Women in Agroecology Leadership for Conservation, Guatemala


The Soil Carbon Sponge

Interesting talk. Regarding too many trees, I saw this today in my news: Billions of gallons of water saved by thinning forests | NSF
I will reserve my judgement on until I can find the paper they refer to. 🙂

I have read previously that during drought water stressed trees exhale more carbon than they consume. I recently read that _any_ amount of selective logging harms freshwater fish diversity, and I assume the same with large fires and extra water run-off. The carbon from fires is also washed down hill and collects in troughs and the land becomes nitrogen and phosphorous deficient.

On soil carbon; the highest natural soil organic carbon recorded that I know about so far is in a protected bay in Sweden growing sea grass. When the grass dies it gets buried in the anaerobic sediment and stays there a long time aided by the bay being well protected from nutrients being washed out to sea.

Roots sequester on average five times more carbon than aboveground biomass litter.

From other research I’ve read, plants with long, thin, and deep roots sequester the most soil carbon over the whole soil profile. And the deeper the roots go, the longer the carbon is sequested and the more energy is required by microbes to utilize it. Ultimately the dissolved organic matter may be washed out of soil profile and end up in rivers and the ocean where it is consumed by bioluminescent cyanobacteria, apparently these are the most abundant carbon fixers of the ocean, and the carbon eventually ends up in sea monsters.

A 600 farm Victorian soil carbon study found rainfall was by far the biggest factor for soil carbon, something like 80%, followed by soil bulk density and pH, all pretty much irrespective of land management practice. So anything to improve those especially in compacted surfaces will help. I’ve seen one study show compost teas improve soil bulk density and water infiltration, but so do water treatment practices like Puricare that oxidize bore water prior to irrigation. Another Victorian study showed subsurface manuring with a C:N below 25:1 was most effective in reducing bulk density and improving pH so long as there was enough soil moisture for the microbes to break the material down. A preliminary microbiome subsoil manuring study found it’s the nutrient ratios that matter, not whether they’re organic or inorganic, and that most microbes are in the soil, they just need the right mix to begin cycling it.
There’s data showing bacterial and fungal abundance increase linearly up to at least 4% soil organic carbon, with fungal diversity tapering off at 3%.  Microbial diversity has also been shown to determine nutrient cycling and soil testing with Solvita CO2 test can determine respiration.
The SoilKee Renovator has been shown to increase nutrient cycling through oxidation and increased dissolved organic matter at the initial expense of soil carbon by bringing strips of pasture roots and soil to the surface.
Small predators like arthropods are also important for soil carbon sequestration, however Regenerative Farming has become a real buzzword for larger animal management practices. Most studies I’ve read show they are only appropriate in context with appropriate rainfall, soil moisture and existing soil carbon. David Johnson has shown that about 3% soil organic matter is needed before plants put more carbon into the soil than they take out, and that optimum plant productivity happens at a fungal to bacterial ratio of about 3:1. This is because fungi and plants and higher carbon life forms being eukaryotes require more carbon to build their cells as opposed to prokaryotic bacteria.

Reforesting the Desert with Jurriaan Ruys’s Wicking Cocoon

The cocoons appear to be paper pulp covered in an organic wax, and uses rope wicks a lot like David A. Bainbridge has done in the past.

Land Life CEO Jurriaan Ruys explains how the Cocoon works

Land Life Company – Website

Plantation Forest Carbon Farming

Here Darryl advocates plantation forests with regular planting and harvesting of trees after their vegetative growth phase, around 25 years in his example. The harvested material would then be made into biochar and amended into these forest soils to increase soil carbon and growth rates of subsequent plantings.

sigmoid growth curve

On one hand this sounds like rotational or holistic grazing where fields are divided and livestock intensively grazes (fells) and manures (biochars) the soil, and is then moved on.  Thereby allowing enough time between grazing for fields to recover, and for plants to benefit from the manures and spend more time in the vegetative growth phase sequestering more carbon.

Only, this is basically clear felling whereas rotational grazing is more like forest thinning if I understand it correctly. If only we still had dinosaurs to thin and manage our forests for us, or alternatively robots that were economically viable.

One issue I see with the clear felling apart from the ecological, diversity and hydrological problems it creates – is the subsequent seedling growth stage where you aren’t maximising canopy area in order to maximise photosynthesis and carbon sequestration.

One solution may be thinning and forest management, and he does mention thinning but never delves into the details.

That brings me to one of the issues he mentions about the cost of making biochar commercially and that made me think about my field Terra Preta interpretation of how the Amazonians might have made it buried in soil, but again that’s clear felling, and probably wouldn’t pass the EPA…

I also wondered what a biochar retort might look like in place around a standing tree… just for fun.

I also wonder if something similar can this be done as a polyculture or as or in combination with a food forest at scale while increase ecosystem diversity and at the same time sequestering carbon through management.

But, no doubt “scale” and “performance” is the issue, and commercially it comes down to what is “economically viable” under the “carbon market” rules and can be done today.

His comment on subsoil carbon is interesting: “It’s more expensive to monitor it and measure it, than it’s worth.”