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Adding Some Soul to Soil

Most of our newsletters deal with biological elements in soil, especially mycorrhizal fungi and the symbiotic partnerships that exist between plants, fungi, and bacteria. We also make disparaging comments about the misguided (in our opinion) emphasis on soil chemistry.

However, to clarify, our real concern with chemistry is mostly about the excessive use of macronutrients- NPK fertilizers that contain only a few major elements. The application of these incomplete"plant foods" year after year to croplands and gardens can cause harmful salt buildups and depletion of important minor and trace elements.

Deep soils rich in mineral elements do have a substantial "forgiveness factor". Such soils can tolerate decades of poor fertilizing practices before showing obvious signs of distress and experiencing yield failures. The inevitable can be delayed by plowing deeper, which is now being done in some areas of the U.S.

Soils that lack good reserves of glacial or volcanic-origin elements can be burned out fairly quickly by repeated applications of high-analysis fertilizers. These depleted soils are then typically abandoned. This is a common practice for developing-country growers who must coax crops from thin infertile soils.

Damaged lifeless soils can be very difficult to fix. It would be better and easier to keep productive soils healthy. We think that periodically applying minerals containing a broad spectrum of elements should be a routine part of maintaining croplands or gardens.

This is where soil chemistry makes real sense - working to provide a full range of macro, minor, and trace elements for soil organisms to digest into forms plants can use, rather than simply applying the major elements.

True, it is much easier to measure the presence or absence of the "big" elements in soil, but tiny amounts of many other elements may be what plants need for full health and disease resistance. Unless those "little" elements also get replenished somehow, problems lie ahead.

Ideally, each and every mineral element from Aluminum to Zinc would be maintained in ideal proportions to each other, but this is impossible. Luckily, growers can employ mycorrhizal fungi to regulate a plant's uptake of elements. These fungi respond to plant needs. They will hunt for scarce elements, screen out excesses of other elements, and deliver a perfectly balanced diet to their host plants. Endomycorrhizal fungi exchange nutrients inside a plant's roots, while Ectomycorrhizal fungi perform the exchange in a sheath coating outside the roots.

The common advice to apply rock dusts to soil is good, except that widely-available granite rock dusts have a relatively low range of elements. Green sand and Azomite-type minerals are much better, and the best I've found is mined from a large deposit of hydrothermally-changed dacite rock (a crumbly clay volcanically steamed for a few million years) near Crater Lake, Oregon. This light gray material contains nearly every known element, including gold and silver! We have observed wonderful plant responses to it, especially in combination with biological inoculants. (This material is not being packaged yet, but I'm hopeful it will be in the future.)

The key point to keep in mind is that a grower's goal is to make sure that the broadest possible array of elements are available to the soil organisms for processing. It is less important to have exact amounts of each element - that's chemical thinking. The smart little soil critters will sort through the materials and pick out what they (and their host plants) need. Simple, eh?

Finally, on a personal note, thanks to all of you who said they hoped I wasn't getting ready to retire after I mentioned that possibility in my last newsletter. However, I am indeed beginning to think about the subject and plan to start the process of finding the right buyer for BioOrganics, Inc.

I'd invite individuals or corporations who might be interested in owning a bio-product business with a good customer base and substantial growth potential to contact me. This simple manufacturing and marketing operation could easily be re-located anywhere in the country and I would provide advisory help as needed.

This could take a while, so don't look for the newsletters to stop anytime soon!

Cheers, my friends,

Don Chapman
President, BioOrganics, Inc.

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