Biological gardens have had a changing role throughout history, beginning often as medicinal gardens for the study and cultivation of plants with healing properties and going through many phases including of course as pleasure gardens. But the fact that their collections are more or less scientific, means they are continually adapting and serving the needs of their societies in evolving ways as new challenges face those societies.
By Dr. Mercola
One of my new passions is sustainable, biological farming, and Dr. Arden Andersen is a world leader in this field. His position is particularly interesting as, in addition to being a soil scientist and agricultural consultant, he is also a physician.
He happens to be a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) just like I am, specializing in nutritional management. He also advises farmers in building biology, helping them to optimize the energy environment of buildings, homes, and livestock facilities.
Originally raised on a dairy farm in Michigan, his father had a deep understanding of the direct correlation between nutrition and animal health. Dr. Andersen got a degree in agriculture from Arizona, and did a work exchange program in the Netherlands.
All the while during his schooling, he was struck by the fact that what he was taught didn't correlate to what he saw on his family's farm, particularly as it pertained to animal health and nutrition.
He recounts one such disconnect between the real world and what the University was trying to perpetuate as the status quo:
“In 1981 or 1982, I took a short course from Michigan State University on potatoes. It was very interesting to me that professors stepped in front of the class and said, ‘You cannot grow potatoes in alkaline soils.'
Having gone to the University of Arizona, they raise a lot of potatoes in Arizona in all alkaline soils. I recognized as well that Idaho, which is the number one potato-producing state in the country, is alkaline soil.
That didn't jive. I was like, ‘Wait a minute, these guys here at this university tell me you can't grow potatoes in alkaline soil when the majority of potatoes in the country are grown in alkaline soils.'“
The Root of Health Begins in the Soil
Dr. Andersen decided to delve deeper into the biological approach and took a class from Dan Skow and the late Carey Reams, where he learned the Reams' Biological Theory of Ionization (RBTI). This theory proposes that the cure for any animal or human disease can be found in the health and composition of the soil that the food is grown in.
He started consulting with and for them, and also worked with the late veterinarian Dan Skow. Later, he went back to medical school, realizing that this would allow him to have a far greater impact.
“As a result, I can talk to 100 percent of the population,” he says. “As a physician, you can talk to all [people]. As a consultant in agriculture, I can essentially only talk to two percent of the population, which is the farming population. Being a physician, even when I talk to farmers about soil, they also have a personal life. They have personal health issues. I can bring that whole thing together for them.
…I was taught as a child: you have to observe. Taking Carey Reams' course, one of the things he said is ‘see what you look at.' His little book called The Farmer Wants to Know was my introduction to why weeds are there; why we have insects…”
What are those pesky bugs good for? As Dr. Andersen explains, insects are nature's garbage collectors. Thanks to their specialized digestive systems, which differ from ours, they remove that which is not fit for us to eat—things we cannot digest. And weeds are nature's way of evolving the soil—it's an intermediate plant that mobilizes nutrients in order to alter the soil, making it more suitable for the next evolutionary level of plants to grow in it.
“That can happen maybe over 1,000 years, or we can actually manage that to happen in over three to five years,” he says.
Once you understand this natural cycle, it allows you to address weeds, insects, and plant disease at its point of origination, without ever resorting to chemical herbicides, pesticides, fungicides or synthetic fertilizers.
Soil Health Dictates Everything
One of the fundamental basics taught by Carey Reams is that the higher a plant's sugar content is, the higher its nutrient density. To measure sugar content in your plant, you use a refractometer, also called a Brix meter. (I'll discuss this tool further below.)
Sugar content is often used as an indicator of quality—not because the sugars are in and of themselves necessarily an indicator of quality, but they're typically associated with the plant's mineral content. Hence, it can be used as a marker of quality. Brix meters are available on Amazon.com and other places, and can be had for under $100.
Two other fundamental soil principles relate to calcium and carbon. Reams used chicken manure as a calcium inoculant, and steer manure as a carbon source. Today, most chicken and steer manure is contaminated, thanks to the way animals are raised in large-scale factory farms. According to Dr. Andersen:
“Chicken manure today is not safe. Most of it has been tested – it's got glyphosate in it. It has genetically engineered proteins in it. Because of the poor health of the chickens, it doesn't have a microbial inoculation in there. We actually have companies producing probiotics, if you will, for the soil. We use those.”
As for carbon, rather than using potentially contaminated steer manure, Dr. Andersen is now using things like humic acid or humates. This promotes the proliferation of beneficial microorganisms in the soil, which then sequester carbon in the soil. The principles Dr. Andersen teaches in his three-day class on soil health are still fundamentally Reams' principles, because that's the basic science. Current technologies are then integrated to execute those principles with the greatest efficiency and effectiveness.
Biological Farming Helps with Carbon Sequestration
Rising carbon dioxide concentrations in our atmosphere is a concern that has many scientists worried for the future of humanity. Interestingly, one of the most pernicious contributing factors to this is not necessarily the burning of fossil fuels (although that's certainly a factor as well), but rather it's our modern agricultural practices.
I'm really excited about the alternatives, especially the application of biochar (charcoal created by slowly heating biomass such as wood and plant materials in a low-oxygen environment). Once added to soil, biochar helps sequester carbon for hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years, and radically improve soil fertility by serving as a substrate for beneficial soil microbes.
Adding biochar to just 10 percent of the world's croplands would store 29 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. This roughly equals the world's annual greenhouse emissions. As mentioned, the addition of biochar also improves soil fertility, allowing for healthier crops, so it's a win-win situation. That said, Dr. Andersen claims that by simply following appropriate, sustainable farm management practices you don't even need to go through the process of creating and adding biochar.
“If we follow those, by default we solve the carbon sequestration issues. We solve the environmental issues. Because what happens is that we increase the carbon in the soil, and that's sequestration of air carbon,” he says. “A couple of different studies that I am familiar with showed that just by sequestering carbon in 15-20 percent of the arable land in the world, we would more than reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air that is causing a problem. As I said, by default, we solve all the environmental problems if we just do appropriate farming.”
In addition to reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide, by increasing carbon levels in our soils, we can:
- Decrease weed proliferation. The USDA Soil Tilth Laboratory showed that increasing the carbon level in soil can decrease weeds by as much as 75 percent.
- Increase the soil's water-holding capacity. The Organic Horticulture Benefits Alliance (OHBA), an organization in Houston, Texas that do organic turf management, have shown that they can decrease water use for lawns by 50 percent by biological means alone.
Three Basic Principles of Biological Gardening
It's important to realize that modern farming systems have veered quite far from the basic sciences of soil cultivation and plant nutrition. According to Dr. Andersen, the reason they've been able to make such great strides in increasing the nutritional density and yield of their crops is by returning to those basic sciences, and using those basic sciences to explain how and why these high performance methods work so well.
“Fundamentally, what we really have to understand is that all life really is about microbiology,” he says. “If you take care of the microbiology in your gut, they take care of you. The same principle holds true in the soil. If we take care of that probiotic population in the soil, it will then take care of us. Because fundamentally, if we study microbiology and then subsequently biochemistry, what we understand is that those microbes are the ones that are really sequestering nutrients for us, digesting food for us, and then making those things available for our stimulation, whether it be amino acids, trace minerals, vitamins, or whatever that vital nutrient might be.”
The exact same thing happens in plants. In order for plants to flourish, the soil must first be made hospitable for beneficial microorganisms. To accomplish this, you need to:
- Have the right nutrient balance in the soil
- Inoculate the soil. This can be done by adding soil probiotics or basic fermentation products such as compost tea
- Apply proper food (fertilizer) for the microorganisms to consume and thrive. The microbes in turn will then feed the proper nutrients to the plants grown in that soil. The better you're able to fertilize the microbes, the healthier your plants will be, and the fewer plant diseases, pest infestations and weed problems you'll have
Make sure to read the rest of the article at Article.mercola.