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Archive | Soils

Book of the Week: Secrets of Fertile Soils

By Erhard Hennig

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Acres U.S.A. original book, Secrets of Fertile Soils, written by Erhard Hennig. Copyright 2015, softcover, 198 pages. $24.00 regularly priced. SALE PRICE: $19.20.

Humus forms as a result of the complicated interplay of inorganic conversions and the life processes of the microbes and tiny creatures living in the soil. Earthworms play a particularly important role in this process. Humus formation is carried out in two steps. First, the organic substance and the soil minerals disintegrate. Next, totally new combinations of these breakdown products develop, which leads to the initial stages of humus. Humus formation is a biological process. Only 4–12 inches (10–30 centimeters) of humus-containing soil are available in the upper earth crust. This thin earth layer is all that exists to provide nutrition to all human life. The destiny of mankind depends on these 12 inches!

Secrets of Fertile Soil

Cultivated soils with 2 percent humus content are today considered high-quality farm land. What makes up the remaining 98 percent? Depending on the soil type, soil organisms constitute about 8 percent, the remains of plants and animals about 5 percent, and air and water around 15 percent.

The remaining 70 percent of soil mass is thus of purely mineral origin. The mineral part of the soil results from decomposition and the erosion of rock. The dissolution of these components is carried out by the lithobionts, which can be seen as the mediators between stone and life. It was, once again, Francé who coined the term “lithobiont,” which means “those who live on stone.” The lithobionts are the group of microbes that begin the formation of humus. They produce a life-giving substance from the nonliving mineral. On the basis of this process, living matter, earth, plants, animals, and human beings can begin, step by step, to build.

Only soils with an optimal structural state of tilth have a humus content of 8–10 percent. Untouched soils in primeval forests can, at best, reach 20 percent. A tropical jungle can’t use up all its organic waste, so humus can be stored. All forests accumulate humus, but real humus stores only emerge over the course of millenniums. Once upon a time accumulations of humus known as chernozem (Russian for black earth) could be found in the Ukraine.

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Quest for Quality: Growing Nutrient-Dense Crops

For Central Virginia farmers Dan Gagnon and Susan Hill, the best proof that they’re doing things right with their soil to produce nutrient-dense crops comes from the mouths of babes and customers facing health challenges.

Dan Gagnon discusses soil structure at Broadfork Farm in Chesterfield, Virginia.

Gagnon and his wife, Janet Aardema, operate Broadfork Farm in Chesterfield, Virginia. Gagnon likes to observe how children interact with food. His youngest son Beckett, 3, last winter used organic store-bought carrots to dip into salad dressing while Gagnon’s mom was looking after him. But he would not eat the carrots.

When she dropped him off, Gagnon had just dug some overwintered carrots. Despite a bit of dirt clinging to them, Beckett gobbled them up. “The feedback from customers that we continue to get has been very encouraging,” said Gagnon. “Also, a child’s palate is a great indicator of the quality of your produce.”

Hill, who grew up outside Helena, Montana — where, she says, if they didn’t grow it, they didn’t eat — cooks for a woman who has multiple sclerosis; another customer has cancer and another, Lyme disease. Continue Reading →

Book of the Week: The Secret Life of Compost, by Malcolm Beck

By Malcolm Beck

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Acres U.S.A. original book, The Secret Life of Compost, written by Malcolm Beck. Copyright 1997, softcover, 170 pages. $19.00 regularly priced.

There are many beneficial forms of life in the soil. Scientists now tell us there is more tonnage of life and numbers of species in the soil than growing above. All of this life gets its energy from the sun. But only the green leaf plants have the ability to collect the sun’s energy. All other life forms depend on the plant to pass energy to them. The plants above and soil life below depend on each other for their healthy existence and continued survival.

The Secret Life of Compost

The Secret Life of Compost, by Malcolm Beck

Another beneficial microbe that colonizes plant roots was introduced to me by Mr. Bill Kowalski of Natural Industries. He said he had a microbe that has been shown to knock out a half dozen root rots in the laboratory. At first I told him I was not interested unless it was known to stop cotton root rot, because the only deterrent to a booming apple industry in the hill country of Texas is cotton root rot. He replied it hadn’t been tested on cotton root rot, but he would be glad to give me some if I wanted to try it.

Okra is related to cotton and back when we were farming we planted lots of okra. We had a spot on the farm where the plants suffered from cotton root rot. To test the new microbe, we planted two rows of okra across the root rot spot, then skipped two rows and planted two more rows of okra. The seed in these last two rows had been soaked in the product for a few minutes to ensure they would be inoculated with the microbe.

After the okra was in full production, Bill came over and we went out to inspect. Immediately we noticed the inoculated okra averaged a full 12 inches taller than the control rows. We walked down the control rows first and pulled up the smaller and weaker looking plants. We found the roots to be badly infected with some form of root rot and also full of root knot nematodes. Inspection of the inoculated row found not a single case of root rot or nematodes. Continue Reading →

Meet the Vibrating Weeding Broom: DIY Weed Control Tool

In 2016, after a long period of trial and error, I quite by chance tried out a “vibrating weeding broom” for weed control that uses a rake with thin, spring steel wires and was able to carry out continuous (down the row) early interplant weeding without damaging the crop.The weeding was successful using the vibrating weeding broom (VWB), and I named it hawking, after the Japanese-style broom called a hawki.

Takao Furuno with his homemade Interplant
weeding broom.

Crops (rice, wheat and other cereal grains, soybeans, maize and vegetables) are often planted in rows. The space between the rows is known as inter-row space. The spaces in between the crop plants in a row are called interplant spaces (see Figure 1).

Inter-row weeding is known as intertillage weeding. Since there are no crops growing in this space, weeding can be carried out quickly by moving forward or backward continuously with a hoe or other hand tool, or a machine.

On the other hand, in the interplant spaces the weeds and the crops are close to one another, so it would seem to be difficult to eliminate only the weeds by moving forward continuously with a machine without harming the crop.

For nearly 40 years as an organic farmer I was convinced that mechanization of interplant space weeding cannot be easily done and continued to weed between the plants using my hands or a triangular hoe. There are probably many farmers around the world who think and do the same. Continue Reading →

Good Grazing Management: Build a Drought Reserve

One of the best ways to prepare for drought is by building and maintaining a drought reserve. A drought reserve is forage (grass, forbs, brush or whatever your livestock will eat) that is not consumed by the animals during the growing sea­son. This forage is then available if rain doesn’t come or can be grazed during the dormant season.

An Angus calf grazing.

The traditional and most logical way to build a drought reserve is to set aside some land and not graze it. If you need to, you can turn your livestock into these areas and they can survive on the forage you have stockpiled there. Think of this as a savings account. But instead of saving money, you are saving forage.

In a traditional drought reserve your savings account is separate from your checking account. Think of your check­ing account as grass that you are grazing, possibly multiple times a year. The bal­ance in your checking account changes all the time; sometimes you have a sur­plus of grass and at other times you might be low.

The traditional drought reserve might seem like a good idea, but Ian Mitchell-Innes of South Africa uses a different technique to build a drought reserve that is far superior to the traditional way of stockpiling grass. Mitchell-Innes learned this from holis­tic management planned grazing, and I learned this technique during my in­ternship on his ranch. The most exciting feature of building a drought reserve in this manner is the fact that your entire farm/ranch is the drought reserve. Continue Reading →

Tractor Time Episode 14: Neal Kinsey on Hands On Agronomy

GREELEY, Colorado (May 21, 2018) — It’s that sound again – tractors, the voice of Charles Walters, and that happy little strum. It all means we are launching into a second season of the Tractor Time Podcast by Acres U.S.A., the podcast for farmers who care about the Earth. My name is Ryan Slabaugh, and I’m lucky enough to be your host for a second season.

Neal Kinsey

Neal Kinsey

We have a lot in store this year. We are going to talk about a lot of eco-farming tactics and methods. We’re going to go back in time and listen to age-old talks that still apply today. We’re going to talk about with surveyers about the loss of farmland, and what you and I can do about it. Our goal this year is to also make sure we are talking with young farmers, to better understand how they see themselves fitting into the future of agriculture. Anyway, we’re so excited, we hope you are too.

Today’s episode, like our very first episode, starts with the voice of Charles Walters. Charles started Acres U.S.A. in 1971 as a vehicle to report on the challenges facing small farms, and to help give farmers a resource for good, healthy, ecological growing in the face of large-scale toxic takeovers of our methods.

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