6 step soil life check

Any healthy farming enterprise depends on the capacity of  soils to keep the mineral cycles in motion. And this motion is propelled by life in and on the soil.  Each living organism takes nutrients to transform and pass them to other species when they got eaten, they give them away or release them when they die. This complex exchange of nutrients is called the food web.

Since soil life is so important to estimate soil fertility, we aim to see how good is the soil life of our farm and the conditions that enable it.

Here we have 6 basic methods anyone can do anywhere:

Go to  Step 1->


From crop calendar to business planning

Tanzanian farmers plan the application of organic fertilizers with a simple form of crop calendar. Together with the farmers we created a graphic that integrates all the activities of a season. This allows farmers to match their treatments and cultural activities as pruning and applications of mineral additives to rain season, crop development stages, and other periods of mayor incidences of pests and diseases. The photo shows a calendar for coffee (kahawa in Suahili)

Based upon this simple tool for planning activities we are able to start talking business with the farmers. this is because with this planning farmers build the bridge to start thinking in quantities of materials and ingredients and labor needed.

In june 2014, 25 farmers started a business planning course at coffee cooperative of Mbinga, Tanzania. The outcome of this course was a draft of a business plan that would allow farmers to join efforts to produce organic fertilizers and offer them to other farmers within their cooperative.

One year later, this business plan turned into real business as farmers are now producing  organic fertilizers for the first 100 customers and have a potential market of 1500 farmers and near 4000 hectares.


And the root said: Now I can breath!

You can plow in a grassland. There is a new generation of super plows that build fertile soils increase the performance of pastures on the short term. Promising results of aeration plows show in compacted heavy clay soils.

Plant health is directly related to access of roots to air, water and nutrients, specifically in this order. Lack of air in the soil, means stress if not death. For this reason, roots do not go in to blue areas of the soil (blue color indicates lack of oxygen). Air in the roots is too often forgotten.  When looking at the crop, agronomists and consultants pay more attention to water (irrigation) and nutrients (fertilization) than to  air (aereation). Maybe because the air is for free.CIMG5012

Aereation is approached from two perspectives, each of them with a instrument: The physical  (a plow) and the chemical, (calcium). Analyzing the physical tools, we find many plows in the market, some with specific functions.

  • Moldboard and turning plows have been designed to turn the soil and incorporate crop rests.
  • Rippers have been built to break the hard pan. They do that but they only tackle the symptom as hard pan is the consequence of bad soil management.
  • Mole plows are specific to make underground channels and drain water (and nutrients)

In our agricultural schools we learned that conventional plows aerate, though this effect do not last  long and increase the compaction in the long run. In fact, conventional agricultural systems increase compaction of agricultural soils. The larger the plows, the larger the tractors. The larger the tractors, the larger the loans, the risk, the scale…

The ultimate plow is the not the one that aerate for this season and makes you dependent for the rest of ages.  The ultimate plow is the one that build fertile soils. How? by enhancing the natural process of forming structure: (1) leading roots to to their jog and go deeper and (2) allow gentle aeration but limiting the oxidation of the humus in formation to allow accumulation of organic soil matter.

Bringing air in the soil with minimal soil disturbance is a challenge for farmers. In 1960’s Australian, P.A. Yeomans developed a plow specific to restore grassland. The Yeomans plow  brings air in the root system without disturbing the grassland. This plow has been used for 4 decades years in thousands of hectares, continuously improved and the results in regenerating grassland are just spectacular. It is designed in such a way that light machinery can pull it. (see video)

In Germany, the company Evers developed a similar plow (see photo).  A few weeks Rockin soils visited an innovative Dutch company leading the technique of soil aeration of Dutch pastures in heavy clay soils. The use of this type of plow in Europe is not widespread. First results in the province of Friesland are promising.  and new tests are coming this year.

Rockin soils participates actively in these trials, to exchange experiences from farmers in Europe and outside and get the best of this tool of fertility in our pastures. From Australia we know that we can bring roots down to 60 cm in 3 year time in poor soils. The question is: can we do it here in the rich soils here?