Richard Campbell, founder of To Soil Less, never dreamed fifteen years ago that throwing a watermelon seed into gravel could change the way the world grows our food. What he discovered during his journey is that plants can grow in river rock without the aid of fertilizer or soil. He has successfully grown peppers, zinnias, lettuce, tomatoes, and a variety of different vegetables using his patent pending irrigation and river rock method.
As a huge vegetable gardener, I was intrigued by the concept of To Soil Less. As Campbell explained to me in a recent video interview, he has married geology with horticultural science. I urge you to listen to the podcast or video below. Campbell’s explanation of how his system works is quite interesting. He will turn you from a non-believer to running out to Home Depot to grab a bag of river rock. Trust me.
Geology Meets Agriculture
Campbell explained during the interview that plants only need river rock and his irrigation system to thrive. It all made sense to me. He states,
“[t]o Soil Less has been able to adapt the characteristics of sea life to land based agriculture. In a nutshell, we engineered a specific sustained moisture level within a certain type of gravel to produce an long term nutrient rich growing environment. After all, by definition soil is rock. Soil is defined as “the portion of the earth’s surface consisting of disintegrated rock and humus.” Theoretically rock should provide nutrients in the same manner as soil.”
In a nutshell, the specific river rock provides the nutrients needed by the plants. So simplistic but Mother Nature has been using this formula for centuries. His system works for both home and commercial gardeners. Don’t have a plot? Campbell explains that it will work for container gardening too.
Soil Has its Issues
As Campbell indicated, using soil to farm has its issues. In the world of industrial farming, soil needs fertilizer and chemicals to grow plants and reduce pests. But it comes with a cost to the environment. According to SustainableTable.org,
“[c]hemical fertilizers and pesticides have turned agriculture into a leading source of water pollution in the United States. Runoff from factory farms kills fish, degrades aquatic habitats and threatens drinking water supplies. Additionally, factory farms use tremendous amounts of water, which cuts into our precious supplies of water that are not contaminated.”
According to Campbell, using his To Soil Less method reduces the need for pesticides since he hasn’t seen any pest damage to his crop. There is no soil for the pests to lay their eggs. However, I noticed that he hasn’t grown any brassica plants such as kale, broccoli, and cauliflower. These plants are prone to pests that lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves.
To Soil Less Plants Need Less Water to Grow
Campbell states his method uses less water than plants in soil. The impact of using less water for growing crops could have significant impact on the world’s water needs. According to a 2008 The Economist article, farming accounts for 70% of water consumed by humans. Worse yet, the article further states 1.2 billion people, which accounts for about a fifth of the population in the world live where there are shortages of water.
With water scarcity on the up-rise due to global warming, To Soil Less’ lower methods might be a viable option to grow crops.
What Does this Mean for the World?
My first thoughts when Campbell explained his process is what could this mean for the world. My thought immediately went to Africa with its low soil fertility. A 2006 report noted that 29% of African land is high or medium quality for cultivated agriculture with the balance of the land being either unsuitable or low potential. Could Campbell’s methods change how African farmers can grow their food? Given the low water requirement and ability of plants to thrive, To Soil Less’ method could change the landscape of Africa.
But What About the River Rock?
Here is where I was stumped. What about the river rock mining? How would we furnish that amount of river rock to countries with poor soil? Could it be sourced from local rivers and streams to reduce transportation cost and impact? Could local rock be used as well? If so, would mining cause environmental issues? These are issues that would need to be flushed out to make To Soil Less’ concept be a viable world option.
But, Richard Campbell is onto something. A concept with a little tweaking could change the world. My wish is that an agricultural department at a university works with To Soil Less to help make Campbell’s vision a reality. The Planet needs this fix. All it took was a watermelon seed fifteen years ago.
Download the Instruction Manual
Campbell is so sure To Soil Less’ method will work for others that he prepared a manual for download. If you are a home gardener, you can download the manual for $20. However, if you are a commercial grower, the technology is slightly different, and you can download the manual for $100.
Join the Conversation
- Would you grow your plants in river rock?
- Could this concept change the way we grow our food?
- How do you feel about this technology being used in countries with poor soil fertility?
- What are your thoughts about To Soil Less’ system?