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Olduvai III: Catacylsm
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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.

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The Polyculture Market Garden Study–Results From Year 4–2018



In this post you will find an overview of the trial garden and the polycultures we are growing, a description of what we record and the 4th year results from the trial. You can find results from previous seasons here.

First of all we’d like to say a huge thank you to the team of volunteers that joined us for the study this year and that make it possible for us to carry out our experiments and research. It was a pleasure to work together with you. Thank you Victoria Bezhitashvili, Angela Rice, Malcolm Cannon, Elise Bijl, Alex Camilleri, Daniel Stradner, Emilce Nonquepan, Ezekiel Orba and Chris Kirby Lambert.

It was a great a mix of people from all over the world including university students, a crypto fund manager, ex-nintendo web editor and market gardeners. Thank you all for your valuable input, it was our pleasure to host you and we look forward to seeing you again some day.

The Polyculture Study 2018 Team


Location: Bulgaria, Shipka
​Climate: Temperate
Köppen Climate Classification – Dfc borderline Cfb
USDA Hardiness Zone: 5b – 7a
Latitude: 42°
Elevation: 565 m
Average Annual Rainfall: 588.5 mm
Prevailing Wind: NW & NE
Garden Name: Aponia – Polyculture Market Garden


The six longer beds in the left hand corner of the photo on the right (the Aceaes) are the trial beds, the focus of this study.You can find the location of the Polyculture Market Garden on google maps here (labelled as Aponia on our Project map)

Garden area: 256.8 m2
Cultivated beds area: 165.6 m2
Paths: 50 cm wide – 91.2 m2
Bed Dimensions – 23 m x 1.2 m  Area – 27.6 m2 per bed
Number of beds: 6

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Understanding Biological Farming: A Simplified Understanding of ‘Compost Tea’ a Plant and Soil Probiotic


In ideal soil ecosystems, we would have dramatically different soil and certainly a dramatically different level of ‘made made’ toxins. In an ideal soil environment, we would expect our topsoil to contain 10% organic matter, and would also expect to have literally thousands of species of bacteria and hundreds of species of fungi. In most soils today, we often have a humus content of less than 1% with just a few hundred species of bacteria (including plant pathogens) and less than 100 species of fungi (including plant pathogens) this is often due to poor soil management including the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. Poor soil management is simply a matter of misunderstanding the importance of building living soils.

The lack of a large diversity of bacteria and fungi in our soils affects plant health and production dramatically because plants naturally have a very close symbiotic relationship with the soil biology. Plants depend on bacteria, fungi, worms, bugs, and beetles, and larger animals to help provide and digest their food for them. Plants don’t digest minerals by themselves; they either depend on a complex relationship of soil biology to provide their nutritional and health needs or they depend on often toxic ‘artificial’ soluble fertilizers and pesticides to provide for their food and health needs. The first is natural and depends on natural processes, the second is increasingly expensive, more difficult to manage and defeats natural soil fertility processes.

In healthy soil with good organic matter and a healthy biology, a soil food web is created. How this works is that the plants exude ‘exudates’ from their roots, these are simple sugars, proteins and carbohydrates in many different forms, which then trigger responses from the soil biology. The bacteria, protozoa, beneficial nematodes and fungi respond to these triggers to provide the plants with nutrition and to protect plants from disease.

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Save Our Soils

IMG_9379 feat


Less than thirty per cent of the world’s topsoil remains in fair or acceptable condition. The fragility of this vital layer can be illustrated through a simple comparison: if one imagines the earth as an orange, the extremely thin topsoil layer is no thicker than the shine on the skin of that orange. An astonishing variety of creatures rely on this ‘shine’ for all of their basic necessities.

Our growing knowledge about soil has formed the basis of new soil services, soil analyses, and many well-intended soil conservation attempts, yet we are still losing soil at an ever-increasing rate. If this trend continues for much longer, our current form of society will eventually collapse – and mainly as a result of practices as simple as over tilling.

At the same time, soil is being damaged irreparably by salinisation, for example resulting from the clear-cutting of forests that are often far away. There are only a few places in natural systems in which soils are well conserved: uncut forests; under shallow lakes and ponds; native grasslands populated by perennials; and mulched and non-tillage agricultural production systems.

Image Courtesy of Nadia Lawton
Image Courtesy of Nadia Lawton


Although this situation may seem extremely gloomy, there is hope in the form of numerous sustainable approaches to soil reconditioning, maintenance and rehabilitation. Surprisingly, amateur gardeners and farmers – not scientists with big fancy labs and federal research grants – are doing most of the real research. Moreover, these people are achieving results: creating high quality soil through water control, modest aeration, and the assemblage of specific plants and animals. And this is done with careful consideration of the sequence of these treatments.

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What Are Effective Microorganisms?



Effective Microorganisms (EM) are mixed cultures of beneficial naturally-occurring organisms that can be applied as inoculants to increase the microbial diversity of soil ecosystem. They consist mainly of the photosynthesizing bacteria, lactic acid bacteria, yeasts, actinomycetes and fermenting fungi. These microorganisms are physiologically compatible with one another and can coexist in liquid culture. There is evidence that EM inoculation to the soil can improve the quality of soil, plant growth and yield (Kengo and Hui-lian, 2000).


Photo courtesy of Nadia Lawton. Taken at PRI Zaytuna Farm.
Photo courtesy of Nadia Lawton. Taken at PRI Zaytuna Farm.

Healthy soil ecology has the capability of protecting plants against soil associated diseases caused by pathogenic microorganisms and parasites. The soil system offers this protection through a balanced relationship between pathogenic and billions of beneficial microorganisms working together in synergy. The presence of these beneficial microorganisms in any soil system is what precisely distinguishes a “living soil” from a “dead soil”. They decompose and ferment organic fraction of the soil system converting it into humus containing nutrients while releasing hormones that facilitate plant growth. They are responsible for providing hormones, nutrients and minerals in a useable form to the plants through the root system. In addition, they bring together soil particles in the soil structure enabling it to retain nutrients and moisture (Kengo and Hui-lian, 2000).

Soil ecosystem can therefore be regarded as a “living system” costing of diverse groups of microorganisms. For this reason, farmers had long before been using animal manures, composts and “compost tea” which is a liquid extract of compost that also contains plant growth compounds and beneficial microorganisms. These mixtures could then be applied to soil and crops to improve the soil quality and help protect crop plants against microbiological infections (Ghosh et al., 2004).

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Food Sovereignty

Food Sovereignty

‘Food sovereignty’ is fast becoming a lost concept; the right to have the knowledge and resources to grow our own food is an essential right. If we don’t have access to nutrient dense organic food, then where do we get the essential energy to heal our body, mind and spirit certainly not from the supermarket where the average ‘fresh food’, in Australia food often travels more than 1000klms from farm to plate? The value of the ‘sprout jar’, the home garden, or locally grown organics is vastly underrated, these are some of the rare places where we get not just food that fills but food that heals.

Organics combined with living soils works to redefine ‘sustainable agriculture’ as: ‘Our ability to build fertility as we improve production and reduce input costs’

One of the major global demands we face today is the heavily depleted state of our soil. The past few decades have seen an unprecedented demand on natural resources from modern agriculture, and this demand has proven to be unsustainable. Modern agriculture is artificially stripping the soil of its long-term nutrients to such extremes that we are essentially eating our grandchildren’s food and leaving behind an agricultural wasteland as a primary burden for future generations.

Current modern agricultural practice is based on a military approach where the first response to imbalance in the productive system is to kill something. In a biological system our first response is to add life, so that ‘Nature can do what Nature does best’, create balance in our productive systems.

One of the primary ways to do this is through the production of specialist compost that is rich in plant nutrient and has a high diversity of beneficial soil microorganisms. This diversity and richness supports the balance and vitality of the growing system by empowering the natural processes rather than overriding them.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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