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Book of the Week: Grass, the Forgiveness of Nature

By Charles Walters

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Acres U.S.A. original book, Grass, the Forgiveness of Nature, written by Acres U.S.A. founder Charles Walters. Copyright 2006, softcover, 320 pages. Regular price: $25.00. SALE PRICE: $17.50.

Grass, the Forgiveness of Nature by Charles Walters

What Is a Protective Food?

It is well known that grazing animals can live on grass alone, and pretty poor grass at that. It has been assumed that herbivorous animals could live on any of the common leafy green crops, but this is not the case. A guinea pig is herbivorous, and yet it will die in 8 to 12 weeks on a diet of head lettuce, cabbage or carrots, and will grow at only half its normal rate on a sole diet of spinach. But a guinea pig thrives on a solid diet of grass. A super race of guinea pigs was developed in five generations on a sole diet of 20 percent protein dehydrated grass.

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Book of the Week: The Farm as Ecosystem

By Jerry Brunetti

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Acres U.S.A. original book, The Farm as Ecosystem, written by Jerry Brunetti. Copyright 2014, softcover, 335 pages. Regular price: $30.00. SALE PRICE: $25.00.

An Invitation to Become a Legume

The Farm as Ecosystem, by Jerry Brunetti

 

Another exciting breakthrough in nitrogen-fixing bacteria originates out of the University of Nottingham’s Center for Crop Nitrogen Fixation. Professor Edward Cocking and colleagues found a specific strain of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in sugar cane that could intracellularly colonize all major crop plants. Remarkably, this development potentially allows all the cells within a plant to x atmospheric nitrogen! This technology, labeled “N-Fix,” is not a genetic modified/bioengineering technology, either. Rather, it is a seed inoculant, enabling plant cells to become nitrogen fixers, a hopeful boon to annual crop production, which uses wasteful and contaminating amounts of nitrogen. Commercialization of this non-GMO breakthrough is expected by 2015–2016.

In the same vein of investigating the “cellular wisdom” that exists among microbes and plants, researchers at the University of Missouri’s Bond Life Sciences Center, under the direction of professor Gary Stacey, discovered that, for reasons yet unclear, non-legumes have not yet made a “pact” with nitrogen-fixing rhizobia bacteria that allow legumes to convert nitrogen gas into plant food that can be used to build proteins. Continue Reading →

Book of the Week: Hands-on Agronomy

By Neal Kinsey and Charles Walters

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from an Acres U.S.A. original book, Hands-On Agronomy, by Neal Kinsey and Charles Walters. Copyright 2013, 1993. Soft cover, 391 pages. $35.00 regularly priced. SALE PRICE $22.50.

Hands-on Agronomy, by Neal Kinsey and Charles Walters

No one used the term killer agriculture or knowledgeable mining when I was a youngster growing up on a farm in southeast Missouri. We raised corn, wheat, cotton, soybeans and a little hay. We also finished a few cattle. Now, a more mature sense of values brings the reality of our farming operation into focus. Sir Albert Howard identified the horns of the modern farming dilemma: partial and imbalanced fertilization, and toxic rescue chemistry.

Neither I nor my father heard or understood that dictum then, then being the 1950s and 1960s. All we knew was that the crops faltered—not occasionally, but year after year. My father had five sons and he concluded, “I hope you won’t even think about going into agriculture because it costs too much and I am not going to be able to help you get started. I hope you will go into business and be an accountant or something like that.”

Accordingly, I went to college with the intention of becoming an accountant. There was a problem with that. I couldn’t stand being inside four walls all the time. So I changed my direction while I was at the University of Missouri where I met William A. Albrecht, the legendary professor who contributed so much to what Acres U.S.A. calls eco-agriculture. Albrecht gave the Department of Soils its well-deserved reputation, but by the time I arrived, he had been retired—forcibly, I am told—in the wake of a great grant from a fossil fuel company. In any case, his classroom days were over, for which reason I was able to get more of his ear than might have been possible as classroom fare. He taught a private study course for Brookside Laboratory, and I decided to avail myself of this extra-curricular opportunity. He changed my entire way of thinking. Continue Reading →

When Less is More: Understanding Fertilizer and Solubility

The amphiphilic nature of humic substances allows them to work in water and hydrophobic environments, providing the critical conditions necessary for biological processes when they are closely associated with clays.

Make the gesture “just a little bit” by squeezing your thumb and index fingers as tight as you can; tighter, tighter — the amount of fertilizer you could hold between your fingers is about the amount dissolved in soil solution … per acre! That’s right; there is very little if any dissolved “plant food” in the water of a typical soil.

The amount of plant nutrients dissolved in soil solutions is so small that it is expressed as parts per million (ppm), not hundreds of pounds or tons per acre. While synthetic fertilizers are sold primarily on the basis of their water (aqueous) solubility, the emphasis on aqueous solubility is generally misunderstood and somewhat misguided.

It is generally known that over-application of extremely soluble synthetic fertilizers has been responsible for disrupting ecosystems and numerous environmental problems. What is not generally known is that all highly soluble soil inputs, including sulfates, chlorides and fluorides, disrupt the structure of water molecules, impeding the biochemical energy flows that affect the metabolism of plants, making them more susceptible to insect pressure and diseases and decreased water use efficiency.

It is also a well established fact that highly soluble phosphate fertilizers become “tied-up” soon after application. When there is an overabundance of dissolved phosphates in soil water, the soil system responds chemically by forming more stable forms of phosphorus, usually by chemically combining with calcium cations and complexing with lanthanides (rare earths) and organic matter. All of these materials can release phosphorus as plant nutrients through microbial activity.

Although water is critical to all life forms, there are numerous metabolic pathways in biological systems where it gets in the way and must be pushed aside; it’s called the hydrophobic effect.

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Book of the Week: Food Power from the Sea by Lee Fryer and Dick Simmons

Editor’s Note: This is a combination of two smaller excerpts from the 1977 book, Food Power from the Sea, which was published by Acres U.S.A. and is still one of our best sellers.

By Lee Fryer and Dick Simmons

Since Romans, Bretons, Scots, Vikings, and Spaniards used seaweed for fertilizer ever since the time of Christ, it is not surprising that Portuguese settlers near Cape Cod used this resource in growing vegetables for Boston markets. Old timers of that area remember stories of the seaweed harvests by market gardeners after every storm, when they piled their carts high with the briny stuff to use in growing potatoes, corn, turnips, carrots, cabbages, and other kinds of produce. Their crops claimed highest prices because of the fine flavor and quality attributed to the seaweed.

Food Power from the Sea, by Lee Fryer and Dick Simmons

Nor is it surprising that tobacco growers of Connecticut learned to use seaweed to fertilize tobacco well over 100 years ago. Seaweed is high in potash (about 3 percent) and potassium is a favored nutrient for growing fine tobacco.

The demand for seaweed must have been strong, since Luther Maddocks of Boothbay, Maine, a skilled fisherman, quit fishing in 1869 and went into production of seaweed fertilizer for sale to Connecticut tobacco farmers.

He says, in his autobiography, “That was 1869 . . . I sold out my fishing gear to the Suffolk Oil Company and decided to locate at Boothbay Harbor, where I have lived ever since. My first undertaking at Boothbay Harbor was to build the Algea Fertilizer Company plant. I was making the fertilizer from dried and ground sea­weed. I had a United States patent on it and a con­tract with the Quanipaac Company of New Haven (Connecticut) for $30 per ton for all I could dry and deliver in three years. This looked better to me than the fish business, and in the fall of ’69 I built and equipped the factory which I have since used for many purposes and which is now a canning factory.”

Luther Maddocks then goes on to describe the difficulties of drying and grinding seaweed which, he says, “Becomes tough like leather and impossible to grind.” However, he learned to cool the seaweed suddenly, then grind it into a suitable texture for use as fertilizer.

Living from 1845 to 1932, Luther Maddocks was America’s first entrepreneur to harvest seaweed and process it for use in farming, for tobacco farmers of the New Haven and Hartford areas.

Oscar Wood’s Giant Beanstalk in 1975

Living in West Seattle near Alki Point, Oscar Wood has walked along Puget Sound beaches for fifty years. He is known to his neighbors and friends as an old semipro baseball player who played several seasons for the Seattle Indians; and who worked for Ma Bell’s telephone company in the Seattle area for thirty-seven years.

Recently, Oscar Wood has been seeing how high he could grow a bean plant, using the Scarlet Runner variety. He does this, he says, “Mostly for fun and for seed to give away, and to see how high it will go.”

In 1974, Oscar Wood’s bean plant reached a height of 19 feet and its picture was shown in the West Seattle Herald. However, in 1975, Oscar fed his beans seaweed, and they at­tained a height of 24 feet.

Says Oscar Wood, “I plant two circles of seed, but of course it is one particular vine that reaches to the top. As to the seaweed, it is the green ribbonlike and ruffied variety, and sometimes the tide has left our beach covered with it. Our son-in-law raked up and loaded about six wheelbarrows full onto his trailer and put it in his compost, and he really raises a garden. One hill had forty-four large potatoes in it, besides about twenty little ones this year. We wash some of the salt water off the seaweed first. We only applied it once.”

To our knowledge, during forty years of hearing farmers and gardeners tell about their big crops, Oscar Wood has the world record beanstalk.

Author of such classic works as The American Farmer and Earth Foods, the late Lee Fryer was undoubtedly one of the greatest minds and voices in the service of sustainable agriculture. In addition to his powerful writing, Fryer worked to improve American agriculture through 30 years’ experience in the USDA and the farm and garden supply industry, where he helped hundreds of farmers and gardeners to grow safe, nutritious food crops. A longtime associate in Fryer’s research, writing and work with fertilizer technologies, Dick Simmons was a marine biologist, chemist and fertilizer agronomist.

Phosphorus: A Limited Resource

Soil is a living, breathing ecosystem. Just as you and I breathe, soil too re­spires, and we measure that respiration rate as an indicator of microbial activity in soil. While there are large, non-mi­croscopic organisms living in soil such as worms, insects and small mammals, none of them exist by the billions in just a handful of soil except the microbes.

Nitrogen can play a close second in the nutrient race, but in most soils phosphorus is the most limiting nutrient.

There are many scientific classifica­tions for microbes in soil, but from the farmer’s perspective only two catego­ries are relevant. Good microbes (major­ity) and bad microbes (small minority). Good microbes enhance plant growth, and bad microbes cause disease in plants. Of course, things are never quite so clear-cut in nature. Some things can be good under some circumstances and bad under other circumstances. So keep in mind this is a simplification of what are, in reality, very complex interactions.

Our management practices should be refined to support the good (most of the time) microbes and suppress the ones known to cause diseases in crop plants. Diseases are not always caused directly by organisms. Sometimes the balance of the system gets thrown off and something ordinarily not a prob­lem finds a new niche and can become problematic.

Weak plants may also be susceptible to organisms in the envi­ronment that normally would not have much impact on them. For instance, a nutrient deficiency might weaken a plant and lead to susceptibility. The good news is, of the thousands of microorganisms identified in soil thus far, only a handful of those really fall into the bad category. The good far outweigh the bad, and with a little thoughtful management, you can keep it that way.

In the case of good microbes, we can take this a step further and narrow our focus to the most crucial organisms within this group, which are those that provide the macro and micronutrients plants require for growth. The most limiting of these nutrients is typically phosphorus.

Nitrogen can play a close second in the nutrient race, but in most soils phosphorus is the most limiting nutrient, often occurring in quantities a thousand times lower than other miner­als. One of the reasons for this is the high reactivity of phosphorus. It tends to bind to soil particles and complex with metals in the soil. This makes it unavailable to plants even if it is present in the soil.

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