Biblical Agriculture -- Key to Good Health
by Eric Eweson, Swedish biochemist in March 1962
From soil we derive our food. Soil consists of finely ground rock elements and decayed organic matter. FERTILE SOIL accumulates very slowly, but it can be destroyed very rapidly. Even under favorable conditions in one climate it would take three or four hundred years to accumulate an inch of it!
Why Soil Is Losing Its Fertility
It has been in the last fifty years -- and, I would say, notably in the New World -- that there has been greater demands on the land than the land can give without losing its natural firtility. This situation cannot be remedied by chemical -- or commercial -- fertilizers, as we call them, which are being used so extensively in modern times to increase the yield from the soil. As you probably all know, the theory of chemical fertilizers was born of war. It was conceived in Germany during the latter part of the nineteenth cemury by a gentleman whose name was Baron Justus von Liebig. He developed his theory by analyzing organic matter and noticing the predominance of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash. He then conceived the idea of adding those major elements to soil in the form of water-soluble chemicals to increase production. The idea seemed to work like magic and was gradually adopted all over the world. But one important fact was overlooked.
Life Was Missing!
In more recent years we have discovered that even if we add to the soil these chemicals which are the ones used in the largest quantities by plant life, we still use up the organic living portion of the soil. And the greater the quantity of chemical fertilizer that we apply, the faster is the organic, living portion used up! As the organic matter diminishes, we must increase the quantity of chemicals to obtain the same yields -- not to mention the loss of quality. Gradually we will arrive at the point when there isn't enough of the humus fertility left in the soil to sustain a crop. NO MATTER HOW MUCH CHEMICAL FERTILIZER WE APPLY. In common terms, the soil is then said to have "died." The death of soil is a phenomenon that has occurred from early historical times. The earliest example is probably in China, some 1000 years before Christ. Such "soil death" was also a dominant factor in the decline of the Persian Empire after 500 B.C. It was previously the principal cause of the decline of the Babylonian Empire which flourished on the rich but thin soil in the valley of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. When the humus was used up, the topsoil could no longer resist erosion. It disappeared into the rivers. With the drastically reduced quantity and quality of food the civilization declined and finally disappeared. The same happened later in Greece. Again in the Roman Empire, which, at the time of the birth of Christ, had to go across the Mediterranean to obtain its grain. All these developments, of course, took a long time. In Greece it probably took three to four hundred years. In North Africa it took less, because by that time the Romans had introduced one-crop agriculture, growing the same crop year after year on the same land without letting it rest. The agricultural land was thus in process of death for a much shorter time than, for instance, in China, Persia and Greece.
Our Land Today
The problem has developed very similarly, but very much faster, in America! We have seen it in the Middle West where for many years we have had serious dust storms. Such dust storms are possible only after the soil has lost its humus, because it's the humus which holds the soil particles together in larger aggregates so that they don't blow away. When the quantity of the humus is inadequate to hold the soil, what little is left of organic matter blows away, leaving nothing but the dead sand and rock. The land after that is completely useless for agricultural production, and the rehabilitation of it is no simple problem.
For example, the Sahara desert did not extend nearly so far north even 500 years ago as it does now. Today the Sahara in many places extends right to the Mediterranean. Whereas, in the times of the Romans, the coastline along the Mediterranean was very fertile, it is now fertile only in small isolated areas and then only with irrigation. The moving up north of the desert has also changed the climate so that there is now hardly any precipitation. This was not the case when it was still fertile land that could cause the vapors from the Mediterranean to condense and bring some rain. Land in many other places has been affected similarly by drastic soil abuse.
In California you have large areas that were very ferrile as late as 15 to 20 years ago but which are now no longer productive, in spite of the adequate irrigation, much like in the Euphrates-Tigris valley. This is, in few words, the sad state of the soil fertility in large parts of the world today. WE HAVE MUCH LESS ARABLE LAND TODAY THAN WE HAVE EVER BEFORE HAD IN HISTORICAL TIMES. And it now has to do for a much larger popularion! Before we go further, let me explain what living soil is, and why good soil must have humus.
What Living Soil Is Like
Decaying organic matter is called humus. The greatest proportion of fertile soil is rock material -- inorganic material -- so that only a very small proportion of fertile soil is humus. Even very fertile soil may well contain as little as
5% humus in the top six inches. The rest is inorganic mineral matter. Many soils can be enormously productive if this humus is maintained in these proportions, and if this humus consists of well-decomposed organic matter. Unfortunately, the humus wears out -- or is consumed -- by cropping. If you take from the land more than you put back what you remove is part of the quantity of humus. New mineral nutrient matter is constantly being made available. In fertile soil it is manufactured, you might say, by means of microbial activities and the various effects of the weather. Rock is ground in many ways by nature and can then be decomposed by microbial activities. That is the reason why humus contains mineral nurrients of all kinds.
There is seldom any shortage of nutrient minerals in fertile soil because those minerals are constantly liberated by the soil microbes and incorporated in their cell tissues. In that form they are not water-soluble and thus cannot be leached out by the rain as is done with man-made chemical fertilizers.
But they can be utilized by the plants that are growing in the soil. This involves breakdown and using up of soil microorganisms and humus and is the reason why humus has to be renewed. If agriculture is not intensive -- if, for instance, it is based upon letting the land rest once every three or four years in countries of temperate climate, then there is a very good chance that the soil can maintain fair productivity. That has been the case in some parts of the world, especially in the northern half of Europe. They still have some land with a fair amount of natural fertility.
Hydroponically-Grown Plants Using Chemicals Is Not the Solution
What can be done to correct this situation is of course the big problem. There is a great deal of difference in opinions. There are still some people who believe that with more and better chemicals we can restore our soil. There are even those who think that by new methods of growing -- producing more or less synthetic food-- we can solve the problem. Bur there are others of us who believe this to be wishful thinking.
You have probably heard of hydroponics, a method of growing plants in a water solution of the major plant nutrient elements. No doubt one can grow plants that way -- I have grown some myself-- but there are some very significant consequences. The plants will, for instance, not produce seeds capable of germination. They are also extremely frail and spoil quickly. The nutritional value is, however, where the changes are the most fatal, as the plants contain practically no protein. While you will find nitrogen in them, it has not combined to build up proteins but remains in the form of nitrate or, still worse, nitrite.
Our bodies can't produce protein from these simple elements. We must have the proteins more or less ready made for us as all we can do is to modify them to suit our particular requirements. The same holds true of our animals since only plants and microbes can build proteins. If plants are grown in a manner that they lack in protein, as hydroponically grown plants do, then there isn't much use in growing them! Other ideas have been proposed for producing food. Growing fungi or algae would seem both logical and sensible until you begin to scrutinize what it implies. I have considerable experience from large-scale manufacture of fungi which may help to throw light on the problem. Let me tell you the background.
Algae Farms With Substitute Nutrients Tried
As you probably all know, paper mills have a very objectionable waste that pollutes rivers and spoils the water for fishing and bathing. It has long been considered to be a useless waste product, but it isn't so at all! An old Swedish friend of mine conceived, many years ago, the idea of manufacturing baker's yeast from this very serious polluting agent. After some experiments a factory was built in Finland-- it was a great success-- whereupon I built two similar facilities in Canada. This paper mill waste, usually referred to as sulphite liquor, is a much worse polluting agent even than sewage, although the latter is probably the one that we are most generally disturbed by since now most of our rivers are polluted by it. I am making this introduction to show you that "waste products" is really not the proper name. They should better be called "by-products" because they are seldom useless and become objectionable waste products only when we fail to use them properly.
In producing fungi-- or baker's yeast -- to bake bread, we were not involved with its nutritional value. All we were concerned about was to produce a yeast that would raise bread, which is largely a function of generating carbon dioxide and other gases to help break down the flour and make the bread more porous and digestable. We were, therefore, not concerned about how the protein was built up in the yeast cells. In modern yeast manufacturing methods one uses cheap chemicals for most of the nutrients instead of the more expensive organic materials like malt or grain, from which yeast was originally made in bygone days. In other words, one substitutes inexpensive CHEMICALS for expensive ORGANIC materials! This has a very drastic effect on the fungi.
One effect is that they become weak and lose much of their virility and resistance to infections, so that a yeast factory has to be conducted under sterile conditions much like an operating room in a hospital. There must be no wild yeast or other microbes in the air, because if any such microbes--especially wild yeast which has been produced naturally and therefore is very virile -- should get into a mash of synthetically fed yeast, they would quickly devour the whole batch!
Another very significant point is that after a number of generations the chemically grown yeast fungi lose their powers of reproduction. The yeast is then no longer usable as seed and one has to start with a fresh culture of naturally grown yeast every two or three weeks. The above is particularIy significant from the point of view of plant nutrition, as we know that exactIy the same thing occurs in modern agriculture in respect to corn. Few farmers can use their own grain as seed. They have to buy special seed because their own grain, if grown many years on poor, chemically fertilized soil, won't germinate. This may be looked upon by many as comparatively unimportant. But it is of basic importance for understanding that what we produce as food and what man has been accustomed to existing on for so many thousands of years cannot suddenly be changed without serious consequences to man's health.
By not giving back to the soil the by-products of life, like our city wastes, and by soil not deriving any benefit from the "droppings" of tractors and other machinery, there is a new situation in modern agriculture which necessitates a drastic change in point of view. We have to find some way of returning our organic by-produces -- not waste products -- to the land. In our urbanized civilization, with the greater part of the population living in cities and only a very small part on the land, it is becoming simply a question of "to be or not to be."
Composting An Ancient Solution
In manuscripts from the 8th and 9th centuries, we find descriptions of the methods they used to convert their by-products into soil. They had seen that organic matter would disappear if it was put in the soil and they took the hint from that and developed it in a very efficient and a very systematic way.
In densely populated countries they could not well afford to conduct the process of by-product conversion on the crop land. Thus they always built their compost piles away from the productive fields and not until the compost was ready did they put it on the land, This was quicker and more efficient than our ways.
When our farmers do have a fair supply of manure, it is put direcrly on the land to let it slowly decompose there. Naturally that is a good method, too, but if productive land is short in supply, it is well to prepare the fertilizer away from the field and not put it on the land until it has been fully converted into humus, and thus is immediately available to plant life.
It is to be noted that as long as the ancient agriculturist used his "wastes" in the described manner, as was done in China, Persia and Babylonia over long periods, his soil would not lose, bur increase, in fertility. It was usually as a result of prosperity gained through wars, conquest and commerce that neglect of the soil and its "law of rerum" developed and the land gave out.
Coming back now to this fermentation process whereby organic waste rnaterials are converted into humus by soil microbial activities: Pasteur was first to teach us what was going on in those old compost piles. Today, we know better how to process garbage and sewage and how to inoculate with the right kind of soil microbes for the best utilization of these materials to produce a high·grade natural compost or humus that looks and smells like very fertile topsoil.
It will be startling to many to learn thar this process can now be completed in less days than it formerly took months. It can be done on a very large industrial scale to suit any size of community. Costly-to-dispose-of city refuse and sewage now causing serious air and water pollution can thus be the means of rehabilitating our abused soil!
QUESTION, "How can you tell when you are 'pushing' the soil or overworking it?"
ANSWER, The yields go down and the pests increase.
QUESTION: "You mentioned a while ago that the key to a healrhy nation is a healthy soil. Does this explain modern degenerative diseases?"
ANSWER: You may be surprised to hear that the death rate from degenerative diseases --cardiac and liver trouble, cancer and mental deficiencies -- is alarmingly high in this country and that no nation in western Europe has as high a rate. But you do enjoy an exceedingly low death rate for infants, so that when the death rates for all causes are combined --which are the more widely published figures --this country is still a little better off than others. The question is how will this situation develop in the future. Especially disturbing is the increase in mental diseases in America. I believe, and most physicians agree, that malnutrition is the basic cause for ALL disease! Bur malnutrition is not primarily inadequate quantity of food, but inadequate QUALITY!! In this country we need to be concerned solely with the latter.
QUESTION, "What effect do chemical poisons have on the soil? In this nation chemical poisons are used on many crops to kill boll weevils, codling moths, and many other crop-destroying insects. What effect does this have upon the microbes in the soil?
ANSWER: It has a toxic effect on all life in soil. In soil it is not only the soil microbes that are desirable, but you have an enormous number of beneficial insects. Often some preparatory work has to be done by such insects, after which the microbes appear and finish up the job.
By using pesticides and poisons of various kinds to combat weeds, pests and parasites, you will always have a poisonous residue that will become incorporated with the soil. Such residues are invariably harmful to soil life, and can have even worse effects than chemical fertilizers.
QUESTION, "You mentioned that insecticides have been applied to plants and gone into the soil, and their effect on the soil. What relationship does good soil have in reduction of diseases and pest infestations in orchards and fields? In other words, what can be done in the soil itself to reduce pests and diseases in plants without harming the soil?"
ANSWER, My idea would be to improve the fertility of the soil. Pests and parasites have always existed, but they were never as dominant as they are today on our exhausted soils. We have now had modern pesticides for some 20 years. Yet pests and parasites have never been nearly as much of a problem in agriculture as they are today. For some 4000 and more years humanity managed very well without pesticides. All this proves that with fertile soil, pests and parasites are not a serious problem.
Remember also that we NEED pests and parasites, because their purpose is to destroy the weak and the unfit. That is a basic organic principle. Without such natural censorship the species would not improve but would degenerate. A weak plant is one that should be prevented from reproducing itself. Note how many of the pests and disease organisms go right to the seed. Take the corn borer or the larva that destroys the seed of apples and pears. This has the aspect of a natural law, which is difficult to prove only because we don't yet know enough! We know that when we use more and more pesticides the pests develop greater and greater immunity. Mosquitoes and flies become immune to DDT in a season or two. So we have to use bigger and bigger doses and stronger and stronger poisons to controI the pests, and yet we have more than we've ever had before. This is a serious dilemma and a big problem. I don't say that we can be absolutely sure about fertile soil being the complete cure, but take agriculture in the times of your father or grand-father. Farmers then certainly didn't have much problem with pests and parasites, I know my father didn't. They could not have made a living by their old methods if they had had our insect problems. We actually know very little about the hundreds of different pests and parasites that bother us. After all, just because we have names for them doesn't mean that we know much about them. Today it seems the average American farmer spends more money and time on pesticides than he does on anything else. Take tobacco, for instance, which they must spray three to four times a week, and if it should rain, they must immediately spray again in order ro replace what the rain washed off in the soil. These are the instructions given by the Department of Agriculture!
QUESTION, "What is the extent of damage that is done to the soil bacteria by commercial fenilizers?
ANSWER: I can tell you that only in general terms. Water-soluble chemicals, like nitrates, phosphates and potash, are all toxic. They are so toxic to plants and to microbes that if you apply too much both the plants and the microbes die. You and I would die too if we should consume even a very moderate dose. Water-soluble chemicals, of course, do not remain in the soil, as they would soon leach out. They are, therefore, used in much larger quantities than the plants can absorb. By using the chemicals moderately you can, however, minimize the toxic effects but you can't AVOID the fact that plants and soil microbes are still affected as to metabolism and cell structure! Wheat, for instance, used to average 16% protein. Today our wheat averages no more than 12% protein. While such a drop of 1/4 may not appear too serious, we don't know what all it entails. We do know that it is the protein that carries the trace minerals, the enzymes, the vitamins. That 4% difference may well mean the difference between a good wheat and a very deficient wheat. Farmers today know that they have to feed much larger quantities of grains than they had to in times past.
QUESTION, "Much has been said in the last few years about 'trace minerals.' Has study revealed just what the functions of these minerals are?"
ANSWER: That is more than I can answer, and in defense I may say that nobody quite knows. We are discovering new angles continuously. Until some ten years ago nobody thought that boron, manganese, or molybdenum were very important nutrient elements, but now we have found that they are absolutely essential. Copper, zinc, fluorine, iodine--all of them are necessary for some purpose, and in some cases we know why. At least we know what happens if they are unavailable to plants, animals and humans.
QUESTION: "Why is it that farmers often have to buy seed even for open-pollinated corn, instead of using their own seed year after year?"
ANSWER: Because their own corn, being grown on a chemical diet, does not germinate properly. The same occurred in respect to tomatoes that were grown by hydroponics. In other words, tomatoes were grown on a new kind of food--chemicals. But they were not accustomed to it--and it is doubtful that they could ever be--so they would nor produce germinating seeds to perpetuate themselves. It is the same with our grains being grown largely with nitrates, phosphates, and potash chemicals. They were not made to grow on a diet composed mainly of those three chemicals.' Such a diet induces plant malnutrition. This causes disturbances, one of which is that seed loses germinating strength. The same occurs to yeast grown with chemical nutrients.
QUESTION: "When you say to let the soil rest, what do you mean?"
ANSWER: To rest the soil you generally grow some kind of a cover crop on it, later to be plowed in to increase the organic content of the soil. Of course, you can also put the land to pasture, which will also improve it to some degree. In some European countries like Holland and Denmark, where modern intensive agriculture had an early start, they soon found that the soil began to deteriorate. Then chemical fertilizers came into use to increase yields, which confused the situation for about fifty years.
Today in Europe most people are aware of the need to use the municipal wastes for the land, and that is now being done more and more extensively. But very few are as yet making real compost by modern methods. In fact I know of only two countries where it is done, in Spain and Norway, and those factories were built by me. Others are merely grinding up the wastes and segregating glass and other foreign matter for salvage. The ground organic matter is put on the land and plowed in for decomposition in the soil while the land rests. That can be done if the soil still has some humus fertility left. But if such raw organic matter is applied to soil that is too poor in microbial life then, of course, the organic matter fails to readily decompose and become humus. Using raw undecomposed organic wastes on the soil is far from the proper way, but is much better than our chemical ways!
QUESTION: "What is the American Medical Association's approach to this problem of soil health?"
ANSWER, The grear majoriry of the Medical Association are not as yet aware or concerned about it. But there is a very active minority group of physicians which is keenly awake to the situation.
QUESTION: "Would you recommend any particular books on the principles of conservation?
ANSWER: The last ten years have seen a great deal of new literature in this field. There is especially one man who has written very clearly on the sub- ject, yet not in too scientific terms. His name is Leonard Wickenden. He has written several very readable books. We have, of course, also the English- man, Sir Albert Howard. He was really the father of this new concept of natural agriculture. He died only a few years ago. He was one of my teachers at one time. He did most of his work in India, and was the originator of the so-called "Indore Method" for making compost on farms; not industrially, which
is my great interest. In our society we must, to survive, use our city wastes in order to solve, not only our soil problem, but also our desperate air and water pollution problems. For this we need a method that meets modern demands for sanitation, results in no objectionable odors and requires a minimum of manual labor. You can't get manual labor in our society for making compost of our municipal wastes by primitive, ill-smelling methods. But done by modern industrial technique it is just as clean an operation as making yeast or operating a dairy. The materials are processed in closed fermentors into which sewage would be piped. Garbage and other refuse is also handled largely by machines. The high temperatures developed during the process of fermenting is an absolute guarantee against the survival of any microbes harmful to man or beast. We have proven that it can be done and that the end product is a most effective fertilizer. There remains the need for vision and a will to pioneer.
QUESTION, "Would this plant do away with city dumps and garbage dumps where they just burn the garbage?"
ANSWER: Of course, and not only for garbage, but for most of the trash, too. In Los Angeles the refuse comains about 50 to 60% paper. Paper is an organic product, it comes from the soil, and the cellulose decomposes the same as cabbage leaves and celery, etc. There is thus no objection to the paper. In trash you have also other things -- metal, rags, etc., which should be salvaged. Rags of wool or cotton will, of course, decompose, but not nylon because the microbes are very particular in not wanting anything synthetic. QUESTION: "In converting these industrial by-products into organic fertilizers, how would you eliminate some of the very poisonous materials that we find in by-products?"
ANSWER: That is a very interesting question. Waste products from most food processing plants, breweries, canning factories, flour mills, packing houses, etc.-- they offer no problem. But then you have, for instance, chemical factories that produce pesticides. When those pesticides are defective, they are sometimes thrown into sewers. That is bad for the sewage and for our process. But sooner or later that has to be taken care of in some way anyway, because such pollution of our water supply is terribly destructive. The growing use of detergents in American households is already now making the sewage treatment process more difficult to operate. Not yet so that it doesn't function, but if it should continue to increase, there will have to be some new rules. There is already now a considerable check on industry not to dump certain materials into the sewer. Such poisons as DDT, a very serious poison which is now almost everywhere present, is actually broken down by the microbial activities in the fermentation process if you do not have enough DDT to kill all the microbes. If not present in great quantities, it is broken down in fertile soil in the same way, but you must have GOOD fertile soil with an abundance of microbes to do it. Good soil can eventually recuperate from the abuse rendered by small amounts of DDT. All of such poisons are not broken down, though.
QUESTION: "In the sewage fermentation process, what is the danger, or lack of danger, of passing on diseases through use of human waste in this process?"
ANSWER: That is a very good question to bring up. Here again, natural laws are shown at their very best. In a proper composting process, the microbes themselves develop a temperature as high as 160 to 180° F. Now there are no pathogens--disease producing organisms --that can stand more than about 125° F, for more than a few seconds. So there is absolutely no danger of harmful bacteria surviving in compost. Even if you aerate the process that I am describing with cold air, the microbes will raise the temperature to 160° F. and more. So natural laws are provided to guarantee ample safety. Now as far as such life as nematodes is concerned, which under certain circumstances can survive high temperatures, we still don't need to worry. They are devoured by those busy little soil microbes. They love nematodes! In my experiments with compost over the last 20 years, I must have had cuts on my hands hundreds of times. I have deliberately never taken any precautions, and I have never had any infection. Soil is a great cleanser! Soil is where disease has to end!! The Tetani microbes, for example, do not exist in fertile soil. But you could get Tetanus from a wound caused by falling on a street or on a gravel road, especially if animal excrement is around.
QUESTION, "Mr. Eweson, I understand that you have built some units to convert sewage to compost in different countries. Would you explain how that works and how long it takes to convert that into compost?"
ANSWER: The fermentation cycle is from five to seven days, but can probably be brought down to four days. This means that sewage and garbage after only four days is converted into concentrated soil fertility. You can hardly distinguish it from very rich topsoil. The process is simple and works very well. You don't expect me to say anything else! As a matter of fact, the county of Los Angeles has built an experimental plant to test my system, and they have only recently stopped these experiments, stating that they are satisfied that the process is practical on a large scale. So someday you may see it here too.
QUESTION, "In your process for use of municipal by-products, how do you handle the volume of contaminated water that would go to the plant along with the sewage?"
ANSWER: For my composting process we cannot use the highly diluted sewage water directly from the sewers. Excess water has to be eliminated by conventional types of sewage treatment plants, although they can be very simplified. We can use the sludge residue with anywhere from 10 to 40% dry content. But the remaining sewage water which still holds from 1/2% to 1% solids can also be fermented by a supplementary fermentation process. We can no longer afford to pollute our water supply with sewage. This is a problem that has to be solved very soon. It is high time that somebody does something about it.
QUESTION, "You mentioned growing some of the crops out here on California desert lands. When we bring water into a desert area, for a short time it seems as though the land is fabulously rich and then it loses productivity. Is that due to possibly just a very minimum portion of vegerable matter being in the soil? Is this desert land particularly rich in minerals so that it offsets the lack of humus for a short time?"
ANSWER: I shall try to explain that. It is true thar this particular soil is rich in minerals that plants can utilize. The minerals are still there largely because there is very little rain to leach them out. With such land you can make good crops on a minimum of good organic matter. After the plants have used up those available mineral nutrients and as there is very little organic matter left in the soil, these nutrients cannot be replenished. There is, you see, a lack of humus and soil life to break down and decompose the rock material!
It is the activity of the microbes in the soil that constantly liberates all of the mineral nutrienrs needed for healthy plant growth. If you take the average agricultural soil in the United States, you will have from two to ten thousand pounds of phosphorus per acre, twenty to thirty thousand of potassium per acre in the top six inches-and much greater quantities in the subsoil. All other mineral plant nurrients will be found in relatively equal abundance.
However, they are not in compounds that the plants can utilize. If you fertilize such land with good organic ferrilizers which stimulate microbial activities, then these enormous quantities of nutrients will gradually be released for utilization by the plants.
QUESTION, "I have practiced the use of compost pits several times in the past on a small farm. You made mention of introducing some type of soil
microbe to start a compost pit. I now have one that has so far been made with soil and wet leaves. Apparently there aren't enough microbes in the soil to institute the action. How do you begin it?"
ANSWER : You are beginning an inquiry into the intricacies of the composting art. The first thing I would like to say is this: If in this compost pile you have only leaves and soil, you don't have a very good base. Good compost is preferably made from various kinds of organic raw materials. Everything needs variety in its diet. I wouldn't say it is lack of inoculation, but rather the uniformity of your raw material that creates difficulties for you. There have been some elaborate investigations made at the University of Southern California on the subject of inoculation for good production of com- post. The conclusion after three years of experiments was that normal compost piles, made from garbage, for instance, need no special inoculation since garbage contains a great variety of organic matter. Soil microbes are everywhere present and if conditions are favorable they will grow in numbers enormously fast so that the proper microbial flora will soon develop. NaturaIly, if you have good compost available and mix that with your new compost materials, then you would have a very effective inoculation and a faster process. In your case the poor result is obtained because you have mainly leaves. Leaves have the tendency of matting, which prevents access of the air and subsequent good inoculation. This fermentation that we are now talking about in the making of compost is an aerobic form of decomposition for which air is always necessary. Otherwise you will have a putrefactive, or anaerobic (airless), development with bad odors because the microbial requirements for oxygen will be obtained by reduction. In soil you should never have putrefaction but only aerobic decomposition which gives no bad odors.
QUESTION, "How much effect does the amount of organic materials in the soil have on the retention of water in the soil?"
ANSWER, It has a grear effect. I would say that organic matter is so porous it can hold at least its own volume in water, and if you have 10% good organic matter in soil, you will increase this soil's water-holding capacity by something like 100%. With good soil, a 4-inch rain would cause little or no runoff. Even 1/2 inch of rain on poor land will cause erosion and will flood lower areas. The fine inorganic matter seals up the pores so that little or no water enters the soil.
By impoverishing our soil, we thus also lose the ability of the soil to hold and conserve moisture. Instead of building dams to hold back rivers, it would be much better to plant trees and improve the soil of the surrounding land. Naturally this isn't always practical, but dams aren't always practical either because, if the land is poor, dams will soon silt up and become ineffective. There again, by violating natural laws, we create all kinds of disturbances and we don't know where it's going to end. Some effects of soil abuse we have touched on tonight, bur there are many more, in fact, enough to write whole books about.
QUESTION: "Do earthworms produce fertility in the soil over and beyond what the rotting organic material would produce itself?"
ANSWER: Yes. Earthworms are one of those "little animals" that belong to good soil and do a terrilic job in decomposing both organic matter and dirt. Darwin calculated that one worm puts through him or herself a quantity of soil that is almost unbelievable. Soil that has passed through the intestinal process of a worm has improved tremendously in quantities of plant-available potassium and phosphate. It has also been shown, and again 'I think it was by Darwin, that a good acre of land contains several tons of worms. Their work is also very important for aeration of the soil by means of their extensive burrowings. I have conducted experiments in many countries, and it is amazing to see how quickly the earthworm population increases with soil improvements. You wonder where they come from. I have experimented with soil in Spain where I could not find any worms. By improving it, it was teeming with
them two years later. Earthworms are undoubtedly "little friends" that are very beneficial to the soil. A fertile acre of land has also millions of insects of various kinds, all of which are doing their jobs. Some are devouring parasites, othets are preparing organic material for subsequent decomposition by bacteria. All of them also fertilize the soil with their wastes and dead bodies.