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Is there anyway to look at a plant and know how deep the roots go?  RSS feed

 
Matt Powers
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Are there any tests you can do without unearthing the plant?

Thanks!
MP
 
Robert Kourik
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Nope Matt. The only reliable root "maps" are done by excavating the root system and drawing it. The top above ground does not indicate anything about what the root system looks like. I have a "map" of a sequoia that is 58 meters tall the roots are wider the 58 meters and approx. no deeper then 20-30 feet, not meters.
 
Matt Powers
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In relation to that root map you have, do you feel that the toroidal representation of trees and their energy transactions in Mollison's Permaculture a designer's manual is misleading?
 
Robert Kourik
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Hi Matt, What does "toroidal representation of trees and their energy transactions " mean? I have Mollison's book (my former intern was Reny Slay) what page is it on?
 
Matt Powers
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The torus pattern of energy showing equivalent roots to branches ratio. Realizing now I was mashing up Lawton's course and Bill's book: all the ratios are represented equally in the book for trees and this is carried further by Geoff with the idea that there is an equivalence of branches to roots.

Any clearer?

You spoke of areas in Permaculture that needed more research you've been working on. I'm super interested in what those are and how they push the evolution of the design science in practice.
 
Robert Kourik
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If you/they are saying there are as many roots as the branches (and no more) - you/they are very wrong. I have lots of illustrations that show roots with a lot more extensive than the top. (And roots "branch" in a very, very different way than the top branches.) When you have roots 1-2 meters deep and 10-30 meters wide (radius!) you have a lot of roots compared to branches. If you include the mass of the trunk you would probably get closer on a weight basis. In regards to Permaculture, there is so much to discuss. I'm up to 250 pages in the book. So I'll leave the broad discussion out of this forum and stick to mostly roots (and drip irrigation relative to roots).
 
Matt Powers
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I hear you, Robert!

I just always like to tease out the info that is to come

That's just my nature,

MP
 
Michael Cox
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I would also imagine that the ratio varies considerably with soil and climate conditions...

I imagine that an arid environment tree would need comparatively more root and less photosynthesis area to balance energy and water needs.
 
Robert Kourik
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I think you're right Michael. Yet still a lot of the roots of chaparral plants are in the upper soil. 72.4% of the root mass is in the top 20cm (8 inches) of soil. 22.5% 20-40cm.
 
Robert Kourik
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Matt here's for you, this is Dr. Weaver mapping some roots.
Filename: weaver in trench.tiff
Description: Dr. Weaver getting down & dirty.
File size: 379 Kbytes
 
John Wolfram
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If time/money were no object, ground penetrating radar could be used to give you a rough idea of root location without digging up the tree. Perhaps you could also inject radiolabeled or magneticlabelled substances into the tree and measure them remotely. Either way, it would be pretty difficult.
 
Robert Kourik
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You're correct John. In England they used radioactive isotopes to see where the nutrients where coming from. The first 4 feet from the trunk was 10% or less of the nutrients absorbed with this 25-year-old apple tree. (Should give the comfrey lovers something to ponder.)
 
Matt Powers
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So is comfrey not a dynamic accumulator? I don't understand.

I see many possible meanings for "The 1st 4' from the trunk was 10% or less of the nutrients absorbed".
 
Robert Kourik
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I don't think they had anything to do with comfrey in the study done decades ago. Those who think comfrey might provide nutrients may want to plant further away then in the first foot. I'd like to see the research connected to the comfrey chop-and-drop concept. And I've never been able to find a root map of a comfrey plant. I read everywhere that permies say it's roots go to 10 feet, some say 9' which is even more confusing, but can't find the origin of this concept. My soil is not 10' deep. The only alluvial topsoil around where I live is on a friend's farm, and she won't marry me!
 
Matt Powers
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Hm... is it good for starting out trees? maintaining older trees? what distance is most effective and with what trees?

I'm digging where this is heading... Once I get symphatum officianalis seeds coming I'll start digging them up and I'll post the results here.

What about Comfrey Tea? They barrel it up, ferment it, and use it like a fertilizing mineral tea.
 
Robert Kourik
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The reason I said "I'd like to see the research connected to the comfrey chop-and-drop concept. " is that I haven't seen any research that shows this works as fertility - especially in arid summer here in N. CA where the leaves dry out, not rot until some rot in the winter rains. I also have hard times with the claim of 10-foot-deep roots as I don't know who started this and have not seen any drawings or photos to substantiate it.
 
Matt Powers
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From a teaching perspective, I really want things to go into kids heads that have a verifiable context that can be tested at school so that they may know for themselves with confidence before they bring it home to do on their folks' land. Thank you for your work!
 
Matt Powers
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So I reached out to a pen pal of mine, Elaine Ingham. If we are lucky, she will have some info for us.

Standing by,

MP
 
Matt Powers
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Elaine Ingham, the Noam Chomsky of soil, gave the classic permie answer: It depends. If there's soil compaction, it couldn't go that far, but if there isn't, it can go 9'. I'll work on getting you a root map this next year.
 
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