ROI Standards ~ for growing plants in DIRT

This treatise is a bit 'disjointed'. Granted. In this writer's opinion, the most important activity is to get information posted, which will become more 'readable' in time as I 'work through it'.

Please be patient and bear with me - this is all about the premise on which Dirt Science is established. The process of increasing and/or restoring microbiological life in dirt that lacks insufficient plant nutrition.

The important thing for readers to realize, is that this site deals with some new issues and trends to address some very real-world problems that affect all of humanity. *Growing enough food for humanity to eat, is one of the most serious global issues that the world is facing in the next decade and beyond.

  • As the world's population reaches over 9 BILLION, having enough nutritious food to eat will be THE main issue. Historians have written volumes about the lack of food being the main reason for MANY wars - and in this age, that still remains true.
  • Life is about supply of nutritious food and clean water.
  • Lack of nutritious food is the main cause of starvation - and entire populations are dying that way, even today. Consider the plight of nations such as Kenya and Ethiopia...

This author's premise is that commercial agricultural farming is in a LOT of trouble for many reasons - and soil science has not been helpful in doing much of anything (that I have been able to find) about solving the biological nutrient-cycling problem, and I personally think that soil science has a responsibility to do that.

Most of the world's food is grown on cultivated land which according to soil science classification - is now dirt. Soil science does not like the word 'dirt' used in connection with growing plants. But I do, for multiple reasons, and go to some lengths (below) to establish my assertion that dirt is a legitimate substance for plant growth by virtue of common usage, contrary to the dictionary Usage Panel. Dirt is a better word than 'media' or 'medium'.

I understand the dictionary definitions of soil and dirt. I also understand that dictionary definitions have evolved over time - and dictionary definitions will continue to evolve - albeit slowly.

According to soil science, which includes the USDA, NRCS, ARS and the U.S. Agricultural Extension Service (and therefore Master Gardener Associations), SOIL is UNDISTURBED 'earth' or 'land' or 'the ground', the way nature made it.

In this author's opinion, THAT is the dividing line between soil and non-soil.

Non-soil includes DISTURBED by man 'earth' or 'land' or 'the ground' and use of natural amendments and combined organic products for the purpose of promoting plant growth.
Including soil that has become DIRT - by being changed by man.

It is not the intent of ROI to take issue with soil science regarding what soil is - but rather to distinguish that which is not specifically 'soil', and therefore is not strictly within the domain of soil science.

So you ask - "why does that matter"?
Good question.
The answer is quite simple...
A change of "mind-set" is needed to try and avert a global food shortage disaster that is looming on the horizon.
What is the name of this disaster? 9 billion hungry humans on this planet by 2050 and not enough food for them to eat. Hunger causes civil unrest, which leads to war, as is well-documented by human history, for as long as human history has been recorded.

Fact is, no more new soil is being made - and virgin soil is becoming in short supply - and a LOT of soil previously used to grow food is being covered over by concrete or asphalt - so there is simply not enough fertile soil left to grow enough plants to feed that many people now - and even more, as population continues to increase...

The world needs to learn how to produce edible harvests from DIRT. By methods our forefathers used, before synthetic chemical fertilizers were invented. Chemicals that have contributed to world-wide pollution and erosion from unsustainable agricultural practices promoted by the synthetic chemical fertilizer industry because of greed for money. Including the manufacturers of chemical pesticides, which includes herbicides.

All are playing a part in the pending disaster facing the human race because those products, applied in excess over many growing seasons, are causing damage to the microbiological community that makes natural fertilizer due to the build-up of phosphorous and potassium.

It is this author's opinion that soil science ( has been remiss in acknowleging that this disaster is coming, and also believe that the soil science community is not going to address the issues appropriately because of their CYA 'heads stuck in the sand' attitudes.

It is a well-recognized issue that commercial agricultural ties with soil science are responsible for the on-coming fiasco that is significantly linked to land-grant institutions of higher learning world-wide, that support synthetic chemical manufacturers of agricultural products with a significant DISREGARD for age-old sustainable food production practices.

The views below are presented so that interested soil scientists, university researchers and college professors will not be confused by this author's distinction of "non-soil" - i.e., Dirt.

There's another distinction that needs to be made... The modern agricultural community has not 'picked up' on the word "SUSTAINABILITY" - and that's a shame, because it appears to me that soil science is not helping to correct an on-coming global issue. In fact this author thinks that soil science is "dragging their feet" - and I won't let you wonder why, for very long... It has to do with where soil science gets their $$ funding. It's all about the money, y'know? Yet we're the ones that pay!!

Sustainability rests on the principle that we must meet the needs of the present, WITHOUT compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

That's not happening - so our mentality needs to shift away from the 'slash/burn' mentality of just clearing more productive soil to trash - and start focusing on REVITALIZING our DIRT. Because I believe that the solution is going to be found in reclaiming DIRT, not by destroying more forests, to defoliate virgin soil. Because eventually - all the virgin soil is going to be 'raped' by mankind. And the earth will cry...

There needs to be a multitude of new voices being heard in the agricultural community, because this problem is still growing, and is going to get seriously worse, all too soon.

I'd like to point you to one of those voices from 12 years ago that has still not been heeded sufficiently to get soil science 'off their duff'.
Please take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with this presentation by the University of California at Davis: because it is still valid.

How biologically-active organic matter in soil impacts plants, has STILL not become a significant focus of soil science because they are still 'stuck' in geological mode. And while many man-made non-soil products are talked about in the science of horticulture, the subject of Restoring the biological viability of Dirt per se, is rarely one of them.

This author thinks that dirt should be considered as a separate entity from soil, because soil science will not recognize the multitude of various types of dirt that support plant life, even including nursery potting media thaStrongt delivers seedlings to millions of gardeners every year.

Why you ask? Because a major part of the solution is in the hidden 'universe' of beneficial nutrient-cycling microbes found in dirt with a higher content of organic matter than exists in most soil. The kind of Dirt that organic gardeners grow their own food in, all over this world. That's the kind of Dirt we need, to grow quality food for humans and our livestock.

Cultivated land has always been important, because it IS what man uses to grow food commercially - which is why it is called 'agricultural' land - which has been changed from "soil" as nature made it. And especially since the end of World War II, it has become a major challenge to retain the agricultural productivity of that Dirt. A battle that we are still losing. A battle that will affect our children and grandchildren - for many, many generations to come.

Humans have got to learn how to stop 'trashing' our planet, or future generations will suffer DIRE consequences.

Soil science recognizes that dirt is not soil, per se. How a plant grows in dirt, needs to become the science of dirt - because it is very clear that soil science has 'fumbled' - and still does not recognize the validity of dirt as a substance in which the majority of the world's harvests are being grown. Soil science is still treating cultivated land as if it were still natural soil. But it is not. Soil science needs to get involved in corrective activities to help stop the pollution and erosion of our land!!

Dirt science? That's what this author calls it.
Listen up... I don't care what it's called - call it the science of sustainable agriculture - as long as it is not called agricultural science - the science that caused this problem - by not paying attention to the foundation of sustainably productive land - the microbes that made it productive in the first place.

In our English dictionary, Horticulture is defined as (1) the science or art of cultivating plants, especially for ornamental use. (2) the cultivation of a garden.
The focus of this definition is on the plant, not the root-based growing medium. Medium? Man-made mixtures are common, as well as promotion of amendments for adding to soil to make it more plant-productive.

Amend: To improve, better or alter. Change. OK - amending soil changes it to what? Dirt.

Horticulture is a recognized science, focused mostly on plants. Organic material within the root-zone of a plant is addressed within horticultural circles, - but from a chemical perspective, not a microbial perspective. Microbes are essential for sustainabilty, just as much as putting back organic material into the ground for microbes to feed on.

Biology is a recognized science that includes a focus on microscopic organisms. But not particularly within the realm of a medium for growing plants. A huge gap exists between horticulture/agriculture and biology. Why do you think that gap exists? Because microbiology does not sell commercial fertilizers and other chemicals that kill microbes along with unwanted plants (weeds) and insects that eat plants (the beneficials, too).

What is meant by the term "microbes"? In this context, it means the beneficial bacteria, fungi, protozoa and microarthropods that make Mother Nature's system work.

The emphasis in modern times - in particular since the late 1950's is on "helping" Mother Nature get the job done faster via synthetic chemical means.

Which is OK. I'm all for that. But not by producing synthetic 'treatments' that kill the good bugs and microbes along with the 'bad' ones. The general commercial approach is simply: ALL BUGS ARE BAD. ALL WEEDS ARE BAD. This thinking is contrary to nature.

Helping Mother Nature is a good thing. I practice that by composting. Composting is a method of speeding-up nature's decomposition of organic material by producing a specific man-made environment (with water and air).

A leaf falls to the ground and it may take a year for it to decompose and return to the organic cycle. Composting does the same thing in 2-3 months. WITHOUT synthetic ANYTHING. Just water and air and some human/mechanical energy.

But physical compost is cumbersome to handle. So the newest practice is the making liquid compost - which grows the beneficial microbe populations exponentially - from just millions per teaspoon - to quadrillions per teaspoon. A HUGE ADVANCE in organic farming.

But is composting a recognized science? No.
But is adjunct to several sciences. Composting is called a science-based ART form. Like horticulture.

Composting is all about microbes, and how those microbes impact plant functions. Particularly plant functions that produce harvests for human food. Called organic gardening and organic/sustainable farming. But does commercial agriculture 'recognize' organic farming? Only when forced to, because modern agriculture is 'funded' by manufacturers of synthetic chemicals used on food crops. Hello??

It's time to "tie" these aspects of producing food together, for our common good.

Making planting dirt in which to grow plants has barely been a recognized science-based ART form within horticulture - a 'step-child' of horticulture for profit. By commercial plant nurseries which also promote excessive use of synthethic chemicals.

Well folks, this author thinks that it's time that all these activities be CONSOLIDATED and given due consideration and I think that Soil Science should be the agency to do that.

Solid compost and liquid compost have "come of age" as a means to replenish the beneficial microbe populations in 'spent' agricultural land.

Regular additions of organic matter, reduced tillage and the use of cover crops can increase aggregate stability, tilth, and diversity of microbial life. When homeowners keep organic material OUT of landfills, for composting to make planting dirt - to grow food for humans and animals cared for by humans, that organic food waste and yard waste then returns to the natural cycle as nature intended.

Microbes that impact plant growth within the realm of organic production of human food have long been known, but have not been given prominence deserved. Microbes make HUMUS - a substance that science defines as highly beneficial to plants, but science has not yet been able to figure out how microbes make it.

It doesn't really matter if science understands how microbes make humus - point is that science recognizes that microbes DO make it, and science recognizes that humus is an important factor in fertility of any terrestrial plant.

Coal was once humus - before millenia turned it into coal by heat and pressure. Oil was also partly humus first. Now that science has recognized that humus is valuable for growing plants, y'know what commerce is doing? Locating the ancient humus deposits and strip-mining them. NOT a sustainable practice. Ancient humus deposits - that did not meet the conditions to become coal or oil (too close to the surface of the earth) are NOT a sustainable resource.

When they are gone - the is no more. But the 'funny' thing is - that humus is made by the SAME MICROBES that make today's compost. Yup. Quality compost has more (and fresher) humic and fulvic acids than the stuff being dug out of the earth from ancient deposits.

What's incredible, is that even though science knows that, science does not support the practice of making humus from the natural composting process - because science cannot replicate it so commercial industry cannot make it synthetically - so science considers composting to not be commercially viable. Back to ruining the planet for the love of money. Greed.

The Science of Dirt purports that microbes are the most important living creatures for plant sustainability, and humans need to learn how various microbe populations interact to make nutrients for land-based plants - from organic material by transforming it into organic matter and then into humus. No, compost is NOT humus. It can contain some - but COMPOST IS NOT HUMUS!!

Fact is, many kinds of dirt with a high organic content and associated microbe populations, will grow most plants betterthan ANY kind of natural soil. It's a microbe NATURE thing that humans don't fully understand yet.

Not even our best scientists understand how microbes do that. But we do know that microbes DO that, in high-organic dirt, BETTER than they do in 'standard' low-organic soil (less than 1%) found in most of the United States.

What does that mean? It means that YOU should be putting ALL of your kitchen scraps (cooked and uncooked including meat, dairy and soiled paper) into a compost pile in your backyard - and using that compost to grow some vegetables at home. That can save a household a considerable amount of money annually, and the fresh food tastes better, is much more nutritious than what you can buy at the grocery store raised on synthetic chemicals, and costs a LOT less to grow.

The study of microorganisms, tiny creatures (microarthropods) and earthworms in high-organic dirt in which plants are grown, is the focus of dirt science including liquid compost - both as a leachate - and the as an aerated 'brewed' product or in anaerobic digestion machines. The science is not new. It's all about growing plants naturally - not with over-use of synthetic chemicals.

Notice the words "over-use". That does not mean that synthetic chemicals are "bad" per se - just 'over-used'. Over-promoted to 'make a buck' when such overuse has been PROVEN to be bad for the earth. Over-use ('excessive' use) of ANY synthetic chemical fertilizer and/OR pesticides (including herbicides) is BAD for this planet - meaning YOUR ENVIRONMENT.

Sure, homeowners that don't read labels share about 50% of the blame for over-use, but the MAJOR culprit is bad agricultural practices based predominantly on synthetic chemicals to the detriment of replacing organic content and microbial populations. Promoted by institutions of higher learning that are 'in bed' with the synthetic chemical manufacturers that donate millions in research funding to the universities to try and "prove" that their commercial synthetic products don't damage the earth.

Some people think that synthetic fertilizers have been the saviour of the burgeoning world's human population But science has now shown those chemical products to be a significant polluter and a detriment to survival of humans on this planet. Because of their irresponsible use.

Can we simply stop using such chemicals? No. We cannot. Not any more than we can simply stop using fossil fuels to drive our vehicles or make electricity. The synthetic fertilizer industry has succeeded in making humans dependent on those products to grow enough food to feed the burgeoning populations. But they did NOT care enough to take steps to keep those chemicals from polluting our land and water because those companies are GREEDY.

This author predicts that a process of 'withdrawal' WILL take place over the next several decades, based on public outcry over recent proof - that after 50+ years of mechanized cultivation practices, in conjunction with over-use of synthetic chemicals to grow food/fiber/forage crops - agricultural land has been decimated by destruction of organic matter and microbes in that dirt - that MUST be somehow, be put back. To restore the natural microbial life in the dirt.

In the early part of this century, most farms integrated both crop and livestock operations. Indeed, the two were highly complementary both biologically and economically. The current picture has changed quite drastically since then, hasen't it? The agricultural enterprises have all but eliminated the small organic farmer. To the detriment of the world. Because of commercial greed.

Much of the natural soil in the United States has less than one percent of organic matter to begin with, and unfortunately now, much of the cultivated land now has even less.

Many say that without continued infusion of synthetic fertilizers, that most agricultural land would be incapable of growing any kind of productive harvest for human food. Because now the natural nutrition of cultivated land has been seriously depleted. The synthetic fertilizer chemical companies have us where they want us - between a "rock and a hard place".

But there are scores of dedicated farmers 'out there' who now understand the lies that have been propagated by the commercial synthetic chemical companies - and are PROVING that organic practices not only work - they are revitalizing the dirt that was made 'sick' by lies and greed.

Much of this country's cultivated land is simply "dead" dirt now - that used to be productive. That's what the greed of man has accomplished. Now what? Now we have to figure out how to put natural life back into that cultivated land.

The science of putting life back into dirt is what the ROI Microbiotics Laboratory is working to solve, as the company strives to develop methods to restore decimated land back to SUSTAINABILITY by replenishing organic matter and inoculating the full community of synergistic microbial populations that benefit plant growth, disease control and pest management.

Dirt science is focused on the top 4+ feet of ground (the A Horizon) in which most vegetable plant roots grow. Sure, not very far below the top layer of cultivated land, natural soil is found. But that lower B Horizon level, is not a factor for producing food harvests for humans.

Dirt science also recognizes that in many cases a 'transition zone' exists between the top surface of cultivated land and the lower horizons of yet-undisturbed soil.

Such a transition zone also exists when a raised bed of planting dirt is placed on top of original soil. A transition zone can assist a growing plant to acclimate between man-made dirt and the organically-poor soil beneath that contains the bulk of minerals needed by plants. Liquid compost as a drench has proven useful in creating such transition between dirt and soil.

Dirt science recognizes that natural nutrition is better for plants and dirt/soil microbes - because synthetic treatments are not able to provide all the micro and trace minerals needed by plants.

What that means is that for every harvest - micro and trace nutrients have been extracted from the ground by plants - but not replaced by microbiology because that microbe community has been damaged by the high content of salts in the commercial fertilizers.

What vegetable plants need, to produce sustainable high quality harvests, is natural nutrition. Nutrition made by microbes by breaking down organic material into organic matter. Much plant nutrition is sequestered ('held' or 'retained') in the bodies of live microbes and microarthropods, and also in substances produced or assisted by those microbes. When a microbe is eaten by another microbe and the remains are excreted - that's plant food. Microbe poop. Microbes are also able to solublize minerals for uptake by plants - a natural chelating process.

That's why a commercial fertilizer that provides just nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) is not sufficient to keep cropland fertile. The micronutrients are also necessary. Few commercial fertilizers used on agricultural land put macro-nutrients (much less micro-nutrients) back - and when they do - those nutrients are not available in plant-available form and must first be processed by microbiology - which are not present in sufficient number to get the job done anymore. so due to dead, dormant or damaged microbiology, the land becomes depleted of essential available mineral nutrients - even when synthetic chemicals put them on the ground. They say: "Oh, yes - X tons of Y minerals per acre were applied..." - but did they tell the farmer that it was necessary for microbes to break those applications down into plant-available form - that no longer exist in the cropland?

The nutritional value of plant harvests suffers from such deficiency. Kernels of corn on the cob and peas in the pod are no longer as nutritious as they used to be - because the nutrition is no longer available to the plant from the dirt, while it produces a harvest. Same is true for fruits and nuts as multiple studies are now showing.

The act of changing natural soil into dirt by means of chemicals and mechanical (heavy equipment) cultivation practices causes the roots of previous plants to become exposed to surface weathering, which decreases organic content. Excessive discing and tilling is REALLY bad for the ground, and plants.

Some agricultural companies are finally promoting less tillage. Less disking. Less disturbance of the ground which makes organic matter decompose too quickly. But they are still not talking about practices to replace the nutrition taken up by plant by returning the organic material, or boosting the microbe populations.

What was the reason that it took 50 years to even come to that conclusion? It was very evident 25 years ago, but tilling is also part of the commercial weed destruction process, because synthetic fertilizers grow weeds as well or better than it does food crops.

The basic fact is, that for home organic gardening, a planting dirt made with organic matter from compost, clay, and sand, can grow plants MUCH better than the best original soil ever could, and contains enough natural nutrition to keep weed growth down. Particularly if fortified with quality liquid compost in which microbes have been 'bred' for such a task.

Oh - you didn't know that weeds grow best in nutritionally-deficient dirt? That if you fertilize your lawn organically with compost, most weed growth will eventually just go away?

Organic nutrients are made by microbes, nature's way. Bacteria, fungi, actinobacteria (sometimes still called actinomycetes), and in which protozoa and larger 'decomposer' critters participate. Even earthworms take part in the process IF there is enough organic material in the dirt for them to survive.

For the sake of further discussion regarding company ROI Standards for growing plants organically - ALL forms of non-soil planting dirt and containerized media are included under one simple banner...

Therefore, Dirt Science has come of age, by virtue of being separate from all classifications within Soil Science. Soil science has not so far, and will probably not become involved in the realm of dirt - and that is a shame. _____________________________

Therefore, if what was originally soil, has been moved or compacted or polluted by man, contrivance of man, or animal or plant cared for by man, it is considered by ROI to be DIRT.

Dirt, as distinguished on this site includes ANY man-made planting dirt or combination of amendments to sustain plant growth, and what used to be soil - that has been changed by man.

The DEFINITION of DIRT, adopted by ROI is: "A physical substance including 'disturbed soil' that may contain plant nutrients, minerals and/or organic substances including live and/or dead organisms and such other solids, liquids and gasses as the discretion of man deems appropriate, including media designed specifically for the propagation of containerized plant life - and anything in between."

It is not an objective of ROI to establish separate classifications of dirt - but rather to establish the Dirt Science as a consolidated set of standards comprising the organic and/or inorganic constituents of Dirt.

For example, raw organic material and organic matter and the microbes that inhabit such, are essential components of dirt. Not all 'dust' blowing in the wind is dirt. Could be just sand or silt or clay particles - which to soil science - is soil, separately or collectively.

Organic material and organic matter are essentially the same thing, with organic matter being the altered (decomposed) state of organic material - in the process of decay/decomposition, to the point that the original kind of material it was, is no longer easily distinguished by the naked human eye.

Such altered state takes place by action of microbes (bacteria, fungi, actinobacteria and other 'decomposers'), either aerobically or anaerobically and also by elements of 'weathering'.

All methods of organic material decomposition are recognized by the Science of Dirt, and each has aspects beneficial to plant life.

ROI recognizes that support of plant life is the primary focus of man-made production of dirt.

Generally-speaking, Dirt is a man-made or man-altered product - although sometimes caused by nature (as in storms and resultant erosion) - but is usually caused by 'assistance' from man in some form or fashion.

Now that we have dealt with the fact that dirt exists, and what it is (separate from soil) let's further consider ROI Standards of compost, planting dirt, potting media and other forms of dirt in which to grow plants.

Some of the standards developed by ROI deal with the POTENCY of dirt, and GRADE of dirt, relative to plant growth, as well as plant disease control and pest management as relates to microbes that populate organic matter in dirt.

Potency for plants has many values, but the only ones of value - are those that can be expressed by qualitative AND quantitative means.

Methods of obtaining such qualitative and quantitative values may have expression within Standards. There are two distinct perspectives to such methodology - one is in a laboratory setting - and the other in the field. A 'world' apart.

So the ability to test various values of dirt in the field, is an especially important set of criteria in establishing ROI Standards, particularly for making compost, liquid compost and artificial (non-soil) plant growing mediums.

Because different testing methods give different results - the correlation of different results (even from identical samples), can be difficult, and a purpose for generating Standards is to designate and simplify interpretation of, and direction for using, plant-beneficial regimes - which can be a daunting task in the field.

Evaluating the myriad of conditions and situations in which plants grow, to establish such a regime, can be assisted by Standards.

But the Standards themselves must be flexible - because the objective of them is to enable individual (types of) plants to THRIVE - reaching maximum (natural genetic) potential.

ROI Standards are presented alphabetically, rather than in a percieved 'logical' order, to aid location of information by readers. For this reason, some duplication of information will result under different topic headings.

This first edition of ROI Standards was prepared for publication with assistance from the Coastal-Bend Composters and Organic Gardeners. We are very grateful for their assistance and support.



















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