Soil, Nutrition and Food By Liz Eglington

Soil, Nutrition and Food By Liz Eglington

Soil, Nutrition and Food

The ethical part of the medical fraternity are now acknowledging in their papers and journals that the unprecedentedincrease in cancers, tumours, immune related diseases and other stress and lifestyle related disease is directly attributed to food with poor nutrition and food with excessive chemical residues,

  • I quote from Charles Walters in his book “Eco-farm”: “Simplistic NPK fertilization means malnutrition for plants, animals and men because either a shortage or marked imbalance of plant nutrients prevent balanced plant health and therefore animal and human health”.
  • Soil is a combination of minerals, decayed organic plant and animal matter , living organisms, oxygen, water and gasses.
  • Soil nutrients are made available to plants by the micro-organisms who are fed by the plant with “exudates” or sugars, and through the ecological cycle of growth and decay.
  • The “law of returns” is the NATURAL cycle of life and death that returns to the soil what was taken from it. It is an ongoing living cycle, with the living organisms providing the nutrients for the plants, and the plants growing the biomass to feed the living organisms

Humus is formed as a result of the complicated interplay of inorganic conversions and the life processes of the microbes and tiny creatures living in the soil.  Earthworms play a particularly important role in this process.  The formation of humus is carried out in two steps:

  • First of all a disintegration of the organic substance and of the soil minerals occurs,
  • and this is followed by the building up of totally new combinations to the initial stages of humus. Humus formation is a biological process. Only 10 to 30 cm of humus-containing soil are available in the upper earth crust. This thin earth layer is all that exists to preserve human life by providing a source of nutrition.  The destiny of mankind depends on these 30 cm!

Cultivated soils with a 2 % humus content are today considered to be good quality farmland.  What is the remaining 98 % made up of?  Depending on the soil type, soil organisms constitute about 8 %, the remains of plants and animals about 5 % and air and water around 15 %.

This means that the remaining 70 % of the soil mass are of purely mineral origin.  The mineral part of the soil is obtained as a result of decomposition and the erosion of rock.  The dissolution of these components is carried out by the so-called lithobionts which can be seen as the mediators between stone and life.  It was, once again, France who coined the term lithobiont, which means those who live on stone.  The lithobionts are a group of microbes which start off the formation of humus.  They produce a life-giving substance from the mineral.  On the basis of this living matter, the building up of earth, plants, animals and human beings can take place step by step.

Only soils with an optimal structural state of tilth have a humus content of 8 % to 10 %.  Untouched soils in primeval forests can, at the best, reach 20 %. Tropic jungle cannot use up all its organic waste, so humus can be stored.  In all forests there is an accumulation of humus, but real humus stores only emerge in the course of millenia.  Once upon a time accumulations of humus could be found in the Ukraine which were know as Chernozem (Russian for black earth).

Strictly speaking, each harvest and each growth of cultivated plants is accompanied by a loss of humus, a problem which is aggravated from year to year.

This loss of humus cannot be replaced by any kind of mineral fertiliser.  Both deciduous woods and mixed forests can provide their own humus because they are able to make use of their own discarded leaves.

Humus is favourably disposed towards the vegetal rather than the animal metabolism. This is why manure, with its high proportion of animal excrement, cannot support natural humus formation.  Manure has to be turned into humus before it can be used for fertilisation. Through composting.

Why is this?  The microbes living in the soil are more favourably disposed towards the decomposition of pure cellulose than towards the disintegration of animal excrement, which leaves the intestines in an anaerobic state.  This fact was unfortunately not recognised by earlier generations.

  • Classification of Elements

All elements can be assigned to one of two groups, metals and non-metals.  The higher life forms consists of mainly of non-metal elements. In the case of the human body, the elements hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, sulphur and chlorine constitute 98.1% of the total body weight, while metals constitute just 1.9%.  Only 0.012% of the human body (or 8.6 g, assuming a body weight of 70 kg) is made up of trace elements.  However, this 8.6 g, this tiny fraction of the totally body mass, controls the processes within the human organism to an extent which was previously not thought possible.  On the other hand, some of the trace elements which are essential to life can also become poisonous.

Man is provided with trace elements by his food and his drinking water.  After they have been absorbed into the bloodstream, these trace elements usually become attached to so-called carrier proteins, which release them again on reaching the places in the body where they are immediately required or where they can be stored.  In most cases this is the skeleton.

Mineral cycles are most effective under the following conditions.

  • High organic content in the soil
  • Porous soil
  • Adequate moisture in the soil
  • High levels of soil organisms
  • Rapid recycling of manure and surface mulched
  • Low soil loss through water or wind erosion
  • Vigorous and healthy rooting by plants
  • Presence of humus as a buffer
  • Presence of animals that provide dung and manure
  • Efficient processing of deep level minerals primarily through the use of tree species with roots that penetrate and allow water to infiltrate.

 

  • Minerals found in the soil

SULPHUR :      Lack disallows microbes to break down humus. Necessary for Chlorophyll production

PHOSPHATE:   Workhorse of plant nutrition-responsible for energy transfer.

CALCIUM: second most important plant nutrient. Vital element for soil structure, and uptake of plant nutrients

MAGNESIUM: is vitally important for photosynthesis. Must be in correct ratio to calcium or ALL other nutrients lock up and are unavailable to the plant.

POTASSIUM: catalyst in chlorophyll production, improves water efficiency and is a governor in taking nutrients from the air-carbon, nitrogen and oxygen

SODIUM: required in small quantities for all crops

NITROGEN: essential for growth.Microbes required to bind it from the atmosphere where 78% is nitrogen

BORON: Most important plant nutrient. essential for getting calcium into the plant. Works together with Calcium and Silica to move the sugars from the plant to the soil micro-organisms which break down the nutrients to make them available for the plants. ALSO essential for MOVING these nutrients back UP the plant. Important for flower and fruit set.

IRON: required for chlorophyll formation and in energy transfer

MANGANESE: accelerates germination. Essential for grain formation. Involved in photosynthesis.

COPPER: :involved in photosynthesis, seed and sugar production and protein metabolism

ZINC: plays a key role in efficiency of water utilisation, is a growth regulator and protein synthesis.

The diagram below highlights just how co-dependant and interactive these minerals are with and to each other.

  • Photosynthesis is the single most important aspect of crop production. The green plant is the only food producer on earth, and all living creatures depend on it.
  • 95% of crop weight is from photosynthesis. 5% of crop weight is from the soil.
  • Photosynthesis takes place within individual chlorophyll units called chloroplasts.
  • These chloroplasts have the ability to combine the energy from the sun with carbon dioxide and water to form a simple six-carbon sugar called glucose.
  • This process releases oxygen, which is why we should have living plants in our homes. They keep the air we breathe low in carbon dioxide and high in oxygen.
  • Notice the 6 molecules of carbon dioxide (CO2). There isn’t enough CO2 in the atmosphere to ensure a good yield.

 

  • This is why we cannot ignore soil biology. The larger the number and diversity of aerobic micro-organisms in the root zone, the higher the production of CO2 for photosynthesis.
  • Chloroplasts contain the green pigment chlorophyll.
  • Chlorophyll is nitrogen-intensive and completely dependent on magnesium.
  • Manganese is responsible for the correct functioning of chloroplasts.
  • Iron governs the movement of magnesium into the chloroplast.
  • Sulfur and zinc both play a role in the formation of chlorophyll.
  • Sunlight is essential for building and functioning of chloroplasts. If a green plant is put in the dark, it will turn whitish within days.
The plant makes a decision after 5 weeks.  It analyses the green and then decides how big and how many cobs/fruit to grow. Then next decision at 9 weeks.
  • We realise the tremendous importance of photosynthesis when we understand that these compounds make up most of the weight of what we grow.
  • The key to managing photosynthesis is to maintain luxury levels of chlorophyll at all times.

One Example of how important these minerals are to health: Calcium – Humans & Animals

  • Calcium is the most abundant mineral element in the animal body with over 99% found in the skeleton and teeth.
  • Responsible for cell division and cell permeability.
  • Important for maintaining constant blood pH and the coagulation of blood.
  • Many degenerative diseases such as Osteoporosis, Parkinson’s, MS, heart disease and cancer can be caused by acidosis.
  • Asidosis – acidic environment where oxygen is driven out of body.
  • Dr Otto Warburg won the Nobel prize in 1931 for establishing the link between anaerobism (low oxygen) and cancer.
  • An acidic body eats away artery walls. Cholesterol is then sent to repair damaged arteries.  Therefore acidity, not cholesterol, contributes to heart disease.
  • Calcium is a key alkalising mineral which reduces acidosis and hence keeps the body aerobic and disease-free.

 

Calcium – Dietary Sources

  • For humans : dairy foods (raw milk), leafy dark greens, sardines and canned salmon.
  • For livestock : include legumes in pastures.
  1. c) Calcium
  • Calcium is the second most important mineral in the soil, after Boron.
  • “Calcium is the trucker of all minerals and boron is the steering wheel.”

– Gary Zimmer

(But they travel along a Silica highway- Hugh Lovel)

  • Therefore, balancing calcium levels and correcting any soil deficiencies is the first priority in any fertility restoration program.
  • A silver-white metallic element
  • More than 90 % of South African soils need calcium

1    Chemical Properties

  • CA2+ is the most dominant cation in the soil.

Calcium – Biology

  • Component of every living cell.
  • Involved in cell elongation and division.
  • Major component of bones and teeth.

What I have learned and am still learning is what a balanced soil SHOULD look like. The conventional farmer spends all his time and money feeding the plant. What this means is that this activity will continue forever, with the only guarantee being that it will cost more each year. What we should be doing is feeding the soil, getting the soil balanced, and then letting the plant feed itself. That plant knows better than any of us humans exactly what it’s requirements are. That information is coded into it’s DNA. In our arrogance us humans have taken over that activity and we force feed it, so that it gives us more, and more, and grows “better and better”. What we end up with is a completely dependant plant with a weak immune system, that is susceptible to every disease and bug that passes it’s way. So, then we spray it with strong poisons etc etc.

Does that sound a bit like us humans and our weak immune systems through chemical misuse?

As an organic farmer I know this, and thought that was what I was doing. BUT, if the soil is not in balance, the plant cannot find or take up it’s required nutrients. The big question then, is what makes up a completely balanced soil?

Only once we understand exactly all the components of a balanced soil, can we fix it.

I quote from Gary F. Zimmer in his book “The Biological Farmer”:

“Agronomists and soil scientists have written that at least 16 elements are needed to grow plants. The productivity of a soil can never be greater than the plant food element in least supply. Soil is a complex mixture of several components, capable of supporting plant life. Typical soil contains approx. 45% minerals, 25% water, 25% air and about 1 to 5% organic matter & living organisms. Not all the minerals are available to plants at one time, as most in typical soil are “locked up” in the molecules of the mineral particles, and this is the Biological farmers secret. Through soil structure changes, large root systems and biological activity , the farmer can help nature release some of those tied up minerals.

You need to make these nutrients “exchangeable” or available to the roots of the plant. Because nutrients can interact, an excess of some elements can cause a shortage of others, even though it appears there is enough on a soil test”.

And for me this last statement was my answer! The typical soil analysis we do in South Africa cannot tell you what is “locked-up” and not availale to the plant.

  1. The conventional farmer spends all his time and money feeding the plant. What this means is that this activity will continue forever, with the only guarantee being that it will cost more each year. What we should be doing is feeding the soil, getting the soil balanced, and then letting the plant feed itself. That plant knows better than any of us humans exactly what it’s requirements are. That information is coded into it’s DNA. In our arrogance us humans have taken over that activity and we force feed it, so that it gives us more, and more, and grows “better and better”. What we end up with is a completely dependant plant with a weak immune system, that is susceptible to every disease and bug that passes it’s way. So, then we spray it with strong poisons, etc, etc.

Does that sound a bit like us humans and our weak immune systems through chemical /antibiotic misuse?

  1. So, if the soil is not in balance, the plant cannot find or take up it’s required nutrients. The big question then, is what makes up a completely balanced soil?

Only once we understand exactly all the components of a balanced soil, can we fix it.

I quote from Gary F. Zimmer in his book “The Biological Farmer”:

“Agronomists and soil scientists have written that at least 16 elements are needed to grow plants. The productivity of a soil can never be greater than the plant food element in least supply. Soil is a complex mixture of several components, capable of supporting plant life. Typical soil contains approx. 45% minerals, 25% water, 25% air and about 1 to 5% organic matter & living organisms.

Not all the minerals are available to plants at one time, as most in typical soil are “locked up” in the molecules of the mineral particles, and this is the Biological farmers secret.

Through soil structure changes, large root systems and biological activity, the farmer can help nature release some of those tied up minerals.

You need to make these nutrients “exchangeable” or available to the roots of the plant. Because nutrients can interact, an excess of some elements can cause a shortage of others, even though it appears there is enough on a soil test”.

There are now many books and workshops that are available in SA which will assist in giving the detailed analysis and explanations for correct soil mineralization, organic or biological farming. I list some of them at the end of this document.

  1. Three important parts of your soil are:
    • The organic particles that serve as a reservoir of plant foods
    • The soil minerals
    • The living portion, or “voluntary army” consisting of bacteria, fungi, algae and larger organisms such as earthworms, beetles, etc These are alive and need air, water, organic matter,( food ) and a safe place to live .
    • This means freedom from toxic chemical fertilisers which destroy them. The productivity of your farm is in direct proportion to the number, activity and balance of soil organisms. These change your soil into a loose crumbly biologically active soil which resists erosion and soaks up water like a sponge. Soil organisms help release crop nutrients from the soil. If you feed the soil microbes they will feed the crop. This creates healthier plants which provide their own protection against insect and disease attack.
  • Everything is interrelated and it is only through understanding these complex relationships that we can become masters. Masters of our trade, our relationships, and ourselves.
  • The key to these relationships is balance. Understanding this equilibrium is everything when building soil health and fertility in order to become sustainable. Because unless everything that we do is sustainable, we are wasting our time and heading towards an environmental, health and economic disaster. The warning signs are already there and thankfully are finally being taken seriously by the major governments of our time. Our unsustainable farming methods, economic activities and irresponsible use of our natural resources have brought climate change and global warming onto our doorsteps.
  • In order to manage our soil fertility and ensure that we have balanced soil and adequate mineralisation, we first have to understand our soil and the various elements with which it is in relationship. Some of these elements and relationships are as follows:

 

The Phenomenon of Soil Fertility

The fertility of soil continues in plants and in the fertility of those plants, as well as in animals.  The phenomenon of fertility is the visible interplay between soil and plant life.

Proteins, active agents, enzymes and vitamins become efficient thanks to the crops growing in the soil.  We should not ignore the fact that it is not only plants which rely on the soil (and humus), but also the health of animals and humans.  Soil is living and we are living off the soil via a living process which renders the mineral parts of the soil available to us.  There is no doubt that increasing disturbances to the biological balance and to regulative systems lead to some illnesses in human beings and to serious problems in the stable.

The French researcher Andre Voisin was right when he said :  First the soil must be healed and then we will no longer need to cure the illnesses of animals and human beings.

Evidently we need to make an effort to preserve harmony in the soil and not to disturb it.  In order to do this, we need to adopt measures which promote and preserve soil life, and above all a healthy cultivation of the humus content.  One thing is quite clear – if we damage the soil then we are also harming animals or humans, because pathogenic proteins are able to build up there.  Once in the cells, these proteins disturb the metabolism and the cells are then vulnerable to bacterial and viral attack.

 Incorrect fertilisation – in particular with water-soluble nitrogen or with a lack of trace elements (for example zinc, which is indispensable for the production of protein) leads to the production of plants whose protein is incomplete.  Researchers from Switzerland have convincingly shown that protein quality often means the difference between the sickness and health, if not life and death of a plant.

How most of our “food” is grown- mono-cropping , no diversity, and with chemicals.

Hence the high levels of malnutrition, obesity, human and animal heath issues, soil degradation,

Global warming(carbon released from tilling, ploughing, fertilisation)

 

REFERENCES and information taken from:
Graeme Sait
Hugh Lovel
Gary Zimmer
Charles Walters