Investing in Soil

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Investing in Soil

Over the past year, I have made a considerable investment in both money and effort in improving the soil in my garden beds and micro-orchard. My intention was to invest in the health of the soil, as a means of indirectly investing in the health of my family. I have found that understanding the subject of soil science is a huge effort, second only to the effort of actually applying that understanding.

I know many here have a lot of experience in soil building, so I wanted to start a soil-specific thread in the hopes that many would share their hard-earned knowledge on that subject here.

I can think of no better investment for true prosperity.

Thanks for your input.....Jeff

Comment: I'm sure the soil is a predominant factor, but I do think 24 hours of sun has something to do with the yields in the above video.

Comment: This project seems like an excellent investment for all those surplus dollars that the Chinese are stuck with.

Comment: Anyone seen this documentary?

I have posted this link before, but www.soilandhealth.org is a great source of information on this subject, and many more.

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Re: Investing in Soil

Jag, thanks for the great video links!

Not sure if this is where to post gardening links but here goes...

People in the central Texas area might enjoy these links on edible landscaping:

http://www.backyardgroceries.com/default.html

http://edibleyards.com/

http://go-farm.com/

http://resolutiongardens.com/

http://yardfarmaustin.com/

and finally, a favorite nursery...

http://naturalgardeneraustin.com/

marsha

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Re: Investing in Soil

please read "Grass, The Forgiveness of Nature"

robie

husband,father,farmer,optometrist

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Re: Investing in Soil

Interesting videos.  I don't know a great deal about soils other than the soils portion of a plant science course I took in college but I think your idea of investing in the soil is very wise.  My wife's the gardener in our family but I bought a sizeable amount of beautiful black organic topsoil for our gardens this year (since our soil tends to be poor and sandy) and I have to say, the veggies were the best I've ever tasted.  Veggies I don't normally care much for like beets, turnips, and Brussels sprouts tasted great.  You've motivated me to look into this area further and also to go back and start digging out old notes about Findhorn, biodynamic gardening, Rudolf Steiner. and the like for ideas.  Thanks!  

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Re: Investing in Soil

JAG

Thanks for beginning this thread.  It's a subject I have a lot of interest in. 

I have an old Elliot Coleman book that has a lot of good ideas for building the soil and growing food at a production level.  Google his name.  I see that he has some new books I haven't read.

To sort of add to the "tea" idea.  I have a good sized stock tank that I've attached a faucet to.  i use a bucket that I punched a bunch of holes in to hold horse manure and act as a teabag in the stock tank.  Then I just run a hose out to the garden and individually feed the plants.  It's a little labor intensive, and I have thought of rigging a hose with many holes that I could just lay down the rows and let the tea soak in, but haven't done it yet.

Growing something like annual rye grass and clover after harvesting other crops can establish in the fall to avoid erosion over the winter.  The rye grass will winter kill and can be tilled under in the spring to add organics to the soil and you get nitrogen from the clover.

Doug

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Re: Investing in Soil

Doug wrote:

i use a bucket that I punched a bunch of holes in to hold horse manure and act as a teabag in the stock tank.  Then I just run a hose out to the garden and individually feed the plants.  

Hey Doug, are you on well water or municipal? The reason I ask is that the chlorine content of municipal water would be counterproductive to compost tea. I started using rain water with my compost tea and it has made a noticeable difference.

Thanks for the Coleman reference, I'll check it out.

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Re: Investing in Soil

I grow almost all of my food.   I call what I do "farming the soil"  because if you take care of the soil,  the plants will take care of themselves... or at least that is what I have found.

I have written a blog post about this...

 http://kapundagarden.blogspot.com/2009/07/farming-soil.html

... and even worse,  this has been known for years.  This blog post is about a book that was written the same year that I was born!  When will they ever learn!

 http://kapundagarden.blogspot.com/2009/09/farming-society-technology-and-economy.html

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Re: Investing in Soil

I would also add that this talk is relevant in this context....

  http://www.ted.com/talks/paul_stamets_on_6_ways_mushrooms_can_save_the_w...

When "farming my soil"  I imagine that these are the organisms that I need to care for....  and the plants will take care of themselves.

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Re: Investing in Soil

organisms are mycetes,

I used to be a commodities farmer, then a cattle farmer,then a grass farmer,now a mycete cultivator.

robie

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"Acrea USA" google it for the best place to start

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Re: Investing in Soil

( Great topic Jag. )

Love the compost tea video.. I wonder if any farmers have tried scaling it up .. ?

The TED fungi video is amazing, saw it about 9 months ago, speaking as a homebrewer and breadmaker, I'd like to

say a huge thank you to Saccharomyces Cerevisiae in particular..  :-)

I'm fairly interested in the mineral content of soils.. can they be improved with say volcanic rock dust.. ?

I have an intuitive feeling that trace minerals are vital to soil and plant health, and thus nutritional value..

( see the Mike Pollan interview about NPK oversimplification..)

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Re: Investing in Soil

Jeff

Quote:
Hey Doug, are you on well water or municipal?

I'm on well water, but I don't use it much for the tank.  I originally put the stock tank up there for supplemental water during our usually short dry periods.  This year was unusually rainy, so didn't have to add any water.  To add water from the barn (which is uphill from the house and pump), I have to run a couple hoses generally uphill, leaving not much pressure at the tank.

ejanea

Quote:
... and even worse,  this has been known for years.  This blog post is about a book that was written the same year that I was born!  When will they ever learn!

This concept has been used for a long time in places like Europe and the Andes where the same ground has has been farmed as far back as anyone knows.  It's a shame that farming methods in the US have resulted in loss of incredible amounts of topsoil in the breadbasked of the country, the great plains, where industrial farming has been practiced for a few generations now.

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Worm Farming

I'm hoping to establish a small worm farm to process wastes that I can easily acquire for free in my community, into vermicompost that I can use to build and maintain soil fertility. I'm looking for a easily expandable, modular design so that I can grow into this business step by step. Here are a few worm farm videos that I found.

Does anyone have any experience with vermi-composting on a larger scale than just a conventional residential worm bin?

Thanks in advanced...Jeff

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Re: Investing in Soil

Good subject.  Composting and soil have been my focus this year as we more than doubled our vegetable growing beds.  I started with the worms and that took me to making the worm tea by adding molasses and using an aquarium pump to increase the microorganisms.  Then I got interested in Bokashi composting which allows me to compost everything (including meat and dairy) and because the compost is fermented it doesn't smell and so you can keep it in your house.   My problem seemed to be in getting EM which every recipe called for because it isn't available in Canada but finally found a recipe on how to make your own and it works great.  In my search for the microorganisms I came across an article: www.rodaleinstitute.org/20040401/hamilton 

and this really caught my attention.  He uses indigenous beneficial microorganisms that you can very simply make yourself from basic items to do organic gardening.  So this summer I've been experimenting with all kinds of brews and normally it takes a few years to get a garden bed producing well because of having alkaline soil and water but my new beds outperformed my older ones substantially.  Unfortunately I wasn't very scientific about it and just kept adding all kinds of stuff that I experimented with so I don't know what exactly worked. I'll do better this year and do some controlled studies in the greenhouse over the winter.

If you search on the internet it is possible to get another article on recipes for some of his specific microorganisms.  I even gathered microorganisms from weeds that seem to survive any conditions and use those as fertilizer for plants.

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Re: Investing in Soil

Jael,

Thanks for the contribution, thats pretty fascinating stuff. However, your link to the article is broken for me, can you provide another? Thanks in advanced...Jeff

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Re: Investing in Soil

Jeff,

Fascinating stuff.  We've thought about setting up a worm composter in the basement for winter based on something we heard about a year or so ago.  It would be a great way to recycle our food refuse and create compost, but I don't know the specifics.  Are you familiar with such systems?

Doug

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Re: Investing in Soil

Minerals are very important.  

I discovered that the soil around us was depleted in boron.  I determined this from symptoms displayed by the plants.  Once I added a SMALL amount to the soil, not only were the beets and celery improved (these had shown symptoms) but a number of other varieties of plants grew much more strongly also.  It was like vitamins for plants!

I had experimented with this as soluble minerals,  but this is a short term solution.  Now I add crushed rock when i am preparing any bed. and as long as the ph is ok,  the plants are able to get what they need.  This is a longer term solution.  And it is more like a multi-vitamin for the whole system.

This is particularly important here, in Australia, as our soils are very old and minerals have been leached out for a long time.

 http://kapundagarden.blogspot.com/2009/07/farming-soil.html

Nowadays, I add the crushed rock to the soil and if,  for any reason I suspect something isn't doing well,  I add a handful to the smelly fertiliser bucket...

 http://kapundagarden.blogspot.com/2009/06/stinging-nettle-fertiliser.html

The other thing to remember is that any weeds that grow and that can be turned into fertiliser help to retain any minerals or other nutrients that are present.

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Re: Investing in Soil

Jag ,

  Thank you so much for finding these sites for us .  Seems there is never enough time in the day to sit and cruise the internet  for all this wonderful  information . Even on rainy days  it is catch up on paying bills ,running errands, and checking in here .   So for  the many that are finishing up harvest of bean. corn ,and Milo....  plus  getting ready for winter  round -up , calving and wood hauling .   Thank you .  We are still enjoying tomatoes, lettuce, spinach,  and other fresh  produce from the garden because of ideas here.

I  also enjoyed the you tube '' Pioneer Couple ''   But  , boy  do  I still like electricity .

Blessed Day ,

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Re: Investing in Soil

Sorry about the link. Let's try again.

http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/20040401/Hamilton

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Soil Biology and Humus Farming

Soil Biology and Humus Farming by Jody Padgham

Managing Soil Biology
Given the importance of soil biology, how can it be increased or managed? Steve Diver presented several ways to affect the complexity and abundance of soil organisms.

Compost
Compost is a term that describes a managed process of organic matter decomposition and recomposition. For those who are certified organic, it is also a very closely regulated process. Those in organic production may only produce and use compost that has been made following the National Organic Program Rule (find details athttp://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/indexNet.htm) Compost is generally made from animal manure and vegetable matter or some other carbon source. To make compost you must manage the carbon to nitrogen ration, monitor the temperature so that pathogen reduction is ensured and mix or aerate so that the decomposition process is aerobic rather than anaerobic. In the composting process raw organic material is attacked by microorganisms and broken down into the building blocks of simple sugars and amino acids, which are more readily available for plants and organisms to use. High quality compost will contain 25-30,000 species of bacteria and 5-8,000 species of fungi. Application of active compost is an excellent way to increase the complexity and diversity of your soil food web.

Vermi-compost
Worm compost, or vermi-compost is very high in fungal components. A vermi-compost system is made up of worms that are fed some form of waste- kitchen scraps or vegetable waste etc. The worms don't eat the waste- they in their own way "farm" it, in that they encourage fungi and fuzzy things to grow on the waste, and then eat the fungi and micro organisms that are growing. The "farmed" microbes actually eat the waste, not the worms. Vermi-compost can be used to make compost tea or used as a direct compost, and brings thousands of beneficial bacterial and fungal components into the soil food web.

Compost tea
Compost tea is an on-farm method of preparing microbial cultures. Local biomass sources (such as compost, vermi-compost or peat-humus material) are used to prepare the tea, which can be used to enhance fertility, for pest control and to enhance a farms ecosystem health. Compost teas are a very "hot" topic, and worthy of their own article (if not several books.) A great resource for more information is the ATTRA publication by Steve Diver "Notes on Compost Teas" which can be downloaded athttp://www.attra.org/attra-pub/compost-tea-notes.html (or a hard copy can be obtained by calling ATTRA at 1-800-346-9140). Compost teas can be made with or without aeration, and with or without additives (such as molasses or kelp) and are made during a specific extraction period.

Compost teas have been found to be a very good source of soluble nutrients (acting as an organic liquid fertilizer), as a source of bio-active substances, some of which are growth promoting, some are plant protective. Compost teas are also a good source of beneficial microorganisms, and some actually provide a microbially enhanced nutrient delivery. They can be applied to the soil, or directly to plant leaves and have been proven to have significant effects on plant health, with positive effects of suppression of specific diseases. For more information on compost teas, see the Soil Foodweb, Inc. website at www.soilfoodweb.com.

Because they can be made from compost, which is generally made from manure, compost teas have created a furor with organic certification. A "compost tea" sub committee composed of farmers and researchers has made recommendations to the National Organic Standards Board and expects a final ruling soon on how the NOP recommend using compost teas.

Effective Microorganisms
Farmers in Japan have been "growing" and harvesting the benefits of microorganisms for many years. Under the umbrella of the "Nature Farming" movement, which parallels the organic farming movement in western countries, EM is a very well established mechanism for promoting plant growth and developing microbial activity. Early developers experimented with a diversity of microbial cultures, but have narrowed in on a basic "mother" containing 3 elements: 1. Lactic acid bacteria. 2. Various photosynthetic bacteria and 3. yeast. The "mother" is added to plant material to culture, and it has been found that other organisms will "join" the original culture to eventually form a very complex microbial stew, which can then be used for many purposes. The process of culturing is often anaerobic, and much like a pickling process. The resultant stew can be used in creating compost, vermi-compost, as a livestock probiotic, in food waste treatment, waste water treatment and to control flies and livestock odors and many other uses. There are hundreds of EM recipes, and hundreds of research papers documenting EM effects. It is used in many countries around the world for a multitude of purposes. Proper use of EM utilizes a low-dose, multiple application, slow and accumulative effect. There are only a few sources of EM mother culture in the U.S. at this time. An internet search on "Effective Microorganisms" will bring up several sources of mother cultures in the U.S. and research on EM use for hundreds of applications.

EM is widely used in India, where one popular culture is made with Neem leaves, 14 other plants and sugar cane. It is said that this ferment is excellent for pest control, and will control 54 insect and disease problems on farms.

IMO
IMO is similar to EM in Japan, but is a Korean tradition that has just been gaining acclaim in the English speaking world in the last few years. Unfortunately, there are very few written resources on IMO written in English. IMO is not based on any purchased product. A mother culture is created that is unique to a particular farm or area by putting a patty of boiled rice out into the forest and covering it with forest duff. The patty is protected from rodents and disturbance, and left for a week. Local fungi and bacteria will invade and feed on the rice. After the first week, the rice is brought in and 1/3 volume of molasses is added. The culture is moved to a crock pot, where it is left to sit for another week. Then molasses is again added, at a 1:1 ratio. This becomes the IMO stock solution. Diluted with 20 parts of water this becomes a microbial inoculant for compost, soil or plants.

This is only one recipe for IMO- there are hundreds of others, using fermented fruit juice, fish, plant juice, amino acids, brown rice syrup etc. as the base. In Japan and Korea there are large neighborhood fermentation vats, which people can bring their cooking and yard wastes to, to go into the ferment. The ferment reduces problematic smells and pests, allowing kitchen waste to accumulate until it is convenient to move it to a composting facility.

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Black Gold

More Soil inspiration (for me anyways)

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Gil Carandang

Jael,

thanks for that link....Gil Carandang's work is truly fascinating. I would really like to learn more about it...any ideas on how I might do that without traveling to the Phillipines?

Thanks in advanced....Jeff

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Re: Investing in Soil

Thanks for the great post Jag. I'm putting my placeholder here to return later.

Coop

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Re: Investing in Soil

Jeff

The first vid in post 19 doesn't seem to open for me.  Anyone else have this problem.  The second is fine.

Doug

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This Is Why I Value This Forum

I want to give a heart-felt thank you to the people that have posted on this thread because I just discovered a "thinker" that I am very excited about. His name is Michael Pollan, and I probably would have never discovered his work without your input. His ideas resound very strongly with my own, only much more defined and elaborate. 

Thank you.

(Edit: add another Pollan video)

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Re: Investing in Soil

Doug wrote:

Jeff

The first vid in post 19 doesn't seem to open for me.  Anyone else have this problem.  The second is fine.

Doug

I think its an error endogenous to youtube's server load. Usually trying again later does work for me.

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Re: Investing in Soil

Excellent topic!

One thing you may wish to be aware of...soilbuilding is a very personal topic. It is a bit like financial advice, as no sane person would offer detailed advice without knowing your personal situation. In other words, what works in one place may not work in another, even if the gardens are close together. Gather your gardening tips, but be prepared to adapt them to your particular situation.

I live where the weather gets hot and stays hot (and humid) for at least four months. Consequently, I have a hard time keeping organic stuff in my garden beds-it rots away in a year. For my garden, mulching heavily with leaves or anything organic (whatever I can scrounge) keeps the soil cooler, conserves water, and adds humus. I also have had good luck with adding homemade charcoal to my soil ('terra preta'). Where I live, I can grow sweet potatoes easily, but not regular potatoes. If your gardening situation is similar, you may wish to try mulching and homemade charcoal (NOT the petrochem contaminated storebought stuff).

Some gardening sites ask that folks tell what zone they live in, plus a few other pertinent details, so that readers can adapt or ignore advice that comes from gardeners who have different problems and solutions. So, I'm in Zone 8a (10 to 15  F min temp in winter), gardening in red clay!

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Re: Investing in Soil

Jeff,

Thanks for the Pollan vids.  Boy, am I glad I never gave up butter.Wink  He really has an interesting perspective.  I've long felt that you can eat just about any thing you want as long as you get plenty of exercise.  It has worked for me so far, but who knows how long that will last.

I was listening to Dr. Zorba today.  He had a caller who said he had recently been diagnosed as hypoglycemic.  So, Zorba started quizing him about his diet, other bodily indicators, etc.  The guy claimed he had not eaten a vegetable since he was old enough to choose his own diet and had never been sick.  All of his readings (cholesterol, lipids, blood pressure, etc) were great and he was not overweight.  Zorba then speculated taht he had good genetics.  The guy told him two of his grandparents had lived to over 100.  At that point Zorba said, take a fiber pill and don't worry about anything else.  Some guys have all the luck.

Doug

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Is Organic Produce More Nutritious?

I've always been a believer that organic produce has a higher nutritional content than traditionally farmed produce. This last weekend I watched an episode of Penn & Teller's Bullsh*t series about organic produce. In this episode they performed a taste test between organic and non-organic produce. Here is a clip....warning....lots and lots of cussing:

Call me old fashion, but I have to believe that when it comes to produce, taste is the best indicator of nutritional content. 

So I did a little more digging and found this study posted by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition:

Nutritional quality of organic foods: a systematic review

ABSTRACT

Background: Despite growing consumer demand for organically produced foods, information based on a systematic review of their nutritional quality is lacking.

Objective: We sought to quantitatively assess the differences in reported nutrient content between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs.

Design: We systematically searched PubMed, Web of Science, and CAB Abstracts for a period of 50 y from 1 January 1958 to 29 February 2008, contacted subject experts, and hand-searched bibliographies. We included peer-reviewed articles with English abstracts in the analysis if they reported nutrient content comparisons between organic and conventional foodstuffs. Two reviewers extracted study characteristics, quality, and data. The analyses were restricted to the most commonly reported nutrients.

Results: From a total of 52,471 articles, we identified 162 studies (137 crops and 25 livestock products); 55 were of satisfactory quality. In an analysis that included only satisfactory quality studies, conventionally produced crops had a significantly higher content of nitrogen, and organically produced crops had a significantly higher content of phosphorus and higher titratable acidity. No evidence of a difference was detected for the remaining 8 of 11 crop nutrient categories analyzed. Analysis of the more limited database on livestock products found no evidence of a difference in nutrient content between organically and conventionally produced livestock products.

Conclusions: On the basis of a systematic review of studies of satisfactory quality, there is no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs. The small differences in nutrient content detected are biologically plausible and mostly relate to differences in production methods.

Received for publication May 7, 2009. Accepted for publication July 2, 2009.

And I found a rebuttal of this study at the Rodale Institute website:

Rodale Institute: Organic Food Still the Best Nutritional Choice

The study, funded by the UK Food Standards Agency, formally acknowledges data demonstrating significant nutritional advantages for organic. It said in its analysis, however, that the evidence was insufficient, under its protocol, to proclaim organic superiority.
"We know that research from scientists in the United States, UK and the EU will improve the quality and scope of this scientific discussion, and will bolster the magnitude of the organic difference," LaSalle explained.

The study accepted data from only 55 field trials, farm surveys and market basket surveys of the 52,471 citations it identified with relevance to comparing nutrients (and other substances) from organic and non-organic sources. Methods for rejection included statistical methodology, unclear organic system verification and lack of specific breed/cultivar identification. Some of the studies included were conducted before the creation of current national organic standards.

Nutritional research emerging in the next year will build on current data showing organic superiority in the particular areas of antioxidant capacity (important for cancer-fighting properties) and omega-3 v. omega-6 balance in dairy products.

As the child of a chemistry professor, I have a pretty clear understanding of the scientific process and can typically distinguish good science from bad science. Therefore I'm quite pleased that the survey study rejected the evidence that didn't conform to the strictest standards of the scientific methodology. Its very easy to fool oneself, and the scientific process is our best shot at minimizing this human tendency. Hopefully better studies in the future will prove the nutritional superiority of organic produce, but maybe not.

My conclusion leaves me with serious doubts about my belief that organic produce has higher nutritional content. So I'm starting to wonder if I should be investing in "organically" fertile soil, or should I be investing in chemical fertilizers and pesticides instead.

What do you "guys" think?

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Re: Investing in Soil

Jag - If you haven't watched it yet, you should watch 'The World According to Monsanto'. Wait till you hear about Round Up! But that documentary did it for me. I'm slowly moving my food purchases to all organic, and what I can eventually grow will be all organic.

Also, Michael Pollan wrote a very good book called In Defense of Food. Pick up a copy of that while your at it.

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Re: Investing in Soil

Hi Joe,

Thanks for the input. I have watched the Monsanto movie, and Pollan's latest book is next up on my ipod. But I'm just wondering, if the economic situation gets really bad, am I going to kick myself for not stocking up on chemical fertilizers and pesticide? I would hate to put a closely held belief of mine (the superiority of organic produce) above the survival of my family.

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Re: Investing in Soil

Jeff

My current goal is to improve my own composting operation and do something with worms.  I think that most nutrients can be gained through organic means except some minerals.  I'll still probably buy lime because our soil is acidic.  Our soil also has enough stones from glacial till that I think most other minerals are already there.  Also, understory and ground cover crops are a good way to enrich soil.  If these are done with enough diligence, I think my reliance on oil based fertilizers and pesticides can be minimized to near zero.  Unlike the permaculture guy who fancies himself a grass farmer, I try to think of myself as a soil farmer.  Or rather, gardener.  My aspirations aren't to the farm stage yet.Undecided

Doug

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