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Nelson Mandela

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Crop rotations.jpg

Crop rotations download

Why is crop rotation important? Crop rotation is important because it has to take into account a whole farm approach. Every farm is unique in its physical landscap and climates as well as its own needs of cropping and feed, also ....

Soil fertility.jpg

Soil fertility download

A healthy fertile soil cycles organic material and releases nutrition to the plant at a time the plant requires it, a soil in a biologically depleted state is unable to do this, the soil/plant/root interaction is less efficient leading to a cascade of issues that .....

Understanding nutrition download

Nutrition includes all factors taken from soil and biologically available nutrients, applied forms either as in an inorganic form such as N:P:K compounds or organic sources such as manures and compost .....

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Understanding organic matter download

We hear so many talks about building organic matter. The thing is, there is very little cohesion in understanding the soil system and its consequences. The simple fact is that in a biologically active soil, just growing .....

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Understanding cover crops download

Intensive agriculture has over time accelerated the decline in organic matter. There are many reasons why this has happened, but two particular inputs have been the main drivers over recent decades. The first is the heavy .....

Understanding nutrition and nutritional

Extract from Morton's Handbooks of the Farm no IV, the Soil.

Written by Scott & JC Morton Circa 1915-1920



Maintenance of fertility


'Nothing has contributed more to Agricultural depression than the baleful doctrine that “the farmer who uses nothing but farmyard manure, produced on the farm, from crops grown on the farm, is all the time impoverishing his land” this erroneous idea has cost farmers millions of pounds annually. For if soils are impoverished in proportion to the amount of produce grown without the constituents of the crop being returned to the soil in purchased manures, then, of course, the larger the crop grown, the greater the impoverishment of the soil. But we know the contrary to be the case. Large crops are as incompatible with soil impoverishment, as poor crops are with its enrichment. The largest crop not only gives most to be carried away, it also leaves most residue in the shape of roots, stubble and leaves, and this residue enriches the soil in nitrogenous , humus and essential minerals. Large crops are thus the best maintainers of fertility; nor can there be a better guarantee of what farmers call “condition” than that soil has just produced a heavy crop.


Much of the fearful waste of fertility now going on from nearly every farm is entirely needless, and the result of Man's ignorant disregard of Nature’s laws. The constant effort of Nature is to increase soil fertility; and if the farmer will only second this effort of Nature, in the husbandry he practises, he will not need to task his ingenuity in trying to artificially fertilise a soil, drained by his improvidence of bad management of fountains which a wise economy would have made both plenteous and perennial. We have seen that the indispensable nitrogen, the most costly of all fertilisers to, and on which farmers still spend millions of pounds annually, and be produced in abundance on any farm without the outlay of a single penny. And, as regards the essential minerals, phosphoric acid, and potash, and even the poorest cultivated soil, in its first twelve inches of depth, contains enlightenment of them for hundreds of crops; and as fast as these crops can be grown, and the surface soil wasted or used up, it will be renewed, as tillage, atmospheric agencies, and living organisms in the soil itself, as gradually deepens it from below; so that as far as natural soil fertility is concerned, the soil of a field is the same yesterday, today, and forever.


Fertility is less dependent on the actual richness of the a soil in the essential constituents, than on the rate at which these are liberated and made available for plant food. This work of liberation is due quite as much, possibly more, to biological conditions of soils, than to purely chemical changes. The soil, especially the first few inches below the surface, is full of germ life, and is the laboratory in which operate incessantly the process by which inert matter is prepared for the nourishment of plants. The farmer, then, has only to bring into use the vast stores of plant food annually made available by soil and atmosphere and living agencies in the soil - stores that must otherwise run to waste- and large and increasing yields of crops, and increasing fertility of soil, will be a result.


The important fact in regard to the nature, as well as the maintenance of soil fertility, may be briefly summed up as follows:-


  1. Soil fertility is its natural increment, or the amount of vegetable growth it is capable of affording without impoverishment itself.

  2. All natural fertile soils contain a certain amount of organic matter, and an indeterminable quantity of each of the mineral substances which are found in the ashes of plants.

  3. Of every 100 tonnes of vegetable produce more than 94 tonnes have been derived from the atmosphere, from water, and from organic matter, and less than 6 pounds from the mineral of the soil.

  4. The organic matter of the soil is easily used up, or reduced below the needful quantity, by injurious cropping.

  5. The mineral substances of the soil cannot be so used up or exhausted; for the soil deepens below as fast as it wears at the surface.

  6. The measure of natural fertility in every soil varies in exact proportion with the quantities of of essential minerals that can be made available as plant food, which, again, is dependent on the practise of good husbandry.

  7. Good husbandry includes the maintenance of a sufficiency of organic matter, beside proper physical and biological conditions of soil, proper tillage, intelligent cropping, and keeping a growing crop always in possession of the soil.

  8. Good husbandry is able to develop the full measure of fertility or natural increment, and may draw the full amount of this increment without detriment to the productiveness of the soil.

  9. When the full natural increment is this developed, the productiveness of good soils cannot be profitably increased by the use of commercial fertilisers.

  10. In all such cases, further amelioration, whether in the form of crops consumed or on the farm, or by purchased foods and manures, become so much added or acquired fertility.

  11. Bad husbandry fails to develop the full natural increment, and soon spends any “acquired” fertility; it can then only maintain the original productiveness of the soil by the use of commercial fertilisers.

  12. Soils that have been impoverished by bad husbandry will renovate themselves if left uncropped long enough.

  13. When soils are deficient in one or more essential constituents, what is wanting may be artificially added, and there fertility increased, renewed, or maintained.

  14. Soils which are fertile in nature are better than soils which are fertile only by the use of auxiliary manures.


The maintenance of soil fertility then involves proper tillage, and proper and physical and biological conditions of soil. It also involves the maintenance of a sufficiency of organic matter in the soil, which is best attained by some form of stock keeping and the husbanding and application of animal manures. And last but not least, it involves the growth of clover, or other legumes, that have the power of drawing on the atmosphere for the necessary supplies of nitrogen. To neglect any one of these important aids is to fail in developing the full measure of natural fertility, without which the productiveness of the soil can only be maintained by extraneous means at needless cost.


Winter Cropping:


Land is not cleaned and tilled with the object of being left bare, and the time is at hand when farmers will be astonished that they ever left a single rood of ground uncropped in winter as well as summer. For is there is a loss of fertility by leaving land bare in summer, how much greater must that loss be in the winter, when, the soil, unless frost bound or covered with snow, is being continually washed by heavy rains? It would be better to leave the stubbles unploughed until spring, than to plough them up in t the autumn and leave them bare all winter, for in the latter case fertility is only wasting; but there would be seldom any tilth for the spring crops if the stubble were left unbroken, and the only alternative is winter cropping. This is still more necessary where the land is left altogether bare after potatoes or turnips. Farmers ought to take a lesson from market gardeners in this. The latter so sooner lift one crop than they plant another, and this goes on all the year round. It is a mistake to suppose that even in the highest lying arable district of this country a winter crop cannot be grown. Winter vetches, rye, rape, kale, and cabbage will grow on any of the arable land in these islands, if the soil is in good condition; and if sown early enough will be found very remunerative, too, for spring feeling, while they can be fed off or cleared in time to take a summer crop.


It is poor farming which leaves land bare and exposed to all the destructive forces which act with such energy on its surface when it is deprived of all those protections by which nature originally guarded it. We see the effect of it, under the pressure of low prices, in large tracts of land left uncultivated and abandoned, even in the home counties of England, and within fifty miles of the market if the world. The temporarily abandonment of these lands may be in most cases a physical advantage; for thus abandoned they will relapse into their wild natural state, and years hence will again be brought under cultivation with renovated fertility; but like bare fallows this is a dear bought advantage, since good husbandry would have avoided the necessity for this temporally abandonment, by imitating nature in her methods of keeping land fertile.


'In the husbandry of nature there are no fallows. In the forest trees fall singly, not by square yards, and the tall pine is hardly prostrate before light and heat admitted to the ground by the removal of the dense crown of foliage which had shut them out, stimulate the germination of the seeds of broad leaved trees that had been waiting this kindly influence, perhaps for centuries. In the fields, when the farmer has ‘skinned the land,’ to use an expressive phrase, and finally abandoned it because it no longer pays for cultivation, nature kindly takes it in hand, grows on it what she can, if that be but weeds – anything that will shade and cover it, and hide its nakedness – and then goes on advancing the type of plant, until, given time enough, she will restore it to virgin fertility. She plants a legume where she can, and with the nitrogen drawn by bacteria, through tubercules on the roots, from the atmosphere above, she feeds other plants, and in time makes the soil as fertile as ever. If in this respect farmers would follow nature, there would be no worn out land. Nature is a wise teacher, but, like other teachers, her lessons must be studied with care, and used with judgement’