We believe there is a natural progression or succession in the health of different entities. It goes like this: soil - plants - fruits and vegetables - people. Or the other way around: people - fruits and vegetables - plants - soil, depending on your perspective. At any rate, let’s jump in with people first. Most of the things that enhance our health have been well identified: cleanliness (personal hygiene), clean air, pure drinking water, adequate rest and relaxation and sleep, good diet, adequate sunshine and natural light, regular exercise, emotional balance, freedom from addictions, purposeful life, nurturing relationships, and so on. By providing all these factors, the human body will just naturally be healthy. Conversely, the lack of any of these reduce the body’s natural inclination toward health. Of all of these, the question over what a “good” diet is seems to generate the most controversy. However, it seems generally accepted these days that a diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables is best and also fits in with all the various diets espoused today. Unfortunately, modern agricultural practices with their subsequent soil depletion, coupled with worldwide transportation of produce, have caused most of the produce available today to be severely lacking in nutrients. So that even if a person were to eat mostly, if not all, fresh fruit and vegetables, raw or minimally cooked, and avoiding all processed foods, he would still not receive optimal nutrition. A hundred years ago yes, today no. The widely recognized solution for this is supplementation with vitamins and minerals, preferably naturally sourced rather than chemically synthesized. But what if there was a way to improve food, so that supplementation was no longer needed. This would not only optimize nutrition, but it would also reduce expenses.
Let’s jump to the other side of our succession - soil. The authors of all the available organic gardening books offer a myriad of different methods and techniques. But underlying all of them is the basic idea that a plant’s health is a result of healthy soil. This is the gist of all of organic gardening. Make the soil healthy, and the plants will just naturally be healthy, disease-resistant, and insect-resistant. And of course: healthy plants will tend to yield nutritious produce. This is where modern agriculture has fallen short. They’ve not only forgotten to consider the health of the soil, they’ve done the exact opposite. Because of modern agricultural practices, almost all agricultural soil today has become lifeless, nutrient-deficient dirt. Sure, great looking crops can be produced with modern chemical fertilizers and pesticides. But they are nutrient deficient. I compare it to modern western medicine which frequently tends to treat symptoms with drugs, rather than the underlying causes of disease. It becomes a never ending cycle where more and more drugs (chemical fertilizer and pesticides) are prescribed, which produce less and less positive results. And the health of the patient (plants) continues to decline.
So, how do we go about improving the health of the soil? First of all, by not compacting it. “Double-digging”, for example, will begin the improvement. Then it’s critical not to walk or drive on it. Airspace in the soil is vital for all the symbiotic organisms to live and for plant roots to thrive and and absorb nutrients. Adding organic matter such as rotted manure and compost is also very beneficial. It not only increases tilth and friability, it adds nutrients. Unfortunately, because of the random process of most compost production, there is no guarantee as to the nutrient mix in the compost. Other techniques include mulching, cover crops, green manure, crop rotation, and no-till gardening. However, recent research has shown that perhaps the single best thing that can be done to soil is adding biochar. The crystalline structure of the carbon in biochar provides the perfect habitat for most of soil’s beneficial microbes (bacteria, fungi, mycorrhizae, etc.) It also increases the surface area for plant root adsorption of nutrients by many orders of magnitude. That’s why we are so excited here at Angel Wing Farm to be receiving our new biochar retort very soon. Nevertheless, all of this is a long-term process to build up the soil.
For more rapid results, and to ensure nutrient-dense produce, we have also been supplementing the soil with a balanced organic fertilizer that we make, named COF (“complete organic fertilizer”-see postscript). It consists of all natural products, including seedmeals, lime and dolomite, ground phosphate rock, and kelpmeal. It has the correct balance of phosphorous, nitrogen, and potassium, and trace elements, all in slow-release organic form. When I mentioned above that we are “supplementing” the soil, that term was not coincidental. I consider it just like vitamin and mineral supplementation for people. We have received pretty good feedback on the quality of the vegetables we grow, and I give a lot of credit to the use of COF. I think that flavor and nutritiousness of produce tend to go hand-in-hand. I don’t know if that has been scientifically proven, but I do know that research has shown most store-bought produce is fairly lacking in nutrients. And I know from experience, that it is fairly flavorless compared to our home-grown. So to me, there seems to be a correlation.
We are heavy into planting season right now and have been mixing and adding COF into the soil. And so I have been thinking quite a bit about this process, and the progression or succession health, which is the whole point of what we are trying to do here at Angel Wing Farm. Steve
About six years ago I came across a gardening book that quickly became my favorite. It is Gardening When It Counts, by Steve Solomon. Through his own research and analysis, the author formulated COF, and I can personally attest to its effectiveness. His rationale that he was gardening to feed his family, and wanted the most nutritious produce possible, resonated with me. I can attest to many of his other recommendations as well, even though they contradict many other well-known gardening authors. If I had only one gardening book, this is the one I’d choose. It covers all aspects of gardening in a no nonsense, no sacred cows, no pulled punches point of view. I highly recommend it.