Dark Side Of Double-Digging

Double-Digging Crudely Hits Pay Dirt but…

the ultimate aim of production must be to create a harmonious network of rich and free beingsDouble digging is a technique where you dig, put the soil to the side, dig a bit more and toss that second lot of soil into the first hole. Essentially, you are turning the soil and bugs upside down and letting their shocked, dead bodies feed the your new plantings. In thin soils (like dryland soils) you would be bringing up the subsoil and trying to turn it into top soil. Double digging is destructive.

Double-Digging can be Instantly Impressive

The growth on plants (and sometimes the weeds) is quick and leafy. Double digging is an old farming technique used for centuries in countries with cool climates, deep soils and a careful regime where the soil is rested for long periods to try to recover. If you are in the modern world where land is expensive and there is pressure on you to do use (no time to rest it), or you want to use the space that is close to your backdoor not far away in a forgotten back corner of your garden. Then double digging is not your best option.

There is a serious cost to double-digging. Put bluntly, double-digging does irreparable damage to your soil. Double-digging

  • kills the micro-organisms in the soil.  chicken-diggingThe dead creatures make double digging so amazingly productive. Their little bodies become instant fertiliser for the crops.
  • damages the structure of fragile soils and tempts erosion due to weathering by water and wind.
  • can bring up the useless, hard clods of subsoil unless you are digging on a rare fertile flood plain.
  • has a high risk of erosion from the moment vegetation is removed or hard-hoofed animals are put to graze. The typical Australian soil is only centimeters deep. This risk is amplified by the process of digging.
  • releases carbon into the atmosphere.

Industry is too prone to measure success in the immolate terms of cash or profit, and soil and soul can suffer in the process - L Elmhirst 1944Digging can be satisfying.

We can buy a fruit tree, dig a hole and put the tree in the ground. In a short time the tree may be fruiting and voilà we have the start of a food forest. Or do we? A real food forest captures condensation (more condensation can come to your garden than rainfall).  A Permaculture forest builds soil.  Condensation is trapped and rainfall stored in the soil.  Water is used and re-used.  Organisms are nurtured not sacrificed.  A good permaculture forest design optimises the use of natural energies and serves to increase the health of the soil.  Healthy soil gives us healthier trees and more nutritious fruit.

What Soil Really Wants

umbrella fungi North-America Badgerset farm

Good soil has 5 components:

  1. Air (digging does increase the air, but so do worms)
  2. Water (digging can increase water penetration) but if not designed well it can lead to erosion
  3. Micro-organisms (digging kills many of these). Mulching provides them habitat
  4. Nutrients (plants including weeds can mine for nutrients and make good air pockets with their long roots) Biochar can boost the nutrients in the soil as well as increase habitat for micro-organisms.
  5. rock or other growing media such as recycled brick.

Healthy soil grows in height over the years. We can see the somewhat gruesome evidence of this in ancient graveyards where the ground level has risen.

Jerry Glover
Jerry Glover displays the impressive roots of grasses versus grain

What could be more satisfying than Digging?

Simple No-dig Gardens

No-dig gardens can be designed to capture and filter the rain-water and protect the soil and micro-organisms from erosion.  No-dig gardening

  • is physically easier and faster to set up
  • suppresses weeds
  • can regenerate soil (fertile, rocky, sandy or solid clay)
  • requires less effort
  • uses waste materials and
  • evolves into a beautiful garden
our hills_hoistarium
Our abundant little no-dig garden perches on rock-solid subsoil that could not be dug by man or woman.

No dig gardening requires a little patience but the soil is regenerated, fertility is enhanced and the organisms are constantly building in numbers.

Joyous Songs of Worm Charmers

There are many traditional farming techniques where the nutrients and organisms in local forests are brought to their fields to ‘seed’ worms and nutrients into the fields to improve fertility.  Some people have turned it into a quirky sport like worm charming.

Have fun learning about healing the earth with a permaculture course.

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‘To Compost Or Not To Compost’

Compost Girl

‘Deck the Bin with Loads of Compost’

savouring-jackfruitIt’s that time of year when a lot of our best food is thrown in the bin. [A staggering 20% of food is thrown out annually.]  Thousands of dollars in nutrient wealth is lost by humanity and the environment.

The best use of left-over food is to eat it next day (hence the term ‘giving someone the cold shoulder’). The second best use is to make it into something different (meat-loaf, curries, lasagne etc). Third best use is to preserve it (freeze it, pickle it etc).  The next best use is to feed happy domestic natural recyclers chickens, worms or soldier-fly farms]. But if the food is off, the question of finding the best composting technique arises.

Healthy Compost – Good For Everyone

earth_repair_kitWho cares about the state of our soils? Most soils in urban areas are compacted, depleted, polluted and lifeless dust. Recreation areas, streets and water ways can be rich in heavy metals and pollutants. Healthy soil means healthier living for everyone.

There’s no doubt that compost is the best tool for healthy soil. It holds moisture, gives nutrients, and brings dead materials to life, it can break down many types of pollutants and correct acidity.

One cup of compost can eventually renew a whole garden.  It demonstrates the paradox of life – it can replicate itself. But very slowing, especially if you tread on it, take food or ‘weeds’ or grass clippings away or limit it’s food source (leaf litter, food scraps etc). Compost is one of those rare resource that we can’t have too much of.

Compost is also a fabulous way to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.  When food scraps are sent to landfill, they are covered up and this causes anaerobic decomposition. “Eventually this releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide”. A similar process can occur in neglected compost bins in the home.

Why the hot debate? Let’s dump the tragic stinky compost image and brush up on this life-enriching practice.

Better Compost Techniques

umbrella-fungi-North-America-badgerset-farmIn the forest, the composting system works slow and steady. On the farm, nutrients are being shipped off to market and need to be replaced quickly. In urban gardens and garbage bins, the compost is often sweating, choked by layers of random debris including deadly plastic.

In the forest, the fruits are eaten by birds, bats or other wildlife. Their manure feeds the forest plants and fungi.  A permaculture food forest that is supplying healthy food for a community needs to be managed so there is enough food for people as well as the forest and the wildlife.

In a Permaculture food forest, we aim to:

  1. cockatoo dropping a macadamia nut
    cockatoo dropping a macadamia nut

    grow fruit that is less likely to attract pests and disease. We can invest in hardy varieties by not giving the weak varieties special treatment. Mark Shephard uses this breed-them-tough attitude at New Forest Farm.  This doesn’t mean we have to abandon rare varieties, quite the opposite. We can try rare fruits and may stumble across one that suits our bio-region well and tastes great. We need to allow for losses due to experimentation in the permaculture plans.

  2. avoid composting methods that feed pests, rodents and disease. In Australia there is an indigenous pest that is spreading rapidly with climate change. The Aussie fruit maggots destroys fruit as it ripens. It has now spread south into the traditional agricultural fruit-belt of the nation. There are hundreds of food plants that do not get fruit fly – invest in these. Try something different for lunch.

Good Thermal Composting

Thermal composting kills weed seeds, has bacteria that break down many oils and synthetic chemicals including anti-worming medicines that may be found in horse manure. Hot compost hosts natural bacteria to break down the material into accessible nutrients. We need to monitor the compost temperature well to check that it is ready. If we use it when it is still too hot it will not only cook your plants it will rob them of nutrients. The plants can go yellow and look sickly. [You can perk them up with some liquid manure or worm-farm waste]. Essentially, try to keep your compost in piles while they are hot. Let the pile get burning hot and wait until it cools down before putting applying it around fruit trees.

Double The Value Of Your Compost!

Recycled Tarpauline Gardening
Healthy Gardening without chemicals

Let’s apply the Permaculture principle of multiple uses for each element in the design.  We know the compost pile can get really hot so, we can use this heat to kill a weedy patch. Hot compost can even provide some hot water. If you don’t want any of the rich nutrients to escape you can put your hot compost pile onto a recycled tarpaulin, then when it has cooled off, remove the tarp and plant into the rich soil below.

The easiest ways to compost without worry are to use a worm-farm, soldier-fly farm or sealed drum that you can rotate.

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10 Amazing Tree Powers

Specialist Trees

There are some amazing specialist varieties of treesDartmoor-Tree that are very powerful. These super-trees produce diesel nuts, have leaves that can burn wet, produce abundant fruit, support a web of life, a big enough to live in, provide timber that never rots, live for thousands of years, support a wild-life of fungi underground, hold the steep slopes of mighty mountains and others can communicate for miles underground.

There are at least 10 types of trees that we can depend upon: Fuel, Food, Oils, Forage, Structural, Conservation, Carbon sequestration, Soil managers, animal barriers, and Fungal & Microbial Habitat.

  1. FuelYou can choose from solid fuel and flammable leaves, bark, oil and ‘diesel’ nuts. Solid fuel from trees can be collected either as natural droppings (cones from nut pines, fallen wood) or as planned cuts (thinning, or felling of short term forest for soil creation). David Holmgren writes that solid fuels are the most useful energy resource globally because: we can plan for their harvest, they are easy to cut, require little training to use, convert easily to energy, hard to steal or vandalise, and renew themselves. Some timber ie. Eucalyptus leaves will even burn wet.Diesel and Petroleum treesburn like candles.
     http://mfujioka.web.fc2.com/diary/ph047.html
    from ◇筑波大・藤岡アングラ> ◇写真と日記

    The Brazilian tropical rainforest tree Copaifera langsdorffii commonly known as Capaiba (Tupi Indian word cupa-yba) is a legume and known as the diesel tree. It can be tapped sustainably like maple trees. More powerful is Pittosporum resiniferum. This oil can also be distilled into a very pure form of n-Heptane.
    BioGas fuel can use coppiced tree material
    with animal manure for conversion of biomass via composting for methane collection.
    One of the biggest challenges for the conversion to natural energy use is finding a form that is compatible with the system we already have. Nicole Foss talks about our limitations due to the current dependence on particular forms of energy. At the moment, mankind is dependent on electricity from an aging grid network and liquid fuel or gas for transport. Biogas and other energy transition technologies allow us to convert existing equipment such as gas cookers and tractors.

  2. Food & Alcohol (more than 80% of the world’s food species came from the photo taken at australian tropical foods nursery QLDrainforest). The permaculture food forest usually intercrops fruit and layers of nut trees. We use strong food trees to support vine crops and short-lived trees act as nurse trees to maturing species. Tall evergreen trees are positioned in the shaded corner of the orchard and often used as wind-breaks.
  3. OilsThere are a myriad of herbal, medicinal, culinary and cosmetic oils from trees including Eucalyptus, olive, and Neem.
  4. Forage/Fodder. This is an excellent resource that is often overlooked by conventional modern farming. Many trees provide excellent, nutritious fodder for animals. They can be grown as living fences,(applied at Avonstour) hedges or as shade trees in the corners of paddocks. The cattle fertilise the fodder trees and the run-off is filtered well by the abundant layers of forest shrubbery beneath. Forage Examples include: Oak, Poplar, Acacia aneura (Mulga), Albizia Julibrissa (Leguminous, deciduous, fast growing, regenerates) Dodnaea viscosa (Hop bush)
  5. Structural/Shelter – Many trees were known to be big enough to shelter a traveller. Even Plato wrote about trees too big to put his arms around.
  6. Conservation/Wildlife Habitat The preservation of habitat makes good economic sense as much as ethical sense. If nothing more, we can keep healthy forests as a bank of diverse genetic material because most of it we have not yet recognised it’s full value to us. We may be able to create clean air, water, soil and find nutrients but we can’t recreate genetic material.
  7. Carbon Sequestration is the long-term storage of carbon dioxide or other forms of carbon to either mitigate or defer global warming and avoid dangerous climate change. Long living trees are excellent guardians of carbon. Many trees live thousands of years (including olives) however, clonal colonies of trees have the potential to be immortal. Pando, an 80,000-year-old colony of Quaking Aspen, is the oldest known clonal tree.
  8. Soil Management- able to hold banks of steep slopes, trap centuries of silt, create their own rain and micro-climate. Trees have been shown to seed the clouds to help make rain.
  9. Animal barrier systems -, Hedges can be stronger, longer lasting and more durable than fences. Not all hedges have to be chaotic, some can be trimmed to sit up off the ground, allow small creatures to pass underneath and larger animals/people and cars to stay out.
  10. Fungi & Microbe Incubation is an amazing new discovery for conversion of sugars into energy sources. Paul Stamets shows how mushrooms can save the world.

What-I-love-about-trees