with standard recommended industrial doses of NPK but never applied anything else.  If one thinks about things in a more common sense way no plant just grows on NPK alone but also needs, calcium, sulfur, magnesium, boron and many other elements to be in balance.  One way to look at things is that previous farming practices  removed biomass with traces of these elements each year and added nothing of these important other minerals back.  This form of "strip mining" over the years has left our soil seriously out of whack such that in some cases sensitive plants can be stunted and not grow to their full potential.

I do believe in Fukuoka-sans natural farming rule of no additional fertilizers to let nature repair and provide its own fertility, it can make sense.  But Fukuoka-sans farm's soils on Shikoku are volcanic in origin, and probably have deep reserves of plant available minerals  just by their very nature.  In addition his farm was never really industrially managed like in western practices and his crops and methods of farming removed so little net biomass from the land that I'm guessing that is why he had so little noticeable mineral degradation so fertilizer addition made no sense to his system.  What his system didn't address adequately was how does one deal with soils that have been industrially "mineral mined" and damaged by past practices.  You cannot simply re-mineralize your soil by simply adding back organic material only, especially if the organic material is grown on the same farm's depleted mineral base or comes from other soils similarly depleted.  I mean don't get me wrong organic material does help a lot but in order to get to the next step we have to seriously look at our deficiencies and come up with a plan to correct them by importing the right minerals to bring things back in balance.

This is what has led me to some great book recommendations by a  friend of ours the first is "The Biological Farmer" and the other is "Advancing Biological Farming" both by Gary Zimmer. I also would  recommend reading "The Intelligent Gardener:growing Nutrient dense Food" by Steve Solomon and Erica Reinheimer.  All three of these books are based on the idea that the key to success is making sure your soils are minerally balanced.  If anything in reading these books it opened my eyes to a micro world in soils that I hadn't thought of before.  I'm pretty much a novice here and probably just discovering what many may already know and  I recognize that each Farm is unique and requires its own set of solutions for successful management but I thought I'd pass these interesting (books) ideas on to our readers.

---Farmer Tony---

P.S.:  Happy Fathers Day all!  Remember "the older I get the smarter my Father"

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