Learn about your soil
Six Basic Rules of Bio-Logical Farming
Rule 1 - Test and balance your soil.
We recommend you test for at least 10 nutrients: phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulphur, zinc, manganese, iron, copper and boron. Nitrogen isn’t tested for, but it’s applied based on the results of the soil test. If there’s a good nutrient balance (especially with calcium and sulphur) and a lot of soil life, less nitrogen is needed. You can test the soil every three of four years (right before seeding a field if you have livestock and grow legumes), or more frequently in problem areas. If you haven’t done soil tests in a long time, test the whole farm. One sample can represent up to 20 acres.
Rule 2 - Use fertilisers which are life-promoting.
Use soil-friendly fertilisers and conditioners; there are some fertilisers you should avoid that can be detrimental to soil life, minimally processed fertilisers are preferable.
Rule 3 - Minimise pesticide and herbicide use.
The need for pesticides and herbicides should decrease as nutrients come into balance and soil life becomes more active. Bacteria and fungi that can protect plants from pest and disease will thrive under the right conditions, and healthier plants are more ‘immune’ to attacks of any kind. If a problem does present itself, a biological farmer should try non-toxic control methods first; crop rotation, soil balancing, mechanical control (timely cultivation) and releasing natural enemies. Only use toxic chemicals if non-toxic methods fail after a few weeks, and use them as moderately as possible (e.g. banding a herbicide, spot-spraying, adding humic acid to a low pH tank mix).
Rule 4 – Use a short rotation.
Rotate every year or two for fewer weeds, disease and pest problems. Crop yields are higher and inputs lower than with a long rotation or with mono-cropping.
Rule 5 – Use tillage to control soil, air, water and the decay of organic materials.
Raw organic matter (plant residues and animal manures) should be tilled into the upper layers of the soil for optimum decay into humus. Another way to add humus is to compost organic matter then add the compost to the soil. This reduces the volume of material to haul. If you do need to till deeply, don’t invert the soil. Instead, slice or uplift it. Never till soil that’s wet and keep field traffic to a minimum to reduce compaction.
Rule 6 – Feed soil life.
If you feed the soil microbes, they will feed the crops. Soil life thrives on a mixture of cellulose-containing (plant matter) and nitrogen-containing (animal manures and legumes) organic matter in a ratio of two to one. Add rock phosphate or a little lime for balance. Incorporate a green manure crop (rye, red clover, Austrian field peas, alfalfa or buckwheat). After adding raw organic matter, allow time for it to break down, or else some nutrients get ‘tied up’ by micro-organisms, becoming unavailable to plants. Don’t overload the soil with manure or raw organic matter. On the other hand, composted organic matter can be applied liberally because it’s basically humus already. Once your major nutrients are balanced, consider ‘fine-tuning’ with biological stimulants like kelp (seaweed), humic acids, enzymes, vitamins and hormones; also inoculants of beneficial bacteria, fungi or algae.