In the northern states, a significant and abundant resource for topsoil restoration is dust residue of gravel mining.
The aggregate (sands and gravel) industry mines these deposits and screens them to extract three grades of gravel and two grades of sand. On every continent, many soils are damaged, worn-out, weak, depleted, deficient, infertile, even sterile. Some soils, such as western Australia and south Africa, are already very ancient, aged and worn out. For others, deforestation and intensive cultivation impose a vicious cycle of soil destruction. In the last century, acid rains and other air pollutants accelerated the aging of many soils, while farming while soluble chemical fertilizers and pesticides increased the exhaustion of soil nutrients and biological life. After centuries of increasing pollution and squander, our precious soil resources have reached crisis conditions.
Our first task in Earth Restoration must be to revive these worn out soils. Without healthy, balanced, fertile soil able to support lush vegetation and abundant animal life, all our efforts at ecological repair and restoration will fail. We must renew ife from the ground up by combining traditional methods of land conservation with effective new technologies to make new, fertile topsoil able to sustain rapid, intensive restoration of the diversity of biological life -- especially grasses and prairies, and trees and forests.
Pioneers in Soil Renewal
Over and over again, in farming, forestry, horticulture, and laboratories, many pioneers have studied soils, and discovered the power of minerals and microbes to renew topsoil. In the form of powdered rocks, composts and inoculants, these elements are simple, timeless, natural ways to restore fertility, and assure plant vitality. The stories of some of these experimenters and visionaries are told in the articles listed below:
click a link
Julius Henzel: Over 100 years ago in the 19th century, before the invention of soluble chemical fertilizers, a German farmer founded a movement to spread stone meal on farmland.
Dr. George Earp-Thomas: Early in the 20th century, a research scientist from New Zealand demonstrated how New Jersey soils were losing minerals, especially trace elements, and how to renew the fertility of those soils naturally.
James Ruegg: Later in the 20th century, a retired New Jersey engineer used ground-up lava rocks to restore the productivity of a worn-out farm.
Joseph Lionel: In Colorado, a man discovers an ancient mineral spring deposit has the trace elements to make an excellent trace element fertilizer for farmlands, and animal feed supplement.
Dr. Maynard Murray: Begining in 1938 and through the 50's Dr. Murray demonstratred the effectiveness of sea solids to restore trace elements to topsoil and grow superior crops and healthier animals.
John Hamaker: In the latter half of the 20th century, a retired engineer in Missouri discovered that glacial gravel dust can improve the quantity and quality of yield corn and grains from farmlands.
Tom MacDonald: In the 1980's, an organic farmer in upstate New York discovered the benefits of glacial gravel dust to create an abundance of healthy, disease resistant vegetable crops and lower his fertilizer bills.
Dr. Robert Bruck: In the 1980's, a North Carolina forestry expert conducted experiments that showed rockdust trace element fertilizer can renew dying forests and assure healthy, vigorous seedling growth on southern Appalachian mountaintops being deforested by acid rain and other air pollution.
Barrie Oldfield: In Western Australia, the President of the Men of the Trees leads research into using granite dust to renew that land's ancient weathered, worn-out soils.
Tom Spereano: In 1997, a Missouri aquafarmer found that the addition of a dime's worth of trace element fertilizer to his hydroponics beds can boost productivity by over 20% to yield several extra dollars of tasty profit.
Jared Milarch: In northwest Michigan, a tree farmer and college student discovered that a few ounces of trace element fertilizer produces bigger, stronger, healthier, faster maturing trees and tomatoes.
and his 15 foot tall sweetcorn
grown with Adzsum Plus
and composted cow manure
The Least is the Greatest
To restore topsoil, our first action must be to assure an abundant supply of essential elements. These elements are supplied in the form "minerals," which are complex combinations of chemical elements. Minerals are usually metals combined with oxygen, hydrogen, and other non-metals. These minerals are blended together to form the rocks of the earth.
Soil is made from rocks. Soil is decayed rock. Rocks are weathered by wind and water, and then digested, reformed and transformed by microbes. Plants then combine soil minerals with sunshine, water and carbon dioxide to create sugars, the universal fuel for biological life.
For maximum vitality, it is important to supply ALL the nutrients that are essential for healthy plant growth. Not merely the major elements -- Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, and Calcium (N-P-K and Ca) -- but all the elements. There are at least a dozen other elements needed for healthy plants. Many more -- such as molybdenum -- needed by specialized soil microbes. Most are required in extremely tiny amounts, and thus are called "trace elements."
Plants and animals require elements in specific proportions, not simply in specific quantities. Mineral nutrients must be supplied a certain ratios. The Principle of Proportion means that the least exert the greatest effect. A tiny amount of a trace element can be more crucial to proper growth and health as a large amount of the major elements. Thus, the least is often the greatest. Fertilizing with N-P-K fertilizers eventually results in soils deficient in trace elements.
Further, most trace elements dissolve faster than the major elements. So, trace elements leach out of soils faster than major elements. This is accelerated by acid rain and soluble chemical fertilizers. The consequence is that soils eventually become deficient in minor or trace elements.
Dust to Dust, Ashes to Ashes
To supply soil with essential elements, certain principles apply. One is the Principle of Proportion mentioned above. Another is "Feed the soil, not the plant." Microbes consume and digest minerals, and thus convert them to forms more easily absorbed and used by plants. Conventional agriculture shortcuts this microbial feeding chain by using synthetic chemicals to supply nutrients as soluble salts that are directly absorbed by plant roots. But we now know many bacteria and fungi actually pump nutrients into roots ten times or more faster than soluble salts are absorbed. In return, microbes receive sugars and other carbon compounds secreted by plant roots.
The ideal and natural form to feed elements to the soil is as insoluble minerals derived from rocks. And to maximize the conversion of rock minerals into plant nutrients, the best strategy is to grind rocks to powder. This increases the surface area of rock that is accessible to soil microbes. A normal fist size rock has a surface area of a few square inches, but ground to the consistency of fine sand, the rock has a surface area of several thousand square feet. This means microbes can much more rapidly consume the rock's minerals and digest them into plant nutrients. General recommendations are to grind rocks to at least 200 mesh; many rockdust fertilizers are less than 400 mesh -- as fine as talcum powder. The finer the grind, the greater the surface area, and the faster the digestion by microbes.
Rocks are not equal in their ability to provide nutrients. Some rocks consist of only a few elements; others contain a wide diversity of elements. Some rocks contain too many heavy metals, others consist of a wide diversity of trace elements. Some rocks contain an abundance of silica; others consist mainly of clay-forming minerals.
Short Essays and Sketches
How to Make Topsoil: homeless men learn to recycle garbage into greengold
Feeding the Soils that Feed Us: Anna Bond on soil remineralization with rockdust
Trace Elements: Dr. George Earp-Thomas' discovers the missing links
Earth Plus: new company to market a rock powder blend
U.S. Soils Story: unique Colorado geology boosts biology
Lava Rock for Fertility: New Jersey farm revived with volcanic rock
Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: introduction to soil minerals
Bread From Stones: Julius Hensel & Justus von Liebig
Trace Minerals & Topsoil: secret solution to health
The Vitamin B12-Cobalt Link: life on the head of a pin
Rockdust and Radiation: letter to Sweden about Chernobyl
Full Length Articles
Fire in the Water: the lost legacies of Dr. Earp-Thomas
Stone Age Agriculture: organic farmer discovers glacial gravel dust
Restoring Dying Appalachian Forests: Dr. Robert Bruck tests Planters 2
Sea Energy Agriculture: research into sea solids as fertilizer by Dr. Maynard Murray
Bioponics: Missouri aquafarmers Tom & Paula Spereano try trace elements
A Tale of Trees & Tomatoes: Jared Milarch rediscovers Azomite
The Emperor's New Fertilizer: The USDA researches rock powders
Reviving Australia's Ancient Soils: The Men of the Trees try granite dust