Editorial Boeretroos 2, Aug. 2000
Going more organic
Today we are going to talk about "going more organic" which means being able to achieve the same or even better results through managing the soil and crops more naturally and holistically. Is this possible? Yes, quite easily. Just remember how our fathers and grandfathers worked the fields without chemicals or similar and often with better results. No doubt that then the crops were more nutritious and much more resistant to diseases. Meanwhile we know how to naturally increase the necessary amount of nitrogen in the soil, the natural fertility as well as humus and not to forget the water retention capacity.
We must remember that the chemicals do neither promote root growth nor do they help us to retain the nitrogen, humus, soil fertility and water. By looking better after our soil we automatically get stronger, more resistant, healthier plants and need less chemicals. How do we do that?
Dos and Don’ts
No It is wrong to burn fields after harvesting (in organic farming it is forbidden) as we more and more deplete our soils of the necessary life forms and organic matter which is the basis for humus and at the same time continuously increase the sodium content. The sun burns the soil and its microbes and the wind takes the topsoil away (erosion). .
Yes The organic waste on top of the soil, dead root stocks, weeds etc is the source for the formation of humus. The soil bacteria will quickly form humus from this waste. It is a gradual process. For the time the leftovers from any crop remain on the soil they protect the soil against further moisture depletion and erosion. A helpful product to dramatically speed up the humus formation is e.g. penac-k as it activates the soil microbes
No Deep ploughing is also a thing of the past as this will further destroy the soil structure and buries the aerobic life forms deep underground where they cannot survive. Deep plouging brings dead soil to the top.
Yes Some of you might have heard about the "non tillers" and the incredible high yields they achieve. This shows that the less we disturb our soils the larger the benefits. We think we need to plough our soils to loosen, aerate and get rid of weeds. A proper soil management makes this unnecessary. In very rare cases deep ripping might be necessary but in general an active, humus rich soil is loose and sufficiently aerated. Weeds which cause us so much trouble will change as the soil improves.
Don’t kill them, with herbicides but loosen them and then spray them with a microbial activator (e.g. penac-k) and enrich the soil with their carbon, nitrogen etc. This way you really progress. The benefits will start showing very quickly.
No Desertification, erosion and further depletion of the necessary soil microbes happens when we let our fields lay bear for weeks or even months (best example is the sand storms that we find over large parts of South Africa). No field should be kept this way for more than three weeks.
Yes Let as much organic matter stay on the ground. Put an alternative crop in or just a "green manuring" on the basis of legumes to re-apply natural nitrogen (there is always something that will grow even when it is dry e.g. mustard). Working this later into the ground superficially has the most beneficial effects on your soil. Even sandy soil will continuously increase its humus, water retention capacity, fertility and we all know what this means: sustainability, input cost reduction more nutritious yields.
No To put raw putrefying slurry and dung on the fields is wrong not only because the so valuable soil microbes are destroyed but also because all the pathogenic bacteria in the dung go into the soil, creating diseases and polluting the underground water which we then pump up again to spray onto our crops, drink it ourselves and give it to the animals. Thus the diseases are re-cycled.
Yes Slurry and manure can be an excellent fertilizer and supplier of organic matter. Convert anaerobic waste into a valuable, fertile, aerobic fertilizer (use for instance penac-k). Making use of these natural fertilizers not only reduces input costs (fertilizer, minerals, nutrients etc) but also helps to increase humus, water retention capacity and fertility. Avoid possible damaging effects of new dung. Either compost the manure (the best way) before applying to the soil or apply to soil together with a composting agent (penac-k, indigenous minerals and enzymes etc). Slurry dams, usually a problem waste, can easily be turned into excellent homogenous aerobic fertilizer, which can safely be applied to even young plants. One does not even need an agitator anymore – there are inexpensive organic substances available which will liquefy the slurry, including its crust, eliminating all pathogens, supply the farmer with a big money saver or money maker when selling the liquid fertilizer (enzymes, penac-g). If you follow these rules the positive changes in the soil and harvest will be noticeable in the same season and will enhance from year to year.
Microbes versus pests
No Do not fumigate your fields – you kill everything good and bad. There is no need to chemically kill the eelworms, nematodes, plant fungi etc.
Yes By going more organic – nature takes care of these problems. Just remember: in the old days these problems were unknown. Why? Because everything was in balance until the chemicals began to destroy this balance. When we now begin to upgrade the soil with the above measurements, the beneficial microbes (over two billion in as much soil as you can put in the palm of your hand) will take over. They will e.g. feed on eelworm and nematode eggs and plant fungi (which over winter in the soil), the mycorrhiza will increase and many anaerobic microbes will convert to an aerobic form.
Now things really start happening.
The idea of going more organic means a better future in agriculture with increasing and not decreasing yields, with decreasing and not increasing costs, with higher profits due to better quality. One needs to understand that it is a new way of thinking, a new way of managing fields or livestock, which takes 1-2 years to get used to but the benefits for all of us, including the children and grandchildren of the next generations, are so great that even the difficult first years are worthwhile.
Next time we will give some examples.