Soil Minerals and Soil Testing for Organic Gardeners
Better than Organic
a Conversation with Agricola
by Michael Astera
Part II: (Bad) Science and the (Hopeful) Future
Agricola: Let’s get back to “Why Organic isn’t Really Working and How it Can.” Agricola: You got it. It has a lot to do with minerals and it has a lot to do with pulling all the
different pieces together. Right now we have a lot of different viewpoints, a lot of different
pieces of information, and, unfortunately, a lot of different “sects” in agriculture and gardening,
all of them seemingly determined to prove that they’re right and everybody else is wrong. To a
certain extent this is just human nature–everyone likes to be right. But no one that I’ve talked
about here is wrong. Von Liebig wasn’t wrong, and neither was Rodale and neither was Reams. They all had important pieces of the puzzle. Fertility in the soil is minerals. Minerals are elements, and elements are what this physical reality
is made of. Each of these elements has its own unique structure and properties. Q: Not me. I’ve brushed with fluoride toothpaste most of my life and I’ve had terrible problems
with my teeth. There has been some basic work done with mineral deficiencies in nutritional science; we know
what happens to an experimental animal or a human if they don’t get any Zinc in their diet. But
we don’t know what happens if they don’t get any Zinc or any Copper or any Boron, all at the
same time. Natural Science, and it’s all Natural Science, is in its infancy, an enforced, perverted
neoteny. [ed. note: a term used in biology for an organism that remains in an immature state] The
poor baby has been chained in the basement (or is it under the stairs?) and forced into
prostitution since it was born. This is not hyperbole or exaggeration. It’s a nearly perfect
Agricola: Let’s get back to “Why Organic isn’t Really Working and How it Can.”Q. Absolutely. And after that background I think I have a pretty good idea of how it can. It has something to do with minerals, doesn’t it? (Laughing)
Agricola: You got it. It has a lot to do with minerals and it has a lot to do with pulling all the different pieces together. Right now we have a lot of different viewpoints, a lot of different pieces of information, and, unfortunately, a lot of different “sects” in agriculture and gardening, all of them seemingly determined to prove that they’re right and everybody else is wrong. To a certain extent this is just human nature–everyone likes to be right. But no one that I’ve talked about here is wrong. Von Liebig wasn’t wrong, and neither was Rodale and neither was Reams.
They all had important pieces of the puzzle.One thing I would very much like to get across is that until about two hundred years ago we didn’t even have a science of chemistry. That science was unfortunately kidnapped in its infancy by the corporate industrialists, who have kept it in chains in the basement ever since. Analytic Chemistry is a tool we have never before had in the eight-thousand-plus year history of agriculture. Properly used, it can tell us what we need in our diets for optimum nutrition, and what we need to add to the soil to achieve that in our food.. That sounds doable, to me.
Fertility in the soil is minerals. Minerals are elements, and elements are what this physical reality is made of. Each of these elements has its own unique structure and properties.What Iron can do, Copper can’t. Iron oxidizes easily, as in rust. Copper doesn’t readily combine with oxygen. So we have Iron to transport Oxygen in our red blood cells, not Copper. And neither Copper nor any other element can replace Iron in hemoglobin. Our bones are a crystalline lattice of Calcium and Phosphorus, and no other element can replace either one and still have healthy bone, even though some fools have tried to do it with Fluorine. Has anyone noticed any decrease in tooth decay?
Q: Not me. I’ve brushed with fluoride toothpaste most of my life and I’ve had terrible problems with my teeth.Agricola: Exactly. You and just about everyone else. Each element can do things that no other element can, and each is needed in the correct proportion, in the soil, in plants, and in living things. And guess what? We don’t even know what the correct proportions are. We probably should by now, don’t you think? This is what science should be used for, not for thinking up new patentable poisons to make someone a buck. We don’t even know how Nature is supposed to work, and instead of trying to figure that out we’ve spent the last century and a half trying to improve on it? How does one improve something they don’t even understand?
There has been some basic work done with mineral deficiencies in nutritional science; we know what happens to an experimental animal or a human if they don’t get any Zinc in their diet. But we don’t know what happens if they don’t get any Zinc or any Copper or any Boron, all at the same time. Natural Science, and it’s all Natural Science, is in its infancy, an enforced, perverted neoteny. [ed. note: a term used in biology for an organism that remains in an immature state] The poor baby has been chained in the basement (or is it under the stairs?) and forced into prostitution since it was born. This is not hyperbole or exaggeration. It’s a nearly perfect analogy.People are attracted to science because of their natural curiosity and love of learning. A true Scientist is inquisitive, observant, and madly infatuated with his subject. He does science because he loves Science. I knew a fellow who graduated with a PhD in Entomology from a university in Arizona. He loved bugs enough to spend eight or nine years of his life living in poverty while going to school to study them. And he loved nature. He was a camper, a hiker, and a mountain climber. Along the way he got married and soon had a family to support. There wasn’t much call for Professors of Entomology and what was available to a new graduate wouldn’t support a growing family, so he took the only job his education qualified him for that paid well enough: he went to work for an exterminating company, spraying poisons to kill insects. Even though he was an organic gardener and a fitness freak, he died of a massive heart attack at age 49. I’m sure the years of exposure to pesticides that one has to have a license to handle were a major factor, but there’s a lot of heartbreak in having to prostitute one’s self that has to be factored in too.
I spent some time investigating a cancer research institute in the Midwestern US, so I know a little whereof I speak. With an annual budget of hundreds of millions of dollars, this cancer institute was basically a factory for spending research dollars. Whoever could write the best grant proposal and get the most money to blow was top dog. I assure you, this place had nothing to do with finding a cure for cancer. They had a seven story building as big as a hotel that held room after room after room of experimental animals in little wire cages all stacked up on roll-around carts. They had an assembly line (or should I say a disassembly line) of underpaid women who worked all day slicing up freshly killed white rats, mice, and hamsters and putting the slices on microscope slides and then putting a thin little glass cover over the rat tissue. This took up an entire floor of another large brick building and was called the department of Histology. And what happened to the slides? They were shipped out to a “storage facility” in the boonies where they were stacked on shelves. I was there, once, at this “scientific specimen” storage facility. Imagine a good sized single-story library with high ceilings and high bookshelves throughout, but instead of books there were boxes and boxes of glass microscope slides all carefully labeled, each with a little slice of animal tissue between the slide and the cover glass. Thousand and thousands of boxes of glass slides. And this had been going on for a while, and the housekeeping was none too great. When one walked down the aisles between the shelves one walked on six or eight inches of broken glass slides and had to be careful that a crumbling box full of slides didn’t fall on one’s head. I swear I am not making this up. And you wouldn’t believe the toxic waste from “cancer research” they stored out there in the hinterlands. Barrels and barrels and more leaking barrels. If you’re trying to give animals cancer you generate a lot of toxins. You don’t want to know how awful this place was.I have to tell you one more story while I’m thinking about this. That seven story building full of rats, mice, and guinea pigs generated a lot of waste. Down in the basement they had a sort of commercial dishwashing setup with a conveyer tunnel that cleaned the cages with high pressure hot water and soap, and all day long there was a constant stream of six foot high rolling racks of dirty animal cages coming down the elevator. Down in the hot, steamy, stinking cage washing area there was a crew of underpaid young black guys who spent all day emptying the mess out of the cages, hosing them off, and re-stacking them to go through the washing tunnel. The cage waste, manure, food, and bedding, most of it highly contaminated with carcinogens, was augered up to a big hopper bin. At least twice a week the bin had to be emptied, so they pulled a large open dump truck up to the hopper, filled it up and proceeded to drive it, uncovered and wafting carcinogenic rat waste, about twenty miles through the city to the municipal dump, where it was dumped right in with the household garbage. These researchers never gave a thought to the fact that they were spreading carcinogenic waste across the city and contaminating the landfill with it. They were strictly in it for the money.
I swear, if you were a researcher at that place and you came up with a cure for cancer they would knife you and stick your body under six feet of cement in the cellar, where no one would ever find you. You would be putting them all out of a job.
Q. Unbelievable. That’s science? That’s where the thousands of millions of dollars we’ve been spending every year on cancer research for the last thirty five years has been going?
. Agricola: I’m afraid so. And I’m afraid that’s where your money goes when you have a walkathon to raise money for research on whatever,-- pick a disease. If you find a cure, you’re out of business as a researcher. Of course, if you can come up with a synthesized drug that affects the disease’s symptoms, some drug that is patentable and that people can be convinced they must continue taking for the rest of their life, you can be a rich hot shot too. What is so incredible to me is that this is accepted as normal, rational behavior. It’s not, of course. People who don’t care what the consequences of their actions are, who don’t care who or what they hurt as long as they get theirs, are known in psychology as psychopaths or sociopaths-- dangerous and mentally unbalanced menaces to society. And these kinds of people are who we have running science. And industry. And government.
We have to be able to do better than this. Why are the very people who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the job running the world?I’m a little off the subject, here.
Q: Yeah, that’s OK. I wonder about the same things myself. But you believe that we can fix this mess and get science back on track, so it would be a joyful pursuit for the good of humanity?Agricola: We have to. The human race is smarter than this. We can and we will do it. Right now the whole corporate/industrial paradigm is going through its last tango. Its on its way out, but the death spasms aren’t going to be pretty.
The system is just too broken to be fixed. No matter who we elect, appoint or allow they are not going to be able to fix a system that can’t work. Taking more than you give back is not sustainable, by any economic or philosophical theory I’m aware of. It may somehow be justified or rationalized but I don’t know of any sane person who would call it sustainable.
What we’ll have to do is start from scratch and build a system that does work. If there are two systems running side by side, one that is sustainable and even increasing in abundance and efficiency, alongside a system that is only interested in short term gain and the heck with the consequences, which system is going to survive and prosper in the long run?
We humans are supposed to be the caretakers of this planet, for God’s sake; the gardeners and the park rangers. Instead we have behaved as thieves and poachers. And who are we stealing from? Our children and grandchildren and ourselves and every other living and non-living thing on this beautiful, generous planet. What ungrateful wretches we are. (Pause.)
Let’s talk about Calcium for a bit, OK?
Q: OK. You’ve done quite a bit of studying on that subject, haven’t you?
Agricola: Yes, it’s been like following a conspiracy theory. One gets caught up in the research, and as you gather more and more facts and clues you wonder, how have they kept this hidden? Why don’t people know about this? That’s pretty much how I feel about Calcium.
Calcium is an absolutely wonderful element. Calcium is the buffer that keeps our blood at a pH of 7.4, so nutrients can be electrically inducted into our cells. It is also the element that carries those nutrients into the cell, releases them, and goes back for more. Calcium ions are what make nerve synapses work. DNA can’t be synthesized without Calcium. Calcium can bind to seven oxygen locations on a protein while still holding on to a water molecule and then release them all easily. No other element can do that. Calcium carries the heavy trace minerals like Manganese into the plant from the soil. Have you ever bought a peach or a nectarine where the seed was split open and inside you could see this little shriveled kernel instead of a plump embryo? That seed didn’t form because it didn’t have any Manganese. Every viable seed requires a molecule, maybe only a single atom, of Manganese to bring the electric charge to the seed and the magnetic force to draw the other elements into the seed. There may be plenty of Manganese in the soil, but if there is a shortage of Calcium to pull it into the plant the seeds will be sterile if they form at all. Or there may be enough Manganese and Calcium, but no Boron, and Boron is needed to move and direct Calcium. It all works together and each part is necessary.
Biologists refer to us as Carbon based life forms, but it’s just as arguable that we are Calcium based life forms. Carbon in plants comes mostly from CO2 in the air, but Calcium comes from the Earth, from the soil.
Here’s the conspiracy: how have they (whoever they are) managed to hide the knowledge that Calcium is such an important element in all living things? In plants, animals and humans, adequate Calcium is absolutely essential for life. But just about the only mention Calcium gets in soil science is as a pH modifier. If you think your lawn or garden grows better after you lime it because you changed the pH, I have a newsflash for you: Calcium is the single biggest growth stimulant in plants. pH is a measure of free Hydrogen ions in water. It measures Hydrogen ion concentration, H+ and OH-, and that’s all it does. One can change the soil pH with any acid or alkali. You can raise the pH with sodium hydroxide, which is lye, drain cleaner, or lower it with hydrochloric acid, for instance, but they aren’t going to give you much growth stimulus. They will probably kill the plant. A slightly acid pH of about 6 or 6.5 is ideal, because it gives just the right amount of electrical conductivity in the soil, but plants aren’t nearly as finicky about pH as they are about having the right balance of soil minerals.
Rhododendrons, for instance, are supposed to require an acid soil. What they really prefer is a high Magnesium soil. Experimenters in Scotland raised the pH of soil from 5.0 to nearly 8.0 with Magnesium Carbonate, and the rhodies grew better and better as the soil pH went up because the Magnesium level was going up. pH had little to do with it.
So, this is a good thing to know if you are trying to grow rhododendrons in New Mexico, for instance, where the soil is frequently alkaline to start with, although there you would want to use an acid form of Magnesium like Magnesium sulfate, Epsom salts. But your garden, your farm crops and your fruits and berries wouldn’t necessarily like it (except the blueberries). High levels of Magnesium in relation to Calcium are common in Organic gardening and farming, though, because people are told to lime their soils with dolomite lime, which is high in Magnesium.
Carey Reams recommended a Calcium to Magnesium ratio of 7/1. Albrecht said a 65% Calcium to 15% Magnesium base saturation was about right, which is a ratio of 4.3 to 1. Once again, Albrecht and Reams are both saying the same thing in different ways. Magnesium is more alkaline than Calcium, so it has a greater ability to saturate the soil colloids, a greater ability to displace free Hydrogen. Reams was talking about a 7/1 ratio by weight, Albrecht was talking about their respective abilities to neutralize free hydrogen. If your soil test reads seven times as much Calcium as Magnesium by weight, and there’s enough there to saturate the soil colloids to 80%, you will still end up with Albrecht’s 65% to 15% ratio. Dolomite lime, which all the Organic gardening books seem to recommend, frequently has a 2/1 Ca to Mg ratio, and may even be 1/1. [ed. note: he means a 1/1 ratio of their ability to saturate the soil colloids] This is far too high a level of Magnesium to have in your soil for a couple of reasons.
For one thing, when organic matter breaks down in a high Mg environment it produces alcohol and formaldehyde, both of which are harmful to soil life. Secondly, the Calcium to Magnesium ratio largely determines the looseness or fluffiness of your soil. This was discovered by the petroleum engineers and geologists/geochemists. They had to drill a lot of deep holes full of mud, clay and water. Sometimes this drilling mud was loose and liquid, even if it was mostly clay, and sometimes it was sticky or like cement no matter how much water was in it. They figured out that the stickiness or non-stickiness was mostly due to the Ca/Mg ratio of the base saturation, the Exchange Capacity of the clay. Add more Magnesium, it gets tighter. Add more Calcium, it gets looser. And the exact same thing happens to the soil in your garden, lawn, or cropland. So if you have tight soil, the most likely reason is your Ca/Mg balance. Magnesium makes the soil particles attract each other and stick together, Calcium makes them repel each other and keeps the soil loose. One can, of course, go overboard on the Calcium and the soil will lose all structure and be too loose and fluffy. (laughing) Don’t ask me how I know this. But if you get your Calcium/Magnesium ratios right you can drive on your garden and the soil won’t compact.
Now is this a valuable piece of information or what? Why isn’t this common knowledge? See what I mean when I say it’s like a conspiracy?
It’s worth mentioning here that if you have an extremely sticky soil, the kind that clumps up an inch or so thick on your boots when it’s muddy, you probably have a low Carbon content in your soil as well as a Calcium/Magnesium imbalance. The best cure for low soil Carbon levels is organic matter, or possibly powdered charcoal.
I have made a pastime for a few years of browsing bookstore shelves for Organic gardening and farming books– the ones that have Organic in the title. And I go to the index and look under Calcium, or if there’s no listing for that, which there often isn’t, I look under lime. I have looked at dozens and dozens of these Organic growing books and none of them get Calcium. One or two actually mention that Calcium is a plant nutrient, but most of them only relate it to pH. And all of them tell the reader to use dolomite lime preferably or to use it interchangeably with high Calcium agricultural lime (Calcium carbonate). This is just wrong. Yes, there are times when dolomite lime is needed to achieve the correct Calcium/Magnesium balance, but only a soil test will tell you when that is the case.
Q: Why do you suppose the writers of these organic gardening books are so far off base?
Agricola: They are simply uninformed, completely unaware of the importance and the science of soil mineralization. I also suspect that the confusion is a result of some misguided information from nutritional science that they are trying to apply to the soil. Yes, most Calcium supplements, food supplements I mean, have a 2/1 or even1/1 Calcium to Magnesium ratio, so it seems intuitive to think that that’s what you’d want in your soil. The Ca/Mg ratio in the human body is about two parts Calcium to one part Magnesium. In the Earth’s crust the average ratio is 32 parts Calcium to one part Magnesium. What we want, however, is that elusive 5/1 to 7/1 ratio in our gardens and croplands. As long as enough Calcium and enough Magnesium are stored on the soil exchange sites the soil will be loose and the plants and soil microorganisms will be happy. This is pretty simple, pretty easy to do. But you do need a soil test.
Howard and Rodale didn’t use or understand soil tests, except maybe for pH. I think they associated soil tests with chemical farming. In the 1940s J. I. Rodale worked, for a while, with William Albrecht and another mover and shaker in the progressive agriculture movement, Louis Bromfield. Bromfield had taken over some worn out farmland in Ohio, a place he called Malabar Farm, and was restoring it to marvelous fertility. I’ve never heard the details, but there was some sort of falling out between Rodale and the Malabar Farm group over the use of concentrated fertilizers, like ammonium sulfate. I believe Albrecht and Bromfield took the position that if you could use a pure and concentrated source of fertility, one that grew healthy plants and didn’t harm the soil, this was just good science and good common sense. And this makes sense to me, too, for a couple of reasons. When you go to the health food store or the drugstore and buy mineral or vitamin supplements, you may want them to be from a natural source, but you don’t insist that they be unrefined. For instance, you might want Vitamin E, which generally comes from soy oil, but you don’t buy a gallon of soy oil and drink it to get your 400 IU of d-alpha tocopherol. If you want a Selenium supplement you don’t buy a pound of ground-up rock to get a few micrograms of Selenium– you might not want the other minerals in that pound of rock. It also makes a lot more sense, economically and ecologically, to ship a few pounds of a purified substance across the country than a ton of raw material.
I suspect also that Rodale might have been intimidated by the science, the chemistry, like many others are. He was a journalist, after all, not a scientist. But for whatever reason, he split from the Malabar Farm group and from there on it was pretty much manure and compost for him. This had unfortunate consequences because Rodale went on to have a vast influence on sustainable agriculture, but soil chemistry, other than a misunderstanding of the role of pH, has been almost totally neglected by organic gardeners and farmers. Today, if you send in a soil sample to a State Ag College or one of the big commercial soil testing labs, chemical fertilizers are what they will recommend, and generally the cheapest, harshest, and most harmful ones to soil and plant health, like muriate of potash or urea nitrogen. Up ‘til now there hasn’t been the interest and input from organic growers that would encourage the testing labs to recommend nutrients from natural sources.
Q. But this is only a problem with the recommendations, right, not the laboratory analysis?
Agricola: The soil testing labs generally do a good job of analysis. If you send a soil sample to ten different laboratories it’s unlikely that any of them will send back identical results, but they will likely be close. There are variations in equipment and technique. But at least if you have a soil test you have a place to start, and if you send your next soil test to the same lab you can get an idea of what progress you are making. A serious grower needs to find a lab they trust, one they can contact by phone or e-mail and have their questions answered. Hopefully, find one that understands the philosophies of William Albrecht and Carey Reams. Interpreting a soil test, once you have one, isn’t all that difficult, you just need tenth grade chemistry and fifth grade arithmetic. As long as you have an idea of where you are now and where you want to get to it’s not too hard. Up until now, though, few have had a clear idea where they want to get to, which is the reason I’ve spent the last number of years putting together my “best guess” chart. [See The Ideal Soil Agricola’s Best Guess ed.] I’ve based it mostly on the work of Albrecht and Reams, along with every clue I can come up with from everybody else plus my own experience. If you follow the recommendations on the chart you won’t get into much trouble. I’ve been careful. And I’m hoping for a lot of feedback from the gardeners out there. This soil minerals thing works, and people tend to get excited about things that really work.
Many Organic gardeners and farmers won’t be willing to put in the time and effort it takes to really understand the chemistry, but if they catch the vision that I’m talking about here they’re going to want to know what to do with the information on their soil test. Some of the testing laboratories that advertise in AcresUSA, which is a magazine that anyone serious about sustainable agriculture should be reading, are associated with Eco-Agriculture consulting firms. I don’t know how much they charge for consultations, but, agriculture not being a get rich quick scheme, I’m sure they’re reasonable. Ask around in your own area, too. The consultants out there so far, though, are more used to working with larger growers and farmers. We’re going to have to develop some sort of grass roots organization to work with small scale and backyard gardeners.
[Editors Note: and there you have the inspiration for SoilMinerals.com]
Most important, though, is that you get a soil test. A pretty complete soil test including exchange capacity and availability of a dozen or so major and minor elements only costs $20 to $30 dollars. Then you will at least have a place to start.
Q: But you don’t see each and every organic gardener learning about soil chemistry?
Agricola: Only enough to realize its importance. The commercial growers especially. Even if one is only growing a few tomatoes and carrots for summer salads this knowledge would still guarantee the best flavor and nutrition. But I realize that many gardeners just aren’t going to want to learn the chemistry and do the math, any more than they are going to learn plumbing or electrical work or structural engineering. They just need to understand how the system is supposed to work, so that when there is a problem, like poor flavor or insect attack or rotting in storage they realize that it is probably a mineral problem. In times past most communities had a physician, and maybe what we will end up with is a trained “soil physician” in each community. (laughs) We will need a lot less experts in the field of medicine once we get the food right!
One of the attractive things about Organic gardening and farming has been its simplicity–just add more compost. Unfortunately, unless you happen to be lucky enough to have perfectly mineralized soil, more compost or organic matter is not going to give you more nutrition. Let me give you an example of how out of wack things can get. Let’s look at the Puget Sound region of the Northwest US. A few miles South of the bottom end of the Sound is as far as the glaciers went during the last ice age, and most of the soil around there is a stony glacial till left behind when the ice receded. It’s mostly formed from broken down granite and basalt, usually high in Potassium, low in Phosphorus, and any Calcium it might once have had has been leached out by sixty to two hundred and fifty inches of rain per year. You will recall that Albrecht recommended equal amounts of phosphate and potash, and Reams said twice as much Phosphorus as Potassium, four times as much for grasses and legumes. So there in the Northwest, dumping more high Potassium compost on the soil is only going to make things worse, nutritionally. Nonetheless, that is exactly what the Organic books recommend. One size fits all really doesn't work too well in gardening.
Phosphate has been described as the major catalyst in all living systems. It is essential for metabolism and photosynthesis, and is, as I mentioned earlier, needed for the synthesis of sugars and the replication of DNA. If you wonder why the organically grown fruit you buy isn’t sweet, it’s because the Phosphorus/ Potassium ratio is out of balance, the Calcium/Magnesium ratio probably is too, and more organic matter is not going to fix the problem. Another thing that happens when Potassium levels get too high is that the Potassium tries to substitute for Calcium, and though it can latch on to and take some nutrients into the cell it can’t get back out again because it’s too big, so we end up with cell interiors loaded with Potassium and a deficiency of Calcium and Phosphorus. Excess Potassium can also become fixed to the exchange sites on the clay, aging the clay and messing up its EC and expandability. Not good.
I could go on with what we do know about mineral nutrients, but anyone who has stayed with me thus far is surely getting the picture. We have within our grasp the ability to grow the healthiest, best food that has ever been grown. A good part of the work has already been done for us. The rest of the work is cut out for us and laying on the table, waiting for us to figure it out and put it together.
If we just take off our blinders and look around, we can take the very best from all fields of health, agriculture, and ecology, from Organics, Eco-Agriculture, Permaculture, Biodynamics, nutrition and all the accumulated wisdom of native and traditional methods, and come up with some really hot stuff. Hot stuff that is sustainable, increasingly abundant, and ecologically sound.
Q: I think I hear the bugle call. So how do we go about doing it? The corporations have taken over the ag colleges and the government research stations, and they are not likely to see this as much of a money maker for them.
Agricola: That’s true. Healthy food, healthy farms, and healthy people will impact things all up and down the line. What do we need drugs, chemical fertilizers, and poisonous sprays for if we have naturally healthy land and naturally healthy people? They wouldn’t sell much green and purple sugar-coated genetically modified breakfast cereal if people knew that it was poisoning their children and causing disease.
What people want is to feel good now, and most of the time most of them don’t. Most of us are the result of several generations of malnourished ancestors. At what point were your forebears introduced to unlimited white sugar and white bread?
Q: Me? I’m not sure, but my grandparents who had a farm in the Dakotas were born in the late 1800s, and I never saw anything but white bread and white sugar at their place. When I was growing up there was always a full sugar bowl on the table.
Agricola: Exactly. You and just about everyone else. Dr. Weston A. Price, who did a worldwide survey of aboriginal peoples in the 1920s and ‘30s, concluded that it took twenty years from the introduction of refined carbohydrates for the first serious wave of degenerative diseases to show up: cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Albrecht, by the way, was well aware of Price’s work. I find it fascinating that the Tohona O’odham people of Arizona, the Pimas, have a 90% obesity rate and a diabetes rate almost that high, even developing in preteen children. Their relatives just across the border in Mexico don’t have these problems. Why not? Because the government of Mexico isn’t “taking care” of them. They still grow and eat their own traditional foods. They didn’t grow up on government cheese and frybread with sugar. And why are refined carbohydrates bad for your health? Because they deplete your minerals.
When plants or animals have been malnourished for generations, the seed starts to run out. Health suffers. Reproductive abilities decline, as does the health and vigor of the offspring.
Once again, problems of deficiency and toxicity, exacerbated by the greed and lies of “profit at any cost” corporations with the collusion of our government. And greed equals neediness: unsatisfied, unhappy, needy people who can never get enough because there’s no lasting peace in accumulating material wealth, power, and human social status. This is something we all should know at our deepest level.
It’s definitely time for a new model, wouldn’t you say?
Think of what we can do with this knowledge once we put it together, even as we are putting it together! We can analyze the soil of those places in the world where the people have been shown to live the longest and remain the healthiest–the Caucasus mountains near the Black Sea, the Vilcabamba region in the Andes, maybe the famous Hunza valley in the Himalayas, if it actually exists. We can take this information and use it to recreate the exact combination of mineral elements found in any soil anywhere in the world.
If a winemaker wanted to recreate the soils of Bordeaux in the leached soils of the Pacific Northwest, or if a cattle rancher wanted to recreate the mineral ratios of the buffalo grass prairie soils of the Midwest in the state of Georgia, they could do so
The state of Kentucky is known for raising some of the finest horses in the world. The neighboring states, Tennessee and Indiana for instance, are not. Why? Because Kentucky soils are largely made from broken down limestone, high Calcium and probably high Phosphorus limestone, what strong bones are made of. The same goes for areas of France that have been raising strong, healthy cattle and horses since pre-Roman times–the rocks their soils are made of contain high amounts of Calcium phosphate.
We can recreate any soil we want anywhere in the world. And with a little long term vision, we might only have to do it once.
The soil mineralization that has been done so far has mostly used finely ground stone. Granite, limestone, basalt, glacial rock dust, rock phosphate, trace mineral blends, all have been pulverized as finely as possible in order to make them quick acting. What would happen if we applied them in coarse gravel size and finer, and worked it out so that the minerals would be released steadily over the next five hundred years? Would that work? I think it would.
Of course we’re talking about a lot of transportation cost here; rocks are heavy things to be hauling all over the country, but we would end up with little need for the polluting chemical industries and pharmaceutical plants, not to mention most of the whole sickness industry, so I don’t doubt that the energy equation would balance out.
Here’s another aspect that will appeal to ecologists: with this knowledge we can grow more food, and more nutritionally dense food, on less land, instead of needing to clear more forest land and plow up more prairies. Although we’re not plowing up more prairies in this country anymore We’re paving them over to build subdevelopments and malls. Some of that is going to be pretty hard to fix.
What we’re talking about here, perfectly balanced soil mineralization, would not be something we could afford to do or would want to do everywhere in the world. In the Pacific Northwest, if you don’t do anything to the land what you end up with is trees, so that’s probably what they should be growing. But the vegetable, berry and flower growers in the valleys could balance their soil minerals one time over the course of a few years and then just replace what they took out of the soil, harvest bountiful crops of increasing quality as the soil life came on-line, and become largely self-sufficient instead of owing their souls to the company store. Those same ideas can be applied to any area.
Will this happen? I’m sure it will. When? It’s happening right now, as you read this. There are already millions of acres in the US where the principles of Eco-Agriculture are being applied and are working very well. This is not new information, just deliberately buried and hidden information. Albrecht published most of his work by the 1940's, Reams was teaching and spreading his information in the 1950's and ‘60's. A few people listened and spread the word, largely thanks to Charles Walters and Acres USA.
Q: OK, so how do we go about finding the answers we want, and who is going to pay for it?
Agricola: Yeah, that’s the right question. How will we do it? How will we answer our unanswered questions: what happens to the anions like phosphorus in the soil, what’s really going on with paramagnetism, what balance of soil microorganisms is best for which crop and which climate? I suggest that most of this work will and should be done by independent researchers, but I’m not sure who is going to pay for it.
It’s tempting to say something like “Just think what we could do with a billion dollars US in government money, why we could fund a thousand million-dollar research projects!” But that’s not the answer. Our government’s money is corrupt; it’s extorted under threat of losing your property or going to prison. Taxes stolen from poor waitresses’ estimated tips, for Pete’s sake. And all the government funded research facilities are controlled by the multinational corporations. They are emphatically not interested in supporting their own demise.
Besides which, most of the important work in science has always been done by independent, curious individuals, not by government funded laboratories. Hensel, Reams, and many others I haven’t mentioned never received a dime of government money to support their research as far as I know. Albrecht’s state agricultural station work was government funded, barely, but his results were either swept under the rug or appropriated without credit by the chemical fertilizer companies, while he was ignored. Hasn’t this kind of stuff gone on long enough? Corporate money, just like government money, always comes with a few slimy strings attached. I say no thanks. We’ll do it ourselves.
And yes, this is a bugle call, for all who have ears to hear.
Let’s get together and work together, all of us who love and believe in this beautiful emerald gem we live upon. Let’s let go of our differences and find our common ground. Let’s learn a little bit from each other instead of trying to prove that “our way” is the only right way. As I said earlier, we can bring together the best of Organics, Permaculture, Biodynamics, Eco-Agriculture, native and traditional farming and anything else that is sustainable, healthful, abundant, and works. We can grow the best food that has ever been grown, and become the healthiest, happiest people who have ever lived
It’s up to us. We can do this. We must do this.
Q: So be it. Thank you for your time, Agricola.
Agricola: You are very welcome. It has been a pleasure.
The Ideal Soil: