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Soil Biology with Paul Taylor

One of the major global concerns we face today is the heavily depleted state and continued degeneration of our soil. Without healthy soil, we cannot produce healthy food and however obvious it might seem, the food that we eat directly affects the nature of our being. It’s funny how the most common sense is no longer at all common.

In 1907, Theodore Roosevelt said: “the nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself”. Since that time we have had a salivating appetite for destruction. At present 90% of Australian soil is considered to be of poor quality….

In order to appreciate the significance of this statistic, it is important that we understand the society of microorganisms that exist beneath our feet. In one tablespoon of healthy soil there lives a population of microbes that is greater than the population of human beings on earth – over 6.9 billion microorganisms, working together to make available nutrients to the soil in which we produce the food that enables us to survive. If only the human population of the world was as resourceful and harmonious as our micro acquaintances.

Microbes supply plants with nitrogen and other essential minerals such as potassium and phosphate in exchange for carbohydrates and sugars. Over the last century conventional agriculture has applied practices that have severely depleted this microbiological life. Chemical fertilizers, which continue to be used extensively in agricultural farming worldwide, are designed to kill microbes in order to extract their nutrients into the soil. This provides a short-term boost to the system that creates the superficial conditions under which crops can be grown quickly to provide for the unnatural demand of the global food market. The significant consequence of this process is the supply of toxic, nutrient deficient produce and a substantial reduction in the diversity of soil microbiology. This lack of diversity not only limits nutritional content in our food, it exposes the system to detrimental pest and pathogen attack – a further threat to our health and a bonus for chemical companies, who then make a few extra billion in pesticide sales.

Through the opaque view of the supermarket window our reality has become clouded, ill defined and increasingly disconnected. Agriculture is the key to the survival of our species and soil vitality is the key to a productive and beneficial agriculture. It is remarkable that we insist on maintaining processes that continue to degrade the quality of our land when the situation facing us has become so present and clear.

The extensive use of chemicals, ploughing machinery, mismanaged livestock, deforestation and poorly designed water harvesting systems have resulted in serious erosion of precious top soil and extreme compaction of the remaining earth. This destruction of the natural ecosystem has left agriculture under the wicked spell of the chemical and financial empire, who now hold the reigns to production. Most Australian farmers are currently operating under large debt to financial institutions and many are actually bound to the continued use of chemical fertilisers otherwise forgoing their access to the extension of loans. It is a vicious cycle in which thousands of farmers are currently trapped.

There is no question that we must stop the use of chemicals in agriculture. When you kill microbes you kill the ability of the soil to reproduce itself and it has come now to the point where we must look even further beyond the simple removal of chemically based products and focus our attention toward the intensified regeneration of soil ecology world wide. We need to provide emergency aid to the suffering of depleted soils before we can even start to seriously move toward saving ourselves. Without vitality in soil, there is no vitality in life, no matter how ‘organic’ it might seem on the label.

Organic produce is undoubtedly superior to chemical based agriculture — I would rather eat an apple that hasn’t been sprayed with toxins any day of the week, however we must begin to understand that a simply non-toxic approach, albeit a very good start, does not provide the full range of biological conditions necessary to produce vital foods that contain the variety of nutrients we require for pure health. Organic farming generally continues to use monocultural systems based in high inputs of machinery and labour and excess irrigation that are not designed to regenerate soil conditions and are often prone to pests and disease due to an imbalanced ecology lacking in diversity.

It is important to understand the direct relationship between soil vitality, food vitality and our own vitality as a human race. The condition we have forced upon our environment though our blind industrial development has led us to this moment where any agricultural practice that is not concerned with the regeneration of soil vitality is essentially doing more harm than good.

As we continue to ingest foods supplied through supermarket chains, we continue to limit our capacity to grow out of a system that has clearly demonstrated its inability to function successfully. By consuming foods that provide little or no nutrient value we are successfully acting as agents for the proliferation of a structure that is designed to prevent us from becoming a threat to its own growth. Today, there is four times the amount of food grown in the world as in 1900, yet with an equal amount of total nutrition. The stress under which the majority of food crops are grown is also directly related to the stress of the consumer. Just as if you run your car on lighter fluid, the quality of the fuel we pump into ourselves directly affects our ability to function as thoughtful and constructive individuals.

Chemically grown foods found in the supermarket fail to provide us with the vital nutrients we require for our health. Furthermore, the chemical industry is a multi-billion dollar monolith that represents a colossal tax event for governments worldwide and so the movement against the use of chemicals in agriculture is not likely to enjoy governmental support.

It is time that we begin to take more responsibility for our own sustenance. The more food we can grow for ourselves the more nutrients we can provide and the more money we can save for things of real value! An important part of this process is that we develop cooperation and trust within local community groups with the directive toward establishing systems that make available consumer options beyond the corporate dominion.

By restructuring our use of resources and more effectively managing waste that would otherwise become pollution, we can make great advancements toward improving soil conditions and promoting the development of productive local systems that will create a more self-sustaining lifestyle for ourselves and future generations. At present, over fifty percent of urban waste could be used in compost!

The essential objectives of soil regeneration are the rehabilitation of depleted micro organic life, the prevention of further erosion and the de-compaction of anaerobic soils, which create alcoholic conditions that promote the growth of pathogens and burn root tips preventing healthy plant development. Intelligent farming is farming for the future, not only producing nutrient rich food, but consciously building soil conditions that are more fertile at the end of each harvest cycle than at the beginning.

These objectives can be achieved through the use of the keyline plough, the application of compost, compost tea, bio fertilizer and hay tea, the implementation of effective water harvesting systems and the planting of lots and lots of trees! This approach substantially rehabilitates soil after only three years, as opposed to the natural regenerative process that can take upwards of two hundred years.

The real change however must come from within ourselves. We can run Keyline systems and spray compost tea and plant trees till the cows come home, but until there is a significant shift in the collective consciousness of mainstream society, the chances of there even being a home for the cows to come to, remains slim. We are all now personally liable for the future of our existence and it is in the everyday decisions and choices we make where the reality of this future is formed. At present we are blindly consuming the energy and resources of generations to come – we are eating our grandchildren’s food at a rate where we will soon destroy our capacity to exist on this planet.

Whatever it is we do in our lives we must start to take responsibility for our actions. The system is not going to fix itself – it is up to us to create the reality we know to be genuine, to stop moving to the beat of a discounted drum, to rediscover our instinct – what it means to be human.

Everyone is talking about what tomorrow will bring – in all truth, there is no better way to predict the future than by creating it yourself.

Soil Biology with Paul Taylor — what more can I say?

He’s the man.

~~~

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13 Comments

  1. Well done Steve yet another good article! Anyone interested in taking this Soil Biology course with Paul Taylor you are truly in for a treat. He is an amazing teacher and has heaps of soil knowledge, plus he is a pretty funny guy too!

    This article goes more into the detail of how we need to start acting and building soil immediately but the course is very focused on solutions to building soil, turning hundreds of thousands of micro organisms into hundreds of millions and possibly billions of micro-organisms. Making inoculate compost, AACT (actively aerated compost tea) and bio-fertilizers! All from local resources and mostly on farm elements!

  2. You are right, too much so called ecologically food is grown in monocultures on depleted soil, only meeting the requirements of non pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. For food to be called organically grown or ecologically, I think at least four requirements should be met:

    1) No pesticides or synthetic fertilizers used.

    2) Grown in polycultures.

    3) With a very rich soil micro biology and diversity.

    4) Using pre-industrialized seeds, like explained by Vandana Shiva in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=PGnj67BIDg4

  3. Exciting link there Duane, the workof Gil Carnandang and co is very cool. For a minute I thought you were suggesting the use of deep rooted weeds and perennial pasture, which is equally effective. The compost teas that Paul advocates are fungal dominant composts and in the process these spores are invigorated by aeration, but from what I believe these fungal spores take time to bring into a compost. I wonder if the bokashi method would create the same conditions, even with the IMO method.
    Would have to take a microscope to it.
    All very beneficial in the right application

  4. “Today, there is four times the amount of food grown in the world as in 1900, yet with an equal amount of total nutrition.”

    I really doubt that. If you’re going to state facts instead of just opinions, you should include references. This sort of uncontrolled “truth-stating” is part of the reason our movement is still small, even 30+ years on – smart people we need on our side don’t believe what we say.

  5. The truth is smart people do have a general understanding of the processes of our system and that it is growing exponentially, people we call smart (for what ever reason) that cannot or do not want to understand the processes of our system are not of any value.

  6. Steve,

    Nice article Steve. A story told in good spirit. I think where we often get caught up is in our need for control, absolutes, certainty, right and wrong and linear thinking (straight lines) which leads to a constant need for FACTS. I think we all too often disregard the other more instinctive ways of ‘knowing’. As a species we are only now beginning to accept, with the greatest of difficulty, that we are not running the show. This process of ‘letting go’ is a tough one:-)

    Permaculture it seems is an evolving system that attempts to make accessible the fundamental truths that underpin our existence. However at the end of the day ‘Permaculture’ is just a label we attach to a set of universal truths. And there are many other ways different folk go about finding / expressing these truths – and they are all valid.

    If we are going to make that evolutionary leap in consciousness needed to get us through this very rough patch, we must put aside this ‘us and them’ or ‘with us or without us’ attitude that at times creeps into permaculture. All folk do the best they can and all folk are of value. At the end of the day, there is no us and them. If we could all ‘get it’ in our heads and our hearts, the possibilities would be endless. The opinions above are based on … well … just a feeling deep in the belly.

  7. I’m remembering the post from last week: “What the hell am I doing this for? Why am I adding foreign microbes from a compost pile when there is already a huge diversity suited to the conditions in the existing topsoil”. He (Col Seis)then changed to feeding the existing microbes with molasses and fish emulsion, until he once again thought, “What the hell am I doing this for? Why am I putting food out when the plants create the best microbial food there is”. Biological stimulants haven’t been the driver.

  8. hi JBob

    i think a lot of people need to (de)evolve thru the same process as Col. if one is trained to “do stuff” and use machines, its hard to let go. giving up plowing, weed control, monocultures are big steps. “cold turkey” can be scary. as long as the direction is correct, the journey is theirs.

  9. Thanks Steve…. wonderful.

    Let’s look at what we are doing for a moment, so far as I am concerned Nature Rules at the end of any day. The more we work with Nature the better we feel (yes?).

    Have you gone into a supermarket lately? How many rows of nutritious food? A row of sugar drinks, a row of highly processed highly sugared breakfast food, a row of pure so called chocolate, then the paper products, then frozen ‘food’ and ice cream… so when we are talking about food nutrition and look at what we have available, i really doubt that there is even 25% of the nutrient value in the foods available to us in the supermarket tonnage of ‘foods’ supplied than an equal weight of fresh local foods. And yet we mostly refuse to have a veggie garden.. but love to mow the lawn.

    When it comes to microbes and adding microbes to degraded soils, remember that it is unlikely for us to be able to grow microbes that are no longer in the system and that the microbes are required in high diversity to be able to make mutualistic relationships with specific species and to accomplish nutrient cycling, life is life and laws of nature apply, when in doubt supply diversity to the system and let Nature find her balance…. Trust Nature, work less and eat vital food from balanced vital systems.

    When considering ‘Conventional Agriculture’ remember that the first response when things are out of balance is to kill something, be it a pesticide, herbicide, fungicide or whatever.
    This is a military approach to food production, ‘we will force nature to yield’

    When we consider ‘bio-logical’ agriculture and something is out of balance, the first thing we do is add life and let Nature find her balance. This is a caretakers approach to food production and ‘Nature Yields” as a reflection of her health and abundance. Which food would you rather eat?

    Thanks,
    Paul

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