April 27, 2012

New Book For The Homestead Library

Acquiring this book was one of those "one thing leads to another," events. It started with the Kinder Goat Group message board, which led me to purchase Pat Coleby's Natural Goat Care. In reading it, I learned she is an advocate of remineralizing one's soil, and she frequently referenced a man named Neal Kinsey in that regard. While visiting her publisher's website I discovered that he also had written a book, Hands-On Agronomy: Understanding Soil Fertility & Fertilizer (co-written with Charles Walters). While doing a little online book price comparison, I discovered that Mr. Kinsey also has a soil testing service. I immediately ordered the book and a soil test. (I'll share about that after I get the results).

The timing for this purchase was absolutely providential. One of our 2012 goals is pasture improvement and I was puzzling over how to substitute organic fertilizers for the chemicals recommended by the state cooperative extension service. A Kinsey soil test will tell me how to do that, and not just for nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, and pH, but also for the various other minerals that are necessary as well.

Right off the bat I can tell you two things about this book. Firstly is that it is truly written for the layman. Secondly, is that I don't immediately understand everything he is saying. Not because it isn't written well, but because this is an area in which I have little knowledge and experience. For me, it's not a read and think "oh yeah, I get that." It's material that I have to read carefully and ponder because it digs deeper (hmm, is that a pun?) than any organic gardening book I've read so far. Perhaps I could say that it gets to the root of soil and hence plant health (yeah, I know :) more so than any other book I've read. In addition, it's written with examples for many soil types and problems, some of which don't apply to me.

Even though I don't have a full grasp on the material yet, there are two themes that are sticking in my head.
  1. feed the soil and let the soil feed the plant
  2. soil nutrients must be in balance 
Feeding the plant focuses on a specific deficiency. When my broccoli leaves turned purple, I sprinkled the soil with bone meal to correct the problem. I assumed my soil is deficient in phosphorous, so that's what I addressed. I say assumed, because I could have a phosphate deficiency, but I could also have adequate phosphorous that simply can't be utilized by the plant. Phosphorous availability is effected by pH, the clay in the soil, the time and method of application, aeration, compaction, and moisture. Also, it is effected by the amounts of the other soil nutrients. That's where nutrient balance comes in. Too much phosphorous could render my soil just as unproductive as not enough. The bottom line is that if I do what it takes to make my soil healthy, it follows that what I grow will be healthy as well.

If what I grow is healthy, then everything that eats it will be healthier too. Rather than having to supplement my goat feed with vitamins and a mineral mix, they should be able to get most of the minerals they need directly from what they eat. The same is true for us too. That's why this is so important to me.

While I wait for my Kinsey soil test results, I'm giving the book a first go through. When my results arrive, I will be able to re-read with those in hand, and walk away with what applies to me and our soil. Even though we are anxious to get that pasture established, we want to do it right. Hopefully I'll have an update on that soon.


Susan said...

I'll be interested to read your review - and the results of your soil test. I have yet to test mine, but I add organic matter every year and have been forced into raised beds by the underlying gravel bed that runs through the entire area. But there are areas that I would like to seed with pasture grasses, so I will have to get them tested prior to sowing.

C and C Antiques and Animals - What a Life! said...

I so would love to be able to work in my garden but have not had time. Will be interesting to see how the test kit works out for you.

Rosalyn said...

Sounds like an interesting book, I'll have to have a look for it around here! Since we're just starting the community garden and not sure of what the soil will be like, I definitely want to make sure we feed the soil, and well.

Jody said...

This is the first year we have begun considering the importance of minerals. We amended the garden with azomite, a trace mineral suppliment mined in Utah.

I have to say "balance" sounds a bit daunting. We're not shy about adding amendments, but we have no idea how to balance them. Does the book your reading offer help toward striking the right balance of things?

Ngo Family Farm said...

Very cool! :)

Amy Dingmann said...

Sounds like a very interesting and helpful book. There is so much to learn about soil, and now that we are the new farm, I think we have a lot of research and work to do as far as figuring out where we are and what we need as far as the soil is concerned. Let us know what you think of the book! I'm glad to know it is written for the layman...I would probably STILL have to read it three times to understand it!

Doug Pitcher said...

I'm lucky my wife is a zoology and chemistry major. Whenever I need someone smart that understands these types of books I have her read it and give me the cliff notes.

Whenever she needs help when her debits don't equal her credits, I'm her guy. (not too practical I know.)

Leigh said...

Susan, the results take awhile to get back because these are not a generic computer generated response, but a human calculating what's needed according to one's goals. The choices for results are conventional or organic. Finding the natural organic additives is another challenge!

Connie, gardens can keep us busy! I'm anxious and curious for the test results. I'll let you know!

Rosalyn, one thing Neal says in his book is that he's never found "perfect" soil. The right nutrients can really make a difference though.

Jody, agreed. This book explains why the balance is important. Excessive minerals tie one another up if not in balance. It all boils down to having the soil tested. One clue I'm picking up on (for me) is that my state lab tests say my soil is higher in magnesium than calcium. Yet they still recommend dolomite as an additive for pH. From what I'm reading, these types of soils need lime rather than dolomite, because dolomite contains more magnesium. If I add dolomite to my soil, I may lower the pH, but I won't correct the calcium / magnesium imbalance. Lime has no magnesium, so it would do the trick.

Jaime, isn't it!

Amy, there's way too much to learn! Reading this book makes my head spin, but OTOH, I don't need to know how much nitrogen to add for growing corn in Illinois, like in some of his examples. Still, I'm getting the gist of what he's talking about.

Doug, I think that's how a good marriage works! Dan and I are the same in different areas. With our remodeling, I can see how the pieces fit together to make the whole we want, while he understands the structure and mechanics needed to get there. Makes for good teamanship. :)

Michelle said...

Exciting stuff! I've been fumbling along trying to meet these objectives. This sounds like an amazing resource. I can't wait to hear more. :-)