kilroy was here cartoonBehind the Wire is a venue for sharing innovative ideas about the plant-soil-water continuum with the global community of scientists, engineers, farmers, and informed citizens. We invite you to explore the links below as well as contribute your own favorites. For the record, Behind the Wire is an expression coined to conjure an image of operations being conducted outside the ideological, scientific and professional conceits that often divide us. Not clandestine, the expression suggests placing one boot heel on both sides of the fence, doing so tactically as well as strategically in order to gather frontier intelligence from which insight and understanding are forged. Join us in exploring the outer sweep of that frontier.

  • The Blackland Soils of North Carolina. -J.P. Lilley. The Blacklands are areas of organic and mineral-organic soils in the lower coastal plain of eastern North Carolina that are agriculturally important. It’s no exaggeration saying the Blacklands are North Carolina’s “breadbasket”. But these poorly to very poorly drained soils demand special care to stay productive. This technical bulletin, first published in 1981, remains one of the key references regarding the genesis, characteristics, and management of blackland soils. (pdf)
  • Zones of Loosening Produced by a New “Variable Depth Ripper” as Compared to Other Deep Tillage Machines. -G.C. Naderman, C. Dixon, M. Thurman, L.G. Ambrose, and W.R. Peele III. Is subsoil compaction robbing your farm of hard-earned yield? Recovering those purloined bushels may require deep tillage. Here’s a comparative assessment of deep tillage tools from the Naderman group (pdf).
  • Subsurface Compaction and Subsoiling in North Carolina. AG-353 Extension Bulletin.-George C. Naderman, Extension Soil Specialist, North Carolina State University. We offer a digital edition of this classic bulletin, still unsurpassed for its practical treatment of subsurface compaction in the South Atlantic Coastal Plain (pdf).
  • Manganese Status and Needs of the Southern Region. R145-300. Managing manganese availability in the soil can be a delicate balance where native supplies are naturally low as in our Southern region. This classic bulletin by Cox and Reid circa 1964 remains relevant even today as a repository of what’s scientifically known about this critical micronutrient (pdf).
  • Nutrient Quantity or Access? A New Understanding of How to Maintain Soil Fertility in the Tropics. -Roland Bunch. Provocative thesis about soil fertility in the tropics based on pioneering work by Brazilian agronomist Ana Primavesi. In her words: “To respect soils and learn how to cultivate them properly is the key to prosperity and well-being for all.” (pdf).
  • Green Manuring Principles and Practices. -Adrian J. Pieters. Everything known about the time-honored practice of green manuring is presented in this fascinating classic 1927 book. Ever wonder who coined the term “cover crop”? The answer lies within! The book features many charts and images, some of which are of great historical interest. Public domain, digital reproduction by The Soil and Health Library (pdf).
  • Re-thinking the Conservation of Carbon, Water, and Soil: A Different Perspective. -Thomas F. Shaxson. What is the relationship between soil erosion and productivity? In this piece, Shaxson argues that focusing on erosion as a physical process is misplaced. In some conservation tillage planting systems, top-down processes can accelerate soil formation, increase infiltration, and improve the plant rooting environment. Results from our 30+ year tillage plots at North Carolina’s Upper Piedmont Research Station support the author’s contention that residue cover is a prime determinant of soil productivity. open access archive (pdf).
  • Soil Management and Conservation for Small Farms. Soils Bulletin 77. -V.H. de Freitas. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has existed since 1945. Over the decades, FAO has published many excellent technical bulletins on agronomy and soils that have been overlooked by the general public due to limited distribution. Some of these bulletins are gaining wider appreciation in digital format, including this one describing innovative strategies for smallholder technologies aimed at countering land degradation in the State of Santa Catarina, Brazil (pdf).
  • Representative Tensions in the Constructed Identities of Farmer-Writers Walter Thomas Jack and Edward H. Faulkner.-Zachary M. Jack. Southern Rural Sociological Association 2007. “No one has ever advanced a scientific reason for plowing.” Scribed by Edward H. Faulkner of Elyria, Ohio in Plowman’s Folly (1943), these words forever changed the way we think about farming. Today Edward Faulkner is forgotten, but his book provoked a national debate over the apparently insoluble riddle of soil depletion. It also aroused tension among the USDA and land-grant intelligentsia of that era, “dirt farmer vs. soil scientist”. This paper by Zachary M. Jack, great-grandson of “dirt farmer ” Walter Thomas Jack, author of The Furrow and Us (1946) and prime critic of Faulkner, examines the controversy in a historic perspective, over what is now understood as conservation tillage (pdf).

The following three articles originally appeared in the agriculture magazine Country Gentleman in the early 1950s. Vintage magazines like Country Gentleman and Farm Journal (the latter absorbed CG in 1955), flush with period advertising, offer a many-faceted glimpse of agrarian life, as well as chronicling changes in agricultural technology and farm management. Reprints are pdf format.

  • Mulch Planting of Corn Pays Off. December 1953. Progress report on mulch tillage planting tests in the Midwestern USA.
  • Cover Crops in Corn. June 1953. The practice of interplanting legumes in row crops like corn has been touted as avant-garde by latter-day acolytes of sustainable agriculture. But in fact, a perusal of the literature shows there’s nothing new here. Ditto aerial seeding.
  • Do You Really Need to Plow? March 1953. An examination of reduced tillage and residue management trials in Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, and Michigan. Not all of the practices described in this article have survived the test of time but they demonstrated that conservation tillage planting methods were viable.

And this from the Seventeenth Biennial Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture (1911), a 1,080 page “little bit of everything” rural epistle ostensibly published to disseminate agricultural statistics back then:

  • Farming with Explosives. Got hardpan? Caliche? Dynamite may just do the trick, according to Samuel J. Crawford, ex-state Governor who farms in Cherokee County, Kansas. We don’t know how this turned out but surmise it didn’t catch on as a soil management BMP in Kansas. On the other hand, explosives are still used to loosen indurated strata in highway and building construction. Fire in the hole!