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"The Top 8 Inches of Soil"-- History Lesson: A Voice from the Past

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  • Robert Monie
    Hi All, Time out for a snapshot from the history of sustainable gardening/farming. Over 50 Years ago, the famously successful British vegan vegetable grower
    Message 1 of 6 , Feb 13, 2008
      Hi All,

      Time out for a snapshot from the history of sustainable gardening/farming. Over 50 Years ago, the famously successful British vegan vegetable grower Rosa Dalziel O'Brien said this (in "Intensive Gardening" published by Faber and Faber):

      "...in the top eight inches of any soil there are sufficient plant-food elements available for a hundred years' cropping--that is in any normal soil on which one is likely to grow vegetables--but below that lie even greater reserves (p. 18).

      Dalziel used vetch grown alongside the veggies as compost. The nutrition was not hauled in as veggie waste from afar; it was pulled up from the soil and fed to the plants by the living soil food web. Terra Preta fans, take note: Dalziel also applied a thin layer of soot (very fine-powdered carbon somethng like the "bootblack" once used to dye leather) between the layers of her compost heap and sometimes in her soil. She made no special claims for the soot--no magic, no fuss--it just seemed to help somehow to produce overall fertility in the soil and health in the veggies.

      Elliot Coleman (who took over Scott Nearing's old farm) describes Dalziel's vegan enterprise as "a meticulously efficient market garden." In other words, she managed to make money selling produce from it.

      Bob Monie
      New Orleans, LA 70119
      Zone 8


      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • Dieter Brand
      ... Soil fertility obviously depends on soil type and history, and many soils don’t even have 8” of topsoil. But even if we start with a very fertile
      Message 2 of 6 , Feb 13, 2008
        >"...in the top eight inches of any soil there are sufficient plant-food
        >elements available for a hundred years' cropping--that is in any
        >normal soil on which one is likely to grow vegetables-- but below
        >that lie even greater reserves” (Rosa Dalziel O'Brien, Intensive
        >Gardening, p. 18).


        Soil fertility obviously depends on soil type and history, and many
        soils don’t even have 8” of topsoil. But even if we start with a very
        fertile virgin soil, there will be a noticeable drop in fertility already
        after a couple of years of ploughing and cropping. And if fertility
        is not replenished by an intelligent farming method, the farmer will
        have to move to another place after 10 to 20 years. That is farming
        by slashing and burning practiced in the early days.

        Hence, the question is how to farm? John’s way of gathering mulch
        is certainly a good way of recycling biomass in a wasteful society
        that considers organic matter as “waste”. Not all societies can afford
        to be that wasteful, and Fukuoka’s continuous crop rotation for
        replenishing fertility and at the same time growing food is to be
        preferred as a general model. How to adapt it to different climates
        is another question.

        >... The nutrition was not hauled in as veggie waste from afar; it was
        >pulled up from the soil and fed to the plants by the living soil food web.

        According to Arden Anderson, most plant nutrients, about 80%, come
        from the air. This was discussed on another ML not long ago. It
        doesn’t really matter if this figure is accurate or not since it depends
        anyway on local conditions such as soil, crop, climate, soil management
        and the like. What is important is that a substantial amount of plant
        nutrients come from the air and that, provided sufficient residues are
        returned to the soil, nutrients from the air will continuously enrich the
        soil as long as there is plant coverage. This leads one to the conclusion
        that soil coverage by a living mulch is preferred over a dead mulch.

        Dieter Brand
        Portugal



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      • Robert Monie
        Hi Dieter, I agree completely that soil coverage by a living mulch is preferred over a dead mulch. Fukuoka s farming method is essentially a living mulch
        Message 3 of 6 , Feb 13, 2008
          Hi Dieter,

          I agree completely that "soil coverage by a living mulch is preferred over a dead mulch." Fukuoka's farming method is essentially a living mulch one. There is no way to "do Fukuoka" with just a dead mulch. Arden Anderson is partly correct about what in Newman Turner's time was called the "gaseous effluvia" of nutrient cycling in the air or some such term, but Anderson needs to talk to Wes Jackson about the importance of deep root nutrition also. Perennials don't need as much fertilizer from above at least partly because of their root systems. I believe that Wes will maintain that you can breed two plants exactly the same size above the ground, but have one with the roots typical of an annual and the other with the roots typical of a perennial, and the perennial will need less added fertilizer from above. Wes's hybrids designed to give annual food crops the staying power of perennials deserve great attention. See also Robert Kourick's recent book, "Roots Demystified:
          Change Your Garden Habits to Make Roots Thrive." No doubt that plant nutrition is from above and below, at root, stem, leaf (and some would add aura)--full of secrets yet to be discovered.

          Bob Monie
          New Orleans, LA
          Zone 8

          Dieter Brand <diebrand@...> wrote:
          >"...in the top eight inches of any soil there are sufficient plant-food
          >elements available for a hundred years' cropping--that is in any
          >normal soil on which one is likely to grow vegetables-- but below
          >that lie even greater reserves” (Rosa Dalziel O'Brien, Intensive
          >Gardening, p. 18).

          Soil fertility obviously depends on soil type and history, and many
          soils don’t even have 8” of topsoil. But even if we start with a very
          fertile virgin soil, there will be a noticeable drop in fertility already
          after a couple of years of ploughing and cropping. And if fertility
          is not replenished by an intelligent farming method, the farmer will
          have to move to another place after 10 to 20 years. That is farming
          by slashing and burning practiced in the early days.

          Hence, the question is how to farm? John’s way of gathering mulch
          is certainly a good way of recycling biomass in a wasteful society
          that considers organic matter as “waste”. Not all societies can afford
          to be that wasteful, and Fukuoka’s continuous crop rotation for
          replenishing fertility and at the same time growing food is to be
          preferred as a general model. How to adapt it to different climates
          is another question.

          >... The nutrition was not hauled in as veggie waste from afar; it was
          >pulled up from the soil and fed to the plants by the living soil food web.

          According to Arden Anderson, most plant nutrients, about 80%, come
          from the air. This was discussed on another ML not long ago. It
          doesn’t really matter if this figure is accurate or not since it depends
          anyway on local conditions such as soil, crop, climate, soil management
          and the like. What is important is that a substantial amount of plant
          nutrients come from the air and that, provided sufficient residues are
          returned to the soil, nutrients from the air will continuously enrich the
          soil as long as there is plant coverage. This leads one to the conclusion
          that soil coverage by a living mulch is preferred over a dead mulch.

          Dieter Brand
          Portugal


          ---------------------------------
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          [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]






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        • Dieter Brand
          Bob, I only read a couple of short pieces on Wes Jackson, which left me with the impression that he was trying to develop a perennial grain crop. But from what
          Message 4 of 6 , Feb 15, 2008
            Bob,

            I only read a couple of short pieces on Wes Jackson, which left me with
            the impression that he was trying to develop a perennial grain crop. But
            from what you say that is not the case. Anyway, I never heard that he
            succeeded or that any of the crops he developed were grown on a
            commercial scale. There is of course the problem of the market if you
            develop a new grain crop. Bakers use wheat to make bread and not
            a newly developed grain however advantageous otherwise.

            Dieter


            Robert Monie <bobm20001@...> wrote:
            Hi Dieter,

            I agree completely that "soil coverage by a living mulch is preferred over a dead mulch." Fukuoka's farming method is essentially a living mulch one. There is no way to "do Fukuoka" with just a dead mulch. Arden Anderson is partly correct about what in Newman Turner's time was called the "gaseous effluvia" of nutrient cycling in the air or some such term, but Anderson needs to talk to Wes Jackson about the importance of deep root nutrition also. Perennials don't need as much fertilizer from above at least partly because of their root systems. I believe that Wes will maintain that you can breed two plants exactly the same size above the ground, but have one with the roots typical of an annual and the other with the roots typical of a perennial, and the perennial will need less added fertilizer from above. Wes's hybrids designed to give annual food crops the staying power of perennials deserve great attention. See also Robert Kourick's recent book, "Roots Demystified:
            Change Your Garden Habits to Make Roots Thrive." No doubt that plant nutrition is from above and below, at root, stem, leaf (and some would add aura)--full of secrets yet to be discovered.

            Bob Monie
            New Orleans, LA
            Zone 8

            Dieter Brand <diebrand@...> wrote:
            >"...in the top eight inches of any soil there are sufficient plant-food
            >elements available for a hundred years' cropping--that is in any
            >normal soil on which one is likely to grow vegetables-- but below
            >that lie even greater reserves” (Rosa Dalziel O'Brien, Intensive
            >Gardening, p. 18).

            Soil fertility obviously depends on soil type and history, and many
            soils don’t even have 8” of topsoil. But even if we start with a very
            fertile virgin soil, there will be a noticeable drop in fertility already
            after a couple of years of ploughing and cropping. And if fertility
            is not replenished by an intelligent farming method, the farmer will
            have to move to another place after 10 to 20 years. That is farming
            by slashing and burning practiced in the early days.

            Hence, the question is how to farm? John’s way of gathering mulch
            is certainly a good way of recycling biomass in a wasteful society
            that considers organic matter as “waste”. Not all societies can afford
            to be that wasteful, and Fukuoka’s continuous crop rotation for
            replenishing fertility and at the same time growing food is to be
            preferred as a general model. How to adapt it to different climates
            is another question.

            >... The nutrition was not hauled in as veggie waste from afar; it was
            >pulled up from the soil and fed to the plants by the living soil food web.

            According to Arden Anderson, most plant nutrients, about 80%, come
            from the air. This was discussed on another ML not long ago. It
            doesn’t really matter if this figure is accurate or not since it depends
            anyway on local conditions such as soil, crop, climate, soil management
            and the like. What is important is that a substantial amount of plant
            nutrients come from the air and that, provided sufficient residues are
            returned to the soil, nutrients from the air will continuously enrich the
            soil as long as there is plant coverage. This leads one to the conclusion
            that soil coverage by a living mulch is preferred over a dead mulch.

            Dieter Brand
            Portugal

            ---------------------------------
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            [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

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          • Jeff
            ... with the impression that he was trying to develop a perennial grain crop. But from what you say that is not the case. Anyway, I never heard that he
            Message 5 of 6 , Feb 15, 2008
              >
              > I only read a couple of short pieces on Wes Jackson, which left me
              with the impression that he was trying to develop a perennial grain
              crop. But from what you say that is not the case. Anyway, I never
              heard that he succeeded or that any of the crops he developed were
              grown on a commercial scale. There is of course the problem of the
              market if you develop a new grain crop. Bakers use wheat to make
              bread and not a newly developed grain however advantageous otherwise.
              >
              Wes Jackson realizes that it will take a long time for perrenial crops
              to develop. His time frame is 75-150 years. THis is of course a lot
              better than the thousands of years it took fro convential crops.

              He is working on a perrenial sunflower (for oil).
              This is from the natural perrenial Maximillian Sunflower.
              He has recently obtained gerplasm from the USDA working on
              crossbreeding naitive perrenial with annual sunflower to increase
              disease resistance ane enhance oil qualities.

              He is working on perrenial wheat.
              Some of the project is workign with intermediate wheatgrass (triga)
              and others are hybrids with various cereals (rye, durum, wheat etc).
              In the hybrids they are having problems with fertility, specifically
              the number of chromosomes between plants is different. The triga stock
              is from roadale institues intial trial. Triga is the closest to
              commercial, but it still several generations off.

              ALso on the plate are perrenial corn and eastern gama grass (this is
              not being persued heavily at this time).
              Perrenial sorguhm (hybrids with johnson grass). Limited sucess so far.

              Making rosinweed (silphium intergifolium) into a high yeilding oil
              seed. (limited success so far)

              They are working with Illinois Bundflower for a legume like grain.
              The have the yeilds, the non-shattering and loss of bitterness are the
              keys to making this a commercial possibility.
            • Dieter Brand
              Jeff, Thanks for that update on Wes Jackson s work. I somewhat suspected that these things do take a lot of time. Would be great if it could work, reduce
              Message 6 of 6 , Feb 16, 2008
                Jeff,

                Thanks for that update on Wes Jackson's work. I somewhat suspected
                that these things do take a lot of time. Would be great if it could work,
                reduce farming operations to harvesting, no ploughing or disking, no sowing,
                nothing, just harvesting. Wonder why people didn't think of that earlier.

                Dieter

                Jeff <shultonus@...> wrote:
                >
                Wes Jackson realizes that it will take a long time for perrenial crops
                to develop. His time frame is 75-150 years. THis is of course a lot
                better than the thousands of years it took fro convential crops.

                He is working on a perrenial sunflower (for oil).
                This is from the natural perrenial Maximillian Sunflower.
                He has recently obtained gerplasm from the USDA working on
                crossbreeding naitive perrenial with annual sunflower to increase
                disease resistance ane enhance oil qualities.

                He is working on perrenial wheat.
                Some of the project is workign with intermediate wheatgrass (triga)
                and others are hybrids with various cereals (rye, durum, wheat etc).
                In the hybrids they are having problems with fertility, specifically
                the number of chromosomes between plants is different. The triga stock
                is from roadale institues intial trial. Triga is the closest to
                commercial, but it still several generations off.

                ALso on the plate are perrenial corn and eastern gama grass (this is
                not being persued heavily at this time).
                Perrenial sorguhm (hybrids with johnson grass). Limited sucess so far.

                Making rosinweed (silphium intergifolium) into a high yeilding oil
                seed. (limited success so far)

                They are working with Illinois Bundflower for a legume like grain.
                The have the yeilds, the non-shattering and loss of bitterness are the
                keys to making this a commercial possibility.


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