by Scott Maricle
I was born into a farming family on both sides. My earliest memory is of me playing in the dirt while my grandpa was planting my mother’s garden on a happy spring day. I have been gardening or farming ever since. There is nothing like planting the seed and being a part of the miracle of new life.
Several years ago, my wife and I became very involved with Young Living Essential oils which brought new awareness and insights to me. First, I realized I needed to take personal responsibility for my health. Second, I gained a new appreciation that plants truly have the power to create compounds that can heal and support healthy life. You may say that this is obvious. I really did not get the breadth and depth of the healing power of the plant until Young Living came into our life. Food and plants can be our best medicine. Healthy plants, that is.
So, with this new insight, I started planning my next garden. I thought to myself, “Better up my game and learn how to grow organic superfood”. I went to Knott Landfill and brought home enough compost to cover my garden six inches deep. Knowing that Central Oregon hay fields eventually turn acidic and require lime supplementation, I went and found some dolomite lime thinking, “A couple of bags ought to do.” I worked it all in the soil and planted my garden. Well, everything did not go so well. Yes, my seed sprouted but so did every bug under the sun. I managed to salvage some cabbage from the worms by using the old trick of submerging the heads under salt water. Once the worms quit coming to the surface you can start cooking.
What was I going to do? This was not what I pictured in my mind. I had seen photos of lush organic market gardens and mine did not look like that. My cabbage resembled Swiss cheese. YouTube to the rescue and I started my quest.
After a few searches I found a gentleman by the name of Dan Kittredge that has changed my life. I watched a very long series of videos from the Living Web Farm’s archive with Dan explaining the principles needed to grow highly nutritious healthy vegetables. His words were music to my ears. He was telling me exactly what I knew by instinct; that insects do not like healthy plants. If we provide the plants the fertility they need to be healthy, the insects will not be interested. Not only will the insects not be attracted to the plant, the plant will be more nutritious for us to eat. Plants can live in a wide range of soil and environmental conditions but there are large differences between surviving and reaching its genetic potential for quality. Modern agriculture is always pursuing yield and eye appeal. Nutritional quality is not even on the radar.
The first principle to learn about is the symbiotic relationships that plants have with soil life and other plants. When nature does her work, she has great diversity both above and below ground. Plants feed the soil food web by excreting root exudates, or liquid carbohydrates that feed the soil food web. The biology in the soil then feeds on the minerals and converts them to forms the plant can use. So, if we care for and nurture the soil food web though good practices we will nurture the fertility of the soil.
Soil microbiologists estimate that there may be as many as 1,500,000 species of soil fungi and 3,000,000 species of soil bacteria. This does not include Protozoa and nematodes. Agricultural soils that have been farmed regularly with deep tillage, heavy commercial fertilizers and pesticides are estimated to only have 5,000 species total present. In many cases this leads to critical broken biological pathways that can lead to crop disease and insect infestation.
The second principle is that soil minerals matter. Parent soil material most often has everything plants need to grow, however, the ratios of elements in the parent material can be quite different depending on the parent soil mineral content and other environmental conditions. Soil elements available to plants tend to mirror the compositions of the parent material. If the soil type is naturally low in calcium and high in magnesium this is going to influence soil Ph, compaction and the performance of the plant. We can easily change these ratios by amending the soil with the correct amendments.
Other factors that contribute to plant health are organic material or “carbon” and hydration. Carbon increases fertility and water holding capacity of the soil. Both are important for healthy plant growth. If the soil dries out, not only will the plants suffer, but also the soil biology will be reduced. Thus, decreasing the capacity of the soil to process minerals into compounds that the plants can use.
Minerals have both symbiotic and antagonistic relationships. There is a big difference between plant performance with adequate levels or optimum ratios of minerals. The pioneer soil scientist that worked on this was Dr. William Albrecht with the University of Missouri in the 1960s. Neal Kinsey, one of his students, went on to form Kinsey Ag Service, became a highly accomplished and sought-after agronomist and wrote Hands On Agronomy, teaching people “how to balance soil nutrients for maximum yield.”
After being exposed with these principles through YouTube videos and podcasts, I purchased and read many books. I decided that to fully understand what I was learning I must practice it. So, I sent in my soil sample to the lab. With the results in hand showing the adjustments that needed to be made, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could source many of the minerals from local resources. This was not as hard as I was making it to be. The results were astounding. My garden grew like it had never grown before. For the first time of 30 years of growing gardens I did not have worms in my cabbage!
Dan Kittredge was born into one of the first organic vegetable farms. His parents were instrumental in the early days of the organic movement. He grew up growing vegetables but knew that there must be better results than what his parents achieved. He is very passionate about growing nutrient dense food; food that truly can be used as medicine. He has created the BioNutrient Food Association that supports growers in learning and practicing the principles to grow nutrient dense foods. They have an amazing list of resources that you can find at bionutrient.org.
I am searching for other people who would like to study and practice these principles with me. If you are interested in increasing your soil knowledge and sharing it with other people, please email me. I aim to start a Central Oregon chapter of the BioNutrient Food Association this fall when things slow down for us gardeners and farmers. Please, email me at Scott@smcsbend.com.
Check out the web site for links to many resources at bionutrient.org
photos courtesy of Scott Maricle & stock HomeSpun