• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

Steve Solomon versus Permaculture; the solution!  RSS feed

 
Gilbert Fritz
Posts: 1257
Location: Denver, CO
21
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have been trying to mentally resolve this conflict between Steve Solomon and the Permaculturists. And I think I have done it. See what you think.

Steve Solomon says that Phosphorus is a big problem for gardens, while soils are generally full of Potassium. Thus the soil will be imbalanced, and plants (and people) will become deficient and sickly. He claims that importing leaves, wood, and straw to a garden will have a bad effect, since they are full of Potassium, but not much Phosphorus. Permaculture would advise directly adding wood and straw as mulch and building hugelkultures.

But then I realized something.

Steve Solomon has a bare dirt, tilled garden. With shallow rooted annual plants, and a wet climate, leaching will be high. Meanwhile, annual plants can not partner effectively with fungi and other microorganisms. So, for him, a potassium/ phosphorus imbalance will be a big problem.

In a Permaculture garden, lots of potassium containing wood chips, logs, etc. are imported. Deep rooted and perennial plants are included in the garden. Deep, rich, undisturbed soil is created from the top down and the bottom up. This provides a perfect environment for fungi. Fungi mobilize and transport phosphorus to plants. So even if the phosphorus/ potassium ratio is a bit off, the plants will get plenty of phosphorus due to the fungi and other micro-organisms. The late succession plants are better then annuals at controlling their attendant herds of micro-organisms, and this will also lead to more balanced nutrition. (Of course, this means there has to be SOME phosphorus in the soil or subsoil. If both subsoil and topsoil are completely deficient, some phosphate rock is probably in order, once.)

So the Permaculture Garden, with its potassium rich mulches, will actually be better off as far as phosphorus (and other minerals) is concerned.

In short, Steve Solomon is approaching this problem as a chemist, not as a biologist, and as a conventional farmer, not as a Permaculturist. In his own field, he is correct, and we should heed his advice to some degree. His view of historical mineral deficiencies and their effects is interesting. But pile on the wood chips!
 
Walter McQuie
Posts: 49
Location: Northern New Mexico
7
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Well, one thing I thought when I read Steve's last book, and what I get from his nutrient density buddies, is that they believe that it is not just the absolute amounts of nutrients in the soil, but the ratios among them that determine how healthy plants will be. So I don't think Steve will conclude you've reconciled the two camps: saying perennial polycultures will make enough phosphorous available to plants despite high levels of potassium doesn't really meet with his concern that you have to have sufficient phosphorous and an appropriate balance with potassium. It may well be, and I'm willing to go along with you, that there are numerous advantages to a permaculture oriented approach and that those advantages outweigh any detrimental lack of nutrient balance, but I don't think you've actually addressed all of Steve's concerns.

I got a little concerned when you say "with shallow rooted annual plants, and a wet climate, leaching will be high". One, I'm not clear on what shallow rooted annual plants have to do with leaching. Two, I've understood that the issue with phosphorous that mycorrihiza resolve is that it quickly becomes chemically bound to other minerals in the soil, not that it all leaches. The fungi can break the chemical bonds and transport P to the plant roots. Certainly treating your mycorrihza well is a better approach than frequent tilling and application of phosphorous fertilizer. But that doesn't implicate either annual plants or leaching.

I got really concerned when you say "annual plants can not partner effectively with fungi and other microorganisms." I understand that brassicas and the beet family don't enter into fungal relationships, but that other vegetables do. I've assumed that the brassicas and beets nevertheless feed bacteria that work to make soil nutrients available to plant roots, just that their roots can function without fungi. I'd be very interested in following up on any sources of contrary information you have. Host Preferences of Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi Colonizing Annual Herbaceous Plant Species in Semiarid Mediterranean Prairies is just one study indicating that annual plants are valuable members of the soil food web: "In conclusion, the semiarid prairies in Mediterranean conditions can have a high AMF [Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi] diversity, mostly supported by annual plant species in spite of the fact that their presence is limited to a short period of time related to the late-winter and early-spring rainfall." The study used plants native to southeastern Spain--6 annuals and 1 perennial--and not vegetables that Steve Solomon is growing. It also seems to be well accepted that annual legumes have a rather sophisticated partnership with certain bacteria.

Clearly annual vegetable growing using conventional, even organic, techniques leaves a lot to be desired. Less naturally occurring phosphorous will be available to plants grown with regular tillage and fertilizer application and perhaps if you grow annuals and leave ground barren of growing plant roots much of the time. That is sufficient to make the point that Steve doesn't have the whole answer. As you say, he comes at the issues from a limited perspective rather than a holistic one. Nutrient density proponents also rely heavily on a brix reading--basically measuring dissolved solids in crushed plant juice--to gauge how healthy plants are. It is entirely possible that their balanced fertilizer approach works within that paradigm, but that others work just as well or better at growing food that nurtures healthy people.

There is a whole branch of science--agroecology--that is devoted to the study of how to use natural processes to grow food sustainably. One might even say that the design methodology known as permaculture has adopted many of the practices put forward by these scientists. I often feel I'm more of an agroecologist than a permaculturalist because my focus is on growing healthy food--in a challenging environment--that local people want to eat rather than in designing a system using approved techniques. I don't really mean to criticize anyone, just to understand how to achieve my goals in a manner that is kind to the environment. So I'll end with a question: are annual vegetables capable of contributing to and benefiting from a healthy soil food web?
 
Gilbert Fritz
Posts: 1257
Location: Denver, CO
21
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hello Walter,

One of my points was that I don't think plants are at the mercy of soil chemistry, so long as organic matter and fungi are present. Steve Solomon is right about this in his tilled beds, not about a hugelkulture.

Also, I should have said that an annually tilled garden can not make use of fungi, because they will not be present (will get shredded). Annuals in a sheet mulch would probably do much better at this.

But I think you do make some important points. And no, I wouldn't think Steve would agree with me. But I always try to integrate conflicting views, instead of sticking to one and throwing out the other. This is my feeble attempt to do this here. I think, in most scientific conflicts, that both views are at least partly right, just in different contexts and different ways.
 
Adam Klaus
author
gardener
Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
65
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Gilbert Fritz wrote:
One of my points was that I don't think plants are at the mercy of soil chemistry, so long as organic matter and fungi are present. Steve Solomon is right about this in his tilled beds, not about a hugelkulture.


Soil chemistry always matters. Hugelculture is great, I am a fan. But it isnt going to magically mitigate severe nutrient deficiencies. If the molecules arent there, then they arent there. You need to ammend your soil, or your crops will be deficient. Solomon's big trip isnt about productivity, it is about nutrition. Yes, you can grow food in deficient soils, but the food produced will not be optimal for human health. That is his big point, IMHO.

Gilbert Fritz wrote:Also, I should have said that an annually tilled garden can not make use of fungi, because they will not be present (will get shredded). Annuals in a sheet mulch would probably do much better at this.


Not true at all, IME. I have annually garden beds that get tilled once a year. There is excellent fungal content in their soil. I have all sorts of different mushrooms popping up under the canopy of my annual plants in midsummer. I work to encourage fungal populations in my garden soil by innoculating my compost with native mushrooms, and spraying horsetail biodynamic fermented tea.

For me the key is working with all possible tools in the annual garden. I utilize agronomy, soil testing, and mineral balancing. I utilize hugelculture and polycultural planting. I make biodynamic compost, adding native mushrooms, and apply that as a top dressing. I spray raw milk. All of these techniques add something to my soil health. My objective is growing nutritious food in a way that gets easier and more productive over time. So far so good!

good luck!
 
John Saltveit
gardener
Posts: 2049
62
bike books food preservation forest garden fungi trees
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
This is a great discussion! Annuals do have fewer exudates to encourage the soil food web. Tilling does chop up a lot of mycorrhizal mycelium and it makes many forms of microbiology die. Some can only live at the depth they're at, so moving them to another layer kills them. I think it is a valid criticism of Steve
Solomon that he is primarily growing annual vegetables, which limits his potential for food and for soil replenishment. I think biodynamic agriculture is really interesting, although I have only studied it briefly. It makes sense that Adam can make up for tilling and other practices with biodynamic help, although in my estimation, a very small percentage of permaculturists know about biodynamic gardening and fewer actually practice it, primarily due to time constraints. I agree that soil chemistry matters, and how we fit it into an overall biological system matters too. I think that SOlomon often overlooks the latter. For example, growing lupine can add both phosphorus and nitrogen to your soil, attract native pollinators and beneficial insects.
John S
PDX OR
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
Posts: 2679
Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
174
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Humans and other animals excrete phosphorus in urine and manure. So another way to add phosphorus back into the soil is to use these elements within the system. I don't know Steve's work so I don't know if he addresses this, but certainly permaculture is all about creating a no-waste system where everything gets cycled through and used in some way.
 
Walter McQuie
Posts: 49
Location: Northern New Mexico
7
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hey Gilbert,
Gilbert Fritz wrote:I always try to integrate conflicting views, instead of sticking to one and throwing out the other. This is my feeble attempt to do this here. I think, in most scientific conflicts, that both views are at least partly right, just in different contexts and different ways.

I appreciate you starting this thread. I think science is important to lay people when it functions as a sort of careful observation of the natural processes at play in the environment, particularly for those that are contemplating some permaculture. Scientists function within a context that can have an effect on their conclusions though one hopes not their observations.

John Saltveit wrote:This is a great discussion! Annuals do have fewer exudates to encourage the soil food web.

I agree! Here's a great article about "the area around a plant root that is inhabited by a unique population of microorganisms"--The Rhizosphere - Roots, Soil and Everything In Between:

The list of specific compounds released from roots is very long, but can generally be categorized into organic acids, amino acids, proteins, sugar, cellulose, mucilage, phenolics and other secondary metabolites...The cocktail of chemicals released is influenced by plant species, edaphic [of, pertaining to, or influenced by the soil] and climactic conditions which together shape and are shaped by the microbial community within the rhizosphere. There is still very little known about the role that a majority of the compounds play in influencing rhizosphere processes. A growing body of literature is beginning to lift the veil on the many functions of root exudates as a means of acquiring nutrients (e.g. acquisition of Fe and P), agents of invasiveness (i.e. allelopathy) or as chemical signals to attract symbiotic partners (chemotaxis) (e.g. rhizobia and legumes) or the promotion of beneficial microbial colonization on root surfaces (e.g. Bacillus subtilis, Pseudomonas florescence) (Bais, Park et al. 2004).

I think it is likely that most plants release their cocktail to meet their particular needs. Woody perennial exudates feed more fungus which breaks down the lignin that dominates forest litter. Annual vegetable exudates feed more plant growth promoting rhizobacteria since rapid growth is a basic strategy for their niche. Lots of plants means lots of exudates and a busy rhizosphere.

Adam Klaus wrote:I work to encourage fungal populations in my garden soil by innoculating my compost with native mushrooms, and spraying horsetail biodynamic fermented tea.

10% of Steve Solomon's compost pile is soil from his garden so it seems he may be innoculating his compost, just a little more conventionally. You're doing a lot more. I feel there's great value in nurturing the natural processes that were here before we were.

Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:Humans and other animals excrete phosphorus in urine and manure. So another way to add phosphorus back into the soil is to use these elements within the system...certainly permaculture is all about creating a no-waste system where everything gets cycled through and used in some way.

Just so. The process is ready to go when the inputs arrive on the scene.
 
Angelika Maier
Posts: 876
Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I think that you cannot totally plant everything what you need with perennials. Potatoes, tomatoes beans and such are annuals in most climates. IMO it is important how your whole garden looks. If you have only you tilled annual beds or if these beds are surrounded by shrubs and trees. I guess that there is a difference if you hoe lightly or if you double dig. Sheet mulching is great but it takes fertility of other farms to your garden, that is not very eco.
Solomon and there is this other guy Nauta, have really a very mechanistic approach. And for many the problem is that they don't have the money for all these fertilizers and tests required.
 
John Saltveit
gardener
Posts: 2049
62
bike books food preservation forest garden fungi trees
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I agree that an overall approach is probably best for most permaculturalists/food gardeners. Don't forget self-seeding crops. I grow many of those. A soil test costs $20 at Logan Labs so it is within the range of most people. Also, annuals can be planted without tilling or double digging. Many people double dig only once, and then use mulch and compost after that.

Walter-that was a great article. Thanks,
John S
PDX OR
 
Johnny Niamert
Posts: 268
Location: Colo
3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Sorry I'm late to the discussion but I just finished The Intelligent Gardener. I was 'saving' reading this thread until I was finished and would more understand the discussion.

I think Solomon's "ideal situation" may be overlooked in this thread and actually does incorporate some permaculture ideals. Solomon's "ideal situation" may not be 100% permaculture, but his own take on it. His "ideal situation" involves splitting an acre into several plots. He recommends first balancing soils according to his prescription and using one plot of 1/8th an acre each year for annual gardening. The other plots are reseeded with perennial grasses, clovers, and deep-rooted herbs; then let to rest for another 5 years before being reused again as annual veggies. He even mentions/recommends planting fruit and nut trees in this situation in one of the plots, and devoting that plot to such. By soil testing and amending first, it's just gonna make this system grow that much better than not testing/amending and relying on accumulator plants.

Granted this is his "ideal" situation and isn't 100% permaculture, per-se, but I definitely think it would be classified as "based in permaculture". I don't think the leap to testing soil, building, and practicing 100% permaculture (is there even such a thing that's agreed upon?) is a big stretch, as even Solomon admits, it is rare for everybody to even have enough land to do this with. He may still use mechanical means to prepare the soil for annual production, but this can be easily forgone based on one's personal view of tilling.
Even Solomon's garden isn't set-up this way, according to the book. His garden is surrounded by perennial food crops and he is planning on, eventually, splitting it into 3 plots, where 2 plots are devoted to grasses, clovers, and herbs for 4 years; while 1 is being grown annually for 2 years. For the time being, he depends on making great composts. Why not incorporate his recommendations into your personal view of permaculture?


I agree with the notion if an element is missing, or severely lacking, planting accumulator plants will help, but it's not gonna be the magic bullet anytime soon. Maybe for your kids or the next owners, but accumulator plants can't accumulate what isn't present or what is severely lacking in a timely (for our purpose) matter.
 
John Pollard
Posts: 125
Location: Ozarks
5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:Humans and other animals excrete phosphorus in urine and manure. So another way to add phosphorus back into the soil is to use these elements within the system. I don't know Steve's work so I don't know if he addresses this, but certainly permaculture is all about creating a no-waste system where everything gets cycled through and used in some way.


I read gardening for the coming hard times and he did mention something about humanure and that he and his wife had talked about it and would do it when hard times come. I never read any mention of animals though.

I'll admit, I'm a bit lost on the conversation above but that is part of our problem isn't it. A disconnect between scientific theory and layman observation.
 
Gilbert Fritz
Posts: 1257
Location: Denver, CO
21
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi everyone,

I just wanted to clarify something. I did not mean that fungi could magically make phosphorus or any other nutrient appear out of nowhere. I meant that if the phosphorus/ potassium or phosphorus/ calcium or the calcium/ iron balance were off, the fungi would feed their plants properly regardless. Steve Solomon's big point is balance, a fairly exact balance. And according to him our sheet mulches and hugelkultures are filling the land with potassium, thus throwing off the balance with phosphorus. But I think that the fungi this woody matter encourages makes this problem irrelevant. MOST land contains SOME of the various nutrients SOMEWHERE. If it does not, you will have to import it.
 
I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you - Fred Rogers. Tiny ad:
paul's patreon stuff
https://permies.com/t/60329/paul-patreon-stuff
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!