For the Love of Soil: Strategies to Regenerate Our Food Production Systems
By Nicole Masters
This educational and enjoyable book is written in an endearing story format. The reader “meets” interesting people as Nicole Masters traverses North America with a pickup, a trailer and her horse. Now, that is the description of a researcher with her “feet on the ground.” A New Zealander, Masters suffered for fifteen years with migraines, brain fog and lethargy. She sought advice from every body worker imaginable, but it wasn’t until the brilliant blue eyes of an eighty-year-old doctor in Auckland mesmerized her enough to believe in radionics that she found the culprit; paraquat poisoning. While living in Hong Kong as a teen, local Cantonese women had warned her that walking barefoot would sabotage her health; sure enough, paraquat-contaminated soil did the job.
Masters views healthy soil as “the gut microbiome of the planet” and shares many insights about soil management. Although most readers likely know that using synthetic nitrogen fertilizer is counterproductive, Masters makes that fact explicit. Just like us, plants need air! Soil compaction, one of the inadvertent results of synthetic nitrogen application, suffocates plants and destroys the infrastructure formed by the termites, dung beetles, ants and earthworms that let plants breathe easily. Her favorite won’t-leave-home-without-it device is the lowly shovel. A shovel allows visualization of soil color and its aggregates. One can smell the aroma, count the earthworms and even discern whether legumes are fixing nitrogen. Another essential tool is the simple refractometer, which measures the Brix (solids or “sugars”) in a plant. She tests crops and weeds, because if the weeds score high, and the crops score low, an adjustment is needed. “Make sure you are not farming or ranching for weeds,” she advises.
To implement adjustments, Masters likes to “tickle” rather than “shock” the system. She highly recommends vermicast (worm castings), but only in “miniscule” kickstarter amounts. If you have a worm farm and you have liquid exudate from it, she suggests adding more carbon (e.g., newspapers). The liquid indicates that it is unbalanced, heavy on the bacterial side.
Masters presents an interesting scientific explanation for “ghosts.” Restoring good soil means having a balance of armor on the soil to maintain aerobic conditions; anaerobic conditions (without air) can actually produce volatile organic compounds visible to the naked eye. Historically, shallow burial sites gave rise to stories of ghosts wafting through cemeteries as bioluminescent gas was released.
We have all seen dust blowing in the wind as working (tilling) the soil disrupts the soil infrastructure. Do the people tilling realize that the most valuable substance in their soil is what is darkening the sky? It is humus, the final breakdown of organic matter, with a structure even finer than clay. Humus is an amphitheater, if you will, in which soil microorganisms thrive.
Masters questions why the top minerals “established” for soil health (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) do not include calcium. According to her, we’ve been hoodwinked. Calcium plays an essential role in soil health.
Sharing secrets of the magical properties of mycorrhizal fungi, she laments that we are smiting them with herbicides and pesticides. Her pragmatic out-of-the-box solutions include using spurge and cheatgrass to enlist this wondrous substance to enhance soil health. One way to encourage conventional farmers to step lightly out of the herbicide rut is to reduce non-selective, non-residual herbicides by 30 percent, adding one part fulvic acid (or vermicast extract) to four parts herbicide. This could reduce costs, enhance the function of the herbicide and give the soil a boost. This book gets two enthusiastic thumbs up!
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2023🖨️ Print post