Compost, Global Warming/Climate Change, Rehabilitation, Soil Biology, Soil Conservation — by Craig Mackintosh PRI Editor November 21, 2010
We’ve been having a pretty lively discussion on biochar in a recent post. One of the commenters, Rhamis Kent, found the video below which I thought I’d put up for all to consider.
In it the Woods End Laboratories people question whether biomass should be turned into biologically inactive biochar, when it could instead be turned into biologically active compost — particularly when many find it necessary to pre-soak biochar in urine, compost or manure anyway, so as to reduce its yield-stunting effects (like binding nutrients so plants can’t use them, and the high pH of biochar).
My thoughts on the issue are to trial it at home by all means, and let us know about your well-documented results, but I’d hate to see people supporting large scale, energy intensive, profit-centric implementations of this.
Compost, Consumerism, Deforestation, Global Warming/Climate Change, Rehabilitation, Soil Biology, Soil Composition — by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho November 18, 2010
Turning bioenergy crops into buried charcoal to sequester carbon does not work, and could plunge the earth into an oxygen crisis towards mass extinction
A fully referenced and illustrated version of this article is posted on ISIS members’ website. Details here
An electronic version of the full report can be downloaded from the ISIS online store. Download Now
The story goes that charcoal buried in the soil is stable for thousands if not hundreds of thousands of years and increases crop yields. The proposal to grow crops on hundreds of millions of hectares to be turned into buried ‘biochar’ is therefore widely seen as a “carbon negative” initiative that could save the climate and boost food production.
That story is fast unravelling. Biochar is not what it is hyped up to be, and implementing the biochar initiative could be dangerous, basically because saving the climate turns out to be not just about curbing the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere that can be achieved by burying carbon in the soil, it is also about keeping oxygen (O2) levels up. Keeping O2 levels up is what only green plants on land and phytoplankton at sea can do, by splitting water to regenerate O2 while fixing CO2 to feed the rest of the biosphere  (Living with Oxygen, SiS 43).
Climate scientists have only discovered within the past decade that O2 is depleting faster than the rise in CO2, both on land and in the sea [2, 3] (O2 Dropping Faster than CO2 Rising, and Warming Oceans Starved of Oxygen, SiS 44). Furthermore, the acceleration of deforestation spurred by the biofuels boom since 2003 appears to coincide with a substantial steepening of the O2 decline. Turning trees into charcoal in a hurry could be the surest way to precipitate an oxygen crisis from which we may never recover.Comments (56)
Compost, DVDs/Books, Fungi, Rehabilitation, Soil Biology, Soil Composition, Soil Conservation, Structure — by Ecofilms November 12, 2010
Geoff Lawton’s Permaculture Soils DVD is now shipping. A special thanks go out to all the people that pre-ordered this disk and waited patiently for their DVD to arrive. If you haven’t received them already, your DVDs are now in the mail and will arrive very shortly.
We had a few issues with transport delays which were outside our control but supplies are now all fixed and flowing normally.
The DVD starts with a short introduction to modern industrial chemical fertilisers (NPK) and how monoculture has destroyed the bio-diversity of many living soils.
Geoff seeks to redress this problem through adopting Permaculture management systems, showing you a number of techniques you can use to redress this imbalance.
With probably the most comprehensive instruction on compost creation, using animation and various manures and inoculums, Geoff spends the first 30 minutes explaining the composting process and shows you ways to reintroduce rich bio-diverse organisms back into your soil that feed the plants and actively help build soil. Whether you want to favour tree plantations like food forest systems or green leafy vegetable crops, Geoff will show ways to create the right kind of compost.
Part two of the DVD focuses on building a Permaculture Kitchen garden using small animal systems like worms, ducks and chickens to return nutrients back to the soil.
Part three takes us into broader pasture management techniques from using cattle and chickens together, cell grazing techniques and re-mineralization strategies for pasture management.
The DVD also explains ways to turbo charge larger main crop gardens using biological compost teas. Every step is explained in Geoff’s unique hands-on approach, right in the field.Comments (1)
Aid Projects, Commercial Farm Projects, Community Projects, Compost, Demonstration Sites, Education Centres, Fungi, Rehabilitation, Soil Biology, Soil Composition, Soil Conservation, Structure, Waste Systems & Recycling — by Alex McCausland November 8, 2010
At Strawberry Fields Eco-Lodge (SFEL) we use a fast hot composting system that can deliver well decomposed compost within 3 weeks. It was developed based on the technique we we’re taught by Dan Palmer when he co-facilitated two PDCs with us in 2008 along with Rosemary Morrow.
Hot composting is an aerobic process of fast oxidation which breaks raw organic materials into humus at temperatures of up to 80°C within three weeks. It is performed by a particular type of bacteria, that you can recognise as a white crust which starts to appear on the materials within the steaming interior heap once you really have the process working. I am not really up on the exact biological details of the bacteria, whether it is just one species or there are a range of species which can do the job, but once you have it working you have to maintain it, a bit like a culture of yoghurt, to get the best results. Like any living organism the bacteria has an ecological niche, that is to say a specific range of conditions in which it can live and within which it can thrive, so we have to maintain those as best we can if we want the organism to do this job of producing compost for us as best it can.Comments (5)
Global Warming/Climate Change, Rehabilitation, Soil Biology, Soil Composition, Soil Conservation, Soil Erosion & Contamination, Water Contaminaton & Loss — by Craig Mackintosh PRI Editor October 30, 2010
Carbon deficient soil at left, carbon rich soil at right.
It’s not difficult, but it could make all the difference.
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
Biological Cleaning, Compost, Courses/Workshops, Food Plants - Perennial, Fungi, Irrigation, Land, Plant Systems, Rehabilitation, Soil Biology, Soil Composition, Soil Conservation, Structure, Waste Systems & Recycling, Waste Water, Water Harvesting — by Andrew Jones October 29, 2010
The dry tropics cover a significant land area of the planet, particularly around the regions of the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Characterized by a majority of the year when evaporation potential is greater than rainfall, they also support rapid biomass growth during and following the rainy season. Legume species normally form a significant portion of the species present, and provide for rapid biomass production.
Management of this biomass can be tricky, particularly when left above ground in dry mulch piles, as it normally stays dry, inhibiting both fungal and bacterial breakdown. On the flip side, dry tropics soils, whether sandy or clay-based are in need of organic matter to balance structure, enhance water retention or drainage and build humus. One approach for creating such conditions are mulch pit gardens.
Papaya, banana, and coconut circles are developed by digging pits up to two meters in diameter (for papaya or banana – up to three meters for coconuts) and about 1 meter deep. These are then filled with dampened, compacted organic material to a height of 1 meter above ground. Up to seven plants of the appropriate type are then planted in the rim of the pit. Taro or other moisture loving plants may be planted on the inside edge, and sweet potato along the outside edge to provide a living mulch as well as extra production.
Double mulch pit greywater system being developed at Baja BioSana, Baja
Animal Forage, Land, Livestock, Plant Systems, Rehabilitation, Seeds, Soil Biology, Soil Composition, Soil Conservation, Structure — by Craig Mackintosh PRI Editor October 7, 2010
Allan Savory has an interesting background. Amongst his experiences, he is also a biologist. I think this will have served him well as he sought to address desertification in his native Zimbabwe.
While many call for less livestock, and for good reason, Allan blames their detrimental impact on management (or lack of, as the case may be), rather than absolute numbers. Allan’s Holistic Management techniques instead use dense livestock herds to increase fertility and biomass (and thus soil carbon) and to increase human prosperity.Comments (11)
Compost, DVDs/Books, Fungi, Rehabilitation, Salination, Soil Biology, Soil Composition, Soil Conservation, Structure — by Ecofilms September 6, 2010
Geoff Lawton and Frank Gapinski
I just came back from filming all the links to Geoff Lawton’s Permaculture Soils DVD over the weekend. It’s a wrap – finally – with all principal photography completed and now it’s just a matter of finishing off the edit. Squeezing it all down to 90 minutes will be difficult as there’s heaps of good Permaculture information in this DVD. From Compost Teas, Kitchen Gardens to Ripping the Soil, working with cows, ducks, chickens and worms – and in the middle of it all, Geoff’s 18 day Compost formula – Geoff was in top form. Despite not drinking any water all day and being exhausted from nursing a cow the previous evening that was expecting to calf at any moment, Geoff was able to stay awake, stay focused and deliver on queue.Comments (8)
Compost, Conservation, Fungi, Rehabilitation, Soil Biology, Soil Composition, Soil Conservation, Structure, Water Harvesting — by Melissa Miles August 3, 2010
Wooden debris will decompose faster,
(and be transformed into a resource)
when hugelkultur techniques are
Used for centuries in Eastern Europe and Germany, hugelkultur (in German hugelkultur translates roughly as “mound culture”) is a gardening and farming technique whereby woody debris (fallen branches and/or logs) are used as a resource.
Often employed in permaculture systems, hugelkultur allows gardeners and farmers to mimic the nutrient cycling found in a natural woodland to realize several benefits. Woody debris (and other detritus) that falls to the forest floor can readily become sponge like, soaking up rainfall and releasing it slowly into the surrounding soil, thus making this moisture available to nearby plants.
Hugelkultur garden beds (and hugelkultur ditches and swales) using the same principle to:Comments (35)
Compost, Economics, Fungi, News, Plant Systems, Rehabilitation, Society, Soil Biology, Soil Composition, Soil Conservation, Structure — by Craig Mackintosh PRI Editor July 27, 2010
How many times must we ‘discover’ something we’ve discovered before – particularly when our lives and our futures depend on reacting appropriately, and shaping society, to incorporate the lessons learned?
One of the most transformative experiences in my life was from studying soil science many years ago. Getting something of an understanding of the inner workings of that thin skin which covers our earth created thought-connections in my mind that had me looking at the world in a profoundly new way.Comments (11)
Biodiversity, Compost, Conservation, Economics, Food Plants - Annual, Food Plants - Perennial, Food Shortages, Fungi, Global Warming/Climate Change, Health & Disease, Irrigation, Land, Plant Systems, Regional Water Cycle, Rehabilitation, Society, Soil Biology, Soil Composition, Soil Conservation, Soil Erosion & Contamination, Structure, Water Contaminaton & Loss, Water Harvesting, peak oil — by Christine Jones PhD July 22, 2010
Editor’s Note: Thanks to Darren Doherty of ReGenAg for sourcing and getting permission to run this.
The number of farmers in Australia has fallen 30 per cent in the last 20 years, with more than 10,000 farming families leaving the agricultural sector in the last five years alone. This decline is ongoing. There is also a reluctance on the part of young people to return to the land, indicative of the poor image and low income-earning potential of current farming practices.
Agricultural debt in Australia has increased from just over $10 billion in 1994 to close to $60 billion in 2009 (Fig.1). The increased debt is not linked to interest rates, which have generally declined over the same period (Burgess 2010).
Fig. 1. Increase in agricultural debt (AUD millions)
1994-2009 vs interest rates (%pa)
The financial viability of the agricultural sector, as well as the health and social wellbeing of individuals, families and businesses in both rural and urban communities, is inexorably linked to the functioning of the land.
There is widespread agreement that the integrity and function of soils, vegetation and waterways in many parts of the Australian landscape have become seriously impaired, resulting in reduced resilience in the face of increasingly challenging climate variability.
Agriculture is the sector most strongly impacted by these changes. It is also the sector with the greatest potential for fundamental redesign.Comments (12)
Terry McCosker Joins the Dots on the Challenges and Solutions of Food Production, Landscape Health and Human Health
Conferences, Conservation, Food Shortages, Plant Systems, Podcasts, Population, Rehabilitation, Society, Soil Biology, Soil Conservation, Soil Erosion & Contamination, Water Contaminaton & Loss, peak oil — by Craig Mackintosh PRI Editor July 20, 2010
I’d never heard of Terry McCosker of Resource Consulting Services before, but here he is giving an excellent talk to ABC Rural’s Bush Telegraph Radio on the need to go ‘back to the future’ in our agricultural systems as our populations balloon in combination with disturbing land resource declines. Terry talks about how cheap fossil fuels have been used for soil mining, and that current and upcoming energy/soil/water constraints will force us back to where we need to go to solve our food production challenges, with the effect that this can also solve our environmental and human health problems. Terry also refers to David Montgomery’s excellent Dirt – the Erosion of Civilizations book, talks about peak phosphorus, compost, compost teas, the need to ‘fire up the biology’ in our soils to harness the inherent energy found in natural systems – thus replacing the artificial ‘propping up’ of those systems with fossil fuel energy, and in doing so increasing plant health to further reduce/remove the need for chemical inputs.
The podcast is well worth a listen. Click play below:Terry McCosker Joins the Dots on the Challenges and Solutions of Food Production, Landscape Health and Human Health
I love to see people joining the dots like this!
Should you be in the area, Terry and others will be speaking at a three-day conference in Brisbane, titled ‘Farmers – Heroes of our Future‘ from July 20-22. You can view the conference program here. Given it’s July 20th as I type, it may be too late to register and go along, but if you’re in the Brisbane area I’ll leave you to make your own enquiries if you’re interested. Sounds like it’d be a great event to attend.Comments (1)
Biodiversity, Compost, Conservation, Fungi, Global Warming/Climate Change, Health & Disease, Rehabilitation, Salination, Soil Biology, Soil Composition, Soil Conservation, Soil Erosion & Contamination, Structure, Water Contaminaton & Loss — by Craig Mackintosh PRI Editor June 24, 2010
Measuring Soil Carbon Change
As we all (should) know well, land use changes over the last several centuries have significantly increased atmospheric CO2 levels. Soil mismanagement, which has increased in tandem with our burgeoning human population, has released mammoth amounts of carbon from the soil, where it is a positive, into the atmosphere, where it becomes, in its present excessive levels, a negative instead. Correct soil management, in contrast, can play a significant role in reversing that trend by pulling excess atmospheric CO2 out of the sky, through photosynthesis, and returning it to the soil in humus, the stable, final state of decomposition of organic matter – thus transforming excess CO2 from being a pollutant into a rich habitat for the micro- and macro-organisms that are the foundation of all life on this planet. Permaculture, through its favouring small scale, low-to-no till polycultures, and where the soil is always protected by a ’skin’ of plant or mulch cover, and maintained by appropriate naturally harvested moisture levels, is a powerful system for restoring the Gaia state of carbon balance.Comments (3)
Compost, Fungi, Rehabilitation, Salination, Soil Biology, Soil Composition, Soil Conservation, Soil Erosion & Contamination, Structure — by Rob Avis June 17, 2010
by Rob Avis
What is the difference between soil and dirt?
Soil is alive. Dirt is dead. A single teaspoon of soil can contain billions of microscopic bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes. A handful of the same soil will contain numerous earthworms, arthropods, and other visible crawling creatures. Healthy soil is a complex community of life and actually supports the most biodiverse ecosystem on the planet.
Modern soil science is demonstrating that these billions of living organisms are continuously at work, creating soil structure, producing nutrients and building defence systems against disease. In fact, it has been shown that the health of the soil community is key to the health of our plants, our food and our bodies.
Why is it then, that much of the food from the conventional agricultural system is grown in dirt? The plants grown in this lifeless soil are dependent on fertilizer and biocide inputs, chemicals which further destroy water quality, soil health and nutritional content.
How did we get here? How do we turn this around? This is the Story of Soil….Comments (18)
Compost, DVDs/Books, Fungi, Rehabilitation, Salination, Soil Biology, Soil Composition, Soil Conservation, Structure — by Craig Mackintosh PRI Editor June 9, 2010
It’s a wonderful thing to behold when permaculture passion and top-notch multimedia skills intersect in world-changing ways. Frank and Jane Gapinski of Ecofilms have spent countless hours working up highly educational and highly watchable productions for the PRI for a few years now. It all began with the initial Greening the Desert clip that took the world by storm; then followed the Water Harvesting DVD, the Food Forest DVD, and very recently the Introduction to Permaculture Design DVD. The incredible uptake of these films is living, encouraging proof that there is a new generation emerging who understand what needs to be done, and want to know how to do it!
But wait, there’s more! We’re now awaiting the soon-to-be-released Permaculture Soils DVD! This DVD gets to the very heart of what’s needed for a permanent culture, examining that magical muck that is the foundation of all the aforementioned productions. This work shares insights from Geoff Lawton’s two and a half decade’s worth of worldwide experience in soil creation – an experience gained in some of the world’s most inhospitable environments – helping to make the impossibly complex come to life in wondrously understandable ways. I personally think that holistic studies in soil science should be compulsory, foundational elements for every school syllabus – and that if they had been we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in today – and we hope this DVD will go some distance in making up for this major shortfall in mainstream education.
Check out the trailer, and then stay tuned for future updates on release.
The soil is the great connector of our lives, the source and destination of all. – Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America, 1977