The secrets of soil mineral balance that create ideal soil, plant, and animal health are revealed here for the first time. The amazing results that can be achieved by balancing the major cation minerals Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium and Sodium in the soil according to the teachings of Dr William Albrecht and Dr Carey Reams have changed the world of agriculture.
This knowledge has taken the focus away from merely trying to achieve high volume yields to achieving the highest yields of the highest quality and nutritional value, while building optimal health in the soil, the crops, and the people and animals that rely on them for food.
There are no more depleted soils once you discover these secrets; the soil just keeps getting better and better year after year, and all without the use of any sort of toxic rescue chemistry. As Dr Albrecht was known to say, “Well fed is healthy.” A well-fed soil leads to well-fed crops and well-fed people and animals.
Professional agronomists charge hundreds or thousands of dollars to consult with you and apply their specialized knowledge of soil nutrients and minerals in order to achieve the perfect balance in your soil. Though we feel they are well worth what they charge, some of us would prefer to have the knowledge and be able to do that for ourselves and others. There are also many home gardeners and small farmers who simply don’t have the financial resources to afford the expense of a professional soil consultant. The lack of knowledge or money need no longer keep any grower from having the ideal soil. For only $29.95, about the cost of a single laboratory soil test, this new one of a kind book teaches you everything you need to know to perfectly balance all of the major and minor mineral nutrients in any soil!
Is this difficult to do?
Not at all. The only reason more people have not balanced the minerals in their own soil is because this information has never before been made available to the public. Understandably, trade secrets are just that, secret. With the publication of this book, they are secret no longer.
If you can add, subtract, multiply and divide, (or use a calculator) and you know or are willing to learn some very simple and basic chemistry, you will have no problem learning to balance all of the essential minerals in your own soil. All you need are the results of a standard soil test, a pencil and paper or a calculator, and the easy to understand information in The Ideal Soil. That’s all. You can write the perfect mineral prescription for your soil the first day you own the book. All of the information you need is right there, including
*Full instructions on how to read a soil test and understand everything it is telling you
*Easily understandable examples of the simple calculations needed,
*Full explanations of why you are doing what you are doing,
*The Ideal Soil Chart that shows you exactly what you want to end up with, and
*Tables that list the mineral content of every commonly used USDA Organic approved soil mineral amendment and fertilizer ingredient.
Every thing you need to know to write the perfect soil mineral prescription for your soil (or any soil anywhere) is included in The Ideal Soil.
What is So Special About The Ideal Soil Handbook?
While there are hundreds and hundreds of books about both organic and chemical-based agriculture, and even a dozen or so about sustainable Eco-Agriculture and the benefits of Albrecht and Reams style mineral balance, The Ideal Soil is the first book that actually tells the reader what the perfect balance of minerals in the soil is, and that shows exactly how to calculate that mineral balance for the soil you are working with, in any climate, anwhere in the world. One could purchase every other agriculture and gardening book in existence and not come up with this information.
Source: Soil Minerals: Ideal Soil.
The New Agriculture: What It Is, and What It Is Not
How did we end up where we are with our food supply today? Most would admit it looks pretty grim. Setting aside looming food shortages and price inflation worldwide, how did we end up with such abysmal nutritional quality coupled with high levels of noxious chemicals and compounded by deteriorating agricultural soils around the world?
Unsurprisingly, it has the same roots as our present abysmal economic prospects, being rooted in short-sighted greed coupled with ignorance and manipulated for the benefit of a few at the expense of the rest. Unlike economics, however, who stands to gain when the whole of humanity is ill and malnourished? Not humanity, that’s for sure.
The wealthy may have more money and more security, but their food is no better than that of the average peasant and often worse. The falling tide of nutritional quality in food has left everyone’s boat high and dry. Surely the wealthy aren’t starving for bulk of food, but they suffer from the same diseases of malnutrition and toxicity as the rest of us do, namely cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and the various auto-immune diseases ranging from MS to AIDS. Whether dining in the fanciest restaurant or the poorest hut, nutrient deficiency and toxic overload are on everyone’s plate.
This is the situation bequeathed to us by a century and a half of the increasing dominance of agriculture by a corporate industrial model focused solely on yield and profit. The truth of these observations is undeniable to anyone who looks objectively at world agriculture today. There are other schools of agriculture that have rejected the chemical industrial model and deserve great credit for their struggle to grow clean food and create a healthy environment in harmony with Nature.
On the following pages we will take a look at where, in our opinion, the alternatives too fall short of the goal of being truly sustainable or providing the best possible food. We will also learn a little of the history of mineral balanced agriculture and it’s present role in world food production. None of the following is meant to offend, but it is not sugar coated.
What The New Agriculture Is Not
All of today’s agriculture movements clamor that they have the answers, but do they? This writer thinks not.
The “better living through chemistry” factions are still flogging their tired horse. Having stripped the soil of its richness, burned out the humus and killed off the soil life, and having turned much of their not-so-little corner of Nature into a nutrient depleted toxic wasteland, they are now developing Frankenstein’s monster crops, genetically modified organisms or GMOs, bred to live in these conditions. We can count on this turning out as well as their previous bright ideas.
This book is all about science and chemistry, but science and chemistry in the service of humanity and in harmony with Nature, not science and chemistry misused in a vain attempt to exploit and beat Nature into submission.
Humans are a self-aware and intelligent land animal. We have eyes and ears and brains; legs and arms and hands with opposable thumbs. We have the ability to understand the present and envision the future. Our role should be that of caretakers of our home, as we are the only ones who can do that. An intelligent person does not cut down the tree that shades their house from the hot afternoon sun or pour sewage in their family’s drinking water, Attempting to exploit our only home for short term gain makes no logical sense; obviously it hasn’t worked, isn’t working, and won’t work in the future.
The worldwide Organic agriculture movement and its various offshoots have so far only offered simplistic solutions, mostly one simplistic solution: add more organic matter to the soil. This is the school from which this book’s authors come, and most growers with whom we work are organic growers. “More organic matter” is a step in the right direction if the soil is low in humus, but does little to address nutritional deficiencies, especially mineral deficiencies. Yet it is fiercely defended and proclaimed to be “the answer” for everyone everywhere. Is it? No. While essential, soil biology and organic matter are only a part of what makes a healthy soil and nutrient dense crops. Nature is not simple, and simplistic one-size-fits-all answers are not going to solve the nutritional and environmental crises we face.
Those who follow the Biodynamic school are to be commended for their deep appreciation of Nature and for having preserved much traditional knowledge and brought it into the present. They have an understanding of energy that goes far beyond simple electrical current flow, but by not fully understanding the minerals in their soil, they limit their potential.
Permaculture works fine in many instances, but is mostly an approach to stabilizing the existing soil, preventing erosion. Under a permaculture system the nutrients that are in the soil are largely retained; what is taken away is supposedly replaced with a fresh layer of organic matter. If every bit of the crop that was taken away was somehow brought back and replaced, the soil nutrient content would still only be what it was to start with, which in the case of most agricultural soils is far from ideal.
The various fans and promoters of soil biology, from earthworms to fungus, tell us that a bio-active soil will break down toxic residues, increase humus, and the beneficial soil organisms will make minerals and nutrients available to the plant. The question that is not asked is “what if the needed minerals are not to be found in the soil?”
The newer high-tech solutions, such as hydroponics, or even newer, aeroponics, rate a careful examination. Can we count on them to rescue agriculture? Not if the goal is to feed the world’s people and animals. They are fine for growing some pretty tomatoes to sell at the supermarket, or some nice lettuce in the basement, but these “new and modern” systems have a number of basic problems, some of them insurmountable if the goals are sustainability and nutrient-dense food. The most obvious failing is that they are energy-hungry. They use pumps and fans and often lights. In the interests of self-sufficiency, where is that energy to come from? If the power goes out is one going to pedal a bicycle generator to keep the pumps and fans going? In addition to being energy-hungry, both hydroponics and aeroponics require special containers, growing solutions, training and handling. They are not automatic.
There are other not so obvious problems with hydroponics. Any time one has a liquid-based growing solution they need water-soluble fertilizers, and these must be pure. One does not put compost in the hydroponic trays. This makes all natural organic hydroponics pretty difficult. Another drawback is that only certain crops are suitable, mostly the ones you have seen in the stores so far: lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and some herbs. One will not raise a field of potatoes, cassava, or turnips hydroponically, nor thousands of acres of grains and legumes. One will not grow hay to feed animals hydroponically or aeroponically.
The most serious downside to these systems, though, is the lack of nutritional completeness in the produce. Designer vegetables grown in nutrient solutions are grown for looks, not nutrition. No one has yet shown that a nutritionally complete diet can be grown in this artificial manner.
Mention should be made of the ultimate closed-environment theory of the day (or decade), the all-in-one fish pond and hydroponic garden. As you may know, the idea is that one raises fish in a pond, then uses the fish water to irrigate the hydroponic troughs. The nutrients from the fish water are used as fertilizer for the plants. The water comes out “clean” at the other end and is recycled back to the fish pond. Various theories suggest what the fish eat, but the grower gets to eat the fish and the vegetables. The theory sounds good, but all the designs seem to require glass or plastic domes. We will not feed ourselves and heal our polluted environment by creating isolated bubbles in the landscape.
The high-tech systems above are things to learn from and we will and have gained knowledge from them. One valuable contribution is that we know more about what mineral nutrients are absolutely essential for plant growth. These systems, however, are not suitable for feeding your family and community, and they will not form the basis of the New Agriculture.
The place to grow a crop is in the earth, in nutrient rich, biologically active soil, not in metered nutrient solutions; under natural sunlight, not electric lights. Sunlight is very energy-dense and plants are good at using it. Sunlight is also free. Within the limits of one’s climate, one can create micro-environments that maximize solar gain, and one can choose crops that do well under one’s local conditions. In Alaska and Finland, one might choose to grow cabbages, not melons.
The New Agriculture will not come about through dogmatic insistence on simplistic solutions such as adding organic matter to the soil, nor through force-feeding of synthetic fertilizers and applying toxic rescue chemicals to address the inevitable problems. The answers will not be found in energy intensive technology or artificial micro-environments. The solutions certainly won’t be found by refusing to look outside whatever ideological box one has adopted or been convinced to adopt.
The New Agriculture
What we have today is a fragmented agriculture, yet we needn’t be suffering this collective delusion and separation; it serves no useful purpose for mankind or Nature but only divides us. So here’s a proposal: What if we were to take agriculture to another level, a higher level, by pulling together the best from all of modern knowledge, and combining it with the traditional wisdom accumulated over the span of human history? If we were to include the sciences of soil chemistry and nutrition (new tools in the 10,000 year history of agriculture), with a modern understanding of soil and plant biology (also new tools), and our modern knowledge of energy, both electromagnetic and subtle? The only questions we need ask are: What works and will continue to work, and what hasn’t worked in the past or doesn’t work now? No special emphasis would be laid on any one dogma or school of agriculture; the focus would be on soil health, nutrition, sustainability, and efficiency. The emphasis would be on constant improvement in health: of the land, the plants, the animals, and the people.
We would be looking for a system that works well with any crop in any climate, producing high yield, high quality, and high nutritional values while sharply reducing insect and disease problems. The plants would thrive and be superbly healthy because they would have all of the nutrients they desire available free-choice. The immune systems of the plants and soil would be strong and healthy; insects and disease are not attracted to strong, healthy plants. The animals and people consuming the plants would get the most highly nutritious food it was possible to grow. People wouldn’t overeat because their body wouldn’t be craving an essential mineral, carbohydrate, amino acid, or lipid. Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and the auto-immune diseases would become things of the past. Children would grow up able to develop to their full genetic potential; their intelligence and strength would no longer be limited by malnutrition or toxic chemicals. Fewer acres of cropland could feed more people and animals, sustainably, as the emphasis shifted from quantity to quality.
Unbeknownst to most, the basis of this new agriculture already exists and has for some time. The knowledge of how to accomplish the goals mentioned above has largely been known for over sixty years. The basic science of soil mineral balance and its relation to health and nutrition was discovered long ago, but has been buried and ignored. It has been hidden from the schools and practitioners of agriculture, both so-called “conventional” and the various alternative schools. It is not mentioned, or mentioned disparagingly in university ag colleges. Many “alternative” growers have never heard of it. Those who have heard of it but don’t understand it and have never tried or experienced it nevertheless have opinions on why it couldn’t work. We are in the situation of having the answers readily available but blindly refusing to see them.
Much of the work this mineral balanced agriculture relies on was done in the 1920s, ’30s. and ’40’s. During the depression era of the 1930s there was a strong emphasis on finding out what went wrong in agriculture that led to the dust bowl years and a general decline in the health of American soils and people. Scientific nutrition was a new field and many exciting breakthroughs were made. By the late 1930s and early 1940s great strides were being made in both soil and animal health.
Along came WWII, and the food producers (farmers) were urgently needed; they were recruited by the government and made part of the war machine, subsidized by guaranteed crop prices, and were encouraged to innovate. The end of WWII saw most of the economies of the industrialized world dominated by the factory production model, much of it war-related. After WWII this industrial model was re-directed into the production of goods, machinery and chemicals for peacetime.
By 1950 it appeared to be a brave new modern world, one where all problems could be solved by dominating Nature, rather than learning from and cooperating with her. Big chemical companies took over the land grant universities and started really pushing their chemical-based agriculture. Most of the farmers eagerly adopted the new model; no longer were they just farmers, they were modernized commodity factories on the cutting edge of science. Or so they thought. While the yield went up, the nutritive value fell, and the plants force-grown on soon-depleted soil were insect and disease magnets, calling for more chemicals every year. The harsh concentrated fertilizers burned up the humus in the soil and killed off soil life. The soils were robbed of their mineral stores, as the only nutrients applied were those necessary to achieve high yield. The animals (and people) raised on these force-fed foods became malnourished and disease-prone. The law of diminishing returns was showing up with a vengeance, but the “scientific” solution to the problem was always another and more powerful chemical and a plant bred to tolerate it.
Meanwhile, still shortly after WWII, J.I. Rodale started the organic gardening movement in the USA, inspired by the work of Sir Albert Howard and Lady Eve Balfour in the UK, while William Albrecht was proving the validity and value of mineral balanced agriculture. William who?
The late William A. Albrecht, PhD, and his crew of researchers at the University of Missouri agricultural station were responsible for developing the mineral basis of the New Agriculture: the concept of balancing the alkaline nutrients in the soil based on the soil’s capacity to hold them. In the 1920s they decided to take a close look at the various mineral fractions of soil: the clay, silt, and sand fractions. They took some of the local soil, removed the organic matter, and spun it in a centrifuge to separate it by size and weight. This yielded an almost clear, jelly-like layer on top that turned out to be made up of incredibly tiny clay particles, particles too small to be viewed by most microscopes. They were so tiny that they stayed suspended in water and wouldn’t even centrifuge out, though they didn’t dissolve. Colloids are what this type of particle is called; this was colloidal clay. What did these tiny bits do in the soil? It turned out they did a lot. Those colloidal clay particles were the basis of the soil’s cation exchange capacity. They stored the alkaline nutrients in the soil, held by a simple static electrical charge, safe from being washed away, yet readily available to soil life. The plants and soil life traded +charged Hydrogen ions for these + charged nutrients. Albrecht and crew spent the next three decades experimenting with various combinations of mineral nutrients, growing the crops and feeding them to animals, measuring the nutritional value of the crop and the health of the animals.
However, by the late 1950s and early ’60s the big chemical companies had managed to take over most of the USA’s agricultural schools. They offered to fund new buildings and research projects, and pay for new professorial chairs, but Professor Albrecht and the other holistic researchers from the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s had to go. Albrecht had demonstrated that the chemical companies’ approach was an unnecessary path to bankruptcy and destruction and he wasn’t about to teach their party line, especially as he had developed and spent years proving a better system that was sustainable and healthy. Albrecht was forced into retirement in the 1960s; his work was buried and would have been lost if not for the efforts of economist and editor Charles Walters, who started the magazine AcresUSA in 1970 to promote Albrecht’s ideas. Charles Walters called this new science of balancing the cation minerals in the soil Eco-agriculture. It has been implemented on hundreds of thousands of acres of commercial farms in the US and Australia with great success, but the mineral balancing message hasn’t yet gotten to the home gardener or small producer, nor has it gotten to the various branches of alternative agriculture. The corporate-dominated State Agriculture Colleges pretend it doesn’t exist.
J.I. Rodale worked with Wm Albrecht and Louis Bromfield at Bromfield’s Malabar Farm in Ohio during the late 1940s. Bromfield was working to restore worn-out farmland by applying Albrecht’s mineral balancing principals as well as the organic ideas of the English agriculturist Sir Albert Howard. The story is that Rodale had a falling out with the Malabar farm group over the use of some man-made fertilizers that the others considered not to be harmful, probably ammonium sulfate. Rodale was a purist and his version of organic had no room for input that wasn’t 100% natural. Sir Albert Howard taught that trees and other deep-rooted plants would bring up any minerals needed, and didn’t give it a lot of thought beyond that. Rodale was convinced that leaves from deep-rooted trees, and rotting vegetable matter in general, could supply all of the nutrients plants needed to thrive, even in poor or worn out soil.
Rodale went on to found Organic Farming and Gardening magazine, today’s Organic Gardening magazine, and for the first ten years almost all he wrote about was organic matter; mulch and compost were all anyone needed, he seemed to think. Only later, starting in the 1960s, did he begin to acknowledge the role of minerals and recommend them, particularly rock phosphate, greensand, and dolomite lime; but ordinary garden lime, Calcium, was seen merely as a pH adjuster, instead of being recognized as the single nutrient needed in most quantity in the soil that it actually is. J.I. Rodale was a man with a mission, and all of us who learned from him owe him great honor. He was almost single-handedly responsible for inspiring the strong and vibrant organic agriculture movement in the USA and around the world today. Anyone whose education in gardening was in the Rodale school, however, is going to know that minerals are needed, but is unlikely to know why or how much or where they come from.
Meanwhile, Albrecht’s mineral balanced agriculture, as promoted by Walters in the AcresUSA newspaper and a number of books, moved forward through the 1980s and ’90s, but only on good-sized farms, and few enough of them. Very few of the farmers using the mineral approach knew much if anything about the organic crowd. Balancing soil nutrients based on the soil’s exchange capacity worked and worked well, and when a farmer had had enough of chemicals and poisons, or saw his neighbor growing better crops than he while working less and spending less, many did apply Professor Albrecht’s principles and they continue to do so today. I have heard of no one switching back to their earlier style of farming, gardening, or ranching once they have experienced the results of a mineralized, balanced soil.
Another important person in bringing the knowledge of mineral nutrition to agriculture was the late Carey Reams, PhD, who did most of his life’s work in Florida, USA. The Albrecht and Reams schools have slightly different but easily reconciled philosophies; they agree on the mineral balance, but often use different explanations and terms. Students of Carey Reams and Wm. A. Albrecht, and the students of their students, make up most of the mineral-aware agricultural consultants around today, worldwide, including this author.
Organic gardening, unfortunately, was stuck back in the 1950s, and it has largely remained there since: Compost, manure, mulch, and that’s about it. The other schools of alternative agriculture – Steiner’s Biodynamics, Permaculture, Elaine Ingham’s Soil Food Web concept, the various miracle microbe schools etc.- all emphasize the biological and compost-based approach almost exclusively. The occasional mention is made of rock dust, phosphate rock, or dolomite lime, but seldom with any understanding of the soil chemistry involved.
The one truly mineral-oriented school of “mainstream” alternative agriculture is what I call the Glacial Rock Dust school, based on the famous 1982 book The Survival of Civilization , whose authors argued that the retreat of the glaciers at the end of the last ice age was the last time our soils had a fresh dose of minerals. Their solution was to add freshly ground rock powder to the soil as the source of those missing minerals, but there is little understanding of the actual role of minerals, and no conception of the amounts or balance of minerals needed. A average everyday soil with a cation exchange capacity of 10 requires around 3,000 lbs of Calcium in exchangeable form per acre, and 50 or so pounds of Zinc. Is that in the rock dust or not? Does the soil need the minerals in that particular rock dust at all? Freshly ground rock dust is a great soil amendment, but it can’t be counted on to correct a mineral imbalance or deficiency.
What the USA ended up with by the 1970s was a great division between those practicing organic agriculture and those farming with strong, concentrated chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Neither side talked to the other, the organic group taking the moral high ground against poisoning the land and the chemical farmers deriding the organic followers as backwards Luddites. Neither side knew about the successes of those using the methods of Albrecht or Reams. How could they? Organic Gardening was heavily invested in the idea that organic matter and soil biology alone were the answers, while the chemical farmers were convinced that the next hybrid crop and the newest pesticide were going to solve their growing problems. Neither one was interested in learning that they were both wrong, that there was a system already up and running that didn’t require scores of tons of compost and manure per acre and didn’t need toxic rescue chemistry either.
Our Story Continues Today
Back at the corporate laboratories and bought-off State agriculture colleges, the dyed-in-the-wool chemical farming fans are still trying to prove that the growing of food can be forced into an industrial production model. Their version of “working with biology” up until the 1990s was hybrid crops, and has now morphed into GMOs, genetically modified organisms. Both the hybrids and the GMOs are usually plants that have been bred to live on a starvation diet of NPK fertilizer while being regularly doused with herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides. Yield, disease resistance, the ability to survive repeated dosing with noxious poisons—these are the goals of the mad scientists leading corporate chemical agriculture. The health of the soil and the nutritional value of the crop are meaningless to them. Is this too harsh a judgment? Look at the nutritional quality of our food and the worn-out state of our farmlands to answer that question
I’d like to insert a rather esoteric opinion here. It is my contention that attempting to turn agriculture into an industrial process breaks a fundamental agreement that mankind has had with nature since the inception of thinking humans on this planet. Not only with nature in general, but with the individual plant and animal families with whom we have these ancient agreements. The agreement with cattle, for instance, is that their human herders will offer protection from wild predators, shelter and warmth when necessary, and provide good food and water to them. We will help protect their offspring, care for them when they are sick or injured, and work to improve the breed. In exchange, the cattle provide for us their milk, meat, hides, manure, and sometimes labor. This has been a fair trade for the animals and for the humans taking on the responsibility.
We humans have long had a similar agreement with members of the plant kingdom: care, protection from competing plants, fertile soil and abundant water, working to improve the breed. Industrial agriculture and corporate greed have broken these agreements, and more than broken them: these ancient pacts have been violated in the most obscene manner. An old English term for a farmer and livestock person was a husbandman. To husband was a verb that meant to care for as a wife’s husband would care for their family: To husband the land, and the crops, and the animals. Wise husbandmen passed on a better farm than they inherited, passed this on to their children and to the descendants of the plants and animals they had cared for and partnered with. We who wish to create a new and better world should strive to get back to that ideal, and to extend it to all of the Earth that is in our care.
Getting back to our critique of today’s agriculture: Regardless of their intent, neither the granola heads nor the nature nazis have proven to have much of a clue when it comes to the big picture. It’s time to change that situation. In order to make a new agriculture, we need to use everything we know or can find out, from any discipline. Being a believer and purist of any one school or philosophy of agriculture, and trying to bend reality to fit those accepted truths, is not going to lead us forward.
Most organic growers have no clue what minerals are in their soil. Is it not so? The chemical growers are generally a little better informed, as they are used to getting their soil tested in order to find out how many pounds of chemical fertilizer to add, but they have little understanding of the essential role of the nutrient minerals either.
Our physical reality is made of minerals, also known as elements. There are 90 or so naturally occurring elements, from Hydrogen to Uranium, and we don’t really know how many of them we need in order to live, but it’s a lot of them. We must have Iron to transport Oxygen in the blood. Calcium and Phosphorus are used to build the crystal lattice of our bones and teeth. Lack of Zinc causes sterility, decreased brain development, loss of sensory acuteness. When the immune system is threatened by infection it releases its stores of Copper from the liver and pulls Iron from the blood. Many metals are re-used over and over as catalysts in the formation of proteins and amino acids. They serve as templates, shapes, that the proteins are folded around. The shape of the protein determines its fit into its intended destination in a living cell. The health, growth, and reproduction of all living things is dependent on the availability and proper balance of mineral elements.
Despite the pervasive ignorance in agriculture, we all know from our nutritional knowledge that minerals are essential to our health. How many people take a vitamin/mineral supplement? Or Calcium supplements? The science of nutrition is well aware of essential minerals, and nutrition books, radio programs, and websites are always decrying the lack of minerals in our food, telling us how the soil is depleted of minerals, and how we can save ourselves from this menace by taking a mineral supplement. Meanwhile, the organic food promoters keep claiming that organically grown food has more minerals, without having a clue whether that’s true or not, and in most cases without having an inkling if there are actually any minerals in the soil at all.
Why the disconnect? If minerals are not in the food it’s because they are not available in the soil. So why not add them to the soil and get them in your food? At the same time, feed and activate the soil life, bring the humus level up to optimum for your soil and climate, and provide the energy the plants and soil life need. The soil will be healthy, the plants too, and so will the people and animals who eat the nutrient-dense food grown in the Ideal Soil.
If we look at agricultural soils from a nutritional standpoint, they are much more than an anchor for the roots, a base to keep the crops from falling over. Each crop harvested and taken away depletes the soil’s store of essential nutrient minerals. If the minerals are not replaced, we eventually reach a point where there are not enough left to grow a healthy crop with the ability to mature seeds for the next generation. Long before this point is reached, the nutrient density of the crop for human and animal food has suffered. Much of our arable land worldwide is producing empty calories, mostly carbohydrates made from the atmospheric elements Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen. The solution, the only solution (barring the ability of plants or soil organisms to transmute elements alchemically), is to supply these needed minerals from a source where they are abundant. That source should ideally be located as close as possible to where the minerals are needed in order to minimize transportation costs. It makes no sense to ship ground limestone across the country when every state in the USA has limestone deposits, but when it comes to rare elements like Selenium or Boron which are only found in concentrated form a few places in the world, the transport costs are justified.
Mining of the needed minerals need not entail long-term environmental damage either. Mines and quarries can be carefully worked by those who care about their home planet, and when the mines are depleted they can be landscaped and planted to be as or more beautiful than before mining. It’s also worth noting that many of the economically viable sources for agricultural minerals contain such high concentrations of these minerals that they are toxic to soil life and little or nothing grows there. Removing these toxic concentrations and using them to make other parts of the planet healthier and more productive can, at the same time, open up these formerly toxic soils to the growth of forest or grasslands. None of this should be done on the basis of greed or short-term gain, but rather wisely, intelligently, and in harmony with Nature.
A wonderful thing about a balanced, mineralized soil based on the soil’s exchange capacity is that everything else becomes easier. The soil pH self-adjusts to its optimum, plant disease and insect problems largely disappear, water retention, drainage, soil texture, and rate of decay of organic matter all become self-regulating and automatic, weather permitting. The grower knows that the nutrients are in the
crop because the nutrients are available in the soil. The soil life is active and healthy and helping to make these nutrients available, and the plants growing on this ideal soil have free-choice of any nutrient they want, in balance, a balance designed by intelligent science and observation.
All of this can be achieved using minerals in the form of naturally-occurring rocks and mineral ores or their purified forms, ancient sea-bed deposits, ocean water, and the byproducts from plants and animals. The cultural practices one is presently using may change little, except to become easier. This is real science in harmony with nature, using all of the best of ancient and modern knowledge intelligently: the New Agriculture.
There are a few simple and basic principles that govern soil mineral balance. The most important to understand is the soil’s Cation Exchange Capacity, or CEC, often referred to simply as exchange capacity or EC. This is a measure of the quantity of nutrients and non-nutrients the soil can hold, how big its “holding tank” is. The lower the tank gets, the more the soil life and plants have to struggle to get their nutrients. On the other hand, if one applies more nutrients than the soil can hold, those nutrients will wash away in rain or irrigation water, or build up in the soil. Excess nutrients are either unnecessary or harmful. One would not put 30 gallons of gasoline in a twenty gallon tank and expect to gain anything. Exchange Capacity EC is the amount the soil can hold onto and use. One must know their soil’s exchange capacity, and its % of saturation by different nutrients, to know where one is now, and where one needs to go. In the next chapter we will gain a working understanding of the soil’s cation exchange capacity.
If the songbirds are singing, we are getting close.
Source: Soil Minerals: The Ideal Soil Chapter 01.
Cation Exchange Capacity in Soils, Simplified
(Revised April 2014)
Adsorb vs Absorb
adsorb(ad sôrb, -zôrb), v.t. Physical Chem. to gather (a gas, liquid, or dissolved substance) on a surface in a condensed layer: Charcoal will adsorb gases .
Please note the definition above, taken from the large hardbound version of the Random House Second Edition Unabridged Dictionary. It’s not absorb, it’s adsorb , with a “d”. We all know that a sponge absorbs water, a cast iron pot absorbs heat, a flat-black wall absorbs light. None of those gathers anything on the surface in a condensed layer, they soak it right in, they absorb it.
Adsorb is different, because it means to gather on a surface in a condensed layer. This is pretty much the same thing as static cling, like when you take a synthetic fabric out of the clothes dryer and it wants to stick to you. You don’t absorb a nylon blouse, you adsorb it. Everyone got that? Good. On to Cation Exchange Capacity.
The Exchange Capacity of your soil is a measure of its ability to hold and release various elements and compounds. We are mostly concerned with the soil’s ability to hold and release plant nutrients, obviously. Specifically here today, we are concerned with the soil’s ability to hold and release positively charged nutrients. Something that has a positive (+) charge is called a cation, pronounced cat-eye-on. If it has a negative charge (-) it is called an anion, pronounced ann-eye-on. (Both words are accented on the first syllable.) The word “ion” simply means a charged particle; a positive charge is attracted to a negative charge and vice-versa.
Positively charged particles are known as cations. There are two types of cations, acidic or acid-forming cations, and basic, or alkaline-forming cations. The Hydrogen cation H+ and the Aluminum cation Al+++ are acid-forming. Neither are plant nutrients. A soil with high levels of H+ or Al+++ is an acid soil, with a low pH.
The positively charged nutrients that we will be discussing here are Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium and Sodium. These are all alkaline cations, also called basic cations or bases. Both types of cations (alkaline or acidic) may be adsorbed onto either a clay particle or soil organic matter (SOM). All of the nutrients in the soil need to be held there somehow, or they will just wash away when you water the garden or get a good rain storm. Clay particles generally have a negative (-) charge, so they attract and hold positively (+) charged nutrients and non-nutrients. Soil organic matter (SOM or just OM) has both positive and negative charges, so it can hold on to both cations and anions.
Both the clay particles and the organic matter have negatively charged sites that attract and hold positively charged particles. Cation Exchange Capacity is the measure of how many negatively-charged sites are available in your soil.
The Cation Exchange Capacity of your soil could be likened to a bucket: some soils are like a big bucket (high CEC), some are like a small bucket (low CEC). Generally speaking, a sandy soil with little organic matter will have a very low CEC while a clay soil with a lot of organic matter (as humus) will have a high CEC. Organic matter (as humus) always has a high CEC; with clay soils, CEC depends on the type of clay.
Base Saturation %
From the 1920s to the late 1940s, a great and largely un-sung hero of agriculture, Dr. William Albrecht, did a lot of experimenting with different ratios of nutrient cations, the Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium and Sodium mentioned above. He and his associates, working at the University of Missouri Agricultural Experiment Station, came to the conclusion that the strongest, healthiest, and most nutritious crops were grown in a soil where the soil’s CEC was saturated to about 65% Calcium, 15% Magnesium, 4% Potassium, and 1% to 5% Sodium. (No, they don’t add to 100%; we’ll get to that.) This ratio not only provided luxury levels of these nutrients to the crop and to the soil life, but also strongly affected the soil texture and pH.
The percentage of the CEC that a particular cation occupies is also known as the base saturation percentage, or percent of base saturation, so another way of describing Albrecht’s ideal ratio is that you want 65% base saturation of Calcium, 15% base saturation of Magnesium etc. Don’t get too hung up on these percentages; they are general guidelines and can vary quite a bit depending on soil texture and other factors.
It’s still a little-known fact that the Calcium to Magnesium ratio determines how tight or loose a soil is. The more Calcium a soil has, the looser it is; the more Magnesium, the tighter it is, up to a point. Other things being equal, a high Calcium soil will have more Oxygen, drain more freely, and support more aerobic breakdown of organic matter, while a high Magnesium soil will have less Oxygen, tend to drain slowly, and organic matter will break down poorly if at all. In a soil with Magnesium higher than Calcium, organic matter may ferment and produce alcohol and even formaldehyde, both of which are preservatives. If you till up last years corn stalks and they are still shiny and green, you may have a soil with an inverted Calcium/Magnesium ratio. On the other hand, if you get the Calcium level too high, the soil may lose its beneficial granulation and structure and the excessive Calcium will interfere with the availability of other nutrients. If you get them just right for your particular soil, you can drive over the garden and not have a problem with soil compaction.
Because Calcium tends to loosen soil and Magnesium tightens it, in a heavy clay soil you may want 70% or even 80% Calcium and 10% Magnesium; in a loose sandy soil 60% Ca and 20% Mg might be better because it will tighten up the soil and improve water retention. If together they add to 80%, with about 4% Potassium and 1-3% Sodium, that leaves 12-15% of the exchange capacity free for other elements, and an interesting thing happens. 4% or 5% of that CEC will be filled with other bases such as Copper and Zinc, Iron and Manganese, and the remainder will be occupied by exchangeable Hydrogen , H+. The pH of the soil will automatically stabilize at around 6.4 , which is the “perfect soil pH” not only for organic/biological agriculture, but is also the ideal pH of sap in a healthy plant, and the pH of saliva and urine in a healthy human.
So we are looking at two new things so far:
1) The Cation Exchange Capacity, and
2) The proportion of those cations in relation to each other: the percent of base saturation (% base saturation) and their effect on pH.
We are also looking at two old familiar things, clay and soil organic matter, and these last two need a bit more clarification.
How Clay and Humus Form
Clay particles are really tiny. They are so small that they can’t even be seen in most microscopes. They are so small that when mixed in water they may take days, weeks, or months to settle out, or they may never settle out and just remain suspended in the water. A particle that remains suspended in water like this, suspended but not dissolved, is known as a colloid. Organic matter, as it breaks down, also forms smaller and smaller particles, until it breaks down as far as it can go and still be organic matter. At that stage it is called humus , and humus is also a colloid; when mixed into water humus will not readily settle out or float to the top. Colloids, because they are so small, have a very large surface area per unit volume or by weight. Some clays, such as montmorillonite and vermiculite, have a surface area as high as 800 square meters per gram, over 200,000 square feet (almost five acres) per ounce! The surface area of fully developed humus is about the same or even higher. Other clays have a much lower surface area; some clays actually have a very low exchange capacity, while humus always has a high exchange capacity.
Mineral soils are formed by the breakdown of rocks, known as the parent material. Heating and cooling, freezing and thawing, wind and water erosion, acid rain (all rain is acid; carbon dioxide in the air forms carbonic acid in the rain), and biological activity all break down the parent material into finer and finer particles. Eventually the particles get so small that some of them re-form, that is they re-crystallize into tiny flat platelets and become colloidal clay, made up mostly of silica and alumina clay particles aggregated into thin, flat sheets that stack together in layers.
How old a soil is usually determines how much clay it has. The more rainfall a soil gets, the faster it breaks down into clay. Arid regions are mostly sandy and rocky soil, unless they have areas of “fossil” clay. River bottoms in arid regions will often have more clay because the small clay particles wash away easily from areas without vegetation cover. As noted above, clays tend to stick together in microscopic layers. Newly formed clays will often be made up of layers of silica and alumina sandwiched with potassium or iron. On these young clays, the only available exchange sites are on the edges. As the clays age, the “filling” in the sandwich gets taken out by acid rain or soil life or plant roots, opening up more and more negatively charged exchange sites and increasing the exchange capacity. Eventually these clays become tiny layers of silica and alumina separated by a thin film of water. These are the expanding clays; when they get wet they swell, and when they dry out they shrink and crack deeply. Because these expanding clays have exchange sites available between their layers and not just on the edges, they have a much greater exchange capacity than freshly formed clays.
One of the fastest ways to age a clay and reduce the soil’s exchange capacity is to use Potassium Chloride fertilizer, KCl. KCl does this by refilling the space between the clay layers with locked-in Potassium and by damaging the edges of the clay layers so that the exchange sites are no longer available. KCl is the cheap Potassium fertilizer used in most commercial mixes; not only does it destroy the exchange capacity of your soil, but the high Chlorine content kills off soil life. It is difficult to have a mineral balanced, biologically active, healthy soil if one is using much Potassium chloride.
In the southern half of the USA, the age of the clay fraction of the soil generally increases going from West to East. The arid regions, from California to western Texas, are largely young soils, containing a lot of sand and gravel and some young clays without a lot of exchange capacity. The central regions, from West-central Texas and above into Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska, contain well-developed clays with high CEC. Moving East, the rainfall increases, the soils are older, and the clays are generally aged and have lost much of their ability to exchange cations. Across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia the clays have been rained on and leached out for millions of years. Their reserves of Calcium and Magnesium are often long gone. The northern tier states, from Washington in the West to Pennsylvania and New York in the East were largely covered with glaciers as recently as 10,000 years ago, which brought them a fresh supply of minerals, and clays of high exchange capacity are common.
Organic Matter and Humus
Regarding soil organic matter (SOM) and humus, obviously any area that gets more rainfall tends to grow more vegetation, so the fraction of the soil that is made up of decaying organic matter will usually increase with more rainfall. Breakdown of organic matter is largely dependent on moisture, temperature, and availability of oxygen. As any of these increase, the organic matter will break down faster. Moisture and oxygen being equal, colder northern areas will tend to build up more organic matter in the soil than hotter southern climates, with one extreme being found in the tropics where organic matter breaks down and disappears very quickly, and the other extreme being the vast, deep peat beds and “muck” soils of some North temperate climates. As always, there are exceptions, such as the everglades of Florida, where lack of oxygen combined with stagnant water have formed the largest peat beds in the world; the area around Sacramento California is another example: there were muck (peat) soils 100 feet deep when that river delta was first farmed by European settlers.
Ordinary organic matter from the compost or manure pile, or the remains of last years’ crops, doesn’t have much exchange capacity until it has been broken down into humus, and from what we know, the formation of humus seems to require the action of soil microorganisms, earthworms, fungi, and insects. When none of them can do anything with organic matter as food anymore, it has become a very small but very complex carbon structure (a colloid) that can hold and release many times its weight in water and plant nutrients. The higher the humus level of the soil, the greater the exchange capacity. One way to increase humus in your soil is by adding organic matter and having healthy soil life to break it down or to add a soil amendment such as lignite (also known as Leonardite), a type of soft coal that contains large amounts of humus and humic acids. If the mineral balance of the soil is optimal, especially with an adequate supply of Sulfur, any fresh organic matter grown in or added to the soil will tend to form stable humus. Without balanced minerals and adequate Sulfur, much of the organic matter will decompose completely and be off-gassed as ammonia and CO2.
Variable Exchange Capacity
Humus can have an exchange capacity greater than even the highest CEC clays, but it is a variable exchange capacity that correlates with soil pH. In soils with a pH below 6 there will be an excess of H+ ions in the soil/water solution and many of the negative – exchange sites will be occupied by acidic cations such as Al+++ and Fe++. As soil pH increases due to added Ca, Mg, K, and Na, these Al and Fe ions will combine with negatively charged OH- ions in the soil-water solution, forming insoluble Aluminum and Iron oxides and freeing up the negatively charged sites on the humus to play a role in nutrient exchange. A high-organic-matter soil will have a low “effective” exchange capacity at low pH, because many of the negative exchange sites will be filled with tightly bound Al and Fe. Adding base cations, especially Calcium, will raise the pH and the Calcium++ ions will displace the Al and Fe with “exchangeable” Ca.
OK, let’s pull this information together. We have discovered that:
1) Alkaline soil nutrients, largely Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, and Sodium, are positively charged cations (+) and are held on negatively charged (-) sites on clay and humus.
2) The amount of humus, and the amount and type of clay, determine how much Cation Exchange Capacity a given soil has.
3) We have also discussed the ideal base saturation percentages of these nutrients which according to the work of Professor Albrecht, is approximately:
65% Ca (Calcium)
15% Mg (Magnesium)
4% K (Potassium),
1-3% Na (Sodium)
4) We have talked a little about the effect of those ratios on soil texture and pH and why they are not hard and fast “rules”.
The next step is to understand how the plant, and the soil life, gets those nutrients from the exchange sites, the “exchange” part of the story.
Trading + for +
In the same way that acid rain can leach cations from the soil, plants and soil microorganisms more or less “leach” the cation nutrients from their exchange sites. These alkaline nutrients are only held on the surface with a weak, static electrical charge, i.e. they are “adsorbed”. They are constantly oscillating and moving a bit, pulled and pushed this way and that by other charged particles (ions) in the soil solution around them. What the plant roots and soil microorganisms do is exude or give off Hydrogen ions, H+ ions, and if these H+ ions are in high enough concentration in the soil solution that some of them surround the nutrient cation and get closer to the negatively (-) charged exchange site than the nutrient cation is, the H+ ions will fill the exchange site, neutralize the (- ) charge, and the nutrient cation will be free of its static bond and can then be taken up by the plant or microorganism.
The way this works specifically with plant roots and microbes is that they expire or breathe out carbon dioxide into the soil. This carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) combines with water in the soil and forms carbonic acid (H 2 CO 3 ); the H+ Hydrogen ions from the carbonic acid are what replaces the cation nutrient on the exchange site. A Calcium ion that is held to the exchange site has a double-positive charge, written Ca++. When enough H+ ions surround it that some of them get closer to the exchange site than the Ca++ ion is, two H+ ions replace the Ca++ ion and the plant or microbe is free to take the Ca++ up as a nutrient.
How the CEC is measured, and what to do with that information once you have it.
Exchange capacity is measured in milligram equivalents, abbreviated ME or meq. A milligram is of course 1/1000th of a gram, and the milligram being referred to is a milligram of H+ exchangeable Hydrogen. The comparison that is used is 1 milligram of H+ Hydrogen to 100 grams of soil. If all of the exchange sites on that 100 grams of soil could be filled by that 1 milligram of H+, then the soil would have a CEC of 1. One what? One ME, one milligram equivalent (meq), the ability to adsorb and hold one milligram of H+ Hydrogen ions.
Let me repeat that: 100 grams of a soil with a CEC of 1 could have all of its negative (-) exchange sites filled up or neutralized by 1/1000th of a gram of H+ exchangeable Hydrogen. If it had a CEC of 2, it would take 2 milligrams of Hydrogen H+, if its CEC was 120 it would take 120 milligrams of H+ to fill up all of the negative (-) exchange sites on 100 grams of soil.
The “equivalent” part of ME or meq means that other positively (+) charged ions could be substituted for the Hydrogen. If all of the sites were empty in that 100 grams of soil, and that soil had a CEC of 1, 20 milligrams of Calcium (Ca++), or 12 milligrams of Magnesium (Mg++), or 39 milligrams of Potassium (K+) would fill the same exchange sites as 1 milligram of Hydrogen H+.
Why the difference? Why does it take 20 times as much Calcium as Hydrogen, by weight? It’s because Calcium has an atomic weight of 40, while Hydrogen, the lightest element, has an atomic weight of 1. One atom of Calcium weighs forty times as much as one atom of Hydrogen. Calcium also has a double positive charge, Ca++, Hydrogen a single charge, H+, so each Ca++ ion can fill two exchange sites . It only takes half as many Calcium ions to fill the (-) sites, but Calcium is 40 times as heavy as Hydrogen, so it takes 20 times as much Calcium by weight to neutralize those (-) charges, or 12 times as much Magnesium, atomic weight 24 (Mg++, also a double charge), or 39 times as much Potassium+. (Potassium’s atomic weight is 39, and it has a single positive charge, K+, so it takes 39 times as much K+ as H+ to fill all the exchange sites, once again by weight.) The amount of + charges, the quantitiy of atoms, of K+ or H+, is the same.)
What We Have Learned
We have now learned the basics of CEC, cation exchange, in the soil. 1) Clay and organic matter have negative charges that can hold and release positively charged nutrients. (The cations are adsorbed onto the surface of the clay or humus) That static charge keeps the nutrients from being washed away, and holds them so they are available to plant roots and soil microorganisms
2) The roots and microorganisms get these nutrients by exchanging free hydrogen ions. The free hydrogen H+ fills the (-) site and allows the cation nutrient to be absorbed by the root or microorganism.
3) The unit of measure for this exchange capacity is the milligram equivalent, ME or meq, which stands for 1 milligram (1/1000 of a gram) of exchangeable H+. In a soil with an exchange capacity (CEC) of 1, each 100 grams of soil contain an amount of negative (-) sites equal to the amount of positive (+) ions in 1/1000th of a gram of H+.
Base saturation equivalents for H+, Ca++, Mg++, K+ and Na+:
Per 100 grams of soil,1 meq or ME=
1 milligram H+
20 mg of Calcium Ca++ (atomic weight 40)
12 mg of Magnesium Mg++ (atomic weight 24)
39 mg of Potassium K+ (atomic weight 39)
23 mg of Sodium Na+ (atomic weight 23)
Per Acre, to a depth of 6” to 7”, 1 meq or ME=
20 lb Hydrogen H+
400 lb Calcium Ca++
240 lb Magnesium Mg++
780 lb Potassium K+
460 lb Sodium Na+
Per 1000 square feet, 6” to 7” depth, 1 meq or ME=
O.46 lb of Hydrogen H+
9.2 lb of Calcium Ca++
5.5 lb or Magnesium Mg++
17.9 lb of Potassium K+
10.6 lb of Sodium Na+
Per Hectare, to a depth of 15cm to 18cm, 1 meq or ME=
20 kg of Hydrogen H+
400 kg of Calcium Ca++
240 kg of Magnesium Mg++
780 kg of Potassium K+
460 kg of Sodium Na+
To convert hectares to 100 m 2 move the decimal point 2 places to the left: 400 kg/ha = 4.0 kg/ 100m
Metric Measurements: Kilograms and Hectares:
The convention used for estimating lbs/Acre in the English/Avoirdupois system is that the top 6” to 7″ (15 to 18 cm) of an acre of soil weighs 2,000,000 (two million) pounds, so one part per million (1 ppm) = 2 lbs/acre.
The convention used for estimating kilograms per hectare (kg/ha) is that the top 15 to 18 cm (6” to 7″) of a hectare of soil weighs 2,000,000 kg, so 1 ppm = 2 kg/ha.
Considering the huge variance in soil densities, from light weight peat-type soils to heavy clays, unless one wishes to dig up, dry, measure, and weigh a volume sample of the particular soil they are working with, it’s safe enough for agricultural purposes to simply say:
1ppm = 2 lb/acre = 2 kg/hectare
1ppm = 20g/1000ft 2 = 20g/100m 2
When calculating soil amendments, be conservative. If you think the amount you are putting on may be too much, use less. It’s a lot easier to add more than it is to take something out after adding too much.
To calculate CEC accurately, see the appendix section “Calculating TCEC”.
The practical application of this knowledge to your garden, lawn, pasture, or field, is covered in depth in The Ideal Soil, available HERE.
Source: Soil Minerals: Ideal Soil: Ch2.