344 – Keys To Building a Healthy Soil – Part 1

Published a couple of years ago in irrigation , Permaculture , Podcasts , soil - 0 Comments

Paul and friends at Wheaton Labs give a group review of Gabe Browns 58 minute video entitled "Gabe Brown: Keys To Building a Healthy Soil" which includes lots of permaculture. Paul begins the podcast with a talk about non-native vs native plants. Natives are typically better adapted and people are worried about invasive species pushing native species out. Paul gives an example using the Russian Olive. Paul feels that there are several schools of thought on this. Paul thinks that Russian Olive could be used and harvested to make hugel beds. With modern tools like the ax or chainsaw it can be easily managed. If we allow permaculture folks to manage the land they can keep the Russian Olive in check and invasion will not be a problem. However, if one person tries to manage 20,000 acres it will be difficult if not impossible. Paul wanted to touch next on the profound points he came across in the video. Gabe Brown is dah man. He has 5000 acres in North Dakota near Bismarck. Gabe is doing well on his property. He does not use pesticides or fertilizers or tilling. He loves his no till drill. Gabe also says he no longer uses government subsidies. Gabe does not use crop insurance or bankers. He starts off showing forest soil with 4.3% organic matter and compares it to the conventionally tilled soil that only has 1.6% organic matter. Paul thinks a big part of Gabes video message was no till mixed with polyculture. Gabe listed a few dates when he started no till along his various fields. Paul mentions how he worked many years ago harvesting crops and how moving equipment took a long time because fields are spread out. Because Brown's fields are close to each other this may not be a big problem for him. Gabe explains the symbiotic relationship and how they need less water due to the hyphae. Paul goes over the soil structure and how tilling destroys the structure. In Gabe's video he calls the good soil black cottage cheese. Paul liked what Brown showed how earthworms and critters can open up lots of trails in the soil. Aggregate within the soil helps with the structure. During the video Gabe explains how water crossing his land is absorbed and makes the soil less compactable. The mycorrhiza are killed by tilling. Each time you till you lose 30% of your organic matter. When you till you bring in air that gives the surviving mycorrhiza material to consume however you have lost a good amount of the organic matter. Fungi need to bring nutrients to the plant to trade for sugar during the exchange. The fungi bring many things to trade. Janet explains her reasoning and Fred shares his opinion too. Gabe says his plants need less water because he is using no till methods along with mulching. Paul discusses how much water the plant needs versus how much it can consume. There is a discussion about the water needs of plants. Paul drops the topic but says he will return to this topic. Gabe claims that plants that are healthier are less susceptible to pest problems. Mycorrhiza take up space and act like white blood cells in a way. Paul reviews what Kai has planted i.e. A tall fescue. Paul thinks that the tall fescue he sees around Wheaton labs have endophytes. These act as antibiotics that can catch nematodes and consume them. These endophytes help the tall fescue grow like mad. Paul reviews the corn trial that Gabe performed. Gabe compared a half field he applied fertilizer to vs a half field he applied no fertilizer. Gabe shows how he got nearly identical yields. Gabe claims that if we stop abusing the soil and plant legumes along with the corn to provide ample nitrogen. Paul feels this has a lot to do with aged soils that were not tilled. Gabe claims his yields are 40 % higher than conventionally farmed fields. Gabe takes the crops he wants then brings cattle in. In a one foot x one foot area he has over sixty worms. Gabe says part of the key is to minimize the bare soil. Gabe companion plants multiple crops simultaneously. Paul mentions that Brown uses a 2 or 3 species mix for cover crop but has better results when there are 7 species and the best mix contains 20 species. There is a discussion about using as many as 140-200 different species to help diversify the field. Gabe does not detail the plants and shrubs but mixes plants with different crops to really include low to medium and taller crops. Paul says one of the most profound issues is where Gabe discusses the monocrop study where he varies the density along with a number of types of crop. Gabe shows the amount of organic matter when there is lots of diversity. Paul explains how the plants work together in diverse fields versus a monocrop field. Brown tries to model what nature does. Paul gives examples of natural systems where there is monoculture. Paul uses cedar trees as an example and how they tend to push out other species and become a monocrop naturally. Paul discusses knapweed on Wheaton labs and how they manage the knapweed. Around Missoula, people will actually pay to buy the bugs that eat the knapweed. Paul thinks he has two of the six bugs that consume knapweed at the Lab. Paul talks about the berm just outside his window and how the berm has evolved over time. This spring the rabbits were eating lots of crocus but once the cats showed up the rabbits became very scarce.

Relevant Threads

Gabe Brown: Keys To Building a Healthy Soil
Keys To Building a Healthy Soil thread at permies
Turning sand into soil thread at permies
understanding knapweed thread at permies
permaculture, sustainability and polyculture thread at permies
giant hugelkultur (12 feet tall) at basecamp thread at permies
Soil Forum at permies

Credit: Kevin Murphy

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