When there is a large variety of plants, the exudates work symbiotically through the mycelium to find lots of water. Paul next talks about different cover crops and recipes of cover crops to create and grow what you want. Paul likes the idea of major trees anchoring each berm at the lab. Paul talks about the sandy soil at Wheaton labs.
Gabe talks about how he got 13 inches of rain in six hours and how his fields absorbed all the water. When his fields started it could only absorb a half inch per hour but now it's more than eight per hour. He next talks about his cattle and how they interact with his system. Gabe shows off his panels and how they automatically open one paddock and the cattle move to the next paddock. He estimates that cattle only consume about 30% of the material in the field before being moved to the next paddock. The trampling by the cattle creates an armour which acts like a mulch. Brown optimizes his fields to grow as much of his cattle feed as possible. He says he is not interested in being certified organic. Paul feels Gabe is better than organic. A question arose as to whether or not he uses herbicides. Paul was hopeful that Gabe does not use them.
Higher quality soil leads to longer growing season. This could be from soil biology but also the plant diversity could be contributing to longer growing season too. With a full canopy of plants it keeps the soil cooler when it is hot and warmer when it gets cool as much as 20 degrees. Gabe runs a hayless operation. They do not put hay out for their cattle in the winter. Gabe emphasized that the species of cattle needs to be cold tolerant. Paul mentioned that the plant species that are cold tolerant would be important too.
The next item was a soil test. Gabe planted the corn and the county average was 100 bushels per acre but he was able to harvest 142 bushels per acre. When there is good soil biology you do not need lots of nitrogen. Ward labs does a special test now just for Brown. It is based on new standards. This test shows what the soil needs where standard test show what do the plants need. Paul thinks this makes sense because the current test show nutrients and elements but the soil needs other things not just elements and nutrients. Gabe is doing broad acre planting and Paul wants to ask him if he is going to do work with food forests. Paul thinks he is showing that you can make massively huge gardens with diverse polyculture yielding 11.2% organic matter.
The issues of harvesting grains is discussed next. Hand harvesting grains with a scythe is slow going and combines do have a place for broad scale harvesting. Gabe did a half field test with animals and without. The half with animals did much better. Gabe discusses stacking enterprises and these are similar to Joel Salatin's fiefdoms. For each insect pest there are 1700 beneficial species. Paul gives example of Colorado potato beetle and if it's attacking a plant then that plant probably should not be growing there. Healthy plants do not attract pests. Paul gives an example of a rhubarb near the house and how some pests will disappear as the soil improves on the hugel bed. If you have an abundance of pests the predators will find them and eat them. Song birds and sparrows are good examples of predators that take a long time to establish.
Brown's Ranch is the name of Gabe's farm. High carbon plants are more important to Gabe than high nitrogen plants. Cows convert organic matter to bioavailable matter. Animals help get the carbon into the soil. Paul explains why Gabe controls what the cattle eat depending on their final destination. What cattle need for food and the high carbon food versus high nitrogen food. Gabe runs animals through a field depending on what he wants to do to the soil. Paul says people should go watch this video. Lots of people at Permies have already watched this and Paul said it makes some very profound points.
Just listening to you discuss putting cattle onto pasture when it's past it's best for the animal...ie the plant has become higher in carbon. I think what he's getting at is that the animals are being used as a tool to trample the grass into the soil as carbon for the soil. The animals won't be badly affected because they'll only be on the pasture for a short time. In pasture management there is a constant balancing act between maximum benefit for the animal and maximum benefit for the soil. There are times or stages in an animals life eg when they are young, when their needs will take priority and one will always try to have them on grass that is young, green and actively growing. At other times or stages in the animal's life, they can, for a short time anyway, be used as a tool to benefit the pasture/land.
On the water usage question, I think a lot of the benefits of polyculture with healthy mycelium that leads to less rainfall or irrigation being needed to grow a given plant come from how those diverse and abundant lifeforms ABSORB water at times of heavy precipitation that would other wise run off, along with nutrients and soil. Therefore, over the year, less water is needed to grow a given plant because it is stored by mycelium and roots when green growth is minimal (winter for most climates) and is then used for later trade for sugars that are produced in abundance in the spring and summer.
This is all just my opinion based on a flawed memory
It seems this healthy soil with a robust accumulation and trade of nutrients, sugars, and water is like the idealized economy, wherein efficiency and abundance is increased by the diversification of usage and storage mechanisms. Also, my understanding is that there is an absolute amount of water, or some other form of H and O, that is needed for photosynthesis in order to produce a glucose molecule, the ultimate currency of this ecological economy.
This is all just my opinion based on a flawed memory
Willie Smits: Village Based Permaculture Approaches in Indonesia (video)