The BFA in its courses teaches a set of principles and practices that support growers in building a high functioning biological system in the soil that grows their crops. We identify five key components that must be present and functioning and assist growers in understanding which aspects are current limiting factors in their systems.
These key components are minerals, soil life, carbon, air and water.
When we understand that it is functional capacity of the soil that determines the vigor, vitality, yield potential, pest and disease resistance and nutrient level of the crops, then the next step is to identify what components are inhibiting this capacity and to address them. We recommend that growers start with a comprehensive strong acid soil test that identifies current mineral levels in the soil. In our courses, we recommend the Base Plus test performed by Logan Lab in Ohio, as it provides analysis of more nutrients at a lower price than any other lab we have found thus far. Find the link to the soil test here. This soil test will report levels of Sulfur, Phosphorus, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Sodium, Boron, Iron, Manganese, Copper, Zinc, Cobalt, Selenium, Molybdenum, Silicon, Organic Matter, Exchange Capacity, pH, and Electrical Conductivity. These are all important components and their levels in the soil are determining factors in overall function of the living soil system.
Addressing deficiencies in these mineral levels is a first step in removing limiting factors to the biological system.
The next step we recommend growers identify and work with is seed inoculation. Our understanding is that in the same way that newborn animals need colostrum to set their digestive tracts, plants need to have numerous species of bacteria and fungi present in the immediate environment where they germinate in order to set their functional digestive tract. We use the analogy that the symbiotic relationship plants have with soil life functions in a very similar fashion to the flora in the gut of an animal, and that suggest that establishing this component at germination is one of the most powerful and inexpensive things growers can do to raise healthier plants. Different inoculants come in different forms, and directions should be followed as to how to apply them. Some growers also source inoculants from their immediate environments.
Following this we recommend that growers source the largest and heaviest seeds possible in order to get the best results. The seed industry currently sorts seeds by size and weight, and by asking around growers may be able to find larger more viable and vigorous seeds than they are currently working with. In the same way that the runt of a litter will never catch up with the larger animals in size, vigor and productivity, small seeds, which are common in the industry impede overall function in the field. Seed saving may be a necessary step for many growers until larger more vigorous seeds are more readily available in the marketplace.
After addressing seed sourcing we recommend that growers make sure to understand the components of the potting media that they may be starting their seeds in. For annual crop production, many plants are started in some sort of potting soil or other media, and the nutritional and biological makeup of this material is of great importance in the life long vitality of the crop being grown. Ensuring that comprehensive mineral and biological levels and communities are present in a potting media ensures that plants have access to all of the nutrition that they need in this critical point in life.
Tillage is another important component of good biological soil management, and strategies that minimize the destruction of soil life are critical to create an environment where plants thrive.
Planting and transplanting into the field is a further key point when plants are stressed and an environment where soil conductivity is sufficient along with good soil temperature, presence of a broad cross section of bacterial and fungal species, and sufficient mineral availability will help plants out dramatically in this major step in their development.
Plant growth habits pertaining to leaf shape and color, sap color, overall plant structure, stem and calix thickness and numerous other visual parameters are very helpful in assisting the grower in identifying health and vigor during growth of plants. We also suggest that growers use soil conductivity monitoring, brix and sap pH monitoring, weak acid soil tests and tissue tests in following plant growth during the season and staying on top of nutrition in a proactive fashion.
These parameters all lead to a much more functional living system that correlates with overall plant vigor, pest and disease resistance, increased yields, better flavor and nutrient levels and shelf life.