Ecological Soil Management

It’s a self-paced course where you can access the Lessons anytime once they are released. Lessons are written and presented by Alan Broughton. You have lifetime access to the course; once they are made available online they remain there for you to access permanently.
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What You Will Learn...

Description:

Discover how successful farmers create the perfect environment for profitable chemical free farming.

The Course begins as soon as you register. It’s a self-paced course where you can access the Lessons anytime once they are released. Lessons are written and presented by Alan Broughton. You have lifetime access to the course; once they are made available online they remain there for you to access permanently. You also get access to a study group to ask questions and online learning quizzes. At the end you also receive a Certificate of Completion!

Who is this course is for:

For all farmers and anyone who wants to grow plants without using chemicals.

Course Content:

In this lesson we set the scene for ecological agriculture – the soil as the basis for production and health, and the linking of the physical, chemical and biological properties of soil. We also learn about the role of soil carbon, how soils are formed, and where to obtain information about the soils in your area.

Lesson 3 is on life in the soil and how the multitude of different microbial and larger species affect the soil structure and fertility. We also look at how to provide the best conditions this life depends on in order to supply the nutrients plants need.

In one square metre of topsoil, to a depth of 15 cm, a good fertile soil contains 400 gm of earthworms, 80 gm of millipedes, ants etc., 5 gm of nematodes, 40 gm of protozoa and 2 kg of bacteria and fungi. There should be 600 million bacteria of 20,000 species per gram of soil, and 5,000 to 7,000 species of fungi in a biologically active soil. The mix of species of soil biological life can determine what plants grow in a soil, what nutrients are available to plants, the root health of the plants and the amount of water available.

Biological life in the soil has five important roles:

  • Recycling nutrients, by decomposing organic matter
  • Creating humus, which is mostly micro-organism excreta.
  • Converting nutrients into forms that are more available to plants. A large proportion of plant nutrients must pass through micro-organisms before the plant can use them. Plants can take up nutrients in sterile soil, but they cannot do so efficiently without microbes, and nitrates do not convert properly to proteins. Many microbes produce vitamins, enzymes, auxins, amino acids and indole acetic acids which can be taken up by plants.
  • Suppressing diseases in the soil.
  • Degrading toxins, including pesticides, petrochemicals and even heavy metals.

Jerry explains how industrial agricultural practices produce empty harvests. The highly soluble acidulated fertilizers leach nutrients from the soil and cause erosion. The nutrients are becoming “complex” that makes them unavailable for plant. The decreasing of minerals in the soil are cause of losing plant and animal immunity and farmers have become more dependent upon fungicides, insecticides, antibiotics, vaccines, wormers and hormones.

Application of herbicides and other chemicals causes contamination in the soil and in the wells, bores and aquifers. In some cases these chemicals are getting worse as you dilute them and he cites the case of atrazine of which the daughter particles is 100 times more detrimental than the parent molecule.

Jerry also explains what minerals do and what are the essential macro and micro elements for plants, mammals and man. All of these elements are present in a fertile and apatite soils and he uses old charts to show what is missing from today’s soils. He compares the vanishing minerals in the crops compared to the crops in the 1940’s to the crops in the 1960’s and of Albrecht’s studies of the soils where the bulk of the army recruits were drafted from in the 1st World War compared to those rejected for selection. There is a direct relationship between the physical attributes and the soil.

Now we move on to the soil nutrients themselves, including how they interact and how to determine which ones need to be applied to correct deficiencies and excesses.

 

Lesson 5 identifies the range of techniques that can be used to improve soil structure, stimulate microbial activity and boost nutrient availability. The practical aspects of compost making, worm farming, soil aeration, green manuring, and biological applications is dealt with.

For many farmers the outlay required for inputs to balance nutrients in the soil, which could come to $1,000 per hectare, may not be justified. However, as Kinsey notes, any move towards a balancing is worthwhile, no matter how small. For more intensive operations, which generally have a considerable fertiliser budget, the Albrecht system is less costly in the longer term.

The key to soil fertility planning is to know the quantities and ratios of nutrients in the soil. Any fertiliser budget can then be planned according to the analysis, so that fertilisers that are used will be those that help rectify deficiencies, and not worsen excesses. Commercial NPKS fertilisers commonly used in agriculture will worsen imbalances because they usually contain no trace elements, no magnesium and insufficient calcium, and possible excesses of nitrogen and potassium.

Maintenance fertilisers are more effective once the soil is balanced.

If it is not affordable to fix the soil on a whole property there are alternatives. One is to completely do a small area. The other is to apply the most limiting nutrient all over. A third alternative is to apply smaller amounts of the required nutrients with the goal of completing the task in the long term. The priority must be calcium and magnesium as their balance affects all others and affects the soil structure so much.

There are other options too which will improve soil fertility, crop health and livestock health. These include:

Mineral supplements available at all times to stock to select. This ensures that the animals are healthy and productive. Some of the minerals are returned to the soil in dung so soil fertility does gradually improve. Mineral supplements may include dolomite, copper sulphate, cobalt sulphate, seaweed meal, powdered sulphur, rock phosphate and apple cider vinegar. They are best placed in separate containers under shelter.

Foliar sprays of the missing nutrients. The crop is then healthy and some of the minerals get to the soil. While not a good substitute for soil fertility, it can be a way of producing good crops, though many of the substances commonly used as foliar sprays are not acceptable under organic standards. Those that can be used include liquid lime or dolomite, seaweed, fish emulsion, molasses, sugar and humates. On a restricted basis magnesium sulphate and the trace elements can be applied in their chemical form.

Microbial preparations that increase the availability and efficiency of nutrients in the soil. There is a large choice of these available. Biodynamic sprays are included.

A large range of techniques and cheap inputs that are discussed below, including rotations, soil aeration, green manure crops, compost, worm castings, rock dust, rotational grazing, paramagnetism, legumes, etc.

The most important contributor to soil fertility is soil carbon, and any method that improves soil carbon is valuable.

The Effect of Chemicals on Soil Biology and Soil Biology.

Course Presenter:

Alan Broughton

Author, Biological Agriculture Researcher & Organic Farming Teacher. From a small Merino farm in NE Victoria. B.Arts (Monash 1971), Cert. Horticulture (Burnley 1975), Graduate Diploma Sustainable Agriculture (Orange 1998). Involved with Organic Agriculture Association (Gippsland) since 1985, currently vice-president. Nursery work. Small organic producer (certified by NASAA for 5 years). Wrote and taught Diploma of Organic Farming 2001-2016 (NMIT, Federation Training).