Author Topic: Fertilizer and damage to soil microorganisms  (Read 7776 times)

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Offline CatManDo

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Would no longer needing to buy in feed for the animals count?
« Reply #9 on: December 14, 2010, 02:06:22 AM »
Hi Klaas-

"Discussions like this will get us closer to that goal if we come to them
with an honest desire to learn.  Please keep working at it.  Some day we
will get there."

What would you consider "getting there"?  Would a number of years of records
showing soil test results, amendments, forage tests, changes in the soil in
the desired direction, and improvement of the animals from problems such as
foot rot, scours, spontaneous abortion, poor weight gain, and high infant
mortality count?  Would elimination of problems in horses such as Equine
Metabolic Syndrome, fat pads, poor coats, joint problems, hoof problems, and
insulin resistance count?  Would drastic changes for the better in the feed
value of the forage count?  Would population change towards more legumes and
absence of disease in previously susceptible pasture species count? Would
months-longer good grazing on the pasture count?  Or a doubling of hay yield
accompanying the gain in nutritional value of the hay?

Would no longer needing to buy in feed for the animals count?  Or a
reduction in the cost of veterinary bills, pharmaceuticals, and supplements
from hundred of dollars per month to zero count?

What would count as evidence that the system I am using actually works?

"I think the idea that simply throwing on more of what is short in a soil
test is overly simplistic and does not accurately represent what the early
visionaries discovered or taught."

Who said this?  I didn't say this.  I may be simple, but I'm not shallow or

Albrecht is who I learned this from, along with a few of his students who
shared some of their experience in their writings.  I learned from Voison
too, and Firman Bear, and Steiner, and Carey Reams and his students, and
every source I could find going back to von Liebig.

Here is Wm Albrecht

"Studies on plant compositions of crops grown on partly-developed soils
(Western U.S.); moderately developed soils (Mid-continent); and on highly
developed soils (Eastern and southern U.S.), revealed the narrowing ratios
in the above order of contents of calcium related to potassium in their dry
matter. There was a shift from a ratio of six to one to the ratio one to one
in going from Western to Eastern U.S., or with increase in degree of soil
development under our higher rainfalls giving more clay residues and higher
ionic losses through leaching the soils.
*The Soil's Rapid Calcium Loss Lowers Ratio of Calcium to Other Cations,
Suggesting Plant's More Imbalanced Nutrition*

>From "Soil Reaction and Balanced Plant Nutrition" 1967

Looks like he's talking about ratios to me.

I'm well aware that the Universities and Land-Grant colleges and Industrial
Ag funded scientists have spent the last forty years attempting to trash
Albrecht's accomplishments.  I'm aware that they made up the term BCSR,
quoted Albrecht's student E.O. MacLean as evidence for things that Albrecht
never said, and used those false quotes to denigrate him.  It's also clear
that none of them ever studied what Albrecht actually wrote.  What Albrecht
did NOT say was that balancing the cations and bringing the other minerals
into a better balance would result in the highest yield, or that it would
eliminate weed problems or any of a number of other false claims.

Albrecht cared about plant, animal, and human nutrition.  That is what he
studied, that is what he experimented on, that is what he wrote about.
Those three things are what I care about too, and what I have done my best
to study, experiment on, and write about.  I have proven that what Albrecht
devoted his life to was not a waste of time, that it works.  I have also
shown that it only works if done with the right testing, the right math, and
the right amendments.  And unlike some others I have not kept it a secret
but have been willing to share it with the world.

I'm saying we do not have to wait.  I am claiming flat-out that I have a
system that works, now, and it works well.  I have evidence to prove that,
and I am gathering more evidence all the time, both through observation, so
called "anecdotal evidence" and through scientific proof.

The URL of my main web site is below my name.  There are many pages of free
information there for anyone who wants to learn, or who wishes to pick me
apart.  Show where I am mistaken.  What I care about, far more than being
"right", is the truth and what works.

No, I don't think we know everything yet; but we know enough to make a very
good start while benefiting, not harming, the soil, the crops, and the
animals and people who rely on the crops for food.

Michael Astera


Offline CatManDo

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Let's Not Forget Urine when Talking Fertilizer
« Reply #8 on: December 13, 2010, 05:43:58 AM »
Hi Joel, others interested in the inputs question:

My readings in this area are not as deep and scientific as some people here, so I thought I would simply posit a couple of thoughts:

A good number of organic writers, eg, Coleman, Solomon, Albrecht, remark on the need to add to soils that which is lacking; Coleman calls this a 'deep organic' approach, Solomon cautions you won't have good teeth and bones without it, etc.

Perennial plant systems will grow in lots of places where the soil is not all that 'healthy' (ie, balanced in a way that produces good nutrition for humans and other animals). These systems will hang on to scarce nutrients for dear life, but once they are disrupted by conversion into agro-ecosystems the mechanisms for doing that are also disrupted, aren't they?  Even in perennial systems animals will often forage widely and seek out mineral rich sources to make up for shortages in their customary feed...

By '100 pounds of fertilizer' I understood Doc Ingham to be referencing concentrated NPK chemical fertilizer.....the closest thing some of us organic types have is our own urine, which is richer in micronutrients than some of the NPK chemical fertilizers out there

The earth has a wide variety of soil environments, some rich in minerals like the volcanic ash fertilized Serengeti, some poor like the podzol sands of Harborside Maine where Coleman makes his 'anthropogenic' soils....

Another point here is that once upon a time, when fish runs and waterfowl migrations were at much higher levels, there were annual or semiannual returns of nutrients via migration runs returned substantial amounts of nutrients back up the fresh water rivers, bird migrations also moved things around quite a bit....even roaming herds of buffalo probably transported nutrients substantially from one place to the next...I am fairly confident that the now gone passenger pigeons dropped a fairly impactive amount of guano from place to place...

If we are blessed with rich soils, we do not need to 'bring coal to Newcastle'---but if not, then we do need to know what is missing and what is the best way to replace it, sustainably. And of course, to use it efficiently, which is where having a good soil biology and keeping it good come into play...

Frank T

noting that when the bear leaves biosolids in the woods, and was eating a lot of ocean run salmon, the ecosystem must surely rejoice at the 'disturbance'...;-)
Market Farm Forms:

Offline CatManDo

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Re: Fertilizer and damage to soil microorganisms
« Reply #7 on: December 13, 2010, 05:10:35 AM »
Joel and Michael,

Thank you both for posting your well thought out and important ideas on soil
testing, fertility, amendments, and crop nutrient density.

I don't have any answers to add here, I'm a fellow student of soils.  I find
that each question I find an answer to opens up still more and deeper

I would like to add an observation I've made to this discussion.  The old
'masters', 'visionaries', whatever we call them, Steiner, Howard, Balfour,
Viosin, Albrecht, etc. etc.  connected soil with health by the direct
observations that they each made.

They first observed patterns in the health (or lack of it) of people and
animals and then tied them back to the soil that their food grew in.  They
then tested the crops and the soils that supported them to try to understand
how they were connected.

Albrecht's 'ratios' have been cussed and discussed for years by people many
of who did not understand what Albrecht actually believed and taught at all.
I think the same is true for all of the other old scientists who's work I've
studied.  Albrecht himself never talked about 'ratios' of nutrients.  He did
teach that he found the soils where animals and people were exceptionally
healthy, all had very similar proportions of minerals when compared to their
total mineral holding capacity.  He actually taught that having the right
'ratio' of any two minerals but at the wrong levels was of no benefit
whatsoever.  His contribution to the big picture was a deeper understanding
of how the different minerals affected each other's availability to crops.

Steiner said that his preps worked by 'organizing' minerals so that they
were more available to the plants.

I think the idea that simply throwing on more of what is short in a soil
test is overly simplistic and does not accurately represent what the early
visionaries discovered or taught.  Often minerals are deficient because some
other mineral is in excess.  Some minerals are deficient when they
themselves are in excess.

Our soil tests are only crude attempts at finding out what minerals are
available to plants in any given situation.  If soils have great biological
activity, then small mineral deficiencies will not make a big difference in
the crop as long as they have some of the mineral that is deficient.  With
certain fertilizers, tissue levels of some minerals can be excessive even
when the soil test is showing a severe deficiency.  (I have documented this

Soils don't always respond to fertilizer applications the way we would
expect them to.  I don't think soil is a 'black box' but it is certainly not
at all like a balance sheet either.

I believe that there is no doubt that mineral dense crops produce healthy
people and animals.  I just don't believe we know how to reliably grow
mineral dense crops.  At least not reliably.

Discussions like this will get us closer to that goal if we come to them
with an honest desire to learn.  Please keep working at it.  Some day we
will get there.



Offline CatManDo

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Re: Fertilizer and damage to soil microorganisms
« Reply #6 on: December 13, 2010, 04:40:18 AM »
 The in-depth work on flocculation and the effects of cation balance on soil
texture was not done in the field of agriculture but in the oil well
drilling industry.  Drilling mud viscosity must be carefully maintained
under various conditions.  The effect is pretty straightforward: more Mg
saturation, tighter mud; more Ca saturation, looser mud.  In an agricultural
soil that tightening and loosening effect directly affects Oxygen levels in
the soil, and the Oxygen levels affect decomposition processes.  In a high
Mg tight clay soil things tend towards anaerobic fermentation, even
producing alcohols and formaldehyde.  Too high a level of Ca saturation can
cause a soil to lose all texture and drain too quickly.

The oil industry references that explain the tightening-loosening effects
are "Drilling Fluid Engineering Manual", Houston, Texas, Dresser Industries,
and "Manual of Drilling Fluids Technology: Borehole Instability" Houston,
Texas, Baroid Industries.  Lots of good info on clay chemistry and structure
and hydration radii.  The publications are hard to find but worth the
trouble for those who want to understand how and why it works as it does.

The practical application is simple enough: If your soil is too tight and/or
drains poorly and crop residue breaks down slowly, increase the Ca
saturation.  If the soil is too loose and drains too quickly, increase the
Mg saturation.  A good many organic gardeners have used too much dolomite
lime over the years and raised the Mg level too high;  the result is that
they need to keep the organic matter content very high to keep the soil
Books by Herman Beck-Chenoweth

Offline CatManDo

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Re: Fertilizer and damage to soil microorganisms
« Reply #5 on: December 13, 2010, 04:33:04 AM »
Hello folks,

I have been too busy wrapping up the semester to give most recent posts
more than a cursory glance... that said, as a soils person I feel compelled to
quickly comment on several recent topics of discussion.

fertilizer effects on soil microorganisms have been intensively investigated...
some studies have looked at short term effects while others have looked at
longer term effects... some studies have evaluated effects on specific
microbially mediated processes while others have looked at changes in microbial
abundance and diversity.

The effects of specific fertilizer treatments on specific microbial parameters
vary widely depending on context... soil properties (e.g., pH, CEC, clay
content, OM content), weather, season, cropping system, duration of the

When considering such a diffuse cloud of evidence, I try to step back and
consider the broader ecological context.

The application of fertilizers (or any other type of agronomic input) can be
viewed as an ecological disturbance. Ecological responses to disturbance depend
on both ecosystem and disturbance characteristics...the magnitude of the
disturbance, the frequency of the disturbance, opportunity for recovery between
disturbances, specific disturbance modes of action, and ecosystem resilience...

Fertilizers have a number of different modes of action through which they
"disturb" microbial communities.

nutritional effects

Both bacteria and fungi can directly utilize inorganic ions and organic
molecules so inorganic fertilizers can directly stimulate microbial growth if the
particular nutrients supplied by the fertilizers were limiting. Responsive
species may gain competitive advantage over less responsive species.
Nutritional effects on plant growth can have a cascade of effects on the whole
soil food web.

salt/osmotic effects

fertilizers vary in their saltiness or tendency to create osmotic stress
(quantified as the salt index of a fertilizer).

Method of application (banding vs. broadcast) and soil properties (moisture
content, texture, CEC, OM) have a big impact on the osmotic stress created by a

direct toxicity

some fertilizer materials like anhydrous ammonia are directly toxic and
sterilize the zone of application
low levels of contaminants in fertilizers (e.g.,
heavy metals) can have toxic effects after many applications

affects on pH

many N fertilizers are acidifying... if the acidity is not balanced by liming,
the long-term effect can be quite suppressive of microbial activity

more subtle physiological effects

specific metabolic/enzymatic pathways are stimulated or suppressed depending on
the forms and concentrations of ions to which microorganisms are exposed

effects on soil physical properties

fertilizers that add sodium can cause dispersion of soil structure... in
contrast materials like gypsum that add calcium and increase the ionic strength
of the soil solution can promote flocculation.

Bottom line… IMHO it is not possible to provide a meaningful rule of thumb such as 100 lbs of *fertilizer*
per acre is harmful to soil microorganisms.



Michael Astera wrote:

“Recreate the mineral profile of the North Central US
prairies on the prairies of the Willamette Valley of Oregon and the nutritional
content of the forage changes to that of the forage grown on the North Central prairies.  It works;
I can post the soil and forage tests to prove it, and the health records of the animals raised on that land as well.”


Michael A, I would very much like to see your data showing
the effects of specific remineralization programs on the mineral content of


I am pretty skeptical that fertilizing top soil (i.e, the plow
layer) with specific minerals can recreate the effect that a full soil profile has
on crops in areas with exceptional terroir... but I would love to hear about
attempts to accomplish this.


I don’t know if you happened to take a look at the link I
provided a few weeks back for a presentation on soil testing… (I can post
another link if you are interested) but one of the key points was the soil
testing doesn’t tell you about most of what controls nutrient uptake during a growing
season…e.g.,  moisture, temperature,
microbial activity, rooting depth, root health…


I tell my students that soil testing is kind of like
a 40 yard dash time… it is a useful indicator but is far from the only thing a
coach needs to know to predict whether a prospect is likely to be a star

Soil is a black box
that does many interesting things to applied minerals…  crop uptake is far from a guarantee.



Many factors affect the nutrient content of crops…
are you familiar with this report?

"Still No Free Lunch: Nutrient
levels in U.S. food supply eroded by pursuit of high yields"

The average nutrient levels in US produce are not really
much of a standard for comparison.

Do you have data from before and after mineral
application for the produce you mentioned in Maine?


of Agriculture

Illinois University

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Offline CatManDo

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More on Fertilizer and damage to soil microorganisms
« Reply #4 on: December 06, 2010, 01:57:34 AM »
John responded to Lawrence's suggestion:

>> While we're at it we might as well put together a complete list
>> of all soil-dwelling growth promoting, disease preventing,
>> nitrogen-fixing, soil health and biodiversity-building
>> microorganisms, invertebrates and other organisms. Elaine has a
>> list of 7 of the most important. We could use them as primary
>> categories to build on.

as follows:

> I am probably a great disappointment to others in my profession of
> biologist but I have so far not had too much interest in species
> specific relationships in soil. We know there are at least 25.000
> (maybe 40.000) different species of micro organism in an average
> spoonful of soil. The number of possible relationships between all
> these organisms is a bit too complex for my purpose (which was
> growing potatoes organically in Ireland without having problems
> with blight).

> My reasoning was that there was probably some organism in all that
> lot that would live on Phytophtora infestans ([potato] blight) and
> that would thus protect potato crops from this disease if only it
> were plentiful enough. To get it plentiful I grew blight prone
> potato varieties and let the diseased plant-parts rot in situ then
> planted more potatoes on top that I left in the ground over the
> wettest winter imaginable.

> As I explained before on this list (it is slightly more complex
> than the very shortened story here) I have been able to grow
> potatoes absolutely blight free for at least 15 years now. Whether
> my guardian angel organism is Pisolithus tinctorius I doubt
> because we don't have "dog-turd-mushrooms" here at all.

I think you are right: Understanding and making use of the principle
at work (evolution) is more important than identifying the specific
mechanisms & organisms that made your potatoes resistant (and both
microorganisms and the genetics of the potatoes are probably at work

But Larry is right too regarding the need to be aware of which
microorganisms are beneficial for pest and disease protection and so
am I regarding the need to understand the conditions under which
each one thrives.

> I was interested in growing healthy potatoes in the first place
> for my own family and that has been successful but to get rich out
> of potato blight it is necessary to come up with specific names so
> that patents can be secured. That I will gladly leave to someone
> else for I can see a few other priorities in my life.

One).- No one can (or should) patent natural biological processes (or
for that matter, living organisms - and that is exactly why those
whose chief concern is personal rather than public's benefit shifted
their efforts to GM crops - so they can patent them; disregarding
their effects on the environment, public health and non-GM farmers).

Two).- My chief concern is simply: Change the basis of the nation's
dominant agricultural production system and therefore, the way
agriculture in general is practiced.

In order to accomplish that goal, we need to develop a standards
based approach. Your faith was generated &/or reinforced by your
understanding of the biological principals that in turn,
demonstrated the validity of that faith and approach.

Where I am, few farmers share your knowledge so we have our work cut
out for us when organizing evaluation and demonstration projects.
Most importantly, resources for sustainable rural development
projects of this type depend on our being able to present principles
backed by data derived from replicable experiments carried out by
accredited universities and research institutions somewhere in the

Based on those historical events, we can obtain financing from
sources that provide a results dependant pay back scheme (IOW, the
risks are shared). Obviously, solutions that generate positive
results in one place and time may not be applicable to another, but
a knowledge base that helps our understanding of those differences
and permits us to foresee prepare for pests, disease and
deficiencies and will develop with time.

As you can see, this is not a trivial goal and frankly, I am
somewhat disappointed in the lack of response from those involved in
the academic and governmental research loop.

I am also unaware if my principal post appeared on sanet (if it was,
I never received it - Lawrence got a copy off-list - and even the
self bcc didn't come back - it may be my ISP or gmx).

> Wishing you every success though,
> John

Thanks John. As always, your valuable and relevant input is highly


I'm sure you agree that the meaning of "getting rich" depends on
one's health, values, family and contribution to (and role in)


Offline CatManDo

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More on Fertilizer and damage to soil microorganisms
« Reply #3 on: December 06, 2010, 01:54:48 AM »
All interested are invited to participate in this discussion.

Lawrence F. London Jr. said:

> While we're at it we might as well put together a complete list
> of all soil-dwelling growth promoting, disease preventing,
> nitrogen-fixing, soil health and biodiversity-building
> microorganisms, invertebrates and other organisms.

Right. We have to identify, catalog and build on all that's already
known; and researching that is a job in itself. So logically, we
should start by identifying the journals and data base's that cover
this orientation, that share our belief in the importance of
studying, understanding and working with -instead of against- the
beneficial microorganisms that inhabit the soil; without excluding
those sources that study microorganisms and publish data in a more
isolated or different context (i.e., biomedical data bases - which
don't show up in standard web searches).

We must also be aware of the benefits that can be derived from
realizing activities that assure the presence, activity and
diversity of these organisms in the soil of our farms; we need to
identify the substances they produce, the conditions that must be
present in order for them to flourish, reproduce and be productive,
and determine the activity (and therefore usefulness), of the
substances each one produces.

> Elaine has a list of 7 of the most important. We could use them as
> primary categories to build on.

As I understand Elaine, the majority of the soil's microorganisms
haven't even been identified and even less is known about the
substances they produce, the conditions that must be present and the
activity of each substance.

This knowledge depends on being able to study (and thereby classify)
each microorganism ALIVE and within the ecosystems that give rise to
them, and few laboratories have the capacity (much less the goal) to
do that. So that is another category we need to define: Who is doing
this research, where is it being done, and where can the results be
obtained, at no or low cost.

I discussed this issue a few years back with Diego Gonzalez,
Director (at the time) of the INIFAP (Instituto Nacional de
Investigacion Forestal y Agropecuario - the Agriculture
Secretariat's research branch) in the State of Jalisco and he said
he knew of only one researcher whose work is dedicated to these
questions here in Mexico (who I did talk to also), who was at one of
the top agricultural universities (he wasn't an INIFAP researcher).

Is the situation any different in the USA, Canada, Latin America,
Europe, Asia, Africa and the Pacific?

The home page of Soil Food Web, Inc.'s website begins with:

  "Everywhere on Earth, life on land depends on soil microbes and
  the services they provide".

OK - that's exactly what we're talking about, right?

Up to a point, because the next line, says:

  "WE measure the life in your soil."

I added emphasis to the "We" because I looked for links to other
sources of data and didn't see any. In any case, I'm sure that
Elaine would be happy to let us know who in the public or private
sectors is working with these questions and publishing their
conclusions in peer-reviewed journals; and the soil food web's
practical application of the principle's we're discussing provides a
valuable service to farmers.

Also, it may have been difficult for her to get Oregon State U. to
focus enough attention (and provide enough funding) for the research
needed on these issues, which may have led her to open her own lab.

However - the worldwide interchange and universal applicability of
science is the foundation of it's beauty and importance, and there's
a real and pressing need for locating available data, applying that
knowledge to create practical Crop, Climate and Soil Type specific,
biologically intensive farming systems, and realize hands on,
farm-based collaborative research projects assisted by laboratory
studies that confirm the presence or absence of the beneficial soil
microorganisms known to produce valuable substances in our soils,
and / or enlarge our current knowledge regarding these phenomena.

So for now, we need to identify educational and / or research
institutions offering degree programs or courses that present soil
ecology -and the living organisms responsible for creating it- as A
or THE fundamental element capable of turning agriculture into a
truly sustainable activity, as well as the researchers sharing that
vision and the studies they've published.

I know there are researchers working in these areas that subscribe
to sanet (Elaine Ingham, Joel Gruver and Michelle Schroeder -all of
whom are familiar with the current state of the art - they
contribute to it's development- and have been kind enough to send me
valuable reference documents, come to mind), and I hope we hear from
them soon, on or off sanet. To start with, what's their take on the
statements made above? Do they share this evaluation of the problem?

Regarding fundamental categories of the soils inhabitants
(unicellular and multicellular), Joel mentions:

  Ants, termites, spiders
  Others:  rodents, snakes, voles, amphibians, etc.

To which I would add, armadillos.

Regarding: "What do bacteria do in soil"?
he mentions:

  Colonize aerobic and anaerobic environments
  Decompose labile substrates
  Mediate redox transformations
  Nourish bacterivores
  Fix N

Regarding What Fungi Do in the Soil?
he mentions:

  Decompose recalcitrant organic compounds
  Penetrate residues
  Stabilize soil structure
  Nourish fungivores
  Form symbioses with plant roots and soil fauna
  Compete with plant pathogens
  Parasitize plants and soil animals
  Produce toxins e.g.  aflatoxin produced by Aspergillus flavus on peanut

He doesn't specifically mention producing phyto-hormones or
antibiotic substances but the phyto-hormones are formed in symbiosis
with plant roots and antibiotics work by competing with (and thereby
interrupting) one or more of a pathogen's fundamental metabolic

His Soil Ecology Primer includes information from <>:

   "Soils is part of the National Cooperative Soil Survey, an effort of
   Federal and State agencies, universities, and professional societies
   to deliver science-based soil information."

Maybe Joel can tell us where his primers on Soil Ecology and
Taxonomy can be downloaded.

Lawrence mentioned a need to establish "primary categories" and
referred to 7 categories Elaine Ingham presents. It would be
interesting to compare her classification system with the
taxonomical approach used by National Cooperative Soil Survey
mentioned by Joel and available via the above website.

The Soil Foodweb approach to soil management emphasizes the
importance of soil microorganisms and focuses on the use of compost,
compost tea and soil testing. Soil Foodweb provides information and
offers lab services and courses related to those key elements.
<> contains
links to information on compost tea theory, manufacture and
application, while <> allows
visitors to the Soil Foodweb website to locate links that fill out
it's approach. I'm not sure about where soil structure, water
retention, mineral composition and acidity fit in, but they're
probably covered.

ATTRA, the National Agriculture Library (NAL), WinRock and the
principle agricultural universities' websites are other sources that
surely contain information relevant to this issue. (There's another
on-line soil library with links to an important work, original from
Russia on soil organisms not available elsewhere, but I can't
remember it's name - Lawrence, you probably have a link to it on one
of your ibiblio websites on sustainable agriculture).

Also, biologist Lynn Margulis has published a number of important
works, including:

  Five Kingdoms: An illustrated guide to the phyla of life on Earth
  (1998), and

  Symbiosis in Cell Evolution: Microbial communities in the Archean
  and Proterozoic eons (second edition, 1993).

Her classification system for organisms is unique and deserves

Incidentally, googling on "soil ecology" produced 355,000 hits,
including these (the first 10):

  The Soil Ecology Society (SES) is an international organization of researchers, students, environmental professionals and others interested in the ... - 4k - Cached - Similar pages

  Soil ecology
  D C Coleman & D A Crossley in 'Fundamentals of soil ecology, 1996, assign functions and influence on nutrient cycling and soil structure to these groups in ... - 55k - Cached - Similar pages

  Soil Ecology
  Lab Study Questions. Exam Questions from Labs. Soil Ecology Links .... For more information on soil ecology and soil organisms, visit The Microbe zoo ... - 17k - Cached - Similar pages

  Gordon's Soil Ecology Page
  An Introduction to the amazing world of the soil, its inhabitants and their ecology. - 50k - Cached - Similar pages

  Soil Ecology in the Yahoo! Directory
  Yahoo! reviewed these sites and found them related to Soil Ecology. - 7k - Cached - Similar pages

  Applied Soil Ecology - Elsevier
  Applied Soil Ecology addresses the role of soil organisms and their interactions in relation to: agricultural productivity, nutrient cycling and other soil ... - 68k - Cached - Similar pages

  GSF Soil Ecology
  The primary concern of the Institute of Soil Ecology is the conservation and evaluation of soil in its role as the support for plants and as a significant ... - 8k - Cached - Similar pages

  Laboratory of Soil Ecology and Microbiology
  Research projects and publications (University of Rhode Island, USA). - 7k - Cached - Similar pages

  Soil Ecology and Restoration Group
  Primary focus is on soils and below-ground processes in arid and semiarid ecosystems with emphasis on microbial ecology and plant-microorganism ... - 3k - Cached - Similar pages

  Soil ecology - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  Soil ecology is the study of the interactions among soil organisms, and between biotic and abiotic aspects of the soil environment. ... - 22k - Cached - Similar pages


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Re: Fertilizer and damage to soil microorganisms
« Reply #2 on: December 06, 2010, 01:48:27 AM »
Hello Edna -

In the past, I looked at how much of some commonly applied inorganic fertilizers could be applied to soil without harming the majority of organisms.

We did testing, and in healthy grassland or turf soil, we saw little damage to the organisms present in that soil if less than 100 pounds per ac (or 100 kg per hectare) were applied.

Convert that to a typical lawn of 100 by 100 ft square, and it comes to, oh, about a quarter cup of fertilizer over that area. 

If the soil has suffered damage already, and many of the sensitive organisms are already dead, then that rate could be perhaps doubled, and we would not detect reduction in biomass.  Concentration as well as how healthy the soil is to begin makes a difference in how much can be applied without a detrimental effect to the organisms. 

Of course, you have to use methods that can actually detect organisms in the soil.  So, the Solvita Test is not appropriate, since many inorganic fertilizers have carbonate in them either as a stabilizer, or as part of the fertilizer mix, and thus CO2 generated is merely a result of the carbonate reacting with hydrogen in the soil.  Plate count tests are completely inappropriate, because they can't detect 99.9999% or more of the species of microorganisms in soil to begin with.  Enzymes can't be used, because of the immobilized enzyme material sequestered on clays or silts or organic matter masks any change in enzyme activity.


 What assays to use then? Direct microscope analysis, where diversity of morphological types (shape, diameter, color, ornamentation, etc) estimates what organisms are present and is simply, inexpensively and rapidly performed, or DNA analysis and sequencing, would give solid answers.  Nucleic acid methods that only assess a part of the microbial community, or only assess bacterial diversity, are clearly not adequate either. 


In recent years, I've come to question why, in a healthy soil, we would need any inorganic fertilizer at all. 

As long as the food web is intact in the soil, microorganisms cycle the enormous quantity of mineral nutrient in sand, silt, clay and organic matter into plant available, or soluble, forms of all those mineral nutrients. 

It is what happens in forests and productive grasslands.  Those processes occur at rapid enough rates to maintain plant production levels far higher than any agricultural field you want to look at.  So why can we not use those same biological processes in agricultural fields, or a lawn, or a garden.  No one has ever run out of sand, silt, or clay, the mineral fraction, in their soil, have they?  People may have mistakenly damaged the biology that does the cycling, however.  And that is why chemists can document that nutrient pools are depleted.  But that is only because the life in that soil has been lost.  With return of the correct food web, those cycling processes return. 

And then, why apply inorganic fertilizers?  Even if you lived in a swamp, and had no sand, silt, or clay, there's plenty of organic matter.  Organisms are still required to do cycling of the nutrients from the organic matter, of course. 

Nitrogen is possibly an "exception" to the sand, silt and clay mineral nutrient cycling processes performed by organisms.  We need nitrogen-fixing organisms to rapidly fix nitrogen.  But this is a biological process.  If you add high amounts of inorganic fertilizers, (more than 100 pounds per acre), then you start to wipe out that nitrogen-fixation set of organisms, and inorganic fertilizers will be required.  Nitrogen-fixing organisms still need a full food web to cycle the Nitrogen they fix into plant available forms of nutrients.  Without the right sets of organisms, natural nutrient cycling cannot occur fast enough to maintain plant production. 

Forests..... please remember to include the herbaceous layer, the grass layer, the shrub, vines and bush layer, the understory trees, as well as the canopy, when calculating production on an annual basis in a forest.  How does a forest system manage to maintain nutrient supply, without any inorganic nutrient additions.  Remember, all the biomass tied up in tree trunks does not get returned to the forest floor each year.  More than what humans remove in harvested food material is tied up in tree biomass, not returned to further plant growth, on an annual basis.  So, how can that forest keep growing, for several hundred years, with tie-up of all that nutrient on an annual basis?  check out the nitrogen-fixer in a forest...... and the fact that organic matter is accumulating in that forest.  Nutrients not-returned to he next year's plant production.  A forest doesn't run out of nutrients, does it.....  it doesn't run out of sand, silt, or clay.......


So, when your transplants start looking puny, consider what that really means.  The natural nutrient cycling processes prevalent in natural soils from which your flowers and vegetables came from, is not functioning in the "potting" soil. 

Why aren't the organisms there, doing what they are supposed to do for your plant?

Ah- hem, because they were killed somewhere along the line, and they aren't there anymore.  The organisms were killed. 

How do you fix that? 

Put the organisms your plant needs back into that soil.  Make AEROBIC compost.  Not smelly, not black, not stinky. 

Add the organisms your plant needs to the potting soil, make sure the full food web starts working.  Then plant your plants.  Add water the way nature adds water.....without excess inorganic nutrients in it. 

What if you can't get the right biology going right at first?  Ok, then low levels of organic or inorganic nutrients while you get the biology established.  Like kelp products, or humus, or organic matter of some kind, and then use compost or compost tea where you have looked to make sure the organisms you need are present before you add them. 

A couple weeks later, look again to see if the organisms have improved.   

Nature Tech has some simple books just about ready for publication about this --  10 easy steps. 

Come to a class in Corvalllis, either 2 day intro, or the full 5 day course, if you really want to understand how biology and chemistry work together to grow healthy plants. 

Elaine R. Ingham
President, Soil Foodweb Inc.

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Offline CatManDo

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Fertilizer and damage to soil microorganisms
« Reply #1 on: December 06, 2010, 01:44:29 AM »
fertilizer and damage to soil microorganisms

To conserve water and to give my garden a good start when it finally rains

in July, I start a lot of plants in pots inside for transplant. Some years

(depending on the variability of available compost and soil for my homemade

potting mix, I'm sure), my seedlings look a bit puny before transplant time.

When the seedlings start looking puny, I put 1/4 teaspoon of 10-54-10

fertilizer in a couple gallons of water and feed all my containers once,

possibly twice during the season. In contrast, the fertilizer manufacturer

recommends (for house plants, but more for outdoor plants) 1/4 teaspoon per

gallon of water every time they are watered.

Long, long ago, I recall Elaine Ingram commenting that some deficient soils

require fertilizer before they can effectively grow even cover crops.

Somewhere in that conversation, she gave a rule of thumb about how much

commercial fertilizer can be added before harming the soil microorganisms.

Something like number of cups per 100 square feet...

I write a weekly column in a local newspaper and would like to be able to

quote a figure along her recent comments about fertilizers harming

microorganisms. Can Elaine or someone else help me out?