I recently went to a seminar on Man and Humus  – ways to increase soil fertility .

After a short introduction by the organisers and the moderator of the seminar, rural and agrarian sociologist Bjørn Egil Flø from NIBIO  held a speech on modern agriculture where farm properties are always growing, while the number of farms is decreasing, excessive consumption of water, depletion of topsoil and increased vulnerability to weather extremes are common occurences. Struggling farmers in the U.S. are advised to buy gene-modified seeds, which they have to buy yearly and to grow plants which are drought-resistant. Instead of changing agriculture to cooperate with nature, we are told that everything can be solved by technology, while buzzwords like bio-economy are invented to follow the same, steady course.

Hugh Riley from NIBIO Apelsvoll told us about changes in soil organic matter. A quick summary follows.

Status for fertility in Norwegian field soils


  • long history with domestic animals on meadows.
  • cool climate which has contributed to storing organic matter in soil.
  • challenges given by nature:
  • highly varying quality of the matter (brown earth  and podzol), which affect soil acidity and soil nutrition.
  • barren topsoil, dense ground, mostly hilly terrain, cool climate.

man-made threats:

  • heavy machinery leads to soil compaction – permanent damage below ground.
  • intensive soil preparation, in particular in autumn – increased risk for erosion  .
  • building on the most fertile topsoil.
  • invariable ways of working the land – less organic matter in the topsoil.

High soil organic matter content:


  • soil organic matter content in Norway is still decreasing, in particular in areas with a high inital level.
  • practising crop rotation by turning arable land to meadows is most effective even though it’s impractical and unprofitable.

Agronomist Martin Beck from Almende, an agricultural cooperative where regenerative agriculture  is practised.

Instead of starting with humus , which has several definitions and no agreed upon origin, he preferred to refer to humic substances, also described here.

They are responsible for the following benign characteristcs:

  • they resist microbiological/microbial decomposition.
  • they stabilise the microbiological habitat in the topsoil.
  • they can bind water and relase hydrogen and oxygen molecules.
  • they form easily available nutrients.
  • they make the topsoil more porous.

5 ways to make fertile topsoil:

  • create a balance between nutrients in the topsoil.
  • try to grow plants on as much arable land as possible and as long as possible.
  • apply fertilisation only on healthy, green plants.
  • surface composting: the green plant cover is «peeled off» and mixed with the topsoil, which should be allowed to rest 5-14 days.
  • At the same as the peeling or the mixing take place, a mixture of bacteria, which will stimulate life in the topsoil, has to be applied.

Observe the plants, which are growing up. Do a brix test in order to find the sugar content in the leaves together with various trace minerals) . If anything is missing, add the necessary minerals.

Adam O’Toole from NIBIO talked about biochar.  It is a material, which resembles charcoal and it can be used to increase the content of carbon in soil and as a means to improve various soil characteristics. Biochar is made by means of a process called pyrolysis where organic matter is heated to a high temperature with a limited supply of oxygen.

From earlier scientific studies, the following positive effects can be expected if biochar is added to topsoil:

  • increased water retention if drought-sensitive soil types.
  • increased production of biomass (5-10%)
  • increased carbon content in the soil.
  • reduced emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide.
  • improved use of nutrients in combination with animal manure or compost

Research is being made where biochar mixed with compost and bark may replace unsustainable extraction of turf in Norway in the future. Another research project called CAPTURE+  involves paying farmers to store carbon in soil by means of biochar some time in the future.

Hege Sundet from NLR Østafjells presented the Soil Carbon Project.

This project is meant to gain knowledge and experience with carbon-fixing ways of cultivation, which is adapted to Norwegian climate and agriculture. 6 farms have been selected for the project: 2 farms where sheep and cattle eat grass cultivated on the farm, 2 farms cultivating grain and 2 farms cultivating vegetables.

Sheep farmer Anders Lerberg Kopstad grew up on a conventional farm and saw that the quality of the soil was continually worsening. He took over the farm and started organic farming in 2011. It’s one of the first farms in Europe where holistic management is being used to plan how to let the sheep graze the farm’s land.

According to Mr Lerberg Kopstad, regenerative agriculture  is used to heal the soil after having been subjected to conventional agriculture for many years. The sheep contribute to rehabilitating the topsoil, which gives biological diversity and clean, grass-fed mutton and lamb meat. By means of photosynthesis , plants extract carbon dioxide from the air and finally, it ends up in the topsoil. He and his family like to call themselves carbon farmers, producing carbon-rich topsoil instead of consuming it and emitting carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. This leads to a good circle by letting solar energy lead to carbon in the topsoil, which leads to more grass, which gives more food to the sheep, which gives more meat to the customers.

Mr Lerberg Kopstad is trying to work with nature and not against it. Then, he spends less time and energy, while producing more than he would have done if he had been raising sheep in a conventional way. As a result, he hardly uses his tractor any more.

His advice to conventional farmers is to cover arable land all year, either with straw or hay or preferably with live plants. Bare topsoil gives weeds, loss of nutrients and microorganisms, evaporation and erosion. By always ensuring a healthy topsoil, everything else becomes much easier.

Grain farmer Hellek Berge from Gvarv in Telemark cultivated grain conventionally from 1988 to 2008 and started organic farming in 2008. He had been curious about organic farming for many years, but since he didn’t have any domestic animals, he was told that he couln’t do it. Then, when the price of fertilisers went up considerably from 2008 to 2009, he decided to change to organic farming. Now he and his family are growing oats and peas and they are raising 3 Telemark cows . The main difficulties after the transition are more weeds like couch grass and creeping thistle besides, the yield has decreased to 65%, which is commonly used as an argument against organic farming. However, Mr Berge uses 1 kg of fertiliser to produce 180 kg of oats, while the winner of the Norwegian oats championship produced only 63 kg of oats with the same amount of fertiliser. In addition, the peas don’t require fertilisers at all, which improves the economy of the farm.

Mr Berge practises crop rotation  with plants, which give nutrients to the topsoil and plants, which take nutrients from the topsoil. He cultivates white clover  and perennial raygrass together with both oats and peas. Clover collects nitrogen at its roots, while raygras binds the topsoil, prevents surface water drainage and erosion. After the harvest, both these plants keep growing into late autumn and they do the same in late winter, a long time before he will sow oats or peas.

Mr Berge feels that he have just started and that there is much more to learn. He also participates in the Soil Carbon project.

Afterwards, there was a discussion among the speakers and the moderator. In addition, members of the public were invited to attend, giving interesting questions to the speakers.

Regine Andersen from Oikos rounded off the seminar by telling us that farmers can solve the demanding tasks that food production need to meet and they can develop new methods based on the resources, which are available on their farms. Now we need to show farmers who are taking care of the earth to all of Norway and work to provide necessary political changes in order to let Norwegian agriculture become more sustainable.

The one hundred participants to the seminar got inspiration, hope and knowledge about how we can save the topsoil, which all of us depend on.

The seminar was organised by Oikos, a national movement of organic producers and consumers in Norway, the magazine Økologisk Landbruk  which is issued by Norsk Landbruksrådgiving , Vitenparken Campus Ås and the foundation KORE.

Print Friendly

Microgreens course

by admin on 09/03/2017

Slideshow Mapreference Website Facebook

I recently went to a course in growing microgreens arranged by nabolagshager, meaning neighbourhood gardens. Microgreens are young seedlings of edible vegetables and herbs harvested less than 14 days after germination.

Our teacher, Christopher Rodriguez, has recently founded a company called Tåsen microgreens. Interestingly, he and his wife grow microgreens for a living in a former storeroom , which should nornally be inhospitable to plants in general. Instead, by means of artificial light and irrigation, they are able to make a living by selling microgreens to restaurants, catering companies, etc. Before we started the course, Christopher showed us a well-assorted range of microgreens, ranging in colour from bluish to various shades of green, while the sizes were on the order of 10×10 cm2. Surprisingly, the microgreens looked like small fertile gardens completely covered with greenery, which had accidentally ended up in a classroom.

After having given us a short description of his background, his company and microgreens in general, we were given small plastic boxes in which we should fill a layer of vermiculite. According to this website, vermiculite is used as a soilless growing medium, which allows gardeners to grow healthier plants without the threat of soil-borne diseases. Plants grown in soilless mixes are also less likely to be bothered by pests. He also informed us about other types of soilless growing media, like perlite, sand and coconut coir.

Next, we could select which types of seeds we wanted to grow like broccoli, celery, clover, leek, mizuna, pak choi, ruccola, etc. I selected ruccola and a type of Brassica oleracea because we were told that they are easy to grow. Christopher showed us how to disperse the seeds by holding a small amount of seeds and  shaking our hands above the boxes with vermiculite. Finally, we sprayed each box with a generous amount of water. Besides, each box had been perforated in the lower corners and we were advised to let the boxes stay for some time in shallow water such that water would enter through the holes.

Back at home, I put the boxes in a bucket filled with a little water twice daily and I applied water carefully on the surface of the growing media. Actually, a spray would have been better, but I only wanted to do this once. After just a few days, tiny sprouts appeared among the grains of vermiculite and after two weeks, the microgreens were ready to be harvested. Then, I cut off one of the walls of the plastic boxes and I cut the microgreens with scissors. Uisng them as garnish added a delicious touch to each meal.

Having tried growing microgreens, I would definitely recommend doing it for those who like growing their own food with very little effort. I will instead buy a small growth system, providing the correct amount of light and automatic watering, the ultimate choice for those who want to know where their food comes from with minimal work.

Print Friendly

“Il forno del porto” bakery and confectionery

12 November 2016
Thumbnail image for “Il forno del porto” bakery and confectionery

A small, family-owned bakery and confectionery.

Print Friendly
Read the full article →

La Parrina farm

11 November 2016
Thumbnail image for La Parrina farm

A farm, which was founded in 1830.

Print Friendly
Read the full article →

Rosati Cesare farm

8 November 2016
Thumbnail image for Rosati Cesare farm

A family-owned sheep farm.

Print Friendly
Read the full article →

Dairy cooperative «Caseificio Sociale Manciano»

7 November 2016
Thumbnail image for Dairy cooperative «Caseificio Sociale Manciano»

A dairy cooperative which produces a wide range of sheep’s cheeses.

Print Friendly
Read the full article →

Olive oil mill of Arienti Elia

5 November 2016
Thumbnail image for Olive oil mill of Arienti Elia

A traditional olive oil mill using millstones.

Print Friendly
Read the full article →

Rustici farm

5 November 2016
Thumbnail image for Rustici farm

A family-owned farm which makes a wide range of agricultural products.

Print Friendly
Read the full article →

La Scapigliata farm

4 November 2016
Thumbnail image for La Scapigliata farm

A farm where guests can enjoy eating outside listening to live jazz bands.

Print Friendly
Read the full article →

Fishermen’s union of Porto Santo Stefano

3 November 2016
Thumbnail image for Fishermen’s union of Porto Santo Stefano

A fish auction where fresh fish is auctioned and brought to markets in Italy.

Print Friendly
Read the full article →

Agrotourism Doganella

2 November 2016
Thumbnail image for Agrotourism Doganella

A farm with a small flock of goats and three donkeys.

Print Friendly
Read the full article →

Fatarelli Agriculture

2 November 2016
Thumbnail image for Fatarelli Agriculture

A small company, which grows and sells vegetables in Italy.

Print Friendly
Read the full article →

Harvesting olives

1 November 2016
Thumbnail image for Harvesting olives

A family who has a small olive grove on their property.

Print Friendly
Read the full article →

Snail farm

1 November 2016
Thumbnail image for Snail farm

A family who has turned a field into a small snail farm.

Print Friendly
Read the full article →

Olive oil mill «Terre di Capalbio»

31 October 2016
Thumbnail image for Olive oil mill «Terre di Capalbio»

A family-owned olive oil mill where high quality olive oil is made.

Print Friendly
Read the full article →

Jacobelli liquori

31 October 2016
Thumbnail image for Jacobelli liquori

A small family-owned company producing a large range of beverages.

Print Friendly
Read the full article →

Agrialbergo Capalbio

31 October 2016
Thumbnail image for Agrialbergo Capalbio

A guesthouse combined with producing agricultural products in the countryside .

Print Friendly
Read the full article →

Haymaking at Flåret in Lier

25 August 2016
Thumbnail image for Haymaking at Flåret in Lier

Haymaking on a small meadow in the middle of a forest.

Print Friendly
Read the full article →

Eve’s community garden

14 August 2016
Thumbnail image for Eve’s community garden

A small community garden where owners grow edible plants and harvest them later.

Print Friendly
Read the full article →

Antonio Vence – vermouth producer

9 June 2016
Thumbnail image for Antonio Vence – vermouth producer

A man who is making high quality vermouth at affordable prices.

Print Friendly
Read the full article →