Discussion in 'Planting, growing, nurturing Plants' started by SueUSA, Mar 6, 2011.
And they all need love. la de da de de
Sue's assumption that permaculture practitioners never do soil tests is incorrect. How we interpret them, however, may be different from mainstreamers.
When supplements are used we prefer mineral-based mixtures and organic sources such as manure to artificial compounds as the balance is gentler on the existing organisms in the soil.
Because permaculture practitioners condition the soil and increase the organic matter content, less leaching and run-off wastage occurs, requiring less supplementation in the first place and in the long term.
We also "import" nutrients whenever we buy outside food or feed, which is necessary in all but the most advanced farms. However, unlike other systems where nutrients are flushed down the toilet, or sent to the refuse tip as garbage, or washed away from poorly conditioned soil by rainwater and erosion, etc., most permaculture practitioners are net importers. We recycle our organic waste to composting toilets, to worm farms, and to our chickens and compost bins - what we bring to the farm stays on the farm. (Those who sell produce off the farm do need to consider the export of nutrients, though.)
On the other hand, even scientists are concerned about the overuse of superphosphate and other artificial fertilisers by mainstream farmers. Usage is estimated to be roughly ten times the amount actually needed. Why? Because many mainstream farmers are not properly aware of the distinction between independent research and corporate (or industrial) research. They tend to simply follow the instructions provided by the fertiliser makers rather than independent studies. Unfortunately, it is more profitable for fertiliser manufacturers to promote excessive consumption than to recommend safe, thrifty use.
Farmers also tend to overreact to soil test results and overcompensate, burning the soil.
I have followed this informative, interesting and sometimes emotive discussion with the original quest being as to why Aust. perm. growers shy away from soil tests and their associated analyses. Yes, we do have a continent of aged geolological soil-forming rocks, yes, we are amongst the driest continents on earth and we do have many vast areas of nutrient deficient soils and soils in too low rainfall areas for arable agriculture.
Graziers in Australia attempt to make a long term profit by utilising the pasture in a given area by carefully modifying the stocking rate to the current conditions of climate and the ongoing ecology of their pastures as evidenced by %ground cover, the relative proportions of palatable and lesser palatable plants and the maturity of grasses and the current and future seasonal weather conditions. They maximise animal growth mainly by stocking rate control and in extremes by adding dietary supplements largely absent in the native pasture as a result of nutrient poor soils and seasonal conditions. Fertilisers are not used by graziers on a large scale. Legumes are sown where they are available and can grow along with nitrogen fixing bacteria, urea and other essential nutrient supplements lacking in the vegetation are fed with molasses and protein meals in drought to feed the gut microorganisms to produce protein to enable ruminants to digest plentiful lower protein dry season grasses. All actions are weighed on a long term financial and operational plans and goals. Australia's graziers are cost efficient and utilize a delicate resource, a far cry from the 18 and 1900's where large aggregations of land were owned by an overseas Lord and managed from the accountants office in the UK.
The smaller proportion of arable lands in Australia are largely grown dryland, planted on a full, measured soil moisture profile . Our Farmers aren't imbeciles. You would soon be broke and living on a house block in the city if you did not regularly and systematically monitor the soil's inorganic and organic status, soil moisture and aeration and soil micro and macroorganism activity. Controlled traffic agriculture, integrated pest management, conservation farming and a holistic approach to growing food on a large scale has been practiced for decades in Australia. Australia's farmers have long been recognised as world leaders in soil water and soil nutrient conservation.
The vast majority, over 90%, of Australia's population live on the coastal fringe where rainfalls are greater and seasonal variation is usually lesser. Many of our cities and towns lie on floodplains, long fertilised from the past and more recently in the floods, or on volcanic uplands with younger soils than the vast interior.
Sure, all soils need a healthy population of micro and macroorganisms to convert organic matter which must be present, to plant available nutrients if adequate soil temperature and moisture conditions prevail. Sure, the soils need organic matter to help store soil moisture and maintain soil structure, but if the soil is lacking in essential elements in the quantities that the plants that we want present require to grow and the organic matter that we add to the system is also lacking, then what? Many minor elements that are essential for animal growth are not plant growth limiting. Plants may grow well, but be lacking in some trace elements essential to animal growth.
Those elements lacking are easily measured, the amelioration of those deficiencies is where the debate really stands. These must be supplied from outside that soil system and "mined" from another by direct inorganic sources such as Fossilised seabird poop, byproducts of the petrochemical industry or indirectly by adding organic matter such as grass clippings, kitchen waste, poultry manure pellets, feedlot waste, dead fish, cow horns and hooves etc. or even better, harvested naturally from the atmosphere by lightning, rain, bug Zapper fallout, soil fixation, atmospheric dust or heaven forbid, volcanic ash.
Unless the essential plant needs are measured analytically or subjectively and met with a holistic approach, pissing on the lemon tree might just be poisoning it organically and just perfectly naturally. Adding organic matter from reading the above posts seems to be our easiest panacea, with the widest acceptance to soil deficiencies amongst posters.
Unfortunately, to many farmers "integrated pest management" means drenching and dipping, not to mention riding around on a quad bike spraying Roundup into the wind (including into their own faces.)
Sue, sounds like you're assuming we don't know about 64 trace elements and nutrients other than NPK. Where did you get that idea? That's rather insulting, considering some of us make our living farming or focused our lifestyle on growing our own food. And your assumption that we are failing at growing plants if we don't get a soil test is also pretty insulting. How do you know how well we're doing?
It isn't a religion to watch and observe the changes in plants. It gets exactly down into the nitty gritty of understanding trace elements and pH, and understanding our different soils, BTW.
I still don't understand why this has you so worked up. Are people in here suggesting we add things to the soil that will cause trouble, or kill our landscapes? Is there advice being given that will cause damage to our plants? But a blanket complaint that we are cultists if we don't get a soil test seems kind of bizarre. If we're doing just fine, why are you making it such an issue?
I think sue is going crazy to define to you the recipe for best practice if you want fast reliable establishment of good soil.
Good soil can be gained by individual additives over time using observations. its a good life.If as I am You are concerned about your food quality you would find it really cool to be able to see the requirements on one page.If it were a commercial enterprise call it best practice.
I did 5 years living with a 15'x15' plot never adding any soil amendments for those 5 years other then occasional water in the middle of a gun shootin up ghetto. The everything grew abundently, and without problems.
Your mind is already made up, and you are doing no research to show us we are wrong despite numerous sites world wide.
Oh and if you want to talk about nutrients, you missed a large one called Calcium, some plants require it as much as other macronutrients. ((Big word, macronutrient)).
I have ordered a soil test in Australia. Unlike the original posters suggested $8-10 for a soil test it costs me nearly $400 for a proper laboratory soil analysis.
I can not say I got a whole lot out of the report from recommended amendments as they would not be permanent solutions to the soil's problems but it was good to know.
I had to relocate to another part of the country and so I am not managing that soil anymore and on my new farm I have *not* ordered a soil test and am not sure if I will.
Once I move all my gear out of storage I can dig up the report if anyone wants to know more.
We have had two soil tests over the last couple of years. The main reason being that we need to justify our inputs for our organic certification. Although most of our inputs are compost / mulch we do need to add sulphate of potash , blood and bone and other inputs to correct soil deficiencies. The last report cost us $140.
The good news is that we are joining a local soil care group which can get us discounted soil tests at the local university for under $100.
You raise some very good points Sue. IMHO it is pretty dumb disregarding science with regards to nutritional needs of people, plants and soil. Scientific research should be used to back up PC practice. It should be used to fine-tune what we're doing.
Some of the reactions here remind me of alternative medicine supporters having a go at traditional medicine, loads of mistrust etc, where clearly we've come a long way.
Be nice peoples.
I wonder though Jan, where Science is in nature ? Without "us" there would be no science as we know it, just natural evolution and the natural order of things.
you must know that the tenor of your posts and previous experience would get some, sometimes...heated....replies.
I'd be really interested to read an update from you.
I'm about to get soil tests done: I get them every 3 years or so.
My previous tests showed I had more than enough of everything, and 3 years on, I'll fascinated to see what's changed.
growing vegetables has precious little to do with the natural state of affairs.
You could use science to understand what is going and how to use this to your advantage. isn't that what we're trying to do. A bit of scientific back-up would be handy, rather than going for the empiric approach and guessing away. Maybe it's just me, but then I am a biochemist.....
To each their own I guess.
I'd rather look at whats growing and try to copy those growing conditions for similar plant species. Knowing what a soil is lacking will tell you what a soil is lacking. It won't tell you if its good soil for [insert vegetable here].
When i garden I look at what the plant needs to live and give it that -not necessarily what the soil is deficient in. Isn't that what crop rotations are all about... Knowing that Brassicas are high Nitrogen users one can plant them after a crop of legumes and mulch with pea straw etc, etc, do that often enough and the soil tends to take care of itself...
Just Give it more than you take.
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