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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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Soil Organic Matter: Tips for Responsible Nitrogen Management

For soil organic matter to work the way it should, it depends on a careful balance of nutrients and minerals, including one of

Healthy, homegrown carrots in rich soil.

the most important elements — nitrogen. One of the great paradoxes of farming is that lack of nitrogen is regarded as one of the great limitations on plant growth, and yet plants are bathed in it because the atmosphere is 78 percent nitrogen.

Most plants cannot use nitrogen in this form (N2) as it is regarded as inert. It has to be converted into other forms — nitrate, ammonia, ammonium and amino acids for plants to utilize it.

In conventional agriculture most of these plant-available forms of nitrogen are obtained through synthetic nitrogen fertilizers that have been produced by the Haber-Bosch process.

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Healthy Soil, Defined

What is healthy soil? Most farmers strive for a healthy, fer­tile soil that has good tilth. But do these terms — soil health, soil fertility and good tilth — all mean the same thing to all of us? I bet you have an image in your mind of what the soil and the crop grow­ing in it should look like. But in today’s

A worm comes up from the earth.

world, with all the available technology, plant protective fungicides, insecticides, etc. along with plenty of soluble nutri­ents, looking at a “good” crop can be deceiving. It may in fact be wearing a lot of ‘make-up,’ covering up its true state of health. In recent years, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has started to focus more on soil health and what constitutes a “healthy” soil.

If we define soil health using the NRCS’ definition, it is “the capacity to function.” I thought about this definition for quite some time and decided I need­ed to add to it, clarifying the thought as “the capacity to function without inter­vention.” I define intervention as plant alterations, fungicides, insecticides, etc. Healthy soil should produce healthy crops without intervention.

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Rhodium: The Mystery Nutrient Revealed

Rhodium is not a common term used among farmers and health professionals. But the mineral nutrient does matter.

Rhodium

Rhodium’s molecular formula.

Trace nutrients tend to become submerged once the so-called roster of essentials is exhausted. They do not count, if standard books on the subject are to be taken seriously. Yet peer-reviewed research says something else. Unfortunately, it takes research between 40 and 50 years to make it into the clinic.

For this reason and for reasons to be explained, you won’t encounter the mineral rhodium in the vocabulary of most health maintenance providers or nutritionists who hope to cope with metabolic mischief. It is rare, this element called rhodium — number 45 on the Periodic Table of Elements, number 56 on the Olree Standard Genetic Periodic Chart.

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Dairy Farming: The Framework of Biological and Sustainable Practices

Biological dairy farming is a dynamic system of farming that works with natural principles. Its purpose is to make a profit by growing healthy, mineralized foods that are nutrient-rich and of maximum quality for people. In order for this to occur, all stages of production — including soil, forage, crop, animal, business, and lifestyle management — must be healthy and interdependent.

Dairy cattle graze freely on healthy forage options.

The biological cycle begins in the soil and is based on a healthy population of balanced microbiology (bacteria, fungi, protozoa, earthworms, etc.), which require soils with an adequate supply of properly balanced nutrients including, but not limited to, nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, zinc, manganese, iron, boron and additional microelements.

The biological farming approach we use at Otter Creek Organic Farms aims to improve and balance soil fertility and forage/crop mineral levels by using a balanced fertilizer program, growing green manure crops, practicing proper tillage, employing tight crop rotations, utilizing a wide diversity of plant species, and measuring and monitoring all of these aspects. Mineralized soil produces high-quality forages, which yield healthy, productive livestock; cows that have minimal or no health complications, breed back easily, and efficiently produce ample, high-quality milk with potentially fewer dollars invested in fertilizers, off-farm feed and supplements, and vet bills. Biological farms often have decreased cost of operation. When using a biological system, the production of organic milk becomes a viable and profitable endeavor.

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Lime in Soil: How Much is Too Much?

 

When adding lime in the soil, can you have too much? Perhaps the most frequently asked question by those using our soil fertility program is, “Can I put on a higher rate of lime than you are recommending for this sample?”

lime in soil

A farmer spreads lime in his field.

Generally, this has to do with getting the limestone spread, because the owner of the lime trucks says he either cannot or will not apply such a small amount. Many times a farmer has been told, “You can’t use too much lime.”

That is not true. From our experience in working with thousands of acres that have previously been over-limed, we know you can easily apply too much lime, not just on crops such as berries and potatoes, but on whatever crop you are intending to grow. And if this happens, it can be far more expensive than just the cost of the extra limestone that was not needed, with the added cost of getting it spread.

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