How to Improve Topsoil
for Soil Fertility
New Jersey farm revived
with volcanic rock dusts
by John R. Meader
reprinted from Acres USA, April '92, Vol. 22 No. 4
There is a man at Clifton, New Jersey who figured he'd discovered the secret of perfect vegetation. On a little 10-acre farm, he raised flowers that might well be the envy of any florist, fruits and shrubs that would put the most successful nurseryman to the blush, and vegetables so much larger and sweeter than those other farmers in that neighborhood could raise it became difficult to find words to compare them.
Moreover, these fruits and flowers and vegetables could be examined ever so closely, with no sign of insect or parasitic life in evidence. On the other area farms, peach trees suffered from scales; spinach was blighted; bugs swarmed over the potato vines; corn was wormy, and cabbage was being eaten by lice. None of these evidences of destruction existed on the Clifton farm. Instead, the 12-foot corn stalks produced ears of abnormal size and weight, tomatoes grew almost big enough to fill a quart measure, and everything else exhibited similar evidence of freedom from those pests that ordinarily prove so very destructive to cultivated vegetation.
The man who produced these wonders—who claimed to have discovered this secret of nature—was John J. Ruegg. Although originally a silk manufacturer, he abandoned commercial life so he could devote all his time to the study of scientific agriculture. When a young man in Switzerland, he became possessed of the idea that luxuriant vegetation existing in the vicinity of volcanic mountains was due to the fact that the soil was particularly rich in mineral elements absorbed from lava flows. It was upon this principle and nothing else that he started working.
According to his theory, the health of a plant depends on the food it ate. Fed the right foods, a plant will be able to resist diseases that might otherwise prey on it. With perfect nutrition, it became able to defy the insects and parasites that otherwise feed upon it. It was like a new idea—one that didn't conform exactly with long-established theories of science—but Ruegg pointed to vegetation on his own farm as evidence he was scientifically right.
When he purchased the farm and announced he seriously intended to cultivate it, farmers in the vicinity laughed at him. They knew that one might search from one end of Passaic County to the other and not find a farm less adapted to cultivation. What little virtue the soil ever contained had long since been extracted, and those who knew the farm assured him he would never be able to raise a crop of any kind of vegetables.
It was for that reason that Ruegg selected this farm, however. He believed that worn-out soil was simply soil from which the necessary mineral elements had been extracted by the successive crops that had been raised on it. To restore the qualities of fertility to such soil—if his theory was correct—it would only be necessary to restore the mineral elements that the vegetation had extracted, and this he proceeded to do.
The first step was to analyze the soil to ascertain what mineral elements were lacking. Then, he supplied these in the form of powdered lava brought from one of the volcanoes and mixed with manure which he used in moderate quantities. Within three years magnificent crops resulted.
Other farmers in his neighborhood had been unable to raise such crops, no matter how much ordinary fertilizer they used. Then, too, plant diseases, insects, and parasites were things that the most careful agriculturalist cannot prevent. Wherever they appeared, they left their mark, and an army of workmen could not succeed in concealing their presence. If a disease existed, that fact became unmistakable. If worms and insects were present, they were found to show themselves.
Yet, the closest inspection of Ruegg's farm failed to bring to light the smallest trace of such invaders. If other farmers on better soil could duplicate Ruegg's attainments, there must be some reason for it. This logical, common-sense proposition can't be denied.
Ruegg would exhibit specimens of the lava he used in its rough state, exactly as it came from the volcano. Then he showed visitors a corner in his storehouse with a heap of lava that was reduced to powder with a hand operated crusher.
On the other side of the storehouse were bins containing different kinds of powdered lava, for lavas are not alike in their composition. Some contain more of one mineral than another. Some are totally lacking in certain minerals. Ruegg combined them to meet the requirements of the soil that he desired to fertilize. It was upon the proper combination of the minerals that the success of this method of fertilization depended.
"Diseases of plants, like those of animals," Ruegg said, "result from malnutrition. Give an animal the right foods in proper proportions and he will maintain a comparatively perfect state of health. Deprive him of some of the food elements his body requires and ill health and deterioration follow inevitably.
"A growing plant secures its nourishment from the soil, and, if the nutrients are not there, disease and death follow. Good soil in its natural state, contains the principal earth-ash substances:
"A great many of the ravages in plant life commonly laid to insects and unseen parasites are really the effect of sap diseases. Plants suffer from diseases of the sap, just as man suffers from diseases of the blood. It is because they have not been given the right kinds of foods that such conditions exist. Only by correcting these nutritive errors—by feeding in accordance with the demands of nature—can such diseases be cured."
While most of Ruegg's farm was devoted to the cultivation of lava-grown fruits, flowers and vegetables, one section was set aside to raise plants without lava. The same seeds were planted in both parts of the farm; the same pains were taken in cultivation. The only difference was that lava was added to part of the soil, while in the other portion, only barnyard manure and chemical fertilizers were used. A more striking illustration of the horrible effect of malnutrition in plant life could scarcely be imagined—if "malnutrition" is the term that should be used.
The soil in one corner of the farm contained the same proportion of mineral as the ground that is now so much more fertile, Ruegg explained. "The failure of plants to grow satisfactorily without lava indicates clearly something more than nitrogenous or phosphate fertilizers are required. Fertilizers that contain nitrogen or ammonia, and only potash aren't capable of feeding plants properly. They may drug the plants, and so produce a temporary effect of luxuriant growth, but the result is not permanent because the cause has not been removed. When any mineral elements are lacking in soil, the soil is 'sick' and 'sick' soil can produce nothing but sickly vegetation.
The old school of agriculture taught farmers that nitrogen, phosphoric acid and potash are the only foods soil needs. What is the result? Although American farmers use hundreds of millions tons of fertilizer, their plants, vines and trees still suffer many diseases to which the vegetable kingdom is heir. Only by giving vegetation foods that combine to produce organic life can perfect organic life be obtained."
THE LAVA CONNECTION
Ruegg presents his case very convincingly. One couldn't escape the logic of his arguments, but, if you persisted that it is possible that a proposition may be logically correct and yet not be true, he would take you to his laboratory and demonstrate, by actual tests there is something more than mere theoretical basis for his science of fertilization.
He would show, for example, what mineral elements the sample of soil contains. He would show, too, that chemical fertilizers and ordinary barnyard manure don't contain the elements the soil lacked. Then, he would give ocular proof that the elements lacking in the soil and common fertilizers, can be found in lavas he brought from the sides of volcanoes—from Vesuvius, Hekla, Aetna, Mount Pelee, Tacoma, Mauna-loa, Timboro, and Chimborazo.
Such a demonstration was evidential. One was forced to admit after witnessing it that the proposition resolves down to one vital question: to what degree does the soil require the mineral elements in the production of healthy vegetation? If, as Ruegg asserted, they are the very life of the plant, and without them healthful growth is impossible, the importance of his discovery is apparent.
Ruegg had another theory—not so easily demonstrated—that the health of animal and vegetable kingdoms are so closely related that one may be said to actually depend upon the other.
"Everything in life," he said in explanation, "is a matter of transformation, or progression. This law of progression begins with the mineral and works up to man. It is the mineral that produces the plant. The animal feeds upon the plant. Man feeds upon both plant and animal. That which means health and strength for one means health and strength for the other. That which begins weakness, disease and death to the lower strata of organic life forces the same heritance on the highest organism, or on man himself.
"Thus, given healthful soil, or soil containing the right proportion of mineral elements, we have healthful vegetation, and so on—up to the scale—to well-fed looking cattle, and germ-proof human beings. If this law of healthful life is to be kept in operation, however, there must be no break in the chain. Minerals may have been in soil originally, but a few seasons growing crops will impoverish the best soil.
"Cattle eat plants, extracting mineral elements they contain. The rest is discarded, yet farmers endeavor year after year to restore the virtues of soil by giving back to it this residue in the form of manure—matter in which there are practically none of the mineral elements that make healthful vegetation possible."
Ruegg contended the consumption of such plants is responsible for the greater portion of the ill-health that exists in the animal world, from the beast up to man himself. It was an interesting theory while spade work was done on the Panama Canal, but few listened.
But isn't it intersting to note how slowly the world catches up with its greatest thinkers? John J. Ruegg accepted the dictates of reason—and for our time this suggests that the slow thinkers have a long way to go.
The Earth Renewal and Restoration Alliance — www.ancientforests.us — www.carbon-negative.us — www.nutrient-dense.info — 2/14/2009