Singing Frogs Farm: The Science Of Healthy Soil

Three years ago, I interviewed Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser about the remarkably effective model being pioneered at their farm, Singing Frogs Farm, a small micro-farm in northern California. It quickly became one of Peak Prosperity's most popular podcasts of all-time.

Developed over years of combining bio-intensive land/forestry management theory with empirical trial & error, the farming practices at Singing Frogs have produced astounding results.

First off and most important, no tilling of any kind is done to the soil. No pesticide/herbicide/fungicide sprays (organic or otherwise) are used. And the only fertilizer used is natural compost.

These practices result in a build-up of nutrient-dense, highly bio-rich topsoil. Where most farms have less than 12 inches of 'alive' topsoil in which they can grow things, Singing Frogs' extends to a depth over 4 feet(!).

This high-carbon layer of soil retains much more water than conventional topsoil, requiring much less irrigation than used at most farms (a very important factor given the historic drought the West is suffering).

All these advantages combine to enable Singing Frogs Farm to produce 5-7 harvests per year on their land, vs the 1-2 harvest average of other farms. And since the annual crop yield is so much higher, so is the revenue. Most other farms in northern California average $14,000 in gross revenue per acre. Singing Frogs grosses nearly $100,000 per acre -- a stunning 5x more.

This week, I sit back down with Paul and Elizabeth to discuss the science behind their latest farming practices & techiniques, the importance of biology over chemistry when it comes to gardening, and the hands-on workshops they offer, and what they think it takes to make a 'resilient farmer'.

And shameless plug: the Kaisers will be presenting live at this April's Peak Prosperity Seminar (held April 26-28 in Sebastopol, CA) and then taking participants on a private walking tour of their farm. If that's of interest to you (and it should be, it's an amazing experience), sign up for the seminar here.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser from Singing Frogs Farm (59m:25s).

Other Ways To Listen: iTunes | Google Play | SoundCloud | Stitcher | YouTube | Download |

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

I agree that Singing Frogs’ approach is good overall and is a model we should strongly consider and adapt for where we live. However, one very important aspect of soils for human health that I don’t see them addressing is making sure that their soils and/or compost have all of the minerals that humans need for complete nutrition. This is also needed for the production of livestock products, like milk, meat and eggs, that humans eat. Soils that livestock pastures and feeds are grown on also need the complete set of minerals.
Every part of the country has a different set of minerals in their soils, based on the base geology and past farm practices. Maybe the Singing Frog location DOES have the complete set of minerals, as explained by Albrecht, Astera, Solomon and others, and so they don’t need to address a deficiency. But many other places are missing in important minerals. If the ingredients into the composting process include plants grown on mineral deficient soils, the compost cannot bring the needed minerals into the soil. Complete soil mineral tests are needed to know what is missing, that go way beyond the typical NPK analysis. Once missing minerals are identified, organically certified/approved sources can be added to compost or sprinkled directly on top of the garden soil in the correct amounts to fix the deficiency over a couple or more years.
Well growing plants may not show the presence of missing minerals needed for human or livestock consumbers of the plants. But, they can seriously affect the health of livestock and people, if not supplied to the soil, or through direct dietary supplements. Sometimes livestock producers provide supplements to their stock and allow their manure to supply the missing minerals to the soil. Tests are needed to assure that the right amount of minerals of the right type are moving into the soil. Too much can be just as bad as too little.
To be truly nutrient dense, the soils and the plants must have a complete set of needed nutritional minerals. Deep humus cannot bring in minerals that are not present in some portion of the soil, even with the help of fungi and other soil life. It’s a VERY important component to get right. The Intelligent Gardener by Steve Solomon does a great job of explaining this in an easy to understand way for practical use.

Reading Solomon’s book will certainly change the way you think about mineral levels in your garden. Liebig’s law of the minimum comes up and makes a lot of intuitive sense even to someone like me who is most definitely not of a scientific bent.
Remedying low mineral levels can be quite simple and inexpensive to do. In my case, a soil test showed deficiencies in magnesium and boron. As it turned out, a solution of Epsom salt for the former and Borax for the latter was all that was required to get things in balance. Some calculations were involved but it was a snap really.

Toby was a great guest on this site and a great permaculture leader - an author of one of my favorite books on the subject. He wrote more than one piece on soil health

Elizabeth Kaiser wrote: of our more recent enterprises has been doing ship production in our greenhouses in the winter...
Could you clarify "ship production". Or was that a typo?
Waterdog14 wrote:
Could you clarify "ship production". Or was that a typo?
Yep, that's a typo in the transcript. Elizabeth actually said "shoot" production. As in microgreens grown indoors. Here's an example (not from SFF):
Take your farm to the next level – the basement
Courtesy of Wally S., Wally’s Urban Market Garden, Saskatoon, SK Now that there are some seasoned SPIN farmers out there, I’m seeing lots of plans for taking their operations to the next level. Many involve expanding their land base or investing in season extension. Both are good ideas. But accomplishing them the traditional way – by acquiring more land or investing in complicated structures – makes it harder and more expensive than it needs to be. A few years ago when I wanted to expand my operation, I headed to the basement. The investment was under $1,000, and included some shelving and lights. Since I am already spending to heat that room, the overhead is just the cost of lights, which is minimal. Bottom line: you don’t need to invest in a new structure, or find space for it. SPIN photo grow table shoots Right now in one of my basement grow rooms I have 50 trays of pea and micro greens, with turn around of less than two weeks. I will also be growing live garlic in containers, starting this week, in another grow room. Bedding plants are scheduled for next month. Other possibilities for indoor grow room production are fresh herbs, something I will try soon. My basement grow room now adds $10,000+ to my bottom line, and supports a year round operation in zone 3 Canada. Being an urban farmer, I also appreciate its discretion. In my neighborhood, a 50 foot high tunnel in the backyard would not go unnoticed. Using underutilized residential spaces I already have is an easier option. This type of indoor setup allows you to grow consistent volumes of crops year round, regardless of whether you are having a hot summer, or a cold, hard winter. Being able to provide steady supply locks in restaurant customers. Year round restaurant orders of indoor crops of say, $200 per week, means an extra $10,000 per year, with minimal time and labor. That can pay a lot of bills, making your farmers market and CSA sales even more profitable. So those wanting to take their SPIN farm to the next level should think about heading to the basement or den or any other underutilized space in their home, and keep their commute time to 0.

Great stuff, thanks.