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Lack of poop endangers soil

 
John Saltveit
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Amusing concept, but nonetheless true and important. Maybe we can do our part to improve the situation.
John S
PDX OR

http://www.livescience.com/52587-missing-giant-poop-is-hurting-earth.html?adbpr=15428397&adbid=660758203001536512&adbpl=tw
 
Su Ba
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I always assumed that the deep soils of the American prairies was due to the vast buffalo herds grazing & pooping. The poop made a lot of grass grow, which was in turn consumed and re-pooped. Lots of soil building material in that scenario. With the vast herds gone, the cycle has been stopped.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Once again if we're not willing to allow the animals and native peoples to do the work (bison and native americans together helped create the prairies; the humans in the role of predators who kept the herds moving), we'll have to do the work ourselves!

 
Bryant RedHawk
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Sounds like the best real solution would be to reduce the number of two leg inhabitants who are responsible for these reductions in large animals.

The rediscovery of mob grazing (imitating what the Tatanka did) is doing wonders for the lands this method is practiced on.
Just about any grazing animals can be used for this type of soil improvement, use of more than one species does even more to nurture the land.
In the end humans must take responsibility for what their greed oriented actions have done.

 
Tyler Ludens
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I think we could replace the vast corn and wheat fields with healthier free-range meat on pasture, and probably end up with a net gain in food value if not pure tonnage of "product". I agree RedHawk that placing limits on our desires (including the desire for apparently infinite numbers of humans) would be a good idea also.
 
Michael Vormwald
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I dunno....it seems to me that herds of herbivores eat the grasses, extracting the nutrition they need and leave their waste products behind. Without them the grasses grow, die and decompose, depositing their waste, including that which was not extracted by any animals. It seems to me it would be a net gain, not a loss.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I think the main problem is that even the grasses are gone, having been replaced by fields of corn....

 
John Saltveit
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The problem with removing the animals and just having the grass die, is that there is so much less biodiversity. Many types of fungi decompose and transform the dung and dead animals, dung beetles move the dung in balls to other parts of the field, reptiles and birds eat the dung beetles, in the dung are multitudinous microbes: bacteria, of course, which lead to all of the others, like fungi, ciliates, nematodes, etc. The diversity provides more resiliency in the ecology and in the gut microbiome of the mammals involved. You don't have to eat the animals to appreciate their part in the ecosystem and the job that they due to keep everything in balance.
John S
PDX OR
 
William Bronson
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Michael Vormwald wrote:I dunno....it seems to me that herds of herbivores eat the grasses, extracting the nutrition they need and leave their waste products behind. Without them the grasses grow, die and decompose, depositing their waste, including that which was not extracted by any animals. It seems to me it would be a net gain, not a loss.


I think Allen Savory says it better, but let me take a stab at this. Grasses without animals grow until something, usually the dry season kills them. The husks desicate , blow away, or even if they sit still, just don't do much until things get wet again.
Animals eat grass, depositing a wet pile of ground up, partially digested, goo, teeming with bacteria and grass seeds. Then they tillit it into the soil.
It's like the difference between silage and hay, cabbage and Saurkraut, autumn leaves and spring compost. For a small energy fee, grazing herbivores preserve plant nutrients and make them more available to the next generation of plants. Removing them from grassland is like removing wolves from deer habitat.

I think humans could a play a similar or unique role in ecosystems . We certainly speed the spread of species from one biome to the next!
Raccoons, rats, roaches, coyotes, starlings, innumerable domesticated and wild plants,tend to thrive where ever we go, for good or for ill.
Are we above and responsible for the natural world, or are we just another species among many?
I say life on earth will go on with or without us, like it has with so many species before. We might be able to choose what effect we have on the world at large,unlike say the cyanobacteria that continue to poison the earth with their dioxygen...
 
Michael Vormwald
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I'm very familiar with Alan Savory's work and the remorse he felt after the unnecessary killing of thousands of elephants...however, that was Africa. In the American Plains, I believe much/most of the grasses are winter killed, mulch the soil and decompose like sheet composting. I'm in the Northeast, but I have some unused land that hasn't had any animals on it in over 50 years and it grows grass, brush and trees just fine - but I get periodic rainfall. Desertification is surely a serious problem in areas of extreme drought or areas of drought with seasonal monsoons....perhaps even where there are acres and acres of bare ground for conventional monoculture. Herds of animals may help in some areas, but are just not practical in others.
Stopping the widespread use of Roundup just might be a start...but then we wouldn't really need Roundup ready GMO's!
 
Miles Flansburg
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The American plains ecosystem once included thousands upon thousands of buffalo. They were the ones who made the soils that european settlers found .
 
Michael Vormwald
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Miles Flansburg wrote:The American plains ecosystem once included thousands upon thousands of buffalo. They were the ones who made the soils that european settlers found .


I think nature built that topsoil long before the buffalo came along. The buffalo took more [nutrients] than they left behind. The plains would have been better fertilized by the decomposing grasses - think cover crops or green manure.
 
John Saltveit
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Michael,
I don't see any reasoning behind that belief. Did you see my post or William's?
Thanks,
John S
PDX OR
 
Michael Vormwald
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John Saltveit wrote:Michael,
I don't see any reasoning behind that belief. Did you see my post or William's?


The reasoning is simple... nature does not need animal manure to build nutrient rich topsoil. Nature was building rich topsoil eons before mammals arrived on the scene. Consider that the herbivore eats the various forage and extracts the nutrition it needs to grow healthy and strong and leaves waste behind. The waste contains far less nutrients than that which was ingested resulting in a negative loss to the prairie soil. Had the greens died and decomposed much like cover crops and/or green manure, the soil would have had the added nutrients that was otherwise taken by the animals. Manure only enriches soil when it comes from someplace else.
Lets take another example...the forest floor. Deep dark rich soil the result of fallen leaves, rotting wood and plant debris - no foraging animals.
 
John Saltveit
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Do you understand that many plants and animals co-evolved together, and only made leaps of evolution as the wide biodiversity allowed them to be more resilient in responding to different weather and climatic challenges? A plant by itself has very little resiliency. Herbivores eat some of the plant, then move on before killing the plant, thereby ensuring the plant's growth. They leave behind an enormous variety of life in the soil, which is where the strength of the grassland biome lies. This is just as a fruit eating animal like, well, us, eats the fruit, plants the seed and ensures the survival of the plant, by fertilizing it and spreading it. You haven't responded to the nutrition and biodiversity in the soil, creating strength and nutrition that was not there before, nor to Alan Savory's well-documented findings.
John S
PDX OR
 
Tyler Ludens
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Michael Vormwald wrote:

I think nature built that topsoil long before the buffalo came along. The buffalo took more [nutrients] than they left behind. The plains would have been better fertilized by the decomposing grasses - think cover crops or green manure.


It's been pretty well established that the prairies co-evolved with the bison and the native humans.

"Prairies developed and were maintained under the influence of three major non-biological stresses: climate, grazing, and fire." http://wwn.inhs.illinois.edu/~kenr/prairieformation.html
 
Michael Vormwald
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John Saltveit wrote:Do you understand that many plants and animals co-evolved together, and only made leaps of evolution as the wide biodiversity allowed them to be more resilient in responding to different weather and climatic challenges? A plant by itself has very little resiliency. Herbivores eat some of the plant, then move on before killing the plant, thereby ensuring the plant's growth. They leave behind an enormous variety of life in the soil, which is where the strength of the grassland biome lies. This is just as a fruit eating animal like, well, us, eats the fruit, plants the seed and ensures the survival of the plant, by fertilizing it and spreading it. You haven't responded to the nutrition and biodiversity in the soil, creating strength and nutrition that was not there before, nor to Alan Savory's well-documented findings.
John S
PDX OR


At this stage, we should probably just agree to disagree.

It's my contention that the rich topsoil of the great plains (estimated to originally be several feet deep) was not created by the buffalo but that the buffalo flourished because of it. That is until man made a sport of hunting them to near extinction! Grasses and plants that grew six and eight foot tall as far as the eye could see. This is not so surprising anymore than the rich soil of the forest floor or that of the tropical rain forest (where herds of herbivores never existed). Foraging animals do not create anymore bio-diversity than the already existing millions if not trillions of creatures in the soil food web...nourished by decaying organic matter - with or without animal manure.

We can turn hardpan into nutrient rich garden soil with leaves, grass clippings, green cover crops, green manure crops, even wood chips and mulch (e.g. Back To Eden) just as nature has done for millions of years - without any animal manure. This is the essence of permaculture.

Alan Savory, (after his regretful recommendation for the extermination of thousands of elephants), determined that with careful, controlled land management, livestock could be used to somewhat counter the effects of desertification. But much of Africa is a somewhat special climate with extreme heat and drought with only seasonal monsoons.

The loss of topsoil in the great plains (e.g. 1930's dust bowl and beyond) was not the result of the loss of the buffalo, but caused by man and the plow. As everyone who studies permaculture knows, conventional mono-culture agriculture with tillage, chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides kills the soil life and without cover, the soil is ravaged by wind and water erosion further polluting streams, rivers and lakes.
 
Tyler Ludens
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"Prairies began appearing in the mid-continent from 8,000 to 10,000 years ago and have developed into one of the most complicated and diverse ecosystems in the world, surpassed only by the rainforest of Brazil...."

http://www.nps.gov/tapr/learn/nature/a-complex-prairie-ecosystem.htm

"Two factors of prairie maintenance are fire and grazing. Grazing animals play an important role in maintaining the ecosystem by stimulating plants to grow. This triggers biological activity and nutrient exchanges. Bison, deer, and cattle compact the soil with their hooves and open new areas for seeds and the generation of plants to take root. The role of fire is prevalent in almost every ecosystem. However, few involve fire as frequently as does prairie.

Tallgrass prairie can accumulate an enormous amount of biomass (dead plants) in one year. The leaves die in the fall and the roots go dormant during the cold winter months. The following spring, new shoots grow. As years progress, the old dead leaf litter accumulates and creates a thick thatch covering the ground. New shoots find it harder to take in sunlight, while the ground stays cold and insulating causing a delay in the spring plant growth. Nutrients are locked up in plants yet to decay.

Grazers such as bison and cattle, expend more energy foraging, as they pick the nutritious new foliage from around the dead. As litter accumulates prairie plants actually weaken and smother. Trees and woody bushes are able to invade stressed prairies. Trees create shade as they grow and cause even further restrictions in sunlight available to plants that need full sun. Fire is nature's way of starting over. Fires are started naturally by lighting igniting flammable material or by man, both accidentally and intentionally. The Plains Indians started fires to attract game to new grasses. They sometimes referred to fire as the "Red Buffalo." Ranchers today start fires to improve cattle forage and for prairie health."

http://www.nps.gov/tapr/learn/nature/fire-and-grazing-in-the-prairie.htm
 
Michael Vormwald
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Question: What came first, the chicken or the egg?
Answer: The egg, but it was not the egg of a chicken.

American Plains Indians flourished hunting bison. The bison flourished because of the immense prairie grasses. The prairie grasses flourished because of several feet of rich topsoil. The rich soil food web flourished after eons of decayed grasses and plants...permaculture in perfection. So the bison did not create the rich soil...nature did that.

Manure is not the star spangled fertilizer that some may think. It's what's left after the herbivore has extracted all the nutrition it can. I'm not saying manure is bad...but it's a waste product after nutrients have been removed from the source material...enriching soil is [even] more productive using the source materials.
I don't have livestock so my 3000 sq. ft. organic garden is fertilized with green materials.
2015-11-05 12.51.15-w.jpg
[Thumbnail for 2015-11-05 12.51.15-w.jpg]
fall soil enrichment
 
Tyler Ludens
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Michael, you seem to be ignoring what others are saying.

http://www.conservenature.org/learn_about_wildlife/prairie/ecosystems.htm

I should add: I am not arguing that productive soils can't be created without the addition of manure; my specific point is that the deep fertile soils of the prairies were created in large part through the action of bison and humans (first peoples). The prairie is a unique ecosystem with specific traits. Fertile soils exist in other places and can be created through other methods.

Ecology Action has spent decades studying the creation of fertile soils without manure. Biointensive systems typically do not include animals: http://www.growbiointensive.org/
 
Dave Dahlsrud
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Don't leave out the mega-mammals that grazed the prarie long before the buffalo. They were the original caretakers of those grass lands long before the buffalo and Native Americans came on the scene. Animals like the mastadon, giant precursors to modern elk, and giant grazing sloths. Those were the first grazers that helped to create the prairies of the mid-west. Grazing stimulates the growth of grasses, left to its own devises the vast majority of that plant matter desicatest and leaves very little of the nutrient behind, it oxidizes. You can do the work of the grazer by cutting, pilling, and concentrating the cut grasses, or you can let the grazer do the work and get some tasty table fair as a byproduct. I prefer letting the grazer do the work, I'm kinda lazy that way, plus a properly prepares grass finished steak is a thing of beauty!
 
Tyler Ludens
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Dave Dahlsrud wrote:Don't leave out the mega-mammals that grazed the prarie long before the buffalo.


Prairies developed after that: "Prairies began appearing in the mid-continent from 8,000 to 10,000 years ago..."

http://www.nps.gov/tapr/learn/nature/a-complex-prairie-ecosystem.htm

I really feel like I'm posting stuff nobody is looking at.

 
John Saltveit
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Michael,
I agree that I will probably never persuade you to incorporate other ideas into your conception of how grassland ecoysytems work. However, you are on a public forum, trying to persuade people to your beliefs, which in my opinion, don't include a lot of ideas that are important to understanding how grassland ecosystems work.

Can humans survive on only eggs, water and berries? Probably. Can grasslands survive without animals in them? Yes. But that doesn't mean that either one thrives best that way. You keep making declarations that aren't using the best science available, like

"Foraging animals do not create anymore bio-diversity than the already existing millions if not trillions of creatures in the soil food web...nourished by decaying organic matter - with or without animal manure. "

Do you know what the gut microbiome is? Cows have 4 stomachs. Much of their nutrition derives from the fermentation of the grasses, not just the grasses themselves. Do you really think they aren't adding any new microbiology to the soil? A wheel rolls better than a rock because it is more balanced. An ecosystem with more parts is more resilient because more parts can fill in and complete the system in case of a shock to the system. There simply is no basis for your statement that plants by themselves are as diverse or as productive as one with more diversity in it, and there is a lot of evidence to the contrary.

I'm happy for you to have those beliefs, but I want differing viewpoints to be visible on permies.com because I don't believe that they show the best examination of the evidence.
John S
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Tyler Ludens
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John Saltveit wrote: Can grasslands survive without animals in them? Yes.


I'm not convinced they can, in the long run, at least not prairie grasslands. Without the disturbance and distribution of nutrients, as discussed in the materials I link to, grasses tend to die out, especially those prairie grasses which evolved in concert with the bison and periodic fire. Prairie ecology is specific. Without grazing and fire, grassland will become forest (which is what is happening in my locale, which used to be prairie).
 
John Saltveit
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Well, yes. The part with more rainfall can become a savannah-like forest. The part with less rainfall will become a desert. Some part of it will remain as grasslands, as far as my understanding goes.
John S
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Tyler Ludens
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I'm not meaning to demand proof (which violates permie rules) but, do you know if there are any example grasslands which have endured more than a few decades without grazing? Our grassland here, in between the forest biomes to the east and the desert biomes to the west, are transitioning to oak and juniper woodland, with a few other species mixed in. This has occurred since approximately the end of the 19th century, and this is even with the disturbance of grazing domestic animals (cattle, sheep, goats). What is missing is the movement of large herds - set stocking is the rule - and fire.
 
Dave Dahlsrud
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Tyler you're right, I was thinking savanah not prarie propper, but I would venture that those mega fauna were instrumental in the succession of those areas from savanah to grasslands. My point was mainly that there was a little more interaction going on than just buffalo and natives encouraging fire. The complex interactions that go into creating a biome will always involve more than a couple key players.
 
Rebecca Norman
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Back to the original title "Lack of poop endangers soil"...

When I saw the title, I thought it would be all about how even organic farming will decimate soils eventually because we keep withdrawing the nutrients of our food and shiping them off to cities and then flushing them down toilets.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Dave Dahlsrud wrote:The complex interactions that go into creating a biome will always involve more than a couple key players.


Definitely. But without the key players, the biome won't be healthy, even with all the other support players. Herbivores and their apex predators seem to be necessary for the healthy functioning of ecosystems. https://www.sciencemag.org/content/343/6167/1241484
 
Tyler Ludens
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Rebecca Norman wrote:even organic farming will decimate soils eventually because we keep withdrawing the nutrients of our food and shiping them off to cities and then flushing them down toilets.


That's surely as significant as some other animal poop!
 
Mike Haych
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Before the bison and the people, there was the soil - loess which is naturally fertile. That's not to take anything away from the grazing/burn concept but ISTM that the soil comes first in the model. As usual, the soil underpins everything.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Your link seems to argue against that position, Mike:

"The Loess Hills of Iowa owe their fertility to the prairie topsoils built by 10,000 years of post-glacial accumulation of organic-rich humus as a consequence of a persistent grassland biome. When the valuable A-horizon topsoil is eroded or degraded, the underlying loess soil is infertile, and requires the addition of fertilizer in order to support agriculture."
 
Mike Haych
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Your link seems to argue against that position, Mike:

"The Loess Hills of Iowa owe their fertility to the prairie topsoils built by 10,000 years of post-glacial accumulation of organic-rich humus as a consequence of a persistent grassland biome. When the valuable A-horizon topsoil is eroded or degraded, the underlying loess soil is infertile, and requires the addition of fertilizer in order to support agriculture."

On balance though it seems that the material contained in the link says that loess is a fertile soil. In fact, the US Geological Survey suggests that the Wiki material that you quoted is incorrect - http://pubs.usgs.gov/info/loess/
 
Tyler Ludens
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"Loess (pronounced "luss"), is German for loose or crumbly. It is a gritty, lightweight, porous material composed of tightly packed grains of quartz, feldspar, mica, and other minerals. Loess is the source of most of our Nation's rich agricultural soils and is common in the U.S. and around the world."

You seem to be talking about mineral richness, whereas I'm talking about biological fertility specific to the prairies.
 
Mike Haych
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Tyler Ludens wrote:"Loess (pronounced "luss"), is German for loose or crumbly. It is a gritty, lightweight, porous material composed of tightly packed grains of quartz, feldspar, mica, and other minerals. Loess is the source of most of our Nation's rich agricultural soils and is common in the U.S. and around the world."

You seem to be talking about mineral richness, whereas I'm talking about biological fertility specific to the prairies.


All that I was saying is that this part of the world is mostly loess soil which is extremely fertile and usually very deep. Given that, it's not all that surprising that deep rooted prairie grasses established which attracted and supported large grazing herds which enriched the topsoil further and attracted hunters who managed the environment by burning. My point was that underlying it all is the soil. I think that we're talking about parts of the same process.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Mike Haych wrote:
Tyler Ludens wrote:"Loess (pronounced "luss"), is German for loose or crumbly. It is a gritty, lightweight, porous material composed of tightly packed grains of quartz, feldspar, mica, and other minerals. Loess is the source of most of our Nation's rich agricultural soils and is common in the U.S. and around the world."

You seem to be talking about mineral richness, whereas I'm talking about biological fertility specific to the prairies.


All that I was saying is that this part of the world is mostly loess soil which is extremely fertile and usually very deep. Given that, it's not all that surprising that deep rooted prairie grasses established which attracted and supported large grazing herds which enriched the topsoil further and attracted hunters who managed the environment by burning. My point was that underlying it all is the soil. I think that we're talking about parts of the same process.


I think we are, but I'm not convinced deep-rooted prairie grasses developed first, I think they evolved with the action of bison and humans. Certainly grasses established in the loess grit at some point, but, I don't think the tall grasses of the prairie could have developed without the action of grazing and fire. And the tall grasses with the action of the bison and humans are what built the deep fertile soils of the prairies, as I understand it. But since we can't probably determine exactly when tall grasses (such as Big Bluestem) evolved, who can say? I guess my personal beef is that I don't like to see the interaction of the bison and the first peoples sort of shoved aside as an unimportant aspect of the development of this special ecosystem, when, as I understand it, the prairies might be the only ecosystem created with the action of humans in the role of apex predator, and as one of the most diverse and productive ecosystems on Earth, proof that human activity is not necessarily detrimental, as some people very strongly believe. Many environmentalists see humans, any humans, as a blight on the planet, when the prairies at least are evidence that humans needn't be a blight, but can be a significant asset.

Pardon my soapbox!
 
Michael Vormwald
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Tyler Ludens wrote:
Mike Haych wrote:
Tyler Ludens wrote:"Loess (pronounced "luss"), is German for loose or crumbly. It is a gritty, lightweight, porous material composed of tightly packed grains of quartz, feldspar, mica, and other minerals. Loess is the source of most of our Nation's rich agricultural soils and is common in the U.S. and around the world."

You seem to be talking about mineral richness, whereas I'm talking about biological fertility specific to the prairies.


All that I was saying is that this part of the world is mostly loess soil which is extremely fertile and usually very deep. Given that, it's not all that surprising that deep rooted prairie grasses established which attracted and supported large grazing herds which enriched the topsoil further and attracted hunters who managed the environment by burning. My point was that underlying it all is the soil. I think that we're talking about parts of the same process.


I think we are, but I'm not convinced deep-rooted prairie grasses developed first, I think they evolved with the action of bison and humans. Certainly grasses established in the loess grit at some point, but, I don't think the tall grasses of the prairie could have developed without the action of grazing and fire. And the tall grasses with the action of the bison and humans are what built the deep fertile soils of the prairies, as I understand it. But since we can't probably determine exactly when tall grasses (such as Big Bluestem) evolved, who can say? I guess my personal beef is that I don't like to see the interaction of the bison and the first peoples sort of shoved aside as an unimportant aspect of the development of this special ecosystem, when, as I understand it, the prairies might be the only ecosystem created with the action of humans in the role of apex predator, and as one of the most diverse and productive ecosystems on Earth, proof that human activity is not necessarily detrimental, as some people very strongly believe. Many environmentalists see humans, any humans, as a blight on the planet, when the prairies at least are evidence that humans needn't be a blight, but can be a significant asset.

Pardon my soapbox!


Tyler,

I'd agree as it applies to the Native American Indians who only took what they needed to live. Then came the white man that hunted the bison for fun and sport to near extinction. What the white settlers did to both the bison and the American Indians is an American tragedy. And as if this wasn't enough, then he brought his plow and later his chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, and genetically modified seed.....topsoil is being lost at alarming rates requiring more and more chemicals to produce foods that are less and less nutritious. On top of this, most of the food system is heavily dependent on cheap oil for production and transport and is not sustainable. A visionary would say we are positioned for an eventual collapse of the food system as we know it.

footnote: in a permaculture forum, I realize this is most likely preaching to the choir.
 
Michael Vormwald
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Location: Central New York - Finger Lakes - Zone 5
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Rebecca Norman wrote:Back to the original title "Lack of poop endangers soil"...

When I saw the title, I thought it would be all about how even organic farming will decimate soils eventually because we keep withdrawing the nutrients of our food and shiping them off to cities and then flushing them down toilets.


Not really at all. Organic farmers/gardeners well know how to enrich soil by simply following and amplifying natures lead... compost, vermicompost, leaves, grass clippings, cover crops, green manures, hay, straw, wood chips...even (dare I say) manures. Nutrients are replenished in excess to build ever better and better soil.

To the original link regarding the transport and dispersion of organic waste... I often wonder as I've collected all the leaves possible from the far corners of my property (to enrich my garden soil) if I'm not just robbing Peter to pay Paul. I'm taking away the material that would otherwise enrich the soil beneath the trees that dropped the leaves.

Lately I've found a free local resource for leaves, wood chips and horse manure that would otherwise be discarded as waste. I will take significant advantage of this resource.

 
John Saltveit
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I do think that moving leaves and fruit helps to fight disease. For example, if you are getting a certain amount of disease pressure on your apples, don't let the rotten apples rot under your tree. They do have nutrients in them, and they can start nutrient cycles. However, if you let rotten fruit sit under that tree, the disease pressure will be greater. Instead of chop and drop, I advocate chop and toss. Put the apple stuff under the pawpaw tree. Put pawpaw stuff under the cherry tree. Put cherry stuff under the persimmon tree.

Likewise, on my way home from work, I gather tree leaves that are not related to my fruit, like magnolia, sweet gum, elm, or maple to increase diversity in my food forest. That way we are replenishing nutrient cycles while decreasing disease and pest cycles. I also do that with wood. Not only branches of my trees, but also the wood that I bring in to grow mushrooms on.

Whether one uses manure or raises animals or not, these practices can replenish your soils.
John S
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