The photo above is from an excellent soil health demonstration I witnessed yesterday that was put on by a soil health guy from the Oklahoma office of the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRSC). Basically what he did was go out to five different places and accumulate strips of sod/soil from them, which he then set up in trays with a runoff catchment system and an infiltration catchment system. While he talked to us, he ran about 1.5 inches of rain through a sprinkler in about 20 minutes, simulating a heavy but by no means unusual rain.
I wish I'd taken some sort of notes about his description of the five different plots where he got his samples. As I remember them, they are (from left to right in the photo):
1) What he called "natural range" from protected public land not subject to agriculture or ranching. Dense vegetation, little bare soil.
2) What he called a "managed grazing operation" where the grass is under cattle for limited periods only. I think said 18 days at a time in this case, no info on herd density. Vegetation was short-cropped but soil tilth was visibly excellent.
3) What he called "our standard Bermuda grass pasture with cows on it 365 days a year." Grass looks OK but has many bare spots between the tufts.
4) A plot he characterized as "no-till cover cropped". He mentioned sorghum grass and a couple of other covers that I forget. Dense matted vegetation. I had the impression that this plot, too, was from a pasture, but if he mentioned the grazing system or pressure it didn't stick.
5) A plot of "traditional farm land" that has been plowed and disked.
The picture above is from my shorter facebook post but you can study a hi-resolution version here. The photo was taken about halfway through the "rain" event, but you can already see the dramatic difference in the amount and quality of the runoff from the different plots. The results will not surprise anybody here at permies; the blasted-out pasture and the bare farm dirt are terrible at soaking in the rain and they are worse at holding onto their soil particles. The no-till cover-crop piece was a tiny bit better than the natural range, but the difference was real minimal. The managed-grazing parcel was way better than I expected from looking at it; soil structure must be excellent because the runoff, though substantial, was surprisingly clear.
I found that seeing this demo in action was surprisingly powerful. It's all very well to have intellectual knowledge, but sometimes just seeing is hard to beat!
Dan Boone wrote:I found that seeing this demo in action was surprisingly powerful. It's all very well to have intellectual knowledge, but sometimes just seeing is hard to beat!
Yep, it's all about the soil. I often wish that Mollison and Holmgren had framed things a bit differently at the beginning and placed their central emphasis on the soil - leave the soil better at the end of the year than you found it at the beginning of the year. When you make that a guiding principle, you never leave it uncovered. You use mulch or cover crop ALL of the time and you disturb it minimally if at all.
Geoff's videos are beginning to reflect this, although it does look like he's tilling to shape these beds. :
Perhaps he needs to look at how Emila Hazelip did it and to re-read Fukuoka at the same time that he is watching Emilia. Her only disturbance of the soil was at the beginning when she shaped her beds:
Fukuoka, and Emilia Hazelip, are great inspirations, and her garden is one of the bases for my own plans, and what has been implemented thus far on my land.
Roberto pokachinni wrote:I completely agree with you, Mike H. Many people miss the amazing gift that Emilia presented in this video.
It's also incredibly simple and requires no external inputs other than possibly rock dust depending on how much the soil has been disturbed. Perhaps it's that very simplicity that makes people pass her by. Given a choice between simple and not so simple, we seem to choose not so simple more often than not. I find that that I have to keep re-reading Fukuoka and re-watching Emilia to remind myself not to complicate my food production. Sometimes I'm a slow learner but the soil is beginning to teach me as it continuously reinforces what Emilia is saying.
Tyler Ludens wrote:
Mike Haych wrote:
Geoff's videos are beginning to reflect this, although it does look like he's tilling to shape these beds.
I think he just did it the one time to shape the beds, just like Emilia did, and then he planted perennials in them.
You're probably right. He does say at the beginning of the video that the beds are in their implementation stage. There's nothing to suggest that they are in ongoing production.
Love the work the NRCS is doing along these lines.
Jack Edmondson wrote:
Scott Strough wrote:YES! I have seen that demonstration online, but not in person.
Any link to the information online you have seen? I would very much like to see this demonstrated.
Thank you for posting.
Looks like someone beat me to it. All good though. The messenger is not important, only the message.