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Saving our Soils and How the Old Peach Tree was Brought Back to Life

by Niki Neave

It’s not the soil itself — it’s the soil life that is the most important element. — Geoff Lawton, Permaculture Soils DVD

When the question came up, "How could permaculture be applied on a commercial scale successfully?" it led to an amazing opportunity to meet up with Nico Snyman, a long time South African farmer, and his wife Janie, who are using soil organisms to rehabilitate polluted and damaged soils.

Nico & Texas Grano onions. It was the 5th consecutive trial where the
soil is now fertile enough that it does not need GROW AGRA for the time
being, only raw material for food for the organisms. The image on the
right: a single onion was placed on a side plate with 18cm diameter.
These onions are too big for the market, but sweet and tasty. We donated
10 to the church fair where they fetched R4-00 each.

Over the years Mr. Snyman has noticed a decrease in the number of farmers countrywide due to ever increasing input costs. He mentioned that farmers’ major expenses are the purchase of fertilizers and pesticides. (Many farmers of his time were brought up and taught at university to farm with these products.) His son, Peter, B.Sc Agric (Hons.), who is farming in Zambia, also noticed that after a number of years of the soil been treated with fertilizers, it had become infertile, infested with eelworm and nothing would grow at all.

They began to wonder if there was another way – a way which would require a new way of looking at farming in a new light. They realized that they would need to replace the biological component in the soil.

This eventually led Nico to (the now late) Dr Pieter Cloete, a D.Sc. (Agric) Biochemistry and eventually a medical doctor who discovered that when he took a soil sample from a totally undisturbed forest or wildlife area and was able to reproduce the organisms and introduce them into infertile, poor or damaged soils, that he started experiencing astonishing results.

Dr Pieter Cloete also discovered that plants feed anaerobically from deep soils. He proved that by applying organic material and his anaerobic organisms, he could regenerate orchards of peaches, citrus, mangoes, apples, paw-paws and bananas miraculously.

Soils which were polluted and depleted, suddenly had new life within them. Nico tested the organisms on various crops (corn, vegetables) and noticed a marked difference and improvement in soil quality, plant growth and yield. eg. his corn had grown to over three metres tall and he was also getting a double increase in his yield with the additional deep feeding.

Nico explained that if the soil is healthy and balanced with the necessary soil organisms, the surrounding environment is in equilibrium too – ie. pest populations are non-existent or are limited in numbers and plants and trees are healthy and acquiring the necessary nutrients from the soil. "As above – so below" now took on the perfect meaning.

During my conversation with Nico and Janie, Janie got up, went to the fridge, and sat down again at the table with a bottled organism mixture from their bio-bank. It smelled of molasses. I was a bit taken aback at what she did next. She poured herself a cup and drank it. Janie explained that it was even beneficial for humans and animals too; that it was a pro-biotic.

After this meeting and back at home again, I stayed in contact with Janie. She emailed this to me a few days later:

The GROW AGRA bio-organisms and trials can restore depleted and eelworm infested lands within 2 years without chemicals. We think that Dr Pieter Cloete, posthumously, deserves the Nobel Prize in Agriculture and that his findings of anaerobic feeding of plants and trees and the establishment of such a bio-bank is in the same category like the findings of Albert Einstein. I am forwarding the pictures of our old peach tree which had, on top of its old age, Hyvar X contamination, which affected a huge Karee tree behind it to such an extent that it died completely.

Janie told me that after 50 years of the old peach tree being presumed dead/dying it had started growing leaves again and then had all of a sudden started producing fruit. She put it down to the tree’s roots being able to reach and feed off the nearby compost heap (which had these soil organisms within it).

The old peach tree, brought back to life

I’ve also included 3 articles written by Nico, below (PDFs). They are in Afrikaans but the English versions will be included once they are all translated.

Organic? Biological? Natural Farming?

By NT Snyman B.Sc. Agric (Agron.)

Background: Nico Snyman

Nico is a scientist and researcher at heart, apart from being a farmer. He started off on an engineering degree but switched over to farming (B. Sc. Agric. (Agron.) Pret). He was also a Tractor Dealer and during that time introduced the Stubble Mulch and Minimum Tillage idea in the Bothaville/Viljoenskroon area years ago (1970) for the wind blown and dusty fields. He was also Head of Extension services & Head of Research and Development for many years in the tobacco industry.

After retirement he built a few revolutionary machines like a High Crop Tractor, Sugarcane Harvester, and low profile Stope Drill Rig for the mines. He is currently working on a proto-machine for commercial farmers to introduce the GROW AGRA straight into the soil together with organic material in one shot. There is however a lack of capital for further research and development until a grant can be obtained somewhere. In the meantime he carries on with the vegetable and maize trials (for the 5th year) and does cross breeding of maize and sugar maize for more tasty and edible corn.

Corn towering over Nico and Janie

I’ll keep you all updated with a follow-on post very soon. As I was putting this article together, an update came through my RSS news reader from the Permaculture Research Institute; and yes, you guessed right, it was all about soils, so I’ve decided to include it as well.

Bio-Agriculture – a Solution to Climate Change

by Craig Mackintosh

If I were to compare industrial, monocrop agriculture with permaculture or organic biological agricultural methodologies, and then boil my observations down to their base differences, I would describe them thus:

– Industrial agriculture focusses on feeding the plant

– Permaculture and organic biological agriculture focus on feeding the soil

For the industrialists, if they have a big green flush of foliage, in their mind they’ve succeeded. Whether the plant is healthy, or tasty, or whether the soil is being depleted, eroded, polluted and salinated in the process of growing it, is of secondary importance. The industrial system is about standardisation, transportability, externalised costs and instant gratification — or instant profits. Such plants normally have nutrient imbalances, and trace mineral deficiencies, that make them prone to pest and disease attack and make them less healthy for animals and humans. In addition, industrial agriculture turns our vast agricultural lands into carbon sources. Nitrogen fertiliser inputs systematically ‘burn up’ carbon rich humus, sending it into the atmosphere to act as a greenhouse gas rather than the foundation of soil fertility it was meant to be. Indeed, this form of farming should not be called agriculture at all, as ‘culture’ means to refine or foster, to bring about an improved state. Industrial agriculture does quite the opposite.

Read more here



  1. Very interesting article,
    I live in South Africa and my folks have an old peach tree in their garden on the farm.
    Coincidentally I have just ordered a case of Effective Microorganisms from a Efficient Microbes cc today, so would love to try out using the EM on the folks’ old peach tree and see what happens, will take some pics and monitor the progress.

    Also my tomato plants were almost dead from blight/tmv or something and I brewed up some Indigenous Microorganisms mixed with some lactic acid bacteria that i made and now my tomatoes are thriving and show no signs of any sickness.

  2. Hi Brian,

    Yes, please do keep us updated with regards to progress on the peach tree and any other plant life you may be using EM on.

    I’m still in awe of what I’ve learnt ever since meeting up with Nico and Janie. There is still so much many of us can learn about our soils and the life therein.

  3. Interesting story, although i have reservations about drinking soil bacteria (which aren’t natural inhabitants of our gut)

  4. Great reading about fellow South African’s coming up with sustainable solutions – please keep-up the excellent work… Is that EM available at Plant Nurseries here in South Africa or do you have to order through the website?

  5. This article is of importance. Because too many gardeners and farmers think it not necessary to inoculate their soils. Often having been taught that making compost will be enough to add soil life. It obviously depends on the inputs (what and the quality) of the organic material which micro-organisms inhabited and broke down into compost, later being added to the soil. Quality and variety is everything like cooking the best meal, even for the soil.

    What does not come across clearly enough is that the IMO (Indigenous Micro Organisms) Method is being used.
    It is mentioned by Pat Coleby in Natural Farming + Land Care that the best organisms are obtained from the darkest rain forests for Australia. Again think of the fact that these (fungi) with break down Lignin and Cellulose and prepare the nutrients for microbes and soil life to process into colloidal plant food.

    Take it for a fact that the IMO will not be present in significant numbers or varieties on over cultivated and chemically farmed soils.

    Mr. Moolman comments on EM (Effective Microbes) developed by Prof. T. Higa. The mixture is approximately 84 organisms, from mankind’s history of food fermenting and processing. Like cheese, wine, bread making etc. Two or three soil microbes and fungi of each specific country are added locally. The sleeping organisms in a bottle are activated by adding molasses and rice water (carbohydrates). Many receipts can be made including a house cleaning fluid called Togushuru. Various countries have licensed companies brewing and selling EM; usually in an Activated form.

    The broken down geological minerals are turned into soil by organisms. But the most amazing transformation occurs when plant roots work in symbiosis with organisms. Plants produce complex carbohydrates through photosynthesis and exude (called carbon dumping lately) excess via the roots to ‘gift’ the organisms these sugars. In turn the organisms turn mineral geology and organic matter into colloidal plant food. As taught by Alex Podolinsky the plant decides via the Suns energy to use the brown drinking root or the whitish feeding root. Plant food must not be present in the soils water as in water soluble farming practices, but colloidal in humus colloids.
    The plants root tips (via cation exchange) extract the needed element of that time from the colloidal humus.
    The paintings of Van Gogh and Turner depict ploughed fields with a purplish colour. Recently proven by scientists
    to be caused by soil biology, seen today only by Austr. Demeter BD practitioners. Scientists photographed a purple glow around roots and the root tips (organisms). Chemical farming and incorrect soil work has killed these organisms off over time.

    Hence Green Manuring is vital to create friable, structured, humus and element rich soils.
    Elements? Well yes the Periodic Table (Mendeleev’s Table) only Now shows 94 elements. Scientists are studying Neutrinos at the moment which will later be added. So the entire Cosmos must be made of more than 94×94 elements, if new ones are continually added.
    NO soil is perfect for Mankind’s food crops to feed the required nutrients at each specific time.
    Unless Plants ( green manures) manufacture from Sun Light and Cosmic Elements (dense Neutrinos go through us daily! Ouch!) the missing elements for that specific spot, garden or farm. Hence the more species in a green manure the more missing elements are replaced or topped up. I use 22 green manure species minimum. Agrilatina near Rome, Italy practising The Australian Demeter Bio-dynamic Method uses 90 green manures ( species.

    Bio-dynamic preparations like BD500 (Cow horn manure) is seen by some to inoculate only. But should be seen more as a catalyst that aids the soil life, plants and the farm to capture, hold and use the free Cosmic Elements and Forces.

    All different systems and methods of many. For repairing the Earth.
    These and others I teach other travellers on my short journey on trying to understand the nature of Nature.

    Baie dankie vir artikels 1-3 Mn. Snyman (thank you very much for articles 1-3 Mr. Snyman) Totsiens (Till we see each other)

  6. Thanks again to all who commented – I passed the comments on to the Snymans and Janie replied with the following below:

    “There is a great difference between GROW AGRA and EM, which contents is mostly saprophytic, used in food fermenting and food processing, compiled mostly from known used organisms in the food industry and already in use for many, many years.

    The GROW AGRA is the result of a recent research and development project and contains a balanced biomass of bio-organisms, in total difference from EM, from contents to results in no way comparable.

    To comment on the interesting comments of by Coevicman, Dec 11 2010, whom we would like to meet:

    He wrote about IMOM (Indigenous Mico Organisms Method) of obtaining micro organisms (Australia) and the method how to multiply and apply them, to restore soil fertility. As Nico Snyman also wrote in his article.

    What does not come across clearly enough is that the IMO (Indigenous Micro Organisms Method has indeed been used for obtaining the total balanced sample of GROW AGRA bio-organism spores which were taken from various innermost, undisturbed parts of South Africa, including that from the KNYSNA FOREST. Its multiplication and application restores the balanced micro-organism population needed for healthy plant and human life.

    I am convinced that Dr P.W. Cloete,[ M.Sc org chem.),D.Sc.(Agric. Biochem.), MB.ChB., ACAM (dipl. Cand.)] postuum, deserves a Nobel Price in Agriculture in connection with the work he did on aerobic organisms and especially on the discovery of DEEP BIOLOGICAL FEED FARMING: Biological in its truest sense and which is up to now not even taught at university to Agricultural Students.

    For the last few years, under the most difficult health circumstances, trials were conducted by the late Dr Pieter Cloete, who excelled with his amazing deep anaerobic GROW AGRA applications and trials on problematic orchards like Peaches, Citrus, Bananas, Mangoes, etc. with picturesque, recorded revival results. A CD on these results are available from the Cloete family. He was also the inspiration behind the articles and trials on maize and veggies by Nico, since there is still a lot we do not know about the interaction between GROW AGRA and other crops.

    Question by David, Dec 10 2010:
    GROW AGRA is available from the bio-bank started by Dr Pieter Cloete, but now managed by Andre Van Rensburg near Mokgopong (former Naboomspruit) at Tel 0824315065 or [email protected].

    Janie Snyman near Rustenburg could also be contacted on Cell:076 600-6196 or via email on: [email protected]. The pricing for Grow Agra is at a very reasonable low price of R10/litre. (The results of 1 litre Grow Agra per 1000litre drinking water for cattle, game, sheep have been very effective).

  7. Is the grow agra applied to the soil, to the plants, to the animals or to any combination or all three? How many applications per season and what is the cost of application per acre or hectare? I would like to see more written up on this with more in depth information. Also how long before you will have translations for the articles which I could not download. Got a 404 message from my browser.

    1. Dear John, Sorry for late reply. Only saw your ms now. Much progress, development and exact trials has been done and made on soil, plants and animals since article has first been published in 2010 on all three subjects mentioned. Applications of Soil Bio-Muti (SBM) are 40lt/Ha at R400-00/Ha diluted with H2O as per calibration once per season on dry material or plant rests which acts as food for the balanced mix of SBM microbes (64 Families of Bacteria and Fungi identified) after Harvest and worked in as preparation for next crop. If eelworm is present another application is needed 40 days after planting. Eelworm were monitored as research project with and without SBM by NWU Potchefstroom for past 2 years with funding of the Maize Trust of RSA. SBM also keep schlerotinia infections and pests and plagues in check. For Vegetables green organic material and weed rests plus manure were applied directly into the soil for certain vegetables or for compost making with excess material. All with amazing results! Photos available. Courses are available or call me on Cell:0766006196 Janie and Nico Snyman

  8. We and the Soil Bio-Muti team over some provinces of RSA would like to assist any enquiries and will gladly comment and supply.

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