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Archive | Soil Fertility

Sustainable Soil: Four Rules for Controlling Organic Inputs

Sustainable soil requires profitability.

A girl plays in the soil.

No matter how desirable a sustainable program might be, it must be tempered by the realities of making a total commercial agriculture program work economically. Growers attempting to deal with this reality often focus on sustainability in a piecemeal manner, as they do not always understand the basic rules or guidelines that are required of a sustainable soil program. In this article, we will review the guidelines on achieving sustainability and also report on new developments in sustainable soil nutrition products.

Commercial agriculture programs are often unable to profitably approach sustainability due to economic pressures. Time-honored practices that require land to lay fallow and the use of cover crops along with manure or compost applications are expensive when compared to the rapid prepare-fertilize-plant harvest cycle that has come to dominate commercial practice. Sustainability struggles within such a marketplace, as growers rarely receive a premium for crops grown on sustainable soil versus crops grown conventionally. When a grower is faced with the hard choice of feeding his soil or feeding his family, the family will win.

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Organic Nitrogen: When are Nitrogen Units Not Nitrogen Units?

Organic nitrogen and inorganic nitrogen: what’s the difference?

A farmer gives a plant organic humus fertilizer to plant.

Organic growers frequently attempt to quantify the amount of organic nitrogen they add to their soil ecosystems in the same manner that conventional growers use inorganic nitrogen units to calculate their nitrogen requirements. Logically, they reason that a ton of organic material with 4 percent nitrogen content as verified by a laboratory test will provide 80 pounds, or units by some determinations, of nitrogen.

The truth is that organic nitrogen sources vary in their efficiency of transformation into soil components over a much broader range of response than do inorganic synthetics, which offer precision measurement and a repeatable predictability of release. Use of inorganic nitrogen units to determine nitrogen needs for organic growers is therefore problematic. A popularly available and reliable conversion algorithm between tested inorganic nitrogen and untested organic nitrogen in organic soils does not exist, however. Without such an algorithm there can be no scientific basis of comparison. Continue Reading →

Flame Weeding: Turn up the Heat to Fight Weeds

Flame weeding (also referred to as flaming) has been an apt option for or­ganically ridding row crops and fields of uninvited weeds while also replenishing the soil with nutrients from the result­ing carbon. Wedding the proficiency of flame with the compressed liquid power of propane has served many farmers and food producers well over the past cen­tury. According to the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticide, the first agricultural flame weeder was patented in 1852.

flame weeding with propane

Flaming with propane attacks weeds with no repercussions on crops or fields.

Flame weeding is done by generat­ing intense heat through a chosen de­vice — whether it is a handheld torch or tractor-mounted — that sears the leaves of the weeds, which causes the cell sap to expand, thusly damaging the cell walls. “You’re watching for the color change, depending on the weed and its maturity,” said Charles House of Earth & Sky Solutions. Leaves wilt and dehydrate the plant, leaving the invaders no other option than to die, sometimes up to three days later.

“The key to successful flame weeding is the maturity of the plant you’re trying to eradicate. The smaller, the better,” he explains. The best time is when they’re immature and in the cotyledon stage.

Flame Weeding Background

Flaming gained popularity in the first third of the 20th century and continued through the 1960s until pesticides re­placed industry attentions. Though its use waned over the following 20 years, flame weeding resurfaced and regained popularity in the early 1990s, and con­tinues to be used today. So continues flame weeding’s renaissance. Continue Reading →

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

finished compost to make compost tea

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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