Archive for compost tea
To understand how soils work in conjunction with plants, you really need to understand cellular biology; however, in this article, we are going to take a much simpler look at how soil nutrients, plant function and soil biology work together to form a sustainable environment.
As indicated in February’s article, most of us who are trying to “fix” or “maintain” our soils are concerned about the NPK numbers on fertilizer bags; however, knowing the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium levels of a product is only the start to creating a sustainable soil. “Generations of gardeners have been brought up on 10-10-10 and 39-9-12, but nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are just three of many nutrients that plants need to survive.”
Two additional nutrients to consider when evaluating soil’s sustainability are calcium (which stabilizes pH levels and biological activity, loosens soil, is a major component of plant cell walls and is a key indicator of weed growth) and magnesium (which holds soil particles together and is a major component that promotes plant growth). An equally important factor to consider is the relationship between calcium and magnesium. Evidence shows that soils low in calcium and high in magnesium tend to exhibit greater weed pressure and are prone to compaction. There are additional secondary nutrients and micronutrients to consider, but we’ll address that in future discussions.
A good soil test will provide you with nutrient levels currently in your soil. Here are a few suggestions to assist you:
- Don’t use a cheap test. Inexpensive tests are likely to paint an inaccurate picture of your soil, which can result in over-fertilization and further damage to your soil.
- Make sure your test is checking for soluble nutrient values. Our soils in the Midwest are typically heavy in clay, which binds up nutrients and makes them inaccessible to plants. Soluble values tell you the amount of that nutrient that is available for the plant.
- Make sure your test checks for the pH, organic matter percentage, cation exchange capacity (CEC) and base saturation levels. Ideally you are looking for a pH value of 6-7, 5-15 percent organic matter, CEC of 10-15 and a calcium to magnesium ratio of 7:1. Anything above or below these numbers will likely require inputs to adjust and this could take months or years.
So, now that we have a basic understanding of nutrients, how do we get the nutrients into the plants? This is where biology plays such a critical role in soil sustainability.
Plants have a symbiotic relationship with their soils. Plants give up nearly 60 percent of their energy to their roots, which release exudates. Exudates are a food source for bacteria and the start of the nutrient cycling process within the soil food web as well as the start of sustainability.
If you are applying a dry fertilizer to your lawn, garden or farm, and you have insufficient biological activity in the soil, there is no way for your grass or other plants to take up those necessary nutrients and very little defense against pests and diseases. If possible, have a bioassay test done on your soil to get a basic understanding of your biological activity.
In an organic environment, soil organisms need to digest the organic material (nutrients) and smaller organisms (soil food web) before any plant can benefit from the micronutrients. This is why synthetic fertilizers are so harmful and why we have become so dependent on them. Once the synthetic nutrient is absorbed into the plant, the runoff leaches into the ground, thus killing off the microorganisms in the soil. Once the organisms are gone, you become dependent on the synthetic fertilizer.
To speed up the nutrient cycling process, many organic farmers and land care professionals create and use custom blended compost teas. By suspending the micronutrients of quality compost in a liquid form, the plants and soil organisms can access the benefits of the compost/nutrients far more quickly and, if the soil is lacking in biodiversity, we can inoculate the soils with the necessary biology to ensure all necessary components are available for a healthy, sustainable soil.
Diversity is important because every soil is different. Having a wide variety of bacteria and fungi handles a wide variety of deficiencies. In order for the bi-products of the microbiology to be of any value, however, the soil food web needs to continue its cycle with the help of arthropods, nematodes and protozoa (the shredders, predators and grazers found in the third trophic level of the soil food web). Backyard Organics provides the necessary predators by using good quality compost, naturally rich with nematodes and protozoa, and extracting them using an actively aerated brew process. We then add a variety of appropriate nutrients that help the microbiology live and prosper until your soil is able to sustain itself.
So, if you are considering taking a healthier, more sustainable approach to maintaining your yard and gardens, consider not only the nutrients the plants need, but also the biology and the whole ecology necessary to sustain that environment.
Todd and Tara Rockweit are owners of Backyard Organics, LLC, Wisconsin’s first organic land care business accredited by NOFA, one of two organizations in the country that accredit Organic Land Care Professionals (AOLCPs). Since 2004, Backyard Organics has been supplying natural and organic products and services for people, pets and property, including a complete do-it-yourself program. To read more about our products and services, or if you would like to submit a question, please visit us at www.backyardorganics.net, email email@example.com or call 920.730.3253/888.200.0446.
Sep. 07, 2012 |
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 7, 2012
Scotts Miracle-Gro Will Pay $12.5 Million in Criminal Fines and Civil Penalties for Violations of Federal Pesticide Laws
WASHINGTON — The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, a producer of pesticides for commercial and consumer lawn and garden uses, was sentenced today in federal district court in Columbus, Ohio, to pay a $4 million fine and perform community service for eleven criminal violations of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), which governs the manufacture, distribution, and sale of pesticides. Scotts pleaded guilty in February 2012 to illegally applying insecticides to its wild bird food products that are toxic to birds, falsifying pesticide registration documents, distributing pesticides with misleading and unapproved labels, and distributing unregistered pesticides. This is the largest criminal penalty under FIFRA to date.
In a separate civil agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scotts agreed to pay more than $6 million in penalties and spend $2 million on environmental projects to resolves additional civil pesticide violations. The violations include distributing or selling unregistered, canceled, or misbranded pesticides, including products with inadequate warnings or cautions. This is the largest civil settlement under FIFRA to date.
“The misuse or mislabeling of pesticide products can cause serious illness in humans and be toxic to wildlife,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Today’s sentence and unprecedented civil settlement hold Scotts accountable for widespread company noncompliance with pesticide laws, which put products into the hands of consumers without the proper authorization or warning labels.”
“As the world’s largest marketer of residential use pesticides, Scotts has a special obligation to make certain that it observes the laws governing the sale and use of its products. For having failed to do so, Scotts has been sentenced to pay the largest fine in the history of FIFRA enforcement,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. “The Department of Justice will continue to work with EPA to assure that pesticides applied in homes and on lawns and food are sold and used in compliance with the laws intended to assure their safety.”
In the plea agreement, Scotts admitted that it applied the pesticides Actellic 5E and Storcide II to its bird food products even though EPA had prohibited this use. Scotts had done so to protect its bird foods from insect infestation during storage. Scotts admitted that it used these pesticides contrary to EPA directives and in spite of the warning label appearing on all Storicide II containers stating, “Storcide II is extremely toxic to fish and toxic to birds and other wildlife.” Scotts sold this illegally treated bird food for two years after it began marketing its bird food line and for six months after employees specifically warned Scotts management of the dangers of these pesticides. By the time it voluntarily recalled these products in March 2008, Scotts had sold more than 70 million units of bird food illegally treated with pesticide that is toxic to birds.
Scotts also pleaded guilty to submitting false documents to EPA and to state regulatory agencies in an effort to deceive them into believing that numerous pesticides were registered with EPA when in fact they were not. The company also pleaded guilty to having illegally sold the unregistered pesticides and to marketing pesticides bearing labels containing false and misleading claims not approved by EPA. The falsified documents submitted to EPA and states were attributed to a federal product manager at Scotts.
In addition to the $4 million criminal fine, Scotts will contribute $500,000 to organizations that protect bird habitat, including $100,000 each to the Ohio Audubon’s Important Bird Area Program, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Urban Forestry Program, the Columbus Metro-Parks Bird Habitat Enhancement Program, the Cornell University Ornithology Laboratory, and The Nature Conservancy of Ohio to support the protection of bird populations and habitats through conservation, research, and education.
At the time the criminal violations were discovered, EPA also began a civil investigation that uncovered numerous civil violations spanning five years. Scotts’ FIFRA civil violations included the nationwide distribution or sale of unregistered, canceled, or misbranded pesticides, including products with inadequate warnings or cautions. As a result, EPA issued more than 40 Stop Sale, Use or Removal Orders to Scotts to address more than 100 pesticide products.
In addition to the $6 million civil penalty, Scotts will complete environmental projects, valued at $2 million, to acquire, restore and protect 300 acres of land to prevent runoff of agricultural chemicals into nearby waterways.
The criminal case was investigated by EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division and the Environmental Enforcement Unit of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, Bureau of Criminal Identification & Investigation. It was prosecuted by Senior Trial Attorney Jeremy F. Korzenik of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division, by Michael J. McClary, EPA Criminal Enforcement Counsel and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney and by Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Michael Marous.
The civil case was investigated by U.S. EPA Region 5’s Land and Chemicals Division and Office of Regional Counsel, and the U.S. EPA Headquarters Office of Civil Enforcement, assisted by the Office of Pesticides Program.
More information about the civil settlement and recalled products: http://www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/cases/civil/fifra/scottsmiraclegro.html
Feb. 28, 2012 |
Providing low-income families with an affordable home addresses only part of the issue of poverty; in addition to building houses, Greater Fox Cities Area Habitat for Humanity works to ensure that our first-time homebuyers become knowledgeable homeowners.
Families that partner must demonstrate that they have a genuine need for decent, safe and affordable housing, that they have the ability to pay a 0% mortgage, and that they are willing to partner with Habitat by committing to 300-500 hours of ‘sweat equity’. Sweat equity hours can be met by working on their home, volunteering on the homes of other Habitat families and attending workshops and education sessions. As a part of their sweat equity, all the adults in our partner families are required to complete over 55 hours of homeowner education.
Habitat for Humanity makes these classes a requirement because we know that education and preparation is the key to self-sufficiency. Of the 55 hours, about 30 hours focus on financial literacy and financial preparedness, including understanding their mortgage, establishing monthly budgets, planning for a financial emergency, etc.
Since our families are mostly first-time homebuyers and are often the first in their extended families to live in their own home, we also conduct classes that help them transition into homeownership. The topics addressed in this track include how to be a good neighbor, community relations, and home maintenance. It is with the help of our family partners, mentors and class facilitators that Habitat can offer such an extensive range of topics to get our families ready for financial stability, and Habitat is blessed to have so many experts in their fields lend their expertise to our families.
Their new yard is often the first time Habitat families have had a yard, and typically aren’t familiar with lawn maintenance or landscaping. Backyard Organics has stepped in to help our Habitat homeowners with getting their new lawns established, and is donating their services for all our 2011 families. The purpose of Backyard Organics is to create a safe environment for families, pets and the planet. Backyard Organics uses safe, earth-friendly methods for weed control, soil conditioners and also offers soil manipulation and testing services. Backyard Organics utilizes the principles set forth by the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), and was the first organic land care business accredited by NOFA.
For 2011, there are 14 Habitat families, which is an increase from 2010. Greater Fox Cities Area Habitat for Humanity would not be able to increase our ability to provide decent homes in a holistic manner without the generosity and support of our wonderful volunteers and partner businesses like Backyard Organics!
Dec. 08, 2011 |
Many consider “fungi” the distasteful evidence that last week’s leftovers are no longer safe to eat. The impressive work of this “green mold or white fuzz,” however, often goes unappreciated. Yet “breaking down and decomposing sugars, starches, cellulose and lignin” is the primary goal of fungi.
As AgriEnergies resources explains, “Biological relatives of these food fungi are commonly found in soil, and they live and grow in a very similar way. These soil fungi thrive in the aerobic portion of the soil and are superb decomposers and nutrient cyclers. Fortunately, beneficial soil fungi are common and widespread in biologically active soils.” (Ground work – AgriEnergy Resources).
Ideally, our soil will be dominated by fungi, but we need to promote the necessary environment.
“Fungi can’t make their own food like plants do. They are dependent on organic substances for carbon. As fungi break down organic matter and residues (dead plant material), fungi recycle important nutrients that would otherwise remain locked up in dead plants and animals. These nutrients then become available in the soil and are used by microbes and plants” (Ground work – AgriEnergy Resources).
Fungi even take on the challenge of decomposing and digesting complex organic material, such as thatch. Using the soil’s nitrogen, fungi turn low nitrogen “woody, carbon-rich residues” into acces- sible sources for other organisms.
Here are some of the benefits of having fungi in your yard and garden:
• Decompose complex carbon compounds (e.g., crop residues)
• Improve accumulation of organic matter
• Break down hard-to-digest cellulose and lignin
• Retain nutrients in the soil
• Extension of plant roots (increase surface area for water and nutrient absorption)
• Solubilize phosphorus in the soil and make it available to plants and other microbes
• Improve soil tilth (help soil particles cling together)
• Help control pathogens
• Break down some chemical residues (bioremediation)
• Impacts soil pH
Bottom line, beneficial soil fungi are workhorses and you want high numbers of them in your soil.
According to the Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis, authors of the book “Teaming with Microbes,” “Fungi, like bacteria, play crucial roles in the soil food web. Ultimately, from the plant’s perspective anyhow, the role of the soil food web is to cycle down nutrients until they become temporarily immobilized in the bodies of bacteria and fungi and then mineralized. The most important of these nutrients is nitrogen — the basic building block of amino acids and, therefore, life. The biomass of fungi and bacteria (the total amount of each in the soil) determines, for the most part, the amount of nitrogen that is readily available for the plant to use.” (Lowenfels)
It’s especially important that they (fungi) are out there and active during autumn. Soil with plenty of fungi will break down your residues and put those nutrients back in the soil, making them available for next year’s growing season. For example, compost tea applications during the early spring and summer applications are packed with a blend formulated to supply the greatest diversity of bacteria, fungi, in addition to other forms of biology that help support the growth of microbial life. Adding additional microbial products in early fall further helps break down dead plant material (thatch) and ensures you have high numbers of beneficial fungi functioning in your soil.
The basic premise behind the soil food web and the simple answer to why fungi is important is that, when one element in the soil food web gets out of balance, either from chemical treatments or other means, the entire system visibly suffers. Conversely, when the soil food web is in balance, it creates good soil structure, produces nutrients and controls diseases, all key elements in a healthy looking lawn and/or garden and the foundation to the guiding principles of Backyard Organics.
More to come on the soil food web in future articles, so please stay tuned.
Here are some interesting facts that will answer that question.
A research project conducted at Michigan State University, using radioactive tagged nutrients, proved that foliar feeding can be 8 to 10 times more effective than soil feeding. Foliar feeding stimulates an increase in chlorophyll production, cellular activity and respiration. It also triggers a plant response that increases water and nutrient uptake from the soil. The Research headed by Dr. H.B. Tukey at MSU in the 1950’s comparing the efficiency of plant use of foliar-fed nutrients versus soil-applied nutrients near roots, found foliar feeding provided about 95% efficiency of use compared to about 10% of use from soil applications (MSU).
Further, according to Iowa State University research; “Because plants can absorb nutrients through their leaves, spraying fertilizer nutrients on the plants can prevent nutrient depletion; keep leaves more active in carrying on photosynthesis.”
How Foliar Feeding Works
1-Direct and Efficient Nutrient Uptake
Small amounts of nutrients at high utilization uptake into the plant without soil interference.
2-Stimulation of Rhizosphere
The application of foliar nutrients stimulates the plant to release plant exudates, which then stimulates the organisms in the rhizosphere, who then interact with the plant.
3-Colonization of beneficial organisms on leaf surfaces, into the plant, and onto the soil
Sets of organisms on the plant leaf can independently fix nitrogen from the air, colonize the leaves for the competitive exclusion of disease organisms plus fix nitrogen on the plant surface.
In summary, Foliar feeding can be the most efficient method of feeding a plant since MSU research shows that 95% of a fertilizer solution can be found in the root hairs within 60 minutes with good conditions! Clay and compacted soils bind up available nutrients causing soil feeding to be less affective and foliar feeding bypasses the soil and feeds the plant directly.