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Building soil for Nutrient Dense Foods  RSS feed

 
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All around the Planet people are experiencing more illnesses than perhaps at any other time in the history of Humans.
The medical profession is struggling to grasp exactly why this is happening when it would seem there is more food available in more places than ever before.
These health problems, rise in diabetes, gluten intolerance, increase in children born with autism, and many other health issues, seem to be related more to the increase in foods that lack the nutrient density that was present in foods in the  past.
Modern Agriculture methods could be the key to the losses of nutrient power of most of the foods found in grocery stores today.
The concentration by Modern Ag. Methods on Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorus at the neglect of all other minerals and nutrients, along with the practice of killing soil microorganisms through heavy tilling prior to planting, have created much of this loss of food nutrient density.
To understand the depth of this problem it is necessary to understand how nature used to provide food plants the high density of nutrients foods used to have because they were grown in soil instead of dirt.
Dirt is the base of all soil, it consist of ground up rocks, turned over time into smaller and smaller sized particles it contains no living organisms.
Soil is dirt that is teaming with microorganisms, bacteria, fungi, nematodes, flagellates, amoeba, and countless other organisms we can only see by using a microscope.
This book is an attempt to help the reader understand soil and how it works in the growing of foods with nutrient density that makes them able to provide the human body with the power to heal itself.

In nature diversity is the root of survival for all living things.
Animals, from the largest all the way down to the smallest single cell organisms, depend on diversity so they can survive.
Plants also are totally dependent upon the diversity nature requires for their survival. Only humans have ever thought it a good idea to remove diversity from any landscape.
Humans, decided that growing a huge field of a single plant was the way to grow things to sell to others.
Since the beginning of farming culture the method has been to dig up the soil and plant seeds of a single variety of plant.
Thus the farmer is putting all of his hopes and dreams upon nature giving him just the right amount of water (rain), just the right amount of nutrients in the soil and just the right amount of sunlight and heat for his crop plant to thrive.
There are big problems with trying to rely on nature to provide things this way, nature works on nature’s time line, not the human time line.
This puts the farmer in jeopardy because he is at the mercy of nature and nature has no concept of mercy.

For all the centuries that humans have planted seeds and grown crops for food, man has been on the path to destruction by starvation.
The many famines recorded throughout human history tell the story of consequence of farming in a monocrop style, and that consequence is death by starvation.
One of the more recent occurrences is the great potato famine in Ireland which they call the great hunger.
Over one million people starved to death, even though their neighbors and overlords, the English, had plenty of food to save these poor souls, greed of the English over ruled their hearts, much the same as how Pharaoh hardened his heart against the Hebrews.
All through time it is possible to locate such tragedies.
All would have been avoided if the people farming had followed nature’s example of diverse plants living beside each other, all being strengthened and draught proofed by their neighbors and the living soil they lived in.

Which brings up the way humans look at the medium that supports almost all plant life, soil.  
Since the first human planted the first seeds, soil has been treated as if it will always remain the same, no matter how much is grown, harvested and the remnants burned.
It would be so wonderful if that were true, but we have only to look at those marvelous satellite images on goggle maps to see millions of acres of land, all around the world that are barren, laid waste by the human activity of farming.
When the Europeans first set foot on the east coast of the American continent, they were astounded at the richness of the forests and the abundant animal life those forests supported.
The Native Americans that lived here knew that they had to care for the earth mother, not just take from her but to nurture her so they would continue to live in the manner they were accustomed to living.
They farmed, but they also nourished the soil with fish and the parts of the plants they grew that they didn’t eat or make other use of, they let rot in place to return those nutrients to the soil.
They even planted in the Three Sisters style, where each plant supported others that were planted as neighbors.
This kept The soil healthy and alive, able to grow more food the next growing season.
These farming Native Americans were able to grow sustainable food for thousands of years on the same farm plots.
The population thrived because the land thrived, providing plenty of grains, vegetables fruits, nuts and animals they could hunt for their meat needs.
The indigenous people of the Americas knew something that the Europeans had forgotten long ago.
People do not live upon the land, they live with the land, part of the greater whole that is our mother earth.
Without understanding that what you do to the land, you also do to yourself and all others, ultimate destruction is imminent, only a matter of when, not if, this ultimate destruction will happen.
However, humans, even though being the most prolific of destroyers of that which gives them life, can also be the ultimate savior of that which gives them life.
It only requires a 180 degree change in the thought processes.
Instead of looking only at what we can take from the earth mother, we have to see a way to give back to our mother, in a way that will not only sustain humans but will sustain all life that lives on the earth mother.

When the first “settlers” arrived in “the new world” they came ill prepared for establishing a foot hold on turtle island, much less creating a colony capable of surviving very long.
They didn’t know how to grow foods in the new country because it didn’t fit the farming models of Europe except for the soil being the richest they had ever seen.
So what these newcomers did was build a small fort and houses with in the walls of the stockade style fort.
They cut great swaths of trees so they would have the wood needed to do these constructions and that cleared land soon became fields for them to plant.
What they did was follow their monoculture from Europe, where they grew large fields of single crop plants.
In the Americas their first crop was tobacco, not the best crop to mono crop since like corn, it sucks all the nutrients out of the soil.
But plant tobacco they did, in every freshly cleared area they created. They also began cutting more forest so they could ship the wood back to Europe.
It doesn’t take long for such activities to end up with dead dirt, especially when you turn the soil enough times to get it into a fairly fine “seed bed” condition.
Sunlight contains quite a lot of UV light rays, these are used in hospital operating rooms today to sterilize the rooms, UV light has the same effects on soil microorganisms, it kills them.

Over the centuries humans have gotten better at exposing soil to these UV rays of light, and the farmer is then trying to grow plants in dead soil, which we call dirt.
I am not sure but I think that is where the term “dirt farmer” probably came from.
Today huge tractors pull several harrows, each breaking the soil into smaller pieces and each time the living soil is exposed to UV light and becomes sterilized.
Then they run another machine behind their tractors to plant the seeds for the crop they want to raise.
Once they have done all this damage, they come back and spread chemical fertilizers, so the plants will grow in the sterilized dirt.
Once their plants come up they pull sprayers filled with herbicide so they can kill the weeds (volunteer plants that usually grow to start the establishment of soil organisms so that more plants can grow).
When insects come to feast on the artificially fertilized plants, which are sick plants to start with from lack of proper nutrients in the ground (we can’t call it soil because there is no microbiome living there).
And year after year they do these same things and wonder why they keep going in the red.
This is the “Modern Agriculture” model, you kill the soil by burning lots of fuel in your tractors to prepare the land, then you burn more fuel to plant the seeds, spread the fertilizer, spray the weeds, spray for insects, irrigate and then you get to burn more fuel to harvest the crop.
I won’t even get into the lands that have been poisoned by mining and other destructive activities.
Humans have the horribly bad habits of a virus, they take all they need or want then toss aside the leftovers, only those leftovers are useless for almost all other beneficial life forms on the planet.

When the first “settlers” arrived in “the new world” they came ill prepared for establishing a foot hold on turtle island, much less creating a colony capable of surviving very long.
They didn’t know how to grow foods in the new country because it didn’t fit the farming models of Europe except for the soil being the richest they had ever seen.
So what these newcomers did was build a small fort and houses with in the walls of the stockade style fort.
They cut great swaths of trees so they would have the wood needed to do these constructions and that cleared land soon became fields for them to plant.
What they did was follow their monoculture from Europe, where they grew large fields of single crop plants.
In the Americas their first crop was tobacco, not the best crop to mono crop since like corn, it sucks all the nutrients out of the soil.
But plant tobacco they did, in every freshly cleared area they created, their reasoning was the market in England for tobacco was huge, meaning large profits could be made.
They also began cutting more forest so they could ship the wood back to Europe, but they didn't plant any new trees.
It doesn’t take long for such activities to end up with dead dirt, especially when you turn the soil enough times to get it into a fairly fine “seed bed” condition.
Sunlight contains quite a lot of UV light rays, these are used in hospital operating rooms today to sterilize the rooms, UV light has the same effects on soil microorganisms, it kills them.
Over the centuries humans have gotten better at exposing soil to these UV rays of light, and the farmer is then trying to grow plants in dead soil, which we call dirt.
I am not sure but I think that is where the term “dirt farmer” probably came from.

Today huge tractors pull several harrows, each breaking the soil into smaller pieces and each time the living soil is exposed to UV light and becomes sterilized.
Then they run another machine behind their tractors to plant the seeds for the crop they want to raise.
Once they have done all this damage, they come back and spread chemical fertilizers, so the plants will grow in the sterilized dirt.
Once their plants come up they pull sprayers filled with herbicide so they can kill the weeds (volunteer plants that usually grow to start the establishment of soil organisms so that more plants can grow).
When insects come to feast on the artificially fertilized plants, which are sick plants to start with from lack of proper nutrients in the ground (we can’t call it soil because there is no microbiome living there).
And year after year they do these same things and wonder why they keep going in the red.

This is the “Modern Agriculture” model, you kill the soil by burning lots of fuel in your tractors to prepare the land, then you burn more fuel to plant the seeds, spread the fertilizer, spray the weeds, spray for insects, irrigate and then you get to burn more fuel to harvest the crop.
When the crop is ready for harvest, you spray herbicide so the plant will die and the grain or cotton, will dry and be ready for the harvesters, which also use lots of fuel and compact the soil under their tires.
Not only is modern agriculture non sustainable, it is energy wasteful, land polluting, air polluting and most who use this method are never in an actual profit making venture, they break even at best.
In the 1980's many farms, that had been in families for over 100 years, were foreclosed on by banks and then sold off to bigger farms, all this did was get smaller operations consolidated into larger operations.
It did nothing for sustainability of any farming activity, it just meant that the land would continue to be raped and laid barren. If you go by any field that is left to fallow, you will see primary succession plants trying to build the soil nutrients back into the soil.
This would work but the field is only going to be decimated again so that all the work these primary plants did is wiped out yet again.
It is only in the last 25 years that some farmers have woken up and now till far less than they did previously.
These farmers almost immediately see improvements in their crops, use less fuel and buy less chemical additives than before, after a few years they usually reduce their chemical buying a second time since they have built their soil enough to not need all the additions for plants to grow well.

Estimates are that within 20 years the human population will reach 9 billion.
The question of how to feed all these people no longer is answered by which countries can provide the quantities of food needed for the billions of human inhabitants of earth, it is impossible for the few to feed the rising masses of humanity.
Along with the impossibility of just a few countries providing the world with all the food needed, the current bad agricultural practices are non sustainable, the dirt that is farmed with chemical inputs, year after year will end up with a barren planet.
What must be done now, at this very moment, is to grow the soil that has been laid waste and turned into dirt.
By building the soil we can have a truly sustainable agriculture, one that doesn't wear the soil out by removing all the nutrients that provide food for the microbiome that is soil and that in turn provides all the nutrients for the plants that are harvested and taken away for food.
Minerals are present in all soils, however not all soils are going to have the full complement of minerals needed for best nutrition in the end product, the food.
We do have several different means of providing this full complement of minerals though, and we have companies that are providing these means, so we just need to get the farmers to understand where their dollars are best spent and it isn't on artificial fertilizers and the fuel to spread them.

Instead of concentrating food production to just a few areas, we must go back to each community growing and providing at least part of the food required for that localized population.
By having communities grow the minimum produce and meats needed, the stresses of farming to the soils can be reduced and more sustainable methods can be brought back into use, which will allow the soil to be better rather than being exhausted.
This movement has some obstacles to overcome, the largest being the chemical companies collectively known to most as "Big Ag".
Today some of these companies are merging into larger and larger conglomerates, effectively consolidating vast amounts of money for advertising and production of more soil poisons.
They tell farmers that their products are exactly what is needed to increase production quantities because the farmer needs to "feed the world".
But what it really leads to is destruction of ever larger tracts of land, creating vast deserts of soil that is so depleted it can't even support the primary plants nature uses to build poor soil back into nutrient rich soil.
If earth is going to be able to support all the human life that is growing in population by millions every year, current agricultural practices are going to have to be changed drastically.
"Big Ag" will fight the needed changes tooth and nail to the bitter end, after all, we are talking about chopping their profits by billions of dollars and they are a greedy lot.
 
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Great start - nearly reads like a manifesto :P - can't wait for the whole thing! :) What can we do to help? Did you want our help in proofing, feedback, thoughts, or are you just sharing to be awesome?  (5th and 6th paragraphs repeat in the 7th and 8th 'when the first settlers.. better at exposing to uv etc)
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Nathan, I am hoping people will read this first draft and spot mistakes, make suggestions that need either expansion or contraction, spelling errors, etc.

Many of the folks here have been the inspiration for me to do this. So, I would love for them to all have a hand in the creation of this book. (just as you have already done with spotting those repeats, thank you for bringing that to my attention)

No one will hurt my feelings if they point out something that needs changing or correcting. (truth is that I currently have so many irons in the fire that I will make errors when I write this because I have only around half hour spurts to write)

Redhawk
 
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Bryant RedHawk wrote: Humans have the horribly bad habits of a virus, they take all they need or want then toss aside the leftovers, only those leftovers are useless for almost all other beneficial life forms on the planet.



I think this is true of some human cultures (mainly civilizations) but not of humans as a species.  Examples of human cultures who lived sustainably for thousands of years indicate that it is quite possible for humans as a species to do so.



 
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The paragraph starting When the first “settlers” arrived in “the new world” is in there twice.

If you talk about the first people's way of growing, will you also comment on them "moving on" periodically?

As was done in Finland, as told by Richard Perkins in one of his recent videos.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Thanks Tyler, that is coming up, a discussion of how farming changed the way people lived.

Thank you Susan, I went in and struck those dupicates (probably a copy-paste error on my part)
Yes I will be talking some about how my people were not always in the same place but instead made a circuit, we had winter grounds, spring grounds, summer grounds, then headed  back to the winter grounds.
Nomadic peoples have usually planted items in the spots where they would be when the crop plants ripened.
pueblo people became stationary, living in the same place year round. That meant that when the weather cycle changed, they were subject to crop failure. (this is coming up soon)
 
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The indigenous people of the Americas knew something that the Europeans had forgotten long ago.
People do not live upon the land, they live with the land, part of the greater whole that is our mother earth.
Without understanding that what you do to the land, you also do to yourself and all others, ultimate destruction is imminent, only a matter of when, not if, this ultimate destruction will happen.  



I was going to say if truer words have ever been spoken I'm at a loss as to what those words were.


If earth is going to be able to support all the human life that is growing in population by millions every year, current agricultural practices are going to have to be changed drastically.
"Big Ag" will fight the needed changes tooth and nail to the bitter end, after all, we are talking about chopping their profits by billions of dollars and they are a greedy lot.  



Then there was that final sentence.



What must be done now, at this very moment, is to grow the soil that has been laid waste and turned into dirt.  



Today ... right now ... a new worm bed shall be officially started. Weather too ugly to do much else for the soil today. It's also a good day to read the entire epic soil series again. Thanks again for your words of wisdom Dr. Redhawk. You rock.


 
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Dr. RedHawk,  If you could delve into the smallest scale gardener also.  What can people in the city do to build soil and grow food in small containers?  Can they grow vegetables and fruits and mushrooms inside?  
What about suburban folks with yards?  Maybe ideas on starting from soil that has been poisoned by weed killer and now they want fruit trees, and fruit tree guilds and maybe (like me) get rid of grass and put in pollinating plants and vegetables and beneficial vegetables that can keep out bugs and build better soil.  What about ponds and aquaculture/aquaponics?
Maybe this is in the follow up book.
I already know you will include how we can take a barren plot of land and make it flourish and since I am nearing retirement this maybe a way I can utilize the second half of my life.
 
Dennis Bangham
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Dr. Redhawk,  I have an uncle (wife's side) that lives in the Philippines.  They are concerned that young people do not want to go into farming and that no one will take up the feeding of the nation.  I think the young see that farming means a life of poverty and struggle.
What you are teaching is the science can be made easy to understand and implement.  Maybe include ideas similar to Geoff Lawton's 10 year plan to make a barren land into a continual harvest. I think 10 years of hard work when young can mean a middle age of plenty and an old age of watching the next generation benefit.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Dennis, when we get into those parts of the book they will be scaled to the "balcony farm" first then I will scale up, my intent is to show that no matter what space you have for a garden, great food can be grown.
There will be at least two chapters on soil remediation also, I think it will take that much space to give good coverage to that subject.
 
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Yes mankind has ruined/removed a lot of soil all over the world.  

Maybe get a farmer to churn up a lawn in spring, and plant perennial rye over the year to start.   Cut this down when starts going to seed. Then plant Buckwheat if enough time with warm weather then plant annual ryegrass in fall.  Both perennial rye and buckwheat have weed suppression, plus especially the rye will give a lot of biomass.  This will get the soil going.
 
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:Many of the folks here have been the inspiration for me to do this.



I for one, have to say that your soil series was literally a game changer for me. Your posts are how I found these forums, why I joined them, and as someone with a technical/science bent - the info in your posts has made so, so much sense that I struggle, now, to understand why this isn't more in the realms of common knowledge (even in spite of big-ag market power)!
It's been pure gold for me, and has taught me so much.

So I have to say, in the most sincerest way I can: Thank you for sharing your experience and your wisdom.
I sincerely expect it to be the difference between failure and success for our own journeys here.

If you were offering a presale, kickstarter, etc etc - I think many of us would be happy to chip in to help you get your book finished, too.
 
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A couple questions more than replies.
1. As a total newbie here, I don't know where the series of posts on soil is to be found . . .where is it, are they?
2. If, as the more extreme climate change climatologists suggest, the climate will significantly change in the next decade bringing a much warmer environment north which will change what will grow, will that also change the microbes etcetera in the soil?  If so, can the microbes / soil from a warmer healthy climate today be transported to a newly warmer area?  Basically, it is possible to regenerate the soil for a warmer environment from the past colder locations?
 
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Jed Younger wrote:
1. As a total newbie here, I don't know where the series of posts on soil is to be found . . .where is it, are they?



Hi Jed, welcome to permies. I can answer your first question. They can be found here:  https://permies.com/wiki/redhawk-soil#637639
 
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Hi Redhawk,
This book is going to be awesome.   You have taught me a lot.
Side note: The paragraph that starts with "This is the Modern Agriculture model" repeats. Just wanted to make sure you knew.
Thanks,
John S
PDX OR
 
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This is the statement that sets permaculture apart from other ecological philosophies:

Bryant RedHawk wrote:However, humans, even though being the most prolific of destroyers of that which gives them life, can also be the ultimate savior of that which gives them life.  



Solid stuff Dr. RedHawk, I will be eager to see how the book develops.

Since you solicit feedback, I would suggest ending your introduction on one of the more positive notes, such as the one I quoted here. Given the note that it currently ends on it feels like your book will focus on fighting big ag, but I think your stronger and more attractive points are your positive ones about the possibilities that every person has to live and eat better.

Just a thought...
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Good point Nathanael, The book is not about fighting big ag, it is about building your soil so you can feed yourself and family.
This intro was just "whipped together" in about two half hour sessions of writing, so lots of work to get things in their best order is in order.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Jed Younger wrote:A couple questions more than replies.
1. As a total newbie here, I don't know where the series of posts on soil is to be found . . .where is it, are they?
2. If, as the more extreme climate change climatologists suggest, the climate will significantly change in the next decade bringing a much warmer environment north which will change what will grow, will that also change the microbes etcetera in the soil?  If so, can the microbes / soil from a warmer healthy climate today be transported to a newly warmer area?  Basically, it is possible to regenerate the soil for a warmer environment from the past colder locations?


Kola James Freyr gave you the link for the answer to the first question. (it is also at the top of the Soil home page)

Now for the second; Climate change actually fits quite well with any microbiome, all the organisms are quite capable of evolving within one or two generations (this takes about two hours in real time), so before we can make the clothing adjustments needed for our comfort, the microbiome has mutated into the next, needed metabolism. The microbiome organisms are extremely adaptable, far more so than humans. Climate change is here now, the artic ice is melting, the glaciers are melting, this will lead to significant rises in ocean depth (similar to ancient greek times when the ocean level was some 300 feet lower than in the 1960's. Today the oceans are already rising at about 1 inch per year and that may become faster as we go deeper into the changing time. (The changing time is what the Mayan Calendar predicted would happen in 2012, it did happen but most humans didn't recognize it because the were thinking "end of the world" not what it actually was all about. The Sioux and other North American Tribal nations have recognized that we are now in the fifth world (or 5th changing time), the last time we went through this sort of thing the Anasazi were thriving in their pueblos high up the cliffs and the deserts were producing corn and other crops as their staples.
 
Jed Younger
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Thanks for the information on the speed of the microbiome. I have following questions but will hold off until I've completely read all of the posts on the other page with your previous information.

Thanks for all of those posts.  

Also, since I haven't yet bought the land I will eventually work with, I can't know what types of soil I'll be dealing with. As my journey continues my questions will go from general to more specific.

I fully expect to give assistance as I gain knowledge and hope it is partially as helpful as what I'm already learning on this forum.

Just as a comment on how far away I am from putting my hands in the soil. I'm in Central Texas, sitting in my home with a for sale sign in the front yard, and doing most of my learning by reading forums, books, and online articles. That also is why other than gratitude, I'm not able to give much in the way of information at this point - nothing much worth anything to give just yet.
 
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Mr. Redhawk and all, I have a question about the three sisters and I hope this is a good place to ask it, as you've mentioned the growing style in the main post. "They even planted in the Three Sisters style, where each plant supported others that were planted as neighbors."

Is the nitrogen from the bean root bacteria available to the companion plants while that bean plant is alive, or does the bean plant need to die, and the root nodules need to decompose, to make the nitrogen available to the neighbours?

Thank you,
Imran
 
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If the beans die this season the nitrogen will stick around in the soil for months/years via the soil life and soil carbon and such. So it doesn't have to be on a daily IV drip. But yes bean root hair and roots in general do die often. and the nitrogen fixing bacteria are cultivated inside the root, they also coat the root and also in the soil near the root. And it isn't just 1 microbe or type of soil life that is improving the nitrogen content of the soil,  it is a while cycle and series of things making it happen.

There are also critters eating the bean roots and root hair and leaves, that is then releasing the nitrogen.


These are made up numbers but it is how I view the 3 sisters
1 land = 10corn monoculture
1 land = 10 bean monoculture
1 land = 10 squash monoculture

1 land = 7corn+7bean+7squash polyculture
1land of polyculture  = 2.1 land unit of monoculture
 
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