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AN AGRICULTURAL DICTIONARY
Agriculture. There seems to be but three ways for a nation to acquire wealth. The first is by war, as the Romans did in plundering their conquered neighbors. This is robbery. The second is by commerce, which is generally cheating. The third by agriculture, the only honest way; wherein man receives a real increase of the seed thrown into the ground in a kind of continual miracle. Benjamin Franklin.
Agriculturalist. The agriculturalist is the servant of the plant. Louise Howard, wife and research partner of Sir Albert Howard until her death in India about 1932.
Diet. Its not what kind of food you eat, vegetarian or meat. The Eskimos lived healthy lives on fish and blubber. What matters is that the foods eaten carry forward the protoplasm of the microorganisms grown with a natural balance of the elements. Mans' intestinal tract is a root turned inside out. The purpose of eating is to recreate a population of soil organisms in the intestinal tract. Protoplasm from the microorganisms can then be adsorbed right into the blood. Private conversation with John Hamaker in Secrets Of The Soil, Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird.
Disease. I have learnt more from the diseases of plants and animals than I have from all the professors of Cambridge, Rothamsted and other places who gave me my preliminary training. I argued the matter in this way. If diseases attacked my crops, it was because I was doing something wrong. I therefore used disease to teach me. . . Diseases taught me to understand agriculture. I think if we used diseases more instead of running to sprays and killing off pests, and if we let diseases rip and then found out what is wrong and then tried to put it right, we should get much deeper into agricultural problems than we shall do by calling in all these artificial aids. After all, the destruction of a pest is the evasion of, rather than the solution of, all agricultural problems. I recommend very strongly diseases for keeping investigators in order. They are the post-graduate teachers of the investigators. Although it was bitter experience for me, nevertheless it did me a great deal of good and I learned much. Albert Howard, "The Restoration of Soil Fertility," a paper presented at the Farmers' Club, London, 1 February, 1937.
Drouth. Drouth is said to be the arch enemy of the dry-farmer, but few agree upon its meaning. For the purposes of this volume, drouth may be defined as a condition under which crops fail to mature because of an insufficient supply of water. Providence has generally been charged with causing drouths, but under the above definition, man is usually the cause. Occasionally, relatively dry years occur, but they are seldom dry enough to cause crop failures if proper methods of farming have been practiced. There are four chief causes of drouth: (1) Improper or careless preparation of the soil; (2) failure to store the natural precipitation in the soil; (3) failure to apply proper cultural methods for keeping the moisture in the soil until needed by plants, and (4) sowing too much seed for the available soil-moisture. John A. Widtsoe, Dry Farming, 1920.
Erosion. Soil erosion is the natural consequence of the collapse of the compound soil particles, on the maintenance of which the well-being both of the soil population and the crop depends. These compound particles are made up of fragments of mineral matter glued together by specks of organic matter provided by the activities of the invisible life of the soil. These soil organisms have to be constantly fed with fresh supplies of humus, otherwise the soil soon wears out. When we attempt to replace these supplies by means of artificial manures, we accelerate the wearing-out process. Nature in all such cases hits back by leaving the soil an inert mass of mineral fragments, in which the beneficial soil population are deprived of air, water, food, warmth, and shelter. The death of the soil and its population is the natural consequence. Nature finally removes the ruins by wind or water to form either a desert or new soil somewhere else under the sea.
How has the United States of America ministered to the country's [soil]? . . . A careful appraisal of the cultivated soils of the country were recorded [in 1938]. It disclosed the alarming fact that no less than 253,000,000 acres, or 61 percent of the total area under crops had either been completely or partially destroyed, or had lost most of its fertility. Albert Howard's Introduction to Pay Dirt by J.I. Rodale. New York: Devin-Adair, 1945.
Expert. Fragmentation, I take it, arises the invasion and domination of thought by specialists. A piece of required knowledge is isolated and is studied with great technical skill and intensity by a specialist. This simplification of knowledge by devotion to only a fragment of it is suitable to the intelligence of the average man, and, as there are great numbers of average men, it is easy for present-day civilization to cultivate a number of specialists or simplicists, men to whom thinking is simplified by cutting it down to one problem or set of problems, or one technique or even one particular part of a technical process. It is not only a division of labour, but a division of knowledge which leads to the separation of the intellect from the wider reality of life. G.T. Wrench, The Wheel of Health.
The laboratory hermit is someone who knows more and more about less and less. Sir Albert Howard.
Fertility. The orthodox scientist normally measures the fertility of a soil by its bulk yield, with no relation to effect on the ultimate consumer. I have seen cattle slowly lose condition and fall in milk yield when fed entirely on the abundant produce of an apparently fertile soil. Though the soil was capable of yielding heavy crops, those crops were not adequate in themselves to maintain body-weight and milk production in the cow, without supplements. That soil, though capable of above-average yields, and by the orthodox quantitative measure regarded as fertile, could not, by the more complete measure of ultimate effect on the consumer, be regarded but anything but deficient in fertility.
Fertility therefore, is the ability to produce at the highest recognized level of yield, crops of quality which, when consumed over long periods by animals or man, enable them to sustain health, bodily condition and high level of production without evidence of disease or deficiency of any kind.
Fertility cannot be measured quantitatively. Any measure of soil fertility must be related to the quality of its produce. . .the most simple measure of soil fertility is its ability to transmit, through its produce, fertility to the ultimate consumer." Newman Turner, Fertility Pastures and Cover Crops based on nature's own balanced organic pasture feeds. London: Faber and Faber, 1955, Rateaver reprint, 1975, pg. 20.
". . .soil fertility is determined by biological factors, mainly by microorganisms. The development of life in soil endows it with the property of fertility. The notion of soil is inseparable from the notion of the development of living organisms in it. Soil is created by microorganisms. Were this life dead or stopped, the former soil would become an object of geology [not biology]. N. A. Krasilnikov, Soil Microorganisms and Higher Plants. Translated from the Russian by Dr. Y. Halperin. Jerusalem: The Israel Program for Scientific Translations, 1961.
"A fertile soil, that is, a soil teeming with healthy life in the shape of abundant microflora and microfauna, will bear healthy plants, and these, when consumed by animals and man, will confer health on animals and man. But an infertile soil, that is, one lacking in sufficient microbial, fungous, and other life, will pass on some form of deficiency to the plants, and such plant, in turn, who pass on some form of deficiency to animal and man. Louise E. Howard, Sir Albert Howard in India. Emmaus, PA: The Rodale Press, 1954.
Fertilizer. Furthermore, whatever rationale is applied in establishing a prohibition against certain fertilizers should also be applied to all agricultural practices. No fertilizer, for example, has as traumatic an effect on soil structure, moisture and soil life as a rototiller. If we are sensitive to soil processes, we should ban the rototiller. If we are concerned about non-renuable energy use, we should ban plastic mulches and gas-powered machinery.Robert Parnes, Fertile Soil, A Grower's Guiide To Organic and Inorganic Fertilizers.
. . . . only after the supply of organic matter has been adequately provided for, will the full benefit of artificials be realized. There appears to be a great field for future experiment in the judicious use of artificials to land already in a fair state of fertility. Sir Albert Howard, The Waste Products of Agriculture, 1931.
Garden. . . . a garden differs fundamentally from a farm. A farm is a source of nutrients, and a garden is a sink for nutrients. A farm produces hay and straw for mulch, and it produces animal manure, both of which contribute to the fertility of a garden. A garden takes all that fertility for producing a high intensity of valuable crops. Moreover, the tillage required to maintain a garden tends to destroy fertility, whereas the tillage on a farm, under ideal conditions, builds fertility. Robert Parnes, Fertile Soil, A Grower's Guiide To Organic and Inorganic Fertilizers.
Grazing "is the meeting of cow and grass. When we think of the cow, we will not forget the demands of the grass. When we examine the grass, we will always bear in mind the demands of the cow. . . At an American experimental station they were studying different types of white clover from a botanical point of view on small plots. The young professor accompanying us said: 'Strain A gives higher yields than strain B, but it is of no interest, because at the beginning of summer it is attacked and destroyed by the Potato Leafhopper. Variety B, on the other hand, is not attacked.
We went on to another American station which was likewise experimenting with the two strains A and B of white clover. This time, however, it was not a case of botanical experiments on small plots, but an actual grazing trial with cows. The professor explained to us that the strain B was non-existent by comparison with strain A, which gave vastly superior milk yields. 'But,' we said, 'have you no potato leafhopper in this region?'
'We are infested with it,' was the reply. And the professor, guessing our thoughts, added with a smile: 'Potato leafhopper attacks variety A when it is NOT grazed. But the reproduction of the leafhopper in a grazed sward is hindered by the hoof and tooth of the grazing animal.'
One can therefore understand the errors which might arise from a botanical study in itself, forgetting the relations between plant and animal." Andre Voisin, Grass Productivity. Reprint of a 1959 edition at Washington, D.C.: Island Press Reprints, 1988.
Growing. Not the least of these inherent human traits that have served to perpetuate error in the farming business is the incorrigible feeling on the part of people that they can be of assistance to plants in their growth. The statement appears at variance with our basic thinking, but, actually, there is nothing that anybody can do to assist a plant that is growing in its natural environment. And when we grow plants in an artificial environment, the best we can possibly do is copy as closely as possible the essentials of the natural environment.William Faulkner, Plowman's Folly. 1943. University of Oklahoma Press.
Humus. Thus, bacteria and animals jointly break down organic substances--particularly plant debris--in the soil, cooperating in the following manner: (1) Most soil animals eat only those parts of plants that have already been broken down by bacteria (a process that, under sufficiently moist conditions, takes place very quickly). (2) The bacteria continue their development in the intestines of soil animals, with the result that animal excrement is often far richer in bacteria than was the original debris. . . . (3) The relatively loose excrement of the generally larger, “primary” breakdown organisms is redigested by progressively smaller soil animals, so that the humus crumbs become finer and finer. (4) Earthworms and enchytraeid worms (potworms) devour the more or less decomposed organic “soil-constituents” together with mineral matter, combining them into argillaceous (clayey) humus we have mentioned, and which we know to be of the greatest importance to plant growth.
In the typical situation, therefore, the formation of humus is not a single, unified process, but one that takes place by stages. As a result, the composition of humus varies with climatic, phyto-sociological, and general soil condition. Friedrich Schaller, Soil Animals. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1968, pg. 33.
Humus is the excrement of soil animals, primarily earthworms, but including that of some other species that, like earthworms, are capable of combining decomposed organic matter with clay, creating stable soil crumbs highly resistant to further decomposition. Steve Solomon, 1992
Humus, which constitutes most of the organic matter in the soil, is the collection of the remains of soil organisms. Through several cycles in which some varieties of organisms feed on the remains of others, and by means of purely chemical reactions, humus becomes increasingly stable. Soil organic matter should have a balance of partially decomposed substances and the stable humus itself.
In almost all soils, biological activity is limited by the energy available from carbonaceous organic residues. Robert Parnes, Fertile Soil, A Grower's Guiide To Organic and Inorganic Fertilizers.
Lime. The Germans say: 'Lime makes the fathers rich but the children poor.' The English saying is: 'Lime and lime without manure, will make both farm and farmer poor.' Cyril Hopkins, Story of the Soil, 1910.
Natural. "All agriculture was artificial. There
was nothing more artificial in the world than a field of cultivated potatoes. For
what was agriculture, after all, but an attempt to strip areas of the earth's surface
of its wild mixed flora and fauna, and to reserve such areas exclusively for the
growth of plant prodigies, most of them brought from foreign lands, and all of them
chosen for abnormalities of special utility to man? This agriculture, this exclusive
tending of vegetable freaks and monsters, was necessary if the human species was
to survive. But as it was necessary, so there was nowhere at which it was philosophically
possible to draw a line, and reasonably say that up to such and such a level in its
historical development agriculture was natural and right, while all beyond became
unnatural and wrong. No one could say, for example, that it was natural and right
and proper to put lime on sour land, as their great-great-grandfathers had done,
but wrong to stimulate the growth of plants with synthetic sulfate of ammonia. Both
lime and sulfate of ammonia were products of the chemical industry; both were ultimately
derived from the waters and rocks of the earth and the constituents of the atmosphere.
The best that man could do at any time to defend the health of the hypertrophic agricultural
plants that in his cunning he had sought out or made, was to apply to the work of
rearing them the whole of his science." E.C. Large, The Advance
of the Fungi, 1940.
Organic. The strict principle must be remembered that the exclusive use of organic fertilizers does not in itself make a farm "organic" or "bio-dynamic." The amounts of organic fertilizer used must also be correct. Koepf, Biodynamic Agriculture.
Organic Matter is the unifying element in the soil, having a prominent
influence on soil organisms, plant growth and the physical properties of the soil.
We might regard the soil as the furnace of life, whereing organic matter is the fuel,
soil organisms are the fire consuming the fuel, and the plant nutrients are the ashes
of the combustion. The fire needs no matches, only fuel and a modest amount of air
and water; it is vigorous at the first addition of residues but slows to a smouldering
oxidation that can last for centuries.Robert Parnes, Fertile Soil,
A Grower's Guiide To Organic and Inorganic Fertilizers.
Rotation, Crop (in the garden). "The strip system has also been adopted for the allotments round our towns and cities without any provision whatsoever on the part of the authorities to maintain the land in good heart by such obvious and simple expedients as subsoiling, followed by a rest under grass grazed by sheep or cattle, ploughing up, and sheet composting the vegetable residues. Land under allotments should not be under vegetables for more than five years at a time: this should be followed by a similar period under grass and livestock." Sir Albert Howard, The Soil and Health. New York: Devin-Adair, 1952, pg. 53.
"The interaction of soil microorganisms with higher plants is very complex and multiform. Depending on the plant cover on the same soil under equal external conditions, the composition of the microflora changes sharply. Plants are a very strong ecological factor, selecting certain species of bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes and other inhabitants of the soil. As a result of wrong agricultural practices and crop rotation, the soil becomes infested with harmful microbial forms. Bu use of suitable plants in the crop rotation, one may change the microflora of soil in the desired direction, and eliminate harmful organisms, in other words--restore the health of soil." N. A. Krasilnikov, Soil Microorganisms and Higher Plants. Translated from the Russian by Dr. Y. Halperin. Jerusalem: The Israel Program for Scientific Translations, 1961.
Soil "is rock material on its way toward the deep. But soils are considerably restrained in . . . going by the action of plants which form a mat upon them. The preservation of the food-giving value of the soil as used by civilized man depends on the efficiency of the means by which he keeps the passage of the soil to the sea at a rate no greater than that at which it is restored by the decay of these materials on which it rests." Shaler, Nathaniel S. Man and the Earth. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1905.
Soil Animals. Ecological studies lead to the following divisions: (1) Large, actively burrowing animals that can move through the soil at will. (2) Extremely varied, medium-sized, surface and humus dwellers and those living under loose stones. (3) Small inhabitants of the loose upper and middle layers of the soil. (4) Small and very small forms inhabiting deeper layers. (5) Microscopic organisms inhabiting invisible films of moisture and damp substrata of the soil. Friedrich Schaller, Soil Animals. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1968, pp. 24-5.
Soil Solution "represents a very dynamic and indeed the most active part of the soil. Different chemical and biological processes take place in it. The composition of the soil solution is an important factor in the nutrition, growth, and reproduction of organisms. To a great extent it also determines the total productivity of the soil. G. N. Vysotskii compared the soil solution to the blood of animals.
The soil solution represents a nutrient medium for the entire population of the soil and especially for the microorganisms. In all cases when the medium is favorable and there are no hindering factors, the amount of organisms is abundant. The more nutrients in the solution, the more intense the development and metabolism of soil microorganisms. Fertile soils and soils fertilized with large amounts of humus have a high concentration of nutrients in their solutions. Soils of low fertility, not containing humus, have small concentrations of nutrients in their soil solutions and the growth of microbes will be slight." N. A. Krasilnikov, Soil Microorganisms and Higher Plants. Translated from the Russian by Dr. Y. Halperin. Jerusalem: The Israel Program for Scientific Translations, 1961.
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