Building Soil Health with Volcanic Basalt

Organic and sustainable farmers have long relied on rock dust, including volcanic basalt, as an all-natural way to improve roots systems, increase yields, and promote general plant health in a wide variety of crops and conditions. Yet it has taken the rapid depletion of our global soils to bring rock dust to the attention of modern agricultural science. The good news is that there is undeniable evidence that rock minerals can help restore soil health, minimize crop deficiencies, and boost resistance to pests and disease.

Origin of Volcanic Basalt 

On May 18, 1980, Washington’s Mount St. Helens awoke from 120 years of dormancy and erupted, sending volcanic ash into the atmosphere and depositing it in 11 states. It was difficult to imagine at the time that any signs of life could emerge from the surrounding landscape, which was covered with dark gray ash and resembled the moon.

Despite the destruction, though, nature’s regenerative abilities quickly took over. In some cases, agricultural farmlands that were downwind of the eruption saw long-term beneficial effects as a result of the mineral-rich rocks that the eruption deposited on their soil in the form of ash. This helps explain why people throughout history have been willing to settle near active volcanoes despite the potential dangers.

Not all rock dust is alike, however. Basalt stands out from other rock materials for its ability to balance overall soil health. Created through the cooling and solidification of dense viscous lava, basalt is the rock that underlies much of the Earth’s oceans. Some regions of the world are blessed with surface extrusions of basalt. Compared to volcanic rocks, which are high in quartz, basalt weathers relatively quickly. This means that it begins to release nutrients to plants as soon as the roots make contact. Additional nutrients become available with ongoing decomposition, thereby resulting in a steady flow of nutrients over time.

volcano cloud
Cloud of volcanic ash from Sakurajima Kagoshima Japan

Decades of Research

Research into the use of volcanic basalt as a soil amendment dates back to the 1930s, when scientists in Europe used finely-ground basalt to treat and improve the productivity of degraded forestlands. One of the most comprehensive studies on the benefits of crushed basalt came from D’Hotman de Villiers, who conducted a series of long-term field trials on highly degraded soil on the island of Mauritius. He found that adding volcanic basalt led to increased sugarcane yields.

The tests started as early as 1937 and resumed later in the 1940s and ’50s at the Sugar Cane Research Station of Mauritius. Scientists commenting on de Villiers’ work note several reasons behind basalt’s effectiveness as a soil amendment, including improved silicon nutrition, enhanced trace element supply, alteration of soil’s physical properties, and modification of mycorrhizal populations. Further studies have shown that basalt’s ability to increase soil function and productivity is a major mechanism influencing positive crop response, as measured by cation exchange capacity (CEC).

In addition, the concept of paramagnetism as developed by Dr. Philip S. Callahan points to the beneficial aspects that volcanic rock minerals add to soils and plants. Callahan’s research led to the conclusion that the healthiest agricultural soils are paramagnetic; this paramagnetism facilitates the flow of electromagnetic forces from the atmosphere to organic plant materials. In soils where this paramagnetic force has been eroded away, adding ground volcanic basalt can reestablish the balance necessary for increased biological activity and the resulting plant growth.

Boosting Resistance

The latest research focuses on rock dust’s ability to enhance the innate resistance of plants to a multitude of physical and biological stressors. Silicon (Si), which occurs naturally in volcanic basalt and is a key component of cell walls, strengthens stems and helps plants stand tall to capture more light and maximize photosynthesis. Silicon has also been identified as playing a particularly significant role in helping plants stay healthy and boosting their resistance to pests and disease.  Plants that don’t have access to adequate silicon in the soil are stressed out, weak, and unable to resist injuries caused by insects and pests.

Jian Feng Ma of the Faculty of Agriculture at Kagawa University in Japan cites extensive evidence to support the conclusion that silicon is “likely the only element able to enhance the resistance to multiple biotic and abiotic sources of stress.” Ma’s research shows that the beneficial effects of silicon are dependent on a plant’s ability to accumulate silicon in its stems, leaves, and buds. The more silicon in a plant’s shoots, the better its ability to resist the stresses that cause pests and diseases that lead to decreased crop health and vitality.

Sounds relatively straightforward, right? After all, silicon is the second-most abundant element in the Earth’s crust after oxygen. And yet crops around the world show signs of silicon deficiency. The problem — and the potential solution — lies with the form of silicon that can be absorbed by plants. Only a small fraction of silicon in our agricultural soils is soluble and readily available for plant growth.

One of nature’s best sources of soluble silicon is volcanic basalt. Adding silicon back to soil that has been depleted of this essential element not only makes it easier for plants to ward off plant-eating insects, but it also improves plant resistance to leaf and foliar diseases and makes them stronger in the battle against environmental and climate stress.

One believer in the resistance-boosting benefits of volcanic rock dust is Bob Wilt, owner and operator of Sunset Valley Organics. Located in the middle of the Willamette Valley in western Oregon, Sunset Valley Organics is a family farm producing great-tasting, nutrient-dense organic berries that require minimal processing because they are grown in healthy soil that teems with beneficial microbes. Unlike many other berry growers in the region, Sunset Valley Organics’ blueberry crops have not been affected by the dreaded spotted wing drosophila (SWD). Wilt has never had to spray against the insect; he attributes this to healthy growing conditions and plants with Brix levels of 12 and better.

Wilt has been using volcanic basalt for the past two years as part of a holistic, organic soil management plan and has seen good growth and healthy plants with fewer insects and disease. He attributes this to a balanced system of carbon, rock minerals, and microbes. He plans to continue using volcanic basalt as part of his farm’s healthy soils program.

“It’s all about getting our soils together,” he says. “We need to replace what we take out, and rock minerals are essential because minerals are food for microbes.”

Volcanic basalt may also be helpful in treating iron chlorosis, which can stunt plant growth and, in the case of fruit-bearing trees, leads to smaller fruits with bitter flavors if left untreated. While there are many different iron compounds available for treating chlorosis, university studies have shown that the iron in all-natural volcanic basalt is more effective at correcting deficiencies than synthetic iron products. For orchardists throughout the West, where high bicarbonate levels in irrigation water contribute to iron deficiency, volcanic basalt is being tested as a safe and effective way to deal with its symptoms.

Some sustainable farmers are also incorporating volcanic basalt as part of an integrative and non-chemical approach in the ongoing battle against slugs. Ground to preserve variable grit size, volcanic basalt acts as a physical barrier that slugs are loathe to cross and provides shelter for nematodes, earthworms, and other biological organisms that are essential to soil health and productivity. At the same time, essential rock minerals are slowly released back to the soil, further enhancing microbial activity.

Biology & Geology

By definition, organic farming is a system of agriculture that strives to mimic the natural ecosystem and its focus on building healthy soil. Healthy soil in turn is derived from a marvelously complex interaction between biology and geology in which rock material decomposes and reacts with soil microorganisms and plant material to release minerals and nutrients that are essential to optimal plant growth and increased agricultural yields.

By mimicking the Earth’s own method of producing healthy soil, rock dust helps support the biological processes required for optimal and sustainable plant growth. For evidence we need only observe the self-preserving behavior of plants themselves.

Plants are not nearly as passive as they seem. Given the opportunity, plants will actively seek to acquire nutrients from their surroundings to overcome imbalances. Recent research shows that fine roots will attack rock particles as a physiological consequence of mineral deficiency. In soil that is properly mineralized, however, plants don’t have to work nearly as hard to survive. Across a variety of conditions, volcanic basalt has been proven to minimize deficiencies, improve root systems and help grow stronger crops with higher yields and higher levels of nutrition.

For generations of sustainable farmers, volcanic basalt’s benefits have been indisputable. Today, scientists across the globe continue to validate the benefits of rock dust. Brazil has even made soil remineralization part of its agricultural policy — a major step forward in generating global awareness and interest in the importance of rock minerals. Now it’s up to the rest of the agricultural world to treat rock minerals for what they are: The building blocks of healthy soil.

Rich Affeldt holds an M.S. in agronomy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is the senior agronomist at Central Oregon Basalt Products, the maker of Cascade Minerals Remineralizing Soil Booster (RSB). Made of 100 percent finely-milled volcanic basalt from Central Oregon, RSB is listed by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) for use in organic production. For more information visit This article appeared in the April 2016 issue of Acres U.S.A.


Jian Feng Ma (2004) Role of silicon in enhancing the resistance of plants to biotic and abiotic stresses, Soil Science and Plant Nutrition, 50:1, 11-18, DOI: 10.1080/00380768.2004.10408447;

According to the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management Program, “barriers of dry ashes or other abrasives heaped in a band 1 inch high and 3 inches wide around the garden also can be effective:”

Paramagnetism by Philip S. Callahan, Ph.D. available from Acres U.S.A.

Microelements with Horticultural and Livestock Applications

By Jerry Brunetti
From the August 2011 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine

Microelements — We know they exist, but how can they help a farmer generate larger yields in an ecological way?

All the numerous trace elements found inside the Earth’s crust and in seawater are considered to contribute to nutritional homeostasis in plants and animals. However, only a select few, relatively speaking, have been researched adequately and can demonstrate to horticulturalist, agronomist or animal nutritionist the cost-to-benefit return as it relates to production and vigor of the chosen crop or livestock needing supplementation.

I will feature some of these special nutrients in this article while also encouraging those concerned with supplementing minerals either to soils or livestock rations to take into consideration the significance of the untold number of other elements found in naturally occurring mineral deposits that are mined, found in ocean water, seaweeds, fish emulsions, volcanic deposits, humic ores, wood ashes and such.

So, to start the ball rolling, I’ll begin by including those minerals having both a horticultural and livestock application.

boron deficiency in carrot roots
Boron deficiency symptoms in sectioned carrot roots.

Microelements: Boron, Anion

This element is a major catalyst in both plants and animals. In plants, boron contributes to a plant’s ability to synthesize essential amino acids such as methionine and tryptophan. These, in turn, become the building blocks in synthesizing “true protein” rather than “funny protein.” “Funny protein” is a compound that contributes to

susceptibility to insect and disease attack in plants and BUN (blood urea nitrogen) and MUN (milk urea nitrogen) in livestock. BUN and MUN stress the liver and kidneys, suppress immune function and contribute to bloat and reproductive failure.

In plants, boron is also critical for sugar transport, cell wall synthesis, lignification, cell wall structure, carbohydrate metabolism, RNA metabolism, indoleacetic acid metabolism, respiration, phenol metabolism and membrane integrity as well as phytohormone production. Root elongation depends upon boron as well. Pectins depend upon boron for their formation, which is why dicots like legumes require higher amounts of boron than grasses, the former producing higher amounts of pectins, which are dependent upon calcium for their synthesis. Since boron is a catalyst for calcium uptake, the growing of legumes not only requires adequate calcium to produce these pectins, but also boron.

boron deficiency in corn
Boron deficiency symptoms are easily seen on a sweetcorn cob.

Research going back to the 1930s at the University of Vermont showed that boron-deficient alfalfa was more prone to leaf hopper damage than alfalfa properly supplemented with boron. This was also proposed by Louis Bromfield, author of Malabar Farm, who wrote that once alfalfa’s roots penetrated the subsoil rich in glacial minerals by the third year post-planting, leaf hopper damage subsided. Not surprisingly, boron is a precursor of critical components in animals as well. It plays a large role in hormone synthesis. The sex hormones estrogen and testosterone require boron for their existence. The activation of vitamin D into calcitriol depends on boron. The parathyroid hormone, which is secreted by the parathyroid gland and regulates blood calcium levels, requires boron. Sadly, boron is not approved as a supplement to be added to animal feeds, even though it is available as an over-thecounter supplement for humans and is recognized as a critical trace element to prevent osteoporosis in both men and women.

Boron also is reputed to be toxic to crops! When I was in Western Australia, the crop advisors strongly cautioned wheat growers against using boron, due to its toxicity. As a result, insect and disease incidences soared and so did the use of poisonous pesticides to control them. The crop advisors failed to report that boron is toxic when there is a deficiency of calcium in the soil and that excess nitrogen and potassium applications suppress boron. Once the acute calcium deficiencies were corrected, boron applications not only didn’t create toxic side effects; it reduced/eliminated the need for pesticides!

Microelements: Zinc, Cation

Zinc is a particularly important trace element as it relates to the synthesis of enzymes. In fact over 200 enzyme systems depend upon zinc. An important unique enzyme system is the carbonic anhydrase system — this

enzyme governs the movement of carbon dioxide. In plants, the production of carbonic acid, HCO3 from CO2, is essential for energy production in the chloroplast. In animals, carbonic anhydrase is responsible for the removal of carbon dioxide from the cells, converting it to HCO3.

zinc deficiency in orange leaves
Typical zinc deficiency symptoms on orange leaves.

Zinc and Copper combine to produce a universal and critically important enzyme called Super Oxide Dismutase (SOD), which prevents the oxidation of cell membranes and thus cellular aging. Zinc is necessary for DNA/RNA synthesis, cell division and protein synthesis. Protein synthesis utilizes zinc in the peptide chain that is assembled from all the amino acids. Free amino acids are found in the tissue (i.e. funny protein) in zinc-deficient plants. These non-complete proteins allow the plants to be more susceptible to insect and disease challenges.

In crops, zinc is a synergist with phosphorous and the ideal ration for phosphorous to zinc is 10:1. Since phosphorous is the core element of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) then zinc obviously has a critical role in energy production in plants and animals. Zinc also contributes to drought resistance in crops. Zinc has an important role in the enzymes associated with carbohydrate, protein and nucleic acid metabolism in animals. It regulates appetite and reproductive capability. Healthy hoofs and horns, collagen production, wool strength and wound healing depend on zinc. Conception rate depends on zinc since the maturity of spermatozoa requires it. Excessive zinc intake can affect calcium, but usually it’s the opposite scenario creating the problem; i.e. excessive calcium impairs zinc metabolism.

Minerals antagonistic to zinc are excessive copper, iron and especially cadmium. Zinc has been used to reduce somatic cell count, clinical mastitis and hoof rot in cattle, and it may contribute to these healthy outcomes because zinc is a partner to the anti-infective, immune modulating vitamin A.

Microelements: Copper, Cation

Copper is very important in the synthesis of the enzyme polyphenol oxidase, which is essential for the creation of lignin. Lignin, especially in the roots,is the armor necessary for plants in resisting fungal and bacterial

adversaries. Since lignification of the anther’s cell wall is required to rupture the stamen and subsequently release the pollen,clearly copper is required for pollination. Copper forms a partnership with zinc to produce the ubiquitous protective enzyme of cell membranes called Super Oxide Dismutase (SOD).

sheep in field - sheep can experience liver toxicity from copper levels
In livestock, most of the copper is stored in the liver. In sheep, that level can be as high as 70-80 percent, thus the concern of liver toxicity in sheep.

Copper increases the uptake of nitrogen as ammonium (NH4) versus nitrate(NO3), which allows plants to consume less energy in their synthesis of proteins. Increasing copper applications to soils enhances the production of both vitamin C and carotene (pro-vitamin A) in green barley. Chlorophyll production depends upon copper as does stalk strength and elasticity. Its presence in plant tissue also provides resistance to fungal diseases, the main reason why copper fungicides are to this day a reliable antidote to plant diseases. When copper is applied to soils, a gradual release of this element occurs, so copper-deficient plants should be foliar treated. Excess nitrogen applications (synthetic or manure) will tie up copper, making it less mobile and less available to plants, thus accentuating a copper deficiency. In livestock, most of the copper is stored in the liver. In sheep, that level can be as high as 70-80 percent, thus the concern of liver toxicity in sheep.

Some breeds (e.g. Welsh Mountain) are 50 percent more efficient at absorbing copper than other breeds (e.g. Scottish Blackface). The dietary considerations on sheep toxicity also depend upon the presence of sulfur and molybdenum in the diet, as they can neutralize copper by forming unavailable compounds. High molybdenum soils can wreak havoc on livestock due to this phenomenon. So it’s always important to conduct tissue tests on all minerals to ensure that balance and not just adequacy are assessed. Copper absorption can also be impaired by excessive zinc. The formation of the myelin sheath, the elastic insulating membrane, depends on copper as does the synthesis of elastin, a connective tissue that gives elasticity to blood vessels.

The copper enzyme catalase scavenges excess hydrogen peroxide, a free radical, and the copper enzyme tyrosinase is required to construct the entire vitamin C complex. Copper is necessary in mobilizing iron and its transformation into hemoglobin. Copper deficiency can lead to more internal parasites and vitamin D deficiencies and is also associated with high dietary protein (quick passage through the GI tract); excess dietary nitrate, too much brassicas pastured for too long (Semethylcysteine sulphoxide). Tall fescue contains compounds affecting copper absorption. Alsike clover is a molybdenum accumulator (have diversity in the pasture!) and vitamin E deficiencies aggravate copper deficiency (stored feeds/winter months).

Microelements: Manganese, Cation

Manganese is a powerhouse trace element. Like copper, manganese is essential for lignin synthesis. It is especially critical for the synthesis of non-structural carbohydrates. Manganese is crucial for the synthesis of polyunsaturated fatty acids (e.g. Omega 3, 6 and 9) as well as those very important fat-soluble carotenoids. It collaborates with potassium and copper for stalk strength and is necessary for the uptake of iron. Manganese deficiency is common on high pH soils containing free carbonates. Manganese has been proven to increase the vitamin E levels in plants. In livestock, manganese is the fertility element.

manganese microelements
A handful of manganese.

Additionally, research done at the University of Wisconsin comparing the difference in ovary weights from manganese sufficient versus manganese deficient fodder showed a nearly 300 percent difference! Manganese also is a contributor to yet another Super Oxide Dismutase and is very important for the synthesis of cartilage and neurotransmitters. Deficiencies can lead to silent heats, reduced conception, abortions, reduced birth weights, paralysis and skeletal damage in the newborn, cystic ovaries and an increased percentage of male calves. Manganese is necessary for the utilization of biotin, thiamine and vitamin C as well as lipid and carbohydrate metabolism.

Microelements: Cobalt, Cation

Cobalt is the element that comprises the cobalamin B-12 coenzyme found in rhizobium, the nitrogen-fixing microbe that dwells in the roots of legumes. Cobalamin is necessary for hemoglobin development in legumes, so it’s imperative to know that cobalt is a legume’s best friend. Ruminants require cobalt to produce cobalamin (B-12). This substance is necessary for appetite and the synthesis of methionine.

Propionic acid, a volatile fatty acid (VFA) found in the rumen, depends on cobalt in order to be converted to glucose for weight gain and energy. Cobalt deficiency can lead to impaired immune function and sheep have a larger requirement for cobalt than cattle. Ketosis may have a link to cobalt deficiency and it’s suspected that Johne’s disease increases with cobalt deficiency. Soils with high pHs and excessive soil manganese are antagonistic to cobalt uptake in forages, but a mere 7-28 ounces (200-800 grams) per acre per year can do wonders for a cobalt deficient paddock.

Microelements: Iodine, Anion

Iodine is not considered to be an essential nutrient for plant growth. However, research conducted back in the 1920s in Germany demonstrated that certain strains of non-Rhizobia bacteria utilized iodine for nitrogen

iodine microelements
Iodine crystals.

fixation. Iodine has been used agriculturally to thwart fungal and bacterial diseases in seed and foliage and was effectively used as a nematicide in the 1950s in California citrus groves. Iodine is in the same chemical family, the halogens, as chlorine, fluorine and bromine.

All of these compounds are found as salts such as sodium chloride, calcium fluoride, potassium iodide, etc. In livestock, iodine’s metabolic importance is it being a constituent of the hormones tetraiodothyronine (thyroxine, or T-4) and triiodothyronine (T-3) which are both produced in the thyroid gland and are essential for controlling energy metabolism, protein synthesis, growth and organization of tissues and the function of other endocrine glands, particularly the adrenal glands. The thyroid contains 70-80 percent of the total iodine found in the body. Iodine ranges between 0.08-0.50 ppm in forages, but in the soil can readily be 25 times more concentrated. Since grazing animals can consume as much as 5-20 percent of their dry matter as soil, then the primary source of naturally occurring iodine intake would be soil, not forages! Iodine can easily be provided as a salt block, mineral pre-mix or kelp meal with some kelp being a high as 6,000 ppm in iodine.

The usual mineral supplements provide livestock with iodine as potassium iodide, calcium iodate and ethylenediamine dihydroiodide (EDDI), or a blend of all three. Dairy cattle that are washed or teat dipped with iodophor detergents or sanitizers can absorb appreciable amounts of iodine through the skin. Iodine deficiencies can be induced by several factors. The thiocyanates derived from cyanides produced by white and subterranean clovers are goitrogenic as are the thiouracid compounds found in brassicas, like kale and turnips, which inhibit the iodination of tyrosine. Excessive cobalt in the salt, or nitrates in the feed and water can also be antagonistic to thyroid function and iodine uptake. Soybeans are mildly goitrogenic as is canola. Deficiency of iodine translates into respiratory illnesses, foot rot, poor sperm quality, low libido, retained placenta, stillbirths and abortions, mastitis, poor conception, unthrifty newborns and sparse hair coat.

In cattle, 8 percent of the dietary iodine is transferred to milk, creating powerful immune factors for calves of iodoproteins and iodolipids. In goats, it is up to 22 percent! To convert the T-4 hormone to the active T-4, selenium is required. Thus a selenium deficiency can contribute to poor thyroid function as other antagonistic factors can.

Microelements: Selenium, Anion

Like iodine, selenium is another anion considered to be a non-essential plant nutrient, even though some research indicates that crops with adequate selenium uptake have improved resistance against insects. Until the 1970s selenium was considered to be a potentially toxic element, probably due to the selenium poisoning of grazing animals foraging on certain selenium accumulator plants such as astragalus, xylorrhiza and stanleyea. Selenium is a miraculous medical mineral now recognized as a premier protector of the immune system.

The enzyme glutathione peroxidase is created when selenium is coupled with the tripeptide glutathione (cysteine, glycine, glutamic acid). Glutathione peroxidase a multi-component system reduces lipid peroxides and hydrogen peroxide thereby protecting cell membranes from free radical damage. A very similar process takes place in plants except that plants create glutathione reductase in their chloroplasts to achieve the same objective. Selenium is an immunostimulant/modulator that enhances the numbers of leukocytes, especially neutrophils. It stimulates the production of IgM and IgG antibodies and selenium is an important protectant against the peroxidation of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) such as Omega 3 and Omega 6 EFAs.

Selenium also assists in protecting the body against excess intake and exposure to metals like mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium and copper and mycotoxins. Selenium accumulator plants include the brassicas even though they contain the goitrogens. Thus the brassicas contain both the thyroid functioning necessities of selenium, as well as the thyroid inhibitors. Therefore, forage diversity truly matters! Selenium readily leaches from soils, so supplementing in my opinion is a must. This can be done via sodium selenite and selenium-enriched yeast which provides selenium as selenomethionine which has twice the bioavailability of sodium selenite.

Selenium requires its vitamin co-factor, tocopherol, or vitamin E to optimally perform. The ideal source of vitamin E is fresh pasture. Injectable sources of selenium can also be utilized both preventively and therapeutically, which are available as prescriptions from your veterinarian as “Multi-Min” or “Mu-Se.” Selenium deficiencies manifest as abortions, weak or stillborn calves, lambs or kids, retained placentas, poor conception, silent heats, white muscle disease in neo-nates and reduced immune function apparent as foot rot, scours, pneumonia, mastitis and elevated somatic cell counts. Although not typically practiced in the United States, Australian and New Zealand ranchers and farmers are known to apply 20 grams of elemental selenium per acre per year as selenate (not selenite).

Microelements: Chromium, Anion

Chromium is not generally looked upon as a crop essential. Although recognized as an essential trace element for animals and humans, only swine have been given approval for chromium supplementation. Chromium is a core element of glucose tolerance factor (GTF) and thus is closely associated with insulin. Vitamin B-3 (nicotinic acid) is the vitamin co-factor necessary to potentiate chromium’s effect on insulin. Thus, energy metabolism can be affected which means growth rates and lactations are the beneficiaries of adequate chromium levels. It also appears to improve the immune response and decrease the incidence of ketosis. Organic chromium (as from enriched yeast) is 5-10 times more readily absorbed than chromium chloride.

Microelements: Molybdenum, Anion

Like cobalt, molybdenum is an essential trace element for legumes to fix free nitrogen. This is accomplished by the Rhizobia bacteria producing the enzyme nitrogenase, which converts atmospheric (N2) nitrogen to nitrate

molybdenum microelements

(NO3) nitrogen. All plants utilize molybdenum via the enzyme nitrate reductase to convert nitrate to nitrite (NO2) in order to make true proteins.

Research in New Zealand during the 1940s showed that just providing molybdenum alone to deficient soils increased yields of Lucerne (alfalfa), rape and pasture from 34-603 percent! Molybdenum is also instrumental in helping plants synthesize Vitamin C. Molybdenum in livestock can assist animals in excess nitrate and sulfite detoxification as well as protecting against GI tract parasites. Molybdenum however can be a serious antagonist to copper. Thus the dietary ration of copper to molybdenum should be greater than 6:1 and the sulfate to molybdenum ratio should be greater than 100:1. However, dietary molybdenum greater than 10 ppm can still create problems regardless of the copper levels. In soils, 0.4-1.0 ppm is the target. A ruminant ration need not exceed 5 ppm.

Microelements: Iron, Cation

Iron is the second most abundant metal in the earth’s crust (20,000 to 200,000 pounds per acre), following silica, yet is utilized in trace amounts by plants and animals. It has long been recognized as essential and associated with the function of the chlorophyll molecule, but it isn’t actually a constituent of the chlorophyll molecule. Its primary role is to fix magnesium to the chloroplast. Iron should always be higher than manganese in the soil for optimal uptake of both. Cold, wet and alkaline soils interfere with iron uptake and having adequate soil sulfur is the antidote.

iron deficiency in raspberry leaves
Raspberry leaves affected by iron deficiency.

Excess iron uptake in forages (greater than 100 ppm in my opinion) can create nutritional imbalances. Excess iron in drinking water can do the same. This free iron can tie up phosphorous, suppress copper, zinc and manganese uptake and interfere with the preferred rumen ecology. Approximately 66 percent of the body’s iron is contained in the hemoglobin and the remainder is stored in the liver, spleen and bone marrow as ferritin, to make additional hemoglobin when needed.

Hemoglobin (which also depends upon the presence of copper, cobalt and quality proteins) carries the oxygen from the lungs to all the cells and transports the CO2 from the cells back to the lungs. Iron is used by the immune system to fight pathogens but excess free iron in the blood can also “feed” them. It is a constituent of numerous enzyme systems and proteins and is also essential for the synthesis of DNA. Typically the amount of iron from forages plus what is ingested from soil provides more than adequate amounts. Iron deficiencies are usually associated with parasitical infections and diseases in young, growing plants and animals.

Salmon Fertilizer Cycle

Recently, I watched a documentary on the salmon decline in the northwestern United States due to a frenzy of dam building on major salmon rivers such as the Columbia and Snake where millions of salmon would swim to spawn and then die. A fascinating component of this story was how the salmon were important contributors of fertility to the mountainous interior of places such as Idaho because they were comprised of the fertility of the oceans. When the salmon died, they fertilized the streams and fed the macro invertebrates, which in turn fed the newly hatched salmon.

In effect, the deceased parents became food for their offspring. Meanwhile bear, eagle, osprey, wolves, coyotes, pumas and many other species dined on this ocean bounty and of course following digestion of these nutrient-dense carcasses, deposited their manure throughout the forests, meadows, and rangeland as a fertilizer rich in major and minor elements. With the advent of dams, not only have the main waterways and estuaries seen a collapse of a massive resource, especially for fishermen and those who purchased their catch — now the fertility brought inland from the sea over many thousands of years to soils built of granite and thus lacking other critical elements, is being deprived of minerals that were gifted by those sacred creatures.

The farmer or rancher can create a similar salmon practice by spreading these minerals across the fields, spraying them on plant foliage, or feeding/ free choicing them to livestock, which will absorb and utilize up to 30 percent of the elements therein, the remainder being dumped out the “back door” in a biological package of digestive juices, enzymes, microbes and other “earth foods.”

By Jerry Brunetti. This piece was first published in the August 2011 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine.

Phosphorus: A Limited Resource

By Wendy Taheri, Ph.D.

Soil is a living, breathing ecosystem. Just as you and I breathe, soil too re­spires, and we measure that respiration rate as an indicator of microbial activity in soil. While there are large, non-mi­croscopic organisms living in soil such as worms, insects and small mammals, none of them exist by the billions in just a handful of soil except the microbes.

There are many scientific classifica­tions for microbes in soil, but from the farmer’s perspective only two catego­ries are relevant. Good microbes (major­ity) and bad microbes (small minority). Good microbes enhance plant growth, and bad microbes cause disease in plants. Of course, things are never quite so clear-cut in nature. Some things can be good under some circumstances and bad under other circumstances. So keep in mind this is a simplification of what are, in reality, very complex interactions.

Our management practices should be refined to support the good (most of the time) microbes and suppress the ones known to cause diseases in crop plants. Diseases are not always caused directly by organisms. Sometimes the balance of the system gets thrown off and something ordinarily not a prob­lem finds a new niche and can become problematic.

Weak plants may also be susceptible to organisms in the envi­ronment that normally would not have much impact on them. For instance, a nutrient deficiency might weaken a plant and lead to susceptibility. The good news is, of the thousands of microorganisms identified in soil thus far, only a handful of those really fall into the bad category. The good far outweigh the bad, and with a little thoughtful management, you can keep it that way.

In the case of good microbes, we can take this a step further and narrow our focus to the most crucial organisms within this group, which are those that provide the macro and micronutrients plants require for growth. The most limiting of these nutrients is typically phosphorus.

Nitrogen can play a close second in the nutrient race, but in most soils phosphorus is the most limiting nutrient, often occurring in quantities a thousand times lower than other miner­als. One of the reasons for this is the high reactivity of phosphorus. It tends to bind to soil particles and complex with metals in the soil. This makes it unavailable to plants even if it is present in the soil.

Phosphorus is an element, meaning there is a phosphorus atom. It can be nei­ther destroyed nor created. The amount that exists on this planet is all we have. When we remove crops from the field we remove the phosphorus those plants took up. It becomes part of the food we eat.

Nitrogen can play a close second in the nutrient race, but in most soils phosphorus is the most limiting nutrient, often occurring in quantities a thousand times lower than other minerals.

Much of that phosphorus is literally flushed down the toilet in our urine, re­moving it from our agricultural systems, although some wastewater treatment plants are now producing fertilizers.

The phosphorus used in the manu­facture of fertilizers comes from phos­phate rock, which is mined and then processed to make phosphoric acid. Phosphoric acid is used in turn to make fertilizer. A by-product of this process is phosphogypsum, which is highly radio­active. For every 1 ton of phosphoric acid produced, 5 tons of radioactive waste is also produced.

Once we have our phosphate fertil­izer we have a new problem. We have to pour enough into the soil to saturate it because it immediately begins binding to particles. This means only a fraction of what we put into the soil will ever make it into the plant. Furthermore, when plants detect high levels of phosphorus they reject their symbiotic partners, ar­buscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi.

We are giving the plants for “free” what they normally have to trade carbohydrates to AM fungi for. When plants are colonized with AM fungi, the fungi become an extension of the plant’s root system. This greatly increases the volume of soil that is available to the plant for nutrient up­take.

When plants reject their AM fungal symbionts, they lose that extension to their root system. This in turn, reduces how quickly they can uptake phospho­rus. The longer the residence time that the fertilizer spends in the soil, the more time it has to bind and become unavail­able, runoff into streams, or leach into water tables. The efficiency of the system declines dramatically.

The issues of chemical fertilization don’t end there. The phosphorus that winds up in our waterways causes eu­trophication of lakes. Algae and aquatic plants can utilize the phosphate. This causes them to reproduce rapidly, often producing algae blooms. These blooms can reduce the clarity of the water, caus­ing the death of plants that grow on the bottom of lakes by filtering out the sun­light.

The algae may bloom faster than the environment can support and much of it too will begin to die. The dead algae and plants are a food source for bacteria, which in turn have their own bloom. These bacteria utilize a lot of oxygen. The reduction in oxygen can be severe enough to kill off fish, clams and any­thing else that needs oxygen to survive in the water. This is also a good example of a circumstance where something that is normally a beneficial member of the microbial community, happily recycling nutrients, has suddenly caused a prob­lem. Not because it’s a “bad” microbe, but because we have unintentionally thrown the ecology of the system out of whack.

Unfortunately, so much phosphate has run into our oceans over the years that they now have massive dead zones, which has a negative impact on the fish­ing industry. Eutrophication of our lakes can also have a negative impact on their recreation value.

The trade-off for these problems is maximizing food production in a world with over 7 billion mouths to feed, and that number is going up. The global population is expected to reach 9 bil­lion by 2050. Food demand is expected to increase with water and energy needs doubling by then. We are clearly overpopulating the world. Like all populations in nature, we are subject to the carrying capacity of our environment. In the case of human populations that is the entire Earth, but it is still a finite resource.

And we should ask ourselves if we really want to create a world where every living thing has been displaced or extinguished in order to attempt the support of unsustainable population levels.

Ironically, it was the advent of com­mercial fertilizers that allowed us to increase food production which in turn allowed our global population to in­crease to these levels. The exponential increase we see in our population is a common theme in ecological systems where a population rises until it exceeds the carrying capacity of its environment, utilizes all of a resource crucial to its sur­vival, and then crashes. We have been on a steep population rise for decades. Only time will tell if we will have the foresight to manage that population, or will con­tinue to place demands on the environ­ment until it can no longer sustain our numbers, at which point our population too could crash. Thus far, technology has helped us maximize our potential, but even technology has its limits. However, many scientists believe our world popu­lation will stabilize around 2050 near the 9 billion mark. Historically, industrial­ization has led to a rise in population followed by stabilization. This tends to follow increases in literacy, particularly of women, and access to birth control. If our population stabilizes at 9 billion, we will need to increase our agricultural production by 70 percent to keep that population fed. And we need to find a sustainable means of doing so.

Global Phosphorus Supply

Phosphorus is a limited resource. Mining phosphate rock to produce fer­tilizers requires a significant amount of energy. Fuel is manufactured from oil, which is also a limited resource. As phosphate supplies dwindle we will try to tap less accessible deposits, increas­ing the energy required to reach those deposits. We will also begin processing lower-quality phosphate rock with more impurities, increasing processing costs.

Much of the corn we grow is processed for biofuel production, and with corn prices high, farmers are encouraged to spend more on increasing their yields, often applying high rates of fertilizer because even a small increase in yield is worth the cost when commodity prices are high enough. This sets the stage for increasing demand and escalating prices.

Phosphate rock deposits are not evenly distributed world­wide. Many countries, realizing a shortage could occur in the future, are now putting high tariffs on phosphate exports to discourage it leaving their country. By far, the vast majority of the world’s phosphate deposits lie in Morocco. This small country controls roughly 75 percent of the world’s phosphate reserves, and it is all virtually under the control of one person, King Mohammed VI.

In 1973, when OPEC imposed an oil embargo on the United States, oil prices quadrupled. Much like our dependency on oil, our dependency on phosphate fertilizer puts our future food security in the hands of a foreign country. Prices for phosphate spiked in 2008, partially driven by biofuel demand. As a result, prices jumped 800 percent. That is double the price increase of oil that resulted from the embargo.

There has been a flood of phosphate reserve esti­mates in an attempt to determine how long the world supply can be expected to last. Estimates of when we will reach peak phosphorus range from now to over 100 years from now. Prob­ably the most accurate estimate reported thus far is that of Lindstrom, Cordell and White. They used a Bayesian statistical method based on the IFDC’s (International Fertilizer Develop­ment Center) reported worldwide reserves. Their analysis sug­gests we may reach peak phosphorus somewhere between 31 to 80 years from now.

Regardless of whose estimate you put your faith in, there is one thing all the scientists agree upon, that we will run out. It’s just a matter of time. And like oil, long before we run out, prices will rise substantially. This will lead to an increase in food prices, and countries that already suffer food insecurity will be hit the hardest.

The Solution

We need to increase our efficient use of resources such as phosphorus. We really can’t afford to waste it on saturating our soils and killing fish. This will extend our supply, help keep costs under control, and give us the time we need to reestablish the natural nutrient cycles agriculture once depended upon.

Those natural cycles have been decoupled by more than 50 years of intensive chemical fertilization. Without any fertilizer, natural ecosystems produce more biomass than our cropping systems. Yet, prior to the development of the first fertilizers, our agri­cultural production was a fraction of what it is today.

We must examine the salient features of natural ecosystems that allow them to be so productive and adopt management practices that exploit those features, integrating the ones that practicality allows into our cultural practices.

This story was published in the August 2012 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Dr. Wendy Taheri is a mycorrhizal ecologist.

Electrical Conductivity: The Pulse of the Soil

By Glen Rabenberg & Christopher Kniffen

Soil consultants have traditionally used electrical conductivity to measure salinity. Conductivity can tell us much more about the physical structure and health of the soil, though, and can help  indirectly measure crop productivity.

When we walk into our home on a dark night, the first thing we usually do is turn on the lights. With the flip of a switch we complete the electrical circuit, initiating the flow of electricity to the light bulb and illuminating our home.

In the human body, electricity controls the flow of blood from the heart to all the organs. In the same way that flipping a switch turns on a light, electrical signaling in the body tells the heart when and how often to contract and relax. These electrical signals can be altered by the intake of nutrients. For example, the intake of high-salt foods can lead to a higher pulse rate. A higher pulse rate forces the heart and other organs to have to work harder in order to function properly. This extra work certainly puts added stress on the body. In contrast, consuming a balanced form of energy can reduce the stress put upon the body.

Waking up in the morning and only consuming caffeine does not give you the same energy as waking up and eating a balanced breakfast. While both inputs may increase your readiness in the morning, they affect the human body in different ways physiologically. Inputs into any biological system, whether human, animal, plant, or soil, affect the system in unique ways.

electrical conductivity

Electrical Conductivity Measures Soil Energy

Albert Einstein theorized that all matter is energy and derived the famous formula, E=mc2. If all matter is equal – simply a form of energy – then, conceptually, the human system is no different than the soil/plant system. Furthermore, the concepts that we apply to our own physical health can be applied to soil and plant health.

Quantifying the human body’s energy level is done by monitoring pulse rate. For soil, the current energy level in the field or in the lab can be determined by measuring the soil electrical conductivity. Electrical conductivity is a direct measurement of energy flow in the soil system. And energy, measured in ergs (energy released per gram per second), is a function of the soil’s ion concentration, clay type, moisture content, porosity, salinity, and temperature.

As consultants and growers, we are focused on crop productivity. We often aim to maintain the nutrient or ion concentration in the soil solution that is best suited for the highest crop production.

This ion concentration is expressed by the quantity of ions surrounding the diffuse layer of the soil colloid and also by the soil’s moisture content. Electrical conductivity is a direct measurement of these factors and can be used in the field to tell us how much energy is available for plant growth.

It is important to note that natural fluctuations in electrical conductivity can occur. In the soil, the conductor of electrical current is water. As soil moisture changes due to dry periods and/or rainfall events, electrical conductivity can vary. Abiotic factors are variables in the accurate representation of the ion concentration in the soil solution.

However, overall, if the electrical conductivity (concentration of ions in the soil solution) is either too high or too low, it will be reflected in decreased crop productivity. From our experience, the majority of problems facing growers and consultants can be related to abnormal electrical conductivities.

Crop productivity is governed by three scientific disciplines: physics, chemistry, and biology. Explaining electrical conductivity on a chemical or biological level requires a much more lengthy and detailed explanation. Focusing on the physics of electrical conductivity by referring to it as energy brings simplicity to this complex topic.

Einstein taught us that an object’s mass is a function of energy. If you apply this concept to crop production, crops (mass) are simply an expression of energy. In order to produce mass (yield), energy is needed. For a plant to perform photosynthesis and to produce mass, an initial energy requirement must be met. This energy requirement comes largely from the electrical current in the soil. Soil electrical conductivity can thus be utilized as a direct measurement of energy and an indirect measurement of crop productivity.

Electrical Conductivity and Crop Productivity

Crop productivity can be simplified into two stages: growth and decomposition. We can discern that the growth stage of the plant life cycle has different energy requirements than the decomposition stage. The amount of energy needed to produce mass in the form of plant growth varies between 200 and 800 ergs. When the energy in the soil falls below or above these values for a prolonged period of time, the plant can no longer produce mass (growth) and decomposition will set in. Once plant tissue decomposition begins, disease and decay will follow. During the growth life cycle of the plant, energy must be present to produce mass (growth).

picture of small bud growing in spring with different stages

In order to produce mass in the form of a nutrient-dense and healthy plant, the energy coming from the electrical conductivity of the soil must come from “good” sources. Electrical conductivity coming from biological activity, flocculation, soil moisture, and clean balanced nutrients (ions) can be considered “good” sources of energy. Electrical conductivity coming from salinity in the soil solution can be defined as a “bad” source of energy. “Bad” sources of energy will produce nutrient-poor, unhealthy, low-energy, and quickly-decomposable mass.

Nutrient-dense, healthy, high-energy plant mass is what we as consultants and growers should try to achieve. Yes, by using these “bad” sources of energy you can produce high quantities of mass (high yields). We see this year in, year out with the use of synthetic fertilizers.

However, if your goal is to produce high-quality, nutrient-dense, healthy plant mass, your energy source must come from “good” sources. Low-salt fertilizers, organic matter, biological amendments, cover cropping, and proper soil stewardship can provide your soil with “good” sources of energy. All of which indirectly restores your soil’s fertility for future generations.

If all matter is energy and all energy is matter, we as consultants and growers must begin to think in terms of energy.

In order for seeds to germinate, an energy requirement must be met. In order for plants to grow, an energy requirement must be met. In order for plants to reproduce, an energy requirement must be met. In order for plants to dry out and be harvested, an energy requirement must be met. In order for your soil to repair itself over winter, an energy requirement must be met. And in order for you to have read this article, an energy requirement was met.

Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the April 2014 issue of Acres U.S.A.

About the Authors

Glen Rabenberg is the CEO and owner of Soil Works LLC. Soil Works LLC is home to Genesis Soil Rite Calcium, PhosRite, TestRite Labs, and GrowRite Greenhouse. Mr. Rabenberg extensively travels the world solving soil problems with a little bit of simplicity and the “rite” tools.

Christopher Kniffen is writer, public speaker, and manager of the research and development department of Soil Works LLC. For more information, Rabenberg and Kniffen can be reached at Soil Works LLC, 4200 W. 8th St., Yankton, SD 57078, 605-260-0784.


Eigenberg, R.A., J.W. Doran, J.A. Nienaber, R.B. Ferguson, and B.L. Woodbury. “Electrical conductivity monitoring of soil condition and available N with animal manure and a cover crop.” Special issue on soil health as an indicator of sustainable management. Agric. Ecosyst. Environ.

Johnson, C.K., J.W. Doran, H.R. Duke, B.J. Wienhold, K. Eskridge, and J.F. Shanahan. 2001. “Field-scale electrical conductivity mapping for delineating soil condition.” Faculty Publications, Department of Statistics. Paper 9,

McBride, R.A., A.M. Gordon, and S.C. Shrive. 1990. “Estimating forest soil quality from terrain measurements of apparent electrical conductivity.” Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 54:290-293.

McNeill, J.D. 1980. “Electrical conductivity of soils and rocks.” Tech. note TN-5. Geonics Ltd., Mississauga, ON, Canada.

Rhoades, J.D., N.A. Manteghi, P.J. Shouse, and W.J. Alves. 1989. “Soil electrical conductivity and soil salinity: new formulations and calibrations.” Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 53:433-439.

Biological Inoculants for Soil Health

By Bryan O’Hara

As part of efforts to improve the soils and quality and yield of produce at Tobacco Road Farm we have been utilizing a biological inoculant made from locally sourced microorganisms. This inoculant material is referred to as IMO (Indigenous Microorganisms).

The techniques for IMO culturing come from the principles of Korean Natural Farming (KNF), an agricultural methodology developed by Han-Kyu Cho.

KNF is based on traditional Korean use of local materials, fermentations of fertilizing materials and modern concepts in plant nutrition from Japanese agricultural thought.

AM fungi
Fungal growth covering the grain signals the completion of the initial culture (in a box).

The IMO process involves setting a box of partially cooked grain into an appropriate place in the local environment in order to collect a culture of that biology. The culture is then brought back to the farm and put through various processes until a substantial pile of highly active local biology is produced.

Edwin Blosser: Composting Made Simple, from the 2017 Eco-Ag Conference & Trade Show. (1 hour, 58 minutes) Listen in as Blosser, the founder of Midwest Bio Systems, explains how to make compost, and how it can be used on a commercial scale.

This material is introduced into the farm system through various methods such as irrigation, foliars, potting soils, livestock water, mulch piles and, as solids, directly onto fields. The culture is full of diverse, well-adapted organisms able to continue to thrive under field conditions if treated carefully.

The mycelium of fungal organisms is obvious in the culture, and when introduced into the fields, the mycelium can be observed proliferating along with potential mushroom development.

This method is very timely considering the current state of our soil biology. The use of inappropriate chemicals and tillage and the impact of pollution, combined with climate disturbance and tampering worldwide, have left our soils in trouble. In terms of our farms’ soils where vegetables are raised using intensive methods,

IMO have aided in the extensive development of soil aggregation and improved soil structure. There is improved nutrient release of elements such as Ca, Mg, P as well as micro- and trace elements, likely due to enhanced fungal activity. This has helped balance our relatively high N and K levels, with all this being observed through physical assessment and tissue analysis.

There have also been dramatic improvements in the soil structure and its impact on soil air and water balancing — air and water being the most important fertilizers, the balance of which is critical for proper biological functioning.

With the care being given to these soil organisms it became clear that tillage would be detrimental to our efforts so a no-till system was developed on the farm described in an article in the October 2016 issue of Acres U.S.A. No-till has proven to go hand in hand with IMO, and all the improvements in soil and produce have much to do with both of these techniques.

fungi box
A cedar box has been embedded in the forest leaf litter and will remain there for approximately one week. The cedar box is filled about two-thirds full with rice, leaving space for air.

IMO #1

In terms of the production of the IMO culture, the first step is to partially cook a grain media. This is usually organically grown brown rice, though we have used other pesticide-free grains as well. The rice/grain is cooked with water at a 1:1 ratio by volume for about 20 to 30 minutes, resulting in a firmer, dryer rice than would be served for a meal. The rice is then placed in a container such as a wooden box or basket. We have a box made of cedar (9 x 16 x 6 inches interior) with a lid.

Cedar is the preferred material but we have used pine boxes. The cedar box is filled about two-thirds full with rice, leaving space for air. It is important for the box or container to have a lid or other covering in order to keep out excessive rain while it sits in the culturing environment.

The box is then taken into nearby forest where an appropriate culture site is located. Fully use your senses in order to locate a site. The signs for a good site often come from the smells of the forest area as well as using our sight and other senses. Often this is under a large deciduous tree, which has shown its strength and fed a strong biology at its roots. The forest duff is then moved aside and the box is set down into this site. Duff is piled on top of the box until it is buried.

Sometimes we place exceptionally vigorous looking/smelling duff directly on top of the rice in the box, but this is not necessary. The box is left for approximately one week — longer in cold weather, shorter in summer heat.

After this time the box is unearthed and the contents examined. There should be primarily a rich, white fungal growth on the grain with perhaps a few other colored growths. This is perfect, however if there is less white fungal growth than blues, red, greens, etc. either take the mostly white part or start over (we have never had a completely failed box). This culture is called IMO #1.

IMO #2

organic brown sugar
Organic brown sugar is mixed with IMO #1 in a crock.

The IMO #1 is taken back to the farm and mixed with an organic brown sugar at a 1:1 ratio by weight in a clay crock, leaving about one-third of the volume of the crock for air. The crock is covered with a porous paper material secured by a large rubber band. The crock sits for approximately one week at a warm room temperature after which it is ready for use. This material is IMO #2. It may also be stored at this stage by placing the crock in a root cellar, and alternatively, some people store this material in their refrigerator.

IMO #3

The next stage is the making of IMO #3. For this step, some IMO #2 is liquefied and mixed into a pile of bran. The bran is piled on the earth in partial shade underneath deciduous trees. The bran pile is hydrated to about 65 percent moisture, or until water can barely be squeezed out of a ball of the bran, using a dilution of IMO #2 at 1:500 water or so.

Other KNF herbal extracts are also often added at this point, such as garlic, ginger, angelica, licorice and cinnamon extracts at 1:1,000 dilution, and sugar extracted plant juices as well as vinegar at 1:500 dilutions.

forest organisms
The beautiful frothing growth of forest organisms — also smells nice. Soil has been added; growth slows, and the pile cools.

These extract materials are very useful components of the KNF farming system, however their making is beyond the scope of this article, and IMO #3 can be made without their use.

The bran is piled on the earth; the height is often only a few inches, and hydration is accomplished with turning for consistency of moisture. The height of the pile is determined by how high the temperature will be in the next few days. Lower piles tend to heat less; higher tend to overheat. The optimum temperature range is about 100-120°F. If the pile starts to heat much over 120°F, turning in order to cool may be required.

The pile is covered with wet leaves, straw or cardboard and needs to be protected from excessive rain. We often use a black plastic tarp suspended on hoops to keep off rain and provide more humidity. The most common bran used in the United States is organically grown wheat bran; in Korea rice bran is utilized. Rice bran being the by-product of white rice production is probably quite plentiful and inexpensive in Korea. In the United States organic brans are in great demand in the organic feed industry and their price reflects this.

We often make several piles of 200 pounds of bran a year, at a cost of up to $100-$150 per pile (this is for about 3 acres of vegetable crops).

dappled shade
The dappled shade of the forest edge provides a perfect protected culture site (boards on pile).

We have used rice, wheat and oat bran and have had success with all of them; however, right now, oat bran is primarily used. Many people are looking for less expensive appropriate substitutes for bran, and we have experimented with many. None of them have given us the consistent results of bran though we often do incorporate up to 25 percent coconut coir into the mixture.

The pile of bran quickly begins to heat and develops quite fragrant odors. Within days, the pile is covered with a white fungal growth very similar to the IMO #1 culture. In dryer times of year, or if the pile overheats and requires turning, we add some water to rehydrate the pile.

The explosive growth of the biology does quickly consume moisture. Once the fungal mycelium has thoroughly grown into the bran, often after only 4-5 days in the summer, but longer in the cooler periods, it is time for the incorporation of soil and the assembly of IMO #4.

IMO #4

For IMO #4, soil is mixed into the highly biologically active bran pile (IMO #3) at a ratio of 1:1 by volume. The soil comes from a variety of places and diversity is probably of benefit, though it seems likely that soil from the area to be farmed is best.

We use a mixture of topsoil from the field, topsoil from the field edges and field subsoil from various digging projects. The soil helps to cool the bran pile if it is still heating excessively, so the material can now be piled higher, usually a foot or two high.

soil and bran pile
For IMO #4, soil is mixed into the highly biologically active bran pile (IMO #3) at a ratio of 1:1 by volume.

The highly activated biology of the IMO #3 now has a chance to incorporate into a soil condition and continues to remain highly active, though at generally lower temperatures than the straight bran. The clumps of bran formed during the IMO #3 process are best left somewhat whole during this mixing process, usually about the size of golf balls (1-2 inches).

The pile is rehydrated to a similar level of hydration of IMO #3 using herbal and plant extract dilutions if available, as well as seawater at a 1:30 dilution (also if available). After about a week this material is ready to be utilized in the farming system. It is most active for a few weeks after final assembly, but we store this material by simply leaving it under its tarp for up to several months and apply it as needed.

Direct Soil Application

The primary use of IMO #4 for us is to apply it directly to the vegetable bed surface before seeding or transplanting. This is done at a rate of about 5 gallons to 250 sq. ft., more or less, depending upon availability.

IMO #4 is capable of expanding itself in field conditions and is like a catalyst so exact volumes may not be critical.

Under gentle treatment the biology may persist for extended periods so field treatment with IMO #4 may only need to be intermittent depending on individual conditions. We do not treat every bed every year this way, but most beds are treated at least every other year.

As mentioned earlier, one of the reasons we switched to a no-till system was for the preservation of the IMO in the field. When applying IMO, it is best to do so in the morning or evening; cover it with mulch; and water it in. The IMO can be readily seen expanding into mulch materials (straw, leaf, woodchip) following this process. At the rate that we apply this material we can immediately seed or transplant, however with higher applications a few days of cooling down may be appropriate.

Foliar Application

Another useful application of IMO #4 is foliar application. For this process approximately 2 gallons of IMO #4 are vigorously stirred into about 5 gallons of water, then strained and added to 25 gallons of water containing other microbe-friendly foliar ingredients and is then immediately applied. IMO can also be applied using the irrigation system with a similar approach of stirring and straining.

We have also used IMO to reduce odors in animal bedding areas, and livestock particularly enjoy consuming it, so it needs a fenced in area during culturing of IMO #3-4 to keep animals at bay. It is useful in animal water as well. For the orchard, IMO is added to the mulch that is applied under the trees as well as utilizing the trees’ shade for the actual culture area of IMO #3 and #4. It is also a useful ingredient in potting soil formulations.


Much experimentation can be done with the IMO process, and the material has many uses. Often multiple cultures of IMO #2 are mixed into the water to hydrate the IMO #3. Taking IMO #1 from various sites and at various times of the year aids in the diversity of organisms.

The use of various materials in the culture step of IMO #3 can also yield dominance of various organisms, so it could be mixed with various aims in mind. IMO #4 can also be used in the preparation of various side dressing of fertilizers, liquid or solid.

People have also experimented with culturing virgin forestland and bringing back that biology to their farms.

Another common approach to save on expense is simply to utilize IMO #2 directly in foliar and irrigation, thus eliminating the bran culture. We have not tried this, preferring to fully develop the culture on bran and soil. IMO can also be cultured in greenhouses during the winter. The methods put forth here are certainly not the only way, but hopefully will prove a valuable guideline for your operation.

Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the September 2017 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine. Subscribe here!

Magnesium: Essential for Soil, Plant & Animal Health

By Paul Reed Hepperly, Ph.D. 

Although nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and even calcium are often discussed, magnesium is mostly unheralded and misunderstood. In this article I will examine the nature of magnesium deficiency and show how ignoring soil magnesium can lead to dire consequences in human, plant and animal health.

Like the other aforementioned macrominerals, magnesium is essential for plant and animal health and productivity. In man, beasts and plants it is found in substantial amounts and can wreak havoc when it is deficient.

Our health is rooted in our soils both as vegetables we consume and as animal products, which are nourished from the soil. Since the vast majority of what we eat comes from the soil, our health partly depends on earthworm activity, but the overuse of modern chemical fertilizers and pesticides has left many soils deficient in earthworms. This in turn impoverishes the soil.

As soils lose their vibrant microbial activity they become depleted in critical nutrients even as fertilizers are applied in larger amounts. Synthetic fertilizers are not a solution and often aggravate soil issues they supposedly cure. Remedying this downward spiral is more critical than ever because a growing population needs not only more food but better food quality for present and future generations to thrive.

One cannot escape the reality that our health is a result of our farming systems, and the state of our health attests to that truth. We are a product of the food we eat, the quality of soil it is grown in and the practices we employ in its production.

corn field needs magnesium
Unlike nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, magnesium is often overlooked in conventional fertility.

Grass Tetany: A Telling Saga

In early spring when animals first come off supplementation and onto pasture they can suffer a condition called grass tetany. In this condition animals suffer severe muscular tremors, and worse, from magnesium deficiency.

This condition is particularly frequent in pure grass nitrogen-fertilized pastures. Farmers who both selectively eliminate broadleaves and fertilize with ammoniated nitrogen alone are almost ensuring magnesium deficiency. When clovers and broadleaves are selected out in pasture management, as farmers we end up eliminating the magnesium champions; they are the first victims of selective herbicides used to control “weeds” in the pasture.

However, these plants are the solution because they contain several times the amount of magnesium of a typical high-yield grass that was favored. Concentrating on an unbalanced diet leads to an artificial magnesium deficiency.

Modern agricultural practices selectively eliminate forage diversity and selectively fertilize, deteriorating the quality of our forage and the environment. When we eliminate magnesium-rich clovers and broadleaves and concentrate solely on a single grass, we do not allow the grazing animals to have a diverse diet to satisfy their health as they do instinctively under more natural conditions. In this scenario, the farmer and the farm animals lose.

Early grass growth can be notably deficient in magnesium while legumes are several times higher in critical magnesium. Rather than count on nitrogen from the air via leguminous plants, we instead choose nitrogen from fertilizer and its unintended consequences of soil acidity and key nutrient depletion.

Magnesium deficiency of grasses such as corn and sorghum expresses as yellowing or chlorosis, particularly between the veins of plant leaves. This is most common in acid, older soils such as those predominating in the wet tropical regions such as in northern Puerto Rico. Maintaining the diversity of our pastures is essential to providing a balanced ration for grazing animals, and this is rooted in the balance of our soil resource.

In alkaline pH 7.3 or higher soil, many plants will be unable to absorb iron, leading to plant yellowing and poor performance. In the case of chlorophyll, it shares an almost identical heme structure with the substitution of magnesium for iron. Magnesium deficiency mostly occurs when soils are old, sandy in texture and acid in pH. Acidity is a key factor for nutrition and health of both plants and animals. Although plants and animals are considered separate, on the core biochemical level they are more alike than one might guess.

Soil Considerations

Know your soil pH

The acidity of soil has a major impact on optimizing essential and micronutrients. Best overall mineral availability is in a very weakly acidic or neutral soil pH (6.3 to 7.0). To optimize crop and animal nutrition, the fertility program needs to start with getting the soil pH correct.

In humid, weathered acid soil this means liming. In semi-arid and arid conditions high alkaline (pH 7.3 or higher) can cause micronutrients to become a major obstacle, and this may need acidification with sulfur. In mineralizing your farming system, start with a soil test and proceed with acidity adjustment.

Know your soil organic level

In all conditions productive natural soils are generally over 5 percent soil organic matter. Many cropped tillable soils have plummeted to 1 percent or less SOM. Farmers who want to optimize their farming systems need to be aware that the ability of their soil to provide water, air and minerals is a function of SOM, which governs soil biology and metabolism.

All farmers with less than 5 percent SOM need to consider and then develop effective practices to increase soil organic matter to optimize their results. While 100 pounds of dry soil at 1 percent SOM can absorb less than 30 pounds of water, the same soil with over 5 percent soil organic matter can absorb over 200 pounds of water. Since minerals can only be absorbed through water, not only is the state of organic matter critical for moisture levels, but also for mineral nutrition. The leading cause of crop loss is drought, but without SOM optimization our crops are unnecessarily jeopardized and demineralized.

  1. Total testing — Take a comprehensive soil test that includes both macro and micronutrients, and make the necessary adjustments to achieve balance.
  2. Make amends — Develop a remediation of toxicities and deficiencies found in soil and/or plant tissue assays.
  3. In the case of magnesium, when the soil test is under 100 ppm for magnesium any liming should be done with dolomitic limestone (CaMg(CO3)2 ) rather than calcitic limestone which has little or no magnesium. A dolomitic limestone should contain at least 2 percent magnesium, and the effect of lime will be best when finely ground.

Take care to lime only to pH 7 as over-liming will result in severe micronutrient deficiency. In acid soils pH 5.7 will be sufficient to eliminate aluminum and manganese toxicity.

  1. Trace elements — Such as iron, zinc, manganese, boron, molybdenum and others have enormous impacts on plant and animal health. As someone who has worked on thousands of soil and plant analyses it is seldom that no insufficiency or excess is found. These can be overcome but only through diagnosis and directed action including consulting experienced and knowledgeable professionals.

Widespread Deficiency

In a 2012 USDA nutritional report, it was found over 57 percent of males and females do not get the recommended minimum daily amount of magnesium in their diet. Scientists have also argued that the magnesium minimum dosage has been set too low. They suggest that just about everyone would benefit from upping their magnesium level by about three times the current estimate. It is important we get this right. Magnesium can lead to devastating health results such as: excitability, muscle cramps, headaches, apathy, confusion, insomnia, heart irregularity and thyroid disruption.

Magnesium governs over 300 biochemical reactions by playing important roles within enzymes. Researchers point to the tandem of low dietary intake and high refined sugar as the deadly duo driving deficiency of this critical element in humans.

Modern use of potassium as a key fertilizer, when not coupled with adequate magnesium, contributes to unbalanced nutrition from the food we eat. Additional causes of rampant magnesium deficiency may include stress and pharmaceutical drugs such as hypertension drugs which lower magnesium dramatically.

Magnesium Revelation

Unlike nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and even calcium, magnesium is seldom considered in conventional fertilization programs. Just because we choose not to focus on it does not mean that our lives do not depend upon it, whether we know it or not. How we farm and the status of our food system, which is soil-based, can make the difference between health and disease; yet we are sometimes uninformed about these choices.

Synthetic chemical fertilization, often touted as a solution to our agriculture and food woes, represents a dangerous double-edged sword. Instead of boosting nutrients they can play anti-nutrient roles. After synthetic ammoniated nitrogen, potassium salts — muriate of potash or potassium sulfates — are the leaders in global fertilizer use. Unfortunately, although potassium can raise yield and sugar content, it can also play an antagonistic role in reducing magnesium and calcium.

This artificially induced depletion reduces the accumulation of these critical minerals, contributing to deficiency and disease.

Iatrogenic is a Greek word conveying the idea that curative practices or treatments can sometimes cause harm. In simple terms, the treatment causes malady. Without proper knowledge and management, nutrient imbalance becomes the norm. When balancing nutritional needs, a broader view and diversity must be valued if we are to remedy some of our nutritional issues rooted in unbalanced diets. For example, heavy application of ammoniated nitrogen is a key promoter of blossom end rot, a problem of calcium deficiency.

To improve our present situation we need to change our values. Our health will improve with soil health improvement. We need to address nutrition from the ground up and should not ignore the environment and health costs of the food system itself.

Plants & Animals Reflect the Soil

At my old experiment station the research plantings of sorghum would completely fail in some spots. The soil was an old weathered soil (Oxisol) notable for good physical condition, but it had a low mineral salt nutrient level. Very notable in this soil was an inability to detect measurable amounts of magnesium, and this was particularly acute in the spots where sorghum would not grow. This is not a coincidence. The issues were resolved by adjusting pH and amending with magnesium.

I was assigned to diagnose the same problem I ended up having in my own body. Magnesium deficiency, not tachycardia in my case, was the core root in both instances. All in all, this was a difficult but effective way to learn that soil and health are interrelated.

When we optimize one factor in isolation we often cause artificial imbalance and disruption of other critical factors. Through our so-called treatment we can induce unnecessary chronic mineral havoc. This is in fact what we have done in our industrialized, centralized agricultural food system. Our nutritional status is literally grounded in balanced nutrition from soil, and we can consciously improve this as farmers, gardeners and consumers by becoming good Earth stewards and making better management choices.

Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the November 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine

About the Author

Paul Reed Hepperly, scientist, consultant, educator and advisor, previously served as the research director for Rodale Institute (2002-09). His son, Reed Paul Hepperly, is CEO of Hepperly Enterprises, a premium compost supplier and developer of tropical root crops in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. Paul currently resides in Maryville, Tennessee. Contact him at


Altura, B. M., et al 1984. Magnesium deficiency and hypertension. Science 223:4642.
Anast, C. S. et. Al. 1972. Evidence for parathyroid failure in Magnesium deficiency. Science 177:4049.
Barnes, Zahra. 2015. Magnesium the invisible deficiency that could be harming your health.
Fontenot, J. P. “Animal nutrition aspects of grass tetany.” (1979): 51-62
Littlefield, N. A., and D. S. Hass. 1996. Is the Recommended Daily Allowance for Magnesium too low? Food and Drug Administration Science Forum.
Rosgnoff, Andrea. 2013. The high heart value of drinking-water Magnesium.
Taylor, M. D., and S. J. Locascio. 2004. Blossom end rot: a Calcium deficiency. J. Plant Nutrition 27(1)L123-139.
Turpaty, P. D., and B. M. Altura. 1980. Magnesium deficiency produces spasms. Science 208:4440.
USDA. 2009. Community Nutritional Mapping Project.
Wilkinson, S. R., and J. A. Stuedemann. “Tetany hazard of grass as affected by fertilization with nitrogen, potassium, or poultry litter and methods of grass tetany prevention.” Grass Tetany grasstetany (1979): 93-121.

Using Lime to “Restock” the Soil

By William A. Albrecht

When limestone is put on the soil, it accepts acidity from the clay, just as other minerals do in the rock weathering processes. As a carbonate, it changes the active acid, or hydrogen, into water, of which compound the hydrogen is not such a highly active acid element. Therefore, the lime­stone corrects or neutralizes the soil acidity.

It has, however, been shown that this neutralizing effect from the liming operation is not so much the particular benefit derived by the crop, because compounds of calcium that do not neutralize the acidity, like calcium chloride, calcium sulfate or gypsum, and even ordinary cement for example, can improve the legume crop as well as calcium carbonate. Liming the soil puts calcium (or both calcium and magnesium if dolomitic limestone is used) on the clay, and thereby makes up this shortage on the list of nourishment of the crop.

It feeds the plant this one nutrient that the better forage legumes need so badly for their good growth and which is so readily removed from soils under higher rainfalls. It is the calcium put in, more than the acidity put out, that comes as the beneficial effect from liming the soil.

A farmer liming his fields after harvest.
A farmer liming his fields after harvest.

Source: Albrecht on Calcium

Rock Dust Can Improve Our Soils

By Alanna Moore
From the June 2005 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine

Rock dust is a byproduct of the quarrying industry and results from rock crushing. In the industry it is known as blue metal, cracker or crusher dust.

Landscapers use rock dust for filling holes, bedding paving stones and mixing with cement. More recently its applications have broadened to other areas and its true importance is becoming apparent.

Over 100 years ago Julius Hensel wrote a book called Bread from Stoneswhich explained how crushed rock could improve soil fertility. His cause was taken up some nine decades later in the early 1980s by the late John Hamaker and Don Weaver. They asserted that impending climate change could be ameliorated by massive-scale soil remineralization combined with reforestation to provide a vegetative carbon dioxide sink. Their book, Survival of Civilization, was a landmark, while their warnings of climate instability have essentially come true.

Demineralization occurs rapidly on intensively farmed and tropical soils. Rock dust can reverse this process, restoring life to the soil by adding a myriad of minerals to feed microorganisms and, given enough organic matter, helping to rebuild topsoil rapidly.

rocks and minerals in soil
Soil can benefit from the minerals found in rock dust.

“Only with remineralization,” said John Hamaker “can the soil’s ecosystem obtain the nutrients they need to reproduce, lay down their bodies, and make the stable colloidal humus vital for plants, animals and humans to thrive on, as they once did before we demineralized the Earth.”

Hamaker, whose book did more to promote soil remineralization than any other single initiative, died in July 1994. He had previously been accidentally sprayed with the toxic herbicide 2,4-D by a roadside spraying operation and suffered debilitating illness from that time on.

In his last year of life he wrote to Barry Oldfield, president of the Western Australian Men of the Trees group, advocating the use of moraine gravels (from glaciers, absent in Australia) and urging the recognition that a healthy soil breeds bacteria which can utilize all the atmospheric gases, including nitrogen and carbon dioxide, which then helps to stabilize climate change.

A newsletter devoted to the benefits of rock dust was launched in 1986 in the United States, and in 1994 was upgraded into a quarterly magazine. Remineralize the Earth was edited by Joanna Campe. Although the magazine has ceased publication, partly because of the perception that this subject has finally become much more accepted by the mainstream, many U.S. universities and some government agriculture departments are now doing their own research and taking action. Remineralize the Earth (RTE) continues its important work as an active non-profit rock dust advocate.

In the 1980s Phil Callahan brought our attention to the importance of paramagnetism to plant growth and showed how volcanic rock dusts can supply this energy to soils. Many people regard his claims as farfetched, but such is the fate of all new ideas.


In Australia the benefits of rock dust have been scientifically documented since 1997 by the Australian construction company Boral, which owns over 200 quarries.

The Boral scientists have taken a holistic approach, studying the effects of applying rock dusts to potting mix alone, and in combination with “sweetpit” (a limestone-based, diamagnetic soil preparation) and artificial fertilizers in varying amounts. The best impact on plant growth was when all three were applied together.

Trials have shown that rock dust improves soil pH, water retention capacity, microbial activity, root-to-shoot ratio, plant health generally, seed germination rates, and the humus complex, while it increases plant height and weight and reduces plant mortality. Rock dust makes a good replacement for sand in growing media, they found. Boral is now recognized as a world leader in scientific research into rock dusts as soil improvers.

During Boral’s many trials there was inexplicable lush growth of control plants. These were growing in close proximity to the rock dust-treated plants.

It became apparent to researchers that a purely paramagnetic effect was at work here. It was verified by pot trials by the Men of the Trees group (MOTT) in Western Australia. One MOTT trial involved burying little plastic bags of rock dust in the plant pot. Amazingly, this was enough to enhance plant growth, despite no physical contact between plant roots and rock dust.

Will Any Rock Dust Do?

If soil hasn’t the right nutrient mix to match the crop, then using any old rock dust may not help, and could even prove toxic to some degree. While basalt rock dust is a major source of trace elements, it lacks the essential macronutrients nitrogen, phosphorus and, to a lesser extent, potassium.

Boral suggests blending different types of rock dust, such as granites and river gravel, plus added minerals, to make up for any deficiency. While commercial enterprises do various rock dust mixes to broaden the spectrum of minerals, this still may not suit your soil’s individual requirements.

High iron levels can be a problem in some soils (which are often a red color), so a poorly selected basalt rock dust or lava scoria might add excess iron if not applied in careful measure. Iron is needed for photosynthesis, but too much can combine with aluminum to lock up phosphate and trace elements in acidic soil types. Ten to 50 parts per million of iron in fertile soils is considered sufficient.

Benefits of Rock Dust

Use of rock dusts has been shown to:

  • Increase yields;
  • Lower mortality;
  • Deter pests;
  • Provide fungal protection;
  • Suppress weeds;
  • Improve crop quality and flavor; and
  • Increase brix.

Rock dust is also a great additive to acidic soils, as it can help increase soil pH, thus reducing acidity. Acidity in soils, whether natural or induced by chemical farming, tends to lock away nutrients such as calcium and phosphates from plants. Superphosphate is very acidifying, with triple-superphosphate the worse type and mono-super the least bad form. (It’s better still to supply slow-release phosphate in the form of untreated rock phosphate that has been composted.)

Aluminum is also released when soils are acid and if this gets into our systems, free-radical damage can occur in our tissues. Aluminum toxicity is also linked to repetitive strain injury and Alzheimer’s disease, which are far more prevalent since aluminum cooking pans became popular after the war.

Most people apply lime to increase soil pH, but this can cause problems in itself. Student of Rudolf Steiner and biodynamics researcher Ehrenfried Pfeiffer warned that the use of lime can “burn out” the humus complex as it overstimulates soil and plant processes.

This was seen in Austrian trials which compared rock dust and lime added to soil and the subsequent changes in soil pH over 87 days. Within 24 hours the soil that had been limed had risen from a low pH 4 to an optimum of pH 7. Such a huge increase in the ion count is very stressful to plants. The pH scale is logarithmic, going from 1 to 14, the scale being actually 10 to 1014. Such a sharp pH rise meant an increased ion count from 100,000 to 100,000,000 ions! Plants can become sick with the shock of this rate of change.

After the 87 days the rock dusted soil also ended up with a pH of 7, but it was a very gradual rise spread over the time, which did not incur any plant stress at all. These are only a few of the many documented benefits of rock dust in agriculture.

Application Rates and Regimes

At most quarries I’ve visited I have been allowed to fill a few bags with rock dust free of charge — enough for a household vegetable garden. If you buy tonnages, you might pay around $15 per ton — still inexpensive. The big cost is in transportation. Get together with friends and neighbors and share a truckload for best economy.

Optimum application rates recommended by Boral research are 5 to 10 tons per hectare (2 to 4 tons to the acre).

Above the maximum rate there is a leveling off of effects, so it’s not worth overdoing it. Because the cost of transport and spreading of rock dust on acreage is not cheap, it is recommended to put more out at less frequent intervals to reduce such costs. That is, instead of spreading 2 to 4 tons per acre every two or three years, it is more economical to spread 4 tons per acre every five or so years. However, smaller amounts, even as little as a 1 to 2 tons/ha (1/2 to 1 ton to the acre) will bring good results, when applied more often.

Austrian farmers have found it beneficial to spread rock dust around the time of cutting the cover crop. They observe that the more aerobic environment created on the soil surface helps the green manure crop to rot down more easily.

If seeking only the paramagnetic values of rock to impart to soil, you can add it in chip form for a one-off application. Chips are cheaper to produce and will not erode away like the finer dust. By choosing material with higher paramagnetic values you can reduce quantities needed, making substantial savings on expensive transportation. If you obtain the usual finest screenings of 5 mm (one-quarter inch) dust you will have a range of particle sizes from powdery dust to small sharp pieces that give the paramagnetic antenna effect as advocated by Philip Callahan.

Warning: So much for the good news about using rock dusts — there has to be a downside! Here’s a word of warning: The fine particles are a hazard if breathed in, since siliceous dusts can be as dangerous as asbestos to the lungs. It is advisable to always wear dust masks whenever this could be a hazard. And cover your load or wet it down during transport or it may blow away!

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the June 2005 issue of Acres U.S.A magazine.

Lime in Soil: How Much is Too Much?

By Neal Kinsey

When adding lime in the soil, can you have too much? Perhaps the most frequently asked question by those using our soil fertility program is, “Can I put on a higher rate of lime than you are recommending for this sample?”

Generally, this has to do with getting the limestone spread, because the owner of the lime trucks says he either cannot or will not apply such a small amount. Many times a farmer has been told, “You can’t use too much lime.”

That is not true. From our experience in working with thousands of acres that have previously been over-limed, we know you can easily apply too much lime, not just on crops such as berries and potatoes, but on whatever crop you are intending to grow. And if this happens, it can be far more expensive than just the cost of the extra limestone that was not needed, with the added cost of getting it spread.

A farmer spreads lime on a field.
A farmer spreads lime in his field.

Lime in Soil: A 3-Year Delay

What makes identifying the problem somewhat complex is the fact that it may take three full years to see the whole picture of total effects from any lime applied on a field. If too much is used, it is not normally noticeable in the first year.

In fact, if any lime was really needed, improvements will be most evident in the first year. But by the third year, when problems are more likely to begin showing up, many growers have already forgotten the possible long-term effects of the limestone application, and tend to place the blame elsewhere (on weather, fertilizer, seed, and so on). The adverse effects from over-liming can show up in a number of ways. Principally we must deal with the damage caused from too much calcium and/or magnesium as well as the effects of increasing the soil pH.

Lime’s Effect on pH

For example, adequate phosphate is a big concern for most farmers in terms of fertilizer. Just by increasing soil pH, phosphate may be released and increased in the soil. But if the pH goes too high, phosphates can also be tied up. Using more than enough lime can cause the pH to increase so much that this happens. In addition, pH can tie up other elements such as boron, iron, manganese, copper and zinc, as it increases.

Lime’s Effect on Trace Elements

The higher the calcium level climbs from the use of calcium carbonate limestone, or gypsum, or from the calcium makeup of dolomite lime or any other significant calcium source, the more chance the trace elements, plus potassium and magnesium, have of being tied up in the soil — to the point that the crops can no longer take them up. Then plants suffer in terms of quality and yield. This is also a critical point to understand, if the levels of any of these elements, which can be tied up by too much calcium a high pH, are already borderline in the soil. In terms of availability for plant use, deficiencies can occur unless they are able to be determined beforehand by testing, and treated accordingly.

Lime’s Effect on Water Use

Use of calcium also increases the pore space in the soil. This is a desirable result until pore space reaches 50 percent of the total soil volume. But when too much calcium is applied by over-liming, so much pore space can result that the soil dries out much easier than before. So you can lose efficiency of water use, whether it’s from rainfall or irrigation, if you over-lime your soils.

Consider All Lime Sources

Some growers might think that just as long as there is not too much limestone applied, there is no problem. High calcium limestone (calcium carbonate) and gypsum (calcium sulfate) are generally considered the most common sources of calcium. But the problem can be caused by other materials, as well as poultry manure, especially from laying hen operations (where calcium is supplemented to strengthen the egg shells), can be a significant source of additional calcium. Certain types of wood ashes that are applied at high tonnage rates, and some sources of irrigation water, can also contribute substantially to the levels of calcium in the soil.

Don’t be fooled: Too much calcium can cost you money in terms of lower crop yields. On the other hand, even in crops such as berry or potato, so called “low pH crops,” too little calcium, or too low of a pH, can cost you just as much or more if not corrected.

Use a Soil Test 

The best way to determine what is actually needed or not needed in terms of liming is to use a detailed soil analysis. The soil analysis should include measurement of calcium and magnesium and the percentage saturation of each in the soil. Growers cannot determine whether lime is required simply by measuring the pH of the soil. The soil testing methods should always include checking for both calcium and magnesium levels to determine if there is too little, too much or if the proper amount is already there. An overall picture of what over-liming actually does to a soil can be seen by taking a soil sample prior to the use of the lime and following up each year for the next three years.

So when someone asks, “Why can’t we just go ahead and apply 2,000 pounds anywhere that you call for less than that?” the answer is: If you can never apply too much limestone, that would be fine. But too much limestone can be a problem for the soil and for the crops grown there, because it ties up other nutrients also needed for the growing crop. So it is far better not to use too much lime. The correct amount of lime makes a real difference in how your crops are going to respond, whatever the crop you may choose to grow. too. The list includes oyster shell, rock phosphate, kiln dust, marl rock (ground sea shells), sugar beet processing lime, and stack dust from the scrubbers of utilities or industrial facilities burning high-sulfur coal.

Editor’s Note: Neal Kinsey is the author of Hands-On Agronomy, which you can buy at the Acres U.S.A. bookstore. This article was first published in the June 2001 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine.

Rhodium: The Mystery Nutrient Revealed

By Charles Walters

Rhodium is not a common term used among farmers and health professionals. But the mineral nutrient does matter.

Trace nutrients tend to become submerged once the so-called roster of essentials is exhausted. They do not count, if standard books on the subject are to be taken seriously. Yet peer-reviewed research says something else. Unfortunately, it takes research between 40 and 50 years to make it into the clinic.

For this reason and for reasons to be explained, you won’t encounter the mineral rhodium in the vocabulary of most health maintenance providers or nutritionists who hope to cope with metabolic mischief. It is rare, this element called rhodium — number 45 on the Periodic Table of Elements, number 56 on the Olree Standard Genetic Periodic Chart.

Most tables on the composition of ocean water do not list it at all, or merely satisfy their readers by citing the average 0.0000006 per cubic mile, the same value assigned to the Earth’s crust ten miles deep. Yet rhodium, symbol Rh, invites our attention in a way so esoteric it asks for more space than it was given in Minerals for the Genetic Code, a book for which this report serves as an updated codicil.

Rhodium’s molecular formula.

The Road to Rh

Rhodium has an atomic weight calculated at 102.9055, is extremely hard, and is corrosion resistant — all this in a silvery-grey industrial metal. If scientists had not found platinum, they might not have found rhodium at all. Rhodium was discovered in a sample of platinum ore by an English scientist named William Hyde Wollaston in 1803.

It was Wollaston who reached into antiquity for the Greek word rhodon (“rose”) because the metal also suggests a rose color. The fact that rhodium salts shine like a rose and have a commercial value largely restricted to their uses as a hardening agent for platinum and in catalytic converters need not detain us here. Our quest takes us instead into a health maintenance mode hardly envisioned in the dreams of philosophy a few years back. If we write in metaphors, we hope that we can be pardoned.

A few years ago, hardly anyone spoke of the mineral yttrium (see “The Yttrium Paradox Explained,” Acres U.S.A., January 2007), and only laboratory workers were on speaking terms with the probiotics called Bifidobacterium bifidum or Bifidobacterium longum. Yttrium does not show up in any analysis of the human body, yet it is essential in servicing essential bacteria in the gut. This point is mentioned here because a probiotic with yttrium was barely known a few years ago, yet we now find credible research and labels announcing the availability of yttrium in products that require it. Bifidobacterium longum is even listed on lactic products such as kefir.

In brief, it is useless to examine an element or its role in isolation, and this is especially true when it comes to the rare mineral rhodium. In this case, we can summarize with a three-part statement: aluminum means debilitation; yttrium means life; rhodium means health. Minerals for the Genetic Code details almost all of the metabolic uses of rhodium, including the AGC codon. Its relevance to the amino acid serine and the fact that protein construction calls on rhodium 13,173,076 times during the building chore define the biological reason for being of this rare element. Rhodium is a +4 on the Olree Standard Genetic Periodic Chart. Rhodium affiliates with boron and the halogen bromine. The nemesis in the rhodiumserine connection is aluminum. It annihilates the role of bromine and is generally acknowledged as a precursor for Alzheimer’s disease. Olree states that, “like cobalt and lithium, rhodium is a carrier of other minerals into the genetic code.” As a chiropractic physician, Olree’s attention gives us insight usually denied in most peer-reviewed literature, that of healing arts often called ancient with modern refinement.

At issue is the role of the spine. Olree describes the connection thus: “The sacral five connects with the heart meridian and the small intestine, regeneration taking place at 1 p.m., just like carbon. Rhodium is responsible for the absorption, utilization and excretion of zirconium, molybdenum, neodymium, technetium, palladium, silver, cadmium, indium and tin.” Rhodium obeys the law of “let there be light” discussed in our codicil entry on scandium (March 2008). Light and chemistry partner for the purpose of destroying tumors, and light also enables some chemicals — otherwise essential — to achieve a lethal status, often one no longer governed by homeostasis. Toxicity runs rampant and is quite capable of feeding viruses that cause encephalitis and arthritis via the Sindbis virus. This background stated, we now move on into the uplands of recent revelations.

Rhodium and Cancer

Merrill Garnett is a dentist with a passion for researching palladium — target, cancer. From the Garnett McKeen Laboratory in Bohemia, New York, has come insight not taught in D.D.S. courses at New York University circa 1955. These findings deliver a special relevance to rhodium and several satellite minerals. Lighter than rhodium by one electron is ruthenium. One electron heavier than rhodium is palladium. Some of the minerals we talk about are new vocabulary words to many readers, but not so with palladium. Almost all people walk within a few feet of palladium every day, this because the catalytic converters in our automobiles are as necessary to modernity as the telephone, fax, or computer. But this form is not organically bound.

Merill Garnett has bound palladium to alpha-lipoic acid, which is water soluble at one end, oil soluble at the other end. Rhodium and palladium are combined with molybdenum. This may seem to be “ho, hum” stuff until we listen to Garnett: “The genetic code does not explain cell development.” In other words, gene expression is not governed by the genetic code — only gene identity is. It was stated — and proved, we think — that minerals are necessary to give amino acids character and a three-dimensional structure.

In Garnett’s view, energy is prime. The molecules in the human body cannot communicate through chemical means alone. A biological pulse is required. Thus, it appears that Garnett is relying on the palladium-anointed lipoic acid — furbished with molybdenum and piloted by rhodium — to energize the DNA helix structure itself. These reports have also revealed another trick we now summon to refurbish our explanation. That fact is that the DNA coil tightens up, loosens, and so on, all on a daytime, nighttime basis. This oscillation can now be measured.

Researcher Garnett has been working on this for at least 14 years, putting energy into the DNA coil, therefore changing the output of DNA. Garnett’s compound is a liquid crystal polymer composed of palladium and lipoic acid. Rhodium is the lodestone, so to speak. It can be compared to vitamin B12, a metaphorical magnet for zinc. In short, the rhodium is used to funnel the lipoic acid. Garnett’s communication to a reluctant medical community says, “electronic reducing activity by cyclic voltammetry.” The translation is understood when the above terms are taken to mean that the laboratory has been able to measure the electrical potential of DNA. Outside of a medical journal, we are allowed to speak more plainly — so, here goes: Without energy in the DNA, a person dies. Therefore, putting energy back into the DNA is a missing link in cancer therapy. We return then to the premise of Minerals for the Genetic Code. And what cancels out the powerhouse energy the DNA requires?

Richard Olree hardly pauses when he answers, “A mineral imbalance, toxicity (mineral or otherwise) and the scourge of radiation.”

Add a word to your vocabulary: PolyMVA. Visit and click on “Testimonials” to read survivor case reports, most of which are stage 4 cancers. PolyMVA can be defined as a type of chemotherapy that targets only cancer cells. Healthy cells are viable and not starved for energy. Cancer cells have a deficit of energy. PolyMVA puts energy back into the DNA structure, tightening the DNA coil and turning off cancer-producing gene activity. PolyMVA may well be the ticket for serious cancer cases. Certainly it gives rhodium a real reason for being.


No book would ever go to press if the writer did not face up to his or her mortality and close out the manuscript. The manuscript for Minerals for the Genetic Code closed 40 years ahead of its arrival at the clinic, but it would still be open had it waited for even one more entry. Consider what follows, then, an add on to the section on rhodium. The words are those of Merrill Garnett. “In the traditional DNA-based genetic code . . . I found a dynamic numeric corollary of the genetic code. The second code covers energy exchange and is the electronic receiver and transmitter of DNA.” That’s what Richard Olree illustrates with refreshing clarity in his chart of elements overlaying the genetic code.

Garnett continues: When it [the DNA] gets out of alignment, it can no longer exchange energy, and we die. Dead things have only the first code. Life has both codes. The first code is the basic DNA code, ACET. Garnett calls the second code the dynamic corollary. It covers energy exchange and is the electronic receiver and transmitter of DNA. The first code stores traits. The second code expresses and suppresses traits. The second code is a musical program of repeated phrases with rephrased combinations throughout life. They require the alignment of the nucleasomes for transmission. They are specially coiled chromogens. They form a series of induced electron devices and send 50 millivolt signals to the catalytic center of certain enzymes that ultraload resonance frequencies.

Such passages may seem obtuse to those unfamiliar with the grammar of the subject. We can erase some of those esoteric words by stating simply that the world of chemotherapy as practiced is mutagenic, not therapeutic. Real therapy obeys the Hippocratic dictum, “First, do no harm.” Most of chemotherapy proposes to alter or break DNA. By reconnecting the DNA electronically and thermodynamically, the channel is tuned to a greeting of a musical nature.

A few more lines from the Garnett message form a paean and a summary. “Transferring the charge in and out of DNA with palladium . . . changes the charge and the charge on the cell membrane. This happens on a normal cell in the same specific range. Induction of this normalization charge in tumors provides novel therapeutic concepts” — from “Notes Towards a Conciliary Genetic Code,” May 2000. Through it all, rhodium stands ready to perform its office.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the August 2008 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine.