Permaculture forum: Secrets of the Soil

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hazelnut
Oct 28, 2013 7:31 PM CST
I have been reading Secrets of the Soil by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird. In it are discussed such Outer Limits topics as climate change (its not global warming we have to fear, but the coming Ice Age), communications with and between plants, the role of soil bacteria and minerals in the health of plants.

http://www.amazon.com/Secrets-Soil-Solutions-Restoring-Plane...

Some topics seem a little beyond The Great Beyond. For example, one soil scientist invented something called Sonic Bloom, where in certain sounds (music) are played to plants and they respond by producing super sweet fruit, or stellar growth. It seems they like the sound violins, but not hard rock. The explanation is that soil bacteria respond to certain sound frequencies, and the result can either be that they stimulate plant growth, or are repelled by the sound.

It would seem an appropriate Halloween read for a gardener interested in soil.
Name: Rick Corey
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RickCorey
Oct 28, 2013 7:44 PM CST
A dear friend gave me a copy, but I admit I could not get into it. I gave up when I came to the advice about grinding up a quartz crystal, sprinkling it into a bucket of water and then stirring clockwise ... I forget whether they suggested incense and chanting. But allegedly the silicon dioxide quartz (and stirring) was going to promote soil fertility.

The funny thing is that I AM rather into chanting and crystals (and dancing around a fire when my legs and ankles were stronger), but when they suggest those in the same tone as mulching and drainage and fertilization, I'm NOT into the crossover.

There are already plenty of traditional rituals to increase soil fertility!

For some reason I want to keep practical science in one box, and mystical spirituality in another box ... but I don't like confusing them with each other. That might be self--contradictory, or dualist, or something else I would disapprove of if I were being consistent, but I just want to know whether a piece of advice is fact-based (this-world observational, repeatable) or fanciful (inspired, symbolic, spiritual).

Name: Caroline Scott
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CarolineScott
Oct 28, 2013 8:16 PM CST
I am with Rick!
It has to be based on good science which means that:-- they write down exactly what they did, and then any of us can repeat what they did, and get the same results.
There is so much pseudo science floating around---not just in gardening,but in so many fields.


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hazelnut
Oct 29, 2013 7:52 AM CST
If you look again at the book, you will find that it is science based. Sonic bloom for example, was invented out of scientific experiments -- plants responding to sound frequencies. And the explanation is that soil bacteria do in fact respond to sound frequencies and respond to make better plants. In other cases the authors report what people have used in the past to increase yields in their gardens. And, there is a look at weeds and what they do to improve soil.

I would bet that my own scientific training would match any one here. And what I have learned is that "throwing out the baby" is too often the case in science. Science is only now learning how to account for the interrelatedness of environmental variables, that were previously ignored. In fact, good science is science that stretches a little around the borders and incorporates imagination meshed with scientific method. This how we learn, for example, that feeding soil bacteria can be a lot more productive than the industrial NPK method of feeding plants directly.


To me the bottom line of the Secrets of the Soil Book is about stretching our scientific imaginations. We could, for example, use certain techniques, instead of being swamped by GMOs (that's "science" isn't it -- to modify the genes of plants, but its not good science because its so short-sighted). These techniques could produce grains that can be made into fuels and reduce or eliminate our dependence on foreign oil.

Benedetta
Oct 29, 2013 9:08 AM CST
This is very interesting conversation.
Science facts or a bunch of gobbley goo.

I have not read the book so I don't know how far it goes.
But regardless - putting a gene in a plant so it can resist an insect does scare me that it might resist me too.

I have a favorite author Diana Gabaldon. She is a biology professor plus a best selling author.
Her heroine Claire, was collecting some kind of herb in the woods one night by the light of the moon. She explained to her son-in-law that the plants at that time put out extra pheromones, and produced much more of thier essential oils to attract moths to help in their pollination.

Then there are loads of sceintific research on symbiotic relationships of mushrooms/fungus on esp pine trees and oak trees.

So when do you put spiritualism in one box and science in another -- I do like that description -- I like to do that too --- but sometimes it is not easy.


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hazelnut
Oct 29, 2013 9:54 AM CST
And sometimes you cut off the corners when you try to stuff things in boxes.
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LindaTX8
Oct 29, 2013 10:38 AM CST
Anything that will get rid of GMO plants and still improve the yield without doing the harm that all the GMO's are doing, I'd be all for! Thumbs up
I don't care about "boxes" except possibly to prevent religion and politics from corrupting pure science. I'm ADD and have trouble organizing things into boxes very much, that's for sure. Rolling on the floor laughing
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lovemyhouse
Oct 29, 2013 10:54 AM CST
Hilarious!
If you don't ask, the answer is always 'no.'

Charter ATP Member
hazelnut
Oct 29, 2013 11:35 AM CST
Linda. There are proposals for soil treatments that would restore nutrition to plants and replace petroleum for fuel and give farmers back their job, in the Secrets of the Soil book. There are also some pretty far out strategies that I wouldn't buy either. In any case, it is a survey of the outer edges of soil science. I hope gardeners will take an unbiased look.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
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RickCorey
Oct 29, 2013 11:42 AM CST
hazelnut,

I didn't mean at all to imply that you were credulous or didn't have scientific training. Not at all, and I apologize if I came across that way.
I was just disappointed in that book because it appeared very interesting at first, and then turned out to make no distinction between purely speculative magic and provable, practical advice. If the authors don't make that distinction, then I'll only read it as occult speculation, and it was not to my taste as a book about spirituality.

>> "throwing out the baby" is too often the case in science.

I agree that "bad" scientists are often quick to assume that anything unproved is untrue. But that's the opposite of "good" science. When you don't know, you DON'T know. One century's dogma is next century's joke, and vice-versa.

I put the book down when one author baldly claimed "do this because it works" and it was just an earth-magic ritual.

If that author had said "meditate on your fields with images of fertility, while surrounding yourself with symbols that represent growth and health to you, because I (the author) believe we have poorly understood subconscious powers related to visualization or prayer" or even "invoke the Goddess to empower your soil and gardening efforts", I would have kept reading with interest.

>> good science is science that stretches a little around the borders and incorporates imagination meshed with scientific method.

I agree in this sense: that is how new ideas arise and old beliefs are transcended. The inertia of the scientific establishment is huge, and probably only young Turks have enough energy to overthrow old paradigms.

But (in my opinion), then the new ideas need to be proven and made repeatable or at least predictable. I think that's the scientific method: First iamgine your way out of the old box, then make the new box more specific and prove things about it.

Interestingly, we tend not to believe surprising experimental results until someone proposes a mechanism that seems plausible to us. I'm not sure whether I think that's "good skepticism" or "bad skepticism" over all. Especially since the proposed mechanism that helps "old school" people in a field to accept the evidence and investigate further is quite likely to turn out to be hokum once the new phenomenon IS understood.

We need mechanisms to keep the threshold fairly high for radical changes: I forget the exact quote, but "very radical claims need very strong proof".

>> its not good science because its so short-sighted

You may be right about that, but I make this distinction because I'm sympathetic to most scientists but few managers and politicians: GE is great science or technology because it enables many kinds of research and plant breeding.

But current and future use of GE may possibly be bad public policy if it's used recklessly, decreases available crop genetic diversity, turns out to "run amok" and let trans-species genes start jumping freely through wild populations, or (least likely) RoundUp or RoundUp's replacements ever become more toxic or used to greater excess than the available pre-GE herbicides and insecticides.

Mainly I'm saying that I think of science as good or bad within it's own terms and goals: acquiring knowledge. Greedy companies and politicians hot for campaign donations use or abuse technology derived from scientific discoveries. All the harm is done in boardrooms and courtrooms by lobbyists, executives and politicians (then the marketplace and farms play out the consequences of the bad decisions).

But I may be splitting hairs to "excuse" the people I identify with, and "blame" the people I distrust and dislike.

>> I don't care about "boxes" except possibly to prevent religion and politics from corrupting pure science.

Yeah! What you said.

Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Oct 29, 2013 11:44 AM CST
>> So when do you put spiritualism in one box and science in another --
>> ... --- but sometimes it is not easy.

>> And sometimes you cut off the corners when you try to stuff things in boxes.

I strongly agree with both! I like this boast by Aleister Crowley:
"Our method is science, our aim is religion." But they are hard to combine at all, even more than they are hard to separate completely.

hazlenut, I'll take another look at that book.

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hazelnut
Oct 29, 2013 12:59 PM CST
yeah. I agree that science gets out of hand when it is co-opted for public policy, or, as the case now, the scientific basis of public poli cy is some 30 years old. And scientifically trained people can't get a job. I was there when we were building missiles that would orbit the moon and tell us what was there. To me that's what science is about -- discovery -- not serving some corporation's narrow interests.

Yes. I read (am reading) Secrets of the Soil as a scientist, not for its spiritual value. To me soil is fascinating. And the degree of soil depletion we have now is scary.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Oct 29, 2013 2:46 PM CST
As long as we're talking opinion and point of view, not submitting results to peer-reviewed journals, I think that what goes on in soil near-literal magic!

Almost no matter what we do, short of biocidal toxins, any time soil can get some air, some water and some organics, really complex soil populations arise and cooperate to produce FERTILE soil. And if there was only rock to start with, lichens work until there is soil.

How does that happen? Fertile soil is ALWAYS the result unless you try hard to rape all the life out of it? There must have been some really heavy-duty co-evolution going on for millions or billions of years ... and/or magic, and/or divine intervention, and/or some Gaea principle, Nature spirit or consciousness (and/or I-don't-know-what-but-I-sure-am-in-awe-of-the-result).

I would say that the jury is still out on questions like that, because how do you prove or disprove either side? I'm glad the Pope can't dictate what to believe any more, and I hope that we retreat from the current position where any blow-hard who invokes "Science" without listing any references can dictate belief, arouse fears, or dismiss concerns.




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hazelnut
Oct 29, 2013 3:16 PM CST
Actually I think that particular proposition isn't particularly difficult to prove or disprove. All you have to do is collect soil samples from various uncompromised contexts and devise a fertility test. I would say from my experience as an archaeologist that that statement is true for riverine contexts where most paleolithic people tended to live. But then, alluvial soils are constantly renewed and their fertility tends to remain high over the long term.

Incidentally, The Secrets of the Soil book does have 9 pages of references, I have not checked the bios of the authors, but the reviews at Amazon are consistently favorable.

Just because somebody reviews a practice -- such as meditating over the soil, doesn't mean the advocate that practice.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
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RickCorey
Oct 29, 2013 3:49 PM CST
>> Actually I think that particular proposition isn't particularly difficult to prove or disprove.

If you mean the proposition that "usually" soil provided with water, air and some organic matter tends to develop microbe populations that support fertility, i would agree that it's easy to observe. perhaps difficult top STATE the hypothesis in a provable way!

But I meant that it would be hard to prove which of these causes brought about the surprising behavior or properties of soil life:

- heavy-duty co-evolution going on for millions or billions of years
- and/or magic,
- and/or divine intervention,
- and/or some Gaea principle,
- and.or Nature spirit
- and/or or (Nature) consciousness
- and/or I-don't-know-what-but-I-sure-am-in-awe-of-the-result

I think the first option is the standard contemporary scientific speculation, but to me it is only slightly more specific than my final speculation. "Co-evolution" hints at directions for further speculation, but it has a ways to go before it's specific enough to be a TESTABLE hypothesis.

I think the middle five are pretty much different ways of saying "I know that I don't know, but my philosophical leanings are in THIS direction".

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hazelnut
Oct 29, 2013 5:19 PM CST
I think it is a combination of soil biota -- the micro biome and proposition no. 1. That is the thesis of the book.
Name: Lyn
Weaverville, California (Zone 8a)
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RoseBlush1
Oct 29, 2013 5:48 PM CST
Rick ....

>>>>Almost no matter what we do, short of biocidal toxins, any time soil can get some air, some water and some organics, really complex soil populations arise and cooperate to produce FERTILE soil. And if there was only rock to start with, lichens work until there is soil.

This may be a true statement, but it may take billions of years before the soil is really alive and fertile.

I couldn't have said that a week ago with such certainty. Last Friday, my grandson and I went up to the back country where there had been a wildfire well over a decade ago to harvest some trees for my winter fire wood. When we reached the wildfire area, all I could see for miles were tall, dead trees and absolutely no undergrowth. No grasses, no wild flowers .... nothing. There were no birds, no animals. It was one of the most devastating things I've ever seen.

My grandson told me the land will continue to show little or no life for several lifetimes.

There is air and water, but few organics.

There was some star thistle growing along side the road, a few very young black oak trees scattered here and there, the digger pines which are adapted to wildfire country and that was it. When I reached down to pick up some soil, it's texture was the same as the ashes I remove from my fireplace when I clean it.

The trees we harvested were dead and not even infested with insects.

Most fires up here are started by lightening. It's almost impossible to put them out because the land is so rugged.

I garden in difficult soil, but even my horrid soil can be brought back to life.

I came away from that experience knowing that there are no absolutes, but a lot of variables.

Lyn



I'd rather weed than dust ... the weeds stay gone longer.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Oct 29, 2013 6:41 PM CST
>> No grasses, no wild flowers .... nothing. There were no birds, no animals. It was one of the most devastating things I've ever seen.

>> My grandson told me the land will continue to show little or no life for several lifetimes.

I'm amazed. On the big island of Hawaii, there were recent lava flows with green plants coming up from crevices and cracks. Not just moss or lichens, but flowering plants com ing up from what looked like the Moon. Like, just a few years after the lava flow. The invasive species apparently could grow in a little grit, and the year after that, their roots left behind partly organic soil. But the slope was very gradual, there were frequent very light rains, and the whole island must be full of species evolved to be the first ones to colonize lava.

I wonder what makes those burnt patches slow to grow back?

>> There is air and water, but few organics.

Hmm! Blown dust, seepage, bird poop and lichens ought to enable a few species to get their fingernails in ... I wonder why not. Maybe the ashes cause so much alkalinity that most things can't take it. Or by the time the caustic ashes are leached away, soil components (dust and sand) are also washed down-slope. You said "rugged".

Plus, I read that forests only grow where the soil is so poor that nothing else can gro3w, not even grasses. Not sure that's true, but it came from some article about "land usage". If you couldn't even create a pasture or field of grass, trees would still grow there.

>> there are no absolutes, but a lot of variables.

That's the truth! Also, "there are exceptions to every rule".


Name: Lyn
Weaverville, California (Zone 8a)
Garden Ideas: Level 1 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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RoseBlush1
Oct 29, 2013 7:18 PM CST
Rick...

I truly do not know the answer. I, too, have read about how plant life returned after a volcanic event. That's why I was so surprised to see nothing.

My best guess is that it has to be something different in wood ash vs. volcanic ash. I know that when I started heating my home with wood, I was told to be very careful about how I disposed of the ashes, because an ash pile will kill the soil, and if water runs down slope from the pile, the soil would also be killed.

Of course, I had to experiment. I am not a scientist, but I am ever curious.

At the very top of my property, in a flat corner where I had no plans to plant anything, I dumped a couple of cans of wood ash about nine years ago. Nothing has growth there since I placed the ashes there.

I am kind of hoping someone who knows more about soil can provide better information.

Lyn
I'd rather weed than dust ... the weeds stay gone longer.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Oct 29, 2013 7:58 PM CST
One thing I would expect from a hot fire, besides burning off all organic matter is sterilizing the ash, dust, sand and grit left behind. But rain and wind correct that quickly!

>> something different in wood ash vs. volcanic ash

Excellent point! They shouldn't be the same word. Wood ash is metal oxides that turn into hydroxides with water: concentrated caustic. Calcium hydroxide, magnesium hydroxide, sodium hydroxide and a little iron hydroxide, I think.

Volcanic ash is powdered rock, a.k.a rock dust. MUCH more benign as a starting point for pedogenesis!

>> I dumped a couple of cans of wood ash about nine years ago. Nothing has growth there since

I would have expected the caustic to leach out eventually. But maybe the metals left behind are so concentrated that they're toxic.

You might experiment by acidifying that dead soil, perhaps checking the pH first. "Agricultural sulfur" or finely powdered sulfur is oxidized by certain bacteria, in effect releasing a larger weight of sulfuric acid than the original sulfur weighed (all the added oxygen what it became sulfate, SO4).

That would neutralize the remaining wood ash, although it would still leave the metals behind as metal sulfates instead of metal hydroxides.




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