Basalt rock dust grows plants? Well let me explain. A while back I was driving down the road and turned on the radio. It was talk radio and they were discussing how the geysers in Yellowstone National Park work. Also about volcanic hot spots around the world and what makes Yellowstone in particular so special in this regard. At about 5:25 into the recording they said something that really resonated with me about the volcanic soils and the wildlife in the park. Dr. Bob Smith mentioned that there is a correlation between the volcanic rock and soils and how it effects vegetation. Also how the vegetation effects the animals in the immediate area.
He talks more about this and I thought you would like to hear what he has to say about it. Interesting stuff and what I take from this is that they believe the soil is more fertile due to the volcanic rocks and soils in that area.
To check out the story, just go to wbur.org. Then search for “The science behind what makes Yellowstone’s geysers erupt”.
A little more about that Basalt
After listening to the radio program I decided to do a little more digging. I found Bob Smiths home page. I eventually came across the following.
Third column, on page 13 of the “Yellowstone Science quarterly fall of 2000”. You should google that one too. Geologist and Geophysicist Bob Smith talks about the moving hot spot under Yellowstone National park. Yellowstone science mentions that someday the hot spot may be under billings Montana or near there.
They ask Bob what Yellowstone will look like then. Bob Smith says “Then it’ll look like Ashton, Idaho. Then you’ll start growing potatoes in it!” Bob says that the lower depression areas will fill in with basalt’s. “And the basalt’s then produce the soils and the soils then produce the potatoes.”
You should go check out Bob’s home page. Lots of good information about Yellowstone and all of the research he has been working on for many years.
You can find it here. Bob Smiths Home page.
Now how does Basalt help plants grow?
I started using volcanic rock dusts on my Garden and have seen good results. The plants react very well to it. They seem to have more vigor and grow larger. Though I don’t believe that rock dusts are the complete answer. I do believe they play a key role in plant growth. Basalt in particular can supply vital minerals and trace elements that may not be present in the soil.
From what I understand, these soils have been depleted because of chemical use. Fungicides, Pesticides, Herbicides, and believe it or not common fertilizers. Or just disturbing the soil (tilling or plowing) or leaving it bare can also deplete your soil. Does this sound familiar? Conventional agriculture uses all of these practices to produce the food they want us to eat.
It’s not that the minerals aren’t present, it’s that the soil microbes have trouble getting to them. Try digging a hole in my yard and you can find just about every kind of rock imaginable. Where I live the landscape is comprized of what they call glacial moraine, I find lots of rounded granite stones everywhere. Granite also contains some trace minerals. I find little pea sized stones all the way up to small boulders. One issue though is that it’s been a very long time since the last glaciers moved across the land crushing and grinding these stones.
More going on than we realize
As I understand it the mycelium (fungi) in the soil along with all the different microbial life forms (bacteria etc.) are able to mine the existing stones or rock in any given area. So if you break a rock in half you may be able to see that there is a layer around the stone that looks discolored. This is from the soil biota mining for minerals present in the stone. The center of the stone still looks new. Over time it becomes more difficult for the little critters to get to the fresh mineral in the stones.
Things we should consider
When we treat the ground in one of the aforementioned ways (Chemicals). The soil life suffers, over time from repeated application and mechanical action. In many cases the soil life is killed off to a great extent. Then the plants use up all the available minerals that the microbes and fungi have mined for.
Along with the dead and decaying microbes. Over time the soils are depleted and fertilizers become necessary. From the tilling plowing and weathering. Soil organic carbon is also released into the air and the humas eventually disapears from the soil after years of this repeated cycle.
What we should do
- Add as much organic matter to the soil that you can in any given year. Be creative there is a lot out there for free. Leaves are a good example. This will improve the soil structure and slow the flow of water through the soil.
- Compost it! Utilize the compost pile to grow lots of “wee beasties” for the soil. Grow fungi in that pile too.
- Keep the ground covered with living things (plants), decaying organic matter, or both. This will prevent the loss of soil organic carbon.
- Foster fungal and microbial life in the soil.
- Re-mineralize the soil to help the microbes and mycelium they can mine rock dusts for minerals much easier than the stone in the surrounding soil. This is where the Basalt comes into play or other Volcanic rock dusts for gardens.
- Retain as many nutrients in the soil for as long as possible. Biochar as much as anything is a sponge that continually soaks up water and nutrients over time then slowly releases them through various actions. Biochar also puts carbon back into the earth for a long time to come.
- Plant diverse crops. There have been whole books written on companion planting. for example Carrots love tomatoes or you can discover some of your own. Mix it up out there folks it’s okay to grow corn, beans and squash together. People have been doing that for thousands of years. Stick some flowers in there too for good measure. I like big ole sun flowers, I plant pole beans around them so they got a job to do rather than just look pretty.
- Stop using chemical inputs. Stop tilling and plowing, plant a cover crop instead. This will help retain the soil organic carbon.
- Invite predatory insects and other benificials into your garden to help with pest control. Oh one last thing. Get down in the dirt on your own hands and knees and pull some weeds. It’s good for you!
One last thought
You certainly don’t have to do all of this at once. It takes some time, I’m still learning as I go. For the most part stop the damage, and bring your soil back to life. You will be amazed at the results.
Thanks for reading.