last thursday, 5 totebags -- each at least 1 ton of ultrafine glacial gravel dust -- went north to Port Townsend where Francesco Tortorici works with farmers to use biochar with sustainable methods & materials. today, 7 more totebags get trucked by Moz Wright to Jeremy's Farm Store in Chehalis. 4 are spoken for; Jeremy will keep one at his store to distribute smaller amounts to other growers & gardeners.
rock & stone are the foundation of every house. similarly, mineral elements are the foundation of any cell & organism. in 3 words: chemistry underlies biology. minerals provide geometric structure to build a biobody, and electric charge to power cell enzymes & metabolism. also, minerals are like metal nails, screws & fasteners to pin a biostructure together.
further, soil is made from rock that is eaten by bacteria & fungi. poster child of this transformation of geology into biology is lichen -- ancient partnership of microbe & plant -- specifically, fungi + algae (1-cell plant) (+ bacteria). lichen grow like scales on rocks. they consume mineral elements in rock to create protoplasm, cells & living biology. thus, adding fresh-fractured rock as fine-sized dust, in effect, creates new soil to initiate soil regeneration & stimulate microbe activity.
the key to grow nutrient-dense food is to fully load soil with these minerals, and in that process, complete the trace elements, and balance the ratios of the 7 major elements. we must have complete geology for healthy biology. we can't make or synthesize these elemental atoms. we have to extract them from nature, from geology, from bedrock & stone, and, in liquid solution, from the sea.
so, a fundamental act of any nutrient-dense grower is to add select rockdusts, sea products & other mineral matter to soils. instead of NPK chemical fertilizers, carbon-smart soil regeneration begins by sprinkling rock powders & stone grit into soils, along with biocarbon & microbes to process stone into soil. gary kline speaks about organic farming's failure to understand the key role of minerals, and pay proper attention to adjust mineral levels in soils. organic farming focuses on organic matter as compost, manures, mulches, but gives too little attention mineral balances.
this brief thumbnail hints why i'm excited to get 12 tons of ultrafine glacial gravel dust added to food-producing soils. we're restoring the foundation to the soil food web, to farm production, to nutrient-dense food, to local economy, and to human health.
HISTORY & SCIENCE
my first encounter with a rockdust strategy was in 1988 with an organic farmer in the finger lakes of upstate NY:
Stone Age Agriculture
in 1992, a month before i was electrocuted, i wrote a grant proposal for the National Aggregate Assoc. (NAA) to research using their waste byproduct -- mineral fines from screening aggregate -- as a soil amendment. NAA funded USDA Agriculture Research Center in Beltsville MD to study 5 types of rockdust + "yard wastes" (compost) on a 3-year wheat-soy-corn rotation. ARS research showed mineral fines + compost performed as good or better than conventional fertilizers, both in yield & nutrients. no further research was done:
i know the source geology (glacial gravel) & processing of this tacoma rockdust. i'm confident this will give good response. however, i need hard numbers to talk to farmers with complete confidence, so a sample will be analyzed for elements. but rockdust is about trace elements, needed at parts per million, some at parts per billion, a few at parts per trillion. so, numbers on an assay sheet don't really reveal the effects on microbes, plants & biology. in any case, Gaia Green markets a similar glacial gravel dust i bought retail at $30/50# bag:
another similar regional rockdust resource is basalt:
volcanic geology is rare in MO & KS where i lived the last 6 years. i've created access to lava rock from a 1.3 billion-year-old caldera 70 miles south of St. Louis. a dozen quarries crush & ship railcars of rhyolite, a dense surface magma flow out of the volcano:
my friend Thomas Vanacore in bridport VT devoted 30 years to the use of "minerals fines" from quarries as agricultural soil amendments. as Rock Dust Local, he markets various rockdust products & blends by bag, tote & truck. tom is my top expert on rockdust & soils:
Thomas recommends at least 1 ton per acre, up to 10 tons. however, we can do better to effectively, efficiently apply these minerals to more acres & get more growth:
#1: micronize particle size
#2: get it in the root zone
#3: complete, balanced blend
#4: apply with biocarbon
#5: apply with microbes
with these methods, application rates of a few hundred pounds per acre will yield strong benefits on microbe activity, plant growth and soil conditions.
to be available to plants, these rock minerals must be eaten & digested by microbes -- mostly by bacteria, the smallest, simplest bions -- to properly, intimately wed these charged minerals to water & carbon matrix that is life. these ionic minerals must be married to biocarbon -- embedded in complex biocarbon structures, including specialized biomolecules like enzymes. so, raw, concentrated rock minerals are best diluted and applied with biocarbons & microbes.
attached is .txt document with guidance on application rates edited from rockdustlocal.com
BLEND WITH BIOCHAR & COMPOST
since 2010, i've blended mineral powders & compost with biochar, and find this is superior to deliver these nutrients. at far out farm, i've begun to blend samples of 5 regional rockdusts & 4 biochars at various rates. a slight amount of water in biochar is critical to successful blends. my favorite method is hand-mixing to sprinkle on by shovel for precision placement, but farmers need a more efficient mechanized bulk process.
this weekend, i start seed & seedling trials at various rates to learn how to best blend & apply these materials. photo below is a seedling trial of 7 rockdusts last june in sikeston MO:
4 trays on left are known commercial products;
3 on right are potential midwest region resources.
as soon as rod finishes his greenhouse, i'll start seedling trials, which yield visible results in 2 weeks, and are complete in 30 days. no need prove these materials work; my trials are to test various rates & blends to understand these different materials effects & learn best uses.
i'll write on biochar & blending next week. briefly, we get store-bought products in packages made of cellulose & plastic. similarly, strong electric charge on these minerals are packaged by nature in carbon to safely, efficiently deliver them where cell or organism needs them. we are wise to follow nature's model. instead, agriculture has applied harsh, unbalanced NPK chemicals that burn carbon out of soils.
i'll also write more on other potential native mineral resources to develop for the next growing season. prices for fertilizers are mostly handling & transport, so however we reduce distances & intermediate steps will significantly cut costs to make this strategy economical.
for a green & peaceful planet,