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Glacial rock dust boosts vegetable growth, and helps to mitigate global warming

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Belief is growing that an answer to some of the earth’s problems are not only at hand, but under our feet…

By Paul Kelbie, The Independent Posted Mar 2, 2009

For years scientists have been warning of an apocalyptic future facing the world. With the prospect of an earth made infertile from over-production and mass reliance on chemicals, coupled with an atmosphere polluted by greenhouse gases there seems little to celebrate. But belief is growing that an answer to some of the earth’s problems are not only at hand, but under our feet.

Specialists have met in Perth to discuss the secrets of rock dust, a quarrying by-product that is at the heart of (UK) government-sponsored scientific trials and which, it is claimed, could revitalise barren soil and reverse climate change.

The recognition of the healing powers of glacial rock dust comes after a 20-year campaign by two former schoolteachers, Cameron and Moira Thomson. They have been battling to prove that rock dust can replace the minerals that have been lost to the earth over the past 10,000 years and, as a result, rejuvenate the land and halt climate change.

To prove their point, the couple have converted six acres of open, infertile land in the Grampian foothills near Pitlochry into a modern Eden. Using little more than rock dust mixed with compost, they have created rich, deep soils capable of producing cabbages the size of footballs, onions bigger than coconuts and gooseberries as big as plums.

“This is a simple answer which doesn’t involve drastic life changes by anyone,” Ms Thomson said. “People don’t have to stop driving cars to do this, just spread some rock dust on their gardens. We could cover the earth with rock dust and start to absorb carbon in a more natural fashion which, along with reducing emissions and using a combination of other initiatives, will have a better and faster response.”

“This is a simple answer which doesn’t involve drastic life changes by anyone.”

Before the Thomsons began their “good life” experiment, erosion and leaching were so severe in the glen where they set up home that nothing had been grown there for almost 50 years. The basis of their theory is simple. By spreading a thin layer of the dust over the land, they are able to mimic the earth’s glacial cycles which naturally fertilise the land.

Since the last ice age three million years ago, the earth has gone through 25 similar glaciations, each lasting about 90,000 years. “We are 10,000 years into an interglacial – a hiatus between ice ages – meaning modern soils are relatively barren and artificial fertilisers are needed,” Mr Thomson said.

“By spreading the dust we are doing in minutes what the earth takes thousands of years to do – putting essential minerals in the rocks back into the earth.”

Over the years the couple, who established the Sustainable Ecological Earth Regeneration (Seer) Centre charitable trust in 1997 to test their ideas, have slowly convinced others of their theory. They recently won a grant of almost £100,000 from the Scottish Executive to conduct Britain’s first official rock dust trials.

The couple claim the technique may also play a significant role in the fight against climate change as calcium and magnesium in the dust converts carbon in the air into carbonates. Such is the interest in the theory that NASA in the US is examining it in preparation for growing plants on other planets.

The couple say that the rock dust means that crops don’t need water to produce harvests of magnificent vegetables. “It would be perfect for Third World countries that are usually unable to grow crops because the land is so dry,” Ms Thomson said. “This could hold the solution for them.”

“There is no doubt that, when rock dust is mixed with compost, it has a dramatic effect on crop yields.”

“There is no doubt that, when rock dust is mixed with compost, it has a dramatic effect on crop yields,” said Alistair Lamont, president of the Chartered Institution of Waste Management, who is impressed by the Seer experiment. “Future waste strategy is going to rely heavily on the diversion of biodegradable municipal waste from landfill, and one of the treatments involved is composting so we need to find a home for that compost.

“Agricultural land is something we need to work on and the benefits of rock dust in combination with compost can be seen at the Seer Centre at harvest time. We need to get farming to take on board the value of remineralisation and re-fertilisation.

Mr Lamont added that evidence showed that, since 1940, the mineral content of vegetables had fallen dramatically in this country. “We might be encouraged to eat a lot of vegetables but many don’t contain the quantities of minerals that we need,” he said.

You can now buy glacial rock dust on Eartheasy.com in the US & Canada.

Article by Paul Kelbie, The Independent

Posted in Organic Garden Tags , , ,
  • Bob Hetzel

    I need a suggestion: Where can I find (preferably) or buy rock dust? Most quarries are private, and don't want me on their property.

  • Catherine Guzovich

    This article left me almost speechless. How and where do I get more informaiton on rock dust? Is it available in the U.S.? Are there any trials or farms in the U.S. where rock dust is being tested?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/greg_eartheasy Greg Seaman

      You can phone your local garden center and see if they carry rock dust, or if they can order it in. We get ours from a farm 'n feed store. See Aran's comment above.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/sandyscathouse sandyscathouse

    Is Glacier Rock Dust anything like Lime?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/greg_eartheasy Greg Seaman

      Only in that they are minerals in powdery form. Lime is just one kind of stone that is very sweet. Rock dust contains a variety of essential minerals.

  • sandyscathouse

    I am using the no till method of gardening this year. I am putting down a lot of cardboard, leaves & straw in my garden now (the fall). If I can get the rock dust, when is the best time to apply it?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/greg_eartheasy Greg Seaman

      I would put it down before the cardboard. When you're ready to plant, you can also mix a bit of rock dust in with some compost and work this into the soil or spread beneath your mulch after transplanting.

  • Dan

    I live in Soth Central Texas where the ph of our soil is very alkaline. Would there be any benefit to using this product in our garden? If so, where do I find it?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/greg_eartheasy Greg Seaman

      Rock dust will benefit your garden regardless of ph. Of course, you should also address the ph to get it in balance. You can find rock dust at some farm/feed stores and garden centers. You have to call around because it is not stocked widely.

  • VeoliaES

    What a fantastic article and amazing photo! I would love my vegetables to grow that big and colourful. Rock dust sounds like a fantastic solution to many peoples problems. The fact it is helping to mitigate global warming makes the idea even more inviting. Rock dust can help produce more soil, increase the nutrition in plants and crops and also mean you need to use less fertilizers. I can't see a reason why not to use it!

    VeoliaES Waste Management

  • Jamas von Rockmann

    Im a vermiculturist, over the last two years I have been adding rock dust to my worm bins #1 to give them the grit they need to help digest food. they have a gizzard similar to chickens. #2 came as surprise as I do various test in my green house to ensure the quality of castings, and I craft and formulate compost teas for different applications. Remarkable comes to mind as the impact on all the products produced whether for seed germination, transplant shock in starts or established Plants, shrubs an trees the growth comparison was highly visible and lasting. I've begun to use greensand ( more of a marine deposit) as well, it's benefits have shown promise. I agree with Mr. Seaman, lime is no rock dust or greensand. I encourage anyone to find and use it, if it's from a quarry, rocky riverbed, swept up around landscape or sand an gravel supply co.,or purchased from any number of outlets ( google for it) apply with a spreader rotary broadcaster or push style, let the water settle it in. you'll win.

    • Kate

      Hi Jamas, how much rock dust do you recommend adding to a worm bin tray that's 12 inches by 12 inches by 4 inches? Do you add the rock dust at the beginning of the process, part way through, or towards the end? Thank you!

      • Greg Seaman

        Kate, I suggest you start with 1/4 to 1/2 cup for a small worm bin. You can apply anytime, although ideally you would add it in the beginning.

  • bro Martin, bsmp

    I am happy that there are so many of who care for the earth, there s still hope for us humans.

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