Friday, January 17, 2014

Chemical Agriculture 105 - Soil Life

It is said that all soil on earth has been through the gut of an earth worm. Worms are some of the biggest of critters in the soil, albeit a very productive and important one. However, bacteria are the real work horses in the soil and are so tiny that billions will fit on the head of a pin and trillions in a gram of soil.

You can tell the health of the soil by the life in the soil. Chemical agriculture suppress the life in the soil. Most chemically farmed soils have no earth worms and beneficial insects are at an ebtide low. Beneficial bacteria and fungi are suppressed by anhydrous, pesticides and herbicides. We suppress and chase away the organisms that can benefit us the most in terms of soil building and crop quality.

Let me use our own farm as an example...

Our land was farmed chemically 12 years ago when we moved here. Because of the suppressed biology in the soil it took 2 acres to grow what we had previously grown on 1/4 acre. A productivity ratio of 8 to one. I also noticed that the quality of the produce was very inferior to our previous growing area. So what to do?

We added biology through compost and through incorporation of extreme amounts of organic matter. We grew rye, vetch, oats and peas and tilled them into the soil as food for the critters. We have added 3,500,000 lbs of finished compost to 8 acres in the last 10 years. This is a massive soil building effort which has resulted in an extremely active biology and excellent quality in our produce.

Let me illustrate the before and after contrast. Three years after we move to our farm I was growing a cover crop of rye and vetch in a two acre plot for soil building purposes. We had a couple of rains too many and I didn't get it tilled in in time. So I hired a neighbor farmer to come chop the cover crop like he would forage for his cattle. My intention was to compost the forage. We harvested 34 tons from 2 acres. The neighbor said he had never seen so much growth and such a high yield per acre. I used this compost for about three years. But the real key was the soil in this field, I was tilling while my farmer friend was harvesting the cover crop. He said he had never seen such good soil in such excellent condition. I agreed. Even though we had harvest the forage there was an equal amount of organic matter below the ground and the soil life was thriving. This was the result with only three years of transition to an organic system.

We are also dedicated to adding minerals to our soil. But that is a topic for the next lesson.

See Chemical Agriculture 106 - Minerals and Micronutrients

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