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Organic Pastoral Resource Guide

Compiled by Barbara Gillatt and Louise Coats with contributions

and assistance from Gavin Kenny, Peter Urich and Bev Trowbridge
Project Manager: Gavin Kenny, Earthwise Consulting Ltd

Illustrated by Fred Robertson, Artmoves Ltd
With contributions from:
AgriQuality NZ Ltd, Cedric Backhouse, Kim Baker, Anne Baldock, Hella
Bauer-Eden, Kathy Bentham, Bio Dynamic Farming and Gardening
Association in NZ (Inc.), Janet Browne, NZ Biological Producers and
Consumers Council (Inc.) (BioGro), Ian Buckingham, Lindsay Burton,
Rowan Cambie, Malcom & Shirley Campbell, Peggy Cayton, Sue Clark,
Dexcel, Joan Dodson, Elise @2farm, George Engeler, Graeme Ewenson, Preface 5
Grant Fallon, Tony Frith, Ian Henderson, Tony Henderson, Mandy Horton,
David Johnstone, Fiona Jujnovich, Andrew Knox, Colleen Lamb, Kevin Introduction 6
Lamb, Tom Lambie, Ralph Littler, Neil McDonald, Neil Macgregor, Alec What does one see on an ideal organic pastoral farm? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
MacKay, Rob McKenzie, Mark McIntosh, Helen Macky, Rachel Monk,
How is this achieved? .................................................... 6
Andy Moser, George Moss, Mike Moss, NZ Landcare Trust, Alec Olsen,
Murray Pedley, Jim and Coralie Peel, Mark and Jane Pike, Maureen What this Resource Guide is . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Rabbidge, Tom Richardson, Ray and Jenny Ridings, Russell Simmons, How to use the Resource Guide ............................................ 8
John Squire, Heather Stewart, Kevin Thomsen, Alan Thatcher, Tieneke A note on the distinction between organic and biodynamic agriculture . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Verkade, John Weissing, Hans Wetendorf
The Soil 9
Acknowledgement What is soil? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
This guide is the result of the contributions of many people who freely Introducing the soil microorganisms. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
gave their time and knowledge through workshops, fielddays, reviewing The soil food web . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
of the different drafts, and providing written material: your input is Some practical soil chemistry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
greatly appreciated. Special thanks are also due to Simon Browne and A crash course in chemistry! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
David Wright for their support throughout the project, John Ridout
Soil test reports and interpretation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
and the members of the project review team, Kevin Steel, Sustainable
Farming Fund manager and Rachel Monk, MAF Policy Hastings. Thanks Trace elements or micronutrients . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
also to Peggy Cayton and Tom Richardson for your input to running the Putting the theory into practice ............................................ 39
workshops and to Russell Simmons for your contributions. Thanks to all Biodynamics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43
those who helped with the consultation process during the life of this Composting ............................................................ 46
Compost tea . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50
This publication has been made possible through funding from the
Brix % ................................................................ 51
Sustainable Farming Fund
Effluent as a fertiliser .................................................... 52
Seaweed and fish fertilisers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53
Vermicast . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54
Rock dust . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57
Organic Pastoral Resource Guide Paramagnetic material . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57
ISBN 0-476-00124-2 Pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers, and the effects on soil . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59
Published in November 2003 by the Soil and Health Association of Salt based fertilisers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59
NZ Inc. and Bio Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association in NZ Tools of the trade . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60
Inc. References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61

Copyright: This publication is copyright and remains the intellectual property of the Soil Animal Health 62
and Health and The Biodynamic Gardening and Farming Associations, Barbara Gillatt, Louise
Coats and Fred Robertson. Copying for personal use is welcome subject to the appropriate
Animal health and stock management ........................................ 63
acknowledgement of source. Stock management . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64
MAF disclaimer: This research was undertaken by The Soil and Health Association of Fibre content of a ruminant diet . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65
NZ Inc and the Bio Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association in NZ Inc under contract to
MAF Sustainable Farming Fund.
General tools for animal health ............................................ 66
Every effort has been made to ensure the information in this report is accurate. MAF Animal remedies laws: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67
Sustainable Farming Fund does not accept any responsibility or liability whatsoever for any Homoeopathy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67
error of fact, omission, interpretation or opinion which may be present, however it may
have occurred.
Herbal medicine ............................................................ 69
Compiler and publisher disclaimer: The information here presented is supplied in
Cider vinegar . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73
good faith. Sources are diverse, often subjective or ongoing research. The compilers and Colloidal silver . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 74
publishers do not accept any responsibility or liability for any application of this resource
material. It is the responsibility of the reader to ensure the appropriateness and safety of
Specific Health Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 75
any course of action. 1. Calf management and worms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 75
2. Trace element deficiencies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79
3. Mastitis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84
4. Lice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 88
5. Ticks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89
6. Bloat . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90
7. Facial eczema . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91
8. Milk fever (Hypocalcaemia) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 93
9. Grass staggers (Hypomagnesaemia) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95
10. Infertility. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 96
11. Calving . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 99
12. Lameness ........................................................ 101
13. Ketosis (acetonemia or acidosis) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 103
14. Black leg (Entero–toxaemia) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 103
15. Salt Poisoning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 103

16. Pink Eye (conjunctivitis) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 104
17. Woody Tongue .................................................... 104
18. Wounds . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 104 In the first half of 2001 a successful application to the Sustainable Farming Fund was made on behalf
19. Shock . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105
20. Drying off ........................................................ 105 of the Bio Dynamic and Soil and Health Associations. The project aim was to draw on the knowledge
21. Udder Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105
22. Ringworm ........................................................ 105
and experience of established organic and biodynamic producers and make it more widely available.
23. Catarrh . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105 The first step was to identify key sectors where we felt the project would make a difference and involve
24. Cow pox . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105
25. Pneumonia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 106 experienced organic people associated with those sectors who were keen to contribute. As a result
26. Leptospirosis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 106 we focused the project on: Dairy/Pastoral Farming; and Avocado, Citrus and Summerfruit production.
27. General tonic for rundown cows . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 106
28. General information ................................................ 106 Successful organic producers are pioneers, as they acknowledge that there are always more ques-
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 106 tions than answers and thus are continually taking on new challenges. That capacity to take on new
The Environment 108 challenges has been very evident in this project. Individuals have taken on multiple challenges; they
Some thoughts on layout . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 109
have acted as workshop facilitators, field day organisers and presenters, and have written and collated
Moon and planets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 109
Climate and weather . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110 material for a series of Resource Guides. Many others have contributed through their participation at
Government and dairy regulations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 111 workshops and field-days, by acting as reviewers and giving their time to make written contributions.
Pasture ................................................................ 111
Seeds sourcing and selection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 118 This Resource Guide is a result of that work.
Herbal ley mixtures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 119
Kikuyu information . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 123 It is important to be clear as to what this Resource Guide isn’t and what it is. It isn’t a detailed technical
Cropping . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 125
‘how to’ document, as there is no simple prescribed pathway towards successful organic production
Weeds and their management . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 126
Fallowing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130 and there are still many more questions than answers. It is a number of things. First and foremost it
Trees . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131
is a multi-authored collation of existing knowledge, presented from a practical perspective. Second,
Wetlands and waterways . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 143
Reusing dairy effluent – some methods and tips . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 146 there has been a deliberate weaving together of organic and biodynamic information. The purpose
Breeding: dairy, beef and sheep ............................................ 149 of weaving together a range of views is to provide you with choice - take what is relevant to you at
Breeding and livestock management ........................................ 150
Comments from farmers and practitioners .................................... 151 any given time and ignore what you don’t consider to be relevant. Third, it is intended to be a ‘living
Conversion issues for livestock management . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 153 resource’. We’ve drawn together what is known to help you avoid making the mistakes that others
Behaviour: cattle, deer and goats . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 156
Be nice to your cows . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 157 have and achieve success more quickly, and also to allow for clearer identification of gaps in knowledge
Quarantine paddocks. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 158 so that these can be addressed. In summary, this document won’t make you a good organic producer,
Minimise contamination . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 158
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 160 it is not a technical ‘how to’ manual, it is intended to be a practical, living, Resource Guide. It is meant
to guide, not to prescribe.
Appendix 1: Trees for shelter & profit 162
Appendix 2: Certification & sources of information 164
Appendix 3: Research & case studies 168
Appendix 4: Milli–eqivalents 169 Gavin Kenny, Earthwise Consulting Ltd
Project Manager
Appendix 5: Parts per million 169 Tel: 06 8708 466, Email: gavinkenny@clear.net.nz
August 2003
Appendix 6: Observing your clovers and legumes 170
Appendix 7: General resources 170
Appendix 8: aramagnetic values of various elements found in rock 172
Index 173 Avocado, Citrus, Pastoral and Summerfruit Resource Guides are available from the Project
Manager (telephone 06 8708 466 or email gavinkenny@clear.net.nz) or in Adobe Acrobat
(.pdf) format from www.organicnz.org and www.biodynamic.org.nz.

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Organic Pastoral RESOURCE GUIDE

What does one see on an ideal organic pastoral farm? sarily lose profitability. This concept will be challenged in the future. Regardless of which stage you are at, crises will occur
When one first walks onto the farm, it has a feel of its own, of strength and balance. from time to time. These are there to challenge us. The important thing to remember is that making good observations
and attending to detail is very important to ensure immediate action. Once committed to organics, there are no crutches
The animals are healthy and contented. There are shade and shelter trees at various stages of growth scattered over the
to fall on, so building a resilient system is the key.
farm to protect the animals. There may even be herbal leys under the trees so the animals can graze them.
This Resource Guide will give you some answers to the many questions you may have, and
The grass is a clover and rye, plus mixed herbage, including other species such as plantain, subterranean clover, cocksfoot,
will no doubt lead you to asking many more questions.
chicory, timothy, etc. It is deep green and holds its own longer during a drought, and comes away again quickly when the
rains come again. There may even be crops and silage when and where it is needed. The grass, at times, may not appear
to be long or bulky, however the energy levels tend to be more concentrated and balanced in nutrients, and the animals
seem content. Please Note
Of course all this strength is coming from the soil beneath. If you put your spade in the soil, dig up a soil profile, and begin It is the responsibility of the user to check that products used meet any requirement that may
be set for products under the Animal Products and ACVM Act administered by NZFSA. Be
to look carefully, many small but important aspects begin to appear. Firstly you can see and sense a jam packed mass of
aware that food safety and residue standards may change from time to time and it is your
life in a world of its own, with enzymes, microbes, fungi, algae, arthropods and bacteria, all interacting to produce the
responsibility to remain up-to-date.
necessary elements for a healthy soil. There will be evidence of earthworm activity throughout the profile. The soil will
show a deep humus texture at the top, roots that reach right down into the subsoil and no clearly defined line separating At all times, we must remember our obligations to provide the five freedoms under the
Animal Welfare Act Code of Practice:
the humus and subsoil. It will show a mixing of colours and soils instead. We, as farmers can add elements such as liquid
fertiliser, lime and RPR, to help this process. The topsoil is a healthy depth and growing each year, the soil is breathing, 1. proper and sufficient food and water
and there is no litter on the top of the ground thanks to those worms and enzymes. The number of worms will keep 2. adequate shelter
increasing each year. 3. the opportunity to display normal patterns of behaviour
4. appropriate physical handling
Because the soil is healthy, alive and balanced, the grass in turn is balanced and healthy, which makes for healthy animals,
5. protection from, and rapid diagnosis of injury and disease.
and in turn, a healthy, life-giving product for the consumer. See page 63.

How is this achieved? What this Resource Guide is

Over the last few decades all farmers have become more aware of the need to become more sustainable on the farm. This
has led to greater efficiency, for example, through better use of chemicals and other management tools. In so doing, The design and content of this Resource Guide has been shaped by the experiences of practicing organic farmers. It has
many have taken the first step towards sustainable farming. This can be called the efficiency step. three main chapters: Soil, Animal Health and the Environment. These three chapters relate to the progression experienced
by many who have converted to organic farming but it is not a recipe for organic farming. Rather it provides a range of
The next step is substitution The basics are a commitment to not relying on pesticides, chemical fertilisers or drugs
options and ideas for you to choose from.
for the animals. Also underlying the whole procedure is the aim of getting the soil active and balanced, and creating
an interactive ecosystem. The rest then tends to follow. Basic requirements are lateral thinking plus the ability to make Objectives to keep in mind when using the Resource Guide
good observations. A good conventional farmer will make a good organic farmer. Many farmers begin slowly and take
Four objectives to keep in mind when using the Resource Guide:
one aspect at a time, for example using fish fertiliser or homoeopathy, trying other things once they are comfortable to
do so. They join a discussion group, or find a mentor, or an email network to keep in touch with others. There are many • soils: get the soil alive with earthworms and other microorganisms and balance the soil minerals
methods around and many farmers use a combination as to what suits them. The reality is that things are never perfect • livestock: keep livestock comfortable (sheltered from the extremes in weather), with constant access to cool,
and we are always learning. clean water, healthy and fed a balanced diet using high quality feeds with health promoting extras. Remember
You then your operation. You resolve the problems not through efficiency or substitution but by looking at why they the health and welfare of the animal is paramount
are there and how you can work with nature. You look to create a healthy environment and you look at your farm in • pasture/crops: produce a quality pasture/crop which is not bothered by insects and provides a
the context of the whole ecosystem. If you thought it was a big step to become organic, when you get to the redesign complete livestock nutrient source which results in high yields
stage you will find it is an even bigger step (or leap) to develop a whole farm system approach. Some people find that • biological farming: work with the systems of nature to develop a farm which is environmentally sound and which
substitution is as far as they wish to proceed and they can still be certified organic producers and are happy to remain at leaves the land, water, plants and animals in a healthy, productive state for all future generations.
that stage. There are models and support networks available for those interested in moving to the redesign stage: two of
these include biodynamics and farm forestry. The pathway to success
A warning: however, it is not possible to eradicate all animal health problems on a dairy farm due to simply pushing nature There are two key ingredients to being a successful organic pastoral farmer:
outside its boundaries a bit. Some also believe it is unavoidable to lose some production under this regime, but not neces- 1) Access to information – this Resource Guide provides you with a start

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Organic Pastoral RESOURCE GUIDE

2) Support from others. You can achieve this by:

• Joining an organic discussion and support group can be a big help. This
As part of this project
there is an associated
email discussion
The Soil
• Consists of mineral, water, air, organic matter and microorganisms
enables you to have support, especially through the transition period.Once group for sharing
you have some experience, this will in turn help support others in the group.
• Each individual group of soil microorganism has a definite role in the soil
information and
• If there is no discussion group in your area, try and get one going, even if it experiences. To join • Organic matter drives a soil system
is only two or three people. the group, send an
• Soil compaction problems can result from the loss of soil microorganisms after pugging
• If this is not possible, find yourself a mentor that you can phone and visit email to Peter Urich
and long-term water saturation
when you need to. (pbu@waikato.ac.nz)
expressing interest in
the group and you will
be subscribed.

How to use the Resource Guide

Because this Resource Guide is ‘meant to guide not prescribe’ there is no set way to use it to your best advantage.
However, there are a few important things that might help you on the way:
1) Start with the soil. Both organic and conventional farmers who reviewed drafts of the
Resource Guide have commented on how much they’ve gained from the Soil chapter. This is where good,
sustainable, organic management begins. We recommend that you take the time to read this chapter
as it will provide you with a good foundation.
2) Find what you need. Most of the time you will use this as a reference when you need relevant
information. The Contents will guide you to the main topics that are covered in each chapter. There is also an
Index at the back for specific subjects.
3) Look at your options. We’ve given as much information as we can all the way through to provide
you with options. What works for others may not work for you. If you can’t find the answers
to the questions that you have, this is where support networks become important. We’ve given contact
details for relevant people and organisations as much as possible.
4) Keep an open mind. If something doesn’t work for you now, it doesn’t mean that it won’t work in
the future. So, find what works for you in the present but also keep your options open for the future because
when you enter into an organic system you are entering into something that is dynamic and changing all the

A note on the distinction between organic and

biodynamic agriculture
Organic agriculture is based on the pioneering work of the likes of Sir Albert Howard and Lady Eve Balfour in the UK and
J.I. Rodale in the USA. Its emphasis is that healthy soil is the foundation for healthy food and healthy people. Biodynamic
agriculture is founded on the work of Rudolf Steiner who gave a series of lectures to farmers in 1924. It encompasses the
basic principles of organics but also works with interactions between the cosmos and earth.
For a more in-depth background the following are recommended readings:
Fukuoka, Masanobu. 1978. The One Straw Revolution. Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pennsylvania.
Howard, Sir Albert. 1943. An Agricultural Testament. Oxford University Press, New York and London.
King, F.H. 1911. Farmers of Forty Centuries. Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pennsylvania.
Mollison, Bill and Holmgren, David. 1982. Permaculture One: A perennial agriculture for human settlements.
Tagari Publications, Stanley, Tasmania.
Steiner, Rudolf. 1993. Agriculture. Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association Inc., Kimberton, Pennsylvania.

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Organic Pastoral RESOURCE GUIDE Chapter 1 THE SOIL

What is soil? Introducing the soil

We walk on it every day. We drive over it. We dig in it but do we really know what it consists of?
We will have to have a brief review of what ‘soil’ is so that we have some appreciation as to what microorganisms Air
Air in the soil is essential for plant health. Good soils need to
we are farming with. Then we can begin to appreciate some of the profound effects that some of Farmers are in fact farming all the small and, most be aerated and in fact, although it may be hard to believe, the
our day to day practices do to our soil. commonly, microscopic organisms in their soil, and a soil should be able to function like a lung. Everyone knows
farmer will have far more livestock in the soil than he will that there is always movement of air from a region of high
ever have in the four legged variety walking upon it. It pressure to a region of low pressure. Changing barometric
is the fact that most of this underground ‘livestock’ is not pressure influences the movement of air into and out of the
readily visible to the naked eye that the farmer seldom soil, which enables the soil to breathe – the lung effect. Oxygen
realises the adverse effects some farming practices have is essential for biological activity. Most of the beneficial soil
on ‘underground livestock’. organisms require oxygen (the term is aerobic). If you have a
The soil should consist of the following - minerals, organic very dense soil, a compacted soil, or if the soil is waterlogged,
matter, water and air in the approximate ratios listed below. you have a lack of oxygen and the term is anaerobic. Under
anaerobic conditions we can have undesirable bacteria domi-
• Minerals – about 45%
nating in action that can cause problems by releasing nitrogen
• Water – about 25%
and even toxic by-products such as hydrogen sulphide, methane
• Air – about 25%
and nitrous oxide into the air. These stressors may later lead to
• Organic matter and living microorganisms – pasture or crops being affected by diseases and pest attack.
about 1 to 5%

Organic matter
Mineral What is ‘organic matter’? Organic matter is a food source for all
The mineral portion has originally come from weathered rock those organisms in the soil and consists of the follow classes:
(the ‘parent material’). Rock is weathered by the elements • Living organisms
• Fresh organic matter
like rain, ice and rockslides until the parent material is broken • Decomposing organic matter
into smaller pieces. These rock particles are carried by rain or • Humus.
wind, and are further worked on by acids secreted by microor-
Living organisms include: bacteria, fungi, algae, nematodes,
ganisms and roots of plants, trees etc., so eventually the rock is
protozoa, earthworms, arthropods and living roots.
broken down into elements that can be used by all living beings,
whether it is a plant, an animal or human. These minerals are Fresh organic matter consists of: dead plant material; organic
material; detritus; and surface residue. All these terms refer to
recycled and they eventually end up in the sea or on low lying
plant, animal or other organic substances that have recently
parts of the land where they settle and are compressed and end
been added to the soil and have only begun to show signs of
up being rocks again which eventually can be moved around by
decay. There are organisms that feed on this material and they
the forces of nature like earthquakes and volcanoes.
are called detritivores.
Decomposing matter has: an active fraction of organic matter;
labile organic matter; root exudates; lignin.
Water The active fraction of organic matter consists of organic
compounds that can be used as food by microorganisms. The
Water in the soil is very important because it dissolves and active fraction changes more quickly than total organic matter
carries nutrients and other materials inside the plant and in in response to management changes.
the soil. The amount of water a soil can hold (amount available The labile organic matter is that which is very easily decom-
for plants) depends on soil type. Sandy soils have low total posed and is typically used by bacteria and a limited set of
pore space, but the water that is present can be readily used fungi, particularly yeasts.
by plants. Clay soils have greater pore space and hold much Root exudates are the soluble sugars, amino acids, enzymes
more plant available water than sands. Water and air make up, (these break down other foods) and other compounds secreted
on average, 50% of the space in the soil (the range can be by roots. Yes, roots actually put food into the soil! This is
30 to 75%). These water and air filled spaces are called soil another quite important concept as most would believe that
pores. In a well-drained soil of moderate moisture about half roots just take minerals and water out of the soil.
the pore space will be filled with water and half with air. In a Lignin is a structurally complex, highly diverse and therefore
waterlogged soil most of the soil pores will be filled with water, hard-to-break-down compound that comes from the break-
starving soil microorganisms of air. These soils also take a long down and condensation of decomposition of plant litter
time to warm up and microbes will be slower to act. material. Fungi are just about the only soil organism group
that can in fact use the carbon ring structures in lignin as

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Organic Pastoral RESOURCE GUIDE Chapter 1 THE SOIL

Humus consists of highly recalcitrant organic matter or humified
organic matter. This recalcitrant organic matter is material that
The soil food web
few soil organisms can decompose. The humified organic Information in this section is based, in part, on The Soil
Biology Primer (see Tugel et al.)
matter consists of complex organic compounds that remain
after many organisms have used, condensed and transformed The soil food web includes a group of organisms living
the original material. Humus is not readily decomposed all or part of their lives in or on the soil. There is a
because it is either physically protected inside aggregates or is conversion of energy and nutrients as one organism eats
chemically too complex to be used by most soil organisms. another. Consider what happens to this food web if a
Humus complexes tiny soil aggregates and it also improves product is used and kills out several of the members of
water and nutrient-holding capacity. Humus can be lost the third trophic level. There will be the potential loss
by ploughing waterlogged soils or by nitrogen over usage. of some or all of the fourth and fifth tropic level micro-
Ploughing results in the loss of humus as the bacteria have organisms.
access to the surfaces of more organic matter that has been
We will now consider the numbers of all the soil inhabitants.
made available by the soil being cut into bits. The bacteria are
What should a teaspoon of healthy agriculture soil have in it?
stimulated, grow and divide and release carbon dioxide. It has
been quoted that for each kg of applied nitrogen used, up to 10 In 5 grammes (1 gram dry) of healthy agricultural soil
kg of carbon (humus) is lost. As mentioned before, humus has we would expect:
the ability to hold water, and for each kg of humus in the soil 4 bacteria – 100 million to 1 billion - a mass of 1 cow
kg of water can be held. So, over-use of nitrogenous products
per hectare!
can have significant negative impacts on the soil.
fungi – several yards
The humus region in the soil can be observed by taking a spade
protozoa – several thousand flagellates and
to undisturbed soil and digging out a square foot or so. You
amoebae, 100 to several hundred ciliates
will notice that there is a darker soil layer that tends to become
lighter in colour as depth into the soil increases (approaching nematodes – 10 to 20 bacterial feeders, a few fungal
the parent soil material). On farms where conventional prac- feeders. Few predatory nematodes.
tices have been replaced with organic techniques it is commonly In a square spade full of agricultural soil we would
noticed that this dark zone becomes wider and extends deeper want:
into the soil. This is a good sign. arthropods – up to 100
We have described the term humus but in the course of earthworms – 5 to 30 - more in soils with high
this Guide you will come across a couple of other terms organic matter.
– humic acid and humates. These are all slightly different product to another and are then made available to other plants
materials. Humus is rich in certain large molecules called These figures might seem astonishing to you but there are or other organisms.
humic substances, including humic acids, fulvic acids and ulmic laboratories around the world specialising in counting the The soil food web is driven by organic matter. This is the
acid. Humic acid is derived from humus. It is also present in soil microorganism diversity. Thus, having examined and Certain species solubilise nutrients from the parent material of
storehouse for energy and the cycling of nutrients. Most
other organically derived materials like peat or certain soft coal recorded the count of the various microorganisms from healthy the soil and make those nutrients available to plants directly,
soil organisms live wherever organic matter occurs - mainly
deposits. Which brings us to another term – humates. Brown soils growing a certain crop or pasture, they can now give an while other microbes release nutrients retained in the bodies
in the top 7-10 cm of the soil, though they are concentrated
coal or near coal deposits (humates or leonardite), along with indication as to where problems lie if the soil is not producing of their prey groups, again releasing plant available forms of
around roots, in litter, on the surface of soil aggregates and
rock layers high in organic matter are ground up and used on good quality crops or pasture by looking at the ratios, types or nutrients. Other soil organisms make the air passageways,
in the spaces between soil aggregates and some fungi work
agricultural soil. Humates can be used as is, or the humic acids absence of the various soil microorganisms. hallways and pore spaces needed to keep air flow and water
in humus. Living organisms can be found as deep as 12 miles
from these deposits can be extracted with alkaline solutions to flow stable in the soil, preventing erosion and increasing water
All food webs are powered by the plants, photosynthetic into the earth’s surface, as evidenced by investigations of deep
give liquefied humic acid, which can be applied to the oil or holding capacity.
bacteria, algae, moss and lichens, which harness the sun’s mines and oil wells. These soil organisms vary in activity during
plant as a spray. So in summary, all plants – grass, trees, shrubs and crops
energy to fix carbon dioxide from the air to make amongst other the year but tend to follow a seasonal pattern as well as a daily
We mentioned living organisms before – let’s now define things – sugar. Most of the rest of the soil organisms get their pattern. Activity is governed by soil temperature, moisture and depend on the soil food web for nutrition. The power of the
these and see what they do in the soil. When we appreciate aeration. Healthy soil will tend to have a more stable overall organisms present in healthy soil should never be underesti-
fill and energy by eating organic compounds found in plants
what part each of these organisms play in the soil we can then temperature, moisture and aerobic range compared to an mated and can never be replaced with interventions by farmers
and other organisms and from waste products. Nutrients end
start to appreciate some of the negative impacts our everyday using solid fertilisers or by using chemicals in an attempt to ‘fix’
up cycling along the food pathways and get converted from one unhealthy soil.
farming practices have on these soil microorganisms. We can problems. Farmers must appreciate this critical interrelationship
also then begin to understand why organic The health of a soil is influenced by the variety of organisms.
between microorganisms and successful or failing soil and crop
accreditation agencies insist on some of The greater the biodiversity in soil, the greater the food web
management. Farmers must farm the microorganisms so that
these practices being banned, and why complexity. Biodiversity is measured by the total number of
the pasture or crop is fed and so that the soil remains ‘alive’.
there is an increased interest in sustain- species as well as the relative abundance of these species and
To become better farmers of soil microorganism lets learn a
able agriculture in general. the number of functional groups of organisms. A complex soil
little more detail about each group of inhabitants that should
food web that contains many different organisms can compete
be present in your soil and what each does.
with disease-causing organisms.
The organisms in the soil retain nutrients in their bodies.

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Organic Pastoral RESOURCE GUIDE Chapter 1 THE SOIL

Bacteria produce certain types of root exudates (like sugars, proteins and
carbohydrates) to encourage the growth of protective bacteria
drought breaks. Frequent tillage reduces fungal numbers in
the soil. Some inocula of mycorrhizal fungi are commercially
roots by carrying live and dormant microbes on their surfaces,
and when they excrete their waste from their digestive tracts
and fungi. Bacteria alter the soil environment to the extent available and can be added to the soil at planting time but even more microbes are released.
Unfortunately they are so tiny you need a microscope to see
that the soil environment will favour certain plant communities must come into contact with a root within 24 hours otherwise Nematodes are a source of food for higher level of predators
these organisms. They consist of a single cell and perform
over others. This can be seen when you have waterlogged soil it will die. (e.g. predatory nematodes, soil microarthropods and soil insects).
a remarkably broad set of functions. Most of them are not
that has been pugged or compacted which selects for ‘weeds’ They are also parasitised by bacteria and caught by fungi.
photosynthetic (do not have the ability to make sugar from
like willow or pepper. The bacteria in these conditions will tend
light) but the photosynthetic cyanobacteria (formerly called to be anaerobes, there will be a change in the availability of Nematodes can consume disease causing organisms or prevent
blue-green algae) can fix nitrogen as well as fix carbon dioxide
into sugars and proteins. Another group of bacteria the acti-
minerals and conditions will favour the ‘weeds’ over grass
Algae their access to roots. So, in fact, this family have to potential to
become biological control agents.
nomycetes (now renamed the actinobacteria) give healthy soil Algae can be either unicellular or complex multicellular plants
Bacteria can be oxygen requiring (aerobic) or oxygen intolerant
its characteristic smell. If the soil has been abused and the occurring in moist ground or in fresh or salt water, that have
(anaerobic). Our farming methods should attempt to keep soil
proper biology lost, this good earthly smell will no longer be chlorophyll and other pigments so can harvest the energy of
in an aerobic state if possible as anaerobic conditions favour
the loss of nitrogen as ammonia, sulphur as hydrogen sulphide sunlight to build sugars (carbohydrates), proteins etc., but lack Protozoa
and the production of low pH organic acids such as vinegar and true stems, roots and leaves. This energy source is so important
What do bacteria do? These are tiny, single-celled animals and include amoebas,
putriscine. Oxygen cannot travel easily through waterlogged or for the soil system. As this group of plants requires light, water
ciliates and flagellates. Their presence in the soil is so impor-
They build soil aggregates at the smallest level, improve compacted soil. Bacteria that require reduced oxygen condi- and carbon dioxide for photosynthesis they do not appreciate
tant for the nitrogen cycle as they graze on bacteria but get too
water retention in the soil, decompose organic matter, filter tions to grow are typically detrimental to plant and animal being sprayed with herbicides. If herbicides are not degraded
much nitrogen from them so have to vomit the excess back into
and degrade pollutants as water flows through the soil, cycle health and can result in the loss of cations from the soil. in the soil (some of the modern ones cannot be broken down), the soil in the form of NH4+. This occurs near the root system
nutrients, are food for other microorganisms in the soil and then these herbicides will continue to limit algae numbers of a plant and either the plant absorbs the ammonium ion or
protect plant surfaces from disease organisms Some bacteria which can have serious repercussions for the rest of the food bacteria or other microorganisms use it. One group of amoeba
affect water movement by producing substances that help bind web as an important source of sugar (and other foods) has eat fungi by drilling a hole in the hyphae by generating enzymes
soil particles into small aggregates. These aggregates then
improve water infiltration and the soils water-holding capacity.
Fungi been lost or reduced. that eat through the fungal cell wall.
Protozoa also regulate bacterial populations so may influence
One very important point to remember is that if we have a This group is another one that has microscopic cells. Fungal the numbers of pathogenic (disease causing) bacteria and are
diverse bacterial community – that is one with many different cells form long chains called hyphae. A single hypha can range themselves a source of food for other soil microorganisms.
types of bacteria – the soil community will be able to compete in length from many metres down to a few cells. These hyphae Nematodes Those farmers who do spore counting for monitoring facial
with disease-causing organisms in roots and on above ground are only a few micrometers in diameter. Some fungi, such as eczema risk will have seen protozoa swimming across the
surfaces of plants. This family of worms are tiny – usually you need a microscope microscope field.
yeast, are single-celled.
to see these and they are non-segmented. Most of these live
Bacteria are very important for the nitrogen cycle in the soil. There are fungi called saprophytic fungi that decompose dead free in the soil.
The three other important groups of bacteria are the nitrogen- organic matter and are commonly active around woody plant
fixing bacteria, nitrifying bacteria and denitrifying bacteria. There is a lot of bad press about nematodes as a few cause plant
Nitrogen-fixing bacteria form close (symbiotic) associations
residue. Another group are called mycorrhizal fungi and these
are a very important group as they form associations with plant
problems (root feeding nematodes graze on the roots of plants Earthworms
and are not free-living in the soil) but the vast number in the
with the roots of legumes like clover or lucerne, or may be non- roots. This enables the fungi to get energy from the plant (in
soil are in fact highly beneficial. We can have bacterial feeders, At last something that we can see! They do not need intro-
symbiotic such as the azotobacter or azospirillum. If you have the form of sugar) and to help supply nutrients (like calcium,
fungal feeders, predatory feeders, plant feeders and omnivores ducing. The presence of the earthworm is a good indicator of
unearthed a clover plant you will see visible nodules created sodium, phosphate etc.) to the plant as these fungi forage
who eat a variety of organisms and may have a different diet at the health of the soil. A count of 25 per cubic spade of soil
where the bacteria have infected a growing root hair. If the extensively and their hyphae are like extremely fine cotton
each life stage. These nematodes are free-living. indicates excellent soil while below 5 per cubic spade is poor
nodule is cut in half the interior colour gives an indication as to threads that form a matrix within the soil and can source
during spring and autumn. Worm populations can be counted
the state of these bacteria and whether they are fixing nitrogen minerals the plant needs at some distance away and transfer
this to the root hair.
What do these characters do in the soil? by digging out a cube and counting them or by counting their
- a pink colour indicates that they are. The plant supplies simple castings on the surface. Note however that not all soils have
carbon compounds (sugar) to the bacteria and the bacteria The nematodes have many duties in the soil but a key duty is
There is evidence that soluble phosphate and nitrogen sources earthworms yet they may be good, fertile soils. Earthworms are
convert nitrogen (N2) from air into a form the plant host can to cycle nutrients. Other duties relate to their activity in the
are not that friendly for mycorrhizal fungi and so the number simply rare or absent in some geographical areas – and sandy
use. When the leaves or roots from the host plant decompose, soil. They graze, spread microbes, and also end up being a
of mycorrhizal fungi decline from the soil, and with this goes soils seldom have many.
soil nitrogen increases in the surrounding area. food source if they are caught and can be involved in disease
the ability of the plant to have access to minerals that are at a
suppression. It would appear that they are a pretty versatile What do earthworms do? They dramatically alter soil structure,
The nitrifying bacteria change ammonium (NH4+) to nitrite distance from the root. Broad spectrum fungicides are also toxic
member of the soil microbe group. water movement, nutrient dynamics and plant growth. That
(NO2-) and then to nitrate (NO3-), which is a preferred form of to mycorrhizal fungi. Fungi live in aerobic (needing oxygen)
should be enough reason to encourage them to stay!
nitrogen for grasses and most row crops. Nitrate is the most conditions so it is important that the farmer attempts to keep Whenever nematodes eat bacteria or fungi, plant available
easily leached form of nitrogen in soil. This form of nitrogen his soil in a condition that allows the soil to breathe. If the soil ammonium ends up being excreted back into the soil as more Earthworms fragment organic matter and recycle the nutrients
should not be present whenever water is moving in agricultural is waterlogged or compacted (heavy machinery, pugging by nitrogen is eaten than is required by the nematode. So you it contains. They will drag fallen leaf material into their holes
soil so leaching losses are minimised. cows, incorrect mineral balance – see the cation section later can immediately see that this group of soil microorganisms is and shred this, which allows bacteria and fungi to grow on
in the Guide) for a significant period of time then generally the an important part of the nitrogen cycle. the torn leaves (so earthworms stimulate microbial activity).
The denitrifying bacteria convert nitrate to nitrogen (N2) or Earthworms then derive their nutrition from grazing on the
soil loses its fungal component. Under dry conditions fungi Grazing activity by nematodes also influence the bacterial
nitrous oxide (N20) gas. Denitrifers require anaerobic condi- fungi and bacteria and even possibly protozoa and nematodes.
can bridge gaps between pockets of moisture and continue to population numbers and can impact negatively on mycorrhizal
tions so you will find these in waterlogged soils or inside soil There are however many more microorganisms in earthworm
survive and grow, even when soil moisture is too low for most fungi. Nematodes may be a key in controlling the balance
aggregates where there is little oxygen. castings or faeces than in the organic matter they consume.
bacteria to be active. Fungal hyphae bind soil particles together between bacteria and fungi in the soil.
Aerobic bacteria thrive in the ‘rhizosphere’, which is the narrow thus building stable aggregates that improve water-holding This increased microbial activity facilitates the cycling of nutri-
region in and around plant roots. There is evidence that plants Nematodes can be described as taxi cabs as their movement ents from organic matter and their conversion into forms readily
capacity. This feature explains why organic farmland tends to
helps to spread bacteria and fungi in the soil and along plant taken up by plants.
hold on longer during a drought and rebound quickly when the

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Organic Pastoral RESOURCE GUIDE Chapter 1 THE SOIL

Earthworms mix and aggregate the soil while they go about

their business. They can move large amounts of solid from the
in the water-holding capacity of soils.
Earthworms provide channels for roots to penetrate deep into
Arthropods • Consider what broad spectrum fungicides used for
killing the facial eczema fungus do to the other fungi
lower strata to the surface and carry organic matter down into the soil and these are already lined with readily available nutri- Here is another family of soil organisms that can be seen by
in the soil.
deeper layers. They have the potential to turn over the top ents to feed the plant. Earthworms have few enemies in the eye. These are invertebrate animals with jointed legs but no If we consider the fungus causing facial eczema
15cm of soil in 10 to 20 years. soil apart from flat worms and a species of parasitic fly but birds backbone! They include insects, crustaceans, sowbugs, spring- of livestock we could also wonder if the problem
Earthworms enhance the porosity of the soil as they move. and mammals prey upon them at the soil surface. There are tails, arachnids (spiders), ants, dung beetles, mites, centipedes, is influenced by the use of soluble phosphates and
Some worms make permanent burrows deep into the soil. quite a number of products applied to soils that can kill earth- millipedes and others. nitrogen which causes the loss of the highly benefi-
These burrows can persist long after the inhabitant has died worms. Copper sulphate is not very soil microbe friendly and Most arthropods live on or in the upper 75 mm of the soil.
cial mycorrhizal fungi
and can be a major conduit for soil drainage, particularly after ideally foot-bath fluid should not go into the effluent system as They can be grouped as shredders, predators, herbivores and • Consider what some of the regular anthelmintics
heavy rain. At the same time the burrows can minimise surface the high concentration of copper will take out a lot of other soil fungal feeders based on their functions in soil. Arthropods can (drenches) that are given to animals which are then
water erosion. By fragmenting organic matter and increasing organisms as well. Ammonium sulphate is also very unfriendly be present in huge numbers in or on the soil. For each square excreted in either urine or faeces are doing to the
soil porosity and aggregation there can be a significant increase to the worm population. meter there can be 700 to 250,000 individual arthropods nematodes in the soil.
depending upon the soil type, plant community and manage- Again, consider some of the animal drenches like
ment system in place. one that is used for bloat, which is a rumen modifier
Potential of Earthworm activity in topsoil (16cm deep) of one hectare
and kills protozoa and this too is passed through the
No. worms No. worms Weight of Weight of Weight of Nitrogen/day Nitrogen per N/equiv. urea
What do arthropods do? cow and is deposited on to the soil and is believed to
per 20 X 20 per hectare worms per worm casts casts/year per ha year per ha per year If you exclude the herbivore group, which feed on plants and be active for some weeks.
cm spade ha in Kg per ha/day Tonnes/ha Kg Tonnes Tonnes can become pests (clover flea, clover weevil), most arthro-
• Consider what insecticides do to all the beneficial
pods perform beneficial functions in the soil-plant system.
1 250000 165 165 60 2 1 1 arthropods. Spraying for a clover weevil or clover
Arthropods shred organic material so that the surface area is
2 500000 330 330 120 3 1 2 flea will kill off many other arthropods resulting in
increased allowing bacteria and fungi to do their work. These
3 750000 495 495 181 5 2 4 a declining soil diversity. As this happens predator
organisms act like can openers and greatly increase the decom-
4 1000000 660 660 241 7 2 5 arthropod populations decline and the possibility for
position rate. Arthropods eat decaying plant material to eat
5 1250000 825 825 301 8 3 6 subsequent pest outbreaks increase.
the fungi and bacteria on the surface of the organic material.
6 1500000 990 990 361 10 4 7 • Consider what tillage does to this group of arthro-
Arthropods stimulate microbial activity, they mix microbes with
7 1750000 1155 1155 422 12 4 8 their food and for bacteria, who have limited mobility being pods. Heavy machinery can cause a lot of damage
8 2000000 1320 1320 482 13 5 10 moved to a food source is a good idea. Bacteria are carried on to soil structure, especially if the soil is very water-
9 2250000 1485 1485 542 15 5 11 the exoskeleton of the arthropod and through their digestive logged.
10 2500000 1650 1650 602 17 6 12 system.
11 2750000 1815 1815 662 18 7 13
Arthropods mineralise some of the nutrients in bacteria and
12 3000000 1980 1980 723 20 7 14

Some practical soil

fungi and excrete these in plant-available forms. Arthropods
13 3250000 2145 2145 783 21 8 16
enhance soil aggregation by their deposits of faecal pellets,
14 3500000 2310 2310 843 23 8 17

which contain a highly concentrated nutrient resource in a
15 3750000 2475 2475 993 25 9 18
mixture of organic and inorganic substances required for
16 4000000 2640 2640 964 26 10 19 growth of bacteria and fungi. Burrowing done by some of
17 4250000 2805 2805 1024 28 10 20 these arthropods exerts a huge influence on the composition While the importance of the soil food web can’t be
18 4500000 2970 2970 1084 30 11 22 of the total fauna by shaping the habitat. over-emphasized we can’t forget the important role
19 4750000 3135 3135 1144 31 11 23
The physical properties of the soil can change, including the of nutrients in the soil. As we will discuss later, the
20 5000000 3300 3300 1205 33 12 24
porosity, water infiltration rate and bulk density. Arthropods important role of the farmer is to get the right balance
The above analysis was by Brookside Laboratories. stimulate the succession of species. Soil arthropods consume of organisms and nutrients in the different soils (it is not
the dominant organisms and permit other species to take their often that you will have only one soil type to deal with)
Mineral content of the soil vs earthworm castings place thus facilitating the progressive breakdown of soil organic that are being managed on the farm.
Surface Surface matter.
Nutrient element Soil (0-16cm) worm casts Nutrient element Soil (0-16cm) worm casts
Arthropods can also control pests. Where a healthy population
Total exchange capacity 22 26 Calcium ppm 3320 4150
pH 6.5 7.0 Magnesium ppm 250 420
of predators is present they will be available to deal with a
variety of pest outbreaks. To be able to do this there must still Soil nutrient reserves
Humus % 14 25 Potassium ppm 170 253 be a food source constantly available so it is important for there Out of the total reserves (100%) of nutrient elements present
Nitrate ppm 4 77 Sodium ppm 38 39 to be a diverse and healthy food web. in the soil there will be at best only 5% of these which will
Ammonium ppm 13 66 Boron ppm 1 2
We have now covered all the main soil microorganisms be exchangeable at any one time. At any time only 0.1% will
Total nitrogen ppm 17 143 Iron ppm 49 64
and you will now have an appreciation of the potential be readily available (in soil solution) and yet the crop needs
Sulphur ppm 25 29 Manganese ppm 35 66
diversity the soil on a farm can achieve if we remove or 1%. These proportions hold for phosphorous, potassium and
Phosphate(eas. extr)ppm 39 155 Copper ppm 7 30
limit some of the damaging practices that are routinely magnesium.
Phosphate(Bray) ppm 162 253 Zinc ppm 9 33
applied to the soil. Here are a few points to ponder: One of the major shortfalls of a soil test report is that it is
The above analysis was by Brookside Laboratories.

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Organic Pastoral RESOURCE GUIDE Chapter 1 THE SOIL

difficult to know for sure in many cases exactly how large The main point to gather here is that any element in excess can energy and form glucose – a carbohydrate that is made from and some is too tightly held by the soil particles to be used and
the soil’s total or available nutrient supply really is. A soil test have many other influences on the whole soil chemistry system carbon, oxygen and hydrogen, i.e. carbon dioxide and water. so is unavailable to the plant. Salt content of the soil has an
generally measures the exchangeable and readily available which makes farming with an unbalanced system fraught with affect. Roots growing in soils high in salt or where high appli-
nutrient elements although one of the phosphorous tests does potential problems. It is a far easier to move the soil chemistry SUNLIGHT cations of muriate of potash fertilisers have been used will find
CO2 + H2O (CH2O) + )O2
measure phosphorous reserves. A shortfall of some nutrient towards ‘balance’, which requires a good understanding of the GREEN PLANTS it harder to absorb water. Some crops can tolerate high salt
elements cannot be measured in a soil report – yet! Though role of individual nutrients and how they interact within the soils and some soils are naturally high in salt but excessive use
it may be guessed at. You will have to assess the effect that whole farm system. This diagram shows that plants take the water and carbon of salt fertiliser aggravates the condition.
previous crops, green manure crops and the addition of nutri- dioxide and in the presence of sunlight can convert this into
Roots usually have thousands of tiny root hairs near their tips,
tional elements by roots and microbial activity will have, and of carbohydrate (sugar) with a by-product of oxygen released
which extend out into the soil. These are not seen by the
course there will be the influences of weather and soil structure into the air.
and so on. Soil and plant interaction You will also notice that even when comparing a plant mineral
naked eye and are broken off when a plant is pulled from the
ground. These hairs increase the surface area of the root by up
There is also the use of plant analysis to give you a snap shot – how does the soil ‘work’? composition report from a ryegrass to an analysis from a clover to 20 times and allow for more efficient absorption by having
on how the crop or pasture is coping and if there are any plant there will be a significant difference between them. In a greater access to the soil. This area of the roots should be
deficiencies in nutrient elements, which can be a useful check. Plants need the full array of elements that can be made into other words there is a balance of nutrients needed from the soil considered the digestive system of the plant. A large healthy
An alternative is to develop skills in using a refractometer and an available form. They need air, water and sunshine (warmth (the other 5% of the plant), it is not just nitrogen, phosphate root system is vital for drought resistance for a crop and these
taking Brix readings to monitor changes (see later section). and light energy). and potassium (N-P-K). Notice also that plants require trace roots do best in un-compacted soil. Those soils that are
There is also one other limiting factor for crop and pasture It is generally stated that 16 elements are required for life elements in very small amounts – in parts per million. Although compacted with tight small pore spaces will hold little water
growth which should be covered and that is the effect of a processes, to grow, to be healthy and to be able to reproduce. these are needed in tiny amounts does not mean that there is and a plant on a hot day, with wind and low humidity, will lose
limiting element. The productivity of the soil can never be This number may be incorrect as there are plants that need no point in supplying them. These trace elements are compo- water so fast that eventually it will wilt. It may recover over
greater than the plant nutrient in the least supply. The element other elements like silicon and nickel. But, we will concentrate nents of enzyme systems and are vital not only for the health night when transpiration is slower.
in least supply will be the crop’s first limiting factor if you on the main 16 elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, of the plant but also for animals and humans that consume
consider nutritional factors alone. Another limiting element potassium, calcium, sulphur, phosphorus, magnesium, manga- them too. NPK fertiliser, or rather the phosphate content of
may also develop and further reduce the potential of your nese, iron, zinc, chlorine, boron, copper and molybdenum. One this conventional fertiliser, does not supply nearly enough of
crop or pasture. The crop will never attain its genetic potential, important point to remember is that most of the bulk of the these trace elements – copper, cobalt, zinc, manganese and
molybdenum supplied at rates in the parts per million of 5–50,
Crop nutrients
the crop yield will be low and those animals or people who plant that you see comes from carbon dioxide and water.
consume it will not fare well. 10–20, 200–400, 10–30 and 0.5–2.0 respectively from this Plants also need varying amounts of each element throughout
How much of the plant comes from air and water? 95% the growing season and may not completely meet all the plants’
type of fertiliser.
Lastly we have nutrient interactions or competition between How much of the plant comes from the soil? 5% needs all of the time. The role of the organic farmer, therefore,
nutrient elements under certain conditions. An excess of one Only 5% of the bulk of the plant comes via the soil is to assist plants as much as possible with a balanced nutri-
element can cause a deficiency of another element. This is from minerals, humus and fertilisers. tion regime, which as has already been made clear requires the
another reason why it is necessary to get a balance of cations
and anions in the soil so that there is no chance for an ‘exces-
This might surprise you. It has implications for when you use green Water uptake farmer to work with the biological life in the soil.
manure crops like mustard or lupin or even rye and clover. These Nutrient requirements are small at the beginning of a crop’s
sive element’. Scientists still probably don’t know all of these Plants contain up to 90% water and are constantly losing water
crops are grown and turned back into the soil before seeding. This growth then increase dramatically during peak vegetative
interactions but here are some examples of ones that have so a constant supply must be provided through root absorption
method is putting a lot of ‘food’ made from the air plus a little that growth and then during seed production. For example, look at
become obvious: from the soil. There is water loss through the leaves, which
originally came from the soil back into the soil to improve soil fertility this soybean crop’s mineral uptake of the following 5 minerals
• Excessive potassium, sodium and magnesium can cause a is called transpiration. On the underside of the leaf there are
and feed the microorganisms. One can see instantly that the burning in kg per hectare:
calcium deficiency
of stubble is a huge waste. Don’t forget that plants have roots so the thousands of tiny pores (which are visible with a microscope)
• Excessive potassium will depress sodium, iron and
root part of the plant is part of its bulk too. There is almost as much called stomata, which allow for the movement of water, gases Nutrient
40 80 100 120 140
and even uptake of other elements that might be present in the days days days days days
• Excessive nitrogen can depress magnesium and calcium of a plant underground as there is visible on top of the ground.
levels water. Plants can regulate the size of the stomata and can slow nitrogen 9 140 11 74 73
Back to our plant. What is the typical composition? phosphate 1 24 4 14 14
• Excessive nitrogen can tie up copper down losses of water in dry periods, but there is a balance here
• Excessive calcium can cause phosphorus and trace element Plant tissue consists of 80 to 90% water – H20 and the other 10 as this transpiration is used to cool the leaves in hot weather. potassium 7 119 8 46 44
deficiency (over limed soil is not easy to correct so it is best to 20% is the dry matter of the plant. The figures quoted for a One element that is considered vital to correct stomata func- calcium 3 35 8 13 0
to never develop this situation) magnesium 1 11 1 6 4
typical 16 element content of a plant are: tioning is potassium but this is seldom deficient. Water can be
• Excessive calcium can tie up potassium and manganese
Oxygen 45.0% Carbon 44.0% ‘lost’ in the plant exudates that leak out of the tips of the roots Adapted from Zimmer, Gary F. 2000. The biological farmer.
• Excessive phosphorous can depress zinc, iron, calcium,
copper, manganese and magnesium
Hydrogen 6.0% Nitrogen 2.0% (see later section).
Potassium 1.3% Calcium 0.6% Under conventional fertilisation practices it is not uncommon
• Excessive iron will depress copper, potassium and
Sulphur 0.3% Phosphorous 0.4% The upward flow of water is able to carry nutrients from the soil to put most of the NPK and perhaps calcium in at the time of
phosphorous to the plant by way of vessels or vascular tissue called xylem.
Magnesium 0.25% Manganese 0.05% planting or having another application at an early stage during
• Excessive zinc will depress iron and copper. The other vascular tissue called phloem carries food (energy in
Iron 0.02% Zinc 0.01% the growth of the crop (and hope that if there is a lot of rain it
One of the major factors influencing nutrient availability is Chlorine 0.01% Boron 0.005% the form of sugar) downwards to other parts of the plant and is not leached out), but as you can see from the above figures
the soil pH as it is the acidity or alkalinity, which determines Copper 0.001% Molybdenum 0.0001% to the roots. that nutrient requirement for each element changes throughout
whether an element is going to be plant available or not. This You can see from this list that the main plant elements are the whole period of crop growth. That is why under the organic
is why the optimum pH range is often listed as being from pH carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, making up a total of 95% of What factors affect root uptake of water? system we need to manage the decay cycle and provide a
6.2 to pH 6.8. If some types of elements are too available they the plant. The water content of the soil is important. As mentioned before balance of nutrients both soluble and slow release so that we
can be toxic to plants such as Aluminium, manganese, boron, Plant cells have structures that are able to harness the sun’s there is water in pore spaces, and some of this is plant available can grow a healthy and good quality crop. Management of
copper, cadmium, mercury and chlorine.

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Organic Pastoral RESOURCE GUIDE Chapter 1 THE SOIL

the decay cycle means that the residues are digested by mid- are mainly found free in the soil solution but a small amount element transport cannot be overlooked. The hyphae of the product (food) that the plant has manufactured during sunlight
summer so their nutrients can become available for the next can be held on soil particles and some taken up by the soil food fungi are often distant from a root and can source minerals at hours. The mycorrhizal fungi are thought to function in this
crop. web. Excess anions can be lost from the soil in the form of a distance and transport them to the plant. It is thought that manner. These fungi are in close association with the plant
Soils do have huge amount of nutrient elements – more than leaching with excessive rain. the plant drives the mineral uptake of the fungus. When the roots. You will see that this system is highly desirable for your
a crop will need but a lot of it is unavailable due to being held Nutrient ions held on soil particles are called exchangeable plant registers a need for a particular element it organises the plants as it means that its range for accessing distant ‘elements’
by soil particles or in the complexes of humus or in the bodies which means that they can be exchanged from the soil into the fungi to source it and in return gives the fungus a carbohydrate is greatly increased by using the fungal hyphae.
of soil microorganisms like bacteria and fungi. Some of these root. As soil scientists love to measure things they calculate a
nutrients can be made available through natural processes like term called cation exchange capacity or CEC of a soil. You may
weathering (temperature and precipitation), the release by picture this as holding sites in the soil, which are able to hold
the roots of mild acidic substances that can cleave off certain on to cations or the positively charged ions. As a general rule,
elements, the action of microorganisms in the soil excreting or if your soil has a high CEC value this means that it is potentially
vomiting substances into the soil, and there is the microbial very fertile and/or is high in organic matter. Sand type soils
decay of plant material or other litter which also releases have low CEC readings whereas clay, loam and peat soils have
nutrient elements. high CEC readings in a soil test report.
In an organic system with a healthy soil food web the natural If cations like calcium, magnesium or potassium are removed
release of nutrient elements can often meet much of the plant’s from a holding site in the soil something always wants to
element needs, but in some types of soil like sands with low balance this event so what happens is that a hydrogen cation
cation exchange capacity (CEC – see later section) or if very (H+) slips into the spot. This is a sure way of making your soil
high plant densities per hectare are planted then there will still acidic or making the pH of the soil low. pH is another chemistry
be shortfalls in crop needs. Organic farmers will notice though term that you will have to come to grips with and it is another
with time that the amount of fertiliser inputs will reduce after way of measuring the amount of hydrogen cations in the soil.
several years as natural nutrient release will ‘kick in’. It is A lot of emphasis is put on the pH of a soil and most farmers
thought that about 5% of a typical soil’s total supply of nutrient know that if you want to make the soil less acidic (or increase
elements can become available each year. the pH reading) then you have to add lime to your soil. Some
soil consultants only recommend lime to ‘fix’ pH but the real
reason we want to add lime is to replace the store of cations on

A crash course in chemistry!

to the soil particles or increase depleted nutrients. If you need
to increase the pH of a soil there are in fact a choice of cations
that can be applied – calcium, magnesium and potassium – and
We now have to get into a bit of chemistry to uncover the the choice will depend on what is needed to bring the cations
next bit of the soil system and how this affects the soil. back into balance (see later section).
First, some terms that you will have to become familiar
with. It is not the goal of these notes to turn you into
soil chemistry experts but there are some basics that if
grasped will enable you to better understand what it is Nutrient uptake by roots
that you are trying to achieve in the soil.
The way elements are taken up by the root was thought to
The 16 nutrient elements – oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, involve some of the following mechanisms:
potassium, calcium, sulphur, phosphorus, magnesium, manga-
• There are ions dissolved in water that simply flow into the
nese, iron, zinc, chlorine, boron, copper and molybdenum – are
root along with the water the plant root was absorbing.
often written down in the form of one of two letters (e.g. Ca,
N, P, K.) Really this is just a code letter for each of these atoms. • There may be a slow seep along concentration gradients.
Plants have no knowledge of chemistry and don’t deal much • There is active transport where a pump in a root cell can
with atoms as such but are more interested in ions. Ions are pump ions inside against the normal flow or diffusion.
electrically charged atoms or molecules (more than one atom).
• There is also a term called base exchange. Here is
These have a positive (+) charge or a negative charge (-). If an
another bit of soil chemistry terminology you will have to
ion has a positive charge it is called a CATION like the calcium
be familiar with. Remember those cations we spoke of
ion (Ca2+) and if it is a negative charge it is called an ANION
before, they are also known as bases - the ability to make
like nitrate ion (NO3-). Now if we remember the rule that
the pH increase or go more alkaline. Base exchange can
opposite charges are attracted to each other you will be able
occur when the root releases hydrogen ions from its tip and
to work out what happens if you put calcium ions into the soil
this swaps places on the holding site of the soil with a base
in the form of lime. The soil particles have a large surface area
or cation like calcium or magnesium so the soil becomes
and it is negatively charged so this will tend to attract ions like
more acidic and the plant gets a cation.
The above-mentioned systems may indeed work but there are
What happens to the negatively charged ions or anions? These
also soil microorganisms functioning and the role of fungi in

20 21
Organic Pastoral RESOURCE GUIDE Chapter 1 THE SOIL

Soil test reports and

An example of a soil test report – Hill Laboratory (New Zealand).
Albrecht has suggested that if we get the soil’s exchange
capacity saturated with around 70 to 75% of calcium, Client: Joe Bloggs
Now we will have a look in more depth at soil test reports. Address: Swamp Rd, Timbuktu. Analysis Level found Medium Range
around 10 to 15% magnesium, 2 to 5% potassium
The goal here is not to make you an expert in this area pH 5.4 5.8-6.3
and up to 1% sodium we will then have the growth of Sample Name: Hill block – no fertiliser for years
as it is very complex but if we look at the common terms Resin P ug/g 19 40-75
used on a soil test report and explain these you will get forages rich in protein along with carbohydrates and also Sample Type: Soil – to grow mixed pasture Olsen P ug/ml 11 20-30
some idea as to what it is you are trying to achieve with carrying many of the other inorganic elements, vitamins ASC/P Retention% 43 30-60
the chemistry side of the soil test report. Potassium me/100g 0.33 0.5-0.8
and enzymes as it was at these soil sites where animals
Unfortunately, each soil testing laboratory has its own system Calcium me/100g 4.9 6.0-12.0
preferred to forage and had the best of health. Thus we Metric conversions and Milli Magnesium me/100g 1.44 1.00-3.00
of reporting the results so no two soil test report formats will
look the same (and in fact it is seldom found that no two soil can alter the exchange capacity of the soil to grow more Equivalents can be found in Appendices Sodium me/100g 0.12 0.2-0.5
laboratories testing the same sample of soil will get the same 4 and 5 CEC me/100g 16.7 12.0-25.0
nutritious food. (Albrecht, 1975 (Vol. 1), p 412.)
results either!) so we will look at all the terms used and give Base saturation % 41 50-85
you some ideas as to the goals you to attain with your soil for Volume Weight/Bulk Density Volume weight 0.71 0.6-1.0
improved soil, plant and animal health. information can be found in Appendix 5 Sulphate S ug/g 4 7-15
There is potentially a lot to be gained by moving your soil’s Org. sulphur ug/g 6 10-20
One useful aspect of a soil test report is that it reports the level cation ratios to this range as finance allows. Soils widely Organic matter % 7.4 7-17
Observing Clovers and legumes
of cations in percentage terms. You should see a line like out of cation balance, with a high CEC (cation exchange in Appendix 6 give soil deficiency Base saturation data %K 2.0 %Ca 29 %Mg 8.6 %Na 0.7
K 3% capacity) reading may be too expensive to correct quickly indicators. MAF Cation units K5 Ca 4 Mg 23 Na 4
Ca 70% so the ‘repair’ may take up to 5 to 15 years, whereas
Mg 12% sandy soils or ones with a low CEC value may be corrected
Na 0.5% quickly. You will of course realise that this is not the sole
or it might be down the bottom of the report written as solution to soil, plant or animal problems as we are only
K 3% Ca 70% Mg 12% Na 0.5% considering the chemistry side of the soil here. There Another example of a soil test report – this one from Brookside Laboratories, Inc • U.S.A
are still the biological and physical aspects of the soil to
If the report does not have this (plus a few other features like
consider in relation to identified problems. Client: Joe Bloggs
bulk density, pH etc.) then it may be more difficult for your
consultant to help you with recommendations. Send your soil Date: 8/12/1999
to a laboratory that does indicate cation ratios in a percentage Sample location: Paddock 25 Lab No.: 0260-1
form. Total exchange capacity (ME/100g): 28.17
With organic farming there are too many benefits to be gained pH (SMP Buffer): 5.9 pH (H20 (1:1)): 6.2
by altering your soil cation balance towards an ‘ideal’ ratio,
so working towards a ‘balance’ does bring rewards. The rest
Some examples of soil test reports Organic matter (humus) %: 70 (peat soil)

of a soil test report really indicates whether or not you have As mentioned previously each soil testing laboratory
most elements present to grow grass or a crop (quantity). will have its own way of reporting its findings so no two Anions soluble sulphur ppm 26 Base saturation percent
However, under organic or biological systems this is not enough laboratory reports look the same or report all the same Anions phosphorus easily extractable kg/ha P as P2O5 708 Calcium % .................... 67.68
and we actually want quality as well. elements. It is a good idea to gather trends with regular Anions phosphorus easily extractable ppm of P 138 Magnesium % . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16.03
How has the cation balance of potassium, calcium, magnesium soil testing and stay with the same testing agency so that Anions phosphorus Bray II kg/ha P as P2O5 641 Potassium % . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.46
and sodium been determined? you can monitor the trends that are occurring in your soil Anions phosphorus Bray II kg/ha ppm of P 125 Sodium % .................... 1.63
on your farm. Anions phosphorus Olsen kg/ha P as P2O5 369 Aluminium % . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0.20
In actual fact it was the animal’s preference for grazing in past Hydrogen % . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
There are two different soil reports shown here and presented Anions phosphorus Olsen kg/ha ppm of P 72
history that gave the best indication for the balance required for
as examples. Cations calcium kg/ha 8541
cations. Animals are incredibly good nutritional chemists if they Extractable minors
Cations calcium ppm 3813
are allowed to be. If there is a choice between poor food and Please note that there are many soil laboratories in Boron (ppm) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0.68
Cations magnesium kg/ha 1214
good food, the animal will always be able to detect, without New Zealand. We are not advocating any particular Iron (ppm) .................... 372
Cations magnesium ppm 542
any laboratory readout reports, the difference and will devour laboratory in this Resource Guide. Manganese (ppm) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Cations potassium kg/ha 851
the better food. Under current farming practices we often deny Copper (ppm) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.41
Cations potassium ppm 380
animals this choice. Zinc (ppm) .................... 8.02
Cations sodium kg/ha 92
If we look at the work of William A. Albrecht he found some Cations sodium ppm 41 Aluminium (ppm) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 554
interesting trends in soil test analysis when he compared the Cations aluminium (KCl Ext.) kg/ha 11 NO3-N ........................ 12.5
places animals like to graze and the health of these animals. Cations aluminium (KCl. Ext.)ppm 5 NH3-N ........................ 11.7
(Albrecht’s literature has been collected in four volumes – Total acidity (ME/100) ............ 12.6
known as the Albrecht Papers. He spent his lifetime working Molybdenum (ppm) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0.47
with soils and his papers began to be published in 1918 and
continued until his death in 1974 – see references).

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Organic Pastoral RESOURCE GUIDE Chapter 1 THE SOIL

Terms on a soil report holding sites in the soil expressed as a percent.

The general cationic balance are (for a soil in the pH range
Other notes on humus 6.2 and 6.8 is considered ‘ideal’ for most crops.
The hydrogen percent saturation is zero at a pH of 7. In an
Let’s look at the beneficial properties of soil humus.
Let’s now look at the typical terms on a soil 5.8 to 6.5): • Humus releases plant nutrient elements slowly over the acid soil the hydrogen ion has replaced calcium, magnesium,
report in more depth. Calcium 70 – 75% growing season cafeteria style. On conventional farms this potassium and sodium on the soil holding sites. pH becomes
process is sped up by the overuse of nitrogen. self adjusting when calcium, magnesium, potassium and
Magnesium 10 – 12%
Cation Exchange Capacity – CEC Potassium 2 – 5%
• Humus improves the physical properties of the soil and helps sodium are in proper balance or equilibrium. Where a pH is
to hold water and certainly adds to the tilth and friability of the
Cation exchange capacity (CEC) is a measure of the nega- Sodium 1 – 2% soil low this means that there is a shortage of fertility elements, not
tively charged sites in a soil that have the ability to hold Note: attempting to achieve the ideal level may not be economic or • Humus is a food source for microorganisms so where ever necessarily only calcium. Magnesium, pound for pound, could
exchangeable cations and is measured in milli-equivalents/ practical. For market gardeners or specialty crops on varying soil types humus extends down to in the soil microbes can feed. raise the pH up to 1.67 times as high as calcium. A soil high in
100grams (see section below). these individual BS% levels may differ. For example, for a peat soil • Humus aids in making insoluble plant nutrients soluble magnesium and low in calcium could test pH of 6.5 and still be
with a very high CEC reading, it may be more economically viable to through chelation reactions. This means that it can help
entirely inadequate for the growth of lucerne. Any one of the
Examples of cations are: work towards a 50% BS for calcium. Huge quantities of lime would be breakdown fertilisers that are in the wrong form or tied up or
involved otherwise. Some soils (sands) may have such a low CEC that complexed. four major cations can in excess push the pH up and any one of
Calcium Ca2+
there is not enough capacity to hold what the crop needs. • Humus has a high exchange capacity for plant elements them in lower amounts can push the pH down. Once a balance
Magnesium Mg2+
hence the reason for three times the holding capacity of clay. of the major cations has been found at around pH of 6.3 for
Potassium K+ This holding bond is extremely strong as scientists have isolated
Organic matter (OM) humus then attempted to knock loose its held nitrogen by the
farm crops you will find plants will be prompted to flourish.
Sodium Na+
This is a measure of plant and animal residues in the soil use of strong acids but nothing worked, and yet the humble There are a couple of ways to measure pH. One is the water pH
Hydrogen H+
plant root can do this by the exudates from the roots. The micro-
Aluminum Al3+ – the un-decomposed residues. Organic matter is the method – the other is a salt pH method.
organisms also have enzymes that can achieve this, but man
main contributor to the soil’s CEC, and is also a source cannot!
There is no desired CEC value – it is dependent upon the type of For exchangeable hydrogen you always need the water pH. If
of many nutrients, especially nitrogen. It improves the • Humus increases the soils buffering capacity humus content
soil, (e.g. peat, clay, loam etc.), but you can increase a soil’s CEC the pH is above 7, exchangeable hydrogen will be zero. At a
physical structure of the soil, it increases water filtra- influences water holding capacity – soils with low humus dry out
by adding organic matter to it. Organic matter holds nutrients very fast pH of 7 the soil is neutral and saturated with something else
tion, improves tilth, decreases erosion and supplies plant
and water. Therefore you can increase the fertility (CEC) of a • Humus is a dark colour and favours heat absorption so other than free hydrogen ions. At a pH of 6.9, exchangeable
elements or nutrients. permits early growth of crops and pasture and early spring
soil this way. hydrogen is always 1.5% at pH 6.8 the exchangeable hydrogen
Organic matter is calculated from the organic carbon level. planting - it also allows soils to dry out quicker after a wet period
is always 3%.
The other way cation levels are expressed are in milli-equivalents for more timely field entry for cultivation
per 100 grams (me/100g). This way of reporting cations will be Organic matter (%) = Organic carbon (%) x 1.72 • There are certain components of humus that may exert plant Every 0.1-drop in pH will increase the exchangeable hydrogen
seen on some soil test reports. Rather than confuse you with growth-promoting effects by 1.5%
Some laboratories offer a separate test for percent humus,
another system, see Appendix 4 if your soil test report is listed • Humus reduces toxicity of certain substances both man-
which measures only the decomposed organic matter. made and natural. If soil has been depleted of organic matter
in milli-equivalents. and beneficial microorganisms, then to start the reversal. Organic
Exchangeable Aluminium
Humus (%) matter or manure has to be put into the soil along with soil • Aluminium is not present in a plant available form in soils
Total base saturation • The dark layer to the topsoil marks the humus layer
microorganisms via compost or compost tea (see later section)
that have a pH over 5.5 so this test can be requested for
• Ploughing wet (sodden) soils is the fastest way to destroy
This is the measure of the fraction of the negative holding very acidic soils
• Humus holds the reservoir of nitrogen, boron, sulphur, humus. Working wet soils annihilates air and water spaces
sites (sometimes called the soil colloid) in the soil that are – there is no environment favourable for the microorganisms. • Aluminium toxicity can occur in soils where the pH is
phosphorous and zinc
occupied by bases. • To make humus you need food + air + microorganisms. To between 4.5 – 5.5
• Humus can be quickly destroyed by conventional farming make humus you need a carbon to nitrogen ratio of about
Exchangeable cations can be divided into two groups: 10:1. Crop residue like corn has a ratio of 60:1 so if there is not Guidelines
practices (e.g. ploughing wet [sodden] soils is the fastest
• Bases - these are cations which are alkaline and therefore enough air for the microorganisms to work and multiply in they
raise the soil pH e.g. Ca2+, Mg2+, K+, Na+ way to destroy humus) cannot get this ratio down to 10:1 so the quality and quantity of Level Exchangeable Aluminium (me/100g)
humus evaporates. Low < 0.5
• Acids - these are cations which increase soil acidity and • Humus can be built up by sound biological practices
therefore lower pH e.g. H+, Al3+ (Aluminium – one of the Medium 0.5 – 1.0
most common elements of the soil!) • Humus content influences water holding capacity. pH
High 1.0 – 2.5
Every CEC holding site must have a cation attached to it so Some laboratories report the humus level. Once organic matter • This is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of the soil
Very high > 2.5
the site is then electrically neutral - a negative charge plus a is completely decomposed by the microorganisms the remaining caused by hydrogen ions
Source: Hill, Roger & Kay,Tony 1998. Field consultants guide to soil and plant
positive charge equals zero. The eventual pH of the soil will be residue is humus. Humus holds the reservoir of nitrogen, boron, • Soil pH between 6.2 and 6.8 is considered ‘ideal’ for most analysis.
affected by whichever cations predominate on these exchange sulphur, phosphorous and zinc. Humus is far more successful in crops.
sites. holding nutrients than clay, by a factor of three.
Most chemistry books have pH = -log[H+] but it is more prac-
Total base saturation is calculated by adding all the cations of Again there is a humus percent value which is desirable – high tical to just remember the scale below and where the soil pH
calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium together that were humus soils are not always the best as they can have copper should lie. The pH scale runs from 0 to 14.
found in the soil, then expressing this as a percentage of the deficiencies (peat soils for example). Low humus soils (less than
CEC value. For example, a base saturation of 75% means that 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
2.5%) keep the microorganisms on a starvation diet let alone
3 out of 4 holding sites on the soil have bases attached and Most acidic 7 is neutral pH Most alkaline
the plants (sand soils).
the remaining 25% must have acid attached. Range required
Humus can be built up in the soil by increasing the efficiency of Any pH below 7 is acidic and any pH over 7 is alkaline. Any pH
depends on the soil but from 50 to 85%.
microbial breakdown of plant residues. that is a whole number above or below another has 10 times
Individual base saturation percentage levels - BS% fewer or greater hydrogen ions. pH is important because of
The individual base saturation levels are used in organic and how it influences the chemical and physiological processes in
biological farming to gauge the balance of cations on the the soil and the availability of plant nutrient. Soil pH between

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Organic Pastoral RESOURCE GUIDE Chapter 1 THE SOIL

Calcium – Ca 25kg per tonne. Liming products must be evaluated according

to the calcium-magnesium content and according to the
• Calcium requirement or calcium excess in a soil can never
fineness of the grind.
be determined solely by the pH reading of a soil test
report. There is some controversy over the balance of calcium and
magnesium. However most consultants involved with biological
• If it is economically possible Ca should occupy from
and organic farming systems agree with Albrecht’s work, that it
between 70 to 75% of the negative holding sites in the
is desirable to attain a balance of 7:1 calcium to magnesium
soil in terms of exchange capacity for soil, plant and
in kg per hectare if we are to achieve quality and quantity of
animal health.
crop or pasture grown.
• Liming products must be evaluated according to the
What are the other benefits attained when getting the 7:1 ratio
calcium-magnesium content and according to the fineness
of Ca: Mg?
of the grind
• Positive effects on soil structure
• A seven to one ratio (7:1) of calcium to magnesium in • Improved humus content
kg per hectare is desired if we are to achieve quality and • The growing of high quality pasture and crops
quantity of crop or pasture grown • Improved animal health with time
• Choices of calcium products include lime, dolomite, RPR • A soil teeming with microorganisms and worms
(reactive phosphate rock) and gypsum. • An improved soil nitrogen cycle.

Calcium is the foundation of all biological systems. It is the It is not just the calcium to magnesium ratio that we are
fundamental ‘growth’ inducing nutrient and the base against interested in but potassium and sodium as well. High soil
which other nutrients are reacted to release energy for crop and potassium will decrease the plant’s uptake of sodium and if
microbial growth. there are free nitrates or ammonium available in the soil, this
often results in plants being low in both calcium and magne-
This plant nutrient should occupy from between 70 to 75%
sium. Pasture analyses done in New Zealand fit this profile all
of the negative holding sites in the soil in terms of exchange
too often. Is it any wonder that farmers have trouble with grass
capacity (see section on Balance of Cations). If this desired
tetany (staggers), downer cows and displaced abomasum, to
exchange capacity can be attained there will be improved soil
mention but a few?
texture (the foundation of the soil), phosphorous and other
micronutrients will become more available and the environ- Can we have too much calcium in a soil? Yes! The day you get
ment for microorganisms will improve. above 85% base saturation for calcium you will tie up 90% of
the iron. Calcium can tie up magnesium, potassium, boron, zinc
Calcium helps plants form better root systems, stems and
and copper due to the swings in the pH. Calcium does not tie
leaves for efficient use of sunlight energy, water, carbon
up nitrogen though and crops grown on 80% BS% Ca will be
dioxide, nitrogen and mineral nutrients. Calcium is essential
very green but the plants will have a weak stalk due to the easy
for building normal bones and teeth, important in blood coagu-
access of nitrogen into the plant. Copper will also be tied up
lation and lactation. It enables heart, nerves and muscles to
and this nutrient is necessary for stalk strength. Any time there
function and regulates permeability of tissue cells. It should be
is a shortage of potassium, manganese or copper a weak stalk
realised that calcium cannot be transported once it has been
will be the observed result. High calcium influences potassium,
built into a leaf or root. It cannot be moved from the leaves to
high nitrogen influences copper, and high potassium influences
the seed or fruit. Newly formed roots, stems and leaves need
the manganese content in the plant. Hence there is a reason
an additional supply of calcium from the soil. This means that
to look for balance of the cations.
a continual supply of available calcium is required cafeteria
style throughout the growing season for quality and peak yield. Sources
Calcium can, and often does, become a limiting factor in crop
production. Over-use of nitrogen and or many other salt type Lime, which is calcium carbonate (CaCO3) is the most common
fertilisers (see later section) or excess of magnesium or potas- source of calcium. Not all limes are equal in calcium. They
sium leads to acidity or tie-up of calcium even in soils testing range from 28 to 38% calcium. Some of the ‘less pure’ lime
high in calcium. Measuring the amount of calcium in a soil at rocks have a very interesting array of trace elements, which may
the start of the growing season does not mean that there will be very useful. Pure CaCO3 is 40% Ca.
be enough available for the life of the plant. If the soil is deficient in Ca and Mg then use dolomite.
Lime products need to be finely ground thus increasing the Dolomite is another source of calcium but also has magnesium
surface area of the particle so that the soil microorganisms can carbonate as well. Dolomite becomes available after 3 to 18
work the surface. Finely ground lime makes a greater surface months. Another option is to use calcium and magnesium
area available so that any soluble calcium will be available oxide (causmag) but the latter is restricted under the certifying
directly to the plant root when water arrives. It may disappoint agencies.
you to be told that carbonate limestone has approximately 2kg Gypsum is a mined calcium sulphate and has 23% calcium
of soluble calcium per tonne and for gypsum this is closer to and 18 % sulphur and is another option.

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Organic Pastoral RESOURCE GUIDE Chapter 1 THE SOIL

RPR is reactive phosphate rock and is about 33% calcium but Potassium – K Patentkali (27% K, 17% S, 6% Mg) This test is used to estimate the long-term potassium supplying
also has phosphorous of 13%. • A source of sulphur, magnesium and potassium potential of the soil and appears to be unaffected by short-term
• Potassium determines the thickness of the stalk and
• Used more in horticulture treatments.
There are many other sources of calcium, but they are not leaves, the size of the seed and the number of fruit set
permitted to be applied when certified under organic farming. • Restricted for use on organic farms.
• Potassium is a catalyst and a prime requirement in chloro- Guidelines
phyll construction
Magnesium – Mg Wood ashes Level
Reserve Potassium
• Aim for a potassium base saturation percentage of 2–5%. (me/100g)
• A very necessary element for soil, plant and animal health • Are quite dehydrating
• Excessive soil potassium causes many animal health Very low < 0.1
• Often deficient in New Zealand soils • Use carefully.
problems Low 0.1 – 0.2
• Often found in excess in the soil relative to calcium and yet Straw Medium 0.2 – 0.35
Muriate of potash is another name for potassium chloride. It is
often low in pasture Check with your certifier which plant grown products you High 0.3 – 0.5
the most common form of potassium for farmland and is the
• If in excess in the soil causes a hard, tight compacted soil. would have to source from organic systems. Very high > 0.5
cheapest. This fertiliser may be on the restricted list – check
Some farmers have noticed that there needs to be more fertiliser Source: Hill, Roger & Kay, Tony 1998. Field consultants guide to soil and
Magnesium is part of the chlorophyll molecule in the plant before using. plant analysis
applied in an attempt to keep the same yield of produce.
cell. It is a very necessary element for plant health. Also Potassium is a catalyst and a prime requirement in chlorophyll Initially with the addition of potash there will be a release
involved with protein production, enzyme functions, energy construction. It is also a governor for taking free nutrients from of nutrient and non-nutrient cations as they are squeezed
release in cells, aids phosphorus uptake and starch transloca- the air – carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Potassium is needed out of the soil, which is great if there is a Sodium - Na
tion. Magnesium causes instability of nitrogen in the soil and so plants can make starches, sugars, proteins, vitamins, enzymes crop growing which needs these cations, a • Sodium in excess will make a
contributes to soil compaction if available in less than a 7:1 and cellulose. microbe that wants to use them or water to Why do some certifying agencies restrict soil hard and elements
ratio with available calcium. leach them away, but this is thought to be potash (potassium chloride) use? unavailable – this is not
Potassium can also be fixed by clays and thus cause a reduction
In medicine magnesium is an antacid and mild laxative and in at the expense of soil structure and at the Lets look at the contents of potas- generally a problem in New
in the expandability and the cation exchange capacity of the
the animal it is essential for nerve and muscle activity, and in expense of net long term capacity. sium chloride: Potassium chloride is Zealand
clay (makes the clay tight). Potassium can leach in certain soils,
bone structure and aids in growth promotion. especially sandy soils. What happens to the chloride part of the a salt-based fertiliser (see reference • Is required for plant and
Some of the soils in New Zealand have a magnesium BS% potash? Chloride salts alter the behaviour notes/appendix). Potassium chloride animal health
Muriate of potash may have been overused in some cases
above the ideal range – 10–12 % (e.g. moraine clay soils). of clay and it cluster in lumps making is 60% K or potassium and 40%
in New Zealand agriculture. This is changing now. There it more difficult to till. When potash is • High application rates of
is more monitoring of pasture potassium levels. If pasture added to a clay soil which has high calcium sodium chloride are not
Sources potassium levels are high be very wary of adding more potash. The chloride content is an effective advised.
content, where the potassium is fixed in the
Dolomite (24%Ca, 12% Mg) Excessive potassium in the soil is usually mirrored exactly in small pores the chloride is left free to attach bug killer and kills microorganisms
Sodium is not required in huge
the plants that are forced to grow in this medium and the to calcium and also Aluminium in the soil. in the soil. Chloride can also harm
Organic Kieserite (15% Mg and 20% sulphur) – magne- amounts in the soil but is very
stock eating these incorrectly mineralised plants may suffer We have the formation of two more types crops with roots sensitive to chloride.
sium sulphate mono hydrate important for some particular
many health problems in the guise of udder infections, foot of salt that are even more effective in solidi- Why would you add this type of
This is a soluble source of magnesium and is restricted. plants and for animal health. When
problems, milkfever and staggers. Excess potassium can result fying clays through aggregation (CaCl2 and product to the soil when it will kill
Check with your certifying agency. it is present in soil it is a very active
in potassium substitution for calcium thus weakening the plant. Al(Cl)3). Sodium chloride is bad enough at off your soil friendly microbes and
Magnesium oxide (55% Mg) cation. Sodium when present in a
Grazing ruminants do not find plants with excessive potassium doing this but calcium and aluminium chlo- hurt plant roots when you could use
cell is a regulating element that
• Also known as causmag content palatable. rides are worse. Now we have reduced pore the likes of potassium sulphate, of
governs osmotic pressure in cellular
• Check with your certifying agency as this is a restricted space, decreased water holding capacity and which the sulphate ion is more user-
product tissues and fluids. Lack of sodium is
Soil test report of potassium oxygen levels. friendly, to both the roots and the soil
• Also reported to break down slowly in the soil. generally not a problem with plant
So in summary, with the over-use of potash microbes?
It is not uncommon on some soil test reports to write the potas- growth in New Zealand because
Organic Patentkali (25% K, 17% S, 6% Mg)
sium as water soluble K2O. and in conjunction with high nitrogen appli- To kill all your bugs in your swimming of our proximity to the coast and
• Not generally used on pastoral soils unless there is a severe cations to the soil, the following features
To convert K2O to the element K divide by 1.4. pool chlorine is put in at a rate of strong winds. Inland areas may
shortage of potassium
could be expected: 2 ppm. That is 2 parts of chlorine well need an input of sodium
Magnesium sulphate (Epsom salts)
Guidelines • Soil hardening to 1,000,000 parts of water. This however.
• See above as for kieserite. • Poor fertility equates to 4.5kg of chloride per
Potassium base saturation percentage of 2–5%. Manure and compost can add
Bio-chelates • Declining response to equal amounts of hectare. It is not uncommon for a
This is the range given but it would be preferable in animal fertiliser
sodium and it is wise to monitor
fertiliser recommendation to supply
Guidelines production systems to aim for 2 to 2.5%. the base saturation percentage
• Soil compaction 100 kg of potash per hectare100 x
level and ensure that it does not go
Base saturation of at least 10%. Work to a ratio of 7:1 ratio • Erosion 40% is 40 kg of chloride. Now 4.5
Sources of potassium above 3%.
calcium to magnesium. • Reduced water holding capacity kg of chloride can kill all the bugs
Muriate of potash – potassium chloride (60%K, 40%Cl) • Limited nutrient reserves (tiny pores that in your soil and farmers are often
Reserve Magnesium On a soil test report reserve magnesium is Guideline
Warning – may be on the restricted list – check before using cannot fit the large cations but fit putting more than 10 times this
used to estimate the long-term magnesium reserves in the soil potassium and ammonium ions). Na+ at 1% base saturation in soil
Potassium sulphate (42% K, 18% S) amount on our soil?
and is predominately used in research investigations. Reserve Potassium or at a ratio of 1 : 2 Na:K. If soil
A source of potassium and sulphate It is questionable as to whether
potassium BS% is very high then
Both the K and S are in a very available form The amount of slowly released potassium is potash should be used on agricultural
the sodium BS% will have to be
Restricted for use on organic farms often more significant than the amount of soils due to its chloride content.
Check with your certifying agency immediately available potassium.

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Organic Pastoral RESOURCE GUIDE Chapter 1 THE SOIL

Application rate become ATP or adenosine tri-phosphate (this requires an energy The Resin P test is an alternative test and is one that is Which RPR should I use?
input as well) if it collects another phosphate ion. If ATP is particularly recommended for soils where RPR (reactive phos-
Sodium chloride should not be applied at rates greater than Ideally you would want an RPR that tests high in phosphorus,
converted to ADP then energy is released and a phosphate ion phate rock) or other slow release P fertilisers have been used.
10kg per hectare. See the section on potassium chloride with has low levels of toxic elements (e.g. fluoride, and has a citric
is available. Without this energy cycle of phosphate every- This test gives an idea of the reserves of phosphorous in the
regards to the effect of chloride on soil inhabitant wellbeing. solubility of 30% or greater).
thing in a plant would come to a grinding halt. This energy soil. Get into the habit of asking for the Resin P test.
system also functions in soil microorganisms, plants, animals Gafsa RPR (Tunisia)
Sources The guidelines for the Resin P test is for a figure in the range:
and humans. It is a vital enzyme system so it is needed for the Gafsa is the worlds most recognised and widely used RPR.
Sodium chloride • 50 - 100 ug/g for dairy soil and
lifetime of the plant, microbe or animal.
• 40 to 75 ug/g for dry stock soil. Kosseir RPR (Egypt).
Sodium chloride is restricted under the organic certifying
Phosphate does not move in the soil. Where you put it is where
agencies. There will have to be a demonstrated need if it is to Phosphate does not move in the soil. If you need it down near
be used. it will stay unless wind erosion removes it, or water erodes the Sechura RPR (Peru)
the roots then you must work the phosphate down into the
soil as in a flood, or soil microbes shift it. If you put phosphate Agent importing this is Asura Ltd.
soil to get it there or rely on the soil microorganisms to get it
Phosphorus – P on the surface of a soil and the soil dries out, the root hairs
will not be able to utilise it nor the microbes as they will die or there. If you have surface roots and the soil stays damp then Rates
• Phosphorus is the element, phosphorous and phosphate
move if water disappears. Phosphorous availability is depen- phosphate on the surface will work.
are compounds made up from phosphorus and oxygen For 40 kg of phosphorus per hectare you will need around
dent upon moisture, aeration, the lack of compaction, microbe 300kg/ha of the RPR.
• Phosphate is the major catalyst in all living systems. A activity and the pH of the soil. When you have soil compaction
Phosphate retention or ASC (Anion storage capacity)
deficiency of phosphate causes living systems to come to a the root hairs cannot grow and will not come into contact with Phosphate retention refers to the phosphorous immobilisation How much phosphate is enough?
grinding halt. phosphorous. If there is no air the microorganisms will not be property of the soil. This value is an inherent property of the Maintenance recommendations: As a rough guide it takes 5
• Phosphate doesn’t move in the soil without help able to function so there be limited conversion of phosphate soil and does not change (unless the soil is a peat soil that is to 5.5 kg of P/ha per 100 kg/ha milksolids to maintain produc-
into a plant available form. At a pH of around 6.5 you are mineralising). Although high phosphate retention soils may tion on ash and 4.5 to 5 kg/ha per 100 kg/ha milksolids on
• Is essential for photosynthesis
going to have good availability of phosphate. require 2 to 3 times the amount of phosphorus as capital or sedimentary soils.
• A Resin P test should be requested when using RPR maintenance fertiliser than low phosphate retention soils, a
There is ongoing debate about the relative performance of rock
sources of phosphorus retention of 80% does not mean that 80% of the applied P is Why isn’t triple superphosphate allowed in organic systems?
phosphate versus acid phosphate with longer term research
• For 40 kg of phosphorus per hectare you will need around indicating that rock phosphate outperformed acid phosphate rendered unavailable to plants.
An experiment was done where triple superphosphate was
300kg/ha of the RPR . (superphosphate) in studies lasting more than three years. treated with a radioactive substance so that when the plant
(Sinclair et al, 1990.) However, rather than getting involved in an
Phosphorus is an element whose release in soils depends tissue was analysed it could be determined from where the
argument over the relative merits of the two types of phos- Level Phosphate retention % phosphate came from – the fertiliser or from the soil. In the
on decomposition of organic compounds. Phosphorous is
phate let’s keep in mind that the key to phosphate availability Very low < 10 year tested it was a good growing season and it was found
contained in all tissues with concentrations most pronounced
is through a suitable pH and soil microorganism activity. For Low 10 – 30 that the radioactive phosphate was taken up for only 8 weeks
in young plants, seeds and flowers. All phosphate sources (rock
those that use the rock phosphate it is even more important Medium 30 – 60 and that only 20% of the phosphate came from the fertiliser
phosphate, superphosphate, triple-superphosphate and organic
that you have microorganism activity in your soil as you do not – the rest came from the soil! In poor growing seasons the
fraction phosphates, proteins and phospholipids, etc.) undergo High 60 – 80
have the benefit of soluble phosphate like that available from phosphate was taken up for only 4 weeks and only 10%
chemical and physical change before they can be utilised, so Very high > 80
superphosphate. If there is a choice between rock phosphate came from the fertiliser and 90% came from the soil. Triple
phosphates while present in a soil, may not be available. Source: Hill, Roger & Kay, Tony 1998. Field consultants guide to soil and plant
and soft rock phosphate get the soft rock phosphate. analysis
superphosphate is therefore not a suitable fertiliser for organic
Phosphorous is the major catalyst in all living systems and is
Phosphorus is thought to be adsorbed into a plant as ortho- Another two phosphorus tests are commonly done at labora- systems – it has useful soluble phosphorous for only up to 8
essential for building sound bones and teeth (in conjunction
phosphate ions H2PO4 -, which has a single negative charge tories overseas: weeks maximum under ideal growing conditions and then after
with calcium) and for the production of sugars, carbohydrates or HPO42- which has a double negative charge. The point here P1 (weak bray extraction) – This indicates the phosphorous, this the phosphorous is bound up in the soil.
and fats and is necessary for enzyme activation – especially the is that you will see that hydrogen is required if you are to get which is readily available to the plant now. Guideline for P1, is
phosphate energy cycle. a minimum of 25 ppm for soils with 3% organic matter, and 50 There is also potential for the soluble phosphorous and sulphur
phosphorus into a plant so this means that there must be
ppm is ideal. portion to be leached by rain and lost from the system if it is
It is necessary for photosynthesis and metabolism to occur. It is enough hydrogen present on hand for these compounds to be
P2 (strong Bray extraction) – This gives the amount of phos- not utilised immediately. It has been proven beyond doubt
a key to obtaining high crop refractometer readings (see later made, i.e. an acidic testing soil – under a pH of 7. phorous available now plus that, which should become available by Massey University that the sulphate-S from superphosphate
section on Brix). later in the season (active reserve phosphorous). Guideline for
increases the losses of the critical nutrients calcium, magnesium,
Laboratory reporting of phosphorus P2 is a minimum of 50 ppm while 100 ppm adds more crop/
Plants take up less phosphate than they do nitrogen, potas- pasture quality and health. The ratio of P1:P2 should be 1:2. sodium, potassium and even nitrogen. This was published in
sium and even sometimes magnesium and calcium and yet it A lot of soil test reports from overseas will report the phos- the NZ Journal of Agricultural Research 1991, vol. 34.
is considered to be a major plant nutrient. If you look at plant phorus (the element P) as phosphate just to confuse us all. If Sources of phosphate
The leaching of phosphate into waterway is a significant
analysis figures, the phosphorus content is usually between 0.2 you need to convert phosphate, which is written as P2O5 to P RPR – reactive phosphate rock - 13% P (33%Ca). (See types concern, as it only requires 0.1kg P/ha to cause eutrophication
and 0.4% so 100kg of plant material will only contain 200 to then divide by 2.29. P = P2O5 / 2.29. of RPR below.) problems such as excessive weed growth and algal blooms.
400 grams of phosphorus. There are several tests for phosphorus depending upon whether Bio-phos/ ComPhos – 13% P (36% Ca and 1% S Typically from 1 to 3kg P/ha annually is lost to waterways.
Phosphorous can move within the plant and is ‘cycled’ via the the soil is analysed in New Zealand or offshore. In New Zealand – composted RPR
Research by NIWA scientists have revealed that most P run-
energy system of ADP and ATP. It is beyond the scope of this it is common to see an Olsen P test or a Resin P test.
Chicken manure – 1.5% P off from agricultural land occurs in run-off events (usually as
Resource Guide to get into the details about this energy system The Olsen P The guidelines for the Olsen P have been set at
Liquid fish – 2% P2O5 a result of rain) in the first few days after application of the
but basically there are molecules that have the ability to gather a range between fertiliser. Where RPR was used instead of superphosphate,
and release phosphate ions and energy. Adenosine mono- • 20 and 30 ug/ml for pasture/crop soils
Mycorrhizae fungi – varies with bio-activity (not available
there was virtually no P run-off due to two main reasons: RPR is
phosphate can hold another phosphate and become adenosine • 35 for pumice and peat soils
in NZ).
not water soluble as it relies on microbe activity in the soil and
di-phosphate ADP (this requires an energy input) and ADP can • 12 for sedimentary soils. Oats cover crop – varies with nutrition of the oat crop. the acidity of the soil to release the phosphate slowly over time,

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Organic Pastoral RESOURCE GUIDE Chapter 1 THE SOIL

and secondly that RPR is heavier compared to superphosphate In New Zealand you might see sulphate sulphur (sulphate -S) agency as gypsum ,(Calcium sulphate) is restricted. system to reduce the fertility of that system! If the carbon
so particles are less inclined to move unlike the light granules of or Extractable Organic Sulphur (Org-Sulphur) on a soil test Animal manures – Animal manures contain sulphur but at content of the soil is increased and humus levels increases too
super that can be floated off the surface in run-off. report. low levels (0.1 to 0.2%). This would also add organic matter there will be an increase in the cation exchange capacity for
plus many other elements. that soil so there will be more binding sites on the soil to hold
What happens with superphosphate? Sulphate sulphur cations. With the increased carbon there will be a four-fold
Superphosphate granules have an extremely low pH, as low This test measures the readily available sulphur in the form of Carbon – C increase in the water holding capacity of the soil, which will
as 1.5, which means that when you put it in a soil with a high dissolved plus absorbed sulphate. Sulphate is an anion like the dilute the minerals in the soil so it is possible to have reduced
• Carbon is the element that conveys life to the biological
pH like 5.8 or 6 it actually dissolves iron and aluminium which phosphate anion and retention of sulphate sulphur by the soil is yields unless this is compensated for!
are present in the soil, which then re-precipitate with some of related to the phosphate retention, with high leaching losses of
the phosphate from the granules and form relatively insoluble • Carbon controls the water content of soils
sulphate being associated with low phosphate retention soils.
Carbon : Nitrogen Ratio
iron and aluminium phosphate compounds. This can in fact This should be taken into account when considering sulphur • Carbon buffers the soil, improves the tilth, and improves
happen in any soils but is more significant in soils with high iron fertiliser options. nutrient holding capacity. This ratio of organic carbon and total nitrogen gives
and aluminium such as ash soils. This part of ‘fixation’ cannot important information as to the nature of the organic
Sulphate sulphur can be 2 to 3 times higher in soil in autumn Carbon is the element that conveys life to the biological system.
happen with RPR as these products are alkaline so the dissolu- matter present in the soil.
due to moisture and temperature effects. This should be taken It is the energy storehouse for the living system – all living
tion of soil iron and aluminium does not occur. organic carbon (%) =
Organic matter (%)
into account along with how the pasture or crop looks when systems must have carbon.
Hence there are many reasons why certifying agencies allow the 1.72
using these guidelines. Carbon controls the water content of soils. Each kilogram of
use of RPR products and bar the use of soluble type fertilisers. So now the C:N ratio can be calculated
Guidelines biologically active carbon can hold 4 parts of water. Every effort
Carbon : Nitrogen ratio = Organic carbon (%)
Sulphur – S must go into retaining carbon in the soil system.
Level Sulphate sulphur ug/g (ppm) Total Nitrogen (%)
• Sulphur is vital for an enzyme to metabolise nitrates so Very low <4 Biologically active carbon or the humus content of the soil
a deficiency can lead to nitrate toxicity in plants and the Low 4 – 10 ultimately determines that sustainability, efficiency and the
potential for animal health problems Medium 10 – 20 productivity of the soil system. Carbon buffers the soil, Nitrogen - N
High 20 – 50 improves the tilth, and improves nutrient holding capacity. • A major element
• Even though sulphur is a secondary element like phos-
phate it is needed by crops in often the same amount as Very high > 50 The greater the amount of carbon, the greater the energy • Vital for the production of proteins (body tissue etc.)
phosphate Source: Hill, Roger & Kay, Tony 1998. Field consultants guide to soil and plant reserve in that system.
analysis • A versatile element in nature that can exist in many forms
• Sulphate ions readily leach from the soil (unlike phosphate Sources
Extractable organic sulphur • Some nitrogen forms can be lost by leaching
ions which don’t move).
Compost • Nitrogen has crucial significance in the nitrogen cycle in
More sulphur than phosphorous is needed to grow some crops Most of the sulphur in the soil is in organic forms (95%). This
test is a measure of the readily soluble fraction of the organic Is perhaps the best source of carbon but not all compost is the soil.
and sulphur is essential for complete formation of proteins.
S pool. The pool of sulphur is in a slow equilibrium with the equal (see later section).
Amino acids are assembled together to build a protein (a Nitrogen gas is a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas. This
fundamental part of the muscles, enzyme systems and immune plant available, inorganic form of sulphur. Being a natural Carbohydrates element makes up 78% of the atmosphere, which would make
system immunoglobulins of plants, animals and humans) and source of S it is useful to have a way of assessing this compo- Sugar, molasses, starch one wonder how it could ever be in short supply for farming
there are 28 different amino acids. Three of these amino acids nent, especially if the sulphate sulphur test indicates low levels Check with your certifying agency before use. systems anywhere in the world. This element is vital for the
contain sulphur so if sulphur is insufficient or unavailable of the readily plant available form. nitrogen cycle by which nitrogen passes through successive
Crop residue
in your soil you will not have the manufacture of complete stations in air, soil and organisms to achieve fixation. Nitrogen
Guidelines This must be incorporated in the first few inches of the soil
proteins in crops and pasture nor will they be available for and be broken down by microorganisms and with oxygen is a governing factor in the decay of woody materials.
animals and people. – must be aerobic.
Level Extractable Organic Sulphur ug/g (PPM) This element is vital for the production of proteins, the main
Very low <5 Manures constituent of animals other than the skeleton. The percentage
Some other interesting aspects of sulphur
Low 5 – 11 Can be green manures – as above for crop residue of protein is often calculated (rightly or wrongly) by multiplying
• Sulphur is slow to be used in the soil as it has to be used by
the microorganisms in the soil before becoming plant available. Medium 12 – 20 Can be animal manures – as above for crop residues. the nitrogen content in an analysis by 6.25 or 6.4. However,
The finer sulphur is ground the better and ideally for crops it High > 20 nitrogen presence does not guarantee protein presence or
should be worked into the upper soil. Humates and humic acids
Source: Hill, Roger & Kay, Tony 1998. Field consultants guide to soil and plant protein manufacture, as protein formation requires both
• Sulphur is insoluble in water analysis Must use judiciously – a little is great – a lot can be disaster
nitrogen and carbohydrate added to it.
• Sulphur is acidic and will acidify the soil A very finite resource – best to build the soils own humates
Rates Useful for chelating elements There are many forms of nitrogen in a biological system.
• Sulphur is needed for the amino acids cysteine, cystine and
methionine so is vital if complete proteins or enzymes or immu- There are:
Up to 30 to 40 kg/ha may be required depending upon the soil Have a high CEC.
noglobulins are to be made nitrogen gas in the air . . . . N2
test report. Hard coals
• Sulphur is part of the B vitamins thiamine and biotin and ammonia . . . . . . . . . . . . NH3
coenzyme A (calves with thiamine deficiency will go suddenly Not a humate – has been formed under huge pressure
Sources of sulphur ammonium . . . . . . . . . . . . NH4+
blind, and if not treated progress to a staggering gait and then
Check with your certifying agency first. nitrite . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . NO2-
have fits and die)
Elemental sulphur – Under the organic system you are Cannot be invaded by microorganisms. nitrate . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . NO3-
• In high magnesium BS% soils sulphate ions can take excess
magnesium with it not permitted to use soluble sulphur so there is only the choice amino acids . . . . . . . . . . . . NH2 ( this group is attached to all
• In waterlogged soils sulphate and organic sulphur can be of elemental sulphur which is 99–100% S. A paradox with carbon amino acids)
converted to toxic sulphides by bacteria and escape into the air It is possible when developing an organic or biologically active proteins ............ made up from many individual
so there is an important lesson here about avoiding waterlogged Gypsum – If there is a requirement for calcium and sulphur
for the soil then application may be made to your certifying amino acids.

32 33
Organic Pastoral RESOURCE GUIDE Chapter 1 THE SOIL

This versatile element is able to alternate between the nitrate If we analyse the C: N ratio from protozoa we find it is 30 C: 1 N will be lacking and this is most likely when
form and the ammonium form via various processes in the For a protozoa to obtain its 30 parts of C how many bacteria certain microbes are absent (even critical
soil and even the air. The nitrate nitrogen primarily promotes must it eat? 6 elements may be not be available) or
How many units of N has it eaten? 6 when temperature and moisture
growth responses in the plant whereas the ammoniacal form
How many units of N did it need? 1 availability are limiting the
promotes fruiting or a seeding response. Nitrate nitrogen
What happens to the five in surplus? These get vomited back system (e.g. when the
must be altered before it can become a part of true functional
into the soil! A nitrogen source!
proteins so consequently it is not the most efficient means of soil is either very dry as
Now lets take a look at a nematode.
transporting nitrogen into the plant. in a drought or the
When you break this down it has a C: N ratio of 200: 1
soil is very cold and
The plant, on the other hand, takes up ammoniacal nitrogen, How many bacteria must he eat to get enough C? 40
the bacteria have
in direct proportion to the density of the desirable rhizosphere How many units of N have been taken in? 40
become dormant).
microorganisms. How many units of N did it need? 1
39 units of N get excreted back into the soil. Nitrogen can
Nitrate is also a negatively charged anion so it will not bind to come from
the soil colloid and can be lost with leaching. The ammonium So in summary, many microorganisms work together to break
cation, which is positively charged, is able to be held on the down organic matter into a form that plants can use. The
soil colloid. above mathematics example has probably over-simplified the
complex nitrogen cycle, however, maintaining soil conditions
and fish.
What is the nitrogen cycle? that satisfy the microorganisms’ requirements should be the
aim of all farmers – not just the organic ones. Don’t forget manure
It is a cycle where nitrogen is constantly changing from one
that the soil bugs need the same things as humans need to should
form to another and moving from the air to the soil, plants
survive: warmth, oxygen, moisture, a source of food and a ideally be
and animals.
healthy environment. composted
There is the fixation of nitrogen by lightning in the atmosphere
It is imperative that this natural nitrogen cycle be nurtured by before
and also by the microorganisms in the soil with the formation
your farming methods so that nitrogen efficiency is enhanced. application.
of nitrate and ammonia.
N2 (gas) LIGHTNING NO3- (nitrate) Soil test reporting of nitrogen must be of
N2 (gas) BACTERIA IN LEGUMES NH4+ (ammonium) excellent
The following may be seen on reports: available nitrogen and
There is then temporary immobilisation of nitrogen in proteins quality and
total nitrogen. They tend to be used in cropping situations.
and other organic molecules be suitable
for the crop
Mineralisation of organic matter releases nitrogen back into Available nitrogen
or pasture
ammonia and nitrate. This test gives and indication of the quantities of nitrogen that you are trying
There are also soil bacteria that can change ammonia into could be readily mineralised from the soil organic matter under to grow (see
ammonium which is called ammonification, ammonium into ideal soil conditions. section on
nitrite and then nitrite into nitrate which is called nitrification. Compost). Fish
Total Nitrogen is a good source
Finally, yet other bacteria can convert nitrate into gaseous but is best if it is
This test estimates the total nitrogen content of the soil and
nitrogen or nitrous oxide called denitrification, which results digested to some
excludes nitrate-nitrogen. It does include nitrogen that is not
in the loss of nitrogen into the air. These processes occur in degree or composted.
available to the plant. The major use of this test is to provide
anaerobic conditions. Other losses of nitrogen can come from Please check that the fish
nitrogen levels for the carbon/nitrogen ratio.
leaching, soil erosion, escape of ammonia gas and the removal product is certified for use if
of nitrogen by harvesting crops or by the grazing by animals. you are certified organic.
The nitrogen cycle on biological farms Level Total Nitrogen (%) Blood is no longer an
Very low < 0.1 option due to the BSE outbreak
This is the cheapest and most efficient way of harnessing in cattle in the Northern Hemisphere.
nitrogen on your farm. Low 0.1 – 0.2
Ruminant products like blood and bone must
Medium 0.2 – 0.5
Do you remember what one teaspoon of healthy soil had in not be applied to agricultural land.
High 0.5 – 1.0
it? Green manures provide anywhere from 0.5 to 5%
Very high > 1.0
• 100-800 million bacteria! Source: Hill, Roger & Kay, Tony 1998. Field consultants guide to soil and plant nitrogen. What are ‘green manures’? These are ‘crops’ that seeding. Green manures are also good
• several yards of fungi threads analysis
are grown up to the stage of going to seed and then mulched/ for factors other than the provision of nitrogen: they also build
• several thousand protozoa roto-tilled or mixed into the soil aerobic zone – the first 50 to soil structure, hold moisture and feed the soil microorganisms.
• 10 to 20 nematodes. Sources of nitrogen Biological farmers always strive to keep the soil growing some-
70mm or so. These plants then feed the soil food web so
How does the nitrogen cycle work when we consider the system Under a certified system there is no ability to use that the next crop that is planted has access to these minerals thing so that the soil microbes always have a food source – the
happening within the soil? synthetic nitrogen. The goal is to get the soil food web etc. Legumes such as lucerne, sweet clover, red clover, beans land is not left bare.
If we analyse the Carbon: Nitrogen ratio from bacteria we find it is working efficiently so that the natural nitrogen cycle supplies etc. provide the most nitrogen. Grasses such as rye are also Trees can supply nitrogen. Nitrogen fixers like
5 C: 1 N the nitrogen. There will be times of the year where nitrogen good in the growing phase and should be ploughed in before Tagasaste (tree lucerne) are another option.

34 35
Organic Pastoral RESOURCE GUIDE Chapter 1 THE SOIL

Trace elements or
micronutrients Copper
is the element with no oxygen attached. Fifteen kg of 44% the sun; it makes the leaf darker, thus absorbing more
Borate 44G means about 2kg of boron. Borax is a naturally energy.
mined product and is the product allowed for use on organic • Often deficient in soils, plants and animals • Often seen in excess in soils and even in bore water levels
Trace element absence can mean plant health problems farms.
• Animal deficiencies are expressed as ill-thrift can be very high.
and animal health problems due to eating pasture/crops
which themselves have deficiencies. Trace elements can Guideline • Copper is the key to elasticity in the plant Iron will increase the waxy sheen on a crop.
be bulk spread but it is vital to balance the major cations Boron – B – 2 ppm • Copper is involved with many enzyme systems and root Iron will increase the thickness of a leaf, which will geometri-
first – calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium. As (Called the Extractable Boron test by some laboratories in New metabolism. cally increase the nutrient flow resulting in a greater production
the major elements (especially calcium) adjust towards Zealand) increase.
the ideal ‘balance’ the whole soil will change and then It is involved with many enzyme systems in helping to form
amino acids and proteins and is a vital element for many Generally not tested in soils by laboratories in New Zealand as
the microorganisms will be more active and with more Rate this element is not deficient.
organic matter more nutrients will be released. microbes in the soil. Copper is vitally important to root metabo-
2kg /ha on an elemental basis (see above). lism. Copper helps produce dry matter via growth stimulation,
Trace elements commonly looked at by consultants in New prevents the development of chlorosis, rosetting and die-back,
Chelates at a rate of 1 to 3 litres per ha.
Zealand are selenium, copper, cobalt, boron, molybdenum and and in animals is essential for catalytic conversion of iron into Iron (Fe) - 20 ppm.
zinc. Manganese, silicon and iron are also another three trace Source red blood cells and it assists in tissue respiration. Copper
elements which need to be occasionally looked at but in the deficiencies are becoming more of a problem in many types of Source
case of iron it can be in an excess state rather than a deficiency Borax (11% B)
farmed animals in New Zealand. There are several reasons for Iron sulphate
and can cause animal health problems. Boron chelates this but one of the major causes is the use of high doses of zinc
Iron chelate – Sieber’s Moana iron (6.4%).
Moana Boron (4.5%) from Sieber used to protect stock against facial eczema damage.
Black strap Molasses – a very good source where accept-
Chicken manure or compost – preferred One of the other reasons for low copper levels in animals is that
able. Ensure it does not contain preservatives.
Boron Check with your certifying agency first before use.
the pasture often has very low levels of copper in it especially if
it is predominantly rye or fescue. A sward with a greater variety There are three major types of molasses:
1. Unsulphured molasses is the finest quality grade because
• Boron is commonly found to be deficient in clover in New of plant and herb species present will test higher for copper
only a small amount of sugar has been removed. It is made
Zealand content then a rye/clover or fescue/clover pasture. High levels from the juice of sun-ripened cane and the juice is clarified and
• This element is involved with a huge number of processes Cobalt of iron in pasture test results are often due to soil contamina-
tion, and cows at certain times of the year eat a lot of soil when
2. Sulphured molasses are made from green sugar cane
in a plant that has not matured long enough and treated with sulphur
• Cobalt is an element crucial for nitrogen fixation, especially grazing sodden pastures so this iron source can tie up copper. fumes during the sugar extracting process. The second boil
• Boron leaches easily from the soil in legumes’ root nodules Sulphur and molybdenum levels, if high in pasture, also impact molasses takes on a darker colour, is less sweet and has a more
• Boron is toxic to grazing animals and to plants when given negatively on copper levels in pasture. So, in summary there are pronounced flavour.
• It is also important for the formation of bark, cellulose and 3. Blackstrap molasses are from the third boil. Blackstrap
in excess a lot of reasons for lack of copper stores in our grazing cows.
seed-coat formation molasses have the lowest sugar content and the highest mineral
• Pastures deficient in calcium are generally low in boron content of all commercially available molasses.
• Cobalt levels in pasture are commonly found to be too low Guideline for copper
too. Check with your certifying agency first before use.
• Deficiencies in farm animals expressed as ‘bush sickness’ Copper levels in overseas soil tests are wanted to be at the 2
Boron is another very important trace element which is often or in mild cases as a lack of appetite. ppm level.
overlooked. This element is involved with regulating flowering,
fruiting, pollen production, seed production, cell division, Cobalt is the element in vitamin B12, which is produced by
salt absorption, carbohydrate metabolism, cell wall produc- actinobacteria in the soil and gives the soil an earthy smell.
Source and rate
Manganese (Mn)
tion, water use and nitrogen assimilation in plants. Boron is Cobalt levels in pasture are commonly found to be too low. Copper sulphate (25% Cu) - for soil applications.
Not to be confused with magnesium (Mg)
important for the filling of hollow stems of plants. Boron is New Zealand’s native bush has many species, which have very The use of copper sulphate should not preferably
also important for increased calcium uptake. It also functions high concentration of cobalt and other trace elements. Soils exceed 4kg/ha as a single application (it is fungicidal).
• This trace element is required for normal growth and
in the synthesis of glycogen and the maintenance of body fat in New Zealand are generally not tested for cobalt. Herbage photosynthesis, oil production, energy release in cells and
is more regularly tested. One of New Zealand’s native bushes Copper chelate – chelate foliar sprays are available in New enzyme functions
in animal life. Boron deficiency has also been linked with Zealand.
vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency in animals (blindness). It is called Rangiora (which is a large leaf bush – also called bush • A seed not containing manganese is unable to germinate.
man’s friend) has a very high content of cobalt, as do gorse Sieber has Moana Copper 6% which can be used at a rate of
also needed for bone construction in animals. In clover plants It is generally considered that New Zealand soils have sufficient
seedlings! 500mls to 1.5 litres per ha.
a red discolouration of the leaf is considered to be an indicator manganese. Low pH soils could have manganese available at
for boron deficiency. Check with your certifying agency first before use.
Source and rate undesirable levels.
Boron leaches very easily from the soil so should be checked for
Cobalt sulphate (21% Co) Guideline
in soils or pasture analysis.
Boron is toxic to grazing animals. With solid application ensure
Rate: 350 g per hectare annually for 5–10 years then up to
100g/ha per annum. Iron (Fe) Manganese – Mn – 20 PPM
rain washes the fertiliser off the pasture before grazing. Too Cobalt chelate (3.75%)
much boron is also toxic to plants (especially maize), more so • Is needed for chlorophyll production, energy release in Source
Sieber has Moana cobalt chelate which can be applied at 150 to cells and in conjunction with cobalt is needed by nitrogen-
when temperatures are cool and the soil is damp. 500mls/ha. Manganese sulphate (28% Mn)
fixing bacteria.
Confusion often arises over boron rates. Borate and boron Manganese chelate (7.5% Mn)
are often used interchangeably. Borate is oxygenated. Boron • Iron draws energy to the leaf by absorbing heat from
Sieber has Moana manganese

36 37
Organic Pastoral RESOURCE GUIDE Chapter 1 THE SOIL

Royal jelly – expensive

Check with your certifying agency first before use.
The rushes that grow in wet areas on the farms accumulate
selenium, which would tend to suggest that the element is in Zinc change in the way that these farmers farmed ‘their soil’. Their
next step was to remove some of these practices they perceived
fact present in the soil or at least has been washed there. The as being ‘damaging to the soil’.
• Zinc is an essential component of many enzyme systems.
Mahoe tree (Whitey wood) is one devoured by goats, sheep We will list them down as ‘steps’ but they are really just the
It is also involved in making acetic acid in the root to
deer and cattle alike and is also high in selenium. The farming sequence of events in common with all these farmers who
prevent rotting.
Molybdenum - Mo industry generally is aware of selenium deficiency and animals
are boosted by a variety of ways but best option is to get it into • It allows dead twigs on trees to shed off.
have changed away from current farming practices. The seven
steps that have been identified from these experienced organic
• An important element in nitrogen enzyme systems the soil so that plants get it too. • Excessively high phosphorous levels can depress zinc levels. farmers are:
• Often present in excess in plant tissue causing copper defi- Selenium is vital for enzyme systems and with Vitamin E is an • Zinc is a trace element that is needed by animals for skin Step 1: Test and balance the key elements of your soil
ciency indirectly anti-oxidant. It is important for the immune system too (see and hoof integrity.
the Mastitis section). Step 2: Choose fertilisers that are ‘soil friendly’
• Is not tested in the soil by laboratories in New Zealand. • Excessive zinc in soil promotes weed growth!
Currently in New Zealand no laboratories test for the selenium Step 3: Eliminate pesticide and herbicide use
Another important element for several enzyme systems, content of the soil. A deficiency is usually detected on blood Guideline for the soil Step 4: Increase the variety of plant species in the pasture
particularly nitrogenase and nitrate reductase, i.e. the enzymes or liver testing from animals and then amendments are made and planting trees on the farm
to break down or build nitrogenous compounds. Plants grown to the soil. Zinc (Zn) – 5 ppm.
on nitrate nitrogen have an increased need for molybdenum Step 5: Nourish the soil microorganisms.
Monitor selenium levels in animals regularly after application Source
because of the increased need for the enzyme nitrate reductase. If cropping then:
of selenium fertiliser to the soil (and keep your vet informed as
Molybdenum is a catalyst for iron in the bark or plant skin and Zinc sulphate (36% Zn).
well) before adding more to the soil. Step 6: Change from continuous cropping to a short
is important in the integrity of the bark or plant skin. It gives
Zinc chelate (7 to 10 % Zn) used as a foliar spray. rotation of crop
the transparent look to the sheen on bark. It is most commonly Source and rate
used in legumes. Sieber has Moana zinc. Step 7: Control of the decay of organic matter by the
Ag Sel prills 1% Se 1kg/ha per annum use of tillage to influence the soil to air to water
A deficiency of molybdenum can cause nitrogen deficiency in Check with your certifying agency first before
Selcote Ultra prills 1% Se 0.5kg/ha per annum use. ratio in the soil.
legumes. As soil pH increases, Mo availability increases.
These are restricted under a certified organic system so get appli-
cation to use them.
Foliar sprays can be used.
Step 1: Test and balance the key
Putting the theory
Molybdenum glucoheptonate
Molybdenum chelate – Sieber has Moana molybdbenum
Sieber (092390210) has Moana selenium 5% which can be
elements of your soil
into practice
used at a rate of 50 to 150mls/ha.
In the early stages there is often an appreciation by the farmer
that the current nitrogen, potassium and phosphate fertilisa-

Selenium Silicon This is the part you’ve been waiting for

– how to actually use all of the informa-
tion practices are not resulting
in better animal health, plant
tion we’ve given you so far and put it health or a stronger bottom line
• Not tested for in New Zealand
• Commonly deficient in plants, animals and humans into practice on your farm. Before the in the accounts. The starting
throughout New Zealand • A minor element needed by some special types of crops advent of certifying agencies like Bio- point, therefore, is a soil test,
• No soil laboratory routinely tests for selenium in soils Silicon is not generally recognised as a plant nutrient but it is Gro, Demeter and AgriQuality, farmers which often involves a different
vital to some plants such as watermelons. The soil has quite started to farm a little differently, type of consultant – often one
• Selenium may be deficient in the soil or it could be that not tied to a particular fertiliser
large quantities of silicon. It is difficult to find a laboratory picking up ideas and trying them on a
our pastures are not successfully harvesting it company. The soil test may be
that can do an analysis for silicon. Silicon often turns up as a small scale, even just on part of the farm,
• Monitor selenium levels annually in your livestock missing link in certain finely tuned fertiliser programmemes and and when results were seen then there conducted in NZ or may be sent
seems to have some correlation to the carbon – calcium interac- was courage to do more changes. If we overseas.
• Selenium supplementation is usually in the form of foliar
sprays to pasture or prills (solid fertiliser) to the soil (check tion in the plant and is generally used as a foliar additive. Silica look at the process these people took we Up to 10 to 16 elements are
is involved with protecting plants against mould penetration. find a common pattern. tested for and a programme
with your certifying agency)
The herb horsetail is also known as spring horsetail or scouring to ‘balance’ these elements
• Selenium is vital to the immune system These farmers were not happy with some
rush. It is a perennial and grows in all temperate zones of the is embarked on. Excesses of
aspect of their farming ways. Perhaps
• Deficiencies can be recognised by white muscle disease world. This non-flowering, non-seeding plant thrives on clay- elements are looked at as well
they were doing a process every year and
in lambs (lame) and infertility problems in cattle (retained like sandy soils and likes marshlands and streams; some plants as deficiencies. This is one
not seeing the desired response. Most had
membranes). have adapted to growing along roadsides and on stony ground. of the most important steps
identified animal health problems that were
Refined foods don’t have silicon so you will find abundant to take if you are going to
Selenium is deficient in a lot of pasture and forage crops grown becoming more prevalent and seemingly
silicon in the shell of brown rice, bell peppers and leafy greens. change to organic farming. It
in New Zealand. There is some debate as to whether this trace more difficult to cure or eliminate. What is
more interesting to note is that all these indi- is possible with ‘balancing’ to
element is actually deficient in the soil or whether it is a case of Source
viduals had decided in their own way that it set the soil up with the correct
the required biology in the soil being absent or functioning at a
The best source is the herbal extract of the horsetail was the way the soil was being treated that foundations (like the piles for a
reduced level so that the end result is a deficiency in the plant
plant (Equisetum arvense) at a rate of 5 grams per hectare. held the key to removing or reducing these house) so that when you intro-
which transfers to animal and human deficiency.
problems and so what followed was a duce the plants to the soil (put

38 39
Organic Pastoral RESOURCE GUIDE Chapter 1 THE SOIL

the house on the piles) you can get the whole biological system
to function better with microorganisms (no good putting the
If you do not feel comfortable determining your own mineral
requirements then find a consultant who can help you do this. Step 3: Eliminate pesticide and cannot get too. These roots also help to break the soil up.
An excellent book to read on this aspect for dairy farmers is
wiring or plumbing in the house if you haven’t got the house That person will have a laboratory they send soil to and whose herbicide use Newman Turner’s book called Fertility pastures and cover
built on sturdy foundations). This ‘balancing’ will be discussed results they will be familiar interpreting. crops (ISBN 0-9600698-6-0).
in some detail at the end of this section. You are not allowed to use any of these products on a certi-
On those farms where there is no natural shelter nor trees many
• What do I do next? fied organic farm but what transitional farmers do is to move
organic farmers have experimented
• How do you test the soil? A fertiliser strategy will be set up for you to follow if you do
from blanket spraying to band
with non-poisonous tree species for
Get a soil kit and follow the directions in the kit. For example, spraying and then to spot
not feel confident in setting one up yourself. You will have to food snacks for stock, a way to stabilise
Hill Laboratories, 1 Clyde Street, Private Bag 3205, Hamilton, spraying and at all times trying
provide a fertiliser budget for your consultant so that a plan erosion prone soil, to harvest minerals
has a very good descriptive pamphlet. A better way is to to reduce the amount of active
of action can be set up (the balancing mineral part of the from deeper layers in the soil, to attract
employ a consultant and get them to take the soil sample as ingredient going on to the farm bees and birds and to provide another
programmeme may only take a year to do but on some farms it
there are a few traps for those that are new to the game. The by adding products to the spray source of organic matter (litter diversity)
might be as long as 10 years) and each farm will be different. If
consultant will want to look at the soil profile, the smell of it, (e.g. seaweed, molasses, sugars or leaves to the soil section. (Please see
possible do as much as possible in the first year of conversion.
the type and health of the pasture and will also want to look at or humic acid solutions). the section on Trees).
your animals. A pasture or crop sample taken at the same time Farmers notice that the need
is also a very valuable exercise. for pesticides and herbicides

• When do you test the soil?

Step 2: Choose fertilisers which decreases as the soil comes into Step 5:
As soon as you decide that a more sustainable farming system
are ‘soil friendly’ better balance and becomes
more biologically active.
Nourish the soil
is the path you want to take. Preferably done in spring or can There is a change in the type of fertiliser applied when a short- Crop rotation and mechanical
be done in autumn. fall is found in a particular element. Sometimes the cheapest control are other options for This is one of the most important
source of an element is not actually the best for the soil micro- weeds. Timely cultivation can steps and most often underrated or
• How often do you test? organisms. control weeds. Not letting the unrealised. There is potentially a huge
Initially, it would be wise to do this annually. Some types of weed go to seed would be a
There is a move away from soluble phosphate to a phosphate untapped army of ready and willing
natural fertiliser are slow to show up in a soil test so it is good good goal! There are various
rock. Farmers overseas have even higher quality products for workers in every teaspoon of soil if only
to have a trend and by doing an annual test you will tend to
the soil like Idaho phosphate or North Carolina reactive rock machines used for cultivation all farmers could appreciate this and
get more information which can help your consultant fine tune
phosphate. (e.g. roto-till). Ideally the best one is one that disrupts the look after them! These microorganisms need the identical living
your system.
weed root and does not beat the soil to death in the meantime. conditions (to the farmer) to work. They need a comfortable
Higher quality lime products are selected. Dolomite is used
Weed seeds like the stimulation from a dose of sunlight so home (soil with the correct minerals, the correct ratio of water
• Where do you send the soil to? only if magnesium levels dictate that it is necessary.
nocturnal cultivation may be another method. and oxygen), they need food (in the form of organic matter),
There are laboratories in New Zealand and offshore. Potassium sulphate is used instead of potassium chloride
Some pests or weeds can be controlled by ‘biological control’ warmth (biologically active soils maintain soil temperature
Some examples are: (potash).
like the releasing of natural enemies such as predators, para- within a narrow range compared to conventionally farmed
Hill Laboratories
1 Clyde Street, Private Bag 3205, Hamilton. Of course if you are converting to organic farming and are sites or pathogens. For example, ragwort beetle for the ragwort soils) and freedom from poisons or chemicals. Once the micro-
Ph: 07 858 2000 Fax: 07 858 2001 going to be certified you will have to consult with your certifying weed, a parasitic wasp for a maize-eating caterpillar. organisms are fed then the crop or pasture will be fed – the
Email: mail@hill-labs.co.nz agency and ensure that you use only those products allowable microorganisms eat at the table first! This point is important.
Web: www.hills-labs.co.nz or get permission before you use any restricted fertiliser. If you put a lot of organic matter into the top layer of the soil
Brookside Laboratories Inc. and then plant a crop, the crop will suffer deficiencies, as some
New Knoxville, OH 45871, USA
Ph: 00 1 419 753 2448 Fax: 00 1 419 753 2949 Step 4: Increase the variety of nutrients (like nitrogen) will be used by the microorganisms first
Soil Foodweb Australia
1 Crawford Rd., East Lismore, NSW, Australia 2480.
plant species in the denying the plant its requirement. You must allow enough time
for the organic matter to break down.
Ph: 00 61 2 66225150 Fax: 00 61 2 66 225 170 pasture and plant trees Other nutrients or biological stimulants that can be used to
Soil Foodweb NZ testing contact:
Richard and Cherryle Prew on the farm feed or enhance the soil life include seaweed (kelp), fish,
982 Kaipaki Rd, R D 3 Cambridge molasses, sugar, vitamins, humic and fulvic acids, hormones
Ph: 07 827 6682 Fax: 07 827 3787 There generally has to be a change in the type of pasture grown,
from kelp, paramagnetic materials and biodynamic prepara-
Email cherryle.prew@xtra.co.nz not only for the grazing livestock but to assist with soil develop-
Web www.compost-tea.co.nz tions. It is interesting to observe that a number of farmers who
ment. (This will usually happen soon after herbicide spraying
Quantum Laboratories Ltd decided to change their fertiliser programmeme often started
24 Shanley St, Waipawa is stopped!) A pasture that contains only rye or fescue plus a
with seaweed sprays first, noticed benefits from using this and
Ph: 06 857 7333 Fax: 06 857 7999 little clover (when it is not eaten by the clover flea and weevil or
then went on to experiment with the other stimulants. Other
Email: dr.dirt@ihug.co.nz shaded out by nitrogen boosted rye or fescue) offers little variety
Living Systems Laboratories options include the use of compost teas, bacterial, fungal or
to the grazing animal. Each pasture species or herb has a
P.O.Box 563, Te Puke different mineral and trace element profile, different root depth, algae, nematode, worm inoculants. It is still important to get
Ph: 07 573 5998 the major elements ‘balanced’ first as a lot of these products
Agri Energy Resources L.L.C. different growth rates and no doubt an individual taste, not to
mention its own variety of microorganisms associated with it! are used to fine tune the biological system.
21417 1950E St, Route 2, Box 113,
Princeton, IL 61356 Pastures are often over-sown with a variety of herb species (see
Ph: 00 1 815 872 1190 Plant section). Many of these have tap roots which enable the
Fax: 00 1 815 872 1928
plant to source minerals at a depth that the rye and clover roots
Email: AER@starband.net

40 41
Organic Pastoral RESOURCE GUIDE Chapter 1 THE SOIL

For those farmers who are cropping as well: instead of feeding the microorganisms in the soil which can
Biodynamics Gardening Association and is fully explained. Growers can also
There are a number of approaches to organic farming.
then feed the plants. Any humus that is produced will help use RPR, elemental sulphur, lime and other natural minerals
Step 6: Change from continuous improve soil structure making for better aeration and water
They range from one well-established approach, which
are biodynamic methods, through to other broader
if their land shows a need for them. Liquid manures, and

cropping to a short holding capacity of the soil.

approaches, where the farmer can choose from a range
composts are also used. Herbs and homoeopathy complement
the holistic approach.
rotation of crop The other alternative is to make compost and apply this to the
soil. This is a whole science in itself as no two compost piles will
of possible inputs suited to the individual farmer.
The following is a summary of the methods used in Organic growers often say that they need to change the way
Cropping be the same (see later section on Composting). Biodynamic Farming. they think, and that’s the challenge. They have to develop new
farmers find ways of thinking about their enterprise and this is where the
that if they biodynamic approach is a great help. In organic farming the
rotate their holistic approach means that the grower needs
crops every Some notes on soil balance shared A help to the farmer to take a broad and often a long- term
year or two by experienced organic farmers: and the soil view – for example anticipating
soil fertility issues well ahead,
there are
fewer weed, • We need a soil system that has the Biodynamics is a well- and managing them before
disease and required nutrient elements present in the tested approach to they become problems.
pest problems. appropriate amounts and to be available to organic agriculture. In Biodynamics gives
Using a the plant; we need the physical structure 1993 a major study guidelines to work
continuous of the soil correct so that our soil food by Massey University with and enhances
maize crop web can function with the lot without researchers found not the soil fertility from
without a grass hindrance. That isn’t much is it? only that the financial the start.
or legume performance of biody- Something important
green manure namic farms was similar to always keep in
• Soil that is left alone goes downhill,
crop (one that to conventional farms, but mind;it is optimal to use
even organic land still needs to be
is grown up also that the soil properties all the biodynamic practices
to the seed were much better. The grower and integrate them as they work
stage and then • Do not aim to feed the plant. Feed the needs organic methods that work, and in together; however, you do not
turned into soil and let the soil feed the plant. to know that changing to organics is practi- have to be a biodynamic or Demeter farmer
the top part of • If the soil is unbalanced, the cow’s dung cally and financially sustainable. Biodynamic methods as an to use these methods. Each one is a tool in its own
the soil) will will be unbalanced. approach to organics, give advantages to the grower. Firstly, right to be used to enhance all forms of organic farming. There
prevent you they are practical tools for soil management, utilising resources are many Bio-Gro certified farmers using biodynamics as well.
from receiving and helping the farmer to practise organics more efficiently. The following is a description of the key methods of biodynamic
so many of the • Excesses are just as restrictive as Secondly they give some guidelines to help growers with their agriculture. Of course the key to successful biodynamics is to
benefits the deficiencies. You cannot have a deficiency decision on changing to organics. It enables them to observe put it into practice.
microorgan- of one element without having an excess effective changes in soil properties, plant growth and animal
isms give to of another. health.
the soil. • In terms of nutrient balances, the Biodynamic farmers and growers have several methods avail-
This is not same principles apply whether it is able to them but the most familiar and important are the use of Preparation 500:
however a dairy farming, crop farming, vegetable biodynamic preparations. These are small quantities of specially
hard and fast rule as it is possible to grow healthy crops gardening, vineyards, horticulture or prepared or composted plant and animal parts that have a The most important aspect of Biodynamic agriculture.
(climax crop) continuously on the same patch of dirt but there whatever. And the ratios apply whether stimulating effect on the soil and plant. They help to change • Enhances healthy bacterial activity of the soil.
can be pitfalls in doing this. you are farming in NZ, USA, Ecuador or the soil over time resulting in deeper roots and stronger plants,
• Strengthens calcium activity (see Grasp the Nettle, by Peter
Timbuktu. disappearance of turf mats, better crumb structure with better
Proctor, p. 126)
water transmission and retention (meaning better performance
in both wet weather and droughts), more earthworms working • Encourages strong clover growth.
• If the soil minerals are not in balance
deeper, and larger clover nodulation. Overseas research • Made from cow manure stuffed in a cow horn, buried in
work on rectifying it.
Step 7: The control of the decay • Apply calcium (through lime, RPR,
reports of soils managed with biodynamic preparations show the soil over the winter and lifted in the spring. Changes
of organic matter by the dolomite) before you start using liquid
great jumps in the levels of soil enzymes. All of this can be
summarised in better use of soil resources.
into a sweet smelling rich humus soil-like material.
• Stirred in water for an hour, and sprayed onto the pasture.
use of tillage to influence the soil fertiliser.
Other tools biodynamic farmers use are the planting calendar, Only mix the amount that you can apply within an hour.
to air to water ratio in the soil • It is like tuning a violin – get the first which is based on the planets in relation to the zodiac and
• Spraying rates are 61.75g, in 30 litres of water per ha,
four strings right first, by using solid our earth (similar to the Maori fishing and planting calendar).
Raw organic matter, whether crop stalks or manure, should and is commonly reduced for larger areas to half that rate.
fertiliser, and the fifth string for fine- They use this to plant, harvest, transplant, spray and do most
be tilled into the upper layers of the soil for optimum decay tuning is the liquid fertiliser. activities at the optimum time for the benefit of their crop. The • Usually applied during spring and autumn when the
into humus. To leave it on the surface is to lose a lot of the calendar is available through the Bio Dynamic Farming and ground is warm and moist.
crop residue to the air in the form of water and carbon dioxide

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Organic Pastoral RESOURCE GUIDE Chapter 1 THE SOIL

• Sprayed during a descending period of the moon (marked Prepared using yarrow flowers and a stag’s bladder • There are other times that show the best times to paddles and motors with gears. Peter Proctor makes lots of
on the Biodynamic calendar), in the afternoon, so as to Enhances the activities of sulphur, nitrogen, potassium and
cultivate to minimise weeds, prune trees, cut hay etc. possible suggestions in his book Grasp the Nettle
improve penetration into the soil. trace elements. The calendar is available to anyone through the Bio Dynamic • Flow forms are available and seem to be the favoured by
• Available from the Bio Dynamic Farming and Gardening Farming and Gardening Association. people with larger farms. Further information is available
Association in NZ. • Preparation 503: from: Flowforms Pacific, 83 Endsleigh Rd,
Prepared using chamomile plant and a cow’s intestines R D 2, Hastings, Hawke’s Bay., Phone (06) 877 6914,
Fax (06) 877 3943, Email: ianintro@xtra.co.nz,
Enhances the activities of calcium, sulphur, potash, nitrogen,
Cow Manure Composts (Cow Pat Pits) Web: www.FlowformsPacific.com
Preparation 501 and oxygen.
This is a good way to get full benefit from your compost • For smaller areas use a 200l drum and a 40mm rod or an
• Preparation 501 works on strengthening the plant and
• Preparation 504: preparations. oar suspended from the rafters, stirring by hand
activity above the soil. Prepared using stinging nettle • Some farmers are using the preparations via decimal
Enhances the activities of iron, sulphur, potassium, calcium, Method: homoeopathy. The correct potencies must be chosen. The
• Helps with photosynthesis.
nitrogen, and magnesium. 1. Choose a site that is free draining, (e.g. in your vegetable Bio Dynamic Association does not currently endorse this
• Strengthens the plant structure and cellular walls to resist garden). method.
infection. Enhances the plants’ ability to take up light.
2. Dig a hole 600mm x 1000 mm x 150mm deep.
• Strengthens silica activity. Tips for spraying
• Preparation 505: 3. Line the sides with untreated timber 300mm in width.
• Helps plants to resist fungal attack. • Use a spray tank that has not had chemical sprays in it.
Prepared using oak bark and an animal skull. Leave bottom uncovered. A tank that has previously been used for chemical sprays
• Made from treated silica quartz that is finely ground. Enhances calcium fixing 4. Backfill. should be washed according to the directions in the Bio-
• Stirred in water for an hour, at a rate of 2.5gm in 30litres Gro standards.
5. Fill up to 250mm with cow manure, preferably from
water per hectare and is commonly reduced for larger • Preparation 506:
lactating cows. • Use a smaller nozzle for preparation 501 than for prepara-
areas to half that rate. It is then sprayed onto pasture. Prepared using dandelion and a mesentery tion 500.
6. Add crushed, baked eggshells, and basalt or cut up stinging
• Applied first thing in the morning in the winter before the Enhances the activities of silicic acid and potassium nettle. Mix well. • There are good sections on spraying and stirring equipment
sun generates too much heat in it. Usually used in spring and methods in Peter Proctor’s book Grasp the Nettle.
and autumn when the grass has grown through a moist • Preparation 507: 7. Insert three sets of compost preparations 502-506 by
period. pressing them into the manure in their own space. Place There is a booklet being produced and will be available through
Prepared with the juice of valerian flowers
each one in its own space near the corners and one in the the Bio Dynamic Association (March 2003)
• Beware, applying in the heat of the sun, or using excess Enhances the activity of phosphorous, thus helping in the middle.
rates can damage or even destroy your crop. utilisation of RPR
8. Put preparation 507 in a bucket with a small amount of
• Only apply during an ascending period and possibly on Raises temperatures when sprayed on its own, e.g. in a frost.
or near the moon opposition Saturn (also marked in the
water and stir for 5 minutes. Sprinkle over and around the
edges of the cow pat pit.
Contact for preparations
Biodynamic calendar)
9. Cover with hessian sacks to keep it moist and cover with
and calendars
• Do not apply unless you have applied at least two treat-
ments of 500 and the compost preparations previously. The biodynamic calendar a waterproof lid, allowing water to run off and away from
the Cow Pat Pit and air to circulate.
Bio Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association in NZ
P O Box 39-045
• Available from the Bio Dynamic Farming and Gardening Wellington Mail Centre
The Biodynamic Farming and Planting Calendar is produced by 10. Stir around after one month. Ph: 04 5895366
Association in NZ. the NZ Bio Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association in NZ Fax: 04 589 5367
11. Should be ready in approximately 3 months.
every year and runs from June to May. Email: info@biodynamic.org.nz
12. Use the same way as the compost preparations in liquid Web: www.biodynamic.org.nz
It is based on modern research that is still continuing. This
fertilisers, spraying onto the farm, into effluent ponds etc.
Compost preparations research is based on suggestions made mainly by Rudolf
Steiner. It looks at the cycles of the moon, the sun, and the Preparations are also available homoeopathically, but are not
These are a combination of preparations to enhance usage of appearances through the constellations of the zodiac in our approved for Demeter Certification.
the minerals within the soil. They are made cheaply and simply, sky and the different influences they have on our planet, the
if you have some experience, or they can be bought from the plants and the soil.
Bio Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association in NZ for a
minimal price.
The calendar has full explanations on the opposite page about
use and symbols that are used on the calendar page.
Methods of
They are combined to create a balance of activities and can be The main starting points are:
stirring preparations 500 and 501
added to compost heaps, cow manure composts (also known
• Descending period (for the moon) for influences • The purpose of stirring machines is to create a vortex,
as cow pat pits), liquid fertilisers, liquid teas, liquid seaweed,
below the ground level. similar to that seen in mountain streams, and to interrupt
effluent ponds. They have an amazing ability to convert a mass
the vortex periodically allowing a few moments of chaos.
from anaerobic into being aerobic. It will boil and bubble • Ascending period (for the moon) for things influ-
Therefore a machine must go one way, then change direc-
away, removing any foul smells. encing above the ground level.
tion to create a new vortex
• Full moon for sowing and drenching.
• Preparation 502: • There are many different, home built machines made using

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Organic Pastoral RESOURCE GUIDE Chapter 1 THE SOIL

soil tests had shown that the required elements were there but Compost must be made under an aerobic system - that means the ground. Aerobic composting uses oxygen and produces
• Composting is a way of utilising organic matter in a cyclic
still the pasture did not grow even though the farms alongside in the presence of oxygen! Oxygen from the air is fixed carbon dioxide. If the CO2 concentration goes over 20% most
method (no waste)
this farm were growing successfully. A load of chicken manure organically. Now the catch here is to ensure that the pile of microorganisms will be killed off. A build up of CO2 is a sign of
• Can inoculate soil with desirable microorganisms by using was ordered and spread over the farm. Within six weeks the organic matter is breaking down in the presence of oxygen for a good aerobic process.
compost neighbours were ringing up to ask what had been done to the the full 6 to 8 weeks or whatever time it takes to get to convert If you have low CO2 the compost is
• Compost must be good quality to be beneficial for soils farm! the organic matter to compost. If during the composting
process the material becomes deficient in oxygen you will have • Finished
and must be made aerobically – in the presence of oxygen This farm had been sprayed with various products over many
at all times years whilst in maize cropping. The microorganism diversity a putrefaction process occurring – one that draws oxygen from • Aerobic
would have been extremely narrow and perhaps even non- the organic matter instead. You will then have alcohol and
• Compost can be used to make compost tea – a solution • Dried out too much.
existent. What had arrived with the chicken manure were a formaldehyde type products formed (preservation products or
that can be sprayed on pasture, crops and trees Turning of the compost is required when
set of microorganisms which phyto-toxins) and you will lose nutrients from your composting
finally seeded the ground and system. None of these events are desirable and every effort • The oxygen is less than 8% or
started the soil food web off must be made to avoid this from happening. In commercial
• Carbon dioxide is greater than 8%.
again. It didn’t work straight operations oxygen levels are monitored so that this event does
not occur.
away, it took weeks, but pH
when you think a bacteria can Compost must reach a temperature that exceeds 57oC for at
The pH of a compost pile will rise above 7 or 8 on the second
replicate itself into two after least 3 days. (Ingham, 2001.) High temperatures are necessary
or third day. It will stay above 8 or 9 throughout most of
20 minutes and into 4 by 40 to kill weed seeds and pathogens. This means that the pile will
the composting process. pH will drop under 8 when the
minutes, by the end of the day have to be maintained above this for 1 to 2 weeks as the outer
composting process is finished. If it drops below 6 then lime
you have a lot present and of sides of the pile will not be at this temperature so will have to
or soft phosphate rock could be added. (Larsen, 1992.) pH can
course these are moved around be turned in to heat up. This method ensures that all parts
be used as an indication of the presence of biological life.
by taxi-cabs (insects, hooves of of the compost eventually reach that minimum temperature
stock, people, vehicles etc.). for a minimum of 3 days. The temperature must not exceed Nitrogen in compost
It would probably not have 70oC(2).
been the exact or best set of Good finished compost will have 0.8 to 2% total nitrogen
A temperature probe is often used to monitor the tempera- content. Microbes use up nitrogen as they multiply. In an ideal
microbes for a pastoral system, ture. If you are making compost on your own farm this is
but obviously in this case pile the nitrate (NO3- ) drops to near 0, then builds very rapidly
one instrument that you must obtain, and use daily to monitor in the pile during week two. If the carbon to nitrogen ratio (C:
something present is better the temperature of your compost pile. If you over cook your
than nothing and it certainly N) is very wide 100-150:1, you will not find NO3- for a very long
compost there is no point putting it out on your soil as it will time. Nitrogen is fixed by good compost and becomes a part
turned this farm around from have detrimental effects on your soil food web.
being a problem farm to one of the amino acid complex of microbe bodies. Nitrogen that is
being profitable again. Making compost requires certain moisture content. Too wet fixed is only released when the plant calls for it. This makes
or too dry conditions create improper temperatures. To cool for a very healthy plant. Plants actually secrete an acid to
The point here is that we can a pile you can turn it slowly, add water or add soil to it. The signal microbes to make nitrate available to the plant. When
There are many text books written on the subject of think we have the chemical temperature of a pile will drop 7oC when it is turned. plants stop growing they do not signal the need for nitrate
making compost and research continues to identify balance in the soil correct and the physical structure correct nitrogen. Nitrate levels should drop very rapidly in the plant
ways to improve the final compost product. The but it is the power of the microorganisms that have the final If a pile is too wet, move it to a new dry mat.
root rhizosphere.
reader is encouraged to research the ‘compost topic’ say. The power of the microorganisms is very easy to overlook If a pile is too dry, add water or very wet manure.
- probably because it is not able to be seen by the naked eye nor Ammonia (NH3) is produced when the temperature gets too
on the internet and read books and journals that have
Did you notice that the requirements for the compost process high in a compost pile. Ammonium (NH4+) may be found in
been printed in the last few years. This section is measured easily to detect whether this living fraction is present
are the same ingredients humans need for life High tempera- compost early in the process. Aerate the pile if this happens.
adapted from notes taken by David Larsen on the or not and whether it is healthy or not. If all else is failing to
tures are necessary to kill weed seeds and pathogens.- oxygen We want less than 2 mg/kg of NH4+ in finished compost.
controlled microbial composting by Siegfried and Uta correct a problem consider the use of a compost tea (see refer-
foremost, water, food and warmth! Although we cannot NH4+ should be converted very rapidly to NO3- if a compost
Lubke in Austria and the soil and foliar foodwebs by ence section for an excellent manual on compost tea).
see these little microorganisms they still have the same pile is working properly.
Elaine Ingham (See References). Compost can be beneficial for a farming system or it can be requirements as we do and this is no different for those micro-
neutral or even detrimental. There are quite a few factors Snails and slugs are considered to be an indication of the
Composting is a useful way of returning organic material back organisms in the soil.
which influence the quality of the compost made and whether presence of excess NH4+.
to the soil with a complete array of microorganisms and plant
Biodynamic Compost preparations 502–507 inserted into your
nutrients in an available form (for microbe or plant). the final product is suitable for your production system
compost heap will hasten the process and help the anaerobic Nitrogen cycle in compost
–growing grass or other crops.
This reminds me of a farmer who brought a farm that had actions. See the article on Biodynamics.
It is not sufficient to put a pile of organic matter in a heap and NH4+ goes to ---> NO2- which is converted to ---> NO3-
been in continuous maize cropping for more than a decade.
He had decided to milk cows on this large block so fenced, at a later date when it appears to have changed visually, then Parameters measured during compost making Ammonium ion Nitrite ion Nitrate ion

raced and built a milking parlour, planted grass and stocked it set about spreading it on your farm. There are numerous cases
with bovines only to find that firstly it didn’t grow grass very of this happening and one common report coming back from Carbon dioxide If NO3- gets too high in a compost pile, add water and turn it.
farmers in New Zealand is that they are noticing earthworm This activates microbial life. We do not want more than 30
well and secondly that stock health was appalling. Numerous As carbon dioxide is heavier than air it goes to the bottom
counts are decreasing when they dig up a spade full of soil and mg/kg NO3- in summer. It will be less in winter. You should
soil, herbage and blood samples were taken over a couple of of the pile. It is a clear odourless gas so the only way to
do a worm count! This is certainly not a desirable situation. find very little NO2- in a compost pile that is working properly
years and nobody could put the finger on the problem. All the determine if it is present is to measure for it. CO2 is checked
and none in finished compost.
at the bottom of the centre of the pile at 6 to 12 inches from

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Sulphide in a compost pile break down the organic matter and in doing so release heat. The reason for this is that these
You should not find sulphides (rotten egg odour) in a compost
These bacteria are multiplying and dividing so need oxygen
and water.
types of compost will contain
phyto-toxic substances that will
Compost recipe Summary of testing
pile at any time during the composting process. If sulphides
are present, other toxins that are more difficult to test for will The next phase is the build-up phase and this is where there is kill your plant if they encounter for farmers parameters for a compost file
also be present. a bacterial change and mesophile bacteria consume the ther- any plant surface. This type of – bacterial dominated (Larsen, 1992.)

mophile bacteria. All the nitrogen and carbon that has been compost will have lost nitrogen pH 6.5–7.5 (if higher don’t buy
Ways to get rid of sulphide. and sulphur and therefore be of All the following percentages the compost)
broken down is in the thermophiles and when the mesophiles
• Aerate the pile several times. less value to you anyway. are % by volume. oxygen not under 8%
consume the thermophiles the nitrogen and carbon is still carbon dioxide not over 8%
• Piles that are too wet or one that was started with a large
portion of woody material is often the culprit. retained but there is no release of heat. ammonium NH4+ not above 2mg/kg
Using compost to make compost 25% high N products (see list) – these nitrate NO3- not more than 300mg/kg in
• If you add nitrogen to a woody pile the sulphide will After 6 weeks the compost should be 20oC in temperature. If tea (see section on Compost Tea) are needed to make heat in the summer, 50- 100mg/kg in winter
disappear. you purchase compost and it is steaming, the temperature is
If you are making compost tea use compost pile. nitrite NO2- zero in finished compost
likely to be well above 20oC so that product is still likely to be in Have to be careful with the sulphide H2S zero at any time during
Compost pile site freshly made compost. In this case, compost process
the breakdown phase. You should not purchase this product. products content of salt, antibiotics
• It should be close to the source of the materials to be used the compost for compost tea should rH (redox potential) 25–28 on finished produc
be slightly immature – that means and heavy metals. humus value 60-80
• If large tonnage’s are to be made then leave room for
tractors/compost turners etc.
the temperature should be 5 to 10 Legumes – make sure that nodules
Slope in one direction only – no side slope. The piles need We want a product from compost that makes humus and the degrees above ambient tempera-
• are present otherwise these
to run the same direction as the slope so water does not run
under the pile.
humus test is used to determine if a good job was done in the
composting process. It is a relative number and it is never
ture. The longer a compost pile
sits the microorganisms become
products will not be high nitrogen. Carbon to nitrogen ratio
• Consider a humus sink with plants to catch run-off at the given as a percentage as is organic matter (OM). Laboratories dormant and these extract from Animal manures of various compost materials
bottom of the site Fresh ruminant (cow, sheep, goat)
reports on compost often quote a figure as OM (e.g.7%OM). the compost. (Larsen, 1992.)
• Must have access to a good water supply – 25% of the pile by volume
This is a reading of the organic matter and is in fact the
• Needs a good base that allows turning the pile in all sorts of Remember you need fungal domi-
Old ruminant – will have to have
High nitrogen materials C: N
weather and protects against seepage into the ground. percentage of food the microorganisms can feed on. Humus
nated compost for the compost tea a higher percentage of the manure activated sludge . . . . . . . . . . . . 6:1
• Should not be in a hollow where water can collect and turn is what results at the end of the digestion process of organic
brewer if you are dealing with trees for the pile alfalfa . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16–20 : 1
the lower part of a compost stack anaerobic. matter. These two parameters are two very different things. legumes ................ 10 : 1
and a bacterial dominated one if Fresh poultry – make this only 15%
If the humus figure is above 90 it is a sure thing the compost animal tankage . . . . . . . . . . . . 4:1
Compost covers you are trying to grow grass. of the pile as it has higher N
blood or bone meal . . . . . . . . 3:1
is in the breakdown phase. Compost with a humus number
These must be permeable to allow oxygen to enter and carbon To make a bacterial dominated Pig manure – only make this 5% of box stall manure . . . . . . . . . . . . 30 : 1
above 90 should not be applied to the soil. A humus range of the pile as it is very high in N coffee grounds . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 : 1
dioxide to leave. compost it is necessary to start
70 to 90 is a good range for finished product. Cow < poultry < pig = human cow manure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 : 1
with the right proportion of raw fruit wastes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35 : 1
They should also prevent water from getting through (excess A low humus number may mean that it is just getting started, ingredients – nitrogen containing 45% green – examples garden weeds . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 : 1
from rain) and should keep heat in. or you have poor quality materials or a poor job has been done organic matter (manure), green and Grass clippings, lettuce leaves, fish grass clippings . . . . . . . . . . . . 12–25 : 1
on composting. woody. (Ingham, 2001 b.) It would Coffee grounds horse manure (fresh) . . . . . . . . 25 : 1
Compost pile size Sugar beet horse manure with bedding . . . . 30–60 : 1
If the compost process goes too dry even for a period of 1–2 also be prudent to know where the kitchen garbage . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 : 1
This does seem to be important. 1m high and 3m wide. If raw ingredients originated from. Potatoes
weeks, you will drop the humus number to 20 to 30. liquid manure ............ 11–14 : 1
you build higher and wider piles you will have to turn it 4 to Collecting and using raw organic Pulp from fruit liquid sludge. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 : 1
5 times a day to keep the CO2 (carbon dioxide) from building Humus cannot be made unless some clay is added to the Cabbage leaves municipal garbage ........ 15 : 1
matter like cow manure when
up too high. compost. This is usually added on the third day. 10 to 20% 30% woody – examples
paunch manure . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 : 1
the cows have had anthelmintics pig manure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5–7 : 1
clay is required. Paper
or antibiotic treatments or grass poultry manure(fresh) . . . . . . . . 10 : 1
Compost turning clippings that have had broad leaf Cardboard poultry manure(with litter) . . . . 13–18 : 1
Soft coal seaweed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 : 1
There are implements that can be driven off a PTO on a tractor herbicide sprays applied are not
Old stumps slaughterhouse wastes . . . . . . . . 2:1
– otherwise use a front end loader or by hand. The top of
the pile should go to the bottom and the sides worked into
What does good compost look like? suitable as some of the chemicals
used in animals and on plants Old wood urine . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
vegetable wastes . . . . . . . . . . . .
0.8 : 1
12–20 : 1
Sawdust (untreated)
the middle. Compost should not be black (burnt). remain active and continue their (note: under an organic certified farm a lot of these
Dry straw
There are compost turners - the heart of which is a drum. The action during composting. Any materials would not be able to be used)
There should not be compost ulcers – black fluid oozing out of Bark
size of the drum and the tine angle and length are critical since raw organic product that contains
the compost stack. a preservative is not suitable for High carbon materials (Larsen, 1992.)
drum design gives the pile its shape. The RPM of the drum Sourced from notes given at the biological farming workshop in
The temperature should be around 20 C. o composting (Ingham, 2001b). So, this corn stalks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60:1
must be kept low – excess speed destroys the crumb structure 2001.(Ingham, 2001a, b.)
means any product that is used bark . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100–130 : 1
of the compost. Too much shielding of the drum will not allow The compost should have a crumb structure. fresh sawdust . . . . . . . . . . . . 500 : 1
CO2 to escape from the pile as it is being turned. to kill microorganisms. Hence leaves . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30–80 : 1
It should smell sweet, like soil in your vegetable garden. the reason for organic certifying lumber mill wastes ........ 170 : 1
The composting sequence Do not use any compost that smells agencies being so strict on the oat straw . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 : 1
inputs of organic matter on to paper . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 150–200 : 1
The composting process has a breakdown phase and a build- Sour Like vinegar pine needles. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30 : 1
Like vomit Like rotten eggs organic farms. The best source of rotted sawdust . . . . . . . . . . . . 208 : 1
up phase. The breakdown phase lasts two weeks and is done
raw ingredients would be from your rye straw . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65 : 1
by thermophile bacteria (ones that like warmth). At day six Like urine Like sour milk
own organic farm! wheat straw ............ 125 : 1
the temperature should be 65oC. The thermophile bacteria

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Organic Pastoral RESOURCE GUIDE Chapter 1 THE SOIL

Compost tea If this is in fact true then there could well be benefits for all It is not within the scope of this Guide to detail how to make a chart that shows how fruits, vegetables and grasses can be
• Compost tea is an extract of a sample of compost that has
farmers to use compost tea on their farms. compost tea but this is an area that can be looked at if there is ranked as either poor, average, good, or excellent based on
come from a ‘brewer’
a problem with a crop, whether it be pasture, fruit, vegetable their Brix measure. Brix % is a measure of the dissolved sugar
• Compost tea is a method of re-introducing soil biology or nut that all other attempts to rectify have failed. This is just content of the sap of the plant being tested.
back into the soil or on plants another tool that can be used if it fits in with your farming
• Has to be made specifically for the crop or pasture needed When do we use compost tea? ‘system’.
The refractometer reading is only an indirect measure of the
soil’s fertility and condition. This instrument can be used to
to be grown If you would like to make compost tea then the detailed measure the dissolved sugars (technically, the soluble solids
If we have had chemicals applied to a crop or farm then there
• Can be used instead of making huge quantities of information about the techniques can be found in Elaine which will include minerals, vitamins, sugars and amino acids)
will be benefit from using a compost tea after these chemicals.
compost in the case of large farming operations Ingham’s publication The Compost Tea Brewing Manual. of the juice or sap of plants.
If we have a disease in a crop then the use of a compost tea See reference section.
• Has the ability to use nature’s own ‘biological warfare’ to might be indicated.
control diseases in crops and pasture
A compost tea may be applied to prevent a disease in a crop
• Is another way of providing nutrients to plants using from occurring. How to test for Brix?
‘nature’s way’ rather than force feeding via the conven-
If you are downwind of a neighbour spraying herbicide/pesticide
Are there places to test the
tional way.
etc. then you can immediately replace the microbes that have quality of compost tea before The plant is squeezed in a tiny press, garlic squeezer or other
device, and the drop or two of sap is put onto the surface of
been removed by the spray drift by applying a compost tea. application? the refractometer, the lid closed and this instrument is turned
A compost tea applied to all the foliage (and soil on a farm), towards a light source and by looking through the eye-piece the
What is compost tea? made from the correct compost for your farming operation, will
Soil Foodweb Institute Pty. Ltd, in Lismore, Australia. Samples
reading can be taken. The upper region will be blue in colour
and the lower area is white and where the intersection cuts the
accelerate the conversion from conventional farming to organic
It is a water extract of a sample of compost that has come farming. must arrive within 3 days of sampling otherwise the results will scale is the value of the Brix % for that sample.
from a ‘brewer’. This water extract not be representative of the compost tea.
ends up containing a huge array of Soil Foodweb Institute Pty. Ltd.
organisms from the compost, which 1 Crawford Road.
range from bacteria and fungi to East Lismore, NSW
Australia 2480
What do the Brix readings mean?
protozoa and nematodes.
Ph: 02 6622 5150 Fax: 02 6622 5170
Generally, the higher Brix reading indicates a healthier plant
The process starts by first making Email: soilfoodwebinst@aol.cam
Web: www.soilfoodweb.com growing on good, fertile soil. However, there does need to
a compost (see Compost section)
be some consideration given to the situations prevalent at
and then a sample of this is taken They have a laboratory in New Zealand also:
and added to a brewer along with the time of testing. A low sugar reading may indicate cool
Soil Foodweb contact: temperatures; cloudy weather and young plants can test low.
an uncontaminated water source, Richard and Cherryle Prew
oxygen (bubbled in) and soluble 982 Kaipaki Road
It is important to test the same part of the plant at a similar
food (sugar, kelp, humates etc.) to feed all these little critters. Why do we use compost tea? RD3
time of the day in the same weather if you want to make daily
comparisons – since all of the above affect photosynthesis or
So what happens then is that these microorganisms multiply,
We use compost tea to add a huge diversity of microorgan- Ph: 07 827 6682 Fax: 07 827 3787 sugar content.
grow and even die to feed the next group and this is done for
isms back on to the soil and plant or place the compost tea is Email: cherryle.prew@xtra.co.nz
a set time until this solution is diluted with fresh water and Normally the readings will be highest at midday. They will be
applied. We want 70% of the leaf area covered with beneficial Web: www.compost-tea.co.nz
then immediately sprayed on the pasture, fruit tree, vine-yard or lowest in the morning. A high reading in the morning may
vegetable crop or whatever it is you want to treat. microorganisms. (Ingham, 2001a). It is critical that the compost Information: info@soilfoodweb.com indicate a sick plant, as there may be a problem translocation
used to make the compost tea is well made and matched to sugar from the leaves to the root the way it should.
This method then supplies a huge diversity of the various
the product you are growing. For instance, if you want to grow
bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes to your crop, tree, As a general rule, a Brix reading below 6 is considered poor
grass the compost must be a bacterial dominated type whereas

Brix %
pasture etc. This is a method of returning diversity back to the for most crops and above 12 is considered excellent. Brix for
environment after toxic insults – like chemical sprays, adverse if you are growing grapes or tree crops then a fungal dominated
compost type is required. The starting ratios or ingredients for pastures should be 12 or above if possible.
fertilisers, herbicides etc.
these two types of compost are quite different. There are some who believe that when the sugar readings are
The reason behind using a compost tea is to negate or actually • Farmers can monitor improvement in pasture and crops above 12 Brix, the crop will not be bothered by insect pests
remove some of the problem diseases or ailments in a crop by by taking a Brix reading from the sap squeezed from the and in many cases this does seem to hold true, but if a plant is
putting a set of diverse microorganisms back into the environ- plant put on a refractometer dehydrated the Brix reading will be elevated and hence will not
ment so that a ‘ bug balance’ is attained again.
The benefits of using a compost • Higher Brix readings in plants mean higher quality produce be a true reading.
tea can include the following: and more efficient use of this food by animals
• High Brix testing crops will resist insect damage and frost
When and why to use compost tea? Some of the benefits recognised include an ability to spread
a small amount of compost over a large area, plant disease
damage and will store longer than low testing plants or
crops Why consider using a Brix
It is now thought that every chemical-based pesticide, herbicide, suppression, providing plant nutrients, increased nutrient
cycling due to the presence of more microorganisms, reduced
• Brix readings are quick to do and the cost is in ‘time’ once measure?
fumigant and fertiliser tested harms or outright kills some part the instrument is purchased.
of the beneficial life that exists in soil. need for fertilisers and of course a reduction in the need to Sending plants off to a laboratory for analysis does give excel-
apply chemicals. Brix is measured with a refractometer. Dr Carey Reams devised lent information but if you want to regularly test a crop or

50 51
Organic Pastoral RESOURCE GUIDE Chapter 1 THE SOIL

Source of refractometers
Seaweed and fish fertilisers
pasture then monitoring Brix readings might be considered. A
Percentage of nutrients available in the first year
refractometer reading only takes a couple of minutes to do, and
a sample of a crop or fruit can be measured each day to observe Bell Technology – John Butler 50% 50% 90%
trends if you are dealing with a valuable crop or you want to Range from 0–32% Brix model RES Series With traditional fertilisers there are only a handful of
determine whether inputs you are using are working. This Ph: 09 5251875 or Fax: 09 525 1874 elements that are being applied to the soil. Apart
method costs nothing after the initial outlay for the purchase from carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, only 14 elements
of a refractometer which costs around $300 + GST in New
Other Factors: are addressed in agriculture by consultants, namely N,
Fe, Mn, Zn, Cl, Ca, Mg, S, Mo, Cu, B, P, Co & Si. It has
The testing of crops, pasture, fruit etc. is just another way of
monitoring changes happening on a farm. It is just another
tool that can be used.
Effluent as a fertiliser • Nutrient value varies at the time of the year, and the area
you are in. It is related to the type of feed and soil proper-
been reported that the very first cell that sprang from
the Precambrian Ocean contained 77 minerals. When
one considers that nothing in nature is an accident it is a
All certifying agencies encourage the return of effluent safe bet to assume that the other 60 minerals play some
• At 37,000 litres/Ha/year, based on average Waikato dairy
to the land. There will be some exceptions to the rule, as yet unidentified role in cell nutrition – whether is is
data, this would deliver 150kg nitrogen, 25kg Phosphate
depending on where your farm is in relation to sensitive a plant, animal or human cell. No doubt in the future
(P) , and 105 kg Potassium (K)
Is it worth Brix testing weeds? areas, but the majority of farms should be able to meet
this requirement. • Effluent should remain in ponds 60–90 days minimum.
these roles will be revealed by scientists but why wait for
science to catch up?
Any plant can be tested and you might be surprised to find that The rule of thumb is ‘… with the intention of spreading surplus • There are nutrient losses during storage and spreading
We could try and grow the roots of our plants to bedrock
so called ‘weed’ species have higher Brix readings than the so manure from organics production. The maximum limit of 170 through leaching and evaporation.
or parent material so that some of these elements can be
called good plants in a field. Generally, as a farmer turns his or kg of nitrogen from manure per year per hectare of agricultural • The type of soil will depend on penetration. acquired, but unfortunately there are few pastures that have
her soil over towards better ‘balance’ and looks after the soil area…’. (AgriQuality, 2003.) This is also a reflection of the rules roots below half a metre let alone many metres to get to the
food web by not applying herbicides or soluble fertilisers, there • Poorly treated pond and incorrect application can lead to
from Bio-Gro and Demeter. Regional Councils have permitted parent material.
will be a trend for the weed species to be not so prolific and the bad bugs on pasture, such as e coli and faecal coliforms.
levels that range from 150–200kg nitrogen per hectare per
Brix readings will drop in these plants and the pasture species • Over time land application of effluent increases potassium If these elements are not present in the bedrock, nor applied
year, depending on the climate and sensitivity of the region.
Brix readings will tend to increase. (K) levels in pasture and soil in the spring and can cause to the soil or pasture how do plants or animals get access to
150kg nitrogen (N)/Ha/Year equates to 37,000 litres/Ha, or 2 them?
related metabolic problems. To avoid, monitor your potas-
Additional notes on Brix readings milking cows per Ha, or 33mm of effluent.
sium levels. Any product derived from the ocean contains the full spectrum
The darker the demarcation between the upper blue and the of elements, as these elements are all present in seawater. There
lower white area, the lower the calcium levels. Thus, samples • The pH needs to be monitored and it must remain above
with same Brix may have different taste due to acidity. 6.5. Add lime to correct it. are, therefore, many benefits to be had by giving a farm an
The fainter the line between the upper blue and the lower white
area, the sweeter it will be at that Brix.
Benefits as a fertiliser: • Soil test the area after application to ensure a balance is
application of a liquid seaweed or fish solution. Not only are
you applying a balanced solution with the elements already in
being achieved.
Plants with the same Brix, but with higher pH will have a higher • Effluent is a valuable resource that completes the nutrient an organic form, which are more plant available, but you are
yield and be sweeter. • Spread at a time of year when rainfall does not exceed supplying some of the trace elements and a food source as well.
evaporation to avoid run off and leaching. These products supply complex carbohydrates and proteins and
• Effluent returns valuable fertility and organic matter to the
amino acids.
Brix testing of silage • Effluent improves water retention ability, aeration, draining
Seaweed products have other benefits. Along with up to 50

Yes, even silage can be tested. This is a cheap easy quick way
and friability of the soil. Other information in this Guide: elements concentrated from seawater there are other plant
stimulants. Cytokinins, gibberellins and auxins are plant stimu-
to see what potential you have in a silage crop. • It helps create darker humus soils, which warm up faster. lants, which particularly encourage root development, fungal
Utilising Dairy Effluent in The Environment Chapter.
• Effluent has available N P K S and trace elements. resistance and rapid cell division during the formation of fruit,
Planting around Ponds/Dams and Effluent Ponds root crops, flowers etc. Phenolic compounds add to the effect
Brix % Result
• The organic matter in effluent encourages microbial and in the Environment Chapter.
4 no fermentation of cytokinins encouraging cell division but particularly add to
earthworm activity.
4–8 poor fermentation Wetlands Plantings in the Environment Chapter. resistance to fungal attack. These products are food for the
8–10 good fermentation • Nitrogen is applied in two forms: 50% ammonia, which is microorganisms in the soil as well as a mineral supply for the
All regional councils in NZ are helpful – contact your
10 increased feed value with inoculant available immediately, and reacts similar to urea; and 50% plant and microorganism alike.
local one.
20 optimum feed. undigested proteins and molecules and is in slow release
Those farmers who have used these products have noticed
significant improvements in many aspects of their farming
enterprise. Veterinarians often note that health problems on
Nutrient from effluent (kg/year) from
Refractive index of crop juices (Brix %) herd of 100 cows
farms where a seaweed or fish application programme is being
run tend to reduce as well.
Grasses Poor Average Good Excellent Kg/Ha: 590**(N) 70 (P) 540 (K) 50 (S)
In the transition period to organics many farmers have reported
** applying this amount over an area of 4 Ha is = to applying using a number of fish and seaweed applications during the
alfalfa 4 8 16 22
150 kg N/Ha year and are reporting good results.
grains 6 10 14 18
sorghum 6 10 22 30
Sourced from Dexcel, 2003
ryegrass 6 8 10 12

52 53
Organic Pastoral RESOURCE GUIDE Chapter 1 THE SOIL

Sources Alternatively, you can make your own. been understood fully. The cast they produce is of significant
importance to the soil. The digestion of organic matter and growth regulators such as auxins, giberellins and cytokinins.
There are many sources of products – a few suppliers are listed • Use a clean holding vessel – drums, vat, tank. Auxins are responsible for cell elongation, cytoknins for
minerals produces vermicast by earthworms. It is now known
below. You will have to confirm whether the products you • For fish fertiliser, put a tap or hose at the base, or use a sieve promoting cell division, and giberellins for stem elongation.
that vermicast is responsible for
wish to use are certified by your certifying agency. to filter the liquid out when ready to use, as all the solids These hormones are dose significant and play a fundamental
§ Improved plant nutrition
Ocean Organics – float. role in plant metabolism. They can influence plant growth and
www.oceanorganics.co.nz § Improved microbial life development as well as crop quality significantly when present
Ocean Organics Ltd • Gather materials – seaweed, fish, or herbs and weeds and § Improved soil structure and pH at very low concentrations. (Atiyeh, 200a.)
4 Fraser Street, Paeroa, New Zealand put into the container.
§ Increased humic acid levels within the soil.
Ph: 07 862 8424 Fax:07 862 8404
• You may wish to have one container for each or put it all Table 2 Biological make up of a sample of vermicast (this will vary)
Vermicast is a high-grade organic fertiliser, which offers much
Garuda together. Biological make up of Vermicast
more to soil health, plant and animal productivity than tradi- (typical sample of Perry Vermicast)
P.O.Box 385, Te Puke, Bay of Plenty
Phone: 07 573-5859
• Top up with water and allow to steep for up to six months. tional inorganic fertilisers. Total Bacterial Mass μg/g 249
Fax: 07 573-5839 (fish – 6 months, seaweed – 2 months) Stir occasionally.
Total Fungi Mass μg/g 238
Email: garuda@xtra.co.nz • You can add the biodynamic compost preparations to help Flagellates(#/g) 11772
Web: get.to/garuda

Agrissentials Ltd
the biological processes and also to remove the smells.
Available from the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening What is vermicast? Amoeba(#/g)
122 Lochhead Rd., R.D.6, Tauranga Assn at www.biodynamic.org.nz Total no Nematodes (#/g) 185
Vermicast is produced by the feeding action of earthworms.
Free Phone: 0800 843 539 • Dried seaweed is available commercially and can be used. During normal burrowing and feeding, earthworms ingest The ability of vermicast to influence plant growth is a
Email: organic100@clear.net.nz organic and mineral matter, fragmenting and grinding it into
• If collecting materials, ensure there is no contamination reflection of the parent material the earthworms are
Sealord – Nelson for fish a finely divided peat like material with high porosity, aeration, composting.
(pollution from run off etc). Record and describe where you
Free Phone: 0800 10 60 90 drainage and water holding capacity. (Subler et.al, 1998.) This
collected it and possible pollutants.
process enhances microbial activity, and accelerates the rate of
Betta Crop Organics • If buying-in materials, (e.g. fish from a fisherman), get a decomposition of the organic material leading to a humifica-
P.O.Box 9024, Hamilton
Tel: 07 824 4881
certificate from the person, describing the product and
guaranteeing there are no contaminants.
tion effect where unstable organic matter or decomposing plant
and animal matter is oxidized and stabilized. Humus forms the
How does it work?
Rates: • Apply fish at 1–3 litres per HA with water; seaweed at 6–10 dark brown or black mass of the upper soil and is important Until recently scientific documentation of the growth responses
litres per HA with water. Ideally you would apply at least for storing and releasing plant nutrients. The process is similar of plants to which vermicast has been applied has been
Follow the application rates listed for each product.
three times a year when the grass is having growth spurts. to composting except it is non thermophilic or a cold process. minimal, even though anecdotally positive evidence has been
Vermicast has a large surface area and a high cation exchange abundant. Over the past five years the soil ecology laboratory
• The seaweed could also be used as a drench or in troughs capacity providing strong absorbability and retention of nutri- at the Ohio State University has developed a comprehensive
for animals if it is good quality.
Making Liquid Fertilisers • Liquid composts can be made from any plant (that means
ents. (Subler et.al, 1998.) As a fertiliser, vermicast contains nutrients
in a form that are readily taken up by plants, such as nitrates,
research programme in vermicomposting. Key findings from
their research have found that:
you are returning the mineral they contain back to the exchangeable phosphorous, soluble potassium, calcium and
Liquid fertilisers can be a combination of or quite specific: § The addition of vermicast as a fertiliser or as a compo-
land), (e.g. thistles, ragwort, nettle, blackberry). Others are magnesium. (Orozco et al, 1996.)
Seaweed nent of horticultural bedding mixes has resulted in dramatic
herbs you have growing (e.g. comfrey, tansy, fennel etc). Table 1 Chemical make up of a sample of vermicast (this will vary) improvements to plant growth.
Fish Once again, all plants have high potassium levels and a
CEC Organic § Vermicast improves the aeration and water holding
Liquid Compost balance of other minerals that you farm will benefit from.
pH N P K S Mg Ca Matter capacity of soils.
(ME/100g) (humus)
• Fish is full of trace elements and stimulates nitrogen. § Vermicast has been proven to have natural antibiotic
• Seaweed contains trace elements and stimulates potash. properties and suppress certain plant diseases and plant-

• Compost provides potassium and other minerals, depending 6.6 2.3 3.0 0.6 0.1 0.65 8.6 52.75 20%
parasitic nematodes.
on your plants.
§ The addition of vermicast will increase the diversity and
These fertilisers are a very important part of organic farming Trace elements Amount ppm
number of soil arthropods in the soil improving nutrient
to condition your plants and soil. They encourage the plants to Contributed by: Perry Environmental Zinc 132 cycling.
grow and the soil to build up humus. Regular applications are Copper 50
Vermicast is quite simply worm farming. This means § Vermicast improves Brix readings (sugar levels) in the
recommended. Manganese 120
compost worms are turning organic waste, like cow pastures and crops it has been applied to.
Sodium 250
There are several products on the market. manure, green waste into ‘vermicast’ within a farming § The growth benefits of vermicast can be gained from
situation. Boron 110
using relatively small percentages of vermicast 30–50%.
• Please ensure what you use is certified organic before using. Iron <20
The importance of earthworms to a healthy and productive When blended with other fertilisers, i.e. RPR, Lime, chicken
• Get a letter of confirmation from the manufacturer. manure or composts, vermicast enhanced the performance
soil ecosystem has been known since the times of the ancient
* Biodynamic (Demeter) farmers must put the compost prepa- Greeks. Darwin recognized their importance and commented Microbially, vermicast contains a far more diverse microbial of these products significantly.
rations in the drums six weeks prior to applying to the land on them in The Origin. Earthworms improve soil structure, population than other composts. Microorganisms play an § The addition of vermicast greatly promotes root growth
(2 sets per 200litre drums). A further biological reaction aeration, and drainage by their burrowing. However the important part in soil fertility; they not only mineralise complex and the ability of plants to uptake nutrients.
will take place during this time and you will see a lot of degree of importance of earthworms, their activities and in substances into plant available nutrients but can also synthesize § Vermicast promotes mycorrhizal fungi growth.
bubbles produced. particular their by-products (vermicast) to the soil is only now a whole series of biologically active substances including plant § Improves the availability of nutrients to plants.

54 55
Organic Pastoral RESOURCE GUIDE

The low % of castings required to produce a dramatic plant the soil. Mycorrhizal fungi have been identified as important from spray drift. ‘ROK Solid’ is a product available from Tauranga.
growth response indicates that the growth responses are more for mobilising locked phosphate within the soil and transporting • Don’t forget to treat it as a living organism. This product is made from volcanic rock which is ground to fine
than simply a function of supplying plant nutrients and that it to plant roots. (Edwards, 2003.). The addition of vermicast also • You can target either the leaf or the soil. dust. This rock contains over 60 minerals.
other related growth stimulants are involved. (Subler et.al, 1998.) encourages the colonization of nitrifying bacteria within the Rate: 250kg/ha
• Follow the recommended rates and the handling advice
Scientific testing has now proven that the addition of vermicast soil. Many nitrifying bacteria are found in close association of individual products, but also trust your own judgment
consistently improves seed germination, enhances seedling with plant roots, particularly legumes like clover. (Edwards, 2003.) Source
to make decisions on the day.
growth and development and increases plant productivity much Vermicast encourages root growth and colonisation. These Local quarries with crushers are a good source of material, the
more than would be possible from the mere addition of plant bacteria are very important, converting ammonium ions within fine particles accumulating under the crusher being regarded
nutrients (NPK). (Tugel et al, 2000.) Research has identified two the soil to nitrate which is plant available. Vermicast also as a nuisance.
important attributes of vermicast; humic acids and microbial improves the diversity of soil arthropods. These organisms are Suppliers: Agrissentials Ltd. for ROK Solid.
122 Lochhead Road. RD6. Tauranga.
populations. essential in the nitrogen cycle as they release excess nitrogen
Revital Fertilisers (Perry Environmental) Telephone: 07 552 4343
in plant available form. In fact the nitrate nitrogens (plant avail-
Freeph: 0800 367-967 Free phone: 0800 843 539
Humic Acids able) in cow manure can increase from 8.8ppm to 259.4ppm
Web: www.revitalfertiliser.co.nz Ask at your local quarry and see if there is fine ground rock available.
Earthworm derived humic acids are produced by the breakdown when passed through worms.
of organic matter by the micro-organisims found naturally Bio Liquid Technology
occurring within their digestive system. This breakdown by 1128 Pyes Pa Rd, Tauranga
earthworms accelerates the humification of organic matter.
Paramagnetic material
Ph: 09 578 0707 Fax: 07 543 3305
The humic acids produced in this process are large complex Application of vermicast Email: andy@bioliquidtech.co.nz
molecules. Partial oxidation of humic acids allows bonding sites
for plant nutrients including calcium and magnesium, and other
to organic dairying Web: www.bioliquidtech.co.nz
There may be a way of improving the fertility of a soil by
Contributed by Perry Environmental and Andy Moser Worm Tech NZ, Liquid Castings
humic–like materials produced in the faeces of earthworms adding paramagnetic material. What do we mean by
Kevin Massey
which exhibit auxin, gibberellin and cytokinin like activities. The use of vermicast as a fertiliser provides farmers converting Freeph: 0800 00 3000 paramagnetic material?
(Nardi et al, 1988.) Studies of the positive effects of these to organics and existing organic dairy farmers a proven path
humic substances on plant growth when full requirements to follow which not only maintains excellent production but
improves soil health, soil structure and natural nutrient cycling.

Rock dust
for mineral nutrition are met resulted consistently in positive
effects on growth independent of nutrition. (Atiyeh et al, 2000b,c.) Vermicast enhances the performance of other organic fertilisers Definitions
Humic acids have been reported to enhance mineral uptake when blended with them. Reactive rock phosphate, lime,
by plants by increasing the permeability of membranes of the compost effectiveness are all improved when blended with We will define three types of magnetism so you can appreciate
• Certain types of rock finely ground can improve fertility the differences.
root cells. (Atiyeh et al, 2000b,c.) Vermicast humic acids appear to vermicast to a degree that exceeds that which would be
of soils
have greater effects upon the root growth of the plants than expected by the combined nutrient levels of the two products diamagnetic – diamagnetic materials are weakly
on the above ground parts of the plant. Stimulation of root combined. • Not all types of rock confer fertility. repelled by magnetic fields.
growth, increased proliferation of root hairs, and enhancement For those farmers who have access to rock dust this may be ferromagnetic – ferromagnetic materials are strongly
of root initiation by humic acids have been reported commonly Popular blends with vermicast provide the following another way of improving crop or pasture quality, and for those
by several other researchers. (Atiyeh et al, 2000b,c.) Humic acids
nutrient breakdowns: attracted by an external magnetic field.
who have crops sensitive to frost damage then the applica-
are also important in de-compacting soils, and their complex • Combined with RPR, vermicast enhances the citric solu- paramagnetic materials are affected by an external
tion of ground rock in the fertiliser programmeme should be
molecular shape replaces sodium and Aluminium ions, which bility of RPR by an additional 57% through the microbial magnetic field because their atoms or molecules line
considered. It does pay to be aware of the constituents of the
become trapped in between clay platelets compacting the soil. activity provided by vermicast. up with (rotate into a new position) the external lines
rock dust as most rock types can be crushed, but you need to
(Bio Ag Technologies International, 1999.) This action also helps liberate • Combined with lime, vermicast helps to liberate calcium of force coming from the magnet. In paramagnetic
be wary of unwanted heavy metal content.
trapped phosphate, which is insoluble when associated with and make it available in your system. Some regard it as materials this phenomenon is weaker compared to
sodium and Aluminium. the ultimate soil conditioner and fertiliser. The calcium ferromagnetic materials. Paramagnetic materials
combined with the humic acids in vermicast help liberate are attracted toward magnets, but do not become
Improved plant nutrition locked phosphate and improve soil structure. Available ores permanently magnetised. These materials have
unpaired electrons in the atomic make up which can
Vermicast improves nutrient availability for plants in a number • Vermicast can also be combined with compost.
Reactive phosphate rock (imported – Sechura): calcium be affected by an external magnetic field.
of ways. Vermicast is nutrient rich itself containing many macro • Vermicast can be applied as liquid manure. Trace
and micro plant essential nutrients. Vermicast also improves elements can be added to the liquid as chelates. and phosphate If you have movement in magnetic fields, then by definition
soil conditions by improving the pH of soils it is added to (Permission must be sought first) Limestone: Calcium and the laws of physics you will have a current induced in any
and by adding essential soil microorganisms. The microbial nearby conductor. This opens the door to influence of biological
Gypsum: Calcium and sulphur
populations living within them control nutrient cycling within Application: process that depends on ionization (electrically charged parti-
the soil. (Edwards, 2003.) The diverse make up of the microbial Dolomite: Calcium and magnesium cles). This influence sets the stage for paramagnetism of soils to
• Keep out of direct sunlight and ideally in moist condi-
communities existing in vermicast play an important role in tions. Dunite: Magnesium, silica have an influence on microorganism and plant growth. Plants
soil fertility, breaking down organic matter, and the different • Extreme heat or cold, slaty, powdery fertiliser can harm are diamagnetic-repelled by a magnet.
Talc magnesite: Magnesium
substances found within the soil from simple sugars to complex certain organisms e.g. the calcium storing and trans- It is the materials that fall into this latter group which we are
substances and inorganic nutrients, into plant available forms. Bentonite: Silica, potassium (as oxide), sodium (as oxide)
porting surface fungi. interested in. Soils that are high in paramagnetic susceptibility
(Tugel et al, 2000.) If any are missing plant growth and health will Basalt: Silica, trace elements
• Spray pressure should not exceed 40psi/275kpa tend to be extremely fertile. All volcanic soils and rock are
be inhibited. Vermicast is rich in mycorrhizal fungi spores, highly paramagnetic (from 200 to 2000 uCGS).
• Human, stock and other crops do not need protection Granite: Silica, trace elements
which form the network between roots and nutrients within

56 57
Organic Pastoral RESOURCE GUIDE

is sitting in the ocean around the the nutritive value of crops. In alfalfa there were solid stems, Fertilisers kill microorganisms typically as a result of osmotic
landmasses. If you have a situa- higher protein and digestible fibre, more energy (a higher Brix shock (salt effect – see later section). To reduce the effects of
tion where crops are failing to grow, reading), more diversity of proteins with good enzyme and salt fertilisers it is best to use small amounts more often rather
insects and disease are devouring amino acid profiles all of being observed. than one large application and have a healthy food web in the
what is growing and the soil is well Orchards have responded with a greater diversity of fauna, soil to help move those nutrients to the plant.
aerated, compost or compost tea has increased dew points, and improvement in tilth, new root For more information on the effect of pesticides and
been used and no known herbicides growth, soil aggregation and great tasting fruit. herbicides see:
have been used, then have the soil
Direct application and inclusion in the composting process or The Bulletin of Environmental Toxicity
checked for its paramagnetic value. Soil Biology and Biochemistry
This may be the missing link. manure handling pits can all lead to great benefits when highly
Applied soil ecology
paramagnetic deposits are used to increase the paramagnetic Biology and Fertility of the soil
Paramagnetic force can be added to the soil by spreading susceptibility (ability to absorb and use free energy) of our soils. SFI web site – www.soilfoodweb.com - E. Ingham
ground up granite or basalt. It should be noted that paramagnetic susceptibility can also

Mineralisation of the soil by adding separate minerals What are the paramagnetic values be increased by soil aeration (oxygen is highly paramagnetic)

of rock components?
Salt based fertilisers
and by growing a variety of green manure crops like mustard,
does not mean paramagnetic force has been applied. The ryegrass/clover, lupins and tilling them into the aerobic zone of
more the mineral diversity and the greater the paramagnetic the soil. Each cover crop will attract different minerals into its
susceptibility, the greater the absorption of energy by the soil. Some samples of materials from the CRC Handbook of
structure from the air and increase the soil mineral content and • A large number of fertilisers are salts
Compounds of chromium, cobalt, copper, iron, manganese, Chemistry and Physics concentrating on the highest paramag-
diversity when it is incorporated.
molybdenum, and nickel all test high for paramagnetism if you netic values have been listed in the Appendix 8. (This is not a • Salts are harmful to soil structure and soil micro-biology
consider these as common compounds. What is very notice- complete list of paramagnetic materials.) A lot more research should be conducted in this area. It would
• Salts are not permitted to be applied to the soil on organic
able in listings of all the paramagnetic compounds is that the be beneficial to have your soil tested for paramagnetic suscep-
The composition of igneous rock (that which comes from farms.
high susceptibilities (strong paramagnetism) are strongly asso- tibility first before applying paramagnetic rock. There would
larva or magna – volcanic rock) is listed in the appendix hence
ciated with rare earth and other exotic trace elements. Some be little point in applying paramagnetic material if you already When we think of the word ‘salt’ we typically think of table
the reason for adding volcanic rock to soils in a finely ground
of the less pure calcium carbonate lime products available in have a high paramagnetic reading from your soil. salt (sodium chloride). When we look at the chemical bonding
New Zealand contain minute amounts of these rare earth and of this product we find that the sodium is a positively charged
exotic trace elements, which may also account for some of the
Source ion (cation) and it has a negatively charged ion of chloride.
apparent plant growth responses which appeared to be greater You would have to find a quarry, which deals with basalt or Technically, if you go back to the science books the definition of
than otherwise expected. What paramagnetic value should granite. A proprietary product called ROK SOLID is available a salt is one that is formed when you react an acid with a base.
There are therefore a lot of different types of salts that can be
Paramagnetism is a geological occurrence in certain mineral my soil have? from Agrissentials and this is a basalt rock that has been finely
ground. formed when you consider all the different acids and bases that
complexes that is quite rare and geologically and geographi- could be mixed together.
cally site specific. It is usually associated with mineral elements According to Dr Philip Callahan’s research, a soil magnetic Rate: 250 kg/ha
that have an odd number of electrons in their outer shell that susceptibility reading of: When we look at types of fertilisers (compounds) applied to soil
Freeph: 0800 843 539
may also exhibit high density (heavy), variable valence (+2, +3, Email: organic100@clear.net.nz they have a similar chemical structure like table salt and can be
0–100 uCGS would be poor;
etc.) and high melting points. Some of these highly magnetic Web: www.agrissentials.com referred to as salt based fertilisers. When you look at potash
100–300 uCGS good; or potassium chloride, the potassium has a positive charge and
deposits have been mined, screened and sold for application Other website: www.nutri-tech.com.au/articles/Paramagnetism.htm
on agricultural soils. 300–800 uCGS very good; the chloride a negative charge. When salts dissolve in water
the two ions separate. These can then become available for
Dr Philip Callahan’s book on paramagnetism is an excellent 800–1200 uCGS above excellent.
the plant but if the root doesn’t need the positive ions they can
source of information on this topic. The study of what effects

Pesticides, herbicides and

be bound to the soil if there is some exchangeable hydrogen
this application has had, as well as study of soils with relatively ion present that can be dislodged. If there are no roots, no
high natural paramagnetic properties is still in its infancy, but
Results seen with adding
fertilisers, and the effects
microbes and no holding sites, these ions can be leached out
a lot of interest is being shown by growers concerned about of the soil along with the negative ions – nitrate and sulphate
sustainable, biological or organic farming. paramagnetic material to soils if they are free.
Paramagnetic susceptibility is measured by a PCSM (or para-
magnetic soil meter) and is measured in CGS or centimetre,
gram, seconds. Any soil or rock that when suspended moves
In Australian research on paramagnetism there was a decrease
in the amount of irrigation water required to grow crops, there
on soil Salt fertilisers give a quick release of soluble, readily available
ions - like giving an steroid boost to the plant.
was greater drought and frost flexibility, invigorated chlorophyll All pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers affect soil micro- Too much salt causes an imbalance as we have discussed else-
towards a magnet, is paramagnetic. As a general rule most
production and insect resistance. Water respiration, disper- organisms to some degree, with some being far worse where and is very detrimental to the soil microorganisms.
organic matter and all plants are diamagnetic. Water is
sion and absorption are greatly enhanced when the soil is than others.
diamagnetic. The atmosphere is paramagnetic due to the Phosphate ions can also be tied up very quickly in the soil and
oxygen content. Oxygen is the most paramagnetic out of all aggregated by the magnetic inductance. In forest research, Although methyl bromide is commonly used to sterilise soil become insoluble or unavailable to the plant roots unless made
the gases. Nitrogen gas is diamagnetic. The moon is highly generous applications of paramagnetic minerals produced a overseas it kills everything and when most pesticides are available by the soil microorganisms.
paramagnetic and has a strong effect on the tides, which are heavy mycelium (fungal) carpet that produced nitrogen, poly- compared to this they are not nearly as harmful, but when
saccharides and increased biomass. Some salt fertilisers cause a greater drying out effect to roots
diamagnetic water. pesticides are used repeatedly, even though only a few species
and microorganisms than others and this is measured by a salt
Research over the last 10 years in Canada with re-mineralisa- are impacted upon, the cumulative effect of multiple and
It is a sad fact that a lot of the paramagnetic material that index. A higher salt index indicates greater damage.
tion of soils with paramagnetic deposits has greatly improved repeated pesticide applications has been a loss of the soil’s
was present in soil has been eroded away worldwide and
ability to maintain life.

58 59
Organic Pastoral RESOURCE GUIDE

Let’s look at the salt index for some of the common fertilisers progress on our farms sit above our necks!
that are put on soil: A brain that is thinking, making notes. Biodynamics Effluent by – Farm 4 Tomorrow – environment Vermicast
and animal welfare. Constantly being updated.
Bio Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association Version 1. Atiyeh , R. Edwards, C.Subler, S. Metzger, J.
Fertiliser Salt Index Sight – see what it is that you are looking at. Note in NZ (2000a). Earthworm- Processes Organic Wastes
changes. It may be the change in structure of the plant, the Lampkin N, 1990 Organic Farming, pub Organic as Components of Horticultural Potting Media
Potassium chloride (potash) 116.3 P O Box 39-045, Wellington Mail Centre
Farming Press, Ipswich UK. for Growing Marigold and Vegetable Seedlings.
Ammonium nitrate 104.7 disappearance of weeds over time from a paddock that you Ph: 04 589 5366 Fax: 04 589 5367
Email: info@biodynamic.org.nz Northland Regional Council – all regional councils Compost Science & Utilisation, Vol8,No 3,
Urea 75.4 are changing the inputs too. Observing more birds, bees in NZ are helpful – contact your local one.
Web: www.biodynamic.org.nz 215–223.
Potassium nitrate 73.6 other insects. A change in the behaviour of your animals Ravensdown Fertiliser, Aug 2002, Where there’s
Henderson, G. (editor) Biodynamic Atiyeh,R. Arancon, N. Edwards, C. Metzger, J.
Ammonium sulphate 69.0 etc. Perspectives - Farming and Gardening. Muck there’s…grass, Ravensdown Fertiliser (2000b). Influence of earthworm- processed
Calcium nitrate 52.5 Available through Bio Dynamic Farming and Newsletter. pig manure on the growth and yield of green-
Potassium sulphate 46.1 Ears – sound. Yes, you may notice as some biological Gardening Assn Tanner, Dr C. Research done on APS and wetland house tomatoes. Bioresource Technology 75,
farmers have noted, that their cows make a lot more noise P O Box 39 045 Wellington MC. systems for effluent by, NIWA. P O Box 11-115, 175–180.
Sulphate of potash–magnesia 43.2
Ph: 04 589 5366 Hamilton. Atiyeh , R. Edwards, C.Subler, S. Metzger, J. (2000c).
Diammonium phosphate DAP 34.2 when they are eating pasture as it has changed its compo-
Web:www.niwa.co.nz Pig manure vermicompost as a component of
Monoammonium phosphate MAP 29.9 sition. Pearce, N. 1993, A Biodynamic Farmer’s
Handbook. Available through Biodynamic a horticultural bedding plant medium: effects
Triple superphosphate 10.1 Farming and Gardening Assn and Touchwood Paramagnetic Material on physiochemical properties and plant growth.
• Nose - use it and note what the soil smells like
Calcium sulphate 8.1 Books. www.touchwoodbooks.co.nz Bioresource Technology 78, 11–20.
when you pull a plug for the soil test bag or dig a hole or Callahan, P. S., PhD, Paramagnetism -
Superphosphate 7.8 Proctor, P. and Cole, G. Grasp the Nettle Atiyeh,R. Arancon, N. Edwards, C. Metzger, J. Lee,
what the compost smells like when you start to spread it Rediscovering Nature’s Secret Force of Growth S. (2002). The influence of humic acids derived
Sodium chloride (Salt) 1.0 Available through Bio Dynamic Farming and
out. www.nutri-tech.com.au/articles/Paramagnetism.htm from earthworm-processed organic wastes
Gardening Assn ISBN 1-86941-318-0
Source - Zimmer Gary F. 2000. The biological farmer. ISBN 0-911311-62-9 on plant growth. Bioresource Technology
Reganold, J.P, Palmer, A.S., Macgregor, A.N.,
• Taste may be used but do so with caution. Taste Pesticides 84, 7–14.BioAg Technologies International
1993. Soil Quality and Financial Performance
For those farmers who want to gradually wean their farms off may be used to monitor food crops but pastoral land can of Biodynamic and Conventional Farms in NZ.
(1999). Humic Acid Structure and Properties.
www.soilfoodweb.com www.phelpstek.com/graphics/humic_acid.pdf
the less desirable fertilisers like potassium chloride and urea be contaminated with faeces which could contain patho- Science. 260: 344-349
Andersen, A.B. Putting Theory into Practice. 2001. Edwards, C. 2003. Personal communication.
(both high salt index fertilisers), you can select other types of gens (leptospirosis, salmonella etc.) Steiner R Agriculture. ISBN 0-938-250-35-3 Soils and agronomy manual.
(hardback); ISBN 0-938-250-37-1 (soft bound) Nakamura, Y., (1996). Interactions between earth-
fertilisers to supply your potassium and nitrogen (for example Kinsey, N. and Walters, C. 1999. Neal Kinsey’s worms and microorganisims in biological control
• Shovel
so as to limit or reduce damage done to soil microbes or plant hands on agronomy. ISBN 0-911311-59-9 of plant root pathogens. Farming Japan 30,
roots). However, certifying agencies change their policies so • Soil probe 0 to 30 inch depth Brix Turner, N. Fertility Pastures and Cover Crops, ISBN 37–43.
Andersen, A.B, 2001, The management of 0-9600698-6-0 Nardi, S., Arnoldim, G., Dell’Agnola, G., (1988).
you may find that some of these salt-based fertilisers may • Thermometer Biological Farming (workshop) Zimmer, G. F. 2000. The biological farmer. ISBN Release of the hormone like activities from allolo-
be permitted so please check with your certifying agency. 0-911311-62-9 bophora rosea (Sav) and Allolbophora caliginosa
• Magnifying glass Source of refractometers
Biodynamic registered farmers are generally not permitted to (Sav.) feces. Canadian journal of Soil Science
Bell Technology - John Butler: 0–32% Brix model 68, 563–567.
use salt-based fertilisers. • Refractometer - see the section on Brix.
RES Series Rock Dust
Orozco, F.H., Cegarra, J., Trujillo, L.M., Roig, A.,
Ph: 09 525 1875 or Fax: 09 525 1874. Pearce, N. (1993), A Biodynamic Farmer’s (1996). Vermicomposting of coffee pulp using
Specialist tools that may be used Handbook ISBN 0-473-01894 the earthworm Eisenia fetida:effects on C and N
• Infrared stress meter: for plant stress Composting Soil and Health Assn, September 1990, Soil and contents and the availability of nutrients. Biology

Tools of the trade

Health Magazine, page 13. and Fertility of soils 22, 162–166
• ORP meter: oxidation-reduction potential. Andersen, A.B. & Ingham, E.R. 2001. The
Soil and water conversation society, (2000). Soil
• Penetrometer: soil compaction tool -psi greater Management of Biological Farming Workshop
Manual. Soil Test Reports and Interpretations Biology Primer. Soil and Water Conversation
than 300 no root penetration Society USA.
A refractometer is one of the most useful tools a farmer Ingham, E. R. 2001a.The compost tea brewing Albrecht, W.A. Ph.D. (1975) The Albrecht Papers
• Nutrient field meters Subler, S., Edwards, C.A. and Metzger, J. 1998.
may use to monitor crops. A good keen nose and a manual. Second edition. Volume I. Foundation Concepts Edited by Charles
Comparing Vermicomposts and Composts.
• PCMS Phil Callahan Soil Meter: measures paramagnetic Ingham, E. R. 2001b. The soil and foliar foodwebs Walters ISBN 0-911311-05-X.
shovel are the most useful. Those other farmers who BioCycle, July 1998. pp. 63-66.
soil (The management of biological farming Albrecht, W.A. Ph.D (1975) The Albrecht Papers
really want to monitor what is happening with their soil Szczech M., Rondomanski, W., Brzeski, M.W.,
workshop). Volume II. Soil fertility and Animal Health. Edited
• Chlorophyll meter: photosynthesis, nitrogen Smolinska, U., Kotowski, J.F., (1993). Suppressive
and pasture/crops may consider experimenting with Larsen, D. A. 1992. Composting. Notes from a by Charles Walters ISBN 0-911311-07-6.
effect of a commercial earthwormcompost on
these other instruments. study trip to Austria. Siegfried and Uta Lubke. Albrecht, W.A. Ph.D (1989) The Albrecht Papers some nroot-infecting pathogens of cabbage and
• pH meter: used on sap of plant and soil Volume III. Hidden lessons in unopened books. tomato. Biological Agriculture and Horticulture
Believe it or not, four good cheap to run tools to monitor Edited by Charles Walters ISBN 0-911311-18-1.
• Conductivity meter ERGS: energy released per Compost Teas 10, 47-52.
Albrecht, W.A. Ph.D. (1992) The Albrecht Papers Tugel, Arlene, Ann Lewandowski, Deb Happe-
gram of soil Ingham, E.R. 2001a The Compost Tea Brewing Volume IV. Enter without knocking. Edited by vonArb, Eds. 2000. Soil Biology Primer. Rev. ed.
Manual. Latest recipes, methods and research. Charles Walters ISBN 0-911311-23-2. Ankeny, Iowa: Soil and Water Conservation Society
2nd Edition. Kay, T. and Hill, R. (1998) Field Consultants Guide The Soil Biology Primer is available at
Ingham, Dr. E.R. 2001b The Soil and Foliar to Soil and Plant Analysis. soils.usda.gov/. Look to the left under Quick
Foodwebs. (The management of biological Sinclair A G et al. (1990) Proc. NZ Grasslands Soc. Access. First click ‘Soil Quality’ then click ‘Soil
farming workshop.) Vol. 51, 101-104. Biology’
Larsen, D. A. 1992. Composting. Notes from a
study trip to Austria. Siegfried and Uta Lubke.
The Soil Food Web General References
Tugel, Arlene, Ann Lewandowski, Deb Happe- McLaren RG and Cameron KC 2000 Soil Science
Email: info@soilfoodweb.com
vonArb, Eds. 2000. Soil Biology Primer. Rev. ed. Oxford UP (NZ) ISBN 0-19-558345-0.
Ankeny, Iowa: Soil and Water Conservation Society. Zimmer, G.F. 2000. The biological farmer.
The Soil Biology Primer is available at
Effluent soils.usda.gov/. Look to the left under Quick
AgriQuality, 2003. AgriQuality Organic Access. First click ‘Soil Quality’ then click
Standard. ‘Soil Biology’
Dexcel, 2003, A Guide to managing Farm Dairy

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