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Soaking up Australia’s drought Is Natural Sequence Farming the secret to restoring our water-starved continent? For more than a decade, two farmers have shown that parched landscapes can be revived. And finally Canberra’s listening.

Before and after pics mulloon creek 1977 and 2015

When Tony Coote was buried in August on his beloved property, Mulloon Creek Natural Farms, his mischievous sense of humour was evident: he was lowered into his grave in a handmade wicker basket made of willow.

It was, some say, a parting gesture to those who had complained about him planting willow trees to repair degraded landscapes.

Like the rest of New South Wales, Mulloon Creek is in drought. The egg and beef operation, 45 minutes outside Canberra, is experiencing its driest seven months on record, with less than 150mm of rainfall.

But, unlike other farms in the region, there’s water flowing through the creek — crystal clear water, good enough to drink.

This is no miracle — it’s the result of Mr Coote’s dedication over a decade to the ethos of Peter Andrews, lauded for his ability to rehabilitate dry, degraded and salt-ravaged landscapes.

Good enough to drink. Peter Andrews at the exit point for the home farm NSF works. (peter’s pond).

Australian Story’s 2005 episode on Mr Andrews and Tarwyn Park, the Hunter Valley property where he pioneered his controversial land regenerating system known as Natural Sequence Farming, was one of the program’s most popular ever.

Ten years later, Tarwyn Park was acquired by Korean mining interests, but that didn’t stop Mr Andrews’s groundbreaking work.

He travels the country advising landholders, and Mr Coote ensured ongoing scientific research and lobbying for Natural Sequence Farming through his legacy, The Mulloon Institute.

And Mr Andrews’s son, Stuart, runs the Tarwyn Park Training Program at the institute.

“The elixir of life; can’t get water that tastes like that out of a city anywhere,” says Mr Andrews, 78, as he negotiates the rocky edge of Mulloon Creek to reach down and cup some water in his hand.

In the midst of the state’s worst drought in decades, with no reprieve forecast, it truly is a sight to behold.

‘Leaky weirs’ to slow water

When Mr Coote, the then-executive chairman of Angus and Coote Jewellers, watched Mr Andrews’s Australian Story, he was riveted.

Mr Coote could see the genius behind his method of reading the landscape and tapping into the land’s natural system of self-rehydration.

He reached out to Mr Andrews and asked him to take a look at the Mulloon Creek property he’d bought in the late 1960s.

“Our land is severely dehydrated. We know our bodies cannot work unless they’re hydrated, we know plants and animals can’t work unless they are hydrated. But our land is dehydrated,” Mr Coote told Australian Story in 2015.

“We can fix all this, that’s the good news. And we can do it quickly.”

Tony Coote and Peter Andrews in 2006.

At Mulloon Creek, the two men set to work building Mr Andrews’s signature “leaky weirs” in the creek, one of many crucial steps in a complex plan to restore the landscape’s original processes.

Using rocks, fallen trees and other natural debris, a weir is constructed across the creek, not to stop the water from flowing through, but to slow the water down.

It then has a chance to seep into the landscape on either side, rather than gushing down the creek system and straight out to sea, taking important nutrients with it.

This is why Mulloon Creek is still running, even though there has been little rain. That water, which was stored in the landscape, is now seeping back into the creek.

“All we’ve done is reproduced what was a natural process in Australia’s landscapes,” Mr Andrews says.

“We’ve been able to get water into the floodplains which sustains the landscape in a drought.”

The change to the landscape on Mr Coote’s farm is striking.

“It was so degraded that we put six truckloads of blackberry canes in the creek to trigger the fertility. Now it’s growing its own fertility. It’s got to the stage now where fish would love to live there, every bird wants to go there and the frogs are all singing. They’re happy,” Mr Andrews says.

2006 vs 2013: Evidence of landscape rejuvenation at the Mulloon Creek Natural Farms at Bungendore

Thriving during drought

Farmers across the eastern seaboard are suffering through a drought that some consider the worst in living memory.

And, after a long winter, the Mulloon Creek Natural Farms’ paddocks don’t look very green. But when you look closely, you can see life just below the blanket of brown; shoots of green grass poke up to the surface, thanks to the moisture in the soil.

“The soil is alive,” says The Mulloon Institute’s Peter Hazell.

“It’s alive with fungus and bacteria, earthworms, and they’re all processing that organic matter and that litter. All you need to do is have a look under that brown stubble on the surface, and you can see plenty of resilience that will help this farm burst into life again in the spring.”

The Mulloon Institute’s research coordinator, Luke Peel, is enthusiastic as he measures the water infiltration rate in the soil. “That is quite amazing!”

Bubbles flow up the cylindrical surface infiltrometer, indicating that the rate water can be absorbed into that soil is 10,000mm per hour.

“It’s a staggering amount,” he says. “1,000mm per hour of rainfall is equivalent to a torrential downpour.”

Luke Peel, research coordinator at TMI.

A turning point for Mulloon

Scientific benchmarking has proven the success of the work Mr Coote and Mr Andrews undertook in 2006, now known as the Pilot Project, with a 63 per cent increase in production on the hydrated land.

Two years ago, The Mulloon Institute was recognised by the United Nations as one of only five case studies globally to demonstrate landscape-scale sustainable agriculture.

Peters pond before NSF works.

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10 Incredible Epsom Salt Uses For Plants & The SOIL

Epsom salt is comprised of hydrated magnesium sulfate, a naturally occurring mineral first found in the well waters of Epsom, England. Epsom salt has a variety of home remedy applications – the two most widely known being as a saline laxative and pain reliever. What many people don’t realise is that Epsom salt also has several uses in organic gardening for healthy plants.

This article shares ten of the best ways to start using Epsom salt for the benefits of your plants and garden.

1. Improve Seed Germination

Using Epsom salt as a soil amendment before seeding will give your garden a powerful boost right from the start. Magnesium aids in seed germination and helps to strengthen cell walls, leading to more and stronger seedlings. For best results, incorporate 1 cup of Epsom salt per 50 m2 of tilled soil or mix 1 – 2 tablespoons into the soil at the bottom of each hole before dropping in seeds.

2. Increase Nutrient Absorption

Many commercial fertilisers add magnesium to help plant roots take up vital nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur.) For those using all organic materials to feed their gardens, adding Epsom salt to soil will improve absorption naturally, eliminating the need for processed chemical fertilizers.

3. Counter Transplant Shock

We’ve all seen how our plants and seedlings wilt when we move them from a small pot to a larger one, from indoors to outside, or from greenhouse to ground. Try feeding transplants with Epsom salt once they’re in their new environment to help injured roots overcome transplant shock. Remember to add a layer of soil on top of salt sprinkled in holes so roots don’t come into direct contact with these concentrated minerals right away.

4. Green Up Foliage

Plants that aren’t getting enough magnesium can be identified by their yellowing leaves. This is because magnesium is an essential component in the production of chlorophyll. Try sprinkling Epsom salt around your plants to achieve healthier foliage. About 1 tablespoon per 100mm  of height once a month will benefit the plants in your vegetable garden, as well as any trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses you want to green up.

5. Prevent Leaf Curling

Leaf curling may also be caused by magnesium-deficiency in plants. Again, add Epsom salt to the soil around the base of the sick plant. Alternately, for faster absorption you can mix 2 tablespoons of Epsom salt in a gallon of water and apply directly to the leaves.

6. Deter Garden Pests

While Epsom salt won’t dehydrate slugs and snails like table salt (sodium chloride), it can still be used to deter pests. Hydrated magnesium sulfate crystals are sharp and when sprinkled around plants, they can scratch and irritate the bodies and feet of unwanted critters in much the same way as diatomaceous earth. (Keep in mind that Epsom salt dissolves very easily in water, thus any amount of rain will likely wash them away.)

7. Grow Sweeter Fruit

The production of fruiting bodies is the most taxing process in the life cycle of a plant. Apply Epsom salt to fruit and nut trees, bushes, and vines using the same methods and quantities stated above to boost chlorophyll levels inside the plant cells. Increased energy means more sugar, allowing the plant to produce higher yields of sweeter, healthier fruit.

8. Tastier Tomatoes

Tomato vines are one of a handful of common garden residents whose fruit to plant size ratio is heavier than average, leading to an even higher likelihood of magnesium-deficiency. For this reason, tomatoes should be fed Epsom salt twice as often as other plants. Also, because tomato vines are prone to calcium-deficiency (blossom end rot), the majority of tomato fertilizers contain calcium which will compete with magnesium for root absorption. Therefore, foliar feeding is the more efficient method for delivering magnesium to these plants. Water tomato vines with dissolved Epsom salt – 2 tablespoons per litre of water, every 2 weeks.

9. More Plentiful Peppers

Peppers are another popular garden plant with a higher-than average fruit to plant size ratio. As such, they should also be fed magnesium every two weeks to achieve higher yields of larger fruits. For hot peppers, over-watering can lead to fruit with less heat, thus the soil amendment method may be preferable in this case. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of Epsom salt for every 300mm of height around the drip line of your pepper plants once per week.

10. Beautiful, Bountiful Roses

Ever wonder why your neighbors’ rose bushes are fuller than yours and sport so many more blossoms? It is highly likely that the answer is Epsom salt. Not only does it help roses to produce larger blossoms in greater numbers, many successful rosarians will agree that magnesium also aids in the growth of new canes from the base of the plant. And of course, Epsom salt increases chlorophyll production meaning darker leaves. For maximum benefit, roses should at the least be fed with Epsom salt at time of planting, then again at the first sign of new growth, and once more when the flowers are in full bloom. Bare root roses may also be soaked in water containing dissolved Epsom salt before planting.

The post 10 Incredible Epsom Salt Uses For Plants & The Soil appeared first on Regenerative Landscapes Australia.

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Everything begins and ends with the soil. Unfortunately, close to 70% of it has been lost since the dawn of the agricultural revolution. Since the onset of the Green Revolution only half a decade ago, we´re getting rid of it faster than ever. Besides the ecocide that the loss of topsoil entails, it also is a major threat to our health. Most foods grown by industrial agricultural methods on depleted soil are nothing more than empty food carcasses filled with chemically supplied nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus.

Without healthy soil that includes dozens of other micronutrients as a result of the functioning soil food web, we´re simply not getting the nutrition we need, no matter how cosmetic our food supposedly looks.


It can be easy to be tricked into believing that we live in a world of abundance. Seeing the sheer magnitude of the corn harvest in Iowa, to name just one example, can make us feel like our food security is well provided for by combines, GPS-controlled tractors, and the thousands of other technologies of industrial agriculture. But below that seemingly abundant harvest, a serious problem is emerging. The Great Plains of the United States have been considered one of the most fertile areas of our earth. In some places, top soil reaches over 15 feet into the earth. But that apparently endless fertility has all but disappeared in recent years.

In 2014 alone, Iowa lost over 15 million tons of topsoil, mostly due to unsustainable industrial agricultural practices. That soil, along with the millions of pounds of chemical fertilizers and pesticides eventually make their way down the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico. The excess nitrates and pollution from this runoff has led to a hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico which is basically a dead area where no marine life can survive.


When the soil is gone, we as a species will be completely dependent on petroleum for creating chemical fertilizers give the plants we eat the nutrients they need to grow. The problem, of course, is that oil isn’t going to be around forever either. Peak oil is a moment in time when the maximum extraction of oil is reached, and some studies believe that we´re already reached that bleak milestone.

Our dependence on petroleum based agricultural inputs for fertility purposes, then, is simply unsustainable. Furthermore, without top soil to provide naturally occurring fertility, the use of chemical inputs is creating a host of ecological damages. Chemical fertilizers are almost all salt based leading to increased soil salinity. Though plants will grow with increased vigor initially, chemical fertilizers disrupt the natural soil cycle leading to eventual barrenness.

Top soil loss doesn’t only cause a serious challenge to our long term food security, but it also causes other serious ecological catastrophes. The run off of top soil increases pollution and sedimentation in our waterways causing serious population declines in certain species of fish. Also, lands without top soil are more prone to serious flooding and increased desertification. Already 10-20% of our planet´s drylands face desertification, and needless today, plants don´t grow well in deserts.


Foodstuffs grown by our industrial food system on seriously degraded soils depend almost exclusively on chemical fertilizer to provide plant nutrition. Chemical fertilizers are a combination of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium; three important plant nutrients, but definitely not the only nutrients that plant needs.

Healthy soils naturally provide a host of minerals and micronutrients including calcium, zinc, boron, magnesium, sulfur, iron, copper, and dozens of others. Each of these minerals and micronutrients helps a plant grow vigorously and add to the overall nutrition of that plant. Industrial agriculture that depends solely on chemical fertilizers rich in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium but deficient in other minerals and micronutrients produces nutritionally deficient foods. A tomato grown by an industrial farmer in a hydroponic system where the tomato only receives basic macronutrients pumped into a lifeless and sterile growing medium is basically an empty carcass. The taste of a garden tomato grown in rich top soil is much richer because of the host of nutrients that the healthy soil provided.

When we shop for vegetables at our local grocery store, then, we may very find large, blemish-free produce that looks healthy and nutritious. Inside that fancy exterior, however, is a serious deficiency in vitamins and minerals. To name just one example, broccoli grown in 1950 (in healthier top soil) averaged 12.9 milligrams of calcium content whereas it only had 4.4 mg of calcium in 2003. We may encourage our children to eat their fruits and vegetables thinking that may be healthier for them in the long run. However, how those fruits and vegetables are grown and the quality of the soil beneath them will play a major part in the nutrition they provide.


So how can we help soil recover its natural, biological state so that we can produce healthy and nutritious foodstuffs? Instead of relying on chemical fertilizers, there are a number of techniques we can implement to help build healthy top soil for the soil food web to prosper.
Even if you only have a small garden, a backyard compost pile is perhaps the easiest way to create healthy, living topsoil that can be added to your garden beds. By simply layering straw, hay or other dead, carbon-rich materials with other nitrogen rich materials like animal manures, grass clipping, and kitchen scraps, the millions of microorganisms will go to work decomposing the compost pile into a rich top soil. You can learn more about how to make your own compost pile at home here.

If you have a larger growing space, it might not be feasible to make enough compost to cover all of the soil where you are planning on growing crops. Aerated compost tea is another technique that allows you to spread the benefits of bacterial and nutrient-rich compost over larger areas. To make your own compost tea, simply place a sack of recently finished compost into a large barrel of water and let it sit for several days.

Alternatively, you can also use a fish tank oxygenizer to aerate the compost for 24 hours thus increasing the amount of helpful aerobic bacteria. You can then use a backpack sprayer or a simple watering can to water plants. The compost tea will provide needed nutrients and minerals to the soil food web helping it to recover its natural resiliency.

For farmers growing food over several acres, cover cropping is a great way to add fertility to large areas of land while also reducing the need for tillage. This allows for the soil food web to recover its natural cycles of fertility while also adding nutrients and organic material.

Cover cropping is simply the practice of growing certain nutrient rich crops to help increase soil fertility. Legumes like beans, peas, and vetch can fix nitrogen from the air in the root nodules thus improving soil health. Other cover crops such as buckwheat add abundant organic material that breaks down over time adding more “food” for soil organisms to break down into top soil. Cover crops work best if they are cut down and allowed to decompose on their own.


A healthier and more nutritious diet begins with taking care of the soil that grows the food we eat. No amount of chemical fertilizers can ever create the same nutrition in plants that comes with healthy, live top soil. Through understanding the importance of the soil food web and through actively engaging in practices that help to maintain and improve soil quality, we can ensure that the healthy top soil we create will be keeping us eating healthy, nutritious foods.

See our post on Whats Missing in Organics 

The post TOP SOIL: A CATALYST FOR BETTER HEALTH AND NUTRITION appeared first on Regenerative Landscapes Australia.

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After The Tathra Fire – Plants for Landscaping and Fire Proofing Your Garden

Following the Fires in Tathra in March 2018, I thought it important to dig out some of the work I’ve been involved with over the years including the consulting work I did in Victoria after the Black Saturday fire around Marysville. The plants listed below are Native plants that have been found to provide some degree of protection during bushfires.

Design and soil hydration play a huge role in plants part in a fire and this subject is a complete new blog that looks at a drying climate and how people in there gardens and in land are perpetuating that by not paying attention to soil.

The lists were compiled by Mr Neil Marriott based on the experiences of Australian Plant Society  Victoria members, many of whom have properties in fire-prone areas which have been affected by bushfires.

Please note that this information is of a general nature and is provided for domestic use only and some plants may not suit the coastal humidity that Tathra gets in summer. We are happy to work with people in Tathra to compile new lists that suit our climate.

During extreme bushfire events neither these nor other plant types will protect your property.
Good design, soil hydration and use of the plants listed will, however, reduce the chance of being burnt out even the inclusion of european plants and trees.

Simple test to gauge the fire vulnerability of the trees and shrubs in your garden:

When fire restrictions permit burning off, throw a small sample of foliage from each tree and shrub onto a fire and see how much it flares up.

Consider removing or replacing plants with foliage which flares fiercely.

Fire Resistant Plants. Plants that will not burn in the face of continued flame:
Botanical name Common name Botanical name Common name
Atriplex cinerea Coast Saltbush Maireana oppositifolia Heathy Bluebush
Atriplex leptocarpa Slender-fruit Saltbush Maireana pentagona Hairy Bluebush
Atriplex limbata Spreading Saltbush Maireana pentatropis Erect Bluebush
Atriplex lindleyi Flat-top Saltbush Maireana pyramidata Sago Bush
Atriplex nummularia Old-man Saltbush Maireana radiata Radiant Bluebush
Atriplex rhagodioides Silver Saltbush Maireana rohrlachii Rohrlach’s Bluebush
Atriplex semibaccata Berry Saltbush Maireana sedifolia Pearl Bluebush
Atriplex vesicaria Bladder Saltbush Maireana turbinata Satiny Bluebush
Carpobrotus glaucescens Bluish Pigface Melia azedarach White Cedar
Carpobrotus modestus Inland Pigface Mimulus repens Creeping Monkey-flower
Carpobrotus rossii Karkalla Myoporum insulare Common Boobialla
Carpobrotus virescens Pigface Myoporum parvifolium Creeping Myoporum
Chenopodium desertorum Frosted Goosefoot Rhagodia candolleana Seaberry Saltbush
Disphyma crassifolium ssp clavellatum Rounded Noon-flower Rhagodia crassifolia Fleshy Saltbush
Einadia hastata Saloop Rhagodia parabolica Fragrant Saltbush
Einadia nutans ssp nutans Nodding Saltbush Rhagodia spinescens Hedge Saltbush
Enchylaena tomentosa Ruby Saltbush Sarcozona praecox Sarcozona
Eremophila debilis Creeping Emu-bush Scaevola calendulacea Dune Fan-flower
Hakea salicifolia Willow-leaved hakea
Maireana brevifolia Short-leaf Bluebush Scaevola hookeri Creeping Fan-flower
Maireana decalvans Black Cotton-bush Sclerolaena diacantha Grey Copperburr
Maireana enchylaenoides Wingless Bluebush Sclerolaena spp All Copperburrs
Maireana erioclada Rosy Bluebush Selliera radicans Shiny Swamp-mat
Maireana excavata Bottle Bluebush Zygophyllum apiculatum Pointed Twin-leaf
Maireana georgei Slit-wing Bluebush Zygophyllum billardierei Coast Twin-leaf
Maireana microphylla Small-leaf Bluebush Zygophyllum spp All Twin-leaf plants

In this photo the fire approached from the top left of the picture down to the house surrounded by European trees that retarded the fire and it moved passed with no effects on the house within. Notice the design of the sweeping band of poplar trees above the house, now thats good design.

Fire Retardant Plants. Plants that will not burn in the first wave of a bushfire, but may burn once dried out:

otanical name

Common name Botanical name Common name
Acacia acinacea Gold-dust Wattle Cheilanthes austrotenuifolia Green Rock-fern
Acacia argyrophylla Silver Mulga Cheilanthes sieberi Narrow Rock-fern
Acacia baileyana Cootamundra Wattle Coprosma hirtella Rough Coprosma
Acacia binervia Coast Myall Corymbia maculata Spotted Gum
Acacia brachybotrya Grey Mulga Cyathea australis Rough Tree-fern
Acacia buxifolia Box-leaf Wattle Derwentia derwentiana Derwent Speedwell
Acacia caerulescens Limestone Blue Wattle Dianella brevicaulis Small-flower Flax-lily
Acacia cardiophylla Wyalong Wattle Dianella callicarpa Swamp Flax-lily
Acacia cultriformis Knife-leaf Wattle Dianella longifolia Pale Flax-lily
Acacia Cyclops Western Coastal Wattle Dianella revoluta Black-anther Flax-lily
Acacia dealbata Silver Wattle Dianella tarda Late-flower Flax-lily
Acacia deanei Deane’s Wattle Dianella tasmanica Tasman Flax-lily
Acacia decora Western Silver Wattle Dichondra repens Kidney-weed
Acacia decurrens Early Black-wattle Doodia aspera Prickly Rasp-fern
Acacia elata Cedar Wattle Doodia australis Common Rasp-fern
Acacia farinosa Mealy Wattle Eremophila deserti Waterbush
Acacia fimbriata Fringed Wattle Eremophila saligna White Emu-bush
Acacia floribunda White Sallow-wattle Eremophila santalina Sandalwood Emu-bush
Acacia glandulicarpa Hairy-pod Wattle Ficus macrophylla Moreton Bay Fig
Acacia howittii Sticky Wattle Ficus rubiginosa Rusty Fig
Acacia implexa Lightwood Frankenia pauciflora Southern Sea-heath
Acacia iteaphylla Flinders Range Wattle Grevillea nudiflora Leafless-flowered Grevillea
Acacia kettlewelliae Buffalo Wattle Hymenosporum flavum Native Frangipani
Acacia ligulata Small Cooba Lagunaria patersoni Lord Howe Island Hibiscus
Acacia mearnsii Black Wattle Lasiopetalum macrophyllum Shrubby Velvet-bush
Acacia melanoxylon Blackwood Lasiopetalum schulzenii Drooping Velvet-bush
Acacia microcarpa Manna Wattle Myoporum acuminatum Boobialla
Acacia nano-dealbata Dwarf Silver Wattle Myoporum bateae Pink Boobialla
Acacia obliquinervia Mountain Hickory Wattle Myoporum montanum Waterbush
Acacia oswaldii Umbrella Wattle Myoporum petiolatum Sticky Boobialla
Acacia pendula Weeping Myall Myoporum platycarpum Sugarwood
Acacia penninervis Hickory Wattle Myoporum velutinum Woolly Boobialla
Acacia podalyriifolia Queensland Silver Wattle Pittosporum angustifolium Weeping Pittosporum
Acacia pravissima Ovens Wattle Pittosporum bicolor Banyalla
Acacia prominens Gosford or Golden Rain Wattle Pittosporum phylliraeoides Butterbush
Acacia salicina Willow Wattle Pittosporum revolutum Rough-fruit Pittosporum
Acacia saligna Golden Wreathe Wattle Pittosporum undulatum Sweet Pittosporum
Acacia stenophylla Eumong Scleranthus biflorus Twin-flower Knawel
Acacia terminalis Sunshine Wattle Senecio odoratus Scented Groundsel
Acacia vestita Hairy Wattle Senecio pinnatifolius Variable Groundsel
Ajuga australis Austral Bugle Solanum aviculare Kangaroo Apple
Alectryon oleifolius ssp canescens Cattle Bush Solanum esuriale Quena
Alyxia buxifolia Sea Box Solanum laciniatum Large Kangaroo Apple
Angophora costata Smooth-barked Apple Solanum simile Oondoroo
Brachychiton populneus Kurrajong Syzigium (Acmena) smithii Lilly Pilly
Bursaria spinosa Sweet Bursaria Viola hederacea Ivy-leaf VioletAf

We service from Eden to Pambula, Merimbula to Tura Beach and Tathra, Kalaru to Bermagui  west to the great divide.

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The post After The Tathra Fire – Plants for Landscaping and Fire Proofing Your Garden appeared first on Regenerative Landscapes Australia.

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WHATS Missing In Organics

Developments in IT are having unusual flow on effects. More and more people are starting to use their mobile phone apps to tell them about the food they are eating – where the food came from, how it was grown, what is its nutritional value, is it organic. And these people want it to be organic but they also want good food. But does organic food really provide better nutrition?

In our journeys we spend a lot of time on the land in southern NSW, Bega Valley, along the coast from Merimbula, Tura Beach, Tathra then up into the tablelands. Large urban properties and small to big  farms. Something that caught us by surprise is the poor quality of soils on many clients that are certified organic. We had an idealised view of organic gardens and farms having rich crumbly chocolate soils, abundant growth of healthy green crops and pastures, and plenty of productivity, even in dry times. The opposite was often the case, why so?

Before the early 1900’s farmers had to rely upon soil organic matter to provide good quality soil with plenty of nutrients. They had no choice because chemical fertilizers and pesticides were not available. As farmers ran down their bank of soil organic matter they came to rely upon the timely arrival of these chemicals to maintain production. And as the organic matter continued to decline, soils became harder and stored less rainfall, to the point where were are now. Addicted to and dependent upon fertilisers and pesticides (and irrigation).

So what happens when a gardeners and farmer makes the jump to organic when all he or she knows is conventional  practices and a dependence on chemicals to maintain production? They stop using chemicals but the soil organic matter is not there to keep them going or to stay in business. All of a sudden they are trapeze artists without a net!

We have a problem. Huge demand for organic produce at the consumer end, especially in the cities, without a solid farming foundation to supply the produce. What can we do about it? It means we have to look at farming from a different perspective with a new mindset and smarter management practices. The old recipes no longer work. We are moving up from playing drafts to playing chess!

Managing soil biology is the answer

The first step towards smarter management practices is feeding the soil. Soil is a living thing and like all living things it needs water, food, and shelter. Organic matter is essential to provide all three – storage of rainfall, food and shelter for soil biology. Rebuilding your levels of organic matter means keeping the soil covered with living plants ALL THE TIME. You can also add organic matter as compost, mulch or manures.

Why is soil biology so important? There is a lot of talk about the importance of microbiomes in the human gut and microbiomes around roots at the moment. In simple terms, plants use their “guts” (roots) outwards. Gut and root microbiomes significantly improve health, development, and fitness of their respective plant or animal hosts.

Image source: https://medium.com/@thryve/the-development-of-the-gut-microbiome-f060a6ba41bf

Do we find the same microbiology in guts and around roots? Not really, it is another case of parallel evolution where the different microbiomes in guts and roots do a very similar job.

The key question for  garden, landscape and farm managers, especially those going down the organic path, is “can soil biology replace my need for fertilizers and pesticides”? Let’s look at these one at a time.

Weed control

This is “the big one” for organic farmers. You can use the traditional method of ploughing out all weeds or you can use rotations and cover crops to keep the ground covered. Weeds are opportunists and love bare ground. And work done by RLA has demonstrated that improving soil health or quality can favour the plants you want so they out-compete weeds. Most gardens and pastures are adapted to better soils anyway, so you can help them along by building up your soil health.

Better nutrient supply and uptake

Organic matter can supply not just N, P, K but all 13 of the nutrients needed by plants. Soil biology feeds off organic matter to break it down into soluble forms that can be absorbed by plant roots. This is particularly important for phosphorous. This is a slow release form of nutrition unlike the “all at once” provided by most fertilizers. Healthy soils with sufficient organic matter allow nitrogen fixing bacteria to remove nitrogen from the air. Another well-known example of nitrogen supply is rhizobium bacteria in legume inoculants that make nitrogen-fixing root nodules on legume crops and pastures. Gut and root bacteria produce vitamins such as riboflavin and vitamin B12. Root bacteria produce plant hormones that regulate plant growth and gut bacteria seem to regulate animal behaviour.

Disease control

Gut and root microbiomes suppress diseases. Bacterial inoculants in agriculture and forestry are considered equivalent to probiotics for animal health. Probiotics stimulate plant and animal defence systems and out-compete disease-causing microbes. In plants, root genes switched on by soil bacteria are involved in defence responses. Seeds may harbor a reservoir of probiotics for their seedlings. Plant root exudates can stimulate particular microbes that they need and suppress those they do not want. This is well known in the scientific community.

The Future

In conclusion, can Gardeners, landscapes and farms survive without chemicals and keep producing with less costs to themselves and their environment. A particularly important advantage for Australian soil management is better water use efficiency. This means that the rainfall you receive is captured and stored by your soils without running off to be lost from the property. When rains falls you can be confident that it is stored and ready to be used by the crops and pastures on your farm. In this way you build up a buffer against dry spells. Your place will be green and still producing while your neighbours will be suffering.

So, to revisit the initial question “does organic food really provide better nutrition”, people increasingly want organic food but they also want it be healthy and full of nutrition. And they are prepared to pay more for it.  Therefore, “the answer lies in the soil” and it goes Beyond Organics.

The post Whats Missing In Organics appeared first on Regenerative Landscapes Australia.

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