In the PDM chapter on Humid Tropics Mollison recommends applying a conservative amount of super phosphate when establishing an agroforest or forest garden.
I understand the advantage to doing this, but Mollison always struck me as an organic purist. Any idea why, in his seminal work, Mollison encourages readers to use synthetic fertilizer in tropical restoration agriculture?
The ideas of Mollison are, as I see them, always like this:
Use what is available now to kickstart an independent and sustainable lifestyle. I don't see any contradictions there.
By the way, phosphate is not synthetic, but fossile. Meaning we can use it as long as there is, and soon it will not be availale anymore. Using phosphate the first year to establish your cultures instead of spending (wasting?) years untill you get the biology right is fully in his "pattern" as I see it.
Agreed with Ludie and Hans. Mollison was a pragmatist with a very strong sense of ethics. He was mostly and most importantly a hands-on guy, even though we owe to him a huge portion of our theory.
We homo sapiens are always looking for a god or savior, absolute rules we can apply and forget about, and silver bullets. It's hard-wired into us. Paying close attention is hard work for the frontal cortex, and our brain is always looking to economize and put everything possible on automatic pilot.
Bill was really explicit that there is no substitute for your own observation and he didn't want permaculture to get mired down in theory and have great academics and university departments. After watching a few of his videos and listening to him tell a story or two, I got the impression that within his strong ethics, he was a very practical, go-with-the-flow guy, and yes, he had a brilliant capacity for observation and for synthesizing that observation into useful information for other people.
Anyway, Bill didn't have all the answers or even all the best ones, he just communicated practical solutions to problems that were within his ethics. In conventional agriculture, phosphorus has been considered the limiting factor to possible plant growth on a global scale for a long time. So really "no choice" but to add where it's lacking, despite its being a mined element that is fast running out.
These days, we have soil biology geniuses like Elaine Ingham who think (and seem to be able to demonstrate) that if you get the soil biology right, you can have much much lower concentrations of all the "necessary" minerals and be just fine. Even thrive. I don't know how much Bill knew about her research in his waning years. Those approaches are just coming into the limelight now, and we have great minds here on permies like that of Dr Redhawk to help us with that technology. So Bill might have given what he viewed as the only possible or practicable approach for the time he was writing, but since then, best practice has evolved, and will continue to do so.
So what I'm trying to say is, with all due respect to Bill Mollison and the other geniuses that came before us, our ethical or practical dissatisfaction with what came before us is important, and our experimentation to come up with better approaches is really really important. Nothing would have pleased Bill more than to hear that. Permies is a nice to engage in those experiments with a little help from our friends.
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Gravity is a harsh mistress. But this tiny ad is pretty easy to deal with:
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