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Potassium a problem for Hugelkultur?

 
Daniel Bowman
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From Steve Solomon: "Plants concentrate potassium into structure — stalks, stems and fiber. With grasses and cereals, potassium will be uniformly distributed throughout the plant until seed starts forming. When flowering begins, the most valuable nutritional elements like phosphorus, nitrate, sulfate, etc., are translocated out of the no-longer-growing leaf and stem cells and placed inside the seed coat, where they are put into storage around the embryo to provide it with a full and balanced nutritional storehouse to use during sprouting. Not so with potassium. Locked tight in plant structure, it remains in place. Thus, hay and straw contain a lot of potassium. Trees and shrubs concentrate potassium in their
woody parts; most of the other nutrients move into the leaves, where they mainly form chlorophyll, and/or flowers, fruits and seeds. Thus, sawdust and bark are potassium-rich.
The point: gardeners who import masses of organic matter to make compost or to use as mulch usually import the waste products of grass agriculture. (And sometimes, unfortunately, forest wastes.) They use spoiled hay and cereal grain straw and lawn clippings. They bring in manure that comes from grass-eaters, like horses, cows and sheep. If they use fallen tree leaves, these have already returned most their valuable minerals to the tree’s sap for storage over winter. So, when a gardener sets out to build soil fertility through the importation of massive quantities of decomposable organic matter, they usually import a lot of potassium and comparatively less of the other plant nutrients. Soils handled this way do not produce nutrient-dense food.
[...]
Carbohydrates and fiber are constructed from potassium, carbon and hydrogen. Plants get plenty of carbon from the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Hydrogen — no shortage of that, every drop of water in the soil contains hydrogen. So, if potassium is abundant, and there is sunlight and moisture, the plant makes an abundance of carbohydrates, sugars, fats and fiber. But to make proteins, enzymes and vitamins — the important stuff — plants need the other, often scarcer elements: nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, zinc, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium, etc. If these elements are not critically scarce, plants can still produce carbohydrates. When they aren’t scarce, plants make valuable nutrition in balance with their carbohydrates. And when potassium is just a little bit scarce, plants make the highest concentration of nutrition, which is what we need to eat in order to be healthy."

It may be that Hugelbeets seem to grow faster and "better" because the added potassium is boosting the yield and not the irrigation aspect of the woody "sponges".. all to the detriment of nutrition. Discuss.
 
mostafa ismail
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hi Daniel

I just like your subject , and I think I suffer from lack of the there elements specially nitrogen , and am not so sure that compost or manure , would make it up for me , so is there some hero some where who can tell us what to do

Daniel thank you for the topic , there are a good mind and eye behind it
 
Paulo Bessa
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Hi Daniel,

Nice question but I haven't understood your logic.

I understood everything until you stated that under a small lack of potassium plants would produce the highest nutrition. Why would this be so?

To my knowledge plants would make best nutrition when all elements, including trace elements are present, so that they are incorporated. But different species incorporate different elements or nutrients.
 
Morgan Morrigan
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Isn't the extra fungi from the barks providing the extra enzymes and available nutrients?

Thought that it was the symbiosis from the fungi/bact, and the fungal web that helped transport it around the root networks that helped so much....
 
Daniel Bowman
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Hmm.. Hugel beds will help to aerate the soil as they begin to decompose, which might allow the bed to capture some carbon and nitrogen (assuming the high C:N ratio of the logs doesn't negate this), but I doubt that fungi or tree bark would significantly increase the amount of mineral nutrients in the soil. Many soils are severely mineral deficient going deep into the subsoil. If this is the case, many pounds of minerals must be added. Mounding over some logs is not a proper solution, although the addition of foliage and green branches from trees that were rooted in fertile soil would probably help somewhat.

Regarding potassium levels, I think Solomon's point is that K is the major controlling factor for producing carbohydrates and fiber. A plant can grow extremely fast and large with excess K, but the accelerated growth reduces the protein, minerals and vitamins. Less K will allow the plant to take up more minerals and create more protein, but grow more slowly. It is a compromise. If you want the most nutritious food, less K will allow for more nutrients.. up to a point. I am sure there is also a threshold where having too little K becomes a serious problem, too.

Solomon does also suggest elsewhere in his book (The Intelligent Gardener) that responsible grazing and/or mowing practices will improve the mineral balance in manure and grass mulch, since the high potassium content occurs when the other nutrients become concentrated in the seed head. Making sure that livestock consume the most nutritious grass and only mowing grass before it goes to seed might go some length in reducing the excess K when these materials are used as soil amendments.
 
mostafa ismail
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Daniel

let Solmon say what he likes , I would tell you what I experienced , in a small hugelkultur bed that had very little manure , the healthiest plants I ever seen in my farm came out , I don't need any other say , that was all enough for me

so every other attempt in organic farming didn't pay me that well , except fro hugel bed , I still like the idea in you subject

I read two books for Solmon , farming without irrigation , and the other about composting . to tell you the truth I came out almost empty handed , I felt like chasing my tail , in the end I felt the man is against organic farming. I might be wrong .


I would say that we still can't understand a lot of what is going on under our feet , we are not that intelligent , nature is still far a head of us
 
Joan Perez
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I've read both books from Solomon the one on dry farming (I believe that he trusts in tilling too much) and the "organic gardening composting" which I enjoy most when he doesn´t lecture about composting. Specially the part about potassium saturation, lack of minerals and Albrecht's teory on soil's nutrition.

By the way this is not bashing organic or permaculture it's just a way on discussing/improving it.

I will quote some texts that can be added to the discussion:

"For many years I have lectured on organic gardening to the Extension Service's master gardener classes. Part of the master gardener training includes interpreting soil test results. In the early 1980s when Oregon State government had more money, all master gardener trainees were given a free soil test of their own garden. Inevitably, an older gentlemen would come up after my lecture and ask my interpretation of his puzzling soil test.

The average soils in our region test moderately-to strongly acid; are low in nitrogen, phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium; quite adequate in potassium; and have 3-4 percent organic matter. Mr. Organic's soil test showed an organic matter content of 15 to 20 percent with more than adequate nitrogen and a pH of 7.2. However there was virtually no phosphorus, calcium or magnesium and four times the amount of potassium that any farm agent would ever recommend. On the bottom of the test, always written in red ink, underlined, with three exclamation points, "No more wood ashes for five years!!!" Because so many people in the Maritime northwest heat with firewood, the soil tester had mistakenly assumed that the soil became alkaline and developed such a potassium imbalance from heavy applications of wood ashes.

This puzzled gardener couldn't grasp two things about his soil test report. One, he did not use wood ashes and had no wood stove and two, although he had been "building up his soil for six or seven years," the garden did not grow as well as he had imagined it would. Perhaps you see why this questioner was always a man. Mr. Organic owned a pickup and loved to haul organic matter and to make and spread compost. His soil was full of worms and had a remarkably high humus level but still did not grow great crops.

It was actually worse than he understood. Plants uptake as much potassium as there is available in the soil, and concentrate that potassium in their top growth. So when vegetation is hauled in and composted or when animal manure is imported, large quantities of potassium come along with them. As will be explained shortly, vegetation from forested regions like western Oregon is even more potassium-rich and contains less of other vital nutrients than vegetation from other areas. By covering his soil several inches thick with manure and compost every year he had totally saturated the earth with potassium. Its cation exchange capacity or in non-technical language, the soil's ability to hold other nutrients had been overwhelmed with potassium and all phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, and other nutrients had largely been washed away by rain. It was even worse than that! The nutritional quality of the vegetables grown on that superhumusy soil was very, very low and would have been far higher had he used tiny amounts of compost and, horror of all horrors, chemical fertilizer."

"Over geologic time spans, water passing through soil leaches or removes plant nutrients. In climates where there is barely enough rain to grow cereal crops, soils retain their minerals and the food produced there tends to be highly nutritious. In verdant, rainy climates the soil is leached of plant nutrients and the food grown there is much less nutritious. That's why the great healthy herds of animals were found on scrubby, semi-arid grasslands like the American prairies; in comparison, lush forests carry far lower quantities of animal biomass.

Some plant nutrients are much more easily leached out than others. The first valuable mineral to go is calcium. Semi-arid soils usually still retain large quantities of calcium. The nutrient most resistant to leaching is potassium. Leached out forest soils usually still retain relatively large amounts of potassium. William Albrecht observed this data and connected with it a number of fairly obvious and vital changes in plant nutritional qualities that are caused by these differences in soil fertility. However obvious they may be, Albrecht's work was not considered politically correct by his peers or the interest groups that supported agricultural research during the mid-twentieth century and his contributions have been largely ignored. Worse, his ideas did not quite fit with the ideological preconceptions of J.l. Rodale, so organic gardeners and farmers are also ignorant of Albrecht's wisdom."

"The potassium-fortified soil gave a 25 percent higher bulk yield but the soybeans contained 25 percent less protein. The consumer of those plants would have to burn off approximately 30 percent more carbohydrates to obtain the same amount of vital amino acids essential to all bodily functions. Wet-soil plants also contain only one-third as much calcium, an essential nutrient, whose lack over several generations causes gradual reduction of skeletal size and dental deterioration. They also contain only half as much phosphorus, another essential nutrient. Their oversupply of potassium is not needed; humans eating balanced diets usually excrete large quantities of unnecessary potassium in their urine.

Albrecht then analyzed dozens of samples of vegetation that came from both dryland soils and humid soils and noticed differences in them similar to the soybeans grown under controlled conditions. The next chart, showing the average composition of plant vegetation from the two different regions, is taken directly from Albrecht's research. The figures are averages of large numbers of plant samples, including many different food crops from each climate.

Average Nutritional Content by Climate

Nutrient Dryland Soil Humid Soil
Potassium 2.44% 1.27%
Calcium 1.92% 0.28%
Phosphorus 0.78% 0.42%
Total mineral nutrition 5.14% 1.97%
Ratio of Potassium to Calciuim 1.20/1 4.50/1
Analyzed as a whole, these data tell us a great deal about how we should manage our soil to produce the most nutritious food and about the judicious use of compost in the garden as well. I ask you to refer back to these three small charts as I point out a number of conclusions that can be drawn from them.

The basic nutritional problem that all animals have is not about finding energy food, but how to intake enough vitamins, minerals and usable proteins. What limits our ability to intake nutrients is the amount of bulk we can process—or the number of calories in the food. With cows, for example, bulk is the limiter. The cow will completely fill her digestive tract at all times and will process all the vegetation she can digest every day of her life. Her health depends on the amount of nutrition in that bulk. With humans, our modern lifestyle limits most of us to consuming 1,500 to 1,800 calories a day. Our health depends on the amount of nutrients coming along with those calories."
 
Daniel Bowman
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Excellent, Joan. Great quote. Just wanted to add that his composting book is downloadable for free from Steve's soil and health library.
 
Joan Perez
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Daniel Bowman wrote:Excellent, Joan. Great quote. Just wanted to add that his composting book is downloadable for free from Steve's soil and health library.


Not only this, I remember Helen Atthowe in one of the Paul Wheaton's podcasts (#15 I believe). Mentioning the build up of Potassium as the cause of her stopping the addition of compost of her already well tilt and well stablished soil. (Not the addition of organic matter, as she was still adding the bulk of her crops as a mulch to the soil)
 
William Bronson
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How does one add these other minerals?
I know there are accumulators, but if the underlying subsoil doesn't have what is needed, what then?
Funny thing is I was worried that the organic matter in my soil was to nitrogen rich, leading to the 100 foot of squash vine with but a single squash on it...
 
Joan Perez
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William Bronson wrote:How does one add these other minerals?
I know there are accumulators, but if the underlying subsoil doesn't have what is needed, what then?
Funny thing is I was worried that the organic matter in my soil was to nitrogen rich, leading to the 100 foot of squash vine with but a single squash on it...


IMHO, one of the solutions is to add Rock Dust http://www.permies.com/t/7154/soil/Rock-Dust ; but before this, I would do a full soil test (of the subsoil as well) to make sure that I really don't have those minerals. Maybe there are the minerals but the PH is not right and the plants cannot make use of those minerals, maybe there are those minerals but I don´t have enough life in the soil to help te plants utilize those minerals, maybe the soil is supersaturated with one element (potassium for example) and doesn´t allow the plants to make use of those minerals, or maybe I still have enough minerals in the subsoil and I can bring them up with dandelions, or comfrey, or daikon...
 
Daniel Bowman
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Read The Intelligent Gardener by Steve Solomon. It is basically a manual in how to remineralize your soil.
 
Joan Perez
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Daniel Bowman wrote:Read The Intelligent Gardener by Steve Solomon. It is basically a manual in how to remineralize your soil.


Many thanks for the recommendation I have finished reading it; really interesting. It even deserves its own thread at the soil forum.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Being on silty glacial till, I assume that some of the dozens of rock types will contain nutrients for plants. I have granite, basalt and many other igneous and metamorphic types along with the occasional mud stone. I lack clay but plan to bring in a tandem load. My hugelkulturs have plenty of this rocky soil mixed into them. Surely with all of the decomposition going on, some of those processes will draw needed elements from this mineral soil which ranges in size from dust to basket ball sized rocks.

Concerning trace elements, seaweed is a natural choice in my location. The healthiest people I know are gardeners who get a good portion of their diets from our washed out, west coast soils. I'm going to check out the cost of having both soil and produce tested.

Over eating of the wrong foods causes obesity. I doubt that many gardeners have gotten fat on carrots that had to be consumed in great quantity due to some deficiency that made them inferior to dry land carrots. Most of us could use more bulky fiber in our diets. Food would have to be very low in nutrition to be so bad that it outstrips the capacity of our guts to process it. A much more common problem is consumption of very rich diets that lack bulk. Colon cancer and other ills are known to be more prevalent amongst those with a too rich diet.
 
Paulo Bessa
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Joan and Daniel,

this is another exciting and excellent discussion as I have been spending this morning on this topic, nutrients and soil, and nutrition.

I do not know where to start.

First I do not seem to have this potassium excess in my vegetable garden. The native clay has high levels of potassium (probably originating from the nearby volcanoes). In the beds where organic matter was added and plants are growing, I actually see less potassium (medium levels), it could be that now (mid summer) much of the potassium has just been used and locked inside the growing crops. If this is so, then I should be able to detect again higher levels when everything dies and rots down throughout winter,

So in a way yes, if you have already high levels of K, and you keep dumping every week organic matter, eventually the potassium is going to accumulate there, while the other nutrients just leach and keep their normal levels. And probably I think it could lead to an imbalance in nutrition. However i still do not know if I should agree that even excess potassium could yield larger harvests but less nutrition.

Intelligent Gardener: I will definitively read the book.

Rock dust: well actually I have been dwelling with this crazy idea. Since I live in a highly volcanic place and it is the source of minerals (K, P, Ca, Mg, and a lot of other stuff - but they are mostly locked into the rocks) then I should be able to source them around from the ash and lava rocks of the different volcanoes. Different volcanoes and rocks also have different element compositions, and this is the stuff I am been trying to research and test. And this is a renewable and local resource for me.

The one I am mostly interested in now is calcium and the other micronutrients, which I have no idea about how abundant they are in my soil. I suspect of relatively low levels of calcium since the soil structure is quite compact and clay.

If growing in dry conditions yields more nutritious food, then what should someone that grows in a wet climate like me, should do?






 
Wojciech Majda
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@Paulo Bessa

"If growing in dry conditions yields more nutritious food, then what should someone that grows in a wet climate like me, should do? "

If you want to grow nutrient dense food, just do the soil test and add yearly required nutrients (as lime, copper sulfate, zinc sulfate, borax etc.). On the small scale it is very cheep.
 
Mountain Krauss
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Are there any animals that are particularly good at accumulating potassium? I remember hearing how sheep accumulate soil minerals in their wool, so that if you ship enough wool off a piece a land, you can deplete it of minerals (over decades or centuries). I wonder if one could intentionally graze or browse animals on land to fix an overabundance of potassium.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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So, if you have a plant growing in sterile culture, and add lots of potassium, sure, the other minerals will get locked up. But I think that in a soil full of life, even if there was too much potassium, the plant's symbiotic fungi would make sure they got enough of the other stuff. If not, then woodland animals should all be deficient in all minerals but potassium. Also, our bodies will tend to absorb a balanced amount of minerals from out food. Excess potassium in our produce would not matter if the other minerals are there, at least to some degree.

I read Steve Solomon's book on balancing soils, and I started out really thrilled. But then I found that to balance soils his way means a yearly soil test, and only certain lab results can be used. The ones I had already paid for were useless. And then he figures that every year you will do all the math and figure out exactly how much boron, sulfur, etc. you need to add. This is rather against self sufficiency, it seems.

Finally, to me anyway, he came across as rather cranky. I couldn't help wondering how, if he is right, the world had got along without him for such a long time!

Not to say that his books didn't have a lot of valuable stuff in it.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Also, I like this quote I found on line.

Overall, I think Solomon offer a lot of very good advice but it can easily lead to information overload And I think there is often a tendency to overcomplicate the process of vegetable gardening, or at least organic vegetable gardening.


And he can't seem to imagine gardening without tilling.

And mulching is definitely a good idea, in many if not most climates.
 
Wojciech Majda
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Mountain Krauss wrote:Are there any animals that are particularly good at accumulating potassium? I remember hearing how sheep accumulate soil minerals in their wool, so that if you ship enough wool off a piece a land, you can deplete it of minerals (over decades or centuries). I wonder if one could intentionally graze or browse animals on land to fix an overabundance of potassium.


If your soil pH is low, you can add some lime. If your pH is already around 6,5 or higher you can use gypsum (calcium sulfate) to leach out some of the potassium from your topsoil. In general the way to deal with this is to fertilize your soil with everything that you are exporting from your farm, except of potassium.
 
Wojciech Majda
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:So, if you have a plant growing in sterile culture, and add lots of potassium, sure, the other minerals will get locked up. But I think that in a soil full of life, even if there was too much potassium, the plant's symbiotic fungi would make sure they got enough of the other stuff. If not, then woodland animals should all be deficient in all minerals but potassium. Also, our bodies will tend to absorb a balanced amount of minerals from out food. Excess potassium in our produce would not matter if the other minerals are there, at least to some degree.

I read Steve Solomon's book on balancing soils, and I started out really thrilled. But then I found that to balance soils his way means a yearly soil test, and only certain lab results can be used. The ones I had already paid for were useless. And then he figures that every year you will do all the math and figure out exactly how much boron, sulfur, etc. you need to add. This is rather against self sufficiency, it seems.

Finally, to me anyway, he came across as rather cranky. I couldn't help wondering how, if he is right, the world had got along without him for such a long time!

Not to say that his books didn't have a lot of valuable stuff in it.


Plants and fungi are going to sort of "balance" uptake of the nutrients, but if the has too much potassium it's going to limit how much (for example) calcium the plant is going to uptake. Just because the plant is growing, it doesn't mean it's healthy or will it produce good crop. BTW plenty of boron in the soil tends to help to keep this balance between Ca an K.

Yes, it's not very self sufficient to do soil tests and supply needed nutrients every year. But it's not about self sufficiency but about growing nutrient dense food.
 
Wojciech Majda
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:Also, I like this quote I found on line.

Overall, I think Solomon offer a lot of very good advice but it can easily lead to information overload And I think there is often a tendency to overcomplicate the process of vegetable gardening, or at least organic vegetable gardening.


And he can't seem to imagine gardening without tilling.

And mulching is definitely a good idea, in many if not most climates.


I read his book. I don't think he is overcomplicating organic gardening. Organic gardening is sort of easy. What is a bit complicated (you need to know a bit of 5th grade math and basic soil chemistry) is growing nutrient dense food. Those are two different things.
 
henry stevenson
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Okay, I live fairly high up, in a fairly wet part of a fairly wet island (britain). Next weekend I am building a hugelbeet on a hill that is rather a bit exposed (which is part of the reason im building it, to help create a micro climate) because it has some protection from the hils to the south but generally we're in that wonderful situation where weather comes in off the atlantic and hits the hills and dumps water on us. A lot of water.

Is it then a mistake to build a hugelbeet in these circumstances? Is it just going to be too difficult for the soil to hold onto nutrients?
 
Wojciech Majda
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If it's a rainy country nutrients are going to be leached out quicker than in a place with less rainfalls, but Hugel will improve nutrient retention. So do it...
 
bob day
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seems to me there has been too much focus on available minerals and not enough focus on soil biology.

studies and research done by someone constantly throwing soil microbiology out of balance are totally suspect in my book.

where aggregates formed by diverse, intact soil biology are allowed to grow and stabilize , soils resist being washed clean of nutrients

fungi and bacteria are totally capable of finding the minerals they need in the rocks and "unavailable" minerals in the soil

I do believe a seaweed addition to compost for trace minerals can't hurt,but only as a temporary food to establish biology that will then find those trace minerals and begin to supply them , and by far, the elements are already present , what is lacking is the soil life to obtain and carry them to the plants roots

so nutrient dense food is really dependent on high quality. diverse microbiology.

As far as doing the math and figuring out each year what to feed the plants, wouldn't it be better to simply resupply the diversity of microbiology, and let the plants order what they need from the soil food web minute by minute.

Sure, on the short term it might seem that a soil would/could get imbalanced and added minerals might be useful, with demonstrated results, but take those same results out over time, and will the soil with a functional network underground, undisturbed by tillage really be that far out of balance nutritionally?

fungal networks subsoil have been shown to move nutrients long distances, so with the plants selectively producing specific sugars to attract the species specific bacteria/fungi that specialize in gathering this or that nutrient that the plant needs in this or that stage of growth, it seems like the better long term focus would be reducing tillage and supplying a wide diversity of microbes and letting them reorganize the evolutionary soil life patterns that sustained us before we started to plow the earth

seems like less work and more fun, wait, isn't that permaculture?
 
Dale Hodgins
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Well said, Bob.

I'm sure that there are many instances where things need to be added. Once all building blocks are present, I wouldn't want to be constantly testing and calculating.
 
William James
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mostafa ismail wrote:
I read two books for Solmon , farming without irrigation , and the other about composting . to tell you the truth I came out almost empty handed , I felt like chasing my tail , in the end I felt the man is against organic farming. I might be wrong .


That's funny, I was getting that impression too as I read The Intelligent Gardener, but in the end I don't think he cares if you are conventional or organic, or "way beyond that." I think he feels the need to express how important nutrient dense food is, how you can get nutrient dense food through remineralizing, and how if you eat nutrient dense food biocides can be metabolized by one's body. That last point is probably what people would argue most about.

He seems to get the goods, so I'm not the one that is going to doubt him. That being said, I'm not going conventional any time soon.

As for his anti-mulch stance, Holmgren also says that too much mulch can cause potassium buildup (when he talks about the limits of sheet mulch gardens). I imagine it's correct that when you load the same basic nutrients on top of the soil, eventually you're overloading those minerals and other minerals won't be present or will be so out of balance they won't be accessible. A little varied mulch is okay, a lot of unvaried mulch is not okay.

William
 
bob day
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Again, i would like to point to the newest science that is developing around really detailed knowledge of soil biology and the way nutrients are delivered to plant roots

this idea that plants are somehow consigned to the percentages of elements in the soil, or somehow limited by them was a thought process developed before we knew all the details of the biological interractions.

Any science based on the limited knowledge of past generations will be itself limited until it figures out the relationships in a brand new way according to the latest knowledge

sort of like trying to figure out how to fly to the moon with newtonian physics, you might be able to do it, but a whole lot of the trip will be more luck than knowledge without relativity in your tool belt.

I listen to so many of the permaculture stars and see them adapting their teachings as new information becomes available.

the same events occur, the same measurements are taken, but with new knowledge those measurements have different explanations, and different methods of correction.

When geoff lawton sprays new style compost tea and suddenly adds an extra ear to each corn plant it's going to change every aspect of how he approaches soil nutrients and plant growth.

It's even starting to look like ph isn't as important as it once was thought to be. The real key here is to not get caught in any ideology or thought form that comes out of the pre elaine ingham science, and probably, once her discoveries are supplanted by even finer ones, we will all have to move into a different understanding that will make her work obsolete.
 
Wojciech Majda
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@bob day
Fungi and bacteria are totally capable of finding nutrients for themselves. But that doesn't mean they will provide them in optimum amounts and balance to the plants*.

Nutrient dense food is NOT (only) based on diverse soil biology. If certain minerals are not in the soil, or they are in low amount how can they magically appear in high amount in our food? Microbes will only make more available what is already in the soil.

"As far as doing the math and figuring out each year what to feed the plants, wouldn't it be better to simply resupply the diversity of microbiology, and let the plants order what they need from the soil food web minute by minute. "

It clearly would be better, but it would also be better if people didn't steel, rape, kill each other etc.. But unfortunately that's not how the world works.

"Sure, on the short term it might seem that a soil would/could get imbalanced and added minerals might be useful, with demonstrated results, but take those same results out over time, and will the soil with a functional network underground, undisturbed by tillage really be that far out of balance nutritionally? "

Yes, it would be, because most soils are naturally imbalanced. For example If the soil is delivered from granite, it will not produce high quality food (if not supplemented), as it's low in calcium and magnesium and relatively high in potassium. The plants are going to suck up too much potassium, and not enough other nutrients. You will get poor, average or just above average plants.

"fungal networks subsoil have been shown to move nutrients long distances, so with the plants selectively producing specific sugars to attract the species specific bacteria/fungi that specialize in gathering this or that nutrient that the plant needs in this or that stage of growth, it seems like the better long term focus would be reducing tillage and supplying a wide diversity of microbes and letting them reorganize the evolutionary soil life patterns that sustained us before we started to plow the earth "

OK, what do you do if the whole county or state is low in copper, zinc and selenium?

Check this videos, do you know why that happen?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQOQdBLHrLk
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPa-NetXeUk

*By optimum balance I mean nutrient dens, containing the highest possible level of minerals required for animals and humans health.
 
Wojciech Majda
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@Bob day
Why trees naturally grow in the tropics and not grass, that is supporting large herds of herbivores?
 
bob day
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i think when all is said and done with this new science we will be seeing the unlocking and rethinking of lots of secrets of the past

I think i read one of Bills statements about Australia being a forest overhanging the ocean from shore to shore before the aborigines got there, yet now it is a desert

my guess is that natural evolution develops soil biology that favors trees---unless---- everything is being continuously grazed and /or burned

now, i believe it is possible to start a rainforest almost overnight just by having the appropriate soil biology and enough water to get started

of course there are other aspects, that add into the mix, but the sahara was once tropical rainforest, and mostly i would imagine the reasons it is so dry have to do with changes in climate patterns due to removal of trees

The native Americans developed and maintained the praries with regular burning in a more or less sustainable way, and the accounts i've heard said that prairie extended much farther eastward than it does now, with forests replacing what is no longer maintained as grasslands

Willie Smits documented somewhere around a 20-30% increase in rainfall when he reforested relatively small sections

imagine what would have happened if he had not, dry savannah moving in and rainforest soil organisms moving out, and continuing decrease in rain as more and more land is deforested
 
Peter Ellis
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I think it is important to understand that there is a critical disconnect in this discussion. Permaculture is pursuing the optimum balance of a global ecosystem to benefit the planet Earth and all that live upon it. That means sustainable, regenerative systems. It means efficiency and balance and not trying to make it all work out to our absolute maximum benefit over each of our short life times.
Solomon is about maximum nutrient density in his food crops.

Those two goals are not compatible.

As permaculture practitioners, I think we ought to be pursuing very healthy plants and animals in very healthy ecosystems. We can shoot for maximum nutrient density, but within the parameters of maintaining that healthy ecosystem. A system so complex we are only being to grasp its fundamentals and with impacts that reach so much further than our personal physical nutrition.

I think it makes no sense to focus on maximizing nutritional density while not maintaining the health of the entire system. We have to stretch our minds to try to grasp the complexity of the big picture and not break it down trying to optimize some little piece of the picture.
 
William James
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Peter Ellis wrote:
Solomon is about maximum nutrient density in his food crops.


Peter,
Great points. I totally agree that max nutrient density shouldn't be the only objective, here. On the other hand, when people are eating food that gives them very low nutrition, aiming for "higher" (not maximizing at all costs) nutrition of all or most vitamins and minerals is a noble goal. Certainly it's only one piece of the puzzle and we shouldn't be so myopic as to thing that obtaining a personal maximum nutrient density is the be-all, end-all of existence. Quickly we slip into faddish diets and soothsayers preaching nutrition over the health of the planet and even one's own ecosystem.

The concentration on mined rock dust has me worried in general, and I think anyone proselytizing nutrient density through mineral amendments has to come to terms with the fact that it is a strategy that doesn't scale very well. In that case, I think it's important to try and imagine other ways to re-mineralize in the input phase and more effective ways to recycle nutrients on site in the long term, so as obtain the goal of ecosystem balance along with an increase in overall nutrition of the people affected by the design.

Best,
William

 
bob day
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What they said.

thanks
 
William James
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bob day wrote:

When Geoff Lawton sprays new style compost tea and suddenly adds an extra ear to each corn plant it's going to change every aspect of how he approaches soil nutrients and plant growth.


@Bob,
This just came to me...
The reason why Geoff Lawton can spray compost tea and have a huge impact on the soil life is two-fold. First, he's using a new aerating system that really loads up the compost tea with beneficial micro-organisms. The other fact, which I think people might miss, is that his compost has manure that has had minerals added; not to mention that whatever straw or grass has probably been shat on by his nutrient-producing animals. Geoff feeds his cows and poultry chemical amendments in order to have them poop out stuff that is going to alter the health of the soil. So, of course his compost tea is awesome.

His overall strategy of getting nutrients into the soil requires a certain infrastructure that may or may not be missing for a lot of other people and needs to be designed into their operation.

Wojciech Majda wrote:If certain minerals are not in the soil, or they are in low amount how can they magically appear in high amount in our food? Microbes will only make more available what is already in the soil.

One thing about the availability of nutrients in the soil is that nutrients might be available, just not in the soil horizon one is looking at. A tree has longer roots than a carrot and can bring up nutrients that a carrot can then use. Bringing the nutrient from 15 or 20 meters under the soil to the 3 centimeter deep soil where the carrot can access it probably requires human (and sometimes mechanical) effort. So, the minerals can, in some sense "magically" appear if we want them to from the same plot of ground.

William
 
Wojciech Majda
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@Peter Ellis
Putting back minerals into the soil is not going to damage ecosystems. If anything it's going to improve them because animals are going to get high quality food. It's going to improve soil biology, as microbes will have the elements they need. Anyway, last time I've checked people are usually growing food on the hugels, so it should be somehow important to maximize nutrient density. I know, there are people for who health is not important, but for majority it is.

Other important aspect is the fact, that well balanced soil produce more food, so other areas can be provided for different things. Zone 1 is a place of intensive food production and it's not wrong to import nutrients to those areas.

 
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