One of our dealers in Florida recently asked what we would suggest for restoring life to soils that have been damaged by years of over fertilization and chemicals. As there are probably others among you who face this same issue, here is how I replied to him...
Hi Jeff -
There's an old saying about when you find yourself in a hole: The first thing is to stop digging deeper. With soil that has had its biological components damaged or destroyed, the first step toward restoration is to stop adding any more chemical fertilizers. Nitrogen is usually not a lasting problem, but phosphorus and potassium levels are often extremely high in over-fertilized soils - there may be years and years worth of P and K present in such soils.
Lawns and croplands are two different animals as far as treatment is concerned. For lawns, the best remedy is to aerate by physically removing plugs (not just probing holes with spikes), raking off the plugs, scattering a biological inoculant, and then immediately applying a couple inches of compost - raking it all into the holes before they close - and finally watering regularly for a few days. Our standard Endo spore BEI is normally used, but I'd also suggest experimenting with our new MycoMinerals product which adds essential minor and trace minerals to the soil.
Especially in soils like you have in Florida, (which did not get the benefits of glacial or volcanic activity), the addition of trace minerals can make a dramatic difference in plant performance. After you have completed this renovation of the lawn, apply only dry slow-release organic fertilizers in the future. Never apply any liquids or synthetic NPK stuff, as that will counteract the good biological soil activity that you have started. You should find that very little fertilizer is needed. If a mulching mower is used, that will be about all the input required. There will be no thatch build-up - the soil organisms will recycle the clippings - you will notice a great increase in earthworms.
For crop acreage, a different approach is called for. I would suggest the strategic use of a cover crop for a few weeks - an annual legume, such as Crimson Clover, with the seed inoculated with our micronized BEIM product can fairly quickly restore soil health. Don't let the crop go to seed. Till it under when it blooms so you don't have undesired sprouting afterwards. (This is why I don't recommend a perennial legume.) If you have any local source of affordable rock dust, it would be beneficial to till some in at the same time. We have some wonderful mineral products available out here in Oregon, but that doesn't do you much good in Florida with the high shipping costs these days. Finally, if higher-value crops are going into the soil, lightly inoculate transplants to make certain that the right type of beneficial fungi spores for that particular plant are on the roots. Here's the tricky part: The grower will have to cut way back on fertilizer (or even not fertilize at all) to get the best biological performance. I find that growers all have a strong urge to "feed" their crop. If you tell me what crop is going in, I can help you with more specific advice.
What you are doing is important. I think you might show the way for many others to convert from soil-damaging methods to a healthy biological approach, and I hope you will set up several side-by-side comparisons to document the difference. Keeping small samples of each customer's soil for before-and-after comparisons could also make for very useful analyses.
Let me know how I might help.
There is obviously some effort involved in restoring bio activity to soil, but the benefits can be dramatic and lasting. (Here's that word "sustainable" again!) And, once soil has been brought back to a good state of tilth with natural biologically provided fertility, the expensive chemically oriented inputs can be stopped. A periodic dusting of trace minerals and shallow tilling-in of crop residues and cover crops may be all that is ever required. I would particularly like to see the tonnages of high-analysis "lawn food" cut back, as this is such a major (and unnecessary) contributor to water contamination. Getting lawns off the chemical feeding treadmill should be a goal of more communities who are experiencing nitrate buildups in their drinking water supplies and excess phosphorus runoff into ponds and rivers.
Best wishes for the holiday season, and for a happy prosperous (with less phosphorus) new year.
President, BioOrganics, Inc.