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“Water, water, everywhere…

“Water, water, everywhere…

Did it rain enough last night to water your garden? Have you started running the sprinklers and aren’t sure if they’re running enough? Perhaps you’re not sure that new drip system you installed is doing its job. Or maybe you just want to be more efficient and careful with your water use. How can you know moisture is getting deep enough into the soil to benefit your plants. Is there an easy way to find out?

Yes there is – a simple soil probe will do the trick.

A soil probe can be anything long and sturdy enough to penetrate the soil at least 12 inches (~30 cm.). Handmade soil probes, long screwdrivers, skewers, even the spit from an old rotisserie grill will all work.

A probe made of metal will work best and for safety it should have a handle of some sort. If there’s no handle you should wear sturdy gloves when using it. This set of  22″ screwdrivers was purchased at the local outlet of a national low cost tool franchise. It meets all the requirements and is inexpensive. Plus it’s a set so there’s one for you and one to share!

While you only need the probe to go 12″ into the soil it’s helpful if the probe itself is longer, if only for convenince. The probes are shown here with a yardstick for scale. (Yardstick = 36″=~91.5 cm.)

So you now have a soil probe, how do you use it to measure soil moisture depth? Easy-peasy.

Insert the probe straight into the soil at the spot you want to test. You’ll need to use firm pressure but don’t force it into the soil. The soil will pass through moist soil but stop when it hits dry…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

My Soil Is Crap, Part II

My Soil Is Crap, Part II

Last month in my blog My Soil Is Crap Part I, I tried to dispel the myth that you can diagnose soil problems by just looking at your soil. While the color of a soil does impart some diagnostic qualities, most soils are not easily analyzed without a soils test. A complete soils test will give a textural analysis including useful information about water holding capacity and a variety of chemical analyses. Soil reaction or pH is an essential component of any soil test (and is often unreliable in home soil test kits). Soil reaction affects the availability of plant required mineral salts. Most soil tests give a measure of the salinity sometimes call TDS, or total dissolved salts (solids). Finally specific mineral content of soil is usually analyzed – in particular macronutrients are usually quantified. With these data a great deal can be predicted about the “grow-ability” of your soil. Soil tests can also help guide attempts to modify soils. The biology of soils is not easily or routinely analyzed through soils tests.

Soil Harm

Soil can be “harmed” in several ways–making it less able to grow plants. Or another way to look at this is that soil can be enhanced in several ways to grow plants better. First let’s examine the harm. Soil can be physically harmed by tilling with a rototiller. Tillage destroys structure and the natural clods and peds that form over time because of a soil’s innate qualities. Structured soils support plants and help prevent disease. Tilled soils will in time resume their native structure, but the amount of time required is quite variable depending on soil type. Soil structure can also be squished– this is compaction…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Global soils underpin life but future looks ‘bleak’, warns UN report

It takes thousands of years for soils to form, meaning protection is needed urgently, say scientists

Scientists describe soils as like the skin of the living world, vital but thin and fragile, and easily damaged by intensive farming, forest destruction, and pollution.
 Scientists describe soils as like the skin of the living world, vital but thin and fragile, and easily damaged by intensive farming, forest destruction, and pollution. Photograph: Zsolt Czeglédi/EPA

Global soils are the source of all life on land but their future looks “bleak” without action to halt degradation, according to the authors of a UN report.

A quarter of all the animal species on Earth live beneath our feet and provide the nutrients for all food. Soils also store as much carbon as all plants above ground and are therefore critical in tackling the climate emergency. But there also are major gaps in knowledge, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) report, which is the first on the global state of biodiversity in soils.

The report was compiled by 300 scientists, who describe the worsening state of soils as at least as important as the climate crisis and destruction of the natural world above ground. Crucially, it takes thousands of years for soils to form, meaning urgent protection and restoration of the soils that remain is needed.

The scientists describe soils as like the skin of the living world, vital but thin and fragile, and easily damaged by intensive farming, forest destruction, pollution and global heating.

 It’s time we stopped treating soil like dirt – video

“Soil organisms play a crucial role in our everyday life by working to sustain life on Earth,” said Ronald Vargas, of the FAO and the secretary of the Global Soil Partnership.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Enrich Garden Soils without Paying for Amendments

Enrich Garden Soils without Paying for Amendments

A big part of permaculture is building soil. The loss of quality soils is one of the largest, most prevalent concerns on the globe, and of course, without good soil, producing healthy food just isn’t in the cards. So, really, before we can fill those storage bins with winter squash or stuff the cupboards with canned tomatoes, we have to get to the task of building the soils in which to grow them.

Unfortunately, mass agriculture methods have stripped soils of their vitality:

  • Monocultures have the tendency to deplete soils of whatever nutrients the cash crop likes,
  • and then that cash crop is shipped away with all of those nutrients instead of being fed back to the soil to recycle them.
  • Large-scale tilling makes the soils susceptible to erosion via wind and rain,
  • and it also destroys the web of soil life that helps to cycle organic nutrients into minerals and fertility.
  • Furthermore, those organic nutrients are typically removed during the harvest,
  • Which is done with massive machinery that compacts the soil so that it has to be tilled.
  • That’s before we get into chemical fertilisers, pesticides, and herbicides, which are about as healthy to soil as living on Slim Fast shakes and antibiotics would be to our bodies.

Without further belabouring this point, which is easy to do, suffice it to say that permaculture approaches soils and food production differently. Nevertheless, inherited soils often need special attention on the route to recovery, and even well-looked-after soils benefit from extra nutrients here and there. After all, it’s difficult to recycle every scrap of food we take from a plot back into it. With that in mind, here’s how to enrich soils without constantly importing minerals and other amendments.

Dynamic Accumulators

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why Gardening Starts With Growing Good Soil

Why Gardening Starts With Growing Good Soil

For two months now, we’ve been advising readers to “grow a garden” in response to the covid-19 pandemic.

We’re recommending that for a number of reasons.

Food security is the primary one. Domestically, several of the small number of concentrated players in our Big Ag food supply chain have been forced to shutter production facilities due to infected employees. Internationally, we’re seeing emerging evidence that countries are preparing for “national food hoarding”, as Chris wrote about last week.

Gardening is good for your physical health, offering exercise and getting you out into the sun and fresh air — all of which are correlated with lower risk of contracting the coronavirus. It’s also beneficial for your mental health, engaging you in a productive pursuit while offering time for reflection and for communion with nature.

Great, many of those inexperienced with gardening may be thinking, But how do I get started?

We’ve got some great resources here on the site. You can start by reading our DIY instructions for creating a raised bed garden, or by reading our Agriculture & Permaculture forum thread and asking questions of the many knowledgeable gardeners there.

But whether you’re new to gardening or not, your success is rooted (pardon the pun) in appreciating that to grow healthy plants you first need to grow healthy soil.

Perhaps the top soil experts in the world are Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser, owners and operators of Singing Frogs Farm — world famous for their nature-based yet innovative approach to farming, in which no tilling of any kind is done to the soil. No pesticide/herbicide/fungicide sprays (organic or otherwise) are used. And the only fertilizer used is natural compost.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Regenerative Agriculture Is So Good In So Many Ways

Regenerative Agriculture Is So Good In So Many Ways

Welcome to Terra Firma by Courtney White. I’ve spent my life prospecting for innovative, practical, and collaborative answers to pressing problems involving land and people, sharing them with others. I’d like to share them with you!

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I’ve been involved with save-the-world work for over thirty years (yikes!) and I can say unequivocably that one of the most hopeful, truly amazing stories I’ve ever come across is regenerative agriculture. It is also one the least widely known, especially to anyone who isn’t involved with food production – which is nearly everyone!

I thought this important topic would be a great way to launch this newsletter.

First, a quick definition (by yours truly): Regenerative Agriculture is both an attitude and a suite of practices that restores soil health and fertility, expands biodiversity, protects watersheds, and improves resilience in nature and ourselves. It focuses on creating the conditions for life, especially in the soil, and takes its cues from nature which has a very, very long track record of successfully growing things.

Resilience, by the way, is a 64-cent word for ‘bouncing back’ after a shock or disturbance, such as a forest fire. This will be increasingly critical to the world. Oh! I should also mention that regenerative agriculture fights global warming.

If this sounds like regenerative agriculture has Super Powers – that’s because it does! It has the ability to grow healthy food and repair damaged land using special powers supplied by sunlight, carbon dioxide, water, minerals, and an army of tiny super heroes: soil microbes. It’s an unstoppable force in a righteous cause.

Don’t take my word for it. Before his death last year, Stan Lee, the legendary founder of Marvel Comics and creator of Iron Man and Spider Man, was working on a new super hero character called DirtMan. I kid you not! (see)

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Future Of Better FarmingSustainable practices + smart technology = thriving soils

The Future Of Better FarmingSustainable practices + smart technology = thriving soils

While it’s *soooo* tempting to write about the stomach-churning drop/spike/dive thrill ride the financial markets have embarked on after this week’s Federal Reserve rate cut, I will resist and instead direct your attention to a topic much more important to our future.

Here at PeakProsperity.com, we’ve long warned about the dangers of inflation and of devaluation of the purchasing power of fiat currency over time. And the past decade has done nothing but validate our concerns, as the world’s central banks nearly quadrupled the money supply by printing roughly $14 Trillion out of thin air since 2008.

We’ve long encouraged investors both big and small to invest in tangible wealth (aka “hard assets”). These are assets that have intrinsic value that can’t be inflated away to nothing by a runaway printing press.

One of most desirable forms of tangible wealth is productive farmland. No matter what happens to the dollar, the Euro, the yen, or the yuan, people will always need to eat; and will trade cash, goods, services or labor for the farmer’s output.

But farmland, especially quality farmland, isn’t easy to own.

Not many folks can realistically purchase a farm. Few have the (substantial) capital to buy one, and way fewer have the expertise, energy and temperament to manage and operate one.

There aren’t many other options for investors besides purchasing shares of the publicly traded mega-producers.

But for those deeply troubled by the extractive and rapacious nature of most modern conventional farming practices — which are ruining our priceless topsoils, depleting aquifers, killing off the insects, creating toxic algal blooms and dead zones in our rivers and oceans, and producing unhealthy foods, to boot — how can you avoid supporting the evils of Big Ag?

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Fake Food, Fake Meat: Big Food’s Desperate Attempt to Further the Industrialisation of Food

Fake Food, Fake Meat: Big Food’s Desperate Attempt to Further the Industrialisation of Food

Photograph Source: Mattes – CC BY-SA

The ontology and ecology of food

Food is not a commodity, it is not “stuff” put together mechanically and artificially in labs and factories. Food is life. Food holds the contributions of all beings that make the food web, and it holds the potential of maintaining and regenerating the web of life. Food also holds the potential for health and disease, depending on how it was grown and processed. Food is therefore the living currency of the web of life.

As an ancient Upanishad reminds us “Everything is food, everything is something else’s food. “

Good Food and Real Food are the basis of health .

Bad food, industrial food, fake food is the basis of disease.

Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine”. In Ayurveda, India’s ancient science of life, food is called “sarvausadha” the medicine that cures all disease.

Industrial food systems have reduced food to a commodity, to “stuff” that can then be constituted in the lab. In the process both the planet’s health and our health has been nearly destroyed.

75% of the planetary destruction of soil, water, biodiversity, and 50% of greenhouse gas emissions come from industrial agriculture, which also contributes to 75% of food related chronic diseases. It contributes 50% of the GHG’s driving Climate Change. Chemical agriculture does not return organic matter and fertility to the soil. Instead it is contributing to desertification and land degradation. It also demands more water since it destroys the soil’s natural water-holding capacity. Industrial food systems have destroyed the biodiversity of the planet both through the spread of monocultures, and through the use of toxics and poisons which are killing bees, butterflies, insects, birds, leading to the sixth mass extinction.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

From despair to repair

From despair to repair

I belong to an online climate discussion group that today asked three questions: what is the state of the movement, do we need climate change or system change, and do we need a meta-movement? Keying off the insights from the Earth Repair Conference, I wrote the following – and have added a post-script to include a week of research on the state of the movement for Earth Repair:

CLIMATE MOVEMENT: STATE OF PLAY

Last weekend I attended the Global Earth Repair conference and this workshop (long) is where a new context clicked for me, though I’ve had all the pieces collected over all these years of low to the ground innovations. 

The cumulative impact of the event revealed this: the Climate Movement is missing a crucial, essential element. It offers resistance but not repair. It is clear about the against, but largely mum on an equal scale restoration project. The anti-war movement allied with the Peace Movement had moral and spiritual power. In the Climate Movement we are shown pictures of the beauty of the earth and the losses of the world we and our kin were born into, but mostly to awaken individuals to act. If you love this earth… you will change your habits and join the resistance. Habit change is under the banner: if we all do a little we can do a lot.

With the Climate movement solely a resistance movement and an energy transition movement, we are missing this: the self-nourishing, self-healing, self-restoring, self-generating ecosystems of the earth herself. We are fighting symptoms without an equally massive movement for restoring health where we can – which is immense considering degraded and degrading landscapes.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

“The Story of Soil Is the Story of All of Us”

“The Story of Soil Is the Story of All of Us”

Annie Leonard and Tom Newmark on how they came to see soil as a solution to one of our biggest environmental problems—and as a tool to build more resilient communities.

1. HandsInSoil.jpg

Wendell Berry called it “the great connector of our lives, the source and destination of all.” Ninety-five percent of our food is grown in it, it stores and filters our water and provides a home for the majority of life on the planet, and yet most of us rarely pay much attention to it. We dump poisonous chemicals on it, inject it with synthetic nutrients, slash it with plows, strip it of its natural diversity, and bury our trash in it.

But soil has a story to tell us, and we are all a part of it.

For as long as humans have engaged in agriculture, and even before, we’ve relied on healthy soil and the organisms it supports. And for most of that time, we’ve cultivated good soil. Early societies developed food production systems that actually enhanced soil fertility and food abundance, such as with “terra preta,” or Amazonian dark earth, and the food forests of the Mayans. We planted, harvested, and consumed but also took care to nourish and regenerate.

What changed? At some point, humans started relating to the planet differently, and our emotional and spiritual connection to the earth was severed. Whether the shift happened during the Neolithic Revolution, when humans settled and established agriculture, or the Age of Enlightenment, when nature became viewed as an object to be observed and controlled, the result was a disconnect from nature. We became, in the words of Daniel Quinn in his book Ishmael, “Takers” and not “Leavers.”

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

By Reconnecting With Soil, We Heal the Planet and Ourselves

By Reconnecting With Soil, We Heal the Planet and Ourselves

Enslavement and sharecropping cannot erase thousands of years of Black people’s sacred relationship with the land.

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Dijour Carter refused to get out of the van parked in the gravel driveway at Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, New York. The other teens in his program emerged skeptical, but Dijour lingered in the van with his hood up, headphones on, eyes averted.

There was no way he was going to get mud on his new Jordans and no way he would soil his hands with the dirty work of farming.

I didn’t blame him. Almost without exception, when I ask Black visitors to the farm what they first think of when they see the soil, they respond “slavery” or “plantation.” Our families fled the red clays of Georgia for good reason—the memories of chattel slavery, sharecropping, convict leasing, and lynching were bound up with our relationship to the earth. For many of our ancestors, freedom from terror and separation from the soil were synonymous.

While the adult mentors in Dijour’s summer program were fired up about this field trip to a Black-led farm focused on food justice, Dijour was not on board. I tried to convince him that although the land was the “scene of the crime,” as Chris Bolden Newsome put it, she was never the criminal.

But Dijour was unconvinced. It was only when he saw the group departing on a tour that his fear of being left alone in a forest full of bears overcame his fear of dirt. He joined us, removing his Jordans to protect them from the damp earth and allowing, at last, the soil to make direct contact with the soles of his bare feet.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Book review of Dirt: the erosion of civilization

Book review of Dirt: the erosion of civilization

Preface.  On average civilizations collapsed between 800 to 2,000 years before ruining their soil. Industrial agriculture is doing this far faster – in most of the United States half of the original topsoil is gone and industrial farming techniques erode and compact the land much more than men and horses in the past, further aggravated by large monoculture crops and business owned farmland leased out to farmers who want to make money far more than preserving the land, since they can’t leave the farm to their children.

The bedrock of any civilization is food and water.  So you’d think the top priority of nations throughout history would be ensuring farmers were taking good care of the land right now because this history of erosion is well-known and has been for centuries.

The typical pattern is that at first, only be best soil in the valley bottomland is farmed, then population grows so the slopes are farmed, but the soil washes away into the valley.  Now the bottom land is even more intensely cultivated, which uses the soil up as it keeps growing thinner and depleted of nutrition from continuous farming. And in the end, civilization declines and fails.

Related article: “Peak soil: Industrial agriculture destroys ecosystems and civilizations. Biofuels make it worse“.

***

David R. Montgomery. 2007. Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations.  University of California Press.

Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson commented on how poorly American farmers treated their land.  Washington attributed it to ignorance, Jefferson to greed.  Since the principles of good land management were known for hundreds of years previously in Europe, Jefferson’s harsher view is no doubt the correct one.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The world-changing potential of hot composting

The world-changing potential of hot composting

As long as there have been humans, we have taken the parts of plants we don’t eat and thrown them back onto the soil again, knowing it would turn back into soil to create more plants. Until we modern people came along, that is. 

Now we take our food and seal it away in plastic, so that the only bacteria that can work on them are anoxic bacteria that generate methane – a greenhouse gas about 35 times worse than carbon dioxide. The least we can do, obviously, is to throw compostables into the compost, let the proper critters munch away, and let it alchemically turn into soil again.
Ordinary composting, however, has some disadvantages that every gardener knows well. One can’t simply add bones or meat – and some gardeners even avoid eggshells – for fear of attracting vermin. Also, plants that have gone to seed cannot be added, or the resulting soil will be peppered with the beginning of next year’s weeds. You can’t add diseased plants, or the diseases might remain in the resulting soil, ready to infect next year’s crops. Also, it takes a long time, and one loses much of the kitchen waste volume in the process of rotting down.

Imagine, then, a new kind of composting, one that avoids all these problems at once – no more weed seeds, no more disease, no more vermin. Imagine being able to compost almost everything, and keep the majority of the biomass. Imagine, finally, that it only takes a few weeks.

What makes hot composting work is bacteria; instead of the usual variety of bacteria that breaks down over several months, hot composters find the right balance of materials – more on this in a moment — to attract aerobic, heat-generating bacteria. Then, they oxygenate the soil by turning the compost regularly, and making sure the compost has enough mass – at least 1.5 metres on each side — to retain the heat it generates.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

A Homemade Vegan Version of Natural & Organic Fertilizer

A HOMEMADE VEGAN VERSION OF NATURAL & ORGANIC FERTILIZER

Last year I worked a couple of gardens with a friend/boss, Buck, who has been cultivating these spaces for decades. Though some of his techniques don’t jive with my permaculture sensibilities, such as tilling every year and walking in garden beds, on many things we were in lock-step. For example, once our seedlings had popped up a few inches high, we used leaves that had been piled the previous autumn to mulch the entire garden.

Up until then, I’d been dismayed with the amount of weeding we were doing each week. Once we’d applied the mulch, I asked why we’d not done it from the outset. Buck told me he preferred to keep a closer eye on the young seedlings—It was easier to amend the soil or address obvious issues without mulch being in the way—and thought of the early weeds, many of which were “chopped” into the soil, as nutrients for the plants. At the end of the growing season, he tilled the leaf-mulch into the garden to replace nutrients.

I have to admit, despite being a proponent of no-dig gardens and cultivating soil life (i.e. not killing it with a tiller), Buck’s technique had a lot about it that seemed sustainably conceived. Leaves had to be raked from the lawn and driveway (Buck is a caretaker for these properties) in the autumn; gardens had to be grown in spring. It made a lot of sense to me to do it this way. Other than adding a little soil enhancement to the hole when planting, the garden’s fertility was set-up to cyclically revive itself.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Singing Frogs Farm: The Science Of Healthy Soil

Singing Frogs Farm: The Science Of Healthy Soil

Focus on biology over chemistry

Three years ago, I interviewed Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser about the remarkably effective model being pioneered at their farm, Singing Frogs Farm, a small micro-farm in northern California. It quickly became one of Peak Prosperity’s most popular podcasts of all-time.

Developed over years of combining bio-intensive land/forestry management theory with empirical trial & error, the farming practices at Singing Frogs have produced astounding results.

First off and most important, no tilling of any kind is done to the soil. No pesticide/herbicide/fungicide sprays (organic or otherwise) are used. And the only fertilizer used is natural compost.

These practices result in a build-up of nutrient-dense, highly bio-rich topsoil. Where most farms have less than 12 inches of ‘alive’ topsoil in which they can grow things, Singing Frogs’ extends to a depth over 4 feet(!).

This high-carbon layer of soil retains much more water than conventional topsoil, requiring much less irrigation than used at most farms (a very important factor given the historic drought the West is suffering).

All these advantages combine to enable Singing Frogs Farm to produce 5-7 harvests per year on their land, vs the 1-2 harvest average of other farms. And since the annual crop yield is so much higher, so is the revenue. Most other farms in northern California average $14,000 in gross revenue per acre. Singing Frogs grosses nearly $100,000 per acre — a stunning 5x more.

This week, I sit back down with Paul and Elizabeth to discuss the science behind their latest farming practices & techiniques, the importance of biology over chemistry when it comes to gardening, and the hands-on workshops they offer, and what they think it takes to make a ‘resilient farmer’.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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