SOIL: THE LAW OF RETURN

SOIL: THE LAW OF RETURN

SOIL: THE LAW OF RETURN

The thin mantle of Soil that covers our Earth is what feeds and nurtures us. We are innately and inextricably connected to soil for our survival, for like humans it contains the universal life-force without which we would not survive.

Only a fertile soil contains the billions of amazing and diverse creatures and microbes, from earthworms to fungi, which provide the energy that drives our food systems. A square metre of good healthy rich soil can contain up to 7 billion living organisms which are the “workers” in the “factory” of soil.   It is this soil that yields healthy plants which cleanse our air, produce our oxygen, feed us and our animals, and is the most important resource of every farm, smallholding and suburban home.

Improving and maintaining the fertility of the soil is the central focus in Natural, Ecological, Biological, Sustainable and Organic farming. Feeding the crop begins with feeding the soil first, for the plant has been designed to feed itself- hence no human assistance or intervention is required in our wild areas, forests, Fynbos, savannah lands, bushveld etc.

As long as soil fertility is measured only by the crop yields, awareness about the soil will remain low. Soil in this context is just a medium where plants grow and is a base to apply plant fertilisers, normally in a chemical format- and the resultant food crops are low in nutrition and vulnerable to pests and disease.

A 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, and 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 soils contain minerals, water, air , 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 interact and an excess of some elements can cause a shortage of others, even though it appears there is enough on a soil test”.

Following the “Law of Return” assists the maintenance of soil fertility by retaining as a minimum the 17 macro and micro elements (there are more), as well as assisting and encouraging the billions of micro-organisms to be present. The Law of Return states: WHATEVER IS TAKEN OUT OF THE SOIL MUST BE RETURNED IN EQUAL MEASURE

How? Imagine starting with virgin land in a balanced state with all of the macro and micro nutrients present, in crucial ratios and relationships to each other. Thereafter every weeding, clearing, harvesting and pruning action removes those nutrients .

The Law of Return states that these nutrients, in the quantities taken away, must be returned in order to maintain a balanced ecological state and fertile soil.  Agro-chemical farming methods return at best 3 or 4 nutrients (fertilizers in a chemical format) into the soil. (NPK mostly- foliar feeds do not count) The other 14 plus are eventually removed totally, and are missing in the “food” grown there.

A quote from “The Soul of Soil” by Grace Gershuny and Joe Smillie: “The basic aim of ecological soil management is to provide hospitable conditions for life within the soil. Sustainable agriculture aims to protect the soils ability to regenerate nutrients lost when the crops are harvested- without dependence on “off-farm” fertilizers. This depends on the diversity, health and vitality of the organisms that live, grow, reproduce and die in the soil. Through the activities of these soil microbes the basic raw materials needed by plants are made available at the right time, and in the right form and amount”

 

In my view the most important replenishment actions are:

  • Application of rich compost full of diversity replacing those nutrients taken away. The plant decides how much to take up and when.
  • Intercropping and companion planting brings diversity, supplies carbon, fulfills an integrated pest management role, provides a green mulch which keeps soil cool and moist, and outcompetes weeds.
  • Dry mulching covers the soil, supplies a cool and moist habitat for the soil micro-organisms, as well as suppressing weed growth.

 

If you wish to learn how to make rich compost and learn in depth more about SOIL and the incredible world that is contained within it, do attend one of my WORKSHOP ON : THE PRINCIPLES OF ORGANICS AND COMPOST MAKING

DATE: Please enquire. VENUE: On the farm  PRESENTER: Liz Eglington

CONTENT: This is an existing and successful workshop which takes place on a certified organic farm which has been farming organically for 18 years, and covers theoretical and practical instruction that is aimed at the following:

  • Farmers and smallholders
  • Consumers wanting to grow their own food

 

Please see details on the Website under Training

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

The Organic Revolution –reconnecting with the Web of Life

The Organic Revolution –reconnecting with the Web of Life

The Organic Revolution – reconnecting with the Web of Life

By Liz Eglington

It is now 13 years ago that I walked onto a barren and overused, abused piece of ground in the Klein Karoo and responded to a call that came from deep within me- a call from my Soul- that asked me to acquire this land and start the most amazing adventure of my life.

I did not understand any of this then, I just knew that I had said YES!

I was very much “in my head” those days, working for a top corporate company, and so had intellectualized that my journey was to build a healing centre in order to pass on the knowledge and experiences I had just been through in contracting ME (yuppie flu, chronic fatigue syndrome) and healing myself from it. But, it was not to be my journey, and after a few frustrating years of closed doors and non-manifestation of this dream, I decided to turn to the land.

That was when I fell in love. I fell in love with the Web of Life. With the magnificence and complexity, yet simplicity, of this miraculous world of nature, Mother Earth, and the inter-connectedness of it all.

It was not love-at-first-sight and then we all lived happily ever after. This was and still is a work in progress. As I worked with the land using only natural, sustainable and organic agricultural practices and products, I experienced the roller coaster ride of nature trying to re-balance, to rid herself of toxic chemical residues, re-building fertility and life beneath and above the soil, bringing life back to the land. There were difficult and challenging times, when the still existent imbalances meant watching insects determined to decimate my trees, staring perplexed at trees that were unhappy and not knowing what else to do to make them happy, years of little or no harvest, and the knowing that this was going to be a long journey and there were no quick fixes.

And then there were also the miracles, the unexplainable, the successes, vindication when neighbours were infested with insects and spraying frantically and we were untouched. We were rewarded as we watched the wildlife and birds returning in abundance, when our neighbours converted to organic, when the entire valley became organic and we manifested an oasis.

I have also had to deal with my sadness and disappointment in humans and human nature. At our ignorance, greed, arrogance, dishonesty, fearful and destructive behaviour, and disregard for nature and all living things. At our insatiable need for more/better/bigger/greater at the expense of the web of life, nature, our finite resources, our health, and our Planet.  How the majority are ignorant of the effects of their choices, lack of responsibility for the current state of the Planet.

 

 

And then I have been reassured about our intelligence and innate goodness when farmers have come to visit, to learn and listened with their hearts.  So how did we as humans get ourselves into this destructive and unsustainable path?

Before the 1940’s most farms were using natural, sustainable and/or organic agricultural methods and practices. When the second world war was over the war machine had excess chemicals and buildings and personnel, and so there was an economic opportunity to turn this into money. Thus the Agro-chemical industry was born. We were TAUGHT to farm with chemicals.

The multinationals with their billions and huge marketing budgets have so brainwashed us that we now believe that we can no longer farm without chemicals. They have very successfully understood how we operate and tapped into our fear and greed. I believe it is now time to un-learn what they taught us, because the wide-spread destruction of our planet is now being acknowledged and experienced.

Climate change and Global Warming are now here. The research has proven that much of this is caused by excessive pollution through excessive use of chemicals, and the agricultural sector is high on the list of culprits. There is a chain reaction that mankind was warned about 30 years ago, and we ignored it to our peril.

As I worked with my land, and learnt and puzzled my way into understanding HOW nature works, HOW plants work, what healthy soil is, what minerals and nutrients are and how they work, what makes a plant strong or susceptible to attack, I realized how little information is readily available to us and how much we have to learn. Speaking to farmers over the years made me realize that very few of them are actually farming. Not in the true sense of the word- how farming was done successfully for hundreds of years.

Once we got caught up in dependency on agro-chemicals we forgot how to farm. The majority of farmers have an annual schedule given to them by their consultant who works for one of the chemical companies. This schedule tells them the following:

  • what chemicals to put onto the land, how much and when. This is calculated NOT from what their soil analyses tells them but on what crop they are growing. The soil does not feature- it is merely a growing medium.
  • If they are growing maize, there are tables which tell them how much NPK (Nitrogen, Potassium an phosphates) maize “needs”. If apricot farming the same NPK chemicals are used, but in different ratios. And so on and so on. That’s it. Those 3 chemicals, in mega doses. To mega force feed roots, leaves and fruit.
  • Then they are told what pesticides to spray- as a PRE-EMPTIVE spray. Not when the insects appear, but when they are expected to appear. These sprays happen sometimes monthly and sometimes bi-monthly. All the farmer has to do is follow his schedule faithfully and his orchard is a vacuum, and his soil is dead, but his trees grow and produce really fast and well. Any problems and he is immediately on the phone to his “consultant”.

It was into this culture and behaviour pattern that I arrived and started my organic farming. I was seen as a curiosity and was the butt of many snide remarks and jokes. An “engelse meisie” from the “stad” coming into a male environment where “organic” was alien and just considered silly. The farm next door was farming with roses and the valley stank from the myriad chemicals that roses demand. Most of these males had been born and grew up in the area, and as the oasis materialized, and the stories circulated about my “insect resistant” trees their interest grew and the visits started. They were just “passing by” but you cannot “pass by” my farm- it’s in a valley. You have to drive IN to come and see me.

What I shared with them were the following concepts: (I wish to stress here that these concepts are not just for farmers. It’s for anyone who has any land whatsoever- especially suburban properties or smallholdings because when you add up all these properties globally they exceed the volume of farmland ,so there is a REAL responsibility for EVERY ONE OF US to stop the chemicals and poisons and revert to natural  methods. Land and soil is just that, whether it’s half an hectare or a thousand):

  • I quote from Gary F Zimmer in his book “The Biological farmer”: “Plants and animals grow by natural laws and they grow best when natural laws are followed, not overpowered. Life operates in natural cycles. One thing affects another. This system relies on co-operation, working with nature and not against it. It is a way of give and not get.”
  • Commercial reality generally overrides environmental concerns, and it is time that we all realize that what is best for you is also best for the environment.
  • Chemical farming often involves a reactive response based on fear, whereas Biological and organic farming is pro-active – working with nature rather than against it..
  • Often a paradigm shift is necessary. This involves a realization that you are dealing with a living soil and all farming and land practices impact upon soil biology.
  • An essential element of any environment is Commercial agro-chemical farming is steadily destroying the bio-diversity on our planet. The Web of Life.
  • Tony Hansen of the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative is assisting the wine industry in changing to sustainable and environmentally friendly farming practices. I quote:

“Biodiversity is the whole variety of living organisms, the genetic difference between them, and the communities and eco-systems in which they occur. It is the natural wealth of the earth, which supplies all our food and much of our shelter. Without adequate protection, it will be destroyed, and leave us all poor.”

  • The organic methods will only work when your actions are focused towards creating (or re-creating) a natural and balanced eco system in all areas of your farm or land. This takes time, understanding, commitment, patience, vigilance, observation, and an iron-will because there will be many times when you will be tempted to take the “quick-fix AK47 route” to make the problem go away. However, the only way you can FIX the problem, is to go to the root cause.
  • The first rule and prize in organic farming is “feed the soil and the plant will feed itself”. The problems arise when we try to feed the plant and we will always get the proportions or combinations wrong. Each plant s needs are different and it’s DNA is coded to KNOW what that is, which it then fetches using it’s feeding roots. When we “feed” it chemicals and then water it in, we force the plant to drink it’s food using it’s water roots. There is a symbiotic relationship with the billions of micro-organisms in the soil whose existence is dependant on the survival of the plant- so they also “go fetch” nutrients that they sense are missing or in short supply. They break down minerals into a format that makes the nutrients available (or exchangeable) for the plant. It is such a fantastic system. Chemicals kill this army.

 

To re-create balance and soil health the tool that is of most use is COMPOST. Compost creates humus.a
Raoul France states  : Humus is created from life, for life and by life.

Goethe was well acquainted with the laws of nature when he said :  Death is an artifice of nature in order to create new life.

In order to define humus, the factor living substance has to be taken into consideration.  The law of harmony, that is, the law of balance, reigns over all living things.

  • Humus and soil are subjected to the same laws as all other living things. But modern agriculture refuses to work in the same way, and the results of ignoring these laws can be seen in the form of our ailing fields with their depleted soils and damaged structure, and in our disease-prone cultivated plants.  Dead soils eventually become barren desert land.
  • Supply and demand. Especially in Europe and the USA, the consumer is demanding nutritious and chemical free food. The organic industry is growing 20% per annum and has become a multi-billion industry that everyone wants to be part of. The statistics are readily available on the internet. The wealth of books and industries that are now appearing to support this industry is a testament to this. It has not yet happened in South Africa where organic farming is still seen as a “niche” area producing for the rich. But this will not be for long because we are being educated via a media that is becoming aware and educated. Our global health and environmental crisis is driving people to ask questions and change behaviour. This is a movement that will eventually become the mainstream and the agro-chemical industry will become a dinosaur. Is it not best to move BEFORE you are forced to?

Bush telegraph works well in the country and soon I was getting calls from farmers and smallholders from all the towns and areas in the Klein Karoo- asking questions and wanting to visit. This led to the formation of the Klein Karoo Organic Initiative (KKOI) where we held monthly meetings consisting of an educational session,  a networking session, an organic farmers market, and a community project session. Our attendance swelled to about 100 regulars, and another 100 e-mail members who got the lecture notes and meeting minutes via cyber space. This lasted for several years and was a highlight of my journey here.

I met delightful and genuine people- those living in the towns and the farmers- who were hungry for information, understanding that what they were doing was not natural and was doing harm, but not knowing what the next step was. We created a real buzz in the area and we regularly got visitors who traveled for 5 hours to the meetings.

Now I get regular visits to my farm from people all over South Africa- “wanna be” farmers looking for land to get out of the rat-race, real farmers wanting to become sustainable and organic, consultants, various media, and the chemical salesmen who are being asked by their clients to come up with different programmes and more natural methods.

I share my journey and my information. We walk through my orchards and I explain how the natural systems work, they see the extensive composting and mulching practices. They marvel at all my weeds that I never remove, and I explain that they bring nutrients and diversity in micro-organisms as well as in insects. That weeds are herbs and flowering plants that tell a story about where they grow in abundance, give information to eyes that can see, and are a great immediate and in-situ source of mulching and nutrition. A “picture paints a thousand words”, and it is with joy that I watch the “ah-ha” moment happening as we delve beneath all the mulch and organic matter to see dark rich soil underneath teeming with life. I know that right then there is a comparison happening with their own orchard with it’s little soldiers in perfectly straight lines, not a weed in sight, and bare “clean” lifeless soil that is baked to extinction by the sun.

I am especially excited when the visit happens during harvesting time, and they see my olive trees groaning under an abundant harvest, and I hear them mutter “Well, whatever it is, it works”.

I have compassion for these rural people who live and work on the land. They do not have access to the information that would make them realize what an un-natural system they are using. They fully trust the chemical “smouses” and consultants who use words like “feed” and “nutrients” and “improve” when they talk about their chemicals. We have a dearth of information in this country and I realized this when I tried to educate myself.

There is only one company in Johannesburg giving organic farming courses, and there is an organization in KZN which specializes in community education on organics. There are now several initiatives and organizations doing wonderful work in the townships and with communities teaching them to grow their own food and to do this naturally. But this is not where a commercial farmer can come and learn how to farm using sustainable and natural methods, and be economically viable. It does not exist in South Africa, and there is a huge opportunity and gap here to be filled.

I got my information from attending every course and workshop available on soil and mineralization. They are expensive and given by overseas experts who come here because there is a need as we are still a country stuck in chemical farming. I attended 3 ten day Permaculture courses spread over several years.  I have an extensive library on organic and biological farming, soil, composting, worm farming, pest and orchard management, and so on. Basically it felt as if I had gone back to school, because the body of information is huge and complex, and the deeper you delve the more you realize how much there still is to know.

And then I have 11 years of practical experience, mistakes and successes. Because of this lack of information and education in organic and sustainable farming I have formed a consultancy business and now take on farms/farmers as clients. The need for information is great and is growing daily as the realization of our global environmental crisis sets in and I am inundated with requests to give talks and workshops. For the last four years I have been one of the speakers for workshops hosted by Country Life, and in 2008 it was so over subscribed that it was repeated a month later. The 2009 workshop taking place in August has already been oversubscribed twice.

The revolution is happening and it’s exciting to witness and participate in.

Quote from Graeme Sait from Australia “Once growers have developed the taste for biological and organic  farming, we usually see tremendous enthusiasm. We have yet to encounter a single grower who has reverted back to chemical farming after developing an insight into this approach. “

Another important aspect of organic farming is compassionate and fair labour practices with our farm labourers. These people have been so abused and underpaid over the years that their self worth and need for self improvement is non-existent. This has led to wide spread alcoholism, abuse and violence. It has been as challenging a journey for me in this aspect of my farming, and just as rewarding.

All of my staff, managers and foremen on the farm and in the factory are drawn from the local community, and have been trained and given responsibility. It has been heart warming to see them finally understand that they CAN live better lives and they ARE valuable and capable. Those that get this, fly.

There have been the disappointments, and some heartbreak, but in the minority. And as more and more are being examples within their community, so are they encouraging others to stand up and demand their rights to be treated as valuable humans.

Other initiatives and happenings are:

  • The proliferation of farmers and organic markets all over the country. Where we can sell and buy REAL food, and speak to the person growing it, or who knows the person growing it. I believe there are now at least 20 in the Peninsula and Boland area. Now we can take responsibility for what we put into our bodies. It has been a fabulous platform for me to engage in conversation with the consumers, mothers, cooks, retailers and families and explain to them what constitutes whole and nutritious food that has been grown ethically.
  • The growth of the Slowfood movement, and the formation of Conviviums. This is an initiative and movement that anyone can engage in and again spread the knowledge, support and eat food grown and cooked slowly and have fun experiences at the same time with like minded people.
  • Several companies who will come and install an organic veggie garden at your home- and teach you how to maintain it.
  • Green magazines and radio programmes.
  • Trade shows and festivals where an organic section is becoming mandatory.

 

It has been an amazing journey, where I have seen and lived the inter-connectedness of life. Nothing is in isolation, and everything is dependent on everything else. Take out one component and there is an immediate imbalance.

I have a burning desire. To find the resources, money and people to set up training schools, courses, initiatives, associations and workshops across the country. To start a “KKOI” in every area and region, where people do not have to travel for 5 hours, but just an hour or so, where they meet up with like minded souls and gain information, share experiences, sell their produce, and then go back home feeling inspired, motivated and knowing that they are doing no harm and are one with Nature and the Web of Life.

There is SUCH a need for this to manifest in our country.

How about YOU? Who do you know? It does not take special skill- just a desire to protect and extend the Web of Life. To be part of this revolution and take responsibility for the state of our Planet. I was a Financial Consultant working in Cape Town when I started this journey, so there cannot be a greater “shift” than from there!

We can no longer be spectators and bemoan the state of our country, continent, the Planet. “Evil happens when good people do nothing”.

This Planet and all on her can and will heal when EACH one of us energetically makes a conscious decision to be part of the solution and healing. When we take responsibility for our daily CHOICES.

REFERENCES USED;

1          Eco-Farm by Charles Walters
2          NTS Certification course by Graeme Sait
3          Hands-on Agronomy by Neal Kinsey and Charles Walters
4          Compost by Clare Foster
5          The Secrets of Fertile Soils by Erhard Hennig
6          Natural Farming by Pat Coleby
7          Fletcher Sim’ Compost by Charles Walters
8          The Biological Farmer by Gary F Zimmer