Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: Isla Margarita, Venezuela
The Ideal Soil
The Ideal Soil
My first organic garden was planted in 1973. From the start I didn't rely solely on compost, mulch, and manure, I also used the minerals that J I Rodale recommended: Jersey Greensand, Florida soft rock phosphate, dolomite lime. In the mid-1980s I added kelp meal and by the late '80s I was using glacial rock dust as well. All of these, along with manure and compost, grew nice gardens but there really was no rhyme or reason to it. I didn't test the soil and wouldn't have known what to do with the results if I had. The fog began to lift in 1999, when a friend passed along a newsletter written by Gary Kline, founder of Black Lake Organic nursery in Olympia Washington. Gary had read the works of William Albrecht and his students and followers published by Acres USA, as well as the books written by Carey Reams' students Dan Skow and Arden Andersen, and then had condensed the salient points into about 20 pages. The message was clear and I got it immediately: The source of fertility, health, and nutrition in the soil is the minerals in that soil, not the organic matter. Further, there were optimal amounts of minerals that would allow a plant to reach its full genetic potential.
Gary's newsletter inspired me to read the Acres USA books on agronomy, have my soil tested, and begin experimenting. After reading that small library (Albrecht, Walters, Kinsey, Zimmerman, Sait, Andersen, Skow, and Reams) I found that, beyond balancing the major cations Calcium, Magnesium, and Potassium to a 65:10:5 ratio, where Albrecht had left it in the 1960s, I had little idea what to do with the other primary and secondary elements such as Phosphorus, Sulfur, Sodium, Boron, Iron, Manganese, Copper, and Zinc. The books I had read did a great job of convincing me of the importance and worth of balancing soil minerals, but they didn't teach how to do it. Rather, they seemed more to be sales pitches, telling just enough to entice the reader to hire the author as a consultant.
This frustration led to almost a decade of further reading and experimentation. I sent soil samples to the lab from my gardens and from friends' gardens and pastures, paying for it out of pocket and even buying the minerals to amend their soils. From Carey Reams work I got the idea that P should equal K. From a chance remark in Graeme Sait's Nutrition Rules came the idea that Zn should equal 1/10th of P. Various college agronomy texts provided clues for optimum levels of Iron and Manganese. Through it all I was looking to tie Albrecht's base cation saturation ratios for Ca, Mg, and K with the other elements, not as absolute amounts but as ratios and proportions relative to the CEC (cation exchange capacity) of the soil. I made friends with Gary Kline and we began meeting weekly for long lunches and conversations. Starting in the 1980s, Gary had developed a line of 10 different organic fertilizers and wanted to improve them by bringing them into line with the Albrecht principles. In 2004 he asked me to do the mineral balancing and chemistry for the new versions. I felt that I had enough good results from my experiments to take a somewhat bold stance, and set the fertilizers up with the proportions that had worked best. The new fertilizer formulas performed well and got excellent customer reviews.
By 2006 I was spending much of my time writing custom soil Rx's for people in the Puget Sound region; by 2008 that had expanded to include growers from around the world. But, my goal was not to promote a consulting business; it was to spread the mineral message, and the best way to do that was to teach others what I had learned, so that they could write their own soil mineral prescriptions and, if they wished, do the same for others. In December 2009 the first edition of The Ideal Soil was published as a PDF ebook, followed a few months later by the hardcopy. Since then the principles and Ideal Soil method have been applied successfully, around the world. A revised and expanded version was published in 2014, which has since been translated into Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, and Polish.