Microbes function in a variety of ways to enhance soil structure and improve plant growth. By breaking down both natural and synthetic materials in the soil they create a source of food for plants, they make airborne nitrogen available to plants, engage in photosynthesis and produce antibiotics.

Dead micro-organisms add large amounts of humus to the soil. Minerals necessary for plant growth can be absorbed through the roots only after they have been converted to ions. Microbes create ions by breaking down complex substances into simple structures. It may be argued that chemical fertilizers are converted into ions instantly when they dissolve in the soil's moisture. This is true. However, it should be noted that these compounds do nothing to build and maintain healthy soil. On the contrary; over a period of time, they acidify the soil making it inhospitable to living organisms. The soil then loses its ability to retain moisture, drain properly and resist erosion. Chemical fertilisers also do nothing to strengthen the soil to withstand pests and diseases.

During an Ice Age, up to one-third of the Earth's surface may be covered by glaciers grinding boulders to dust. The streams carrying the run off are thick with pulverized rock, and wind storms encircling the planet are heavy with dust. This is, in fact, a periodic global remineralisation project carried out by Mother Nature.

It is about 10,000 years since the last major Ice Age. During this period (relatively short in geologic terms), our soil has become impoverished and exhausted owing to increasingly intensive farming, the use of chemical fertilisers and our failure to maintain plenty of fresh minerals and organic matter in it. Even though there is still mineral material in the soil, the nutrients that are accessible to micro-organisms are few.

Tiny microbes are capable of extracting useful mineral nutrition only from a thin surface layer of rocks, grains of sand and other particles in the soil. This is why the super-fine dust provided by glaciers and flooding rivers makes such a difference to the lands affected by them. The surface area of these finely ground powders is far greater even than beach sand, thus making huge amounts of broad spectrum of minerals available to hungry micro-organisms. When these little creatures are well-fed, they multiply at an unbelievable rate, the organic matter and nutrients in the soil are increased accordingly, and your garden grows.

Since ancient times, rocks and rock dust have been a part of agriculture. But, with our growing reliance on science since the mid-nineteenth century, the use of 'natural' methods of farming has declined. Recently, however, with revived interest in organic practices, rock has found its way back into gardening and agriculture around the world. In Switzerland, rock dust has been available for decades from the factory of Hans Rutz. His success has been phenomenal. What was originally a by-product of his rock-grinding operation is now his main business. In Austria, Italy and Germany there are government remineralization projects underway to reverse the damage to forests from acid rain. It is suspected by some researchers that it is not pollution damage which is killing the trees, but rather malnutrition, which has weakened them to the point that they are unable to survive adverse conditions. Numerous experiments in Europe, Asia, the United States, Australia and New Zealand have demonstrated the efficacy of using minerals to rejuvenate the soil by dramatically increasing the number of micro-organisms in it, thus making more nutrients available to plantlife.

Remineralization may not show immediate results, but be patient. On severely damaged soil it can take as much as one or two full seasons for micro-organisms to be replenished and to begin to make a difference in growth of crops. On the other hand, rock dust combined with compost or green nature has been known to show quick and dramatic results.

So, give it a try. Remineralize now; get your microbes stoned, and watch your garden grow.

Alex Alexander, Mossman Branch Digest Nov '93 and Feb '94
Extract from from International Permaculture Journal No.39

DATE: March 1994

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