A Passion for Soil

While in West Lafayette at the Han Institute project meeting I was introduced to a man who claimed to have a passion for soil and how it relates to plants, animals, and humans. He was a project manager by trade, most recently working for Eli Lilly through BCForward in Indianapolis. He’s a reflexologist on the side, which is like acupuncture, but without the needles.

He told the story of how his brother, while working for Albert Einstein, asked Einstein if his famous equation could be inverted to create mass from energy. The story goes that Einstein just rocked back and forth in his rocking chair a bit before saying, “I’ll leave that one for you to figure out.” His brother later worked on developing formulas for ionization, which was the beginning of his work in soil and plant science. His brother now consults with farmers about how to improve yields without fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides.

The man’s name is Jerry Smith. He’s of Jewish descent, having had his name changed upon his ancestors entering the United States. He asked us if we knew the purpose insects serve? I said to clean up plant waste, but he said it was to eat unhealthy plants. He said the only way to tell the true health of a plant is to use a spectrometer. Unhealthy plants contain less sugar and are easier to digest. Then he asked us why weeds exist? He said it was to add nutrients back into the soil to prepare for other plants.

In other words, his brother believed and has proven that healthy plants need no insecticide and healthy soil grows no weeds. These are pretty bold statements, but it gets even bolder. He said that plants, like corn, that have broad leaves get most of their nitrogen from the air, not from the soil. He said that people knew this back in the 1700’s, but somehow the knowledge was lost. On top of that he said corn should be able to water itself from the moisture in the air as long as the soil was healthy.

So what are some characteristics of healthy soil? It’s soft. It has a smell to it. It’s cool in the summer and warm in winter. And it should have the same moisture level as the air. If any of these things aren’t true, it means the soil is dead or damaged. He did mention one way to restore the soil. He told a story of a farmer with a sandy hill. His brother asked him if he could plant some buck wheat on it for a year. As soon as the buck wheat would turn to seed, he’d plow it under. After the third time, the soil had turned black. The buck wheat had taken nitrogen from the air and energy from the sun and put it into the ground. He had created matter from energy.

Corn Leaf

The Franklin Collection

Here you see the Buddleia and others from the Franklin Collection.

[Update 1/7/2012: This is my first blog post ever. It was originally posted on Blogger. I was inspired to start blogging by my wife, who had been blogging for a couple years prior to this. This post was originally posted on December 19, 2004. I called it The Franklin Collection because I was going to start a nursery and I was blogging about my progress.]