Episode 25: Composting, Truffles and Killer Herbicides

This is the World Organic News Podcast for the week ending 18th of July 2016.

Jon Moore reporting!

This week we focus on the soil! More particularly building soil and allowing soil to create the interconnections we never see from above ground. We are in effect, attempting to create a change underground.

The first post this week, refers to a slightly different way of making compost. The blog orlandoseednsoil posted on the art of “core” composting. The idea here is to use two wire “barrels” as compost bins. The inner has a higher temperature and the outer acts as insulation for the inner. It is an interesting approach if a little complicated. As the inner temperature starts to drop the contents of the inner and outer “barrels” are swapped and this bumps the inner or core temperature up again. I posted this because it is an interesting twist on the standard hot composting method. Check out the original post if you’re interested in reading more, link in the show notes.

The point of compost is to create soil. What we do with the compost after we’ve created it, is critical. I would argue and have for years, against digging it in. I’m an advocate of the no-dig, raised bed method for gardens and paddocks. Sheet mulching, sheet composting and never ever turning the soil. 

No dig methodology is critical to health of the soil. Our second post this week is a story from “Late Night Live” on Radio National here in Australia, enticingly titled, The Eco Truffle.

This program discusses the importance of fungal activity in the soil. The truffles referred to are too small for culinary use by humans but are excavated by native animals. These excavations allow the ingress of water into the ancient soils of this continent which tend to repel rather than soak up rainfall. As you can imagine, 200+ years of white settlement has damaged many of these fungal communities through the use of ploughs following deforestation.

It is not just here in the antipodes but everywhere Europeans colonised large areas of open plains. The North American prairie, the Argentinian pampas and so on. I saw evidence of these when I lived on the Monaro high plains of southern NSW. Our creek bank was exposed in places allowing me to read the soil history. On these profiles was the physical evidence of the practices of clearing and soil movement. The third layer from the current top of the profile was a rich black soil sitting over the granite subsoil. Above that was a layer, varying in depth from one centimeter to fifteen of light, gray soil containing larger, up to three centimetres, pieces of charcoal. Above that was the decomposed granite layer that had slipped from the hills down to the creek line in the following 160 years of droughts and overgrazing. The organic matter in the upper level was very close to nil.

The Radio National program referred to in the post speaks of the need to stabilise soils, to increase organic matter and to not disturb the soil nor the subsoils. When these are protected, the fungi re-establish themselves, capturing carbon and increasing the fertility of the soils. I cannot over emphasise the importance of not digging, not ploughing and valuing the unseen life within the soil. I would urge you all to listen to this program by following the link in the show notes.

The next post of interest is from LaToya M. Crick, entitled: “Yes, Trees do Communicate.” Now you will not be surprised to learn that much of this communication occurs through the fungal systems of forest ecologies. The communication is of a chemical nature. An example being when one tree attacked by a pest it will release a chemical signal through its root system which is communicated to other trees with the forest through the fungal networks. This appears to lead to changes in the recipient trees which makes them less appealing to the pests. All this research is at the very early stages. It is extremely interesting, pointing to the advantages of forestry stands of mixed species as a stabilising part of the environment. Click through to view the video.

As a way to help reinstate these underground communities, tree planting is a great place to start. The Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has recently attempted to plant 50 million trees in a day! A big effort but what a big payoff awaits. Even if a survival rate of 10% is achieved that’s an extra 5 million trees stabilising soil, ameliorating the effects of climate extremes, providing shade and a matrix from which soil fungal systems can grow. This is a good news story and I highly recommend you click through to read more.

Unfortunately we must also report that Monsanto and DuPont have developed an even more brilliant herbicide to counter effects of the GMO plants they created to resist glyphosate. The effects of these chemicals on the fungal communities is not known. The full extent of these fungal communities and their place in ecosystems is not fully known and only relatively recently appreciated. It is not surprising then that the effects of herbicides on these communities is not even tested for. The point I’m trying to make is we, as a species, have created these “super” weeds through our own hubris and must now increase the toxicity of our countermeasures to these super weeds before we even understand fully what is going on under our feet. As I discussed last week, we can feed the world with organic methods and practices, we do not need to drench our biosphere is toxic chemicals and, most importantly, we must allow those that have been dumped into the biosphere, time to dissipate, if they ever will. We see the effects of these on people, wheat allergies in the industrialized world, birth defects in Vietnam from allegedly safe agent orange, you get the picture. It is well past the time we took a stand, reclaimed our rights as part of the natural world and closed down and then prosecuted any and all who have willfully brought destruction upon systems they do not understand and that we need to sustain life!

And that brings us to the end of this week’s podcast.

If you’ve liked what you heard, I’d really appreciate a review on iTunes. This helps others to find us. Thanks in advance!

Any suggestions, feedback or criticisms of the podcast or blog are most welcome. email me at podcast@worldorganicnews.com.

Thank you for listening and I’ll be back in a week.

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