Monday, 31 October 2016

Film #16: Cooking With The Sun - Simple Box Solar Cooker with Morag Gamble (2:40)

I love my compact little box solar cooker. It is simple to set up, use and store, and it's an eco-friendly and accessible technology.  I can simultaneously cook four separate dishes in it that taste delicious.

I have just made this little clip (2:40) to show you how it works.



Essentially a solar cooker is a simple oven powered by the sun and does not need gas or electricity. There are many different types, each with their pros and cons. I do however appreciate the simplicity, safety and flexibility of this particular type.


Solar cooking has many benefits including:
- great tasting slow-cooked food
- cannot burn food
- eco-friendly
- free (once the cooker is paid for)
- reduces the need for fossil fuels
- it's an accessible technology that can help poorer communities that have limited access to fuel
- can be made simply and cheaply using many readily accessible materials.

The drawbacks of solar cookers are:
- they do take a bit longer to cook
- you need direct sun
- you cannot use them on an overcast day


Thursday, 27 October 2016

New Potato Abundance: A Sackful From a Handful in Just 10 Weeks

From just four plants we harvested 5 kg of new Kipfler potatoes today after 10 weeks of growing. That's 5kgs from less than 200gms of potatoes planted. I love this abundance...there are another 25 plants to harvest. We're going to get a sackful! As you can tell, Hugh is pretty impressed with his haul this afternoon.



These potatoes were grown in a new no-dig garden on an area of weedy grass that had never been cultivated before. We made this area to grow more of the bulk foods that the kids eat a lot of, but also to cultivate more of the plants that I give away a lot in workshops - rather than constantly taking out of the zone 1 garden kitchen garden.


This garden is part of our permaculture zone 3: farm zone. In this patch amongst the Potatoes we planted Yacon, QLD Arrowroot, Cassava, Brazilian Spinach, Turmeric, Galangal, Rosella, Okra, Pepino and also companion perennial herbs such as Society Garlic, Sacred Basil, Pineapple Sage. Now that the potatoes are coming out, I've plantedWatermelon - another of our kids' favourites.

Thanks to Columbian WWOOFer, Alejandro, for creating this garden in August and planting the potatoes.


Opening the soil with a garden fork, but not turning.
You can see the amount of openness that can be created just with the fork. The potatoes were so easy to dig out with my hands and I found so many worms.

Before making the garden beds, we let the chooks in for a while.

Some of the garden beds were top-dressed with compost, paper/card and mulch - others with just mulch.  As I dig up the rest of the potatoes, I'll make comparison on the quality and quantity of potatoes from each section. Will be interesting to compare.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Permaculture in the City - Positively Buzzing

I spent my weekend at Northey Street City Farm in Brisbane - the bustling and thriving hub of permaculture, organic food and sustainable community in this city. I love this place - I always have!

In 1993, a small group of us were dreaming and visioning this city farm - and in 1994 it all began. Twenty-two years later, I am so delighted, and really quite in awe, of how it has become such an important centre for sustainability and urban permaculture in this city and an inspiration for so many individuals, groups and educators. It such a buzz to have been part of this, and to continue to be.

I almost lived at the city farm for the first 5 years of its existence, then I moved up to the permaculture village 90 minutes north, where I still live today.  I am often drawn back to the city farm and in many ways carry it in my heart.  I learnt so much here - about being a good designer, teacher, facilitator and listener, and about the importance and value of community. 

Twice a year I offer a two-day workshop at City Farm - Introduction to Permaculture. Often Northey Street also brings groups up to my garden as part of their tree-change tours and permaculture design course programs. Next weekend they'll be coming here to my place.


Thanks to the wonderful group of people who participated in my two-day permaculture workshop last weekend. It was so lovely to meet you all, to share ideas and garden together. I was inspired by the amazing things so many of you are doing and planning, and by the commitment you have in wanting to live a more sustainable way of life and create more sustainable work-life. 

In the workshop we explored permaculture principles and ethics, permaculture design strategies and how permaculture contributes to sustainable ways of living. We had some great discussions and shared lots of ideas. Together we: 
  • toured and taste-tested our way through the 4 acres of edible landscape
  • got our hands into worm farms and compost systems
  • made a perennial edible garden (brush turkey safe!) and explored many strategies for developing veggie gardens
  • propagated many interesting permaculture perennials and planted them into up-cycled mini-wicking pots
  • rolled some seed balls with mung beans, marigolds and buckwheat, 
  • saved open pollinated seed
  • had a show and tell about beeswax cloths, natural dyes, homemade salves, solar cooking
  • enjoyed the organic farmers market


The Brush Turkey was busy making a nest not far from our new garden bed, so we took precautions to protect it. 
Most of us got muddy making seedballs.
Every Sunday morning at Northey Street City Farm is the wonderful Organic Farmers Market from 6-12. It is such a wonderfully buzzing place on Sundays - organic produce, food, coffee, personal products, healing, music, kids activities, yoga and more. People come for more than just shopping - they come to be part of the community here, to be part of a different way of living in the city.

People of all ages come to the city farm on Sunday. It's a great family hangout. Some talented young kids set up busking too.
"This Place is Very Cool" - I found this note on the blackboard in the middle of city farm - someone had written it late Saturday or very early Sunday morning. I often remember finding notes like this too when I used to live up the road from the city farm in the days of getting it started.  City farms and community gardens touch people in ways we cannot even begin to imagine - and not just those who come and volunteer, learn or work there.


Here in my own permaculture garden, the workshop season for 2016 is coming to a close.
  • October 29: The Simple and Abundant Garden (Sold out)
  • November 12: Harvest to Table (places available) - In this workshop we'll be exploring what to do with abundant garden harvest from a permaculture garden. We'll also look at different storing, preserving and drying techniques to extend the benefits of your seasonal produce. It will be a hands-on experience starting in the garden, learning about when and how to harvest, then moving into the kitchen to get creative and cook a meal with the collected produce.




Friday, 21 October 2016

DIY Reedbed for Treating Our Household Grey Water for Under $500

Australia is a very dry country, and globally water access and pollution is of growing concern. How we collect, store, conserve, use and reuse water is important.

Here where we live, there is no town water supply. We need to collect our drinking and gardening water, and deal with the wastewater we create.

I really like this situation - it makes you become really conscious of everything that you put down your sink because you know it's ending up in your landscape. The close connection builds a deeper sense of connection and responsibility. When waste is just taken away for us, we can become complacent.

The 'grey water' which comes from our kitchen sink, bath/shower, washing machine and 2 hand basins is fed through simple reed bed system which we made ourselves. There's no smell and no overflow. It is Council approved, functions fabulously and is super cheap and easy-to-DIY.

There is no black water (toilet water) going into this system - that is all taken care of in the compost toilet system.  (http://our-permaculture-life.blogspot.com.au/2016/10/my-toilet-makes-compost-no-water-no.html). This simplifies things incredibly.


Flowering reedbed garden processing our wastewater.
The greywater system is located below the house and uses only gravity to power the flow of water.  This picture was taken just after the cool season, so some of the species are still regenerating. Here in subtropical Queensland, there is plant growth all year round making this a functioning system throughout the year. 

We built the simplest system we could find to return our grey water from the house to the garden. It cost us under $500 for the set up and it is approved by our local Council.

We made with scrap building materials from around our site (the timber framing),  some thick builders plastic to line the system, newspaper as a bedding material under this to protect the plastic from sharp roots and stones, 20 mm gravel to fill it up and necessary piping.

One of the biggest expenses was asking a bobcat to dig the hole for us (5m long, 1m wide, 0.5m deep), although it would be possible to dig it.

We wanted a system that could easily be replicated by others, by those in small cabins (tiny homes) and in countries where expensive and high-tech systems are just not viable.

I am really happy with how this has worked and how it has capably dealt with the wastewater from our household of five people - admittedly we are quite conservative in our water use, because we want to be, but also because we can only use what we have in the tank. Our main water tank has never run out yet in more than 10 years, and just in case, we have another 2 tanks higher up in the landscape from which we can draw from in an emergency.

I'll talk more next time about our the design of our water system.



Wednesday, 19 October 2016

How To Use Seeding Cilantro Surplus and 10 Reasons It Is Good For You.

Are your cilantro plants going to seed? Mine are. They are getting bushier and more feathery every day. Before the flowers form is actually a great time to harvest the abundance and create some paste or frozen cubes to extend the harvest.  

Just about every lunch and dinner I add cilantro, the fresh leaf of coriander (Coriandrum sativum) . I love the flavour and it's such a luscious looking plant with it's shiny green leaves and abundant white flowers.  It's a favourite in my plucking salad garden just out my door - it's there with the arugula/rocket, lettuce, spinach, garlic chives, sorrel and welsh onions. 

I gave significant haircuts to many of my cilantro plants that had not yet flowered. They will keep growing for a bit longer yet. Both the younger leaves and the feathery leaves are great to eat. 

With this abundance I made cilantro paste, frozen cilantro blocks, and a cilantro satay sauce - there are so many other ways to try too - cilantro pesto is next on my list.  What's your favourite way to use your cilantro surplus?

Cilantro/coriander paste - the same mix I used for making the frozen cilantro blocks. I covered this with a layer of olive oil, sealed with a lid and put it in the fridge. It should last a few weeks - by which time most of my plants would have completely gone to flower.

Cilantro just before it goes to flower becomes a quite big - lots of leafy matter to harvest.

I chopped off bunches and bunches of leaf that included the younger leaves and the more feathery ones.  All of them taste great and are super to use in these preserves.


It created quite a large pile on the kitchen bench.
I stripped the leaves from the stalks and packed them into my trusty old food processor with a little olive oil.

A few seconds pulsing was all it took to create a good texture.

I spooned the mixture into about 4 ice-trays and froze them overnight. The frozen blocks of coriander are now in a tub in the freezer. When I no longer have fresh leaf in the garden, I will harvest the tub for my favourite flavour.

I had some about 2 cups of leaf still left, so I also whipped up a jar of cilantro satay - organic coconut cream, organic peanut paste, garlic clove, chunk of ginger, juice of a lime and a long red chilli (missing from the photo). I have been using this with tofu and to dress salad - yum!

Flowering cilantro/coriander
I also harvest and eat coriander flowers too, but at this point of it's cycle, the leaves have really thinned out. All the plant's energy is going into the flowers and seed production.  I leave the plants at this point - possibly staking them so they don't fall over everything else - and wait for the delightfully delicious coriander seeds to form. When they brown off, I go and collect them and use them as a spice. Of course I toss some about the garden for them to come up when they are ready, and I keep some to sow later too.

Health benefits of eating cilantro regularly

Cilantro/coriander is a super healthy herb to eat regularly. Here are 10 benefits of eating cilantro:
  1. Good source of dietary fibre, iron, magnesium; rich source of flavonoids and phytonutrients. Excellent antioxidant.
  2. Good for digestion: Helps to prevent flatulence, settles queasy stomachs and soothes nausea.  Helps the digestive tract to produce digestive enzymes, as well as more digestive juices.
  3. Anti-inflammatory 
  4. Chelation agent - removes toxicity; heavy metals from the body
  5. Helps the liver. Lowers the LDL (‘bad cholesterol’) and supports the HDL (‘good cholesterol’)
  6. Anti-bacterial properties  - helps to relieve diarrhoea if caused by fungal or microbial infections.
  7. Helps regulate blood sugar.
  8. Contains immune-boosting properties
  9. Chewing raw cilantro leaves helps to sooth bronchitis and asthma
  10. Stimulates the endocrine glands.


Monday, 17 October 2016

My Toilet Makes Compost - No Water, No Chemicals, No Smell

My toilet makes compost. It's a dry compost toilet. It simply and effectively turns our waste into usable compost that can be buried in the (non-vegetable) garden.

Here is a little introductory video to show you what it looks like and how it works.






Here's some of the reasons I love my composting toilet:

  • We save over 50,000 litres of water a year because it has no flush (that's comparing to an ultra-low-flow toilet flush. We'd save 100,000 in comparison to full flush toilets).
  • It uses almost no electricity - just a tiny fan inserted into the air vent which uses 5watts/hour (in our house this is solar powered).
  • It does not smell - because of the small fan in the vent pipe which ensures that any smell goes up the vent, not into the toilet room. It really does work!
  • It is a sealed system so insects and rodents cannot get in.
  • Because it does not smell and it is sealed, we have in our house - not as an outdoor toilet, like many compost toilets are.
  • It has no moving parts - very low-tech and easy to maintain. 
  • It does not export our waste to be dealt with elsewhere.
  • It reduces the organic material by 90% - massively diminishing the volume of waste to deal with.
  • It requires no chemicals to process the waste.
  • It is a continuous composting system, as opposed to a batch system where you need to physically swap chambers. This reduces handling and heavy lifting.
  • It is approved by our local government plumbing department.

This is a super simple and effective waterless toilet. The toilet room and the finished compost do not smell.


Every few weeks we add a little extra high carbon material, like sawdust, to maintain the carbon-nitrogen balance. 

We have thrown a few handfuls of composting worms into the system to add extra composting power.

Clivus Multrum
This particular toilet is a Clivus Multrum 8 which is suitable for a household of up to 5 people. There are DIY plans in the internet for Clivus Minimus.  Click here for one example.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Did You Know That Peasants Produce More than 70% of Global Food?

Almost a billion people, one in nine worldwide, live with chronic hunger, but the solutions are not what we are led to believe - more food, more industrialisation, more GMOs, more global trade agreements. Rather, it is the small scale polycultural food systems that will be most effective.

Today, October 16, is World Food Day - a day of action against hunger. What could you do to help raise awareness locally and take personal action?

I'll be making the most out of my permaculture garden abundance - collecting and processing the most flourishing seasonal foods and collecting open pollinated seeds to plant, eat and share. I am also writing this post to share with you in the hope that you will share it on.

Control over seeds must remain in peasants' hands," La Via Campesina.
(Photo: Tineke d’Haese/ Oxfam)

Did you know that:

  • 60% of the hungry in the world are women.
  • Almost 5 million children under the age of 5 die of malnutrition-related causes every year.
  • 4 in 10 children in poor countries are malnourished which damages their bodies and brains

But did you also know that:

  • Peasants produce over 70% of the food consumed globally on small farms of less than 2 hectares, and 80% of the food consumed in those countries.  The best way to prevent hunger is to prevent land grabs and enable peasants to be free to grow a diversity of food using their own seed on their own land.  Rather than cashcrops, hybrids etc. 'Big' solutions are not the answer.
  • Increasingly global food giants are involved in land grabs that are evicting poor farmers from their land to grow cash crops (often in the name of food security or economic development).

"No-one should come and tell us how to produce our food". Elizabeth Mpofu of Zimbabwe is General Coordinator of the international peasant movement of La Via Campesina, a coalition of 164 organizations in 73 countries around the world, representing about 200 million peasant, landless, indigenous, and other farmers.

What's the difference? Food security or Food Sovereignty

La Via Campesina, the global peasant movement which represents 200 million peasants in over 70 countries, prefers to celebrate today as World Food Sovereignty Day. Food sovereignty differs from food security.


Food Sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through sustainable methods and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.  

Food security is more focussed on the provision of food for all by whatever means necessary, whether by local production or global imports. Economic policies concerned with food security tend to emphasise industrial farming and the production of more cheap food, rather than a diversity of good local food. 

In this process, peasant seeds (free, locally adapted open-pollinated seeds) are often made illegal. Polyculture and biodiversity is replaced with monocultures. Land grabbing from peasants, particularly in the majority world countries, is done to “feed 9 billion people by 2050” even though it has been shown that the small scale polycultural farms are far more productive and abundant, and central to addressing poverty and hunger.

It's not just old peasants either who are calling for this. Young women calling for change at La Via Campesina's Youth Forum.

More reading (just a small selection):


Saturday, 15 October 2016

27,000 Trees A Day to Wipe Bottoms - What's Your Wipe of Choice?

Toilet paper. We don't talk about this much, but I reckon we should. We all need it and use it - well a great proportion of people in developed countries anyway, and global consumption is rising.  What's your wipe of choice? I'm shifting from recycled paper to tree-free.  



27,000 trees a day to wipe bottoms.

Worldwide, around 270,000 trees are either flushed or dumped in landfills every day. About 10 percent of this is toilet paper.  Also the production of each toilet paper roll uses about 140 litres of water.


Only 5% recycled toilet paper used.

Most toilet paper is made from virgin paper. In Australia, only 5% of our toilet paper comes from recycled paper. 


According to the Australian Conservation Foundation every tonne of paper recycled saves: 
  • 13 trees
  • 2.5 barrels of oil (average car would use this in 2-3 months)
  • 4100 kilowatts of electricity (average household use per year)
  • four cubic metres of landfill 
  • 31,380 litres of water  (roughly a household's annual water use)
That's significant.

But if you are choosing recycled loo paper, be sure to pick one that doesn't use chlorine bleach. Before being pulped and processed, recycled paper is de-inked. Chlorine can be used for this. Chlorine-based chemicals however can react with paper fibres and create toxic compounds such as dioxin and organochlorines.


What toilet paper should I use then?

More and more sources of eco-loo paper are becoming available. New small ethical subscriber-based companies are starting up supplying homes with bulk orders of toilet paper made from non-chlorine bleached recycled paper or bamboo and sugarcane paper (the softer option for sensitive bottoms). Bamboo grows so much faster than trees!

There's also people exploring fibre crops, such as hemp, and abundant agricultural and industrial byproducts ranging from wheat straw to garment scraps, sunflower stalks, and rags - all logical sources of tree-free pulp. 



How many trees are there in the world?

As an aside, while I was writing this, I came across a research paper that showed the planet has 3.04 trillion trees - or approximately 422 trees per person. This information was published last year in the journal Nature and based on research conducted at Yale. The research also says that 15.3 billion trees are chopped down every year - with the highest losses in the tropics where some of the oldest and biggest trees live. It also estimates that almost half of the world's trees have been cleared already. This has significant implications for the planet in terms of climate change, biodiversity, and therefore also human well-being.



Let's think before we wipe and go tree-free! If you don't already use it why not give the paper made from sustainable, renewable resources a go. 

Here's some of the sites I visited while writing this tonight.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Homemade & Homegrown: DIY Flatbreads with Teff - a Healthy & Satisfying Lunch

I love simple flatbreads. I hadn't made any for ages till this morning. My tummy feels happy and full after eating this simple homemade and homegrown lunch made from scratch. I can see this is going to become a favourite. Teff, an ancient grain, is gluten-free, high in protein and iron, higher in calcium than all other grains, and is a rich source of resistant starch (I'll explain more below).

It took me less about 15 minutes to prepare this meal and it was SO good. The salad was plucked fresh from the garden and the teff wrap (flatbread recipe below) was made moments before I harvested the salad. 


Teff - healthy, nutritious, gluten-free, resistant starch 
Don't worry if you haven't heard of teff before. I only discovered it on the shelves of my local stores in the past 12 months and it peaked my curiousity. I first tried it as a wholegrain mixed with rice - delicious. Since then I also have been baking with teff flour. I am enjoying the flavour and how filling it is.

Teff is an ancient tiny grain  -  approximately 3000 seeds in each gram.  It is grown in places like Ethiopia and Eritrea. It grows quickly and is hardy.

Why teff is healthy...

Teff has a mild nutty flavour and is super healthy. Along with being high in protein, iron and calcium, it is also has 20-40% resistant starch. Eating foods rich in resistant starch nourishes your gut bacteria, which helps maintain intestinal health. It goes through the stomach and small intestine undigested (hence being called resistant), until it reaches the colon where it feeds friendly gut bacteria - this has a positive effect on the type of bacteria in the gut as well as the number of them. 

Flatbread ingredients - simply flour, water, salt, soil and seeds

Flatbread recipe

Makes 8
Quick and easy
Prep: 15 mins
Cooking: 15 mins

Ingredients

  • 250gms plain flour (I used teff today - but you could use any flour)
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 150 mls warm water
  • 2 tbsp seeds (chia, sesame)

Method



  • mix flour, seeds, salt then add the oil and water mix together to form a dough
  • turn out onto a floured board and kneed for 5 mins
  • cover the ball with a bowl and rest for 15 mins
  • when ready to cook and eat - cut into 8, roll until 2-3mm thick
  • use a heavy pan or griddle - cook until it looks 'set' on top, then flip and cook for another 45 seconds
  • wrap cooked flatbreads in tea towel to keep warm (I just cooked one now, and will roll and cook the rest tonight for the family)
  • if you cook too many, renew the next day by brushing on a little oil, putting in the oven and using them as dippers.
NB: Depending on the type of flour used, you made need a little more or less water. Always have a little extra flour at hand too. You want the kneaded ball of tough to feel smooth and elastic - not sticky or crumbly.


Make a dough and turn onto floured board.

After 5 minutes of kneading, cover with bowl and let sit for 15 mins. 
Roll to 2-3mm thickness.

Cook on griddle or heavy-based pan.

Serve with salads and soup.


Saturday, 8 October 2016

Ingeniously Simple Idea to Harvest Compost Worms By 8 Year Old Boy: Film #14 with Morag Gamble

This ingeniously simple idea to get compost worms out of a worm farm is the brainwave of an 8 year old boy.


The inspiration...

My son, Hugh, was inspired to find a simpler and better way to extract worms from a worm farm. He was selling worm tower kits at the local market and was getting tired of the long process of separating the worms from the castings. He knew there had to be a better way ...

Hugh's method of collecting worms had us harvesting an abundance of worms so rapidly.

The typical method - too slow for Hugh

We had taught Hugh the typical method of separating worms, but he found it was fiddly and took too long. The standard method is up-ending a worm farm on a table or other smooth surface and mounding it up like a volcano. The worms move away from the heat and light towards the centre. Bit by bit you gently scrape away the castings, wait, scrape some more etc... and you are eventually left with a bundle of worms in the middle.

The typical method of separating castings from worms. Mound it up, scrape it off .... repeat a few times...

This method is still good for collecting the castings for your garden since you are rescuing most of the worms to put back into the farm. If however you are particularly wanting to extract bundles of worms for whatever reason - to feed to chickens, for fishing bait, for a micro-enterprise as Hugh was doing - I've not come across a simpler way.

Hugh's ingenious idea...

You're not going to believe how remarkably simple this method is, and just how effective it is. I love that Hugh brought his creative thinking to a challenge he was facing and found a solution. This method he has developed is a standout - it revolutionises the process, making it so easy and convenient. Essentially, he decided it would be much easier to entice the worms to come to him. Check it out how he does this in our short 3 minute youtube clip (link above).

Please share....

Please share our little video and spread Hugh's positive idea. Don't forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/c/moraggambleourpermaculturelife to get notice of each new movie I make. You can also subscribe to this blog so you get notice of each article and film.

Friday, 7 October 2016

The 2 Best Things You Can Do To Simply Create Superb Soils for Superbly Healthy Food

Nurturing soil vitality is one of the best things you can do as a gardener.  Plants thrive in soil that is teeming with life. The aliveness of soil really matters. To create superb soil you need to do these two things:
  1. Feed soil life.
  2. Protect soil life and structure.
I was just speaking about this today at the Brisbane International Garden Show. (If you live in the Brisbane region, it's on until Sunday 9 Oct). I get super excited when I'm talking about this because it's the basis of everything really. There is this whole world of incredible diversity under our feet which we pass by every day, usually without noticing - yet plants and animals (including us) rely on it so completely.
A single teaspoon (1 gram) of rich garden soil can hold up to one billion bacteria, several yards of fungal filaments, several thousand protozoa, and scores of nematodes. (see definitions at the end of this post)
As you know healthy soil = healthy plants = nourishing food = good health.  Plants in sterile soil perform poorly. Unhealthy plants are more prone to pest and disease problems, just as unhealthy food leaves us more prone to disease and malnourishment.

 So what are superb soils?

  • They feel crumbly and moist.
  • They smell earthy.
  • Their structure is open allowing movement of air, water and nutrients to plant roots.
  • They are full of diverse and abundant life.
You may have read the previous soil post about soils in June: 5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Soil and Grow Better Food http://our-permaculture-life.blogspot.com.au/2016/06/5-simple-ways-to-improve-your-soil-and.html. In that post I recommended to:
  1. Open the Soil
  2. Feed the Soil
  3. Add Organic Matter to the Soil
  4. Mulch the Soil
  5. Water Deeply
This is exactly what we need to be doing. I wanted to add some extra information here about why.

Did you know most plants have root extenders .....?!

Plants in real soil - superb alive soils - are supported by the web of life in the soil, in particular, fungus. Did you know that 90% of plants rely on fungus to access most of the nutrients and moisture they need - the fungal filaments are like root extensions. They go finer, further and deeper than roots could ever go.  So plants and fungus live in symbiosis - a mutually supportive relationship - and plants in this relationship are stronger and more resilient.


Why gardening in the ground is so important...

This plant-fungus relationship is why I recommend, wherever possible, to grow food in the ground and work to improve the aliveness of soils. (Understandably this not as easily achieved in balcony gardens and areas of soil contamination). The importance of connecting with soil life also explains why raised garden beds that are disconnected from actual soil can limit the vitality of your garden soils and plants.

How to create soil aliveness?

The base of the soil food web is organic matter.  More organic matter = more soil life. The two main things that support beneficial bacterial and fungal growth in the soil are: organic matter and protection from the elements, this also supports the flourishing of the entire soil food web.


What damages good soil?


  • tillage damages the fungi - it severs the fungal threads
  • fungicides and pesticides kill the good fungus, bacterias and bugs
  • lack of organic matter - no food for soil life
  • no soil protection - over-exposure to sun, rain and wind kills soil life

5 Simple Strategies to Feed and Protect Soils

Here are some natural and simple ways to feed soil life, protect soil structure and tend the soil:

1. Activate your soil with compost. 
I have a range of compost systems on the go, but I really love the simplicity and portability of the movable compost bins. I take them to an area that need a real boost, compost there for a while, attracting a zone of soil aliveness, then moving the bin on to another spot, but leaving the compost there to spread out, mulch over and make a new garden. There are also a number of herbs you can add into a compost to activate it. Read about these here: http://our-permaculture-life.blogspot.com.au/2016/01/improve-your-soil-with-herbs.html

Movable compost bin and worm tower - creating soil life hot spots.

2. Add compost worms to your garden ecosystem.
One way to do this is by installing simple worm towers throughout your garden, taking the benefits of worms and worm castings directly into your garden soil. It creates nutrient rich zones, and zones of soil aliveness. Visit my previous post about worm towers:
http://our-permaculture-life.blogspot.com.au/2016/01/a-quick-and-super-easy-way-to-turn-food.html and another which links to  the 7 minute film showing you how to do it.
http://our-permaculture-life.blogspot.com.au/2016/07/film-5-how-to-make-worm-tower.html



3. Add organic matter, compost and leafy greens to garden beds - in a no-till way.
Making no-dig gardens feeds and protects soils and creates a great environment for your soil life to thrive. This helps so much to support a thriving vegetable garden. By using the no-dig garden method rather than digging it into the soil protects the soil structure. Visit my previous post to see how to make a no-dig garden:
http://our-permaculture-life.blogspot.com.au/2016/01/morags-simple-successful-no-dig-garden.html



4. Plant deep rooted plants
I plant comfrey around the edge of the garden and beside the compost. The thick penetrating roots accumulate nutrients from deep in the soil and bring them to the surface. You can then use comfrey leaves as an excellent compost activator, to make a potent homemade comfrey fertiliser (http://our-permaculture-life.blogspot.com.au/2016/07/film-3-how-to-make-comfrey-tea-with.html), to add organic matter and nutrients into the soil layer while making a no-dig garden, or just to chop and drop. Also fruit trees with comfrey nearby seem to do better.
Comfrey
5. Regularly chop and drop organic matter.
I am often wandering around the garden, chopping back surplus growth and tossing it around trees and garden beds to feed and protect soil life. It's amazing how quickly it breaks down and gets taken into the soil. Because having enough organic matter is so vital, I actually grow plants especially for this purpose such as the comfrey, Queensland arrowroot, lemongrass and pigeon pea - but many other plants can be used too, such as the abundant mulberry or pumpkin leaves.
Old pumpkin vines as chop and drop mulch.
In and around the veggie garden I mostly use mulch - a seedfree grass hay that is easy to work with around the little plants.

Thick layers of mulch get drawn rapidly into our soils.

I also recommend using cover crops (living mulch) to cover bare soils, open soils, add organic matter and renew areas.

DEFINITIONS: 
Bacteria - single celled organisms that are the most abundant microbes in the soil. 
Fungal filaments - the fine white threads called mycelium you can see in healthy soil. We need this mycorrhizal fungi (symbiotic relationship between the plant and fungus) - 90% of plants rely on it. It increases plant strength, increases water uptake, absorbs minerals & nutrients and in addition stores 1/3 of soil carbon.
(Interestingly, mycorrhizal fungi does not form relationships with the Cruciferae family (eg mustard, broccoli), Chenopodiaceae (eg spinach, beets) and Proteaceae (banksia, macadamia). Fungal numbers drop in the soil with these plants, same as when the soil is left bare and exposed.)
Protozoa - single cell organisms that eat bacterias and release nitrogen to plants. 
Nematodes - microscopic wormlike creatures, that are the most numerous multi-celled things on Earth and an essential part of healthy soil ecosystems. They are found in every conceivable habitat from the deepest ocean to the highest mountain. They feed on bacteria, fungi, algae, small invertebrates and other nematodes. Gardeners immediately think of root knot nematodes, and cringe in fear when they hear their name mentioned. Having root knot nematodes are an indicator that your soil ecology is out of balance - adding more organic matter, compost and moisture can usually help regain the balance, as well as planting a crop of brassicas that are more resistant to the root knot nematodes - particularly the mustard varieties.