Dodgy science

Discussion in 'The big picture' started by sancha, Jul 19, 2006.

  1. sancha

    sancha Junior Member

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    I've been reading a book about the need to remineralise our soils (Australia) and the author makes some blatant claims about diseases in livestock being directly related to mineral deficiency in the soil. There's also a refernce to grapevines, something which I know a little about. The author claims that vines will succomb to phylloxera (a kind of root louse) if the soil is not adequately mineralised. Now...I have never heard of this, but I know that rootstocks will solve any phylloxera problems and, depending on the stock selected, nematode problems as well. So, naturally, I'm a little wary of the advice given throughout the book.
    The author also claims that weeds are a symptom of sick soil and that if the soil is in balance then the weeds will be displaced by other, non weedy, beneficial plants. Sorry, but this sounds like bullshit to me. Anyone got any thoughts on this?
     
  2. Cornonthecob

    Cornonthecob Junior Member

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    What is the book called?
     
  3. ecodharmamark

    ecodharmamark Junior Member

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    G'day sancha :)

    My thoughts are as follows:

    Australia has the oldest soils in the world. The Great Dividing Range was once 'great' indeed. In terms of sheer size the GDR would have outrivaled today’s Himalayas. The arid zones that make up most of Australia’s in-landmass were once entire inland seas. Most of the soil in this country has undergone a leaching process spanning many hundreds of millennia. Much of the soil is sand. A lot of it is highly reactive clay. Only very few of the indigenous soil-types in Australia (see: DAFF's Digital Soil Atlas) are comprised of all the essential nutrients needed to grow many of our non-indigenous foodstuffs. I’ve had the great pleasure in the past to work with these ‘young’ soils; beautiful chocolate brown turning to black; an ‘A’ profile that measures 2mt. Lovely! It is the natural passing of time and the weathering processes that accompany it that have robbed most Australian soils of their nutrients, that and the mainly unsustainable farming practices employed in the last 200-odd years. If you want to grow anything in Australian soils other than for the locally-native plants that have evolved over the millennia to align themselves with Australia’s unique geomorphic characteristics then you are going to have to alter the mineral load in that base soil. One way to do this is to add organic matter. Another way to do it is to add the dust from a geologically-diverse range of crushed rock.

    Worms are the great! They are our greatest allies in the battle to rebuild our depleted soils. At 900mt ASL you are bound to have a few of them. Feed them well and they will do wonders for the soil below your feet. For those of us that live in a bioregion non-conducive to worm activity, we need to adopt and foster as many ant colonies as we can. For ants are the ‘worms’ of the desert.

    Healthy people require healthy food. In order to grow that food we need healthy, well balanced soils. I can’t help but feel that you have been reading Pat Coleby’s ‘Natural Farming and Land Care’ (1999). If this is the case then I’m afraid you are not going to find much support for your “bullshit” theory here. This is after all a permaculture forum - we LOVE shit. If you do happen to have some spare bullshit, goatshit, chookshit, in fact any old shit that’s lying around will do, throw some of that on your soil too. It helps increase the biological activity within the structure.

    Cheerio,

    Mark.

    PS: Some handy resources for you :D

    DAFF Digital Soil Atlas
    https://www.affa.gov.au/content/output.c ... 9540FE6BAF

    Australian Society of Soil Science
    https://www.asssi.asn.au/asssi/flash/

    Soil and Health Library
    https://www.soilandhealth.org/

    APAL (Australian Perry Agriculture Laboratory)
    https://www.apal.com.au/about/aboutindex.html

    SWEP
    https://www.swep.com.au/
     
  4. heuristics

    heuristics Junior Member

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    Firstly, Eco-Mark top reply:

    I think what is at issue relates to definition - ie what is a "weed"and what is a "beneficial plant". To an eco-nazis, EVERYTHING that is not vegetation indiginous to a specific area is a "weed". To a permie, almost all plants can be "beneficial" and permies are oft accused of introducing "weeds"into areas.

    Certainly as the ph and other structure of your soil changes so too will the type of vegetation.

    I have removed animals from my land for the past five years+ and I am keenly observing the changes in the types of weeds and other vegetation taking place. I am also helping change the balance by my focussed removal of fireweed, lantana, privet and blackthorn. This is leaving native grasses to become more prominent.

    I have had someone try and tell me that the fireweed will just disappear - but I think some plants like these will always out-compete almost all the Aussie natives and many other introduced plants that I would rather have flourish on my land.
     
  5. Jez

    Jez Junior Member

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    That pretty much sums up Peter Andrews' (among others) strategy for regenerating soil...his results speak for themselves IMO. He's actually deliberately used weeds as a means of regenerating eroded and depleted soil...slash them (before they seed everywhere) and then let them break down back into the soil. In time the soil recovers back to where it was before unsound practices, then native species (or appropriate species you want to introduce) gradually recolonise the area and displace the weeds. Of course, his other strategies particularly with regard to restoring the natural flow of water on properties also helps greatly in his methods.

    A lor of people thought he was nuts too...to the point of almost wanting to lynch him for deliberately creating weirs in rivers to slow their flow and deliberately growing weeds...but as I said, his methods are in great demand these days for regenerating properties thanks purely to fantastic end results.

    Also probably worth mentioning, as David Holmgren once said..."you never totally get rid of weeds...you just end up with a better class of weed"...same line of thinking really when it all boils down. (hopefully I quoted that fairly close off the top of my head!) :lol:
     
  6. spritegal

    spritegal Junior Member

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    I've solved many animal health problems through soil remineralisation

    Here are a few:

    Predisposition to male offspring - sprayed the paddock with dilute vitagran seaweed meal - number the next year went back to 50:50

    Lice in my cattle and horses - spread milled sulphur and dolomite on paddock - lice gone

    Buffel head in horses - gave them dolomite in their feed and whilst the condition is incurable I didn't get any more cases and the ones I did have stabilised
     
  7. sancha

    sancha Junior Member

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    Spot on, ecodharma, it was Pat Coleby's book. But here's my dilemma..the weeds in question are cobblers pegs, a.k.a. beggars ticks, a.k.a. Bidens Pilosa. Anyone who is familiar with this plant will empathise. I can't see any redeeming feature to the plant. Apparently, reputedly, the young leaves were chewed to prevent arthritis, but they really taste pretty acrid. So, I have this 2 acres of soil, into which has been poured massive quantities of cow poo (unfortunately it was poo from the feedlot - I'll never do that again), appropriate quantities of dolomite (soil, being largely decomposed granite is deficient in calcium and magnesium), some pelleted organic fert and lots of love. The soil, prior to me playing around with it, grew stonefruit and was regularly disc ploughed so consequently had very poor soil structure and was undoubtedly leached and low in organic matter. On top of that, when they pushed the trees they put cattle on it, so it needed to be deep ripped and rehabilitated. All of this I tried, as well as establishing a cover crop of woolly pod vetch and oats to try and get some more organic matter back into the soil.
    Well, if you looked at the soil right now, you would never know it had received such treatment. How long do I have to keep up such treatment for the soil OM to become stable? Because it seems that you realy need MASSIVE quantities of organic matter in these soils to make a difference. And what happened to the weed populations when I gave them all this enriched earth to grow in? They grew much healthier than ever. Certainly, in the areas in which the vetch and oats grew strongly they were outcompeted, but then when the cover crop was slashed, up they came again. There's definitely some lessons for me to take away from that, chiefly that in order to control the weeds you need to outcompete them to displace them with a faster growing species, but I just cannot aggree that the weeds will magically disappear when the soil pH is amended and minerals put back into the ground.
     
  8. ecodharmamark

    ecodharmamark Junior Member

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    G'day again sancha :)

    Firstly, please allow me to say that after reading your most recent post I think you are doing a great job with rebuliding the soil at your current site.

    Weeds...a term often misused and certainly a concept that is misunderstood. Yes Jez, it is David Holmgren that has said, "You never totally get rid of weeds...you just end up with a better class of weed." The last time being within my earshot was at the 2005 Bendigo PDC.

    This is where I believe you are at with regards to your 'weeds', sancha. We can't expect to turn around in a few months something that has taken a couple of centuries to develop. Keep working up your soil, keep applying the organic matter, manure and mineral supplements, and gradually you will help the natural process of time in repairing the earth. Those 'weeds' that you have growing there, each and every one of them are a beautiful source of macro and micro nutrients. Be proud that you have 'weeds' for they are surely a sign that the earth is in recovery mode. Many people living in the once-fertile but now barren regions of the globe (Darfur, for example) would give their eye-teeth for just a couple of your 'weeds'. Use the 'weeds' that you have to the best advantage of your soil rebuilding efforts. Slash them when they are at their prime which is at peak flowering time. Mulch the remaining 'mat' heavily with whatever organic material you can find, and continue to interplant with less invasive and more productive plant species.

    Rebuilding the land by starting at the level of terra-firma can be a heartbreaking job. However you are seeing the results of your labours at your site so don't allow the 'knockers' to cloud your vision. Keep up the great work and the generations of humans and non-humans alike who will follow us when we are gone will remember us with fondness and gratitude.

    Some more resources for you:

    Soil Foodweb Institute Australia
    https://www.soilfoodweb.com.au/

    Green Harvest
    https://www.greenharvest.com.au/

    Biodynamic Agriculture Australia
    https://www.biodynamics.net.au/

    Cheerio,

    Mark.
     
  9. Richard on Maui

    Richard on Maui Junior Member

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    Sancha, I don't know anything about phylloxera or grapes and their resistant root stocks, and I don't know much about soil remineralisation. However, it would seem to me that while some disease resistant rootstocks might survive in soil with unbalanced minerals, they might thrive in soil with a healthy mineral balance. YOu might even be able to use a wider variety of rootstocks, perhaps even being able to use different varieties of grapes altogether...
    Are you growing grapes?
    When you say the granite belt, does that mean somewhere near Stanthorpe? (I used to go camping near Stanthorpe way back when I was cubs - bloody freezing, but lots of fun scrabbling over all those boulders...)
     
  10. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    In California thousands of acres of grapes in the main wine-growing region had to be replanted with phylloxera-resistant rootstock. Recent studies show soils which are suppressive to plant pathogens such as phylloxera are seen more often in organic vineyards than in conventional vineyards. But this doesn't mean it was the mineralization that does it. It could easily be the compost or large amounts of soil bacteria that keeps things healthy. They don't know yet.

    But the claims that the grape growers make about the flavor advantages of mineralized soil (a lot of California soil has ingredients from volcanoes) is a real one. And my experience has been that minerals in all forms improve plant growth. Rock powders last for years and are slow to break down, so don't expect quick results, but the results will be there.

    And the issue about the weeds, who's going to determine whether a plant is valuable? it isn't for a gardener to determine the ecological balance of an area. The "weeds" at my place feed the deer during the dry season and produce tons of biomass that improves the soil. Plants grow where they grow because the conditions are right, not because the soil is sick. My weeds are extremely happy! They're not sick!! :lol:

    But what weeds do tell you is what's in the soil, because they need it to grow. You can tell whether it's clay soil, sandy soil, the moisture levels, the mineral content, the nitrogen content...."weeds" are the living proof of what was in the soil to be used.

    It always bugs me when people say the desert is where plants can't grow because it's too dry. Well, just because they like leafy green plants, doesn't mean the desert has any problems. The desert plants think the desert is just fine! :)

    So when a gardener tries to plant non-native plants/vegetables/fruits in an area, it's actually the gardener that needs to change the soil to suit the needs of something that can't survive there without a lot of help. The soil either contains the nutrients the plants needs or it doesn't. That doesn't make the soil sick. Perhaps sick soil is soil that has pollutants in it, or some kind of contamination. But just because a tomato won't grow in sand, doesn't make the sand sick.

    Isn't it pretty egotistical to say that because the plant that a human wants to grow, won't grow everywhere in the world, that that makes something wrong with the soil? It's just not the appropriate way to view the earth, and doesn't Permaculture require understanding how the earth works? Don't we need to learn where different soils exist and why they are there, and then adjust our needs to it according to the principles that we've learned from permaculture?

    And perhaps that means that the perspective is that we are not the center of what is happening, we are the participants, the passengers on this big blue boat called Earth :)
     

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