Archive for the ‘Soil Health’ Category

The BIG movement has been completed!

March 10, 2010

Whew! Boy was that a pain! No I’m not talking about THAT kind of movement.  What I’m talking about is my recent move to Alabama. We are all but finished moving in to our new home. Well, I’m almost done. I did put “most” of the boxes IN the house as opposed to leaving them in the dry van. I think I did MORE than my share. Besides, I don’t know where all this stuff is supposed to go. That is the job for my better half; the one with the superior spatial perspective. Don’t know what “superior spatial perspective” is? Well, I didn’t either, but my lovely wife insists she has one and while finding it might be interesting, I’m actually MORE interested in getting my garden area cut up and finishing my chicken house. Course the way this blog is going I had better make it extra nice as I might be spending time out there. 

Seriously though, we are happy to finally begin making fertilizer. Some of the equipment has been purchased, with more on the way. A local grading contractor is coming out tomorrow to give me a quote on getting the process yard graded as well as grading the area where the process building will be constructed. As an added bonus, he is supposed to quote me to deepen the lake on the property. Now there IS a real “need” for this other than the fact that I want the water to come up closer to the house. I need the 5000+ yards of dirt to fill in a low spot where we are going to put the EcoPods. So, I get the best of both worlds. I get the pond moved WAY closer to the house AND I get the soil needed to correct the low spot. Now THAT’S effective management. 

Now back to the important stuff – getting my garden in shape. The soil here is a mixture of sand and loam, setting on a red clay base. The soil fertility looks to be pretty bleak, due to the broom sedge growing everywhere. But, I know someone that makes fertilizer, so I don’t think “soil fertility” is going to be a concern.  After I get the soil somewhat broken up, my plan is to (1) send off a soil sample for testing (2) amend the soil with high calcium lime (3) add 150# of trace minerals (4) add copious amounts of composted poultry litter that I just happen to have stored over in Mississippi and finally (5) cover the whole garden with 4” of hardwood sawdust mixed with lime and poultry litter fertilizer. That way I can start getting the soil into good shape for spring planting.

I also plan on planting a SMALL “conventional” garden using synthetic fertilizer and no mulch, just to demonstrate the superiority of the permaculture method. While it is possible the conventional will do better, I just don’t think so. 

I also plan on regularly checking the Brix levels of both gardens to determine which veggies are actually more nutritious. But an explanation of Brix is a subject for another day.

In the meantime, I am a man “outstanding in his field”. Too bad it is raining like crazy, which doesn’t speak to my upbringing. I mean, what kind of man doesn’t know when to come in out of the rain? Until next time…

Can magnesium deficiency be causing your problems?

March 3, 2010

This is a quote from what looks to be a really good blog devoted to health and well-being associated with good health.

The following quote is from the post on magnesium deficiency. I post this because he references artisanally grown foods using heirloom varieties grown in “better soil”. This has been my take all along. As Hippocrates stated, “Let food be your medicine”. Of course what he left out of this oh so famous quote is this. Food grown on deficient soils produces deficient “medicine/food”. Take care of your soil and your soil will take care of you. Mineralize your soil; add organic materials, good fertilizer, and copious amounts of mulch on the surface and the veggies from that soil will truly be medicine that will do your body good.

Now the quote from the Whole Health Source blog. Thanks go out to Stephan Guyenet, the author.

Speaking of nutritious diets, how does one get magnesium? Good sources include halibut, leafy greens, chocolate and nuts. Bone broths are also an excellent source of highly absorbable magnesium. Whole grains and beans are also fairly good sources, while refined grains lack most of the magnesium in the whole grain. Organic foods, particularly artisanally produced foods from a farmer’s market, are richer in magnesium because they grow on better soil and often use older varieties that are more nutritious.

The problem with seeds such as grains, beans and nuts is that they also contain phytic acid which prevents the absorption of magnesium and other minerals (16). Healthy non-industrial societies that relied on grains took great care in their preparation: they soaked them, often fermented them, and also frequently removed a portion of the bran before cooking (17). These steps all served to reduce the level of phytic acid and other anti-nutrients. I’ve posted a method for effectively reducing the amount of phytic acid in brown rice (18). Beans should ideally be soaked for 24 hours before cooking, preferably in warm water.

Industrial agriculture has systematically depleted our soil of many minerals, due to high-yield crop varieties and the fact that synthetic fertilizers only replace a few minerals. The mineral content of foods in the US, including magnesium, has dropped sharply in the last 50 years. The reason we need to use fertilizers in the first place is that we’ve broken the natural nutrient cycle in which minerals always return to the soil in the same place they were removed. In 21st century America, minerals are removed from the soil, pass through our toilets, and end up in the landfill or in waste water. This will continue until we find an acceptable way to return human feces and urine to agricultural soil, as many cultures do to this day.

Another good link about letting food be your medicine can be found here.

Americans are literally STARVING themselves by eating foods that are devoid of the necessary nutrients their bodies need. Most commercial farm land in the US has been sub-par for almost 100 years, and the USDA KNOWS IT! The gov’t makes NO distinction between fully mineralized, nutritious food and the industrial swill that passes for “food” in most US grocery stores. The large scale commercial farmer is NOT compensated on the QUALITY of his produce but rather the QUANTITY of his crops. So what is the solution to this quandary? GROW YOUR OWN!

Because remember, “Only YOU can prevent personal starvation”.

I would say these are just my “opinions” but that would not be the case. This is the TRUTH about our food system, from a man “out standing in his field.”

Growing Hemp for Fun and Profit

February 26, 2010

Now that I’ve got your attention, what in Sam Hill am I talking about? Am I advocating growing the “demon weed” in defiance of DEA edicts? This is a GARDENING blog, not a drug advocacy rant. Okay, I have to digress here and say that “weed” is a naturally occurring plant and as such should be left out of drug policy, but that’s just my own libertarian tendencies sneaking out when I wasn’t looking. But seriously, what “hemp” am I talking about?

First, I hope we all agree that bare ground is a bad idea. It is wasteful for solar energy to fall on bare ground with nothing present to capture it. It (bare ground) is susceptible to erosion, compaction and temperature extremes. So, cover crops are mandatory in order to collect solar energy, keep the little beasties in the soil happy and fed, and protect bare soil from erosion and compaction. Most importantly, cover crops are a CHEAP method of putting valuable nitrogen into the soil for just the cost of seeds, plus you get THOUSANDS of pounds of organic matter for FREE! It’s MUCH easier to grow your own organic matter in the soil than it is to buy it and HAUL it. Let nature do the work for you. Remember, we want to work WITH her not AGAINST her. She can be a great friend and helpmate or a cruel bitch on an enemy. Kind of like… well you know. 

Okay, back to the original question, “what hemp am I talking about?” That would be Sunn Hemp or for those who can actually READ Latin, (Crotalaria juncea L.).

These are some links to web sites advocating the growing of hemp, and just so everyone is clear, nowhere in these links will you find a reference to websites advocating the growing of the “other” hemp. So, just so I am CRYSTAL CLEAR, these are RESPECTABLE references with details about a valuable agricultural crop. Damn, no matter how I put this I just keeps getting deeper and deeper. Okay, here are the links.

This is a US government agency advocating the growing of hemp. 

This is a link to a main stream agricultural magazine detailing the advantages of growing hemp. 

And finally a link from the USDA, a gov’t agency that is always looking out for the American farmer. 😉

Just to briefly summarize the benefits to growing hemp, they are, in no particular order:

1. Production of up to 200 pounds of organic nitrogen per acre every 60-90 days
2. Production of up to 6000 pounds of biomass per acre
3. Suppression of noxious weeds
4. Suppression of nematodes
5. Improved soil properties and water conservation
6. Reduced erosion and soil compaction
7. Has potential as a forage crop, paper fiber and as an alternative fuel

Who should use Sunn Hemp? Anyone who has soil that needs to be improved. The crop can be used by conventional as well as organic growers. Sunn Hemp ‘Tropic Sun’ works very well as a precursor crop for small grains (winter wheat/oats) or as a legume to restore soil fertility and to increase organic matter. Just think about it. You can turn 50# of seeds (15000 seeds per pound) into 6000 pounds of organic matter without having to pick up a shovel or use a wheelbarrow. And, as a BONUS, you get 200# of organic nitrogen, ready for plant uptake!

You can proudly proclaim that you are a producer of AMERICAN HEMP for both FUN as well as PROFIT!

Just be prepared by keeping copies of ALL seed receipts as well as copies of ALL gov’t recommendations to actually grow the variety of hemp I am advocating. I would not want you to be the victim of confused drug enforcement agents who don’t have the good sense to read useful and informative blogs such as this one. 

All kidding aside, Sunn Hemp is a completely LEGAL plant, not even in the same family as Cannabis sativa L. commonly called marijuana or pot. No, Sunn Hemp has REAL value to farmers and gardeners in the south.

I proudly proclaim myself to be an advocate of growing American Hemp, but that’s just me, Michael LaBelle, “a man out standing in his field.” Just don’t tell the DEA WHICH field I am out standing in. I wouldn’t want them to find out where I am after this blog hits the net. 🙂

Is Organic Fertilizer Really “All That?”

February 5, 2010

If you haven’t heard about the organic revolution you must have been living in a cave.  BTW, if you happen to be living in a BAT cave, you are living right on top of a GREAT organic fertilizer, which would be bat guano.  But then you knew you were living in a bat cave because all you could smell would be bat s#*t.  This is not to be confused with “going bat s#8t” which is an entirely different situation.

Okay, back to organic fertilizer.  A brief (for me) definition would be in order at this point, so we all know what we are talking about.  Well, I know what I’m talking about.  You are just waiting to see if I know what I’m talking about.  But, answer me this.  How would you know if I knew what I was talking about unless you too knew what I was talking about?  At which point this whole exercise would be kind of pointless wouldn’t it?  Let’s just say I DO know what I’m talking about and, while you don’t, you are going to give me the benefit of the doubt.  So that at the end of this blog you will know MORE than you started out knowing while at the same time being able to argue with anyone (using my logic) about organic fertilizers.  Deal?

An organic fertilizer is any material whose origin is either plant or animal.  So, the aforementioned bat s#*t WOULD be organic and, say, rock dust would not.  Rock Dust?  What do you use rock dust for?  Don’t get me sidetracked.  You KNOW what happens when you get me sidetracked.  We go off on a tangent into who knows where with who knows whom, which come to think of it is quite fun, but that is for another day.  Back to organic fertilizer.  A partial list of organic fertilizers would be compost, with or without manure, rotted mulch, grass or any plant material, pond muck, liquefied animal parts, such as hydrolyzed fish protein and ground and dried animal parts, such as bone meal, blood meal, hatchery waste, etc…  Anything that was once living can be used as a soil amendment, which is what we in the biz called “fertilizer.”

Now here are some inorganic “soil amendments” that can still be used in “organic crop production.”  Confused yet?  Don’t worry, you will be.  The aforementioned rock dust, (I really had to work hard to use aforementioned in a sentence) such as granite dust, or ground limestone (commonly called “lime”), or gypsum (you know this as sheetrock—I told you I could confuse you), or almost any other ground rock, such as basalt.  You can also add to this list things that look like rock powder but are actually of organic origin, such as ground egg shell, oyster shell, shrimp/crab shell, feather meal and yes, even hair meal.  So, there you have it, a partial, but pretty damn exhaustive, list of “organic fertilizers.”

So, what are synthetic or commercial fertilizers?  These are typically manufactured chemical compounds that are used as concentrated plant food.  They are normally not considered “soil amendments” because if they are used as directed, they cause great harm to the soil and its inhabitants.   Examples of these synthetic fertilizers would be ammonia nitrate (34-0-0) MAP/DAP – mono & di-ammonium phosphate, and Triple 13 (13-13-13), my grandfather’s favorite, with 13% nitrogen (N), 13% phosphorus (P) and 13% potassium (K).  Just an FYI, what makes Triple 13 such a poor fertilizer is first, plants don’t use N-P-K in equal amounts and second, the last 13 is potassium chloride (about 50/50 K and Cl).  The Cl (in this case chloride) is the dangerous component (from a soil’s standpoint) that will actually sterilize the soil and, over time, create a hard layer 12” +/- under the surface restricting the movement of roots and water.

Okay, enough with the chemistry lesson.  What happened to the funny repartee?  (That’s French for hilariously funny give and take, just so you know.)  😉  Anyway, why do I care about this whole organic/synthetic question anyway?  N-P-K is N-P-K, right?

Okay, let’s back up.  All plants need, at a minimum, three major nutrients (N-P-K) and 16 minor nutrients (you really don’t care what is on that list so I will fill in the space with this statement) to grow and reproduce as in make fruit, which is why we plant a garden in the first place.  The issue is not only what form do these nutrients take but how concentrated they are and what do they do to the soil and its inhabitants.

You could make a very good case that gardening is more about “soil farming” than it is about “plant gardening.”  The reason being that if you take care of the soil (and all its inhabitants) then the soil will take care of your plants.  That is not to say there is not a place for SOME of the synthetic fertilizers, organic gardeners notwithstanding.  While you cannot use synthetic fertilizers and call your crops 100% organic, you can use small amounts of synthetic fertilizers and achieve good results in the food department while actually benefiting the soil.  It really is all about moderation.  Side note:  best quote of all time.  WC Fields said, “I practice moderation in all things…especially moderation.”  But I digress.

Aside from cost and the damage they do to the environment and the fact that using synthetic fertilizers further enriches rich Arab oil men (virtually ALL synthetic nitrogen is manufactured using either petroleum or natural gas) they also don’t hang around and do their job, like you paid them to do.  What do I mean by this?  Most synthetic fertilizers are “water soluble” which simply means they will dissolve in water.  This is great if you are growing hydroponically (no more Mexican dirt weed) but NOT good if you are wanted to fertilize plants in the ground before a big rain.

Organic fertilizers, on the other hand, are typically “slow release” which means that SOME of the nutrients are immediately available, while the rest must be released by the actions of soil microbiology, root exudates (weak plant acids such as carbonic acid), earthworms, time and temperature.  What this means in a practical sense is you can put out an organic fertilizer before a rain and it will not all dissolve and run off or pollute the water table.  It will stay in the root zone so your plants—remember plants, that’s what this whole thing is all about, growing plants—can get to the fertilizer and grow like crazy.  The end result to you, the consumer, is that organic fertilizer, while initially more expensive, is much LESS expensive in the long run.  Over time, the continued use of organic fertilizer will build the soil structure and fertility to the point you will not have to continue to purchase more fertilizer.  This is good for your soil, but not so good for my company.  Alms, alms for the poor…

So don’t be fooled by the apparent low analysis of organic fertilizer compared to synthetic.  While MightyGrow Organic Fertilizer has a guaranteed analysis of 4-5-5, it will actually perform like 15-15-15 (or better!) at less than 1/3 the price per unit.

A well informed consumer is our best customer.  Really, who am I kidding?  My best customer is someone that sends me a blank check and say to make his garden grow; I don’t care what it costs.  But that doesn’t happen too often.  Okay, it has NEVER happened, but I do still have hope.

If you are confused about the whole “organic vs. synthetic” fertilizer question, don’t be too hard on yourself.  That is your mates job.  😉  Besides, you are in good company.  The agrochemical companies hope you STAY confused, so long as you keep buying the nice bags of easy to use granules they call “fertilizer”.  What I call it can be USED as fertilizer and is often seen coming out of the south end of a north bound male bovine!  Just remember my simple rule of gardening, and repeat after me.  “I promise NOT to put anything on my garden that will kill an earthworm, so help me Michael”.

That’s all for now from Michael, just a “man out standing in his field”.

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