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Soil Biology

In Practice a publication of Holistic Management International

Holistic Management International exists to educate people to manage land for a sustainable future.

us stockpile even more grass. They were only taking the top 1/3 of the plant.” So when Hurricane isaac dropped 6 inches of rain in 10 days at the end of August, Greg’s pastures responded with a quick green up that helped him increase his stockpile. “We were able to get through the winter on that grass despite some big snows and cold weather,” says Greg.

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continued from page one

May / June 2013

But this spring, after monitoring his pastures, Greg was looking for other ideas to improve soil fertility. “i’m happy about all the improvements i’ve made with the cows and the grazing,” says Greg. “But, i’m still seeing more bare ground and weeds then i’m happy with. So i went to a workshop at the Rodale institue by Elaine ingham to learn about the soil food web and compost tea, and i’m so excited about the possibility of taking this land to the next level! The idea is to use compost tea to introduce aerobic bacteria to the anaerobic soil we still have. While we’ve done a lot for the soil, it’s still struggling so we see plants like ragweed. “i figure it’s a pretty low cost experiment for a huge potential return. We’ll invest in a microscope and a brewer and a sprayer for the ATV. One pound of properly made compost can make 300 gallons of compost tea. you only need 30 gallons/acre of the tea if the soil is completely broken. We’ll use the material from the farm (the hay, leaves, wood chips, and manure) because it already has the bacteria adapted for this area. We may also try some compost from a Soil Food Web compost producer nearby. “The key is you have to have your soil tested to see what is missing and then have the

compost tested to make sure that it has the missing ingredients. Once we get the soil biology right, i think we might see the growth double, and the grass will be even more nutrient dense so breeding percentages go up as well as weight gains. We’ll also have more diversity of plants as the soil becomes more aerobic. There were pictures in dr. ingham’s presentation of prairie grasses with 18-foot roots! They had a picture of a 3-month old annual rye grass that had been grazed to 1-inch tall three times during the course of its life. The roots were over 4 feet tall! “What that proved to me was that roots don’t die back when a plant is grazed if the soil is healthy. The plant just exudes food for the soil life through the roots. it still maintains its root structure and can still access water and minerals below ground to grow more forage above ground! This opens up a whole new way of looking at grazing, particularly in droughtprone areas. The compost tea can improve any soil, anywhere, so the possibilities are amazing! Since land is the biggest expense in ranching, if you can grow double your forage with compost tea, you’ve just bought yourself a whole new ranch for very little money. “So we’re going to take our soil samples of some of our worst areas and get the compost ratios right to correct the soil biology. We can use that same compost for the better areas as well. you get the soil biology right, then you don’t have to add inputs. you don’t even have to add the compost tea again if you keep grazing right. you can’t beat that for a low-input solution! “i learned some things at that workshop that stopped me in my tracks—like that the soil microbes are happiest under about 12 inches of snow. you need free-flowing water in the soil, so a nice moist soil with a blanket of snow for insulation makes those microbes happy.” Greg is already sharing this information with

This is what Greg Judy’s pastures looked like in July 2012 in the middle of the drought when he destocked to help keep soil health and maximize profit.

#149 In Practice, May/June 2013