Episode 221. From Errors Comes Knowledge

This is the World Organic News for the week ending 6th of  July 2020.

Jon Moore reporting!

Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!

Let me begin with a big “Hola” to Aristo in Tijuana for your kind message on the World Organic News Facebook page. I really do appreciate the feedback. Thanks mate.

Now to this week’s fare.


Spontaneous combustion is a common occurrence when storing woodchip for extended periods of time. Typically after a few weeks of storage with a high moisture content, the risk of spontaneous combustion is significant and must be considered. Spontaneous combustion is also a consideration in Hay, Straw, Cotton, Sugar Cane waste piles and compost piles. Early detection and prevention of spontaneous combustion is critical in order to prevent a serious incident occurring.

End Quote

That quote is from an article entitled: WOODCHIP STOCK PILE SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION EARLY DETECTION on the Industrial Monitoring & Control site.

Can you guess what error occurred? 

About five weeks ago we received a donation of wood chips, a full truck load. We had them dumped onto a space we keep for these sorts of things.The last load from 18 months ago is now deep rich black compost. 

This last week we decided to have a bonfire of material next to the wood chips, a safe distance from them but nearby. As the bonfire started the smoke started to drift towards the wood chips. It was then the groundskeeper and I noticed what appeared to be smoke coming from the wood chips. On investigation this was the case.

I scraped the top off and the smoke ceased. The next morning at about 0815 I checked the pile and it seemed to still be ok. By 1030 it was smoking again. The two fellas I had as clients that day and I grabbed rakes and slowly but determinedly pulled the pile apart. From two and half metres high, three metres wide and five long we pulled it down to one by five by eight metres. 

As we did so I noticed the material where the heat was greatest. We were making charcoal, possibly even biochar. This is good. We have two twenty metre long polytunnels to build garden beds in over the next three months. Once the pile is fully cooled and watered down to ensure it’s safe we’ll add the “charcoalized” wood chips over a cardboard layer and start adding compost and vermicompost over that. A biochar/hugelkultur hybrid so to speak.

From an error comes the solution to another problem. This is a variation on the old Bill Mollison thought that waste is just a resource in the wrong place. You know the sort of thing. Huge manure pools next to dairy feedlots that pollute the groundwater and the air when the manures could be run through a biodigester to provide an even better soil amendment and methane for cooking, heating and light. Of course, the cows could just be regeneratively grazed on the pastures and the soils improved that way but we work with what we have.

I just started listening to a series on regen ag. Government funded and independently produced. All the usual stuff about rotational grazing with an eye on the pasture and what’s best for that.

But and this is a big but, the emphasis on photosynthesis we covered back in episodes 217 and 218 has been enlightening. They basically covered the material of those episodes, diversity of plantings, continuous green coverage and so on but there was one item that blew my mind. 

So they farmers de-stock ahead of their neighbours. Thinking of the pastures and the soil during a drought. This particular fella was both in drought and hit by the bushfires during our last summer. Flames 10 metres high and so on. The organic matter in the soil appearing to burn and the future looking glum.

A week after the fires had passed through his dry and almost denuded property he noticed feed beginning to grow. There had been no rain. He called for help to explain what was occurring. The gist of it went like this: The fire had burnt the hummus, the hummus released hydrogen in the process which combined with oxygen in the atmosphere to produce H20 that is, water. The seeds within the soil that survived the burn sprouted. Now this property had been run regeneratively for about ten years and the farmer had focused the entirety of his efforts in that time to building soil carbon but not just any soil carbon. He’d focused on growing living soil carbon: hummus. And this was the difference between his land’s reaction to fire and the chemically farmed neighbouring properties. They did not have hummus in the soils. 

You will recall that pouring artificial N onto land breaks the link between the plant and the microbes as the N is available as a quick hit. This leads to the death or, at least, significant reduction in the quantity of soil microbiota. This was an unexpected benefit from regen ag nobody I can find had thought of.

Later on in the program, I heard, in an Australian accent, something that could have come straight out of Masanobu Fukuoka’s mouth: The soil is always trying to regenerate itself, we just have to learn to get out of the way and let it happen. Not dissimilar to: What less can I do? It gave this podcaster’s heart some hope.

Despite the world being as it is right now, the Climate situation which hasn’t taken any time off, the fires in Siberia and California remind us of this, and after the droughts of this millennium, the fires here last summer, the COVID19 effect and who knows what next, there is some genuine hope. We can get this sorted by letting the naturally evolved systems do what they are driven to do if we stop “helping” quite so much.

And with that it only remains for me to say:

There’s a link to a Udemy course in the show notes entitled “Growing a No-Dig Garden” if you’d like some more formal assistance in your gardening. You can also go to or send people to Episode 207 where I discuss growing a quick response garden to get yours happening swiftly.

Remember in this unusual time, if we put in the ground work now, we can all change the world, even if its only a little bit to start with and we will begin the process of: 

Decarbonising the air, recarbonising the soil!

Thank you all for listening and I’ll be back next week.




Growing a No-Dig Garden on Udemy


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World Organic News

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Episode 207




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