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The Soil Food Web: A World Beneath Our Feet

The soil food web: Unseen beneath our feet, there dwells a teeming microscopic universe of complex living organisms that few humans ever consider. In one teaspoon of soil alone, there may be over 600 million bacterial cells, and if that soil comes from the immediate root zone of a healthy plant, the number can exceed a million bacteria of many different species. These bacterial cells exist in complex predator-prey relationships with countless other diverse organisms.

This topsoil food web forms the foundation for fertile, healthy soil, for healthy plants, and ultimately for a healthy planet. It is an essential but exceedingly delicate foundation that even the brightest scientists know very little about.

Dr. Elaine Ingham has been researching this tiny universe for nearly 20 years. She has sought to understand the importance of these organisms and the relationships that exist between them, and to elucidate the effects that various agricultural practices have on this vast network of life.

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Weed Control: Mulching Questions Answered

The Mulch and Soil Council have investigated the use of colorants in mulch products.

Weed control through mulching makes sense for many growers, but there are often questions about sourcing, safety and sustainability. May is a critical time for many gardeners to deal with existing or imminent weed issues before problems get totally out of control. Mulching is a key component of a multi-pronged approach to gaining the upper hand in the weed control battle.

Is Cypress Mulch Sustainable?

Shredded cypress is a popular mulching material for weed control because it is slow to decompose and the long strands lock together and don’t blow or float away easily. Attractive and natural looking, cypress mulch has many fans in the garden. The majestic swampy cypress forests across the Southeast, where most of the cypress mulch is harvested, are a true ecological sanctuary and face encroaching building development as more and more people flock to the Sunbelt. Gardeners are  now beginning to look at the source of their mulch and question the sustainability of cypress mulch harvesting.

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Compost Tea: A Remedy for What Injures Your Crops

A compost heap with kitchen food waste, animal manure, vegetables, fruit peel and green refuse.

Compost tea can serve multiple functions to develop healthy and fertile soil.

Combating disease on fruits and vegetables can be a frustrating experience, even for the most committed organic grower. A brief spell of adverse weather at just the wrong time can reduce peaches to unappetizing brown mush, apples to hard scabby nuggets, and cucumber vines to wilting, mildew-covered disasters. Organically approved disease control materials that are effective and do not demand too rigorous an application schedule are hard to find. So, what can you do when your grapevine gazes at you imploringly, begging for relief from yet another battle with botrytis?

Perhaps a spot of compost tea would be just what the doctor ordered!

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Fertile Soil: Understanding Fertility Levels and Inputs

A farmer tosses a handful of soil.

Fertile soil is a goal of every farmer, gardener and orchardist, but achieving fertile soil and maintaining fertile soil takes some understanding of the soil ecosystem, including minerals, microbials and other inputs will affect your soil fertility.

There are those in agriculture who insist that if you will only use the program they recommend, regardless of your farm’s condition, there will be no need to purchase phosphate and potassium and perhaps any other fertilizers anymore. Names of actual farmers successfully using such programs can be provided by the salesman. Some of these farmers have actually been able to maintain yields without the use of fertilizer for several years. Keep in mind that it is possible, under the proper conditions, to achieve excellent results without adding more fertilizer. But on most farms the proper conditions do not exist, and hardship would ultimately result for those involved in such a program.

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Tractor Time Podcast 5: Jerry Brunetti on ‘Soil as a SuperOrganism’

Jerry Brunetti.

On this week’s podcast,we thought it’d be good to turn back the clock to a talk from 2009 at our Eco-Ag conference. Jerry Brunetti, rest in peace, was a fearless advocate for soil management and gave a presentation then called “Soil as a SuperOrganism.” In other words, a super computer built to process everything efficiently and create answers for us that are accurate.

“There is life in rock. There is life that comes out of everything,” he says in this talk. We like that so much, we want to share it with you today. We wish Jerry could still be here today to speak to us in person. We’ll settle for the best that we’ve got — his talk, “Soil as a SuperOrganism.”

Find our entire free podcast series available here, and in the iTunes store. Also, you can purchase Jerry Brunetti’s official presentation at the 2009 Eco-Ag conference here, or purchase his book from Acres USA.

Carbon-Nitrogen Ratio: Understanding Chemical Elements in Organic Matter

Adding compost or other nutrients can help you find the right carbon-nitrogen ratios.

Carbon-nitrogen ratios are an important part of understanding soil, as explained by Crow Miller in this piece earlier published in Acres USA magazine:

There are two chemical elements in organic matter that are extremely important, especially in their relation or proportion to each other: they are carbon and nitrogen. This relationship is called the carbon-nitrogen ratio. To understand what this relationship is, suppose a certain batch of organic matter is made up of 40 percent carbon and 2 percent nitrogen. Dividing 40 by 2, one gets 20. The carbon-nitrogen ratio of this material is then 20 to 1, which means 20 times as much carbon as nitrogen. Suppose another specimen has 35 percent carbon and 5 percent nitrogen. The carbon-nitrogen ratio of this material then would be 7 to 1. Anyone who handles organic matter, who mulches, or who composts, regardless of which method is used, should have some idea about the significance of the carbon-nitrogen ratio.

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