Wednesday, May 19, 2010

From Concrete To Something Resembling Soil....

Soil is at the heart of life. Without soil, plants wouldn't survive, which means animals wouldn't survive, which also means we wouldn't survive. Having great soil means your plants are getting what they need to not only survive, but also to be bountiful and flourish. Also, fruits from these healthy plants are going to provide much more nutrient dense meals for the folks who eat them. Wouldn't that be a better health system?

When we first started breaking ground on our farm, I had a friend of mine grade our fields so we would have a more level area to plant, with just a slight slope. My thinking was that if I was going to use these plots in rotation, year after year, that I wanted to get it to my liking from the start. The land was very hilly (small, tough hills) with a lot of holes and the ground was as hard as a piece of concrete.

After the grading was finished, I could really see how bad my soil looked. I didn't see any life like earthworms, beetles, rolly pollies or centipedes. It just looked dead. It was two different colors of dead, white and red. See, we have a unique soil type on our property, a white clay called alcovy. It is something that when wet is shapeable and much like what you would find in a pottery class. When it is dry, it's as hard as concrete. Then we also have the Georgia red clay. Neither is good planting medium and it certainly presented us with a huge challenge.

The next step for me was to do a soil test in several different places to see what the nutrient content and PH were. I kinda new it wouldn't be a test I would want to frame. When it came back, it showed a very low PH of 5.2 and the need for all of the usual nutrients with the exception of calcium, zinc and magnesium. For some reason, they were better than average.

We placed an order for all of these organic amendments we needed from a place out of Virginia. Nicole and I spread them out all over both fields and tilled them in. Still, it didn't seem like enough. Planting season was already here and we're having a soil crisis. What to do? I called a company that makes compost in Barnesville and had them bring us out 30 yards of compost. We spread it over the rows we were going to till and it added much more organic matter and more nutrients. Planted our seed and prayed.

As things like corn and peppers were growing they started to get discolored. The corn started to turn a pale green with yellowing on the tips. The peppers were dropping some leaves and others were curling on the stem. This wasn't good. I thought I was going to go crazy. This is what I do, I'm a farmer. Why can't I figure this out!!

Along the same time all of this was happening, God was showing me things and giving me a good lesson in soil biology that I would have probably ignored otherwise. I was throwing everything I had at these plants to no avail. Then, reading one of my Acres magazines, I started to understand the importance of a healthy soil ecosystem. Not just a fertilized lump of clay, but the kind of soil that has billions of little creatures roaming around in a symbiotic relationship with plant roots. The kind of soil that adjusts its own PH naturally when there is enough bacteria and other such stuff in the soil to do so. That kind of soil!

Then I met a guy Paul Schneider, who I was introduced to by Homer Allen, one of the gentlemen formally on our board of directors.  Paul introduced me to foliar spraying with Ocean Trace (sea minerals). How also explained that feeding the soil with these sea minerals would balance out my PH and increase the brix (sugar content) of my plants.  It would also make the fertilizers I put down more available for the plant to uptake and use.

I tried it. I bought a 1/2 gallon of C4 and a 1/2 gallon of Ocean Trace sea minerals.  Mixed them in my sprayer and off I went.  I was cautiously optimistic.  I remember thinking, "You mean to tell me all of the organic fertilizer I have purchased and put down, that now I 'spray' these plants' leaves with this stuff, it will make it better?  O...K."  If you haven't realized by now, I'm a very skeptical person.  I'm a "need to see it to believe it" kinda guy.

Well a few days went by and the peppers started to green up. The leaves had un-curled and I was getting new signs of growth on top. The corn slowly started to turn back to a greener color. This was a complete paradigm shift for me. Not that the foliar spray was new, because I have been using the fish emulsion for years, but the fact that adding these sea minerals and the C4 (organic acids, colloidal minerals and complex carbohydrates) to my plants' leaves and to the plant base would make such a quick difference.   It does and it blew me away.  This more than likely saved our harvest from complete failure.  I love this stuff!!

Now for the tomatoes...

We are in a fight now to save our tomato plants. All of the focus on the corn and peppers distracted me from our biggest cash crop - tomatoes. Aphids have been a big problem. We have a nice population of lady bugs but it isn't nearly enough. (It’s kinda of like bringing a skinny man to a pie eating contest, he's not gonna eat that much.) This will be my next big focus in the fight to re-gain healthy tomato plants and healthy soil for it to grow in. What is interesting is the tomatoes that are struggling are old, heirloom varieties. They are much more prone to disease and attack that the hybrid varieties. Maybe, just maybe, this will be a great research project. How good is this stuff, really? We will see.

Stay Tuned, We Have a Guest Blogger Coming Up....

Great news! I spoke to Pastor/Farmer Brent Anderson of Senoia Vineyard Community Church and asked of he would consider doing a guest blog about Sow Good Community Garden.  He said yes, so look for it in the coming weeks....

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