The Universality of Plant Nutrient Balancing
by Gary Kline
Rather than agnostic, my dog tags from Air Force days said Unitarian, which is my leaning. Unitarians united with Universalists (who were even fewer) to become Unitarian – Universalists. So, if anyone asks, that’s what I am. In the face of all evidence and protestation to the contrary, I cling to belief in universals. I can give convincing reason that adherence to universals triumphs when the smoke has cleared. I’m going to do so here.
I have two copies of Neal Kinsey’s 1995 book, Hands-On Agronomy (co-authored with Charles Walters). One is clean and unmarked. The other is full of my penciled notes and splotched from a coffee spill by Michael Astera. I might as well point out that Michael’s book, The Ideal Soil, first self-published in 2008, is dedicated to Charles Walters and to me. I confess that I was quite honored and pleased upon reading that dedication. Charles Walters, Neal Kinsey and I are disciples of the great soil scientist, Dr. William A. Albrecht. Charles Walters passed on shortly afterwards. Kinsey and I are still around, preaching.
In Hands-On Agronomy (pages vii, 8 and 9), Neal Kinsey, who actually studied under Albrecht, makes some startling and illuminating assertions that everyone should know about and that make the whole subject of soil analysis and fertilizer prescriptions a lot less complex and mysterious than most people (non-universalists) would imagine. Indeed, when I read them in 1997, it was a Eureka moment. I’ll cite some of them:
“Our objective is the right amount of everything. Once we achieve the proper nutrient load, then we have the foundation to begin achieving proper fertility support for plant growth. Whatever the crop in the production sequence, corn, soybean, rice or wheat, these generally can be grown without too much trouble - - - clover, alfalfa, sugar beets, sugar cane, vegetables, citrus groves, pasture grasses, trees and flowers or turf grass [throw in bananas, popcorn, peanuts, timber and herbs], all will grow best in the very same soil. That soil is the one that contains all the necessary nutrients we know to test for in the proper relationship with every one of the other nutrients. A soil that grows the very best corn will also grow the very best alfalfa.”
On page vii it states: “All of these crops [investigated by Kinsey] helped to demonstrate that supplying the [universally] correct fertility to achieve proper balance worked in all types of agriculture.” We’re on to something here, something big.
Continuing on page 9: “I have never seen a soil, not one, that didn’t confirm and conform to the design unlocked by analysis. - - - the general principle holds: top quality blueberries [so-called acid-lovers] grow on the same soil as the very best corn [supposed heavy nitrogen feeder].” Probably, heavy nitrogen feeding of corn is only made necessary due to lack of complete mineral balance in the soil, as Albrecht (and disciples) contend that when that complete and balanced mineral array in ample amount is supplied, the soil (microbes) makes its own nitrogen from the 79 percent nitrogen gas in the air. I’ll come back to the matter of acid-lovers later.
What Kinsey is saying is that achieving the Albrecht ratios (for calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium and certain trace minerals) and balancing those cations (along with providing anion forms of phosphorus, sulfur and anion trace elements) works to produce almost any crop on almost any soil, very well. Bear in mind that Kinsey’s observations are based on consulting for hundreds of farms experiencing problems on practically every kind of crop grown in the U.S. and around the world. Whereas other scientists may dismiss this claim of a universal fertility balance, Kinsey goes around the world proving it.
Here’s what it comes down to: Get the cation chemistry (and the organic matter level) right and the right physics and biology (or ecology) follow, and they synergistically fine-tune the system and, given some time, result in correct aeration, drainage, decay, pH, tilth, nutrition and nutrient density in the crop. There is, thus, in nature, and in agronomy, a universal “right” formula to be uncovered and applied that works for growing nearly all plants, and thereby feeding all animals for maximum health. It follows that this right formula, found by professional soil testing, gives high BRIX (sugars, minerals, etc.) and high immunity to disease and insect attack (as Albrecht showed). This is the secret operating plan of nature. Get rid of malnourishment in the soil and we get rid of pesticides and gain superior health in the bargain. Tell that to Simpson-Bowles.
Does this mean that there is a uniform and perfectly balanced fertilizer blend for every place and every plant? The answer is no. While the oceans have nearly uniform and evidently perfect fertility for everything living in them (where we have not messed things up), the land does not. Every soil area is different, and putting a balanced fertilizer on unbalanced soil still leaves an unbalanced, though perhaps better, soil.
With respect to “acid-lovers”, Lee Fryer, who also collaborated with Walters, wrote in The Bio-Gardener’s Bible (1982, pages 126-7) that rhododendrons do not hate lime, but will take up lots of calcium (from liming) if also provided ample boron and other needed minerals. We are warned about how phytotoxic boron is (and it can be), but here’s what Fryer found:
“On a bed of young rhodies 3 feet high, we sprayed various amounts of boron, including one group of plants at the ‘lethal’ dosage of 20 pounds of actual boron per acre. The plants loved it, responding with new growth of 4 inches and more.”
Heresy! Yet, the lack of a few ounces of boron per acre can stymie crop growth, and we know that the calcium in lime goes nowhere without its little driver, boron.
Fryer continues: “As for the rhododendrons, we took some of these ‘acid-loving’ plants into the laboratory in 1956 [!] and grew them happily at pH 9.0 [!!], feeding lime water every week, but we had to give positive supplies of chelated minerals, especially iron [ring any bells?]. On such a complete, balanced diet these lime haters became lime lovers, the same as other plants, and grew normally.”
Say it ain’t so! Everything we’ve been told historically about pH, NPK boosting, and fertilizing generally is open to challenge. As Fryer put it, “Often plants and people seem to be just waiting for a few critical nutrients in order to be healthy again.” It’s all about the ABC’s of minerals (amount, balance and completeness) and about the Mineral-Augmented Organic Method.
© 2013 Gary L. Kline
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