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How understanding the immune system of plants leads to greater yield without poisons

The Atlantic:

Kempf is the unlikely founder of Advancing Eco Agriculture, a consulting firm established in 2006 to promote science-intensive organic agriculture. The entrepreneur’s story is almost identical to Zook’s. A series of crop failures on his own farm drove the 8th grade-educated Kempf to school himself in the sciences. For two years, he pored over research in biology, chemistry, and agronomy in pursuit of a way to save his fields. The breakthrough came from the study of plant immune systems which, in healthy plants, produce an array of compounds that are toxic to intruders. “The immune response in plants is dependent on well-balanced nutrition,” Kempf concluded, “in much the same way as our own immune system.” Modern agriculture uses fertilizer specifically to increase yields, he added, with little awareness of the nutritional needs of other organic functions. Through plant sap analysis, Kempf has been able to discover deficiencies in important trace minerals which he can then introduce into the soil. With plants able to defend themselves, pesticides can be avoided, allowing the natural predators of pests to flourish.

[I think I just injured my fist pounding the table and shouting "Yesssss!"] And here's the contrast to "organic agriculture"

The entrepreneur promises clients higher-quality crops, bigger yields, better taste, and produce that carries a lucrative “organic” label. Kempf, however, considers his process as an important improvement upon standard organic farming methods. “Organic certification is a negative-process certification,” he explained, “You can do nothing to your field and become certified. In contrast, we focus on actively restoring the balance found in natural systems.”

I would bet that "negative-process" is why corporations were able to take over at least the label "organic" so, er, naturally.

Morin: [the author] What else can you tell by looking at your plants?

Zook: Well, one thing we learn is to read the leaves. This asymmetry here indicates zinc deficiency. The spots over here indicate a phosphorus deficiency. And, this here rippling of the leaf usually indicates excess nitrogen.

Morin: Before you started with this method were you able to read the leaves?

Zook: You know, I barely noticed them at all. I just planted and sprayed. Now, it’s much more fun.

Now, that's awesome. I can look at the leaves. In fact, next year I could try this out and keep a photographic record.

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nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

One of the problems of the modern diet is the lack of nutrition in our food, caused by depleted soils. Crop experts have warned about this since the 1920s. It's not just the immune system that doesn't develop; it's also the vitamins and minerals.

nippersdad's picture
Submitted by nippersdad on

how people will spend hundreds of dollars on their gardens but not get a soil test! At six or eight bucks they really are the best investment one can make, and one that pays off for years.

Submitted by lambert on

... to (sigh) Amazon. As it stands, I've got to take the sample, then go to the Extension Service, and then wait for the result. Since I don't drive, and have a PO Box, that's two barriers.

If I could order a soil sample kit, have it delivered, do the test, and then have it picked up again, and then have the results arrive by mail, that would be a real service to me.

Business model, anyone?

nippersdad's picture
Submitted by nippersdad on

Just mail the sample in a baggie to your Extension and then have them e-mail you the result. Instructions should be on their website.

Easier than Amazon and no one has to deal with their issues.

nippersdad's picture
Submitted by nippersdad on

That gives you the PH and all of the macro and micro-nutrient analyses that you could possibly want, and your sheet mulch will (at some point) improve your tilth/drainage. Best deal in town! Though at twelve bucks it seems like they are making out like bandits...still, you could not test for all of those parameters with little self tester kits for anything like that.....

The only thing that I see a potential for problems with is lime. If you get your soil test in now, you can use the cheap lime and let it rot in your soil over the winter (it takes around three months for it to affect soil PH and become "available" for the plants). If you wait until January to get your soil test, and they recommend the application of lime, you will either have lost some time or will have to take extraordinary measures. Something to think about.

Take your soil sample today, before the soil freezes, and put it on some newspaper to dry until you are ready to mail it in. Best place to dry it is often on top of the fridge. They will want it as dry as possible, and that is the most usual error that people make other than insufficient soil sample size. Also, the drier it is the less it will weigh, so it will cost less to mail. I have seen people bring in sludge, and you are all, like, what the hell were they thinking? You often end up with a floor full of newspaper with little piles of dirt on them.

Don't be that guy.

You can get the sampling method and size on their website as well, so you might want to look that up if you don't already know it....and be sure to give them some idea of what you want to grow in your plot! The "crop" determines the ratios that they will give you for amendments should you need any.

Next Fall, the fun will be to get another one and find out what your "seafood mulch" added to the mix! You might just be amazed at the boost in micro-nutrients that you find in the analysis, and all of the smells will then have been worthwhile. Soil is even more fascinating than that which you can grow in it; once you get your soil in shape you will be amazed at what you can grow.

Submitted by lambert on

I sent in my form to request the box and directions yesterday, but I'll wait 'til the days warm up, which they will, before going out there. The soil is nowhere near frozen yet.

You're assuming I have a big ol' fridge, which I don't, but could I dry it out on top of the wood stove?

nippersdad's picture
Submitted by nippersdad on

You prolly don't need fifteen samples to get your average for the bed you have been talking about.

The usual drill is to take a shovel and scrape away the mulch. Then you take eight to ten inch deep slices of soil from different parts of the area you want to test. Basically the depth of your shovel will give you your effective root zone. Mix it all up in a clean bucket and then dry it out. You can dry it anywhere you like, but best not to bake it as that can potentially change your chemistry.

If you are going to test different areas, you will want to make sure that you do separate tests as things like driveways or walls can throw you off if you mix them all up. Best not to assume that your entire yard is similar across the property. I actually keep a file of all of my soil tests and you would be amazed at how different they are, both over space and time.