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The Second Annual Soil and Nutrition Conference

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2013 February Issue Newsletter

Julie Rawson NOFA/Mass Education Director

As I race through my 39 pages of notes in order to make the
newsletter deadline, I will pull out some memorable portions
of the incredibly long list of lessons that I learned this year
during the weekend of Jan 31 –February 1.
 
Our young presenters who range in age from 25 to 35
– John Kempf, Derek Christianson, and Dan Kittredge –
poured out the information. The rest of us – approximately
125 souls – wrote, listened and watched as fast as we could
in order to gain knowledge to take home to our own farms,
homesteads, gardens and landscapes. The two days allowed
several hours for questions and answers along with both solo
and group lectures by the guys.
 
I can’t begin to share it all here, but I have decided to
convey some highlights of the event that caused me to plan
for changes at our farm this year, and also share a story of
the benighted alternaria.
 
Biotelo vs. hay mulch vs. undersowing of clover
That is the debate that rages in my head as I plan for this
year. Biotelo (newly okayed to use on organically certified
farms) is a black biodegradable plastic mulch and will thus
attract more warming sun, while suppressing weeds and
also making a nice home for microbes. Hay will break
down slowly (also suppressing weeds) while promoting more
fungal dominance due to the lignins in the hay. Clover,
when undersowed, will keep the soil covered, act more like
a permanent soil system (where the microbes are eminently
happy and healthy), and slowly feed out nitrogen to the
crops it undersows. Derek brought home that when in doubt
do some experimenting. I will try all three systems side by
side this year and see what comes of it.
 
Our hayfield /pasture (four + acres) has not always
received all the “love” that the vegetable fields get (< 3
acres) because we don’t “make as much money” from it.
John’s advice hit home that the best way to bring carbon
onto the place is through induction. That is all about
growing your own carbon. He related a story of a farmer
who followed the recommendations below on a patch of
one of his hayfields. He sprayed a patch, moved the cows
onto the sprayed patch, and 24 hours later the butter-fat
content of their milk rose from 4% to 7%. He moved the
cows off and the content dropped back to 4%. He made this
move once more and got the same results. My takeaway is
to use the following recipe and protocol for our hayfield this
year. It will cost about $100 each time and we will probably
do it 3 or perhaps four times. As we count on our hayfield
for forage for our 100 turkeys, 600 chickens, 4 cows, and
all of our hay for mulching and cow winter feed, it dawned
on me that this would be money well spent. Here are the
ingredients in the recipe:
 
• Proprietary blend of magnesium, sulfur, boron
and cobalt – 4-6 quarts per acre
• Liquid Phosphorous – 2 qts per acre
• Proprietary blend of carbohydrates, enzyme
cofactors and humic substances - 2 quarts per
acre
• Micronutrient blend -1 quart per acre
 
Combine and mix into a 2% solution and spray; then spray
again every 35-40 days if grazing, or 10 days after cutting.
Carbon induction is all about optimum photosynthesis.
If a plant is photosynthesizing at peak performance, it
can return 70% of the metabolic products that it makes
to the soil. If that plant is in optimal health, it will return
a percentage of lipids (fats) that are the building blocks
for future humus – the end goal in carbon induction and
sequestration. The most responsive field to improved
mineral nutrition will be the hayfield where there is already
a reasonable microbial life force present (where tillage has
not destroyed the fungi particularly).
 
Here is some fascinating research from John on critical
points of influence in the life of a corn seed/plant.
Corn: 9-12 days is when number of ears is determined
(potential for 7-9),14-21 days – number of rows per ear
determined, 42-49 days – number of kernels per row
determined, biggest level of yield difference happens earliest
in plant’s life – infancy to first 2 weeks. According to John,
“Any condition less than ideal at planting is unacceptable”
Alternaria (renowned as early blight) – can change from
being a fungal epiphyte to a fungal saprophyte. Alternaria is
present on tomato leaves from the moment of germination.
On a healthy tomato plant, alternaria resides on the leaves
and among its roles is to protect the leaf from marauders
like downy and powdery mildew. In this phase of its life,
it is classified as an epiphyte. Epiphyte is defined thus - a
plant that grows upon another plant (such as a tree) nonparasitically
or sometimes upon some other object (such
as a building or a telegraph wire), derives its moisture
and nutrients from the air and rain and sometimes from
debris accumulating around it. Foliar feeding of plants will
improve the epiphyte’s (in this case alternaria) ability to
process nutrients and thus support the plant nutrition.
 
As a tomato is growing and filling fruit it requires a lot of
potassium. Potassium will daily cycle to the growing tips
of the plant and into the roots. It can move in and out of
these sinks and be available for the entire plant. But once
it moves into the fruit, it stays there – thus the higher need
for potassium at this juncture. Nature, in her way, will
sacrifice the mother as necessary to promote the new life.
At a point when there is no longer adequate potassium in
the tomato’s system to support all of its needs, the tomato
plant will systematically shut off life support to the leaves of
the plant – starting at the bottom. Once the leaf has been
excommunicated, as it were, the alternaria switches into
saprophytic mode and consumes the dead leaf. We call this
“early blight” and proceed to try to “fight” it with various
chemicals or use cultural practices like reducing splashing
on the leaves, when what is really needed is adequate plant
nutrition.
 
John Kempf is the owner of Advancing Eco-
Agriculture in Middlefield, Ohio and consults
worldwide. His particular passion is converting
conventional farmers to biological farming
practices that honor the microbes.
 
Derek Christianson is a NOFA/Mass Board member,
owner of Brix Bounty Farm in Dartmouth and has
a burgeoning agricultural consulting business for
vegetable growers.
 
Dan Kittredge is executive director of the
Bionutrient Food Association, owner of the Nutrient
Density Supply Company, consults widely and runs
Kittredge Farm with his family in North Brookfield,
MA.
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