The Non-Toxic Farming Handbook

Philip A. Wheeler & Ronald B. Ward

Non-Toxic Farming HandbookThe foreward to The Non-Toxic Farming Handbook was written by Charles Walters, the executive editor of Acres U.S.A., and by now it will come as no surprise that he quotes Professor Philip Callahan, who said, "No method of insect control will ever work as long as poisoned crops outgas ethanol and ammonia in small parts per million. Those two powerful fermentation chemicals are the mark of a dying, decaying plant and serve as attractants to all plant-eating insects."  Walters also says that for years amateur agronomists taught others to be good amateurs, but with the knowledge in this Handbook, that has been rectified.  Wheeler and Ward credit Philip Callahan, T. Galen Hieronymus and most especially, Carey Reams, with work that allowed this book to be written.

Not only is the work of Carey Reams monumental, but the man himself is extraordinary. While serving in the Philippines in WWII, an auto accident left his pelvis crushed, his eye gone, jaw broken and teeth destroyed, his neck broken and his back broken in two places. After 40 surgeries, he was told to go to the VA hospital to die. Instead, he attended a service by Kathryn Khulman, a faith healer. Reams threw away his crutches, walked out unaided, and did not die. What he did was go on to revolutionize agriculture, introducing the world to his unique urine and saliva tests, the concept of animal and plant growth resulting from energy, not just food/fertilizer, the importance of calcium in feed and in soil, the use of the refractometer and brix levels to determine plant health, and new understanding of growth and fruiting in plants. 

Energy content was the basis of Reams explorations into plant health. He stated that plants grow from energy, not fertilizers, and this explains why the same fertilizer from one source has more effect on the growth of the plants than the same fertilizer from another source. The energy levels differ. In order to understand Reams' method, which is the basis of much of the cutting edge in agriculture as practiced by the Bionutrient Food Association and our campaign to teach how to grow nutrient dense food, one must understand the idea of energy as promulgated by Reams. Every atom and/or molecule contains energy. The energy in the atom reflects the energy in the plant, animal or products. Energy is required to move anything from one place or state to another. Energy is released in the use of any fuel: food, fertilizer, or petroleum. Different fuels may contain the same label regarding the contents, that is, alfalfa, gasoline, or fertilizer, but the source of the energy will determine how the 'fuel' performs. Calcium carbonate will vary depending upon which mine it comes from. The capacity to measure these energies is only recently available, but astute farmers have known the differences.

According to Reams, energy is created in soil by the interaction between nutrients — sulfate, phosphate, etc., and calcium, which is the necessary, driving force. As the other nutrients interact with the calcium, energy is released which powers the growth of the plant, and these energies are also affected by the cosmic radiation, which includes solar, magnetic forces, and the gravitational forces including those from the moon. Because the energy potential of fertilizers can be so great, putting a small amount on a field in the fall can result in a much larger increase in the same material appearing on the soil tests in the spring. This can be attributed to a synergistic/attractive force that may either release like materials in the surface soil, draw up like material from greater depths, or increase (strengthen) the energy signal of the base material in the soil. If this sounds a bit like the process of a homeopathic remedy, it is because they work in similar ways. Putting fertilizers in liquid form onto plants and soil allows more molecular contact of the fertilizer energy with the soil and, therefore, increases the total force which attracts similar energies, and depending upon the total energy of the fertilizer, it can sometimes provide adequate energy balance in the soil to attract or release sufficient amounts of energy for successful crop use. 

A living soil, an ideal soil would be 5% humus, 45% mineral, 25% air and 25% water. It would be easy to plow or till, spongy to walk upon and would hold large amounts of water with little run off. Microorganisms, which cover a large spectrum of bacteria, actinomycetes, fungi, algae, protozoa and nematodes, are essential for breaking down minerals and other nutrients for plant roots to absorb, as well as producing vitamins, amino acids, enzymes, hormones and antibiotics, but seldom reach their full potential due to lack of knowledge.  This soil contains organic matter, from various sources and humus. Humus differs from organic matter in that it is the final result after bacteria have digested or composted the organic matter, and it does not normally leach from the soil. Carbon is necessary in that active carbon — that is, humus — can hold four times its weight in water. Soils with 6% humus can hold two inches of rain with a minimum of erosion. It also fixes nutrients in the soil and regulates the magnetic flow across a field, stabilizes it, and keeps it from flowing too fast, which affects pH.  We already know that pH is a result of energy flow (although we usually think of it as acid or alkaline). Energy in acid soils can flow too fast and in alkaline soils, too slowly.

Weeds play a vital role in the soil.  I grew up with the phrase, "A rose in a wheat field is a weed", but weeds are more than just plants growing in the wrong place. They tell us much about the soils where they are growing and provide many benefits.  Deep taproots break up hardpan, bring up minerals, open the soil to air and water and leave much organic matter behind. Jay McCaman, the author of Weeds and Why They Grow, lists more than 800 weeds and gives the soil characteristics associated with their growth. He is quoted as saying, "Weed populations can be better indicators of mineral availability than soil tests."  In soils high in methane gas, look for velvetleaf and jimson weed; redroot pigweed grows in compacted soils; and sandburrs grow in soils low in humic acids. Broadleaf weeds can often be controlled by balancing phosphate and potash ratios.  Other minerals balance a host of weeds. The farmer has seen weed pressure increase with the use of salt and chloride fertilizers year by year. 

Skipping the polemic against chemical warfare on weeds and its attendant dangers, herbicides can be reduced each year and soybean oil, nitrogen, liquid calciums, garlic, wetting agents and so forth can be added to increase the effectiveness of the herbicides until their use can be eliminated. Building up the soil at the same time can also decrease weed pressure. Weeds, like insects, are excellent indicators of imbalance.  An Amish farmer, confronted by a pasture overgrown with spiny jimson weed, added a foliar spray of two gallons each of liquid calcium and blackstrap molasses, eight ounces of soil conditioner and 12 pounds of a dry soluble fertilizer and almost completely eliminated the problem. 

Without insects, we don't have a world, but by damn, they eat a lot.  How can we keep them from eating us out of house and home?  More than $30 billion a year in food crops are pollinated by bees, and insects make shellac, honey and silk.  But around the world, where food crops are held in open granaries, insects can eat or pollute a huge percentage.  The FDA allows 75 insects parts per 50 grams of flour and some estimates are that we eat around two pounds of insects parts along with various rodent hairs and feces each year. Fortunately, it is all good for us, being mostly protein.  Too much squeamishness about eating insects is unrealistic, especially since they eat us at every opportunity.  

Dr. Callahan studied insects (as well as most other things in this world) and found that the antennae on insects actually pick up radiation and infrared signals from plants. Infrared signals are emitted naturally by all living things, and from the gaseous emissions from all life forms. Each insect is geared toward certain plants by the shape of their antennae, thus the alfalfa weevil is attracted to alfalfa but not to apple trees. When a plant deviates from its genetic potential, the infrared signals given off by the plant will change and become more attractive to insect pests.  We can observe this using a refractometer and taking a brix reading, finding that the sucrose in attacked plants is lower than plants not being attacked. Healthy plants are not attacked by insects, Dr. Reams tells us.  By attacking unhealthy plants the insects are actually doing humanity a favor, pointing out to us which plants lack the ability to properly nourish our bodies. Too bad that these plants are the ones most commonly found in our grocery stores. 

IPM, or integrated pest management, is gaining popularity with farmers and orchardists. In addition, farmers are turning to botanical, microbial and predator approaches. Some predator species in a field usually also signal that there is a low level of toxic contamination. If plants are attacked by insects, it is important to give them a foliar feeding to help them marshal their natural defenses.  Diatomaceous earth, or  D.E., is the shells of tiny fresh or sea water diatoms, which were deposited in the ocean bed.  They are mined and milled to a powder, and while it feels like talcum powder to us, has sharp edges that are detrimental to insects. The insects dehydrate and die. But, some think that the D. E. de-energizes the parasite in the insects' stomach and it dies. Vegetable oils used in conjunction with pesticides and, we are finding, used alone, are also detrimental to insects. Basically, weeds and insects are not problems in themselves, they are symptoms of problems that must be addressed by balancing the soil and helping the natural processes of the earth restore it to optimum health.

The Non-Toxic Farming Handbook is just that — a handbook. It is filled with a tremendous amount of precise information concerning, for example, soil testing. There is no way to reproduce the information found in the book in this review.  It is a book that needs to be purchased and kept handy.

That being said, the way to get a soil sample is to use a clean, rust free shovel (rust shows up on a soil test as iron); choose the horizon appropriate to your use — that is, 0 to 6 inches for annuals, 8 to 10 inches for perennials and for farmers; take a sample every 15 to 20 acres.  Once it is sent to a soil testing lab, you will receive a test result sheet.  Most of the time you will receive recommendations as to what you should put on your soil, but caution must be used here. Not all amendments are alike.  There are also different kinds of soil tests.  There is the CEC test, or cation exchange capacity test developed by Dr. William Albrecht.  This test measures the 'holding capacity' of the soil, and determines how much nutrient is theoretically held by the clay and humus colloids.  There is the La Motte test, which uses solutions for nutrient extraction which are supposedly more like those used by plant roots, and the preferred test of Carey Reams.  And there is the electronic scanner which was issued patents in the 1950's and which, with readings for each element, will provide a readout of how much of each is in the soil sample.  Some research is necessary to find a lab that you are comfortable with, and some education is necessary to learn how to use the recommendations given and what they mean, and then if one is to be precise, one must find a way to track results. It isn't rocket science, but it is soil science.

In addition to sending soil samples to a lab for analysis, one can purchase some devices that can be used for more are less immediate results in the field. These field meters are numerous.  There is the pH meter which gives a reading on acidity or alkalinity (or speed of energy flow) in the soil.  There is the ERGS meter, which means Energy Released per Gram per Second in the Reams system, and which measures negative and positive ions moving in the soil.  There is the Sodium meter, which is of great use to western growers because of an excess of salt, and to eastern and middle growers because of a lack which, among other things, has an effect on the flavor of fruits and vegetables.  There is the ORP meter, or Oxidation Reduction Potential meter, which works in conjunction with the pH meter to measure the basic soil process of oxidizing humus for the release of energy to be used by crops and soil life forms. Lastly, there is the paramagnetism meter which measures the ability of the soil to tune into and receive the magnetic energies of the cosmos.  In a personal conversation with Dr. Callahan, the authors of the Handbook found that he had tested 'every known' pesticide at LSU and found that every one of them was toxic to the soil. Obviously, it will take some time and research to learn to use these meters properly and effectively.

We are familiar with the fact that the common commercial fertilizers are ultimately bad for the soil, but just why are they bad? Briefly, the whole NPK approach is in error. Von Liebig simply drew the wrong conclusions and unfortunately his work became the word of the day. Dislodging his errors is difficult. Part of the problem is the materials used to obtain the nitrogen, potash and potassium, which while they might facilitate the release of immediate energy for the use of plants, actually destroy the soil organisms that, along with the minerals, sunlight, air and water are the digestive system of plants.  One hundred pounds of muriate of potash per acre releases the equivalent of 100 gallons of Clorox sprayed over the same soil — to name only one.  The soil organisms haven't a chance against such an onslaught. When the soil flora and fauna die, they are no longer there to flocculate or loosen the soil. As their numbers fall, the soil degrades and compacts. The lack of bacteria results in lower humus, the soil becomes so hard that it is nearly impossible to plow and finally, the field is abandoned to be scoured by wind and rain.

This Handbook has detailed chapters on selecting and using the most effective fertilizers, but some considerations need to be kept in the forefront.  The soil is actually growing the plant, and any nutrition the plant receives is coming from outside itself, therefore one must feed the soil as well as the plant.  Foliar feeding is good as long as the soil organisms are fed as well. It has been found that legumes grown in deficient soil are not producing the nodules of fixed nitrogen that they are genetically programmed to create. The authors ask that farmers insist on the highest quality fertilizers and not purchase something just because that is the only item for sale in their area. They must create the demand by not purchasing deficient products. 

There is an explanation of pH in the Handbook which demystifies the issue. To explain it here, I would have to reproduce the chapter, but in short, it has to do with the amount of positive hydrogen ions versus the amount of negative hydroxide ions in any substance.  The more positive hydrogen ions the more acid we say something is, and conversely, the more negative hydroxide ions, the more alkaline it is. Dr. Reams said this model was flawed, and that pH is actually a measure of resistance — as an analogy, it is easier to run straight down a football field than it is to run the length of it dodging the players from the other team. If the pH is low, you have less resistance, and if it is high, you have more.  At the same time, Canadian researchers found that pH is highly dynamic and swings from hour to hour and day to day.

Something else that changes from day to day is the phase of the moon.  We see the undeniable effects of the moon on the tides, but tend to ignore the other effects.  But all liquid has tides.  The moon affects the growth cycle of plants.  On a full moon the ground will be warmer and the air cooler, and the opposite at the new moon. The full moon has a greater gravitational pull and actually 'loosens' the soil somewhat. Other cycles of nature affect plants — droughts will cause grains to head out while still quite short, as Mother Nature tries to continue the species by creating seed earlier.  Sweet fertilizers like calcium, potassium, chlorine and nitrate nitrogen produce growth.  Sour fertilizers like phosphorus, sulfate sulfur, manganese and ammonium nitrogen produce fruiting responses.  The farmer can learn to apply the proper fertilizer at the most advantageous time for the plant.  If a plant is grown for leaf it makes sense to apply the sweets, and if grown for fruit, apply the sours.  This is far more complicated than I am making it sound as fertilizers can be combined to get a particular response.  The point is farmers can, by paying attention to the cycles of nature, combining nutrients and being timely in their applications, control to a great extent the growth and fruiting of their crops. 

In addition to the field machines listed above there is another — the refractometer.  This is a simple, inexpensive, hand-held device that measures the dissolved solids in liquid. Plant juice solids are mainly made from carbon, hydrogen and oxygen by which we quickly see that they are carbohydrates or sugars of various sorts. The refractometer is a tube with a prism with a plastic cover at one end and an adjustable eyepiece at the other. The light passing through the liquid being tested is refracted or bent in relation to the amount of dissolved solids present in the liquid.  Juice is squeezed from the plant with a small press, usually a modified pair of pliers as considerable force is sometimes necessary.  A drop is placed on the prism, the cover is lowered, and looking into a light source, one determines where the blue and white backgrounds come together, taking a brix reading from the 0 to 30 scale inside the meter.  Readings should be taken at the same time of day and from the same part of the plant. Weekly readings are most helpful to keep track of progress.  Higher brix readings indicate a greater nutrient load in the plant. The chart printed in the book gives the range for a number of plants like apples, at 6, very poor and at 18, excellent. High brix crops taste sweeter, resist frost better, and produce more alcohol during fermentation.  Possibly making better wine...

Foliar feeding is spraying nutrients onto the plant leaves. Jointly, Michigan State University, (one of my alma maters), and the Atomic Energy Commission, (an unlikely joint venture if ever there was one), determined that foliar feeding is eight to twenty times more effective than putting the fertilizer on the soil. Foliar feeding seems to bypass some of the problems of soil feeding such as nutrient competition, nutrient tie-ups, leaching and soil interactions. All nutrients are absorbed as readily, but some are more easily translocated, like nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, copper, manganese and zinc, where others like calcium, boron, iron, magnesium and molybdenum, remain in the leaves. Foliar feeding is best when soil fertility is good and can otherwise have mixed results. It is used to move the plant from growth to fruiting, to counter leaching from steady rains, to give a bit of added push and to keep the plant's energy optimal. The Handbook gives considerable instruction on how to prepare a foliar spray.

The Handbook has chapters on water, forage quality, tillage, livestock nutrition, field evaluation and how to recover a field. Each of these chapters has sound advice, but has more to do with farm practice than non-toxic farming, although as I write that I must add that all farm practice that promotes clean, healthy, happy animals and nutrient dense food crops is an essential part of non-toxic farming.  A dirty, manure and ammonia filled barn is not non-toxic even if the cattle are getting the best food in the world.  Since this is a handbook, please consider purchasing a copy and giving it a close read.  There is much in the book that will be referred back to again and again. Chapter 23 has a description of levels of non-toxic farming from level 1, which is conventional farming with a few additions, to level 8, which does not exist yet.  The authors say of this level, " has yet to be defined. It may involve  materials or processes that gather cosmic energies (information)...  It may involve current technology concerning cosmic pipes, radionics, or sound generation. It may also involve liquid crystals.  It probably will involve specific bacteria species for root colonization on leaf surfaces. ...Space programs may depend on them for long trips."

Dr. Carey Reams studied much more than plants. He was a medical doctor, and devised methods of determining the health of individuals using a person's urine and saliva using brix and conductivity meters.  He discovered the absolute importance of food mineralization.  An interesting aside, he discovered that the mineral the heart needs for health is arsenic of phosphate, and it is found in asparagus, not that from commercially grown and chemically treated fields but from naturally grown and fertilized fields, because the arsenic composition is different. He found that calcium combines to form more than a quarter of a million different compounds in the human body  and that the lungs need more minerals than any other organ in the body. There is a chart in the Handbook that lists the nutrients needed to correct deficiencies in plants with the symptoms (fungus, insects, bacteria, virus, rapid growth) listed as well. Would that there were a chart to help us correct our own bodily deficiencies.

The last chapter in the book entitled, Subtle Energies, talks about the changing nature of reality. The world we have is far more than the Newtonian world of the last centuries. Discoveries in quantum mechanics, that light bends and can travel backwards in time, or that, as discussed in The Secret Life of Plants, plants react to human presence and emotion, or that people can heal themselves with their minds alone are but the tip of the iceberg.  Anyone who would deny the real effects of the magnetic forces must accept the reality of the medical magnetic resonating system that seems to prove the existence of additional subtle energy emissions from matter. The detection of brain waves and biofeedback strengthen the ideas about these energies. The authors end the book with a recipe for dowsing and finding ley lines — areas of magnetic intensity due to the magnetic field of the earth not being distributed evenly across the earth — which are disruptive to agriculture. Cows do not like to stand where the ley lines cross, and silage does not keep as well at those junctures. 

There are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy… It is interesting to me that some of the most astounding discoveries on earth are being made in the field of agronomy.  With every book I read to review for this column I feel that I am looking through an open door into the future.  This future is one where we have taken the blinders off our eyes and recognized the path to healing our soil, our plants, our animals, ourselves and our earth. So, buy the book. Never mind that it deals with agriculture on a large scale, the advice is true, even if you have a couple of raised beds and a coop full of chickens.