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Archive | Soil Fertility

Pasture Management: Benefits of Biodiverse Forage

Pasture management for livestock far too often falls to using artificial stimulants, and not by selecting the right plants and managing the soil. But the latter is by far the better way.

Cows and calves in the pasture.

The resurrection of interest among graziers in medicinal plants seems to parallel the burgeoning movement of livestock operators in organic (and ecological) meat, milk and egg production, rotational managed grazing, and the stockman’s increasing interest in reducing dependence on pharmaceutical drugs — due to their costs, side effects and concerns over residues in meat, milk and egg products. There are numerous books available on the medicinal properties of various plants, many of which are considered weeds in pastures and meadows on farms.

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Organic Weed Control: Cultural and Mechanical Methods

Organic weed control methods are often debated and dismissed by large chemical sprayers. But organic weed control methods do work, and work better for your field’s health.

Organic weed control

Weeds happen. Knowing how to work with them can save you a lot of time and effort.

Weeds happen. That is a fact of life for organic farmers, and therefore many of our field operations are designed to make sure that the health and quality of our crops are not jeopardized by the inevitable weed pressure.

Planning an effective weed-control program involves many different aspects of organic crop production. As farmers begin to explore organic possibilities, the first two questions invariably seem to be: “What materials do I buy for soil fertility?” and “What machinery do I buy to control weeds?” We asked these questions when we started organic farming, but we rapidly realized that this is not the best way to understand successful organic farm management.

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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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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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