Wow, here’s a topic I could write more about than what I wrote in the About Me section! Now that must sound ludicrous to you because everyone knows how I like talking about me but we’ll see how I go since this is about the most important issue humanity is about to face.
Forget climate change (don’t do that but you get the point)…. Humanity’s number one environmental issue is poor soil and soil loss. It unpins all else and is therefore bigger than deforestation and pollution. But how is that, I hear you asking? Well, every living thing needs food and soil happens to be the food that feeds everything above it so before you can grow vegetables and fatten up beef to feed yourself and before you can plant a tree to clean the air you breath, you need healthy soil.
What’s wrong with the soil we’ve got? There is a mountain of evidence that poor soils have brought down advanced civilizations throughout history. Now speak to farmers worldwide and they’ll tell you it’s getting harder and harder each year to turn a profit as yields shrink and more and more chemical fertilizer and other noxious chemicals need to be purchased and applied to supplement the loss of soil quality and quantity over the years. It would appear we’re now at the point where the chemicals are propping us up to keep the food growing but if you’re well informed you’d know there is a growing worldwide food shortage that is set to get worse unless something is done. If you don’t know about this just think about the cost of fresh food in Australia, it’s nearly doubled in the last decade.
How did this happen? It’s a similar story across the world, we arrive and clear forest to grow crops and the yields are amazing! This is because the forest floor had lots and lots of soil life from all the cycling nutrients as organic matter from plants and animals decayed and fed the soil microbes. But with each year the soil is left open to the elements, some is blown away, the field is plowed and compacted which breaks down the soil structure and eventually you need to add chemical fertilizer. Over time weeds start popping up which is a function of nature trying to repair the soil. To get rid of the weeds chemical herbicide is added, damaging the soil. This perpetuates the damage and the crop starts being eaten by pests which are attracted to unhealthy mutant plants (another reparative function of nature) so a chemical pesticide is used to get rid of the pest. Then the damage is so bad the plants start getting fungal problems so a chemical fungicide is used and then you harvest, plow again and start all over again. In the end because the soil is so unhealthy you need to add more chemical fertilizer so the crop grows nice and big. But if you investigate further you’ll soon find the quality of the crop still isn’t quite right. Holy shit!
Now at this point I could stay on the negative and go into the effects of adding chemicals to the food chain but there is plenty of documentation that can be easily accessed on Google, plus you can guess it’s not the way nature intended. No, instead I’m going focus on what can save us. Did I mention holy shit?
Luckily there are ways to bring the soil back to life naturally. Holy manure is one way, holy worm poo & juice is another and holy compost, a combination of many waste products is another again but with where we’re at globally that’s only a start. The best way I’ve seen soil fertility restored quickly and naturally is Compost Tea application (PDF).
This is an amazing process at the cutting edge of biological farming. It’s virtually a silver bullet if it’s done right. To sum it up, you make the highest quality compost using a diverse set of inputs. Get it to the point where the beneficial aerobic bacteria and fungi are at their highest and then put some into a giant tea bag and drop it into a compost tea brewer along with a heap of bacteria and fungi food like molasses, liquid fish and humic acid. An air pump blows the compost and food around in water for 24 hours stimulating the life and sending it into reproductive overdrive. The end result is a natural liquid fertilizer that is full of an astonishing amount of good stuff. The finished tea is then applied to damaged land within 6 hours.
What the tea does is inoculate the soil with a lot of the stuff that a forest floor would naturally have in it. Then with the right care all this stuff multiplies and brings the soil back to where it was at and in turn you start getting big yields of healthy organically grown crops.
With ongoing sustainable land management practices such as those applied in Permaculture year after year soil will build and farming can go on without chemicals forever.
While it all sounds complex, it’s not and there are numerous sets of instructions on how achieve amazing results. Google ‘Compost Tea’ to find out how but a quick warning you do have to know what you’re doing because if you get it wrong you can produce an anaerobic brew that isn’t only dangerous to your soil, the dangerous bacteria can be airborne and harmful to you.
We’ve made a couple of brews so far on my internship here at Zaytuna Farm. They’ve been applied to the main crop that’s feeding us. The video below shows the soil and what’s growing.
Much Love! Pat