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Steve Solomon + Allan Savory = Andre Voisin

 
Daniel Bowman
Posts: 75
Location: Sandy Mush, NC
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Steve Solomon and Allan Savory both nod to the work of Andre Voisin as influential and important. Solomon has recently put the seminal Voisin text up on his free online library site and Savory wrote the preface for a reprint of the other main Voisin book. Solomon likes Voisin's research on soil profiles and the effect of minerals on soil health, while Savory cites Voisin as the only other person to develop a holistic understanding of pasture management. Pretty interesting crossover, I would say. I came to permies to see if anyone here had some insights into the question of nutrient density for soil health, but there doesn't seem to be any talk of Solomon's The Intelligent Gardener or Voisin's Soil, Grass, and Cancer. Have any permies read either? Looking for some real talk on the issues. I have found a lot of good info on Will Albrecht, who is connected to the Acres USA pasture management people, but not much on Voisin or Solomon's new work. I am curious how much overlap there is with Voisin and Albrecht, also..
 
gani et se
Posts: 215
Location: Douglas County OR
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Hi Daniel,
I'm just reading Solomon's Intelligent Gardener. At this point I'm not ready to integrate large herbivores, as I'm working on zone zero. My reading material right now is Solomon - with my soil test results in hand - Lancaster's Rainwater Harvesting and Rosemary Morrow's Earth User's Guide to Permaculture. Feel a bit like my head might explode!
The permaculture text turns out to be pretty vague and has nothing at all about soil mineralization, except a mention of pH. The Rainwater Harvesting (just started reading) is about desert climate, and the Intelligent Gardener is blowing my mind.
So my soil was sent as plain ungardened topsoil, topsoil with char (uncharged) added, and topsoil with biochar (charged with compost tea). I am in a group hoping to do some testing on the impact of biochar in conjunction with serious mineralization. Actually, my interest is hugelchar.
My TCEC without amendments is 10.84, and the deficits of sulfur, phosphorus, and calcium are staggering, and boron deficit is pretty serious. I am in a section of the book where Solomon is talking about feeding the subsoil, and I am thinking that the purpose of doing raised or hugelbeds is to give my plants subsoil, since I have about 18 inches (half a meter) of soil/subsoil and then rock.
This is where I differ with Solomon, but then he's got subsoil to spare!
I haven't read all the way through the book yet, but definitely interested in a conversation. I think this soil mineralization is a subject where permaculture could use a little scientific rigor.
Gani
 
David Hartley
Posts: 258
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I have been very happy with my purchases through Territorial Seed (founded by Mr Solomon)... I definitely need to purchase a couple of his books
 
gani et se
Posts: 215
Location: Douglas County OR
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Hi David,
I suggest Solomon's latest book first. His approach to the "complete organic fertilizer" recipe has changed and deepened. I still find Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades very useful for successions, planting times, etc. but feel the whole soil health approach is well thought out.
I give Territorial a thumbs up too!
Gani
 
David Hartley
Posts: 258
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Will do Thank you.
 
Mike Gaughan
Posts: 26
Location: Central CT, Zone 6
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I've read Solomon's The Intelligent Gardener and found it to be generally scientifically valid, at least as far as the basic topic of cation exchange. His formulas for mineral additions are strongly based on Albrecht's theories, and are also in-line with Michael Astera's recommendations. For an excellent overview of soil remineralization, check out Astera's article at http://www.soilandhealth.org/01aglibrary/010178.better.than.organic.pdf.

I implemented Soloman's concept in my garden this year, beginning with a soil test from Logan Labs. I worked through the formulas for each nutrient and came up with a prescription for my soils. Some materials such as lime were available at my local garden center. I ordered other materials, such as copper sulfate and zinc sulfate, from Alpha Chemicals http://alphachemicals.com/home. I tilled them into garden this spring. I can't really say I noticed any difference in plant growth as compared to previous years; however, we had a trying spring/early summer here in central CT. The season started with an extended cold, dry spring, then a mid-spring heat wave, followed by intense heat waves in July. August (so far) has seen seasonal temperatures and excellent growth. I have noticed that some of the veggies have been especially tasty, including the broccoli and tomatoes. I don't know this is the result of the additional of minerals or the plant varieties. It is difficult to put my finger on whether the performance of the plants is the result of re-mineralization or other factors such as weather or variety.

My big issue with the Soloman method is that the refined mineral salts he recommends, such as copper sulfate, are soluble in water. A tablespoon of copper sulfate will dissolve in a glass of water just like regular table salt. So, if I were to apply copper sulfate powder to my soil and then some big rains came through, the material would, worst case, leach right out of the root zone of the soil. Soloman would argue that the cation exchange capacity of the soil would trap the copper sulfate and prevent leaching. In fact, Soloman's prescriptions are such that you only add the quantity of minerals that can be trapped by your soil. I hope it works! Another approach, such as that espoused by Eliot Coleman, is to add rock dusts (finely ground rock, as opposed to refined salts) that are insoluble in water but release their minerals through biological processes. The theory here is that rock powders will slowly break down over time, providing a long-lasting source of minerals. The Soloman method seems more short term.

The trick with the Coleman method is finding natural rock powders that contain minerals in the right proportions needed by your soil. For example, greensand (recommended by Coleman) contains a lot of potassium and micronutrients (good) but also has a high percentage of magnesium. My soil test says my soil is already too high in magnesium, so adding greensand would throw the soil out of whack with regards to the very important calcium:magnesium ratio. With the Soloman method, you can tailor your mineral additions so you get just the right amounts of calcium, potassium, phosphorous, sulfur, mangesium, manganese, copper, zinc, boron, and sodium.

My plan for next year is to add biochar and bentonite clay to my compost pile to drastically increase the cation exchange capacity. I will then add the minerals to the compost, let it sit for a while, then add the whole mix to the garden. I hope this approach will minimize leaching of the relatively expensive mineral powers and provide the greatest benefit to my plants.

Just my 2 cents, thanks for reading!
 
gani et se
Posts: 215
Location: Douglas County OR
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Mike, you are further than I've gotten! I look forward to next year's reports from you. We had a drop in TCEC for the sample we sent with 25% biochar, we are guessing it was because the char was charged just days before mixing with the sample. If you are on the soil and health group (yahoo) you may read about our tests. I'm not in the group --yahoo allergy
Gani
 
Mike Gaughan
Posts: 26
Location: Central CT, Zone 6
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Gani, very interesting about the drop in TCEC with the addition of biochar. I hope biochar doesn't work against me...my TCEC was only 6.10 at the beginning of this year. CT has those "weathered eastern soils" that Soloman talks about.

I love reading garden books, especially ones that seem rooted in science. My background is science...I have degrees in biology and environmental geoscience. Even with a science and chemistry background, it is difficult to determine if ideas such as biochar and remineralization are scientifically valid or garden-hippie pseudo-science. I'm hoping for the former, and I'm trying them both out in my garden. I would like to see more result of rigorous field trials. Acres USA published a remineralization study on a pasture in Maine in the most recent edition...results were slightly favorable if not inconclusive. A step in the right direction, though!

To the original poster, your comparison of Solomon and Savory is interesting...Savory is lobbying that controlled grazing with cattle is the key to revegetation of the deserts and controlling climate change (Google his now famous TED Talk). On the other hand, Solomon argues (in The Intelligent Gardener, I believe) that soil improvement through controlled grazing is a myth. This is a topic where Soloman may be out of his league. His knowledge of gardening and basic soil chemistry is very strong, but his opinions on grazing do not appear to be in line with other sources I've read. Of course, some of those other sources include Joel Salatin, who is trying to sell books on rotational grazing. And Solomon is trying to sell books on gardening. Both Solomon and Salatin, however, do seem to possess altruistic motives to improve the world through better agriculture. But from my standpoint, where is that fuzzy line between science and marketing?

Good topic, Daniel. Thanks for bringing this up!
 
Joan Perez
Posts: 13
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Mike Gaughan wrote:To the original poster, your comparison of Solomon and Savory is interesting...Savory is lobbying that controlled grazing with cattle is the key to revegetation of the deserts and controlling climate change (Google his now famous TED Talk). On the other hand, Solomon argues (in The Intelligent Gardener, I believe) that soil improvement through controlled grazing is a myth. This is a topic where Soloman may be out of his league. His knowledge of gardening and basic soil chemistry is very strong, but his opinions on grazing do not appear to be in line with other sources I've read. Of course, some of those other sources include Joel Salatin, who is trying to sell books on rotational grazing. And Solomon is trying to sell books on gardening. Both Solomon and Salatin, however, do seem to possess altruistic motives to improve the world through better agriculture. But from my standpoint, where is that fuzzy line between science and marketing?

Good topic, Daniel. Thanks for bringing this up!


I've read the Intelligent gardener and althought I enjoyed as well, I didn't agree with Solomon's opinion on grazing. Which he went so far to say that grazing could contribute to the deterioration of soil and depletion of minerals. Which I believe that it could happen only in a heavy grazing situation with consequent erosion and in a long term scal. And more, if having a full reminalizated soil is so good for the nutrition value of the vegetables we eat. Then, if we are omnivores; it should be passed to the grasses that our animals eat and on to the nutritional value of the meat that we eat.
 
Joan Perez
Posts: 13
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Mike Gaughan wrote:I've read Solomon's The Intelligent Gardener and found it to be generally scientifically valid, at least as far as the basic topic of cation exchange. His formulas for mineral additions are strongly based on Albrecht's theories, and are also in-line with Michael Astera's recommendations. For an excellent overview of soil remineralization, check out Astera's article at http://www.soilandhealth.org/01aglibrary/010178.better.than.organic.pdf.

I implemented Soloman's concept in my garden this year, beginning with a soil test from Logan Labs. I worked through the formulas for each nutrient and came up with a prescription for my soils. Some materials such as lime were available at my local garden center. I ordered other materials, such as copper sulfate and zinc sulfate, from Alpha Chemicals http://alphachemicals.com/home. I tilled them into garden this spring. I can't really say I noticed any difference in plant growth as compared to previous years; however, we had a trying spring/early summer here in central CT. The season started with an extended cold, dry spring, then a mid-spring heat wave, followed by intense heat waves in July. August (so far) has seen seasonal temperatures and excellent growth. I have noticed that some of the veggies have been especially tasty, including the broccoli and tomatoes. I don't know this is the result of the additional of minerals or the plant varieties. It is difficult to put my finger on whether the performance of the plants is the result of re-mineralization or other factors such as weather or variety.

My big issue with the Soloman method is that the refined mineral salts he recommends, such as copper sulfate, are soluble in water. A tablespoon of copper sulfate will dissolve in a glass of water just like regular table salt. So, if I were to apply copper sulfate powder to my soil and then some big rains came through, the material would, worst case, leach right out of the root zone of the soil. Soloman would argue that the cation exchange capacity of the soil would trap the copper sulfate and prevent leaching. In fact, Soloman's prescriptions are such that you only add the quantity of minerals that can be trapped by your soil. I hope it works! Another approach, such as that espoused by Eliot Coleman, is to add rock dusts (finely ground rock, as opposed to refined salts) that are insoluble in water but release their minerals through biological processes. The theory here is that rock powders will slowly break down over time, providing a long-lasting source of minerals. The Soloman method seems more short term.

The trick with the Coleman method is finding natural rock powders that contain minerals in the right proportions needed by your soil. For example, greensand (recommended by Coleman) contains a lot of potassium and micronutrients (good) but also has a high percentage of magnesium. My soil test says my soil is already too high in magnesium, so adding greensand would throw the soil out of whack with regards to the very important calcium:magnesium ratio. With the Soloman method, you can tailor your mineral additions so you get just the right amounts of calcium, potassium, phosphorous, sulfur, mangesium, manganese, copper, zinc, boron, and sodium.

My plan for next year is to add biochar and bentonite clay to my compost pile to drastically increase the cation exchange capacity. I will then add the minerals to the compost, let it sit for a while, then add the whole mix to the garden. I hope this approach will minimize leaching of the relatively expensive mineral powers and provide the greatest benefit to my plants.

Just my 2 cents, thanks for reading!


Really interesting that somebody here is trying the Solomon's/Albrecht methods. What kind of soil do you have? Sandy, Clayey? What's the size of the garden you're experimenting with?

I'll be following up your experiences.
 
Mike Gaughan
Posts: 26
Location: Central CT, Zone 6
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Joan,

My garden this year is 400 square feet. My soil is a silty sand with trace amounts of clay. It's really been a nice soil to work with. I just tilled another 560 square feet of my lawn to be part of next year's garden. I don't know if I'm going to remineralize a la Solomon or just add lime, greensand, and rock phosphate, plant cover crops (rye and vetch) and call it a day.
 
John Saltveit
gardener
Posts: 2005
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bike books food preservation forest garden fungi trees
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I just read and implemented Steve Solomon's recommendations from the Intelligent Gardener. My critique for his book is the same as I have of Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades. He primarily grows vegetables, so he hasn't incorporated trees and shrubs into his landscape, with the benefits they can bring. Many trees and bushes have deep roots and mycorrhizal allies, which help tap into deep layers to get to the lower minerals like calcium, etc. When the leaves fall off in the autumn, they add amounts of these deep minerals to the soil. This would be especially true if you didn't till and if you used wood chips. My results were very similar to Gani's. I live in NW oregon, in the Portland area. I figure I will balance the soil over a couple of years, and then use plants and fungi to maintain it. Others I have talked to in my area have mentioned how much sweeter their vegetables and fruit taste, even in a low sun year, after they balanced their soils.

Allan Savory seems to mostly be speaking about rangeland, and how to keep it as a healthy grassland instead of a desert, which is a great topic, but very different than how can I grow healthy vegetables, or even overall food forest, for that matter.

I am personally using the Food forest model, as the area where I live is naturally forested. I am very interested in biochar and I have just started with some hugulkultur beds. I intentionally planted a mycorrhizal mix into my yard, using wheat as the planting medium, and I have already seen the mycorrhizal mushrooms come up above the ground. Most of them will probably grow below the ground like truffles, so it's likely that I won't see them. The yard already seemed to suffer much less than normal during our driest summer yet, which is one of the key positive attributes of mycorrhizal fungi in our area.
John S
PDX OR
 
Angelika Maier
Posts: 797
Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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I have a practical issue with Solomon and an ideological. First the practical:He recommends a variety of fertilizers I never heard of, which are not available in our Australian garden centers, so what's the point of doing a soil test when you can't get the remedies? The ideological is that not all what a plant needs to grow is known to man, how can the recipe be exact?
 
Robert Eiffert
Posts: 16
Location: Zone 8
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Something else to consider:

"While the origin of the “ideal” or “balanced” soil concept can
be traced back to the late 1800s, it was primarily through work
conducted in the 1940s by Bear and coworkers in New Jersey
that led to the concept of an “ideal” soil being one with 65% Ca,
10% Mg, and 5% K. Based on this work and on his own work
in the 1930s and 1940s, Albrecht promoted the use of the “balanced
soil,” suggesting that optimal growth will only occur in
soils containing the “ideal” composition. It would appear, however,
that the soil’s chemical, physical, and biological fertility can
be maintained across a range of cationic ratios. Indeed, McLean,
who worked with Albrecht in Missouri during
the 1940s, stated that, on the whole,
“there is no ‘ideal’ basic cation saturation
ratio or range” (Eckert and McLean, 1981),
and that “emphasis should be placed on
providing suffi cient, but not excessive levels
of each basic cation rather than attempting
to attain a favorable basic cation saturation
ratio which evidently does not exist”
(McLean et al., 1983). The data do not support
the claims of the BCSR, and continued
promotion of the BCSR will result in the
ineffi cient use of resources in agriculture
and horticulture."

A Review of the Use of the Basic Cation
Saturation Ratio and the “Ideal” Soil
Peter M. Kopittke*
Neal W. Menzies
School of Land and Food Sciences
The Univ. of Queensland

Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 71:259–265
doi:10.2136/sssaj2006.0186

http://kalklig.com/Documents/2.2.1%20A%20Review%20of%20the%20Use%20of%20the%20Basic%20Cation%20Saturation%20Ratio%20and%20the%20Ideal%20Soil.pdf
 
John Saltveit
gardener
Posts: 2005
61
bike books food preservation forest garden fungi trees
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Excellent post, Robert. It makes sense that a point is not really the goal, but rather an available range should be what we aim for in soils. I do think it can be useful to do the soil test, because I was severely deficient is several areas. I got a lot of fruit to flower and set much more fruit than they had before I amended the soils. The ratios shown are just a few in the study, and it focused on soy, alfalfa and grains.

I think calcium is quite crucial to fruit development, and studies have shown that, so I would love to see a follow up study looking at fruit and berries. If you do soil test, getting them to general ranges rather than a precise % like 65 for calcium makes a lot more sense. Elaine Ingham et al from SOil Food WEb have been saying this for years. She has also mentioned that different soils will give you different results, depending on what you want. Bacterially dominated soils will give you a lot of fast growing aggressive leafy plants-weeds. Very fungally dominated soils will give you conifer trees, if that's what you want. Soils in between will give you plant populations that are in between them.

It's important to remember that if you have balanced types of plants and animals, they can provide minerals. PLants will deep roots can bring up calcium or potassium, and bird droppings contain phosphorus. Over time, these processes will balance your soil as well.
John S
PDX OR
 
David Livingston
master steward
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Location: Anjou ,France
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How can you have a "perfect soil " when all the plants developed in different soils and different weather conditions ? What is good for lemons for example may not be good for blueberry . I worry that sometimes we should accept what we have more and work with it rather than try to fight nature .

David
 
Tegan Russo
Posts: 34
Location: Maritime Northwest USA, zone 8b
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In "Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades," Solomon specifically says that the blends of nutrients that create the biggest, most prolific vegetables are not necessarily producing the most nutritious yields, which is his focus. "an overabundance of potassium makes plants change their growth habits, producing more bulk yield at the expense of overall nutritional content." I'm not sure what research he has to back that up, though he does cite "The Albrecht Papers" in that section. He also recommends *against* soil testing for people in the Maritime Northwest, because the soils in the region are so similar.
 
John Saltveit
gardener
Posts: 2005
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In the Intelligent Gardener, he has gone away from telling people not to test. My soil tested as pretty similar to what you might expect and I do live in the maritime PNW. There is well established data that too much of some minerals can "crowd out" other minerals. I believe that calcium and potassium are among them, and our soils typically have lots of potassium and a deep lack of calcium, so he's not just pulling it out of a hat.
John S
PDX OR
 
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