They Laugh at Permaculture – Charles Massey and Regenerative Agriculture, Australia

 
The audience laugh at the mention of Charles touring regenerative farms including “even permaculture” at 26 minutes, really highlighting how self-defined “land illiterates” view permaculture. Really they’re laughing at nature.

Here’s some of the pattern damage that these land illiterates create during drought here in Australia, notice the green photosynthesising trees spotted amongst the bare brown monoculture landscapes, trees that shade, drop biomass, that form dew, create microclimates, cool air, lead to greater rainfall, and pump water from the deep, trees that form habitats when farms are managed:

Here’s the People’s definition on Wikipedia of Permaculture for any land illiterates:

Permaculture is a system of agricultural and social design principles centered around simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems.

And here’s one of Bill Mollison’s definitions listed there, I say one because if you’ve ever seen him laugh and cackle when defining permaculture, he always did so in a way as to challenge that square food inside your head:

“Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labour; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system.”

Go here to see Bill talking the tropics, dry lands, cool climates and urban areas.

Lastly I’d like to highlight this quote from Charles at the beginning

“Actually 70% of the worlds food comes from peasant based farming with less than 5 acres.”

And also highlight the role of women, peasant or first world often working off farm just to make these farms sustainable, let alone regenerative.
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Restoring Construction Soils with Compost, Earthworms and Plants

Urban soils at the scene of construction where subsoil has been brought to the surface, mixed or that have had the topsoil removed and construction materials like sand, stone, brick etc. embedded in them can pose a challenge to regenerate. Stabilising these soils such that rain and flood doesn’t cause erosion is also an important task.

To help understand what contributes to soil aggregate formation and the stability of these soils researchers studied the “Interactive effects of compost, plants and earthworms on the aggregations of constructed Technosols” and found increasing amounts of compost needed increasing amounts of plants or earthworms to make a difference.

Aggregation is an important physical process to study during the early formation of Technosols. It is known to be influenced both by the organic matter content and soil biota. Constructed Technosols represent good models to test the importance of these factors since their composition can be easily manipulated by mixing different proportions of parent materials and introducing soil organisms. In this study, we performed a 5 month mesocosm experiment, using excavated deep horizons of soils (EDH) as mineral material mixed with green waste compost (GWC) at six different proportions (from 0 to 50%) in the presence or absence of plants and/or earthworms. After 21 weeks of incubation, aggregation was characterized by: 1) determining the size fraction and morphology, 2) measuring the distribution of organic carbon (OC) in each fraction and 3) testing the aggregate stability. Results showed that organisms accounted for 50% of soil aggregation variance while green waste compost (GWC) was responsible for only 5% of the variance. The percentage of total variance of OC distribution in aggregates explained by organisms, GWC, and the interaction of the two was similar (28%, 22% and 26%, respectively). The effect of GWC on structural stability was negligible (2%) compared to that of organisms (70%). The effect of earthworms combination with plants was complex: plants had a dominant effect on the distribution of the size of aggregates by disrupting earthworm casts, but earthworms had a dominant effect over plants for aggregate stability under fast wetting only when the percentage of compost was low. This study underlines the importance of considering the interaction of the organic matter and soil biota: in this case, increasing compost proportion in a Technosol has significant effects on aggregation only in the presence of plants or earthworms.

Interactive effects of compost, plants and earthworms on the aggregations of constructed Technosols

Farm Managed Natural Regeneration

This picture is an example of what can be achieved by managing existing trees that have been over harvested by man that still have large roots hidden below the surface. These trees are managed for regrowth. And the picture is from desert to regrowth in four years. The tree then created microclimates under the trees that increased yields.

Screenshot from 2017-06-29 04-13-43.png

Reforesting 5 Million+ Hectares in the Desert: Tony Rinaudo’s FMNR from Raleigh Latham on Vimeo.

Using Dried Topsoil and Subsoil to Kickstart Nutrient Cycling

Nature’s Voice

When the microbes aren’t doing the work because they’re not being watered, housed and fed well, some farmers do that work for them.

In the video from India they explain how they use dried topsoil and subsoil for fertigating their crops via foliar spray. This has multiple effects, the first is providing soluble and insoluble nutrients to the plant surfaces for plants, microbes and sunlight to break them down, and second is adding to existing topsoil where more active microbes may utilise them.

However care should be taken as many clays from subsoils are known to have antibiotic effects, even on superbugs, and the application of foliar sprays with these clays has been shown to eliminate some plant pests and diseases. Many subsoils also have low pH that make kill some microbes.

So on one hand applying subsoil may be supplying nutrients and could increase productivity, and this appears to be the case in India. On the other and depending on the soil it could initially be killing the plant and soil microbes that produce them. This can potentially break the natural cycle and make this a system that requires continuous human intervention.

In the video they recommend 3:1 dried topsoil to dried subsoil in their foliar spray, with that increasing in subsoil content to 1:3 for disease eradication.

Every 10 days or even weekly…

They are effectively mining the soil to liquid feed the plants for continuous cropping.

Whether this is sustainable or even regenerative is a good question.

Does this practice build soil over time? Could it? Is that building as much as they excavate and does it compensate for the energy used to distribute those nutrients? They do mention increased plant nutrients, but I’m not sure if they also tested the soils.

On one hand the drying of soils is effectively hunting and killing microbes and their mucilages for their nutrients, on the other you get increased productivity. It’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul, which is the best investment? The same applies to killing off plant predators with foliar spraying, effectively feeding the plants with dead microbes and dead soil.

But perhaps this produces more plant exudates that produce more symbiotic root microbes to kickstart nutrient cycling above the level in the root zone needed to build soil rather than consume it?

If done in combination with diverse cover cropping and chop and drop to provide a cover and food for the soil I can see it being a useful tool to help get back to letting nature do the work, instead of the farmer.I think of this in the same way as I think of tillage. Initial minimal tillage can kickstart a system faster towards a regenerative approach by decompacting soils and releasing nutrients for plants to establish and grow and photosynthesise thereby feeding more microbes that build soil and reduce soil density.

Adrianna MarchandIn a lot of ways it also reminds me of the Soilkee Renovator. Here they only disturb strips of the topsoil and bring organic matter to the soil surface to dry and oxidise it, thereby¬†killing microbes and releasing their nutrients and mucilages to feed the soil and surviving plants. And from results I’ve seen it reduces initial organic matter and trades it for soluble nutrients that feeds the microbes that produces plant available nitrogen and other nutrients. Thereby generating a burst of fresh growth and photosynthesis. It also appears to recover that lost organic matter over about a year. So not something you’d want to do regularly but it certainly could help kickstart nutrient cycling, especially where they trialled as they had existing high carbon levels. The effect is likely similar to that seen when soils dry and rewet and produce CO2-bursts.There’s hope these farmers will eventually use any additional fertility to transition to a more regenerative farming approach. That this could be a tool in the regenerative farmers toolbox when they have little initial nutrient cycling to help get started, but it’s also open to abuse when misunderstood.
It’s important to keep in mind too that tilling kills off fungi and earthworms, and so using any technique that disturbs soil should be minimised.In situations when access to organic matter is limited I can see these approaches helping get an initial crop in the ground to then be regeneratively managed. On the other hand where there is plenty of organic matter and soil moisture a no dig approach may be more appropriate.