AcresUSA.com links

Archive | Soil Life

Electrical Conductivity: The Pulse of the Soil

Traditionally soil consultants have used electrical conductivity to measure salinity, however conductivity can tell us much more about the physical structure and health of the soil. Based on these direct measurements, electrical conductivity can also indirectly measure crop productivity.

When we walk into our home on a dark night, the first thing we usually do is turn on the lights. With the flip of a switch, we complete the electrical circuit initiating the flow of electricity to the light bulb, illuminating our home.

In the human body, electricity controls the flow of blood from the heart to all organs. In the same way we flip a switch turning on the lights, electrical signaling in the body tells the heart when and how often to contract and relax. These electrical signals can be altered by the intake of nutrients. Case in point, the intake of high-salt foods can lead to a higher pulse rate. With a higher pulse rate, your heart and other organs must work harder in order to function properly. Certainly this extra work puts added stress on the body. In contrast, consuming a balanced form of energy can reduce the stress put upon the body.

Waking up in the morning and only consuming caffeine does not give you the same energy as waking up and eating a balanced breakfast. While both inputs may increase your readiness in the morning, physiologically they affect the human body in different ways. Inputs into any biological system whether human, animal, plant or soil consequently will affect the system in different ways. Continue Reading →

Expanding Organic Agriculture

Farmer, Author & International Organic Authority André Leu Discusses Expanding Scope of Regenerative and Organic Agriculture and its Existing Challenges

As two-term president of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (better known as IFOAM — Organics International), André Leu has logged hundreds of thousands of air and land miles on behalf of sustainable farming. From 2012 until the fall of 2017, his portfolio took him to dozens of countries where he met farmers, government officials, NGO activists, scientists and diplomats. He is a familiar face at various United Nations agencies as well. Somehow he also found time to write an essential book for Acres U.S.A. Press called The Myths of Safe Pesticides and its newest companion, Poisoning Our Children: The Parent’s Guide to the Myths of Safe Pesticides. It is safe to say that precious few people share the depth and breadth of Leu’s knowledge about sustainable agriculture around the globe. Along with devoting more time to his 150-acre fruit farm in tropical Queensland, Australia, Leu will bring his expertise to the presidency of Regeneration International, the education and advocacy organization of which he is a founding member. Thus, the talk below functions as both an exit and an entry interview.

Interviewed by Chris Walters

ACRES U.S.A. When governments come to IFOAM for guidance, how does that relationship work? Continue Reading →

Homemade Fertilizers

With the economy and farm finance more and more problematic, interest is growing in running farms with fewer, more accurate and less expensive inputs and homemade fertilizers can help cut costs and keep fertility on the farm.

homemade fertilizer

Vermiwash made in a small biodynamic apple orchard in the
Himalayan foothills of Uttaranchal in sight of Nanda Devi, India’s second highest
mountain.

Formerly we’ve overdosed with a plethora of harsh fertilizers — especially nitrogen. As a result we’ve burned up the better part of our soil carbon, and this has reduced our rainfall.

By burning off carbon, we have created droughts even as ocean warming has sent more evaporation into the atmosphere. We have ignored that few things have more affinity for hydrogen than carbon, and if we want rain to adhere to and permeate our soils we need to build soil carbon.

We thought salt fertilizers were cheap, and the stunning results encouraged us to wish away any hidden costs, no matter that earthworms disappeared simultaneously with the food chain that supported them. Our soils got hard and sticky as magnesium stayed behind while nitrates leached, carrying away silicon, calcium and trace minerals. The soil fused when wet, shed water when it rained, and we continued to get less for more.

As if this wasn’t enough, the mind-set we were sold was get big or get out. As our net margins dried up and our future prospects evaporated, our water dried up and our land became exhausted. Continue Reading →

Aphid Control: Lady Beetle as Beneficial Insect

Lady bugs eat aphids

The convergent lady beetle is a common species of lady beetle.

When searching for aphid control measures, turn to nature first. Numerous vendors sell beneficial insects via their websites along with offering plenty of useful information. For example, ARBICO Organics (Arizona), Orcon (California), Gardens Alive (Indiana), and Nature’s Control (Oregon) sell insect predators in large numbers and at least one vendor sells it as a “beneficial insect program” with weekly shipments adjusted to your pest control needs. Note that beneficial insects are slow acting in pest outbreak situations, so use beneficial insects preventively when pests are in low populations and have not overwhelmed the crops you are trying to protect. Follow the release instructions that come with the products, and modify your spray schedule to adjust for the presence of beneficial insects.

Aphid Control: Convergent Lady Beetle

The convergent lady beetle is a very common species of lady beetle among the numerous others present in any crop field. The convergent beetle is common in Alabama and also a very popular beneficial insect sold by companies. The insect name comes from the two white lines seen on the thorax of adult beetles that seem to merge together on the top. Continue Reading →

Microorganisms for Fertility

The use of microorganisms for fertility is an exacting process using inexact tools in the production of food, fiber and fuel. Each farmer’s fertility program for plant growth is tied to the desired response of the plants. A simpler way to put it is; how much would you like to produce, at what rate and at what cost to the environment and to the farmer using the inputs? For field crops, newer genetic combinations are race horses in the sense of their yield potential, but also in their need for attention whether fertility or otherwise.

A field in Hoven, South Dakota, using 12.8 ounces per acre MicroAZ-IF Liquid, treated (left), untreated.

This has been a large part of fostering a reliance on petrochemical industries for growing plants. Our challenge is to grow these plants using different techniques, relying on more natural production strategies — particularly in the use of fertility products.

Microorganisms for Fertility: Fundamentals

Microorganisms are a fundamental part of healthy soils, plants and people. We’re still trying to understand how they contribute to the health of soil and how their omnipresence impacts our environment. This can and will have a direct impact on our ability to provide for plant fertility using microbially mediated processes as we understand and harness this interconnected web of life.

Harnessing microorganisms for reliable use has been and will continue to be problematic. The interactions and complexities of the soil microbial community are not well understood.

What is understood is the promise and possibilities they have in providing supplemental, complementary or replacement sources of fertility to plants. Building products that have reliability and performance characteristics similar to more widely accepted sources with better economic and environmental consequences is already happening and getting better. Continue Reading →

Cover Cropping & Green Manures

After 22 years of farming, my farm’s soil is markedly more fertile and productive. It has been a wonderful journey learning what works and how to continue to improve long-term productivity while harvesting bountiful crops.

Flail mowing summer Sudangrass/cowpea green manure at Potomac Vegetable Farms – West in Virginia.

There are several methods that deserve credit for this increase in soil quality: the use of compost, the use of a balanced mineral fertilizer and a serious commitment to cover cropping.

For this article I want to focus on the growing of cover crops and green manures. When I became the farm manager at Potomac Vegetable Farms – West in 1992, I sought advice on how to transition the farm into organic production.

The land had been growing mostly sweet corn, pumpkins and green beans with commercial chemical fertilizers and herbicides. The soil was biologically inactive and nutrients were missing. I can clearly remember the words from a fertility consultant, “I can sell you something in a bag, and I can sell you something in a bucket, but what you really need to do is to make compost and grow cover crops.” And thus began my journey into both compost-making and cover cropping.

Why take on both of those jobs rather than just one? Well, they go hand in hand, each leveraging the benefits of the other to move a soil more quickly toward health and resilience.

Continue Reading →