In Part II of our Soil Series, we expand the notion of organic gardening to include the crucial (but widely neglected) role of inorganic matter.
(New to this topic? You can read Part I here.)
Gary Kline calls himself “a convert from conventional organics.”
This sounds funny in a world where usually, if there’s any converting to be done, you’re converting to organics, not from it.
But the brand of ecological agriculture that Kline practices goes beyond organics as we know it:
"I submit that the organic movement, with its misplaced emphasis on organic matter and banning pesticides rather than pushing health, nutrition and minerals, is... at fault."
This statement sounds even funnier than the first. Why shouldn’t the organic movement emphasize organic matter? Why should it emphasize minerals – which are actually inorganic – instead?
But on second glance, it’s not an either/or. That’s Kline’s point: organic farming is about balance. And the organic movement doesn’t actually mean “organic” in the biological sense; it means making a departure from the methods of industrialized, petroleum-dependent food production. With that kind of farming, you can’t cut corners: in order to keep producing, you have to achieve soil health. And soil health means a proper balance of organic and inorganic material.
Interestingly, within that balance, the role of organic matter is actually quite small. Five percent organic matter in the soil is ideal. More than 10% is too much. The other 95% should consist of rock particles and minerals, which provide the soil structure and nutrients necessary for good production.
That’s the composition of the soil; equally interesting is the composition of the plants themselves. If you disregard the water a plant contains, 95% of what’s left is organic material. Only 5% is inorganic. However, “it is an absolutely crucial 5%,” says Kline.
"We know today that most plants require at least 19 or 20 nutrient elements out of the 92 natural elements that make up the entire material universe. Fifteen of those 19 are minerals, yet the importance of minerals in the fertilization of plants... is largely neglected, and the consequences for plant health and for human health verges on the tragic."
Here’s the point. Organic, as it’s currently defined, means a lot of good things. No artificial pesticides, no GMOs, no added hormones and so on. And organic agriculture involves a lot of good practices, including the use of compost to enrich the soil. But “the widespread notion that organic gardening… means simply applying lots of organic matter” is mistaken. In fact, too much organic matter can actually interfere – there is such a thing as overdose.
To achieve highly fertile soil that can grow quality crops, inorganic matter is equally important. Hence the question in our title: if you’re an organic gardener or farmer, have you thought about inorganic farming?