Plants are truly amazing! They have the unique function of combining carbon from the air with moisture from to soil in the presence of sunlight and soil minerals to form carbohydrates. In spite of mankind’s sophisticated understanding of chemistry we still cannot produce sugar apart from plants such as sugar beets or sugar cane.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

Carbon Dioxode (CO2) Healthy Soi8lAn often-overlooked component in a plants ability to manufacture sugars is carbon dioxide (CO2). Inadequate carbon dioxide is many times THE limiting factor to higher yields. This necessitates a better understanding of how carbon cycles and how carbon dioxide gas is produced.

The goal in managing carbon is to build up the carbon reserves in soil in the form of humus and carbonates so that it is released as CO2 gas during the growing phase of the new crop. CO2 is released from the soil 24 hours a day but it is primarily taken up by the plant during the daytime. Since CO2 is heavier than air it accumulates during the nighttime.

The higher carbon dioxide accumulates during the night before dawn’s first light, the better the yield potential of the growing crop. Iowa crop advisor Mike McNeil maintains that CO2 release and amount of nighttime buildup is a quality indicator of soils. We fully agree. The production of high brix plants means a higher production of plant sugars, which are built from CO2, hence an even greater need for carbon dioxide. The greenhouse industry has known this for many years and regularly enhances the CO2 level in greenhouses to several thousand parts per million. This is 10 times the normal amount in air. The result: significant yield increase. This is the exact same thing we strive for in field conditions. We want to use the CO2 already in the air and enhance this with the CO2 released from the soil.

Older farmers will remember what happened when they cultivated young corn—it would grow six inches almost overnight after cultivation. Why? There are 2 reasons; soil conductivity was increased and CO2 release was speeded up. Combined these two factors caused tremendous crop growth.

I can imagine no-tillers and environmentalists cringing when I say that healthy soil should have increased levels of CO2 release. Yes we want it released so that it is subsequently reabsorbed by the growing plants. This results not only in increased yield, but also in increased volume of plant residue. If this plant residue is incorporated into the soil and digested by soil biology it causes the humus level in soils to rise. Increasing the humus level in soils is the truest form of carbon sequestration. Through the carbon cycle the CO2 that is released by the soil is returned back to the soil with interest i.e. even more carbons.

How To Start the Cycle of Increasing Carbon Storage in Soil

So how do we start the cycle of increasing carbon storage in soil? It is surprisingly simple; start using the premier “organic” fertilizer: limestone. That’s right—limestone, more specifically high calcium limestone. For years International Ag Labs has practiced low-level liming and seen great results. We have recommended annual applications from 200-500 lbs. of pelleted limestone be added to other fertilizers and broadcast together. We knew that regularly supplying calcium as a nutrient would greatly enhance crop growth—and we saw the results.

Increase Carbon Storage in SoilWhen Mr. McNeil presented the concept of using CO2 release as a quality parameter in monitoring soil health the lights went on and we made the connection. Limestone is calcium carbonate, CaCO3. Not only does it provide calcium, it also provides carbon. Did you know that a 500 lb. application of high calcium limestone provides 190 lbs. of calcium and 60 lbs. of carbon? When calcium carbonate is applied to soil it must be “digested” by soil biology before the calcium is made available for plant uptake and before the carbonate is released as CO2. This is the difficult part of biological agriculture. In contrast to conventional agriculture, which uses water-soluble nitrogen and potassium as the main growth elements, biological agriculture relies on making calcium available to the plant to provide the “growth energy.” Since calcium carbonate is not water-soluble it must be broken down by microbial action. Plant residues, another great source of carbons for the soil, also need microbial digestion to take it apart and store it as soil humus.

The Formazan Soil Test

For the last several years International Ag Labs has performed a soil test known as the Formazan test that answers the question “What is the digestive capacity of my soil?” This is a significant question that needs an answer when working with rock powders and plant residues used in organics and biological agriculture.

The Formazan test provides the biology in a soil sample with a specific amount of a food supply and waits a specific amount of time. We then measure the amount of metabolic enzymes given off by the bacterial and fungal species when they are active. The Formazan test is like the speedometer reading of microbial activity in the soil. It is an indirect microbial assay that gives us a picture of the forest—not the individual trees. Typical soils farmed with herbicides and pesticides will have a microbial activity level of less than 200 on the Formazan test. Biologically farmed soils that still use herbicides typically run from 300-500. International Ag Labs shoots for a Formazan reading of 600 as an entry-level good. At this level rock powders will be worked upon by soil biology and slowly made available. For organic soil we recommend a Formazan reading of 1,000 or greater since many nutrients in organic production must first be digested by soil biology. A Formazan reading greater than 2,000 represents a terrific soil with plenty of digestive capacity.

The Formazan test was developed by member of the Soil Science Society of America. Skujins*, who did a lot of original research on this test, found that the Formazan test directly corresponds to CO2 release, proteolytic activity, and nitrification potential. What this means in plain English is that low Formazan readings indicate a poor cycling of carbon, less microbial activity, and the inability of soil to break down organic inputs to supply plants with available nitrogen. This is very significant for organic farmers since all organic nitrogen fertilizers, with the exception of Chilean nitrate, require proteolytic activity and nitrification in order to make it available to plants. One last thing on the Formazan test, guess what the reagent or “food supply” is when incubating the Formazan test. CaCO3, that’s right—a fine grade of calcium carbonate. Surprise. Surprise.

The Soil Index

Some time ago International Ag Labs introduced a new parameter on our soil test called the Soil Index. The Soil Index is our attempt to answer the question: “What is the overall quality of this soil?” It is represented as a 0-100 score on the soil with the potential to show negative numbers if the soil is extremely hostile to growing plants such as when it has toxic salt levels. The Soil Index is simply the total of all points (positive or negative) from all the other measurements and ratios on the soil test. We have a desired level of 50 and greater, which we feel indicates the potential, but not certainty, of producing high brix. Readings in the 60’s and 70’s indicate a much better opportunity at achieving high brix and excellent yield.

In conclusion a healthy soil will have the following parameters:

  • Good levels of CO2 release
  • Good levels of humus
  • Good levels of microbial activity
  • Good levels of available calcium
  • The potential to produce high brix

* Skujins, J. 1973. Dehydrogenase: An indicator of biological activities in arid soils. Bull. Ecol. Res. Comm. NFR 17:235-241

Soil is a marvelous creation.  The book of Genesis records how the Creator used the “Dust of the ground” and the breath of his spirit to fashion Adam, the first man.  Later it records these well-known words:

Genesis 3:19 NKJV

In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground; for out of it you were taken: for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.

Soil Remineralization - Rock is the parent material of all soil
Rock, in various forms, is the parent material of all soil.

Interestingly, the sustenance for our physical bodies today still traces back to the “dusts of the ground.”; The food quality we eat is a direct reflection of the soil mineralization or its lack on which the food was grown. To achieve excellent health it is imperative that we eat foods grown on highly mineralized soil.

Rock, in various forms, is the parent material of all soil. As soil ages the rock particles become smaller and smaller. What started out as rock fragments is broken down to sand. Over time sand is reduced in size to silt. Silt particles eventually break down to the smallest of all particles; clay. While there is considerable variation, soil is generally considered to be a mixture of various portions of sand, silt, and clay.

Rocks are storehouses of fertility. As they break down to smaller particles nutrients within the rocks are released. This release of nutrients feeds the microbial population in the soil. The microbial population in turn feeds the plants. When crops are removed from the land, nutrients that started their journey encapsulated in rock end up as food, timber, animal feed etc. When rocks break down to clay and contribute their nutrients to building crops the soil slowly becomes demineralized.

The liberation of nutrients contained in rocks takes place through 3 spheres:

  • Physical Action
  • Chemical Reactions
  • Microbial Digestion

Physical Action

The breaking down of rocks begins with physical action. The primary way this occurred in the past was through the action of glaciers. Large slow-moving rivers of ice caused rocks to grind other rocks to a powder. A long time ago these glacier covered large sections of North America. Today most glaciers are confined to the higher altitudes or arctic and sub-arctic zones. Worms also provide physical action as they grind rock particles down in size in their gizzards.

Chemical Reactions

Chemical reactions work upon rock particles to further release stored nutrients. Weak acids in rainwater and root exudates are a couple examples of chemical reactions.

Microbial Digestion

Once the rocks have been partially broken down by physical action and chemical reactions the stage is set for the final performers: soil microbiology. Microbiology functions as the soil’s stomach. They digest rock powders and make the nutrients released from the rock powders available to plants. Plants and microbes function synergistically. Plants produce sugars through the process of photosynthesis and have a mineral requirement that must be met from soil reserves. Soil biology, on the other hand, has access to plenty of minerals (if the soil has been remineralized) but need an energy source to liberate rock-bound nutrients. This beautiful synergy of creation reveals the handiwork of its creator. Plant roots excrete carbohydrates that feed soil biology which return the favor by making bound-up nutrients available to the plant.

Without fresh incorporation of rock powders the soil becomes progressively demineralized. This leads to a decline in the plants’ sugar production, which results in a declining microbial population. When microbial life is reduced the soil will eventually lose its structure. This happens because the soil will be giving up more carbons than it stores and as a consequence soil energy is reduced. The end result is reduced yield and quality. When rock powders are added to soil according to the need of the soil the whole process of soil degradation is reversed.

It is hard to explain the pure joy and excitement that results when we personally see the soil being restored and the produce quality surpassing anything that can be found in the stores. Jennifer O. says it best when describing the transformation she has seen in her small peach orchard in Colorado, “It’s heavenly—just heavenly!”

The Nutritional Foundation of the High Brix Garden Program is Soil Remineralization

Soil remineralization is accomplished through the annual broadcast. The annual broadcast is custom formulated based upon the results of the soil test. It is formulated from the following broad categories.

Calcium-based rock powders

Calcium is present in every biological cell. It must be well supplied in order for the soil to produce top-quality. Limestone and gypsum are frequently used from this group.

Clay-based rock powders

The best in this class is soft rock phosphate. Soft rock phosphate provides many trace nutrients in addition to phosphates. These trace minerals are in a compound colloid form. Soft rock phosphate combines with limestone to form an electromagnetic field within the soil that helps soil resist water and wind erosion.

Silicate-based rock powders

Silica is on of the most often-neglected plant nutrients. It is extremely important for plant growth and in maintaining soil energy. Silicate rock powders are a virtual storehouse of broad-spectrum trace minerals. They also help increase soil paramagnetism. This type of rock powder requires microbial digestion to make the locked up nutrients available to the plants.

Carbon-based powders

These are very important energy sources that support soil microbiology. Carbon powders help balance calcium-based powders and make both the calcium and the carbon more accessible in the soil. Carbons help increase crop growth through the respiration of carbon dioxide that results from their digestion in the soil. Lastly carbon increases soil energy by increasing the ionization flow of nutrients in the magnetic lines of force.

Fertilizers for specific nutrients in short supply

It does very little good to address all the broad-spectrum rare earth minerals without first addressing the major plant nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium and the common trace minerals such as copper, iron, zinc, and manganese. Examples of fertilizers in this group would include potassium sulfate and copper sulfate. Fertilizers are only used when called for by the soil test.

Microbial inoculants

This is the match that lights the fuse and causes everything else to work.

When all these components are used in accordance with the soil test, soils can make great strides towards restoration in a relatively short time frame. In summary soil remineralization increases the density of soil minerals. These minerals are carriers of energy that cause plants to grow.

High Brix Garden Program

High Brix Garden Program
3 Parts

The Choice Is Yours

The High Brix Garden program is really a 3-part program:

  1. First a soil test is taken to determine a starting point for a soil remineralization program. 
  2. Secondly, on the basis of the soil test, a mixture of soil amendments, fertilizers, and microbial inoculants is custom formulated for your specific soil. 
  3. Lastly nutrient drenches and foliar sprays are used in order to increase the mineral density of produce and keep the soil high in available nutrients.

The second part of the program is the nutritional foundation of your soil’s health.  Without it the foliar sprays and nutrient drenches are considerably less effective and the ability to achieve high brix is seriously limited.  For this reason the annual broadcast of nutrients is considered a critically important component in the High Brix Garden program. 

International Ag Labs offers gardeners several options for obtaining high mineral density produce from their own gardens.

Mineralized Gardens

For mineralized, organic, micro-gardens please see

The Piecemeal Program

The piecemeal program is considerably cheaper to start than the Cadillac program.  In this program each basic component in the High Brix Garden program has its own cost as follows.

Step One:  S-1 and S-2 This combination is the basic soil test for gardens. This part costs $72.

Step Two:  The custom blend of nutrients. This entails a $40 mixing charge plus $0.35 / lb. of mixed product. Shipping is added to cost of nutrient blend.

Step Three:  Foliar Sprays and Nutrient Drenches can be purchased as needed. Prices according to labeled prices with shipping added according to the weight.

Just The Facts, Ma’am

This is just our soil testing services with no other services.  They include:

S-3   This soil test is our standard test with no fertility recommendations: $25
S-2   This test measures microbial activity and computes the Soil Index:  $22
S-4   This test is an optional test for Boron:  $10
S-5   This is a standard Base Saturation/C.E.C. soil test: $15

For a detailed look at why the broadcast of nutrients is so vital to you soil's health see Soil Remineralization.

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