Sunday, 16 January 2011

Growing better soil

The Terra preta experiment that some of us here in the UK have started is about growing better soil.   
I don’t think that the production of Terra preta type soils depends on the climate.  Our indigenous micro organisms should be able populate charcoal in a similar way to those that are associated with Terra preta soils in other parts of the world.  

When artificial petrochemical and industrial based chemicals are placed on the soil, I would speculate that it affects micro organisms within the soil adversely.  

I would also suggest that we destroy the symbiosis between plant and fungi in many ways, not least by cultivation itself.  Adding insult to injury, if we then pour on damaging chemicals, the ground is further denuded of beneficial micro organisms.   Adding mychorrhizal fungi to garden soils just helps to replace ones that we destroy through cultivation.  If there is a way of maintaining these fungi by giving them a new habitat within charcoal then we may not have to keep replacing them.   

I doubt if gardeners will stop breaking the soil because even the act of cropping potatoes, carrots and parsnips involves us in destroying the fine networks of symbiotic relationships within the soil  Maybe charcoal is a way to ameliorate this problem.  

It may be true what academics say about mychorrhiza being abundant in the soil; however I cannot see their influence in the vegetable garden.  

Inoculated charcoal could produce a slow nutrient release system.  Affinity of the charcoal for nutrients depends on the condition and type of soil it is in, but I would suggest that this could be a buffering mechanism.  It would adsorb nutrients when they were in surplus but as concentration decreases the charcoal would lose nutrient by a diffusion process, maintaining equilibrium with the surrounding soil.”

I would like to believe that the ancient indigenous civilizations of South America knew what they were doing when they created Terra preta.  This would have been a fundamental scientific understanding of how the soil works and how it provides nutrients to the plant.  Remember, science is not a list of unassailable facts; it is the best interpretation of data that we can come up with.  It may seem impersonal but that is the best way of understanding nature and can prevent us from going down blind alleys.  We want to know if adding charcoal to soil works the way that we think it does. Through some rudimentary experiments, I have come up with a a little encouraging observational data, which has convinced me of charcoals efficacy.

It will be even more convincing if I can replicate my results in 2011.  

Artificial, manmade chemicals must affect microorganisms adversely and subsequently go on to have an effect on higher animals.   All life is beneficial and the more diverse it is the stronger the web of life becomes. As Chief Seattle said: Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”

The chemicals that we put onto the soil go somewhere.  I have been told that they break down into other less harmful substances.  I would rather that we did not have any artificial chemicals so they would have no chance of entering our food or the food of other living things. 

So the experiment goes on.  The soil will be fed with a diet of homemade inoculated charcoal.   

Wiki charcoal! 

It is so important that homemade charcoal soil amendments are developed because we must avoid industrial  take over.  There is great concern that areas of natural forest might be felled to plant crops that could be used to make and inoculate charcoal.  This is what they did with biofuels.  Making the inoculated charcoal a cottage industry will help to prevent this from happening. 

We have enough domestic vegetable waste to produce all the composted charcoal that we need. You do not necessarily have to use the “teas” that I do.  It may be that composted charcoal is a better soil amendment than inoculated charcoal.  

The soil created by adding augmented charcoal seems to be a lot healthier especially when it is used on poorer soils.  Soil should be alive with micro organisms in their many forms and produce a strong web of life within the soil. 

It has been suggested that we use the system called Bokashi devised by Professor Teruo Higa in Japan with inoculated charcoal.  The Bokashi system uses very specific bacteria to break down kitchen waste, however it can also be used as a remedial process that can help to cleanse polluted land and water.  I hope so…  

Humanity has gone over the edge of the cliff and now we must work to make our landing a little softer. 

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