“Soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and the restorer, and the resurrector by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it, we can have no community, for, without proper care for it, we can have no life.” – Wendall Berry
Our relationship to the soil is absolute – It provides us with our food, building materials, medicine, filters our waters and stores carbon. It is composed of organic and inorganic material, gases, liquid and organisms that together support life.
But over the last 50 odd years, our soils have not been faring so well. Research has shown that the nutrient availability in our soils is declining and this, in turn, has had an effect on our food.
Dr David Thomas provides a comprehensive analysis of historical changes in food nutrient levels.
By comparing data available from 1940 with that in 1991, Thomas was able to show a substantial loss in mineral and trace element content in every group of foods investigated.
Mineral depletion in vegetables 1940 - 1991
Average of 27 kinds of vegetables
Mineral depletion in meat 1940 - 1991
Average of 10 kinds of meat
The nutrient depletion summarized in Thomas’s review represents an average of mineral and trace element changes in 27 kinds of vegetables and 10 types of meat.
With this in mind, understanding how the minerals in the soil affect the plants we eat is critical from the macro nutrients to the ever essential micro nutrients. What functions does that mineral form in the plant, how can we assess the plants to see what they are deficient in, what are the conditions that can attribute to this reduction in nutrient availability, and typically, what crops may be affected. The information provided below can help show the relationship between the different minerals in our soils and the effects they have on our plants and in turn, us.
Some nutrient is also moves more freely than others
Nutrient mobility in soil
Very Mobile – (prone to leaching) nitrate Nitrogen, sulfate Sulfur, Boron
Moderately Mobile – ammonium Nitrogen ( ammonium Nitrogen is temporarily immobile), Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Molybdenum
Immobile – organic Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Copper, Iron, Manganese, Zinc (Chelated forms of Copper, Iron, Manganese and Zinc are mobile and resistant to leaching)
Nutrient mobility in plants
Very mobile – Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Magnesium (Deficiency symptoms appear first in older leaves and quickly spread throughout the plant)
Moderately mobile – Sulfur, Copper, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Zinc (Deficiency symptoms first appear in new growth but do not readily translocate to old growth)
Immobile – Boron, Calcium (Calcium is very immobile)
SOIL ANTAGONISM AND INTERACTION CHART
When high levels of Nitrogen induce accelerated growth rates, levels of micro nutrients that would normally be marginal can become deficient. High soil levels of Nitrogen can assist Phosphorus, Calcium, Boron, Iron and Zinc but an excess can dilute these elements. Low soil levels can reduce Phosphorus, Calcium, Boron, Iron and Zinc uptake. Ammonium Nitrogen can make Molybdenum deficiency appear less obvious.
High levels of Phosphorus reduce Zinc and, to a lesser degree, Calcium uptake. It is antagonistic to Boron in low pH soils.
High levels of Potassium reduce Magnesium and to lesser extent Calcium, Iron, Copper, Manganese and Zinc uptake. Boron levels can either be low or toxic. Low levels can accentuate Iron deficiency.
High levels of Calcium can accentuate Boron deficiency. Liming can decrease the uptake of Boron, Copper, Iron, Manganese and Zinc by raising soil pH.
High levels of Copper can accentuate Molybdenum and to a lesser degree Iron, Manganese and Zinc deficiency.
Iron deficiency can be accentuated by liming, low Potassium levels or high levels of Copper, Manganese or Zinc.
High levels of Copper, Iron or Zinc can accentuate Manganese deficiency – especially repeated soil applications of Iron. Uptake can be decreased by liming or increased by Sulfur applications (because of the affects on pH)
Deficiencies can be accentuated by high levels of Copper and to a lesser degree Manganese. Uptake can be adversely affected by sulfates. Uptake can be increased by phosphates and liming. Molybdenum can increase Copper deficiencies in animals.
Uptake can be decreased by high Phosphorus levels, liming or high levels of Copper, Iron or Manganese. Zinc deficiencies are often associated with Manganese deficiencies, especially in citrus.
A delicate annual herb, with small, paired, egg shaped, pointed-tip leaves on long, round, weak stems that have a line of hairs between the nodes. It has small white flowers with 5 deeply notched petals that are shorter than the sepals
As A Soil Indicator:
Very low Calcium, Very low Potassium, Very high Phosphorus, High Magnesium, High Iron, High Sulfate, High Copper, High Zinc, High Boron, High Chloride, High Selenium, Little organic matter, Compacted soils,
Annual. Germinates anytime often with a main germination from autumn to spring. Flowers late-winter/spring
Used as a green salad or cooked vegetable. It has medicinal and therapeutic uses, is rich in vitamin C and may be eaten as a salad vegetable.
A very competitive plant in higher rainfall areas. It can accumulate nitrate and potentially become toxic to stock. In addition, it has a relatively high oxalic acid content and a low level of calcium that may have an adverse effect on dietary calcium bio-availability.
Buried seeds are known to retain viability for at least 25 and probably over 40 years. Seed buried in soil for 10 years gave up to 22% germination.
Not recorded as toxic
A purple/red, tufted annual grass to 600 mm diameter with upward bending stems, up to 800 mm tall, and a cylindrical spiny seed head that is often partially enclosed in the top sheath.
As A Soil Indicator:
Very low Calcium, High Potassium, High Phosphorus, Very high Magnesium, Very high Manganese, Very high Iron, High Sulfate, High Copper, High Zinc, High Boron, High Chloride, High Selenium, High Aluminum Very little organic matter, anaerobic activity, Sandy, well drained, low fertility soils.
Annual. Seeds germinate mainly in spring to summer and it grows rapidly, especially after heavy summer rains. Burrs produced from December to April. Most plants die in winter but a few may survive and set more seed in spring.
Fodder when young before the burrs develop..
Burrs puncture skin to degrade hides and cause ulcers in sheep mouths.
The seed formed first is the largest and will germinate in a few months. Others are dormant for up to 3 years. Up to 1000 seeds per plant produced.
Seed can germinate and establish from 250 mm deep. Burrs on the soil surface rarely germinate.
Secondary infections may develop from physical damage, especially around the mouth
I was very fortunate a couple of years ago when I was able to help out a community garden in our region and was gifted several plants as a thank you. One of these plants was a passion-fruit marigold - Tagetes lemmonii. Not knowing much about it at the time and assuming it was just like every other marigold, I planted it in the Potager garden.
While this plant has similar effects much like other marigolds, it also is a fabulous plant that has a more extended flowering period, from autumn right through to winter. It has beautiful yellow daisy flowers and is well known for its leaves. They possess an aroma which can be easily smelt when the wind passes over the foliage, or when the leaves are crushed. It smells like ripe passion-fruit! It is also a drought tolerant plant for a sunny position. It makes for a great addition to any permaculture garden - It is originally from Mexico, and it makes a fabulous border or informal hedge plant that is drought tolerant that thrives with the hot sun overhead and grows to approx 1.5 metres tall and 1 metre wide and is a soft-wooded perennial.
I am now actively taking cutting to strike and also asked if the community garden has more seed so that I can more of this wonderful plant to my design.
They are effective in a couple of different ways:
Sorrel is a perennial with a creeping habit, with lance shaped leaves 5-8cm long. Spikes of insignificant tiny, yellow flowers turn into small red/brown seeds. Leaves and stems can also have a brown tinge. The plant reaches a height of 30cm when in flower.
As A Soil Indicator:
Very low Calcium, Low Potassium, High Magnesium, High Selenium, High Aluminum Very little organic matter, Low bacterial count, , Sandy, pour drainage, More abundant on acidic sandy or loamy soils. Tolerant of low fertility soils.
Perennial. Seeds germinate and roots form shoots from autumn to spring. Vegetative growth mainly occurs over winter and spring and it flowers from August to December. The top growth normally dies off in summer leaving the dormant, perennial, root system protected by the soil.
Used as a herb and vegetable. Fodder but relatively unpalatable. The leaves are also rich in vitamin C, E, beta-carotene, and other carotenoids.
High oxalate content
Seeds remain viable in the soil for many years.
May cause oxalate poisoning in stock. Breeding ewes are the most sensitive.
Erect, about 700 mm tall perennial herb or small shrub with sprays of golden yellow, 5 petaled, 20 mm round, daisy like flowers in spring and early summer. It also reproduces from rhizomes and persistent root stocks. The leaves are opposite, light green with many translucent oil glands.
As A Soil Indicator:
Very low Calcium, Very low Potassium, Very high Phosphorous, Very high Magnesium, High Iron, High Copper, High Selenium, High Aluminum Very little organic matter, High Salt, , Prefers untilled but loose soils
Perennial. The plant reproduces from seed and vegetatively from underground rhizomes. Seeds germinate in the warmer months from October to March. They tend to remain vegetative and flower in their second season. Flowering stems emerge in spring, grow vigorously, and flower in summer. As the fruit capsule matures, the flowers turn brown and the leaves turn yellow in autumn as new shoots appear at the base of the plant. The old stems die off over winter but may remain standing for several months.
Used as an antidepressant in herbal medicine. Source of red and yellow dyes. Herbal tea for melancholy. Ornamental.
Fire hazard in plantations. Relatively unpalatable. Taints milk.
Affects fleece quality and causes vegetable fault. Toxic.
Toxic to horses, sheep, cattle and goats. Horses are most sensitive and goats least sensitive. Causes contact dermatitis in people. Both leaves and flowers may be toxic
Global Gardener is a documentary film series about the permaculture approach to sustainable agriculture. Bill Mollison, The father of Permaculture and auther of the permaculture designers manual along with Julian Russell produced the series for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation; it premiered on Australian television in 1991.
Urban is the third part of this groundbreaking series.
A annual herb to 400 mm tall, with star and simple hairs, a basal rosette of leaves and erect stems bearing heart shaped pods. It has small, white 4 petalled flowers in winter and spring.
As A Soil Indicator:
Very low Calcium, High Phosphorous, Very high Magnesium, High Manganese, High Iron, High Sulphur, High Copper, High Zinc, High Boron, High Chloride, High Selenium, High Aluminum Very little organic matter, High Salt, , More common on heavy grey clays and red brown earths.
Annual. Germination occurs in autumn to early winter or spring. The mature plant is erect in habit with a rosette which, depending on competition at ground level, may persist for much of its life. It flowers in late winter to spring and dies in summer.
Cooked stems and leaves formerly used as a vegetable. Considered a medicinal herb.
May taint milk. May discolour egg yolks. Relatively unpalatable and grazed sparingly.
There have been report of animals that have died from fibre balls but only after consuming large quantities.
This is a question that keeps coming up along my permaculture journey and one I talk about during different aspects of some of the courses I help facilitate.
The first time I encountered this question was in reading Plato who was a philosopher from the 5th century BC where he posed the question - What is the good life? by this he was referring to the aspects of Conviviality (To have fun and celebrate), Citizenship (Taking care of your family and community), Artistic and Intellectual growth (music, science, arts, community) and spiritual development and fulfillment (of the individual and shared).
Claude Lewenz in his book 'How to Build a Villagetown' he proposes the idea of building a habitat to not only be a wonderful place to live, but also solve all sorts of social, economic and environmental challenges facing modern society. The author, Claude Lewenz took about 20 years, and considerable research, dialogue, focus groups and real-life testing to refine.
What happens if instead we build human habitat where we don't need to drive? We don't reduce or offset CO₂ emissions, we stop emitting. We burn no fuel - zero emissions. Design to remove the need for cars as local transport.
What if we place everything people need... work, shopping, schooling, cafés, recreation and a wide range of housing, all within a 10-minute walk of our homes. Within that habitat.
Old people need not move to retirement homes when they lose their driver license. Children play in the streets safely. People connect on plazas, no appointment needed; quality of life goes up. Streets are narrower, cost less to build and maintain. The settlement rather than development that costs less to build, needs less land, yet brings i the experience of place.
David Holmgren in his new book - Retrosuburbia, also addresses this in a different context were we look at what we already have and how can we re-skill, retrofit and fundamentally redesign our already existing households and communities for not only 'The Good Life' but for an energy decent future.
How can we use our domains - Built, Biological and Behavioural to improve our quality of life for ourselves and our families in a time of financial and property bubbles, Rising costs and shortages and the potential of climate chaos.
The graph below reminds me strongly of the web of life chart from holistic context and in this David asks us to evaluate our lives by simply dividing the amount of hours per week and see how it meets our needs. A simple yet powerful tool in helping to identify how we can start looking at what makes up a good life for us.
the Web of life is also a great tool in how we can 'rank' various aspects of our life to help identify our 'weakest link' and gives us the opportunity to start working on the various aspect one section at a time so not to overwhelm us - our daily statement of purpose.
So what does the question 'what makes for a complete and balanced life' mean to you?
In 2019 we will be taking on one person for a 26-week horizontal learning platform to help them develop their home systems, taking their knowledge and the application of permaculture to a new level
Who is this for?
This program is for people who are interested in increasing what they are doing on a home scale. To take the theory of what they have learned from the PDC (permaculture design course) and apply it, using hands-on approaches, to their homes and their lives.
It is essential that you have taken a PDC (permaculture design course) before embarking on this mentorship program. The PDC gives you a solid foundation we will be building on, delving further into the Ethics, Design Principles, Process and how we can build a resilient, regenerative and abundant future.
•A deeper understanding of the ethics and design principles
•Build your holistic context and know how to test your biases
•Learn how to create a soil fertility plan and build soil in a variety of ways and harness water for ourselves and our landscapes
•Intensive growing methods for the garden or orchard
•Practice using the design matrix from home to community scale
The mentorship program operates one day a week (Monday). We ask those accepted into the program to commit to attending . To gain the full range of experience, interns would need to attend for the total of 130 hours
There is a small cost to cover some of the larger expenses the participant will need for this mentorship
Participants will be supplied with a work diary to record their activities and learning experiences. The diary also guides the supervisor in providing the wide range of experience required to be a competent permaculture practitioner.
During the course you will receive classroom & field based tuition. We aim to leave you with the design tools, skills & strategies we have found necessary in our work. You will also be given resources and design tasks that you can manage in your free time. Making the most of these opportunities is your responsibility. We greatly value experiential learning. Reading or learning about how to do something is a useful tool, but unless you practice what you have learned, it remains a tool unused.
Please download the application form and email it back to us at email@example.com by the 5th May 2019