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Archive | Soil Fertility

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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Soil pH: Making Adjustments to Boost Fertility

Raising soil pH is relatively inexpensive. Lime is the product of choice but there are two basic types of lime: high-calcium and dolomitic.

Soil pH adjustment may seem like a pretty straightforward operation, but there are many things to consider before undertaking such a bold step with soil chemistry. The first step is determine the direction you need to go and the products to use to achieve your goal. I cannot stress enough the importance of getting a good soil test. I’ve heard people say that based on the type of weeds or the fact that moss is growing means the soil pH needs adjusting. Assuming those statements were true, which direction and how much adjustment should be made? Without a good soil test it is pure and simple guesswork.

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Wood Ash: How to Make Your Own Fertilizer

Straight wood ash on the right and wood ash mixed with ground up charcoal on the left. Both will benefit most soils.

Straight wood ash on the right and wood ash mixed with ground up charcoal on the left. Both will benefit most soils.

Wood ash, as Jon Frank shares, can be a resource for making your own super fertilizer: You’ve heard of super foods — foods especially endowed with nutrition that merit special attention. I would like to suggest a simple, effective fertilizer you can make yourself. Often overlooked and many times deprecated because it was over-applied — it is time to give wood ash its due. If you burn wood for home heating you already have a ready supply. If not, all it takes is a bonfire and you are in business. I like to incorporate plenty of charcoal in combination with the wood ashes. This approach is more closely aligned with the creation of Terra Preta. To cut the dust, I like to mix wood ashes with moist leaf mold. You may want to en­hance your fertilizer by mixing 1 pound of kelp meal and 1 pound of sugar for every 20 pounds of ashes. If phosphorus is low in your soil, add bones to the bonfire and crush them with the charcoal.

I suggest using anywhere from 5 to 50 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Avoid using on soils with a pH above 7.8. The use of wood ash does not replace soil test and fertility recommendations; rather it supplements it and reduces the overall need to purchase costly off-site inputs. The beauty of using wood ash is that the spectrum and ratio of minerals present in the ash have already been preselected by plants. Its fine dust is very fast-act­ing in soil. Wood ashes are very rich in trace and secondary minerals, without adding nitrogen.

Beyond Wood Ash

To create an optimum growing environment in your garden take these actions:

  • Keep the mineral levels in your soil well supplied;
  • keep soil-applied nitrogen very low;
  • keep the soil consistently moist, and
  • make your own super fertilizer.

And now for the word of caution. Externally applied nitrogen is a safety net. Its use should not be discontinued in the following situations:

  • Indoor growing — Greenhouses and high tunnels are very intensive and require more production to remain profitable.
  • Commercial grain production — Don’t even think about it.
  • Soils heavily sprayed with herbicides and pesticides — The microbial system struggles in this environment and requires applied nitrogen.

by Jon Frank

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Biodynamic Farming: Why It Works and How to Get Started

Biodynamic farming can produce better, more fruitful harvests, a fact writer and grape farmer Patricia Damery documents for us with her story below:

Jesse stirring the biodynamic preparation barrel compost.

Jesse stirs the biodynamic preparation barrel compost.

My husband and I operate a Demeter-certified Biodynamic organic ranch in the Napa Valley, farming not only chardonnay grapes, but also aromatics and persimmons.

We started using biodynamic practices in 1999 after a near failure of a grape crop. At the time, we had a vineyard at an elevation of 1,600 feet in the Mayacamas range on the western edge of the Napa Valley. It was late September and the vines were closing down, the leaves turning golden as the days grew shorter and cooler. There seemed to be no way that these vines could help the grapes reach the sugar levels needed to make good wine. When our winemaker informed us that he would not be purchasing the grapes because he didn’t believe they could ripen, we panicked. This was a financial loss that we could not afford.

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Building Soil Health with Volcanic Basalt

by Rich Affeldt

volcanic-basaltOrganic and sustainable farmers have long relied on rock dust as an all-natural way to improve roots systems, increase yields and promote general plant health in a wide variety of crops and conditions. Yet, it has taken the rapid depletion of our global soils to bring rock dust to the attention of modern agricultural science. The good news is that there is undeniable evidence that rock minerals can help restore soil health, minimize crop deficiencies and boost resistance to pests and disease.

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