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Important read on soil minerals in relation to everything  RSS feed

 
Bob Dobbs
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http://www.soilandhealth.org/01aglibrary/010178.better.than.organic.pdf

It pretty much outlines in a better form than I can produce the problem I have with a lot of ideological organic farmers and simultaneously the problem with agricultural research today. Strangely, it is the same problem. I have consulted for inexperienced permies and commented for example, this local soil type (georgia red clay) completely lacks calcium and phosphorus so it would be imperative to introduce those elements to the mix to grow good plants. The response was they were going to grow comfrey because it was good at accumulating those things. Now, if there were a low concentration of those minerals, you had no other option, and you were raping a lot of land to feed a small kitchen garden, that might work. But there is zero. Red clay is what rock becomes at the end of its life cycle. There may have been some concentration in the topsoil at one time, before white folks came and cut the forest. (I'm native, hence the thinly veiled bitterness haha)

So, here's my certain-to-be-controversial hotbutton reactionary opinion: It is possible to grow healthier and more nutritious crops using the right chemical fertilizers properly used in a manner providing proper amounts of all trace elements as well as NPK (in the proper situation with plenty of humus on site), versus organic-only crops on mineral-depleted soil fertilized with compost or manure or whatever grown on mineral depleted soil.

I know this to be true because I know both sides of the equation, being a long-time organic gardener and consultant, and also being classically trained as far as plant nutrition and horticulture go.

Or, another conundrum: does one use phosphate rock by itself to be on the side of OMRI/the angels and take the radioactivity along with the package, or would it be better (for an individual, ignoring all environmental costs) to buy the (not triple) superphosphate and leave the radioactivity in a nasty horrible pile several states away?
 
Paulo Bessa
pollinator
Posts: 356
Location: Portugal (zone 9) and Iceland (zone 5)
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Hey Bob,

If the soil has very low calcium and phosphorus, I think you can add some limestone and some rock phosphate.

Those are natural occuring rocks, minerals. Well they might contain radioactivity, but that is natural. A lot of natural materials have natural (but very low levels) of natural radioactivity. Even human beings or a banana. They are mostly harmless low levels, unless the rocks are mined near an uranium mine or something like that. Same thing goes for a banana. I dont mind eating one or two, except if they are grown near a power station where there was a nuclear leak.

There is a significant difference between applying a soluble fertilizer (like a chemical solution) and a insoluble one (like a rock). The soluble one leaches into the groundwater, and does not hold long in the soil, therefore requiring multiple applications. This is not sustainable, it ends up perhaps becoming more expensive in the long term, and more work. Yes it is a quicker fix. I think it is more efficient and less harmless to addd a rock rather than a chemical soluble fertilizer to the ground.
 
Judith Browning
Posts: 5822
Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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Hi, Bob...Paulo said exactly what I believe. Over thirty years of growing by organic standards and philosophy I have experienced better and better soil fertility and abundant food with very simple natural inputs. I think patience may be a virtue in Permaculture!
 
Bob Dobbs
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The trick is, I agree completely with your philosophy and use it in everyday practice, I'm just in a sense trying to play the devil's advocate a bit because I have just done too damned much research in the field. Part of it is due to horticulture being an extremely poor profession as far as supporting one's family goes; one doesn't really have the pick of the litter as far as jobs go. And, when it comes down to it I am a scientist, going by the numbers my measuring devices give me and trying to take myself out of the equation, sort of an "america's test kitchen" approach.

I'm quite scared of phosphate rock myself, having the curse of too much knowledge. And, the curse of having a geiger counter. I'll tell you this, florida phosphate rock isn't bad, but the crap from the west cost really scares me as it can have quite a bit of radioactivity. The problem is, what else do you use? And, phosphate, from animal poop or blue crystal, tends to be immobile for reasons nobody really understands yet, while nitrogen and potash from poop or crystal tend to leach in either case unless held by good soil.
http://www.wise-uranium.org/purec.html

I guess my point is that nobody to my knowledge (and certainly no "research institutions" or professors) are even doing any sort of research on soil science. And I certainly know that one can grow a big healthy looking plant lacking in micronutrients that would transfer said lack of micronutrients to whoever eats the produce. And, I think pretty much everything available commercially falls in that category. It is hard for me to believe as a scientist that we still haven't even tried to find out what the ideal balance of micronutrients for plant and thus animal growth, not since William Albrecht. The last major discovery in soil science was made by Albrecht 80 years ago.

One has to remember exactly how young chemistry is as a real science. I think it would be interesting in a way to use the tools of the "evil chemical empire" against itself, using analytical soil science to feed ourselves to the highest level of nutrition.

And I wasn't exactly advocating chemical fertilizers, though I use them when growing nursery crops (and completely without runoff and with high levels of soil biota, thankyouverymuch). I was more advocating comprehensive soil tests (and subsequent ignoring of the extensionist recommendations), even to the point of say a spectroscopy test, to find out if you have something like a iodine or boron or copper or manganese or molybdenum etc. If you did it right you would only have to do a one-time application. Just understand that basically, as far as research and info goes on the subject of mineral deficiency as it relates to plant and subsequently animal growth, you're on your own. And, I'm pretty sure that the solution has something to do with adding specific rock powders possibly?

P.S- mods, this probably belongs in the organic forum more than the plants forum, I have no earthly idea why I put it there. I'll just use my asperger's as a crutch again haha.
 
Steve Flanagan
gardener
Posts: 324
Location: North Fork, CA. USDA Zone 9a, Heat Zone 8, 37 degrees North, Sunset 7/9, elevation 2600 feet
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Do you think Rock Dust, dynamic accumulators and Kelp would help to restore minerals?
 
Bob Dobbs
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In short, yes, that's the theory, but IMHO the ideal solution would be to use a spectrometer-type soil test such as the ICP or ICP-MS test here: http://cais.uga.edu/analytical_services/chemical_analysis/services.php

Without going into much detail, I don't give too much of a flip about extractable elements, I just want to know what is there in a literal sense. If the element is present, a dynamic accumulator will concentrate it (theoretically) but if it isn't present, it isn't present. An example would be to say that bone is a crystalline calcium and phosphorous matrix; you couldn't make bone with fluoride instead of calcium and get the same result. Basic chemistry. Just remember to use proper technique when taking soil tests, e.g take several core samples and combine them, take the soil down to the average depth of plant feeder roots, mix everything up thoroughly. The trick is that nobody knows the proper mineral ratios to achieve proper nutrition, all we have are best guesses. Maybe someone can go steal a few hundred leaves of food plants from the hunza valley or vilcabamba and have the tissue analyzed for mineral content?
 
Paul Cereghino
gardener
Posts: 856
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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I agree with using the scientific method and science where practical. Agree that it is unlikely that elements magically appear in weathered soils--very little evidence that magic works reliably.

Regarding P immobility, I have read a little about two mechanisms. One is fungal foraging for phosphorus followed by transfer into plant roots. The other is immobilization in iron compounds can be undone by localized switching of iron state due to localized oxygen depletion... haven't seen much peer reviewed work on this (the iron imobilization has been explored).

There is a local guy who describes two approaches to amending soil nutrient pools... shotgun or sharpshooting. The later requires testing. The former requires oceanic nutrient sources like seaweed or shell.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/email
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