The Soil and Health

Albert Howard

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This is a newly edited revision of Albert Howard’s important text on organic farming and gardening, and the central role of humus in maintaining soil health and fertility.

No single generation has the right to exhaust the soil from which humanity must draw its sustenance. Modern agricultural practices, with their emphasis on chemicals, poisons, and toxins, lead to the impoverishment and death of the soil.

THE SOIL AND HEALTH is a detailed analysis of the vital role of humus and compost in soil health — and the importance of soil health to the health of crops and the humans who eat them. The author is keenly aware of the dead end which awaits humanity if we insist on growing our food using artificial fertilisers and poisons.

Albert Howard (1873-1947) was one of the leaders of the British organics movement in the mid-twentieth century. He was the first westerner to document and publish research on traditional techniques of agriculture, including Indian and Chinese farming and management of the soil.

“Agriculture is the fundamental industry of the world and must be allowed to occupy the primary position in the economies of all countries.” — Albert Howard


1 – Soil Fertility and Agriculture

1.1 The operations of Nature

  • The life of the plant
  • The living soil
  • The significance of humus
  • The importance of minerals

1.2 Systems of agriculture

  • Primitive forms of agriculture
  • Shifting cultivation
  • The harnessing of the Nile
  • Staircase cultivation
  • The agriculture of China
  • The agriculture of Greece and Rome
  • Farming in the Middle Ages

1.3 Soil fertility in Great Britain

  • The Roman occupation
  • The Saxon conquest
  • The open-field system
  • The depreciation of soil fertility
  • The low yield of wheat
  • The Black Death- Enclosure
  • The Industrial Revolution and soil fertility
  • The Great Depression of 1879
  • The Second World War

1.4 Industrialism and the profit motive

  • The exploitation of virgin soil
  • The profit motive
  • The consequence of soil exploitation
  • The easy transfer of fertility
  • The road farming has travelled

1.5 The intrusion of Science

  • The origin of artificial fertilisers
  • The advent of the laboratory hermit
  • The unsoundness of Rothamsted
  • Artificials during the two world wars
  • The shortcomings of current agricultural research

2 – Disease in Present-day Farming and Gardening

2.1 Diseases of the soil

  • Soil erosion
  • The formation of alkaline land

2.2 The diseases of crops

  • Sugar Cane
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Cacao
  • Cotton
  • Rice
  • Wheat
  • Vine
  • Fruit
  • Tobacco
  • Leguminous crops
  • Potato

2.3 Disease and health in livestock

  • Foot-and-mouth disease
  • Soil fertility and disease
  • Concentrates and contagious abortion
  • Selective feeding by instinct
  • Herbs and livestock
  • The maintenance of our breeds of poultry

2.4 Soil fertility and human health
2.5 The nature of disease

3 – The Problem of Manuring

3.1 The origins and scope of the problem

  • The phosphate problem and its solution
  • The reform of the manure heap
  • Sheet-composting and nitrogen fixation
  • The utilisation of town wastes

3.2 The Indore Process

  • – Some practical points
  • – The New Zealand compost box
  • – Mechanisation
  • – The spread of the Indore Process

3.3 The reception by scientists

4 – Conclusions and Suggestions

5 – Appendices

  • Progress made on a tea estate in North Bengal
  • Compost making in Rhodesia
  • The utilisation of municipal waste in South Africa
  • Farming for profit on a 750 acre farm

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