Feed the Soil

Feed the Soil - little-known soil-building legumes and other crops, as well as enhanced descriptions of well-known ones

In the 1980s, Ron Whitehurst of ACRES U.S.A. wrote: “Central Florida is being mined down sea level for phosphate clay; and spiraling natural gas prices are making synthetic nitrogen fertilizer exorbitantly priced. Even using all the solid and liquid wastes from the cities, there isn’t enough nutrient value to keep America growing. The answer is to use particular legumes and fast-growing plants as green manure to be turned into the soil to enrich it. This is growing fertilizer and soil conditioners in place; right where they are needed in the field.”

30 years later, Ron’s concerns are still valid, and more urgent than ever: we are seeing peak phosphorus, farm bankruptcies, agricultural pollution from chemical fertilizers and sewage sludge, farm resource shortages, and most dangerous to our food security, a massive decline in the fertility of our soils. And the solution is still the same: we need to regenerate and maintain our soils by growing our fertilizers and soil conditioners right in the field, in a closed-loop system.

Feed the Soil by Edwin McLeodEdwin McLeod’s Feed the Soil is a practical volume on nitrogen fixing “green manure” crops to provide an alternative to the increasing costs and environmental damage of chemical fertilizers and is beyond a treasure trove for sustainable farmers and gardeners. In 1982, my good friend and amazing seedsman Lorenz A. Schaller (The Kusa Seed Research Foundation) wrote the following review of the book in East West Journal – I can’t improve on it, so I’m including it whole:

Feed the Soil is a unique instruction text and resource guide for the practical work needed to lay a foundation for a new order of agriculture on earth.  One central premise agreed to by all factions of the organic-growing movement is the necessity to ‘feed the soil’. In turn the soil feeds the plants. This single fact is the most basic and essential key for understanding and practicing natural fertility plant culture.  How this approach functions and the benefits it bestows are given in an outstandingly clear and readable manner by Edwin McLeod.
Feed the Soil can be used as a resource to understand how natural agriculture works and as a guide to putting this understanding into practice.  It serves with equal reward anyone interested in increasing their understanding of soil fertility, gardening, or the farming arts.”

Chapters and other key topics include:

  • Soil Diet — Plant Health
  • Cultivated Plant Weed Competitors (p. 70)
  • Legume Cross-Inoculation Groups and their Rhizobium Species (pp. 78-79)
  • The Soil-Climate Key for Selection of Legumes
  • A wonderful Species Description chapter with 129 crops that can assist you in building soil
  • An extensive Common Name/Latin Name Plant List
  • References
  • An Index

Though this publication in great part emphasizes the use of “green manure” Ecology Action and its biologically-intensive GROW BIOINTENSIVE method utilizes a combination of composting and inter-planting with legumes instead.  The reason being that when green manuring plants that have high levels of readily available nitrogen are turned into the soil, the nitrogen seeks out carbon in the soil and breaks it down to C02— reducing the soil’s precious organic matter levels and releasing that carbon into the atmosphere. But the topics in Feed the Soil are still just as useful – the varieties described can be used with the interplanting and composting method instead of green-manuring.

Excitingly, Feed the Soil describes key little-known soil-building legumes and other crops, as well as enhanced descriptions of well-known ones.

These include:

Crested Wheatgrass
Kidney Vetch
Cicer Milkvetch
Cowhorn Turnip
Diverse Bromegrass Varieties
The important Pidgeon Pea
The deep-rooting Jack Bean which is important in drier regions
The Sword Bean
Drought-resistant Guar
Lablab Bean
Hairy Indigo
Grass Pea
Tangier Pea
Korean Lespedeza
English Ryegrass
Swiss Ryegrass
Succulent Lupine
Small Blue Lupine
Hairy Lupine
Perennial Lupine
Egyptian Lupine
Several Bur Clovers
Several Trefoils
Several Sweet Clovers
Sanfoin – one of Alan Chadwick’s favorites
Texas Millet
Pearl Millet
The Moth Bean/Mat Bean, which “covers the ground so completely that there is practically no water evaporation from the soil”
The Adzuki Bean
Austrian Winter Pea
Canada Bluegrass
Cereal Rye
Common Sesbania
Hemp Sesbania
Foxtail Millet
Giant Spurry
Velvet Bean
Egyptian Clover
Strawberry Clover
Rose Clover
Alsike Clover
Red Clover
Ladino Clover
Persian Clover
Subterranean Clover
Arrowleaf Clover
Tufted Vetch
Woolly Pod Vetch, which has the potential of fixing up to 3 times the     nitrogen compared with other Legumes
Hungarian Vetch
Fava Beans
Cow Peas

Fertile soil is priceless. Growing it is easy – if you do it right. Feed the Soil (plus the GB method) will help you find the right varieties to put nitrogen and organic matter back into your garden. Give it a try!



One Comment on “Feed the Soil

  1. Thanks for the tip John. I’ve got to get my hands on this book. I appreciate your clarification about why it is not a good idea to bury green nitrogen rich plants. So many gardeners and even farmers still do this.

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