Cozying Up to Albrecht for Soil Fertility

I often get frustrated with the time it’s taking us to get out of the rat race and onto the farm full-time. We have beautiful land that could be producing so much food, but until the real estate market improves, we’ll have our 14-hour days commuting up to DC. As time has gone on though, I’ve realized that this delay might be a blessing in disguise. It’s given us lots of time to research, observe what other new farms are doing, and to eliminate dead-end options. It’s given us time to start with what’s most important to us farming-wise: soil health.

In my reading, a whole new world of soil fertility has opened up to me. I stumbled upon The Albrecht Method a few months ago, and I’m captivated! The Albrecht Method for soil fertility is named after William Albrecht, the late soil fertility genius. He was Professor of Soils at the University of Missouri when he retired in 1959 after 40+ years of service.

Rumor has it that Albrecht was forced out by chemical and fertilizer companies that bought off and took over ag schools like the University of Missouri. Fertilizer companies easily retooled WWII munitions plants into fertilizer factories. This fertilizer was of the N, P, K variety (nitrogen, phosphate, potassium), key ingredients in munitions. With his knowledge, Albrecht knew that focusing just on N, P, K was a very shortsighted fertilizer program, and he wrote extensively about it. It must have been frustrating to have mounds of N, P, K to sell, and the leading soil scientist is instead touting calcium, magnesium, and micro nutrients like zinc.

Besides its renegade beginnings, what really draws me to the Albrecht Method (AM) is its all-encompassing approach. Unlike many organic farming circles that tend to just focus heavily on soil biology (organic matter and microbes), AM also emphasizes the importance of soil structure and soil chemistry. Diving into AM is sorta like going back to high school chemistry. You’re enlightened by the importance of each mineral, for example, potassium, and how it interplays with other minerals to provide food for plants. There’s so much that’s still unknown, but so far it’s pretty clear that ideal soils are 50% air and water, 5% humus (organic matter), and 45% nutrients. Of the 45%, great soils have about 65% calcium, 15% magnesium, 4% potassium, 2% sodium, 10% hydrogen, and the remainder is chock-full of micro nutrients: sulfur, phosphorous, zinc, copper, iron, manganese, etc. Soils with this breakdown have ideal pH levels, are very friendly to soil life,  and, with some time, can produce very nutritious crops at high yields.

AM starts with testing your soil to find its Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC), which is the amount of sites in your soil that can attach and hold minerals. Minerals and nutrients are held in the soil by humus and tiny clay particles. Therefore, sandy (not much clay) soil like ours with very low organic matter won’t hold a lot of nutrients. That’s okay for now though, all soils have to start somewhere. AM helps you to focus on getting the nutrients you do have into the right balance so soil life will flourish and help free up more nutrients to plants.

We’ve tested our soil, and as we expected, it’s pretty lacking in many minerals, especially the micro-nutrients. It feels good to know about AM and at least have a path forward for transforming our soil.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. I get frustrated too. And we are in the same boat you guys are in. Communting does sound dreadful, but until the market turns around our house in Houston won’t sell for what we put into it.

    And yes, the wait has been a disguised blessing in more ways than one. I definitely feel protected when I learn something through my reasearchnthat dissuades me from going down a deadend or very expensive road that i was earlier contemplating. This year the wait has saved us from a devastating drought in SE Texas (~8 inches of rain in 10 months) that would have crippled us had we moved earlier.

    I’m looking forward to one more year of soft research and commuting until we really start farming. As of now we are finally starting to realize that cute pictures of animals and kids frolicking with piglets and chickens isn’t nearly as important as building our soil.

    Reply

    • I was born in Houston, so howdy to you! I agree, the forced patience is a blessing. I’m glad I get the time to really figure out how to repair our soil before we ask animals to live on it. We’re hopeful that this up front work and expense will pay off in terms of faster rates of gain on our future animals.

      Best of luck to you on your farm. Hopefully you’ll start during a nice, wet year!

      Reply

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