Better Than Organic

This is an excellent essay by Michael Astera, Better than Organic:  a Conversation with Agricola (PDF). Agricola is Latin for farmer. I found this essay in the Soil and Health library under the agriculture section. The dialogue offers an brief history of the Organic movement and a serious critique. It delves fairly deep into the role of minerals in plant nutrition. In many ways, the ideas underlying this essay are a practical science. It’s particularly evident in cannabis cultivation.

This essay should be of particular interest for Pacific Northwest gardeners.  Agricola illustrates the problem with one-size-fits-all solutions such as Organic by highlighting the Pacific Northwests soil conditions. A condition discussed in depth by Steve Solomon in Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades. It is hard for people to accept, but in the Northwest frequent and generous additions of locally made compost and manures exaggerates local soil imbalances, and results in less nutritious food.  In Agricola’s words:

“One of the attractive things about Organic gradening and farming has been its simplicity–just add more compost. Unfortunately, unless you happen to be lucky enough to have perfectly mineralized soil, more compost or organic matter is not going to give you more nutrition. Let me give you an example of how out of wack things can get. Lets look at the Puget Sound region of the Northwest U.S. A  few miles South of the bottom end of the Sound is as far as the glaciers went during the last ice age, and most of the soil around there is a stony glacial till left behind when the ice receded. It’s mostly formed from broken down granite and basalt, usually high in Potassium, low in Phosphorus, and any Calcium it might once have had has been leached out by sixty to two hundred and fifty inches of rain per year. You will recall that Albrecht recommended equal amounts of phosphate and potash, and Reams said twice as much Phosphorus as Potassium, four times as much for grasses and legumes. so there in the Northwest, dumping more high Potassium compost on the soil is only going to make things worse, nutritionally. Nonetheless, that is exactly what the Organic books recommend. One size fits all really doesn’t work too well in gardening.


About Gregory Williford

Seattle Resident.
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