Now You’re Cooking: Being a Chef of the Kitchen of Your Soil

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Organic farming is less about following a recipe and more about being a chef in the kitchen, experimenting with different ingredients.  We’re learning more and more about the exchange between plants and the fungi, bacteria and other organisms in the soil and, frankly, there are few recipes available for dialing this in. Like with any good chef, it takes experience — but when that experience starts to pay off, it becomes a more exciting and rewarding process. It also becomes less complicated because as soil health improves, many of the issues that were plaguing the farm become less impactful.

Topsoil is a living thing or biome that can be nurtured back to health. It’s now clear that you need to tend to the herds of microbes living below the ground. In one acre of land there are enough microbes to weigh the equivalent of 2 cows. As long as they’re thriving, the soil can better absorb and retain water, feed plants and control pests. If they die off because they’ve been churned up and exposed to the sun and air or smothered with chemicals, or because the land lies fallow and there’s no ongoing exchange between soil microbes and plants, the soil gradually becomes little more than powdered minerals.

Tilling soil, as it turns out, kills off many of the microorganisms that build the soil. It churns up their habitat and exposes them to air; it also makes it easier for soil to be washed off the land by rain and wind. Over time, the damage has been devastating: more than 50 percent of America’s topsoil has eroded away. In areas of the Southeast, the country’s original breadbasket, it’s almost all gone.

One answer to the problem is to focus on what some people are calling “the underground carbon economy.” Soil is a critical stage in the earth’s carbon cycle. Plants draw carbon out of the air, and feed it to the organisms in the soil. In return, the fungi and microorganisms provide nutrients that plants need, acting as a natural fertilizer. Disrupting the soil releases all of that carbon back into the atmosphere. As it is exposed to air, the carbon oxidizes, becoming CO2, and is lost to the atmosphere.

Andaman Ag has had the luxury of being the chef in the kitchen (chef of the soil) for some time. We understand both short- and long-term ways to help the soil recover and hasten growth of the soil microbial biome in order to produce higher quality crops that are less susceptible to drought, flooding, cold and insect events. For example, organic farms produce better yields in severe drought conditions (which are expected to increase with climate change) because of the higher water-holding capacity of organically farmed soils.

We would enjoy the opportunity to share our “kitchen” knowledge with you.