Breaking New Ground
by Gary Kline
Organic gardening is now mainstream in America. Polls indicate that a majority of gardeners consider themselves to be organic. It wasn’t long ago, however, that organic gardeners were a lonesome and ridiculed few. I know. I was one, back in the 1970s.
The common understanding of what it is to be an organic gardener is not using dangerous pesticides and artificial (synthetic) fertilizers to grow plants or crops. This is good and welcome, but it is only part of the true meaning of organiculture. A second major part is use of organic matter, particularly compost, in the building of soil structure and fertility.
There is no question that a certain minimum amount of organic matter in some form is essential to the productiveness and full operation of nutrients present in soils. However, there is yet a third major part or dimension that distinguishes what it ought to mean to have truly superb soil fertility that results in the greatest health of plants and the best possible health for the people eating them.
The third dimension has long been largely missing from the lore and common practice of organic gardening. It is my mission, and the purpose of this article, to make that third part widely known and introduced to everyone’s gardening practice so that the full picture of organic growing can be made complete and everyone experiences greater success in their gardening with the bonus of greater personal health from eating their garden’s produce.
This missing dimension of which I speak is mineral nutrients required to furnish the full diet of plants and provide uncommonly high nutrient density in foods. One of the side benefits of high nutrient density in your crops is that you are all but guaranteed to have negligible insect pest problems and disease outbreaks in whatever you grow. We could all use a lot less pest stress.
Plants are like we humans. The better their diet the greater their health and their resistance to diseases that might come along. It is a fact that the taste of healthy plants is unappealing to most pest insects. They actually seek out the weak and ailing plants because that is the role they were designed for in nature. It’s a nasty job, but someone has to do it, and they actually relish that assignment.
What do plants need in the way of food or nutrition from the soil? Well, the bulk of a plant’s tissue actually comes from carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen (originally) derived from the air and water. But a crucial small portion has to be another 15 or so mineral elements that come from the soil, plus for our own health and well-being there needs to be another 5 or so critical elements available for plants to take up in service to us humans. If these 15 minerals are not all present in the soil (and in roughly balanced proportions), the health of your plants will falter. Likewise, if those 15 plus the extra 5, are not in the soil, or present in sufficient amounts, they won’t reach you and your health will falter. Furthermore, you likely will not live as long.
I will name the 15 mineral elements that higher plants are known to require. They are: phosphorous, sulfur, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, iron, copper, zinc, manganese, boron, chlorine, cobalt, molybdenum and silicon. The others we want in the soil for our additional needs are iodine, selenium, chromium, lithium, nickel and arsenic (yes, arsenic). Some of these are needed in just tiniest amounts, but they are just as critical for full health as the nutrient minerals required in high amounts.
Here’s the problem. We have long operated as if only three nutrient elements are really needed to grow plants, those being nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (designated in shorthand as NPK). The assumption has been that if anything more was needed, it would automatically and always be there in sufficient amount already in the soil. This is plain wrong and our agriculture and the nutritional quality of our foods has suffered drastically as a result of that assumption, despite long-standing scientific knowledge to the contrary. The simple fact is that the complete array of 19 (ideally 25) nutrient elements has to be in the soil in sufficient amount, balance, and completeness (the ABCs of soil fertility), and if they are not, then we need to supply them.
The questions then become: which ones are present, which ones are missing (or in short supply) and how much of those do you need to apply and work into your soil? However can you possibly know the answers to those important questions? I’ll answer that further into the article.
There is a second big problem I need to break to you. Very few soils in the world contain the full complement of necessary nutrients in the proper amounts and balance. Organic matter generally does not supply very much of any of them, no matter how much you might heap on and work in. In fact, after a point this only makes matters worse. The majority of soils, especially in rainy western Washington, require addition of mineral nutrients to approximate an ideal soil composition. The great majority of organic growers are either ignorant or in denial of these fundamental facts and their gardens suffer accordingly. But there is remedy.
The needed new ground-breaking I have alluded to is actually more in the thinking and awareness of organic gardeners than it is in their garden plots or landscape areas. There are two simple ways to rectify this big problem. I refer to them as the shotgun approach and the scoped rifle approach to achieving correct soil fertility. So, you have a choice of weapons.
Suppose you have a target tacked to a barn a hundred feet away. Using the shotgun you are almost certain to hit the target, but not likely the bull’s eye. This is analogous to using a complete organic fertilizer mix such as Black Lake Organic’s popular BLOOM blends. This supplies some of every kind of nutrient that might be needed in roughly balanced amounts, including some your soil does not need. Every soil is different and it would be nearly impossible to hit the right combination for your particular soil, let alone every soil, everywhere.
Using the scoped rifle, you can’t miss the bull’s eye. This is analogous to having a professional laboratory soil test that is analyzed by a soils expert. This method results in a prescription of fertilizer nutrients and materials that exactly matches your particular site needs. This is the much preferred method for a number of reasons, but one of them is that you don’t buy materials you don’t need. Another is that you don’t put on too much or too little of any one or several materials that are needed. As a result, you likely will save as much money as it costs to get the soil test. Black Lake Organic offers a professional soil testing service. You can reach us at (360)786-0537 or go to www.blacklakeorganic.com.
Black Lake Organic has pioneered the concept of Mineral-Augmented Organics, which addresses the full spectrum of plant nutrient needs. The past two years (2011 and 2012) we offered a series of 12 classes in Advanced Organic Gardening (taught by BLO owner, Gary Kline). These classes center around the principle of Mineral-Augmented Organics. We have since moved on to a planned series of monthly seminars on Nutritional Health. Packets of the gardening class texts and handouts are available at the store for $10 per class. If you purchase all 12 we will reduce the price to $5.00 each ($60.00 total). This is information you simply won’t find anywhere else.
Completion of the first 5 classes qualified students to receive a Master Soil Builder Certificate. Two students went on to do in-depth study of soil testing which I consider has earned them the title of Soil Physician. They are so good at it that we have turned the analytical function, (that results in fertilizer (medicine?) prescriptions), over to them. Improper nutrition is at the bottom of most of today’s major illnesses. We want to see people advance beyond ordinary gardening to full nutrition gardening and eating high density foods for greater nutritional health. Black Lake Organic has the information and the materials needed to do that.
Here’s the exciting part (call it the 4th dimension). A revolution in thinking and approaches to sustainable agriculture and horticulture is urgently needed and on the way. I have a dream, call it a vision, that one day the country will be sprinkled with Neighborhood Soil Physicians, capable of advising gardeners on gardening methods and solving soil and fertility problems and either referring them to testing labs or consulting and dispensing soil treatment prescriptions. Beyond that, I envision an alliance of Soil Physicians with Nutritional Health Advisors so we have the whole spectrum covered from soil to personal health to bring about a restored society and a saner world. GK
© 2013 Gary L. Kline
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