We recently watched a presentation by Dr Christine Jones called Quorum Sensing in the Soil Microbiome, and strongly recommend it, however, in short:
The “Ah-ha” for us was photos of an agricultural experimental area where a paddock had been sown to crop in bare ground; no mulch, no cover crop. The area was currently in drought, and it looked very poorly. Adjacent was a paddock with the same crop and a 6-species cover crop looking somewhat better, but definitely stressed. In a corner of that field was a small area, about 100square m, where the cover crop mix had been expanded to 27 with the addition of a bunch of leftover seeds. This area was vibrant with crop and cover crop species growing vigorously and showing no stress whatever.
Back to the beginning: On this planet there are 550 Gigatonnes of carbon life forms (a GT is a billion tons) of which 450 GT is plants, 93 GT microbes various, and 7 GT of lifeforms we can see; insects, fish, birds, moluscs, animals and us. Of the total biomass of life on Earth humans total .01% by weight!
(Remember there are more microbes in a teaspoon of real soil than there are people on the Planet) We are embedded in a microbial world and they are embedded within us … there is no such thing as an independent life form.
It has been shown that animals which graze in a pasture rich in secondary plant compounds; tree leaves, forbs, weeds etc; have increased microbial diversity in the gut, increased ability to digest a wide variety of feeds, improved feed conversion efficiency and improved immune function. Likewise with us, people who consume 30 or more different plant foods per week* have healthier gut microbiomes and fewer health issues. The standard American Diet (& SAD is a very appropriate acronym) has been simplified to 5 basic foods and ours isn’t much better in some quarters. In the soil, plant pests and disease, low nutrient density and poor plant productivity are linked to to a low diversity in the soil microbiome.
This totally validates Permaculture’s long-held conviction that diversity in all things is of paramount importance!
A diversity of plants gives a diversity of root system profiles which give diversity in the soil microbiome. Thus it is for cover crops; diversity is paramount.
The Jena Biodiversity Experiment (Germany 2008) showed that diversified crops/covers support each other in times of stress (ie drought). More is better and there is NO competition. A diversity of cover crop plants can replace fertilizer with greater productivity. Soil carbon also increased with species richness and more plant species = more soil Carbon. In monocultures it declined over time. As well as more carbon and more nutrient availability in the soil, cover crop diversity created deeper soil. There is an 8 minute video on the Jena Biodiversity Experiment on YouTube.
A more local example recently was the Smith’s Wilith Farm in Atiamuri, NZ. They had ash soil with high sulpur content and extremely low fertility. Every known nutrient was required and they spent a fortune on chemicals to support their dairy. Three years ago after a workshop they changed their approch adding biostimulants then plant diversity and have created 6 inches of soil since. Outcomes included CEC increased 50%; all nutrients including nitrogen and phosphorous increased although none were added; Total Organic Carbon level in the top 8” tripled; milk production increased by 300 liters; cow fertility increased by 80% and somatic cell count (which relates to mastitis and the price, if anything, that the milk company pays you) halved.
Plant diversity improves animal nutrition, growth rates, milk production & conception rates while reducing dependence on vets and building soil.
All the above is due to Quorum Sensing (QS)! In the microbial world QS refers to density dependent coordinated behaviour that regulates gene expression in the microbe population and/or the host plant or animal. It depends on the numbers and diversity of the microbe population and it occurs in bacteria, archaea, fungi and viruses. If we carefully exhume a plant from healthy soil and it has a mass of soil and glomalin (the rhizosheath, which forms around the rhizosphere or root zone) attached, this is QS in action.
Similarly microbiota in our gut can switch our genes on or off and many of the autoimmune diseases we (now) have are due to the genes we need for immunity having been switched off due to our oversimplified diet. Without diversity in our gut biome these genes cannot be activated.
30+ plant based foods each week example:
LEAVES (young) of Sweet Potato, Pumpkin, Dandelion, Moringa, Chicory, Broadleaf Plantain, Amaranth
Spinach leaves – Sambung, Brazil, Lagos, Surinam, Okinawa, Tahitian
Olives, olive oil
Yandina Community Gardens
On the days that the Gardens are open it is buzzing with activity. Below are some photos of our volunteers in action.
‘Traditional country wines and beers; a bit of Christmas fizz
Strawberries, cherries and an angel’s kiss in spring
My summer wine is really made from all these things’
Actually, I do not include a recipe for Nancy’s Summer Wine but I will describe in this workshop just how you would go about making it. More than individual recipes it will be about demonstrating simple processes to make cheap and tasty wines. As well as wines, we will consider ‘long drinks’ such as cider, ginger beer, and lemon beer and a method of turning wines into fruit vinegars. Making country wines is a very old tradition – you may recall the vet’s experience with parsnip wine in ‘All Things Great and Small’. The wines and drinks I make are from fruit, vegetables, and flowers from our garden or that are found locally. We use what is in excess or what might otherwise, be discarded – guava pulp for example. I can demonstrate the use of the hydrometer and the arithmetic of sugar – bring your pocket calculator if you wish. We will go through the gear needed, sample recipes and additions that make good wine. This may lead to consideration of what to plant to supply stock. I shall make some simple cider (bring a two-litre plastic bottle of cheap apple juice – not from the refrigerator section but from the shelves in the supermarket – preservative free) and we will turn it into cider.
For summer quaffing I shall explain and demonstrate how to make beers – lemon beer and hibiscus delight (a Yandina speciality). After the workshop participants will have a good grasp of the fundamental processes of Traditional Country Winemaking, and a knowledge of the equipment and ingredients needed (as well as cheap substitutes) that they will be able to apply this to a variety of material.
Click here to book for this winemaking workshop
About The Presenter
Leaving his job as Headmaster of a boys boarding school in NSW, Phillip Richards took his family to carve out a farm on a 40 ha bush block of regrowth on sandy degraded granite outside Childers. Gaining organic certification (BFA) they sold vegetables through an organic produce agent in Brisbane as well as into the Sydney and Melbourne markets. Cows, pigs, goats all sorts of poultry helped increase the fertility and caused constant mayhem. They have been on the Sunshine Coast for many years and have 1.7 ha along the South Maroochy river and are self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables and have recently begun growing grains (maize, millet & sorghum) for both chook food and for our consumption.
Phillip writes for Grass Roots (in the past for Earth Garden) as well as G magazine, Owner Builder, and lately in PIP Journal (article on coffee) and Australasian Poultry (grains and sprouts for chooks). He was formally the organic editor for suite 101 a now defunct ezine.
This week you will go on a journey as you learn about coil weaving. You will learn how to begin consistently and how to add new fibre into your baskets, how to finish neatly and all about the importance of tension. You will also learn about how to bring up sides on a basket and how you can keep tension consistent by using an aid such as a metal or plastic or wooden bowl about the size and shape that you want your basket to become. Please bring something like this as a weaving aid as it will prevent you from making your basket too small. Also please bring , a wide-eyed blunt needle. This is a good time to collect materials from the garden; if it looks interesting or you’re curious about its use, bring it along.
Indigo has been learning all about weaving with natural fibres from various indigenous communities around Australia. She gives back to First Nations people whenever the opportunity arises , and has waited a long time for blessings to run weaving workshops here on the Sunshine Coast. Indigo is passionate about connecting people together through weaving, and connecting all people to the country in a respectful way. She uses both traditional fibre, but also she uses many things that may grow in your garden as well, helping our native environment by weaving with thing like cats claw.
To book for this workshop click here
Please note that this is a hands-on workshop and is longer than the usual workshop timing, as there is so much for you to learn and practice