HOMEGROWN Life: Improve Your Soil Health

| 10/1/2013 9:31:00 AM

dirt in handAs a farmer who likes to read a little too much, I get things stuck in my craw from time to time. The problem, you see, is that I prefer to follow issues and events from a much broader spectrum than simply that of the conventional ag press and all of its discussions about corn and soy seeding rates, fertilizer-application wizardry, and new equipment advances.

All of this reading makes good mental material for the long and monotonous hoeing and/or weed pulling and/or irrigating sessions that come with growing vegetables.

One of the topics I return to often, both in terms of reading and of arguing with myself about what I’ve read, is the subject of microorganisms. I’m infatuated with the unseen life that makes soil happen: fungi, protozoa, earthworms, bacteria, bugs, and more.

The unseen world is an interesting place to spend your time, whether you’re asking questions about God or plate tectonics or the soil foodweb. My conversion experience, if you want to think of it that way, came in 2004. I was trying to build healthy soil on a farm that had been “farmed out” for far too long. I came across a great little article that I’ve returned to many times since on the Rodale Institute’s New Farm blog. The article was about brewing your own microorganisms. It’s worth a read for anyone interested in farming, gardening, or building a better soil ecosystem.

The article featured a Filipino farmer, Gil Carandang, who urged others farmers to mind and enhance soil life through home-brewed microbes. The basics are these: Find a place on your land where the soil is healthy, maybe a corner of the pasture that hasn’t been farmed or a spot in the forest. Dig a couple of shovelfuls of the healthy soil and put that in a container that can hold water. I use an old plastic mineral tub that holds probably 20 gallons of liquids. Add some kind of carbohydrate (rice, bread, old hay, etc.) that the microbial life can feed on. I tend to use partially composted wood and hay and rice. Add water. Add a form of sugar to help boost the microbial activity. Here, I’ve tried plain sugar, honey, and molasses. All of them seem to work great. Brew for a while (I usually go a week or so), bottle up, and then dilute with water before spreading on the soil.

Carandang also mentioned the immense power of lactobacteria. That usually comes from dairy products. I’ve added raw milk and yogurt to the above process. I have also added compost from time to time. It all seems to work wonders.

10/22/2013 7:00:04 PM

The correct web page address to the comment below is: http://palekarzerobudgetspiritualfarming.org/ "Zero Budget Spiritual Farming." In my humble opinion, it is a good site. :)

10/4/2013 10:39:04 AM

Hi Bryce - you are definitely on the right track. In India, there are several farming gurus who advocate this. Subhash Palekar is one of them ... www.palekarzerobudgetnaturalfarming.com Biodynamic farming (which is essentially an offshoot of ancient India texts) also advocates similar approaches.

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