A heap of earthworms as they were when mulch was removed. Fine crumbles show biologically active soil. April 16, 2017. Photo: Judy Isacoff

NATURE’S TURN: Seek improved biological activity, soil structure, nutrient balance

May 6  – 19, 2019

“Even if you’re on the right track you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” –Will Rogers

Mount Washington — I just got off the phone with Bill McKibben, a k a William ‘Soil Doc’ McKibben, an Ohio-based specialist in balancing soil fertility and crop yield management. He is also an author published by Acres USA*. As our conversation drew to a close, I told Bill that the concepts he communicated to me about soil and soil tests would lead me to a lifetime of inquiry. Can I challenge the popular view that a soil analysis is useful if it simply prescribes amounts of N-P-K (nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium), lime and a few other amendments a garden might need? I concluded that it is preferable to be overwhelmed with questions than to squelch curiosity. Bill concurred, quoting Will Rogers.

Solvita Soil Health Suite. Image courtesy Woods End Laboratories

McKibben described three interconnected aspects of soil: biological, physical and chemical. In my quest to identify a laboratory to conduct my tests, I decided on two labs. Logan Laboratories is recommended by Northeast Organic Farming Association and the Bionutrient Food Association. It is through Logan’s lab director Susan Shaner that I was introduced to McKibben. Before speaking with McKibben, I was exploring the website of Woods End Laboritories. Woods End and its founder, soil scientist/researcher Will Brinton, Ph.D., have been part of my gardener’s lexicon since my formative years working alongside biodynamic growers. Brinton’s signature diagram shows the physical, chemical and biological overlapping to create soil health. His Solvita Soil Health Suite of tests is available from coast to coast, including at Logan Labs.

Chromatogram of Schoolhouse Garden by Roland Ulrich, December 2006. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Even though my garden is healthy and productive, I periodically pursue various methods of soil testing. McKibben stressed that regular soil analysis is a preventive strategy. Ten years ago, a biodynamic soil scientist made a chromatogram of my soil that was very affirmative of my practices. Two years ago, NOFA performed a Soil Carbon Analysis that was also affirmative and came with recommendations for improvement. A few days ago, I shipped two small boxes with 2 cups of soil each to Woods End in Maine and Logan in Ohio, respectively.

Please refer to the “Resources” and “Opportunities to participate” sections!

Hummingbird feeder Pulmonaria growing in a sunny spot at my doorstep. Leaf mulch builds organic matter. April 30. Photo: Judy Isacoff


*The Art of Balancing Soil Nutrients, A practical guide to interpreting soil tests, Bill McKibben, 2012 https://www.acresusa.com/collections/soils/products/the-art-of-balancing-soil-nutrients

Audio lecture – https://www.acresusa.com/products/no-till-complications-to-managing-fertility-by-cec

Logan Labs – http://loganlabs.com/

Woods End Laboratories – https://woodsend.com/soil-health-test/# and https://solvita.com/
YouTube videos – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCFlSHXX_4LA-Q1rqKYmQLwg

UMass Soil and Plant Nutrient Extension Laboratory – http://soiltest.umass.edu

NOFA – https://www.nofamass.org/soil-technical-assistance-program and Bionutrient Food Association –http://bionutrient.org/site/soil-test

Chromatograms: Portraying Soilsand Compost: Color, Form, and Patternhttps://www.natureinstitute.org/pub/ic/ic34/compost.pdfand https://www.biodynamics.com/2018-biodynamic-conference/event/introduction-round-filter-chromatography-and-soil-food-web-qualitative-assessment-tools-soil-and#  and  https://www.soilfoodweb.com/

Family friendly cartoon video: Life in the Soil – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qas9tPQKd8w

Opportunities to participate

Aug. 9–11, 2019, Northeast Organic Farming Association – http://nofasummerconference.org/
Nov. 20–24, 2019, Biodynamic Association – https://www.biodynamics.com/conference