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Credit: Summary prepared by Cassie Rauk
In this podcast, Paul and Helen Atthowe discuss Neal Kinsey's DVD Hands on Agronomy. The first half of the DVD focuses on basic soil science, much like you would learn if you are in a high quality Master Gardener program (like the one Paul was in a while back when Helen was his teacher). If you don't know the basics of soil chemistry or know anything about the soil sciences this is an important DVD to watch. You will also learn the proper way to take a soil test and if you do not take a soil test properly you might as well not take it at all.
Everything they discuss in the DVD is about growing a mono-crop. It goes so far as to outline techniques on how to make your land homogeneous and change the chemistry of the soil to optimize the growing of one particular plant. But we can learn from the mono-crop techniques and apply them to a polyculture system. Kinsey has the particular talent of whittling down a whole chapter of information into a zinger of a sentence. He also spends much more time on soil chemistry than on soil biology and things like compost, manure and green manure. Which is something that Helen is really into.
The really exciting part of the DVD comes when they start discussing Dr. Albrecht's method of nutrient balances. This is also where the podcast takes a technical turn. Paul and Helen discuss the Albrecht's most important nutrients: Calcium, Potassium, Magnesium, Sodium and exchangeable Hydrogen. The most important of which is Calcium, every other nutrient rides into plants on the pack of calcium. They also discuss cation exchange capacity at length. Cation exchange capacity is determined by the amount of clay and organic matter in the soil. The higher your cation exchange capacity the more parking spaces are open for nutrients to hang out. The nutrients still have to be there but a high capacity makes it easier for the roots to take up the good stuff.
There is one thing to keep in mind, both Kinsey and Albrecht are Midwesterners and have tested the methods mostly on ag crops. Other people have had different results using Albrecht's methods in other areas of the country.
This DVD will show you a technique for building soil but not the technique. Helen does not necessarily agree with all of the techniques that are used in the Albrecht method but she cannot argue with the results. She has been working with Carl at Woodleaf Farm and his orchard is so vigorous that he does not have to spray for pest and diseases. Both sepp holzer and Joel Salatin manage their soil sustainably without adding any amendments and inputs into the soil. Salatin has gone so far as to not bring any seed onto his property. If you design a polyculture system correctly and time it correctly your nutrient balance with be will be great. If you soil test comes back poorly you may need to redesign your system.
Paul's favorite line from the DVD: Rich soil is the foundation for good health.
Hands-On Agronomy DVD by Neal Kinsey
Helen Atthowe's Website
Helen Atthowe: goddess of the soil Thread at Permies
Podcast 012 - Helen Atthowe on Soil, Conifers, and Fukuoka
Podcast 015 - Helen Atthowe on Compost, Veganic permaculture, Native plants
Podcast 032 - Helen Atthowe on sustainability and efficiency
Podcast 033 - Helen Atthowe on soil
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I agree with Paul on the focus on some soil scientists on the ick that can be added to the soil to maximize production. During my MG training, they specifically stated an "agnostic" approach to chemical vs. organic, they taught for 90+% on chemical growing.
Thanks for the eco level 2 podcast ranging up to level 7.
This is the second podcast I've listened to, where you and Helen Atthowe review a DVD, and I get SO much out of your joint reviews!
(The other podcast is the 070 review of Lawton's Food Forest DVD).
As a beginning permie, still working on figuring out where I am on the "continuum", and what more is out there, your discussions often compare characteristics of different practices.
So, this helps me put info I see / read on the wide world of permaculture more into context, and fill in the gaps.
You also both bring in examples of things you have seen in your own growing and travels, as it relates to points in the video -- I find this really helpful, too.
Thanks to you and Helen for another awesome podcast!!!
The podcast did raise a question for me. There was a lot of discussion about balancing the mineral levels by adding amendments (e.g. limestone to increase calcium). How are those amendments applied? Are they tilled in? I'm operating a no till system. How would I amend the soil to get the proper mineral balance?
Julie Anderson wrote:There was a lot of discussion about balancing the mineral levels by adding amendments (e.g. limestone to increase calcium).
I thought this part of the podcast was very valuable. I'm going to have to work towards learning to be able to determine the soil conditions based on the plant growth alone, a skill that will take a long time I'm sure.
Julie Anderson wrote:How are those amendments applied?
I like Paul's point of planting a nutrient accumulator. But if that doesn't do it, Calcium (according to one of the earlier podcasts if I'm correct) when dusted over soil increases earthworm reproduction. Though if you dusted calcium you'd want to add moisture to prevent it from being blown away.
paul wheaton wrote:Every time you till, you lose 30% of your organic matter. So tilling is not a great idea.
I think it is going to depend on a lot of factors. Are you trying to grow a monocrop? Will just planting accumulator plants do the trick?
No, I'm using the scatter a variety of seeds hither and thither amidst my perennials and trees and see what comes up method. I did the same thing on the hugelkultur bed I built. That's what I plan to do with the one we are currently erecting. So far I'm getting a lot of mustard, cilantro, sage, lupines, garlic and nasturtiums. I enjoy wandering around the yards foraging for dinner. I'm expecting a lot of volunteer tomatoes in the back next summer because the dogs found them very tasty this summer and spread the seeds around.
I posted my initial comment when I had about 15 minutes left to listen to. After that the discussion turned to trying to balance the nutrients with plant accumulators.
I just wanted to comment on your self-deprecation regarding the accommodation of having an opportunity to answer the test verbally.
It's a pretty standard accommodation for any half-way qualified educator to offer for students, especially those that have trouble with written expression, test anxiety, reading comprehension, visual processing deficits etc.
And really, isn't being able to verbally explain gardening concepts more important for the majority of folks, since few gardeners are writing books, filling in short answers or bubbling in circles?
Helen was just demonstrating another aspect of her skilled teaching imo.
I have had students who got nearly every "test" question wrong on paper, but when we reviewed the test, they were the first to raise their hands and have the correct answer, for nearly every question -- I adjusted their grade on the spot to a B because they demonstrated content understanding.
I think your comments are just indicative of the narrowness of the current educational paradigm and how we measure intelligence (and why I like Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence ideas). As I step of my pedagogical soapbox.
Off topic: Anybody know where to get a copy of the permaculture textbooks used in Australia, or what the name is? just pm me if you do please.
I really love Helen's perspective on this, I think she is the perfect balance for Paul on a subject like this and she obviously brings a huge amount of experience in a pretty humble way. I think the big take aways for me were that it isn't just NPK, its more about the relationships between the elements and to realize that in science, there are no truths, there are only theories.
All of my attempts (so far) to take on chemistry (as a foundation, scientific building blocks) have failed ... too technical, ultimately boring and lacking in context. Yet I have a thirst for it on so many levels (soil, plants, animals, fire in a rocket stove, finishing in wood working, the workings of cob and natural finishes and on and on ...).
Has anyone come across such a source?
I purchased the book "Hands-On Agronomy" It's excellent!
Don Huber, PhD Professor Emeritus of Plant Pathology at Purdue University (55 years of research)
Excellent Video on "Real Science"
Lots of information related to Paul and Helen's discussion of soil.
Related Link: http://hines.blogspot.com/2013/01/don-huber-phd-gmos-glyphosate-tomorrow.html
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