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John Kempf - healing soil through healthy plants. Questions.

 
pollinator
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I've just listened to the Sustainable World Radio- Ecology and Permaculture Podcast: Grow Healthier Plants & Soil with Ecological Agriculture http://traffic.libsyn.com/pdcastsusworldradio/John_Kempf_Eco_Ag.mp3?dest-id=22401

John Kempf explains how healthy plants are the quickest way to build healthy soil. Here's how I understood his explanations:

Plant health is measured by analyzing the plant sap, and deducting the plants efficiency of photosynthesis. He insists that the most efficient uptake of nutrients by plants is foliar spray.

Supplying the plant with key minerals unlocks enzymes to photosynthesis, which causes raised sugar production, this surplus is released as soil exudates.

Bacteria multiply in the soil because of the sugars, the missing minerals are mined by the bacteria and become available to plants when these bacteria die.

The plant starts to produce more complex carbohydrates, increasing resistance to soil borne fungal pathogens.

The plant increases protein synthesis, better resistance to larval insects.

The next level in plant health is marked by increased lipid production, a waxy sheen on leaves and resistance to air borne fungi.

Lipids and protein are not digested by bacteria but by fungi, their population increase leading to a mineralisation of soil and further enhancing plant photosynthesis.

At maximum health, plants produce secondary metabolites, such as essential oils, which is what we need when we're looking at food as medicine.

Now, for my questions.

1) is this scientifically sound? It makes sense from what I've heard so far, what do you think?

2) he claims a turnaround of 6 weeks to a growing season. That is a tall order. Any publications on that?

3) obviously, not being a farmer in the US, I cannot benefit from his tailor-made treatment plans. Is there any way I can make this insight useful in my own market garden situation?

4) what are the links between his theory and the Natural Farming (KNF) practices, which have been extensively researched? And biodynamic practices?
 
gardener
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Location: Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Yes you can build good soil by growing plants, the roots do most of the work for you in this method. It takes a minimum of 3 years up to 10 years to get a red clay based soil to become dark, fertile loam soil.

This means, how many years do you have is the real question. Using the plants for chemical analysis is a good idea but there are other factors that have a lot of impact on what your findings would possibly be.

John misinterprets the way exudates work in the soil and that leads to a misinterpretation of where and how the nutrients become available to the plant roots.  Either that or he has over simplified the processes.

His work is worth reading but I would not simply read his work and go blindly forth, I would read all I could find on the subjects and then come to my own conclusions to give a try.

Dr. Elaine Ingham is one of the leaders when it comes to soil improvements done quickly and she has had many great successes.
Mark Shepard is a leader in soil building, along with restoration agriculture and water management.
There is a huge list of people that are considered leaders in these fields and they are fairly easy to get access to via the internet.

My issue with John is how he describes the way soil works.
What happens is; plants issue exudates to the soil, bacteria begin to process the minerals they eat, fungi and other members of the microorganism soil environment eat the bacteria and poop out excess minerals, plant roots suck up the pooped out excess minerals, bring them up into the stem tissues where they go to whatever part of the plant that needs those minerals. The process is repeated for as long as the plant is alive and the microorganism world is alive. Minerals are not only made available when bacteria die, the minerals become available when they are pooped out by the organisms, the organisms do not have to die, even though many are eaten by other, "higher" life forms in the micro world of soil, it is the excess minerals that are pooped out that are what the plant eats. If a bacteria died, it also has to decompose before the minerals inside it would become available.

Exudates are sugars, simple sugars to be exact and there are several different ones that plants make use of as exudates, each exudate is tailored to give a specific set of messages to the organisms of the micro world of soil.

Plant sap is the blood of life for that plant, just like our blood, testing it can tell us things, but it can't tell us everything we want to know about health of the sampled organisms be it plant or human.

There is more to plant immune systems that just complex carbohydrates, they are a part of the mechanism but not the whole mechanism just as lipid production is a part of fungal pathogen resistance.

Foliar feeding can clog the stoma of plant leaves, stoma are the organs through which plants inhale and exhale, they also get rid of excess moisture through these stoma.
Ask yourself this, how do I like to breathe water into my lungs? What happens to me when this occurs?  Now you may have an idea of why I do not make use of foliar feeding.

Redhawk
 
Posts: 136
Location: Southern New Hampshire (Zone 5)
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I found this thread since I have been absorbing John Kempf's writings to deciding how to apply them to my garden next year.

It looks like the NutraLive product is what his company sells for the home gardener: https://www.advancingecoag.com/store/NutraLive-c20204187

you can click to see the labels and analysis.  It looks like it provides low NPK macronutrient analysis, but relatively high micronutrient mineral content.  It can be applied as soil drench or leaf foliar spray.

 I can understand your concern about foliar spray clogging leaf stoma, but can't that be avoid by applying early morning or late afternoon, when the plant is not actively respiring? https://www.growingformarket.com/articles/Foliar-Feeding

That article makes an interesting suggestion to test the efficacy of foliar application - simply using a refractometer before and after application to measure a Brix response.  That would tell me whether it had a harmful or beneficial response
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Plants respire 24 hours a day, just as humans and all organisms do, if you don't breathe, you cease to live.

Stomata are located on the underside of leaves, which is were any foliar spray should be placed for the plant to efficiently take in nutrients sprayed on them, especially the waxy leaved species of plants.
That is why you should be careful about what you use as a foliar application in my opinion the risk to the plant outweighs the benefit, especially if you have built a good microbiome in your soil.

Brix is a measurement of sugar content, so by depending on brix to tell you about your plant's health, you are assuming that sugar content is the determining factor of plant health.
Brix is an indicator when used for determining plant health, it is generally used by Distillers and Brewers when they are checking the Wort and the Mash  so they can determine how much alcohol should be produced by the yeast.
While brix is a good indicator, it is not absolute and can be inaccurate depending upon when it is used. Eg: Brix will read highest right after a foliar application, it will read lowest just before the sun come up over the horizon.
So, it is very possible to misjudge how much sugar is actually making it into the sap of the plant, which could lead the grower to apply excesses that become detrimental.

The other caveat is that when taking measurements most folks don't calibrate their instruments prior to every session of testing, if your refractometer is not reading correctly, your test results should be suspect.
I think it is far better to do a series of tests, tissue sampling, brix reading with a calibrated instrument, pH of the sap when combined give you a total picture of how well a plant is doing.

In the end, every person needs to become as informed as possible so that they can make good decisions based on quality data gathered in an orderly manner with good records being kept over the growing season.
That way, the next planting time, you have solid data to work from when making nutrient amendments.

Redhawk
 
Davis Tyler
Posts: 136
Location: Southern New Hampshire (Zone 5)
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thanks Bryant.  I already calibrate my refractometer for homebrewing beer, so I know how important it is.

If the NutraLive product is good for the plants, I can apply it as a soil drench instead of foliar spray.

While I have your attention - what do you think of Kempf's plant pyramid?  https://www.advancingecoag.com/plant-health-pyramid

The squash bugs and Colorado potato beetles are at epidemic levels is my garden.  I see Level 4 claims your plants will have immunity to those and other destructive insects. Do you think that is a reasonably expectation for healthy plants growing in healthy soils, or is that a fantasy?
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Location: Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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hau Davis,  First I need to say that I respect John's work very much and my opinion is that he and I are saying the same things, just a bit differently.

His plant pyramid includes all the important pieces of the plant growth cycles and he too promotes soil bio health and diversity of microorganisms.

If you notice, he has separated nutrients from the microbiosphere in his diagram, that can lead people to believe that fertilizers work without an active, diverse microbiome filled with organisms.
It is impossible for this to work well, in the plant world, plants use exudates to call for microorganisms to come and do the processing of the raw nutrients so the plants can take these in and recombine them into amino acids and other compounds needed for plant health and growth.

When he gets to his level 3 and level 4 of his pyramid, now he brings up the microbiome but he seems to think that these are most important for disease and pest control. (my take on his diagraming and explanations)

If you read through my soil series, you will find that I place the majority of importance on the organisms that populate the microbiome in the soil.
This is because it is the organisms of this realm that break rocks into individual minerals through their use of enzymes.
Other members of the microbiome (especially the fungi groups) serve not only as infiltrators of these nutrients but they also provide the pathways other organisms use to travel to the plant that expelled the exudate(s).
That means that in order for true nutrition to occur within the plant, the organisms have to not only be present but they have to do their job of breaking down raw materials into plant consumables then either the bacteria or the fungi will transport these plant consumables into the roots.
From there the plant takes over and moves the nutrients up the phylum to where ever they are needed at that time.

If you follow his pyramid exactly, you are fairly putting the cart before the horse so to speak.
In most soils, almost all the needed nutrients are going to be present but they are bound up in compounds, it is the organisms of the microbiome that do the work of breaking out exactly what the plant calls for through the use of exudates and nano electrical signals.
Almost every plant tested for mycorrhizae have had both endo and ecto mycorrhizae around and in the root system.
With out these very important players, many of the micro nutrients would not be able to get to the parts of the plant where they are needed for proper plant functions.

While it looks neat and tidy in his diagram, he really needs some lines from each section to all the other sections since life doesn't work the way most diagrams make us believe.

My personal findings from my research are showing that every tiny part of any plant growth or defense mechanism is dependent upon all the other tiny parts happening in concert.
Building the soil is the key to being able to grow truly nutritious food plants for our consumption, if you haven't built the soil prior to planting either transplants or seeds, you are not going to be able to grow a "complete" food stuff.
Can you use fertilizers to make sure the base nutrients are present in the soil? Sure you can, but they won't go anywhere without that all important microbiome being in place.

One of the prime uses of compost teas is to get a coating of the microbiome organisms on the exterior of the plant.
If you are going to do this by using a spray on the foliage, just be sure to try and keep it off the underside of the leaves so you don't give suffocation an opportunity.
I spray the trunks of my trees, the base of all the vegetable plants and some times the fruits (like melons and gourds) this puts some organisms where they need to be without endangering the stomata of the plant leaves.
I also drench the soil around every plant with both micro nutrients and micro organisms, especially the mycorrhizae around the roots at planting time.

When it comes to the nasty critter we know as squash bugs, the massive numbers that survived the almost non existent winter last year have proven to be able to overcome the microbiome organisms I provided my own plants with this year.
My solution will be to fight them over this winter as they hibernate under the soil surface by boosting all of the microbiome I can.
Beneficial nematodes are one of the prime destroyers of these bugs when they are under the surface of the soil.

Redhawk
 
Davis Tyler
Posts: 136
Location: Southern New Hampshire (Zone 5)
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yes, I think the two of you are mostly saying the same things in different ways

The pyramid diagram necessarily reduces some of the complexity and interactions.

I think AEA works both the micronutrient and microbiome angles in parallel, and it may be that farmers starting with degraded soil first see results from the mineral sprays as the soil biology is building in the background to support in-situ mineralization.

Regarding the squash bugs, if a hard winter was capable of setting them back, they would eradicated by now in my garden as we hit -5 or -10 F every year but they just keep coming back.  I'm interested in the PSM (plant secondary metabolites) in Level 4 of his diagram, as it seems to indicate that PSM confers resistance to squash bugs and other beetles, which would be remarkable if it's true.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Location: Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
1292
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While it sounds cold enough to freeze bugs -10f really isn't all that cold to hard shelled bugs. I have found a few squash bugs in the dead of winter, with snow on the ground at a depth of 6 inches and when I dug them up while making a soil test sample, the suckers were very active and the ambient temp was right at 10 degrees f (if Arkansas ever sees true ambients of less than 0 f, many people would be frozen or near frozen).

I dug up one of my 1968 note books a while back and I had a page that described me finding some squash bugs moving under the soil while the ambient temp was -15 f.
I don't know how cold it would have to be for these critters to at least slow down. I treat all our squash and cucumber plants with DE, both all over the plant and all over the soil surrounding them.
This season I lost the battle, until I started using a tip from permies, Now I have a heavy duty Stanley shop vac that I can put soapy water in to drown every one of those critters I can suck up, including nymphs.
This year I sucked up 5 gal. of them including the mulch they tried to hide from me in. After that, we only found around a dozen of the critters, so I am hoping I can get them all next spring when they come out of hiding.

Redhawk
 
Davis Tyler
Posts: 136
Location: Southern New Hampshire (Zone 5)
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I have tried wood ash on and around my plants without success, but haven't tried diatomaceous earth.  I'll put that on the list for next season.

Good tip on the vacuum.  I would have to find a battery-powered version, as I don't have electricity at my garden plot
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Location: Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
1292
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Davis, try looking at Home Depot and Lowe's for battery powered shop vacuums I know DeWalt, Milwaukee and Ridgid all have 2 gal. models on the market.
 
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