Soil Health is Everything
We are very honoured to have Graeme Sait and his Nutri-Tech team’s experience and help with the Orchard soil health section of our website. In this article, we highlight the importance of healthy soil in your Honeyberry orchard and the tools you need to have in your pocket to maintain and improve it. What has soil in your orchard got to do with Honeyberries? Well, the taste and nutrients of your Honeyberry come from your fertile orchard soil or terroir.
Importance of soil health in your orchard
If you would like to read his primary Blog – Soil Health is Everything. Please click on the following link or the teeming soils picture below.
The price of depletion in our soils
Today as, throughout history, we are what we eat and what we eat comes from lands that are a shadow of their former selves. The loss of minerals, microbes and humus from our soils has necessitated ever increasing levels of chemical intervention which has, in turn, further exacerbated the losses. It is the typical vicious cycle and unfortunately, we are the big losers in this equation.
The sustainability of continuing down the current path is questionable. It is best illustrated by the fact that we have used more chemicals every year since we began the “chemical experiment” in agriculture (ten decades of extractive farming) and yet every year there has been a global increase in pest and disease pressure.
2015 was a record year for chemical usage around the globe (involving a 14% increase) and this significantly eclipsed the previous year, which was also a record. Dowsing our soils and food with more toxic chemicals each year, with less and less response, is surely the definition of unsustainability. New research linking farm chemicals to the plague of leukaemia in our children drives yet another nail in the coffin of reactive crop management.
What determines healthy soil?
The cornerstones of a highly productive, disease-resistant soil are minerals, microbes and humus. Minerals are the plant’s building blocks for the phytonutrients (vitamins, carotenes, antioxidants and protective compounds like sulforaphane, lycopene and anthocyanins) that determine medicinal qualities in fresh food. The availability of minerals to plants is determined by supply, balance and biology.
For decades, we mined minerals from our soils through crop removal and only replaced three or four in NPK. We also ignored the biology that delivers these minerals and protects the plant. We regularly assault soil life with salts and biocides and rarely replaced or nurtured those that remained. However, it is more than the simplistic, NPK approach and neglect of biology which has impacted soil health, mineral delivery and associated farm profitability. No mineral is an island and each mineral affects several others. It is all about balance in your soils or orchard.
Improving soil in the orchard
The starting point in the orchard’s balance equation is always calcium, the trucker of all minerals. Whether you are an interested Honeyberry orchard creator, primary crop producer or just a home gardener. Your priority is to address your soil’s calcium requirements. Each soil has a different calcium storage capacity based on its clay component. A good soil test will provide base saturation details (the percentage of storage space available on the clay colloid) and an associated indication of appropriate calcium applications. An understanding of this balance is essential.
A standard soil test will provide base saturation details (the percentage of storage space available on the clay colloid) and an associated indication of appropriate calcium applications. An understanding of this balance is essential because too much lime can be worse than ignoring calcium requirements. It is all about getting it “just right”, hence the Goldilocks analogy.
An oversupply of calcium can negatively impact the uptake of seven other minerals. The correct amount of calcium about magnesium (the Calcium (Ca): Magnesium (Mg) ratio) determines how well a soil can breathe and this impacts everything. An open, aerated soil facilitates improved photosynthesis (the most important process on the planet) and provides the optimum terrain for earthworms and other members of your aerobic, microbial workforce.
Plant roots expand unimpeded in this medium and moisture moves in freely from above and below. So it is calcium, as a starting point and then all other significant and minor minerals that need to be addressed for high production fertility. Zinc for leaf size (the solar panel), copper for resilience, boron for reproduction, molybdenum and cobalt to access free nitrogen from the atmosphere and silica (for the cell strength that helps the plant resist both disease and insect attack).
How can we regenerate our soils?
Mineral balance, inexpensive microbial inoculums through compost teas and compost are three keys to improving profitability, plant resilience, stock health and our health. The microbe most missing in most soils around the world are the most famous creature of them all at this point.
Mycorrhizal fungi burrow into the plant roots and then create a massive root extension that effectively provides ten times more root surface area. These symbiotic fungi allow the plant greater access to vital minerals like phosphorus, potassium and calcium and they produce immune supporting biochemicals for their host. They also produce a sticky substance called glomalin that is now known to be the triggering mechanism for 30% of the humus in the soil.
Extractive agriculture has done more than increase our likelihood of growing substandard, chemically contaminated food; it has also knocked out 90% of the all-important mycorrhizal fungi in our soils. These creatures can be reintroduced for as little as five dollars per acre and you need to initiate this repopulation exercise in your orchard as quickly as possible.
Composting needs to become the mantra for every Honeyberry grower. Composting involves humus production and the addition of compost to the soil sparks further humus creation by re-energised soil life. It is now time that we revisit the ancient wisdom that defined the words “humus” and “human” as the same thing. Both words mean “of and for the earth”, with the profound implications of that understanding.
Importance of cocktail cover crops
Planting a cocktail of cover crops (five families – legumes, grasses, brassicas, cereals and chenopods) in the best and most cost-effective way to improve your soil before you plant and after you plant. It is becoming a critical orchard tool and like everything in life the mix or variety of the cocktail is key. This cocktail approach is the best, most cost-effective way and most efficient way to build humus, stimulate biology (including the very expensive mycorrhiza), unlock minerals in soils and keep weeds at bay. A vital hard working and free workforce, similar to bees. One of the important decisions to grow on your young plants in 2 or 4-gallon pots is that they will be big enough to plant directly into this living mulch in the Fall.
This cocktail approach is the best, most cost-effective way and most efficient way to build humus, stimulate biology (including the very expensive mycorrhiza), unlock minerals in soils and keep weeds at bay. A crucial hard working and free workforce, similar to bees. One of the important decisions to grow on your young plants in 2 or 4-gallon pots is that they will be big enough to plant directly into this living mulch in the Fall.
One of the most significant misunderstandings about cover crops is that they will rob precious reserve moisture from the orchard crop. It is not the case. When these cover crops are returned to the soil, they increase organic matter (or humus), which holds its weight in water. More importantly, these crops feed and stimulate bacterial populations and these organisms continuously release a sticky substance that works just like water crystals in your soil. You have very often improved moisture management with a cover crop instead of stealing from the coming crop.
The many benefits of cover crops are reflected in the rapidly rising rate of adoption in the United States. The chart below shows its use is expanding by 30% per year.
The advantages of this cost effective strategy (approx. $80 an acre) are to awaken the soil’s biology, increase the organic matter and make the minerals more available to the plants. So the soil is in better shape to hold on to any needed soil amendments post the establishment annual cocktail cover crop.
Combining microbes and minerals to the rescue
Modern agriculture is now three generations into a chemical experiment, which has ignored the critical importance of soil life. A host of man-made chemicals has replaced many of the proven, time-honored, soil-feeding practices, which previously had sustained our soils for centuries.
If there’s one thing, we have learnt from this experiment. It is on most occasions, poor yield, poor quality and disease pressure are related to a failure or breakdown of soil biology.
Graeme Sait has taught us that “Soil-life governs production.” It’s a basic statement and a simple fact. Although it remains the most straightforward and challenging concept for many farmers or growers to grasp.
Today many farmers are still at war with nature, utilising an ever-increasing armoury of harmful chemical weapons to batter our ‘man-made pests’ into submission. It is simply an unwinnable war because we do not understand the real enemy. We have failed to grasp the fact that insect and disease pressure are ‘symptoms’ of other problems in our orchards or crop fields.
If we accept that ‘soil-life governs plant or crop production’, then it becomes blatantly obvious that we must work with nature rather than against her. When we apply minerals in a balanced form in the soil, it is not solely for the sake of the plant. A balanced minerally soil determines the efficiency of the five billion microorganisms, which inhabit every teaspoon of healthy soil.
How do we repair and replenish this ‘life-force’ to maximise the orchard’s productivity? Internationally renowned microbiologist, Professor Elaine Ingham, claims that all known soil and leaf diseases can be controlled or prevented by using a well-formulated and successfully brewed compost tea.
The concept essentially involves taking a good quality compost and multiplying this incredible biodiversity in a brewing tank. Maximum microbe counts are achieved by providing optimum brewing conditions and supplying a good food source to satisfy hungry microbes. Beneficial microorganisms can double in number every 20 minutes if they are managed correctly.
Graeme Sait’s Microbe Secrets
- Your fertiliser requirements can be dramatically reduced when you combine microbes with minerals amendments. For example, you can apply just 10% of soil test recommendations and still achieve a good result when those minerals are mixed with compost.
- A typical foliar application of chelated zinc might require around 5 litres per hectare. If the zinc is combined with a compost tea, you may be pleased with the response achieved using just one litre per hectare.
- It is always a good idea to send your new garden workforce to work with a healthy lunchbox. It will improve both their performance and colonisation. The favourite “lunch” treats include – humates, fish and kelp.
- Humates are a wonderful ingredient for your soil as it helps to stabilise, magnify and retain nutrients while also providing the highly desirable “lunchbox” effect. Dissolve four teaspoons into the Compost Tea Bucket, after it has brewed, wet soil thoroughly. The diluted 15 gallons should cover approximately 200 square feet.
- Honeyberries love fungal dominated soil, about ten fungi to one bacteria. So add greater amounts of kelp or humic acid.
- The more minerals your soils biology can deliver to your Honeyberry plant, the greater the flavour (Brix of 15 plus) and the higher the medicinal value of the berries you are growing.
Please note chlorinated water should be aerated for 30 minutes before brewing and water temperature should not exceed 25c. You can buy in pre-made food and microbe packs or make your own. Just remember, be creative.
We have practised extractive agriculture for much of the past century, plugging the increasing number of leaks with increasingly costly farm chemicals. The results? Poor yields, poor food quality and increase disease pressures that are related to a breakdown of soil biology. By returning to the old ways by putting the microbes behind the minerals is real science that is needed and serves both food producers and the health conscious consumer.
In many cases, farmers think the idea of compost tea is too complicated and creates more work to their busy day. However, it is remarkably simple. After 24 hours of aeration in a brewing tank, you have a tank full of a new, biodiverse workforce that can be applied at the rate 10 to 20 gallons of brewed tea per acre. The cost can be as little as $2 per acre, and this mixture can be applied via soil spray (for the management of healthy soil) or foliar spray (to restore leaf health).
The Certificate in Nutritional Farming
To learn more about this important subject and much, much more. We would strongly recommend Graeme’s internationally acclaimed, two-day or four-day NTS sustainable agriculture course in both North America and the UK. It is a wonderfully in-depth and eye-opening course Graeme and his team are proving that a path to nutritional farming is not merely necessary to healthy life, but to more sustainable and profitable farming.
The Certificate in Nutrition Farming® involves a 300-page course manual and five online exams. Graduates receive a Certificate that has become a sought-after, CV-worthy qualification in many countries. The course is held in many locations all over the world from India to Canada to New Zealand. Please click the picture below to be taken to Nutri-Tech’s website for up and coming course details.