Artwork for podcast GREEN Organic Garden Podcast
327. Focusing on the Things I do Want (to Grow) Instead of What I don't Want | Integrity Soils | Soil Expert Nicole Masters | For the Love Of Soil
26th July 2020 • GREEN Organic Garden Podcast • Jackie Marie Beyer
00:00:00 01:07:01

Share Episode


Nicole Masters from Integrity Soils is here today!

Intro (0s):

Hey There! Green future growers. Thanks for joining us today. If you're new to the show, I hope you'll subscribe on iTunes or your favorite Android app and let's get growing!

Get your copy of our blank garden journal from amazon today!

Jackie Marie Beyer (19s):

Welcome to the Green Organic Garden Podcast! It is Friday, July 3rd, 2020. And I have one of the most awesome guests ever to come on the show. She was recommended by Robin Kelson and Patti Armbrister. Robin actually went all the way to New Zealand to work with her!

For the Love of Soil- Strategies to Regenerate Our Food Production Systems

For the Love of Soil: Strategies to Regenerate Our Food Production Systems

Jackie Marie Beyer (1m 11s):

She is a soil expert and she is here to talk to us. She wrote a book for the love of Soil Strategies to Regenerate Our Food Production Systems. You might've even read it already. And now you're going to hear from the master herself, Nicole Masters. So welcome to the show Nicole!

Nicole Masters (1m 28s):

Thanks for having me, Jackie, that's like the best introduction lead in of all time. Yeah. I really appreciate being here. Thank you.

Jackie Marie Beyer:

We are so excited to have you, and I know you are going to drop golden seeds.

That's what I call like golden nuggets of value bombs. You're where people say on other podcasters. I just know, like I told you in the email Soil health is without a doubt, the key to my show and show. And then Patti Armbrister has her own little fan club, like one of my, like I'm the president. And like, they just love her.

And she was like, how come you haven't had Nicole Masters on your show yet? I'm like, what did happen with that? And I guess I never sent you the email show. I meant you last year when I first heard about you and I dropped the ball.

Jackie Marie Beyer (2m 13s):

So thank you so much. And go ahead and tell listeners about yourself. Like what time is it where you are? You're in New Zealand, right?

Nicole Masters (2m 20s):

No way when COVID hit, I got on a plane and I got to Montana. So right now I'm in Idaho.

Jackie Marie Beyer (-): You did?

Nicole Masters (2m 27s):

Yeah. I have a trailer in a horse here in Montana. And so yeah, I just, yeah, just kind of really looked at what I was doing and you know, is it the site of a book tour? And you know, my schedule was pretty much the most I was staying anywhere was like three days traveling through Australia and New Zealand and Canada and, and yeah, I guess COVID hit and I was so grateful cause I was like, I need to stop. I need to reconsolidate. I need to, yeah. Just not be rushing around the planet Which I think a lot of people have that same experience. So yeah. I feel like I'm a lot more settled now.


Jackie Marie Beyer (3m 9s):

Isn't that interesting. You did not want to be in New Zealand and wanting to be in the United States for the pandemic. I mean, I guess I said repeatedly, if you have to be in it, Montana is like the best place to be. But New Zealand seem to be on top of things, like aren't, they one of the best countries,

Nicole Masters (3m 28s):

Well, they are in terms of like total lockdown and quarantine, but I don't have a house or a base in New Zealand. So I was like, where would I quarantine? Where had I totally locked life down? And if I was going to lock down, I want to be with my horse. I want to be able to be out in the mountains and, and working cows. And, and I just didn't have that set up in New Zealand.

So it seemed much more, I mean, all my friends do think I'm insane. Like, and you know, the media certainly overseas, isn't putting very good light on America, but I knew that, you know, ranching life would pretty much continue as usual, which is what's happening anyway.

Nicole Masters (4m 7s): Yeah.

Jackie Marie Beyer (4m 7s):

Fascinating. Well, I always kind of start my show asking about your very first garden experience, like on a ranch, like where, like, who are you with? What'd you grow? Where did you?

Nicole Masters (4m 21s):

I grew up, I grew up on air force bases. So my father was a pilot. I was an air force brat, but my very first earliest memories out all of gardening. So my, my father and my grandmother, you know, we always had home gardens, but my mom always tells me stories of when I first learned to crawl, she couldn't find me. And she found me in the garden with my little pinky finger inside a snail shell, eating snails, which she's teasing me about.

Nicole Masters (4m 53s):

But yeah, I mean, I just, I, you know, I used to follow my father around like a puppy dog and you know, so planting radishes and planting my own radishes probably, I don't know, it must've been three or four, you know, really, really little and eating a lot of soil.

I'm a big advocate of eating soil.

So yeah. So I think my father was really enjoyed camping and really enjoyed, you know, being in the New Zealand Bush. And so I think, and I think in New Zealand, we don't have that big rural, urban divide that seems to exist in, and maybe we do now, but certainly growing up, you know, there were horse paddocks, cattle paddocks all around.

And I had relatives that were deer farmers and dairy farmers, and just always felt very connected to agriculture. And it wasn't till I was 24 that my father brought a farm and I went with him and we basically started from scratch planted 700 avocado trees.

Re-established a wetland put in, you know, different types of orchard species.

Nicole Masters (6m 0s):

And yeah, it was both of us had knew nothing. I had been managing community gardens when I was 24. It was what I did when I left university was I'm very lucky to kind of strike that job. And at the same time, you know, I've been gardening for a few years and was just very lucky to have a position like that because you know, you really do get thrown in the deep end

And you need to be researching and experimenting and figuring out what works.

And what was interesting with those community guidance was they were given to us, they were set up in the middle of a low socioeconomic community that didn't want them.

Nicole Masters (6m 38s):

And hadn't asked for them and didn't appreciate people basically coming into the community. So we had a lot of vandalism. We had a lot of, you know, people coming in and smashing everything up and tipping out all the seedling trays. And it was sort of some of my early thinking around you don't force change on people. You need to engage with communities. You need to invite and bring people along with you, not go, Hey, we know this is the best thing for you and we're going to have it happen. So it was an extraordinary time of learning.

Jackie Marie Beyer (7m 10s):

I was in New Zealand where you, yeah. And then, so when did you go to,

Did you go to college for agriculture?

Nicole Masters (7m 21s):

I went to university for, I did an ecology degree actually wanting to be a great white Shaq researcher. But when you, you know, if you want to get into zoology or anything like that, you need to do basic cell biology.

We did botany like did conservation science did all sorts of like, I love ecology degrees in terms of so varied. And through that, I really got excited about plants. And then I really got excited about soil and it was like, I ended up majoring in soil thinking that I wanted to be a great white shark researcher, which is fascinating still because soil is just, it's the new frontier!

Nicole Masters (8m 3s):

You know, it's the more that we learn about it, the more that we learn about our own human microbiome and the connections with like how we evolved as human beings and how much of that microbiology actually comes from soil. And how much of it has to say in terms of health and wellbeing that they've developed a vaccine for PTSD, for instance, it comes from a soil bacterium. So it's like, yeah, it just never, never gets dull


Jackie Marie Beyer (8m 34s):

That's just fascinating to me.

And how anybody like goes into soil in college

To be honest with you. I took a lot of botany classes in college for somebody who was like a liberal arts major. Cause I liked plants and flowers. I wanted to get a job for the forest service here, going around in the forest. And like you did like these surveys of, you know, like how many wild flowers, how many trees, how many of us are that?

Jackie Marie Beyer (9m 7s):

Which I lasted all of two days after all this work to get the job. And I got lost in the woods and I was like, I'm done, There were some factors in there. I did not like fire school either. I was like, why fighting forest fires? That is so not me. Anyway. Well tell us more, tell us about your book.

Integrity Soils

Nicole Masters (9m 32s):

Yeah. So my book came about really from people. So I with our programs, so Integrity Soils is my company being basically self employed for over 20 years. We manage, we work alongside land managers that cover over 1.2 million acres. And working with these people,

I have quite a specific triage or process that I go through in my mind that actually, I didn't realize how specific it was until people started going. Well, explain how,
  • How did you get to that diagnosis?
  • How is it that you figured out that my cows have as like a phosphate deficiency, because there's not enough active fungi like in the soil?
  • How did, how did you come to that?

And so the book really goes through the triage process or the coaching process in terms of how do we identify what enabling factors are in soil and what's putting a limit to full health and production and how do we really build soil and build organic matter as quickly as possible on large landscapes as well as in home gardens.

Nicole Masters (10m 40s):

So, you know,

I work with some of the largest market gardens, vegetable production, horticulture, bison, beef, sheep, you know.

We work in hugely diverse environments and it it's like, well, what works well in these types of ecosystems and what works well?

You know, if you think about going from the New Zealand environment to Montana, they're almost the polar opposite. So it's, how do you diagnose in those environments and what are we looking at? So I came up with a process that I call the five M's, which is looking at what is, what is, you know, what's potentially involved in, in what we call the enabling factors.

The Five M's

Nicole Masters (11m 20s):

So is that your, is there

  • an issue with microbiology?
  • Is it a mineral imbalance?
  • Is it low, organic matter?
  • Is it your management 
  • is it your mindset?

So the five M's. ,And through going through that process, we go through a diagnostic of how well is that plant photosynthesizing that's number one, you know, like if your

plants are not capturing adequate sunlight energy and converting that into everything that happens in the plant and then feeding microbiology, then the system's not going to work very well.

The next step is what's happening with water and water infiltration.

Nicole Masters (11m 52s):

No, that's not. The next step is before that. So before water, comes air and most people think of water because we're so connected to, if it doesn't rain or we don't have water going, you know, then you know, your garden's going to fail, but actually before that, it's actually an movement.

So the same in the human body, if you don't, you're not breathing, you're not going to last very long. If you're not able to get water, you know, maybe you'll live for three days. And if you don't have food, maybe it's three weeks.

So it goes through this process of diagnostics so that you can figure out what is it.

What is happening on your own property and how do we really take that to the next level?

Nicole Masters (12m 30s):

And, yeah, so it was a pretty awesome process to go through writing the book. I use a lot of case studies and people's stories to convey sometimes what can seem very technical, but trying to keep it in a way that makes it really readable.

I didn't want people just going, Oh, this is a good reference book, or this is good technical book, or this is something we're just going to read once and then shelf, or maybe just read half of it and shelf. And I've had so many messages from people going, I've read your book four times have highlighted all of this.

Nicole Masters (13m 1s):

And they've sent me photos. And I'm like, who reads a book four times? You know, like, and just being so blown away that, that my intent, which is to kind of try and keep it very engaging, I feel like was pretty successful in the end.

Jackie Marie Beyer (13m 17s):

Yeah. I think Patty and Robin were both telling me they've also listened to the audio version several times. Yeah.

Nicole Masters (13m 23s):

So they can be fluent in New Zealand.

Jackie Marie Beyer (13m 27s):

I am a elementary educator by trade, like taught K through fourth grade for many years and, you know, rereading, rereading, rereading is something.

Nicole Masters (13m 39s):

We teach them all the time. So I don't know. I kind of get it. Yeah. Yeah. But I think people's lives are so busythese days, you know, we're lucky to kind of push anything into our heads at all. And I think that's why audio books is so powerful is, and I hadn't even realized.

I started talking to people and they're like, yeah, I listen to an audio book while I'm vacuuming or while I'm going for a run or I'm in the car. And I'm like, I didn't even realize there was this whole world of, and maybe it's you know, we're totally spinning our wheels because we haven't got any downtime to just contemplate.


Nicole Masters (14m 12s):

Cause you're listening to audio books all the time. But yeah. So I've been excited about the audio book.

Jackie Marie Beyer (14m 20s):

Well, I, you know, there's times, right? I like peace and quiet, but when I'm driving or when I'm walking, like nothing's better for me than an inspiring. I like to listen to podcasts myself being a podcaster. It's kind of how I got into it. And then I just got a job this summer working for another podcast. And I've been to like over 600 podcasts websites in the last two weeks.

Nicole Masters (14m 42s): So wow.

Jackie Marie Beyer (14m 43s):

Kind of neat. I feel like I'm connecting and making new friends again and listening to new shows. And, but also, yeah, I've been trying to get a little more quite time when I'm in the garden. Yeah. So

Nicole Masters (14m 58s):

Yeah, I think that's how we balance it, you know, we can balance it out. Yeah.

Jackie Marie Beyer (15m 5s):

So what would you tell listeners? Cause my listeners are probably more backyard gardeners, although they do have surprisingly large gardens for backyard gardeners.

You know, they're the kind of people that are, you know, growing a fair amount of their own produce. Like maybe like what's the thing they be most surprised about.

I know like Patti keeps talking about how organic gardeners sometimes have some of the worst soil anymore because they're just, they keep tilling it and they keep doing things.

You know, she's talked a lot about ways that you can not have to deal with weeds by just not tilling your soil and just different things like that.

Jackie Marie Beyer (15m 43s):

Like what would you say backyard gardeners maybe would be something you see them surprised?

Nicole Masters (15m 53s):

I think asking those questions,

  • you know, why is it that maybe you have weeds 
  • why do you have pests or diseases?

and how to really work with that underground livestock in microbiology because they are the ones that's providing nutrition and health and disease resistance and insect resistance.

So yeah, I think it's one of those lights that light bulb moments that goes on for people is really starting to look at what is your garden trying to tell you, what is it communicating?


Nicole Masters (16m 24s):

What are those weed species that are growing? What are they trying to say?

And it becomes this whole world that opens up. If you start looking at your backyard or your lawn in that way of, Oh, that's really curious, you know, I actually, I'm producing the soil conditions that are perfect for these types of weeds instead of I'm producing, you know, my management is creating the perfect conditions for a lettuce or, or whatever.

So yeah, in my, you know, the last time I had a real garden, which was probably six years ago now,

you know, we create a soil environment that what grows is what I'm planting and seeing very few invasive weed species coming in at all.

Nicole Masters (17m 10s):

And if there was anything coming in, they were very soft, you know, like clovers and things. And I'm like, well, that's a pretty good understory or intercropping to be had.

I think we expect to have these very straight lines and sort of mono-cultural patches still in gardens. And I think the more we can break it up, we'll go through what I think of as the ugly hair stage, where you like just allow, you know, more chaos in the garden to try and replicate nature more.

Nicole Masters (17m 40s):

You know, that you've got a diversity of different species and maybe some