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With the wealth of information that we have at our fingertips, the internet is an incredible tool to share tips and tricks from all over the world. Alongside various University and open access courses, some of the biggest names in Regenerative Agriculture have now started offering courses online, where you are able access their knowledge and ideas at your own pace in the comfort of your own home from anywhere in the world.

But sometimes it can be hard to figure out where your time, energy and hard earned money is best to go, and choose which option is best for you. Well, we’re here to tell you about our experiences to help you decide which course might benefit you the most to give you the most bang for your buck. Here we give you the lowdown on the three courses we have taken in order of our preferences for our context here at Mazi.

3. Dr Elaine Ingham (Soil Food Web Inc.)

Best for: Those interested in microbiology and its importance in agriculture and land restoration

Course Overview:

In this course, renowned soil expert Dr Elaine Ingham gives a detailed overview of life in the soil, explaining all the categories of organisms found in healthy soil and how these work to help you and your plants. The main take-home message for growers is that soil microbiology is the key for healthy soil and healthy crops, and the basis for plant nutrition and protection. She has developed practical techniques, through the use of composting, compost teas and innovative ways to use microscopes, to help growers grow beyond organic.

This course is sold as offering the theory and practice behind the ways that you can harness the power of microbiology on your farm. Whilst Elaine mentions a diversity of practical techniques, we felt these were given in less detail than we hoped for. Overall, the course has quite an academic feel to it.

Another key element of this course which initially attracted us was the real-time, personal interaction with Elaine herself. These moments are some of the most useful and interesting parts of the course as you really start to delve deep into her knowledge. However, the format of these sessions means that your relationship with Elaine remains quite impersonal.

That being said, we feel that there is a lot of valuable information put forward from Elaine, and there is definitely a lot to be gained from a course like this. One of our highlights from course was in the ‘Microscope Class’ which offers an innovative approach to quantifying microorganisms using a microscope, including more specific advice which is difficult to find elsewhere and a handy pre-prepared spreadsheet. However, there are a few ways we feel the course structure could be improved to help make the information more user-friendly. Things like quick links, subheadings and summaries of key take-home messages would make the knowledge that you can gain through this more course more easily accessible.

Where to access this course: You can sign up to this course at https://environmentcelebration.com.

For those on a budget: Elaine offers this whole course for $4,988, which is a pretty considerable price-tag and may be prohibitive for some. It’s also important to mention that for this price, you also only have access to the course for one year rather than for life, as offered by other programs. But the good news is that there we have found some great, cheaper alternatives to gain quality knowledge about soil microbiology. The book ‘Teaming with Microbesis a great alternative way to learn about soil microbiology at a fraction of the price. Other resources I’ve found really helpful include this free website which provides a detailed description of how best to brew compost tea. Elaine herself also offers several youtube videos (for example, see here and here) which give a nice introduction into many of the topics she covers in her course.  

2.Mark Shepard (New Forest Farm)

Best for: People interested in agroforestry and integrating forest ecology into agricultural systems

Course overview:

Mark’s course provides a great introduction into forest ecology. He provides a thorough understanding of the basic concepts of forest dynamics, such as the role of disturbances in forest systems and the patterns of natural succession, and, most crucially, how we can integrate this knowledge of ecology into our agricultural practices. From the ecological study of your biome, to water management and designing tree systems, this course provides a guide to creating low input, large scale, regenerative and productive farms.

A major strength of Mark’s course is his emphasis on how you can interact with an ecosystem in a way that provides a source of income, as making a living from the land is central to his whole philosophy. Another aspect which lends a lot of strength to this program is how rooted the course is in real-life farms, whether his own (a 40 hectare farm he manages solo) or one of the numerous case studies he cites, which clearly demonstrates how he combines academic ecological theory with practice.

However, we feel that the course doesn’t have a very structured format to it, which makes the knowledge sometimes difficult to access. Although the course gave us a solid foundation in how to integrate ecological theory on our farms, we sometimes found that we were lacking the practical details to implement this.


Where to access this course:

The course can be found on a website called https://www.eatcommunity.com, where buying a pass comes with the added bonus of access to a whole array of classes on natural chicken farming, aquaculture, permaculture and many others, as well as the opportunity to be part of a global community (which includes over 22,000+ Eco-Entrepreneurs) as well as many helpful resources, which definitely makes the course pretty good value for money.

Mark Shepard’s book provides a great insight into his work


For those on a budget: Lucky for us, Mark has helpfully written a book (called Restoration Agriculture) which details his ideas of the way forest ecology and agriculture can be linked, so reading it gives you a good idea of what’s involved in this course. Alternatively, much of Mark’s work is inspired from a book called Forest Ecology, from which you could gain all the basic forest ecology principles, although at around $100 this book is also an investment in itself.

1. Richard Perkins (Ridgedale Permaculture Farm)

Best for: People that have land and are ready to get up and running

Course Overview:

Like Richard’s farm itself, this course is efficient, practical and successful because of it. It is structured and extremely well thought out, guiding you through all the necessary steps for starting a farm, from clearly establishing your objectives and values, to the basics of forest ecology, right down to the nitty gritty numbers game of how to truly make a farm work in today’s economy. For everything planning and decision making, this course is invaluable. Richard describes the course as “helping you start smart”, and that is exactly what this course helps you to do.

One of the real strengths of this course is the interaction that you get with Richard himself. In addition to weekly seminars where you are invited to ask questions, you also have the chance to have your work and ideas critically evaluated with personal feedback tuned to your specific context and situation. It’s essentially like he is consulting for your farm, but remotely and much more cheaply than it would be to fly him onsite. Something else that is a real bonus is that all the videos, information and resources are available to you for life, meaning that if there are some bits that are more relevant to you later on, you can revisit them in your own time.

I have to stress though that this course is really designed only for practical purposes- if you have a farm or are in the process of buying land to start farming, this course is the one for you. However, although the course does touch upon the general principles of Regenerative Agriculture, if you’re looking for a more theoretical approach to agriculture from an ecological or more general viewpoint, you’d definitely be better off with one of the other courses on offer.

Where to access the course: You can access this course through Richard’s website, http://www.ridgedalepermaculture.com.

For those on a budget: Ridgedale just recently offered another, more affordable way to access the online course, making it available on a monthly subscription basis as opposed to all in one go, so you can pick and choose the chapters that suit you. Alternatively, you can buy his book, Making Small Farms Work’, and use the information inside to apply it to your situation. Rich also has a great youtube channel full of information about the work he does on his farm which, although doesn’t give you as much information as you gain through the course, does give you a flavour for the work he does at Ridgedale.

Hopefully this has given you a little flavour of what you can expect from each of these courses!

Happy learning,

Tash


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Mazi Farm Blog by Natasha Foote - 3M ago

Serious question. Is there anything more magical than a mushroom?

Yes, I know. Mushrooms might not look as pretty as a flower, they may not last as long as a tree, and they tend to be associated with dark, dingy and damp places where nobody really wants to go. But here at Mazi we think it’s high time to give mushrooms their due and start giving them the love they deserve.

Why so mad for mushrooms?

When we talk about mushrooms, what we are actually really talking about are fungi. Fungi are the interface between life and death, between organic and inorganic on this planet. They are the ultimate recyclers, breaking down the life’s leftovers into the building blocks of new life. Through the release of enzymes, these ‘myco-magicians’ work their magic to unlock nutrients for the rest of the ecosystem, doing the dirty work necessary to build soils and healthy systems. In fact, most plants depend on symbiotic relationships with fungi, such as mycorrhizae. Without our fungal friends, all ecosystems on this planet would fail.

What’s more, fungi achieve all of these ecological services whilst also providing a delicious edible fruiting body (a ‘mushroom’), many of which have important medicinal properties.

And yet mushrooms are as magical as they are mysterious. Despite the fact that fungi underpin life on this planet, relatively little is known about this mysterious kingdom.

A match made in heaven - Mushrooms and Agroforestry

Fungi and forests go hand in hand. When you walk through a forest, you may not realise that beneath your feet, you are stepping on miles and miles of fungal filaments, a ‘mycelial net’ that fungi have woven beneath your feet, connecting the trees and plants in many weird and wonderful ways which we are only just beginning to understand. So much so, that networks of soil mycelium are often referred to as the ‘internet’ of the soil, and have been shown to transmit information and help the exchange of much needed nutrients and water between trees.

One of the most important relationships between fungi and trees is with mycorrhizal fungi, part of the ‘symbiont’ category of fungi. Mycorrhizal fungi make symbiotic connections with the tree by wrapping their ‘hyphae’ (long fungal filaments) around the roots where they form an exchange interface. Here, they strike a deal with the trees. The fungi offer up nutrients that they alone can unlock from dead matter, in exchange for vital sugars that the trees produce through photosynthesis, a process that fungi can’t do. This makes a ‘win-win’ deal between the two, a perfect partnership where both parties come out on top. Mycorrhizal fungi, thanks to the helping hand of their forest friends, also create some of the yummiest and most sought after mushrooms, such as the chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius) and various Boletus species.

Amazingly, virtually all of plants on this planet rely on these kind of relationships for their healthy growth. This makes mycorrhizal fungi a vital tool for agroforestry farms to harness the full potential of regenerative farm systems. Moreover, evidence is emerging that contrary to popular belief, it is due to these fungi (and not trees) that most of the carbon is sequestered in Northern boreal forests, making them a key player in efforts to combat climate change.

You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours - mycorrhizal fungi strike a deal between plants for an exchange of nutrients and sugars. Image from Volterra Bio

Mushroom cultivation in agroforestry systems

Aside from the symbionts, there’s another group of fungi which are very interesting for cultivation in agroforestry systems, and that’s the ‘saprophytes’.

The saprophytes are the decomposers, designed to colonise dead organic matter and break it down into plant-ready nutrients, making them important players in the making of composts and the degradation of mulches. They also just happen to be one of the most interesting types of mushroom for cultivation, including mushrooms like the oyster, portobello and shiitake, which makes growing them a perfect complementary practice alongside agroforestry both as a decomposer and a profitable crop.

Making our own Mazi mushroom magic…

Here at Mazi, we have recently started our own exciting mushroom experiments to test ways we can connect mushrooms to agroforestry, both by integrating edible mushrooms in agroforestry systems and using fungi as a tool for the regeneration of agricultural landscapes.

We are firstly exploring the potential of mushrooms as a viable intermediary income in between waiting for your trees to grow and fruit. For this, we have started to cultivate oyster mushrooms, in a controlled environment in a room in our home, in the hope that we might be able to soon sell them locally, as well as add to our growing list of food we grow for ourselves here on the farm. We’re specifically aiming to find ways that this can be done in a Greek context, with the resources available here and the options we have for growing in a Mediterranean climate, with a view to ultimately creating a replicable model of a low input and low tech way to get involved growing mushrooms from the comfort of your own home.

Starting our cultivation of oyster mushrooms

With an easily observable and controlled mushroom room, these experiments are also providing us with an ideal way to learn about the life cycle of the mushroom, helping us to further understand the ways in which our fungal friends can help us on our land and be an ally in regeneration.

We have also started colonising logs of Oak and Eucalyptus with plugs of shiitake mushrooms. Given that mushrooms are well adapted to life growing under the forest canopy, we have left them beneath the shade of trees to grow, which makes them ideal for incorporation into an agroforestry farm. This is our first time playing with this type of cultivation, and we are excited to see how it works out.

Cultivating our shiitake mushrooms in the shade of trees

There’s a reason there is ‘fun’ in fungi, and the fun is just getting started here on Mazi!

Thanks for reading,

Tash  



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Μα γιατί κάποιος να ασχοληθεί με τους μύκητες ?

Οι περισσότεροι άνθρωποι συσχετίζουν τους μύκητες με αυτούς του ποδιού ή την μούχλα που υπάρχει στους τοίχους του σπιτιού τους, αλλα τι θα λέγατε αν σας έλεγα οτι όλα τα όντα στον πλανήτη υπάρχουν  εξαιτίας των μυκητών?

 Πρώτα ας τα πάρουμε απο την αρχή και όταν λέω αρχή εννοώ πριν απο 440 εκατομμύρια χρόνια.

Να σας συστήσω λοιπόν τον Tortotubus.

Πριν απο 440 εκατομμύρια χρόνια,αυτός ο οργανισμός ήταν απο τους πρώτους που διέφυγε απο τις θάλασσες και άρχισε να αποικεί στην γη. Κατα τη διάρκεια της περιόδου που υπήρχε αυτός ο οργανισμός, η ζωή περιοριζόταν σχεδόν αποκλειστικά στους ωκεανούς. Δεν υπήρχε τίποτα πιο περίπλοκο απο τις λειχήνες που είχαν εξελιχθεί στη γη.

 Αλλα προτού να υπάρχουν ανθοφόρα φυτά, δέντρα η ζώα χρειάζονταν οι διαδικασίες της σήψης και του σχηματισμού εδάφους .

Ο Tortotubus βγήκε απο τους σκοτεινούς ωκεανούς και μας χάρισε το έδαφος.

Αυτός ο άγνωστος για τους περισσότερους απο εμάς, υπόγειος μύκητας έκανε σταθερά την εξυγίανση του για 70 εκατομμύρια χρόνια, μέχρι που η ζωή στην γη μετατράπηκε απο εχθρικό, καυτό πέτρινο περιβάλλον σε ενα πλούσιο οικοσύστημα.

Κάθε φορά που αντικρίζετε μια ανατριχιαστικά όμορφη θέα που σας γεμίζει με ζωή και θαυμασμό, φέρτε στο μυαλό σας αυτόν τον ταπεινό μύκητα που έπλασε την πραγματικότητα μας.

Μπορει ο Tortotubus να ήταν ένας απο τους πρωτοπόρους αλλα η δουλειά των μυκητών δεν έχει τελειώσει εκεί.

 Οι μύκητες ειναι υπεύθυνοι στο μεγαλύτερο βαθμό για την ανακύκλωση στην γη. Χρησιμοποιούν νεκρή ύλη ( φυτά και ζώα) ως τροφή και μας δίνουν χώμα που προσφέρει πάλι ζωή. Είναι οι ανακυκλωτές της ζωής.

Μερικοί μύκητες έχουν μια θετική αλληλεξάρτηση με τα δέντρα  για την ανταλαγή θρεπτικών στοιχείων. Κατοικούν στις ρίζες των δέντρων για όλη τους την ζωή και απλώνονται υπόγεια συνδέοντας  όλες τις ρίζες σε ένα δίκτυο με στόχο ένα ακμάζων δάσος.

 Άλλοι μύκητες έχουν αρνητική αλληλεξάρτηση με τα δέντρα εφόσον επωφελούνται απο ένα αδύναμο, ασθενές ή γέρικο δέντρο και το χρησιμοποιούν ως τροφή. Σε ένα δάσος αυτό μόνο θετικό μπορεί να είναι εφόσον οι μύκητες αυτοί δίνουν την ευκαιρία σε νεαρά και γερά δέντρα να ακμάσουν και να συνεχιστεί ο κύκλος της ζωής.

Και δεν ξεχνάμε την πλούσια θρεπτίκη τροφή που μας χαρίζούν.  Τα μανιτάρια έχουν χρησιμοποιηθεί στην παραδοσιακή κινέζικη και ελληνική ιατρική εδώ και εκατοντάδες χρόνια για την βελτίωση της υγείας. 

Μερικά απο αυτά είναι :

1.  Ενισχύουν το ανοσοποιητικό σας σύστημα

2.  Δράση κατά του καρκίνου

3.  Προστασία της καρδιάς

4.  Αντιβακτηριακή δράση λόγω του χαλκού που περιέχουν

5.  Μείωση των επιπέδων της χοληστερίνης.

Το βασίλειο των μυκητών ανήκει στα πέντε βασίλεια των έμβιων όντων και ίσως είναι ενα απο τα πιο ανεξερεύνητα βασίλεια.

Τα τελευταία χρόνια λόγω της αναγκαιότητας εύρεσης λύσεων λόγο της κλιματικής αλλαγής  όλο και περισσότεροι επιστήμονες κατάλαβαν τις δυνατότητες και τις γνώσεις που μπορούν να χρησιμοποιήσουν απο αυτόν τον οργανισμό.

Ο μύκητας Tortotubus μας χάρισε την ζώη ,  μελετώντας τους μύκητες ίσως μπορέσουμε να διατηρήσουμε την ζωή!

Μαρία Γεωργαντά

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With the wealth of information that we have at our fingertips, the internet is an incredible tool to share tips and tricks from all over the world. Alongside various University and open access courses, some of the biggest names in Regenerative Agriculture have now started offering courses online, where you are able access their knowledge and ideas at your own pace in the comfort of your own home.

But sometimes it can be hard to figure out where your time, energy and hard earned money is best to go, and choose which option is best for you. Well, we’re here to tell you about our experiences to help you decide which course might benefit you the most to give you the most bang for your buck. Here we give you the lowdown on the three courses we have taken in order of our preferences for our context here at Mazi.

3. Dr Elaine Ingham (Rodale Institute)

Best for: Those interested in microbiology and its importance in agriculture and land restoration

Not so suitable for: Those looking for more practical, farm-based tips

Course Overview:

In this course, renowned soil expert Dr Elaine Ingham gives a detailed overview of life in the soil, explaining all the different types of organisms found in healthy soil and how these work to help you and your plants. The main take-home message for growers is that we need to invest in practices that promote a healthy soil biodiversity, rather than using chemical pesticides and fertilisers or by physically labouring your soil, in order to restore degraded land and create a flourishing farm.

This course is sold as offering practicable, actionable ways to use soil biology to your advantage. Although there are elements of this (for example, through the use of composting techniques and brewing compost tea), the course remains quite theoretical and general, with limited applicability for real life farming. Another key element of this course which initially attracted us was the real-time, personal interaction with Elaine herself. These moments of interaction with Elaine are some of the most useful and interesting parts of the course as you really start to delve deep into her knowledge. However, it is hard to have your questions answered during these Q&A’s, and the format of these sessions means that your relationship with Elaine remains quite impersonal throughout the course.

The course structure also leaves a lot to be desired. The way the information is presented is pretty heavy to wade through and, although there are gems of information inside, you have to really work for them. The course could definitely use a revamp to make the knowledge more accessible and help navigate around the parts you are most interested in.

That being said, there is a lot of valuable information put forward from Elaine, and there is definitely a lot to be gained from a course like this. The main highlight of the course is the ‘Microscope Class’ which offers more specific advice which is harder to find elsewhere, and comes with a handy pre-prepared spreadsheet to help with quantifying the life in your soil with your microscope. However the other classes, especially the ‘Life in the Soil’ and ‘Compost’ classes, give mostly very general information which is relatively easy (and much cheaper) to find online or in an introductory microbiology book. Taking into account Elaine's qualifications and the price of the course, we were hoping for something more technical and in-depth.

Where to access this course: You can sign up to this course at https://environmentcelebration.com.

For those on a budget: At around $1000 dollars per class, the cost of this course is considerable and may be prohibitive for some. It’s also important to mention that for this price, you also only have access to the course for one year rather than for life. But the good news is that there we have found some great, cheaper alternatives to gain quality knowledge about soil microbiology. The book ‘Teaming with Microbesis a great alternative way to learn about soil microbiology and, at around only $10, a fraction of the price whilst providing much of the same basic knowledge gained through the ‘Life in the Soil’ class. Other resources I’ve found really helpful include this free website which provides a detailed description of how best to brew compost tea. Elaine herself also offers several youtube videos (for example, see here and here) which give a nice introduction into many of the topics she covers in her course.  

2.Mark Shepard (New Forest Farm)

Best for: People interested in agroforestry and delving deeper into forest ecology

Not so suitable for: People looking mainly for practical information

Mark’s course provides a great introduction into forest ecology. He provides a thorough understanding of the basic concepts of forest dynamics, such as the role of disturbances in forest systems and patterns of natural succession, and, most crucially, how we can use this knowledge of ecology to design our agricultural practices. From the ecological study of your biome, to water management and designing tree systems, this course provides a structured guide to creating low input, large scale, regenerative and productive farms.

A major strength of Mark’s course is his emphasis on how you can interact with an ecosystem in a way that provides a source of income, as making a living from the land is central to his whole philosophy. Another aspect which lends a lot of strength to this program is how rooted the course is in real-life examples, whether his own farm or one of the numerous case studies he cites, which clearly illustrate the concepts he talks about whilst making the information very practically based.

The downside of this course is that it doesn’t have a very structured format to it which means that although the information is interesting, it is not very concisely delivered. It also makes the course quite repetitive, with a few key points recapped many times. Also, this course lacks an interactive element between Mark and his students, meaning there is not much opportunity to ask any specific questions you may have.

Where to access this course:

The course can be found on this website: https://www.eatcommunity.com, where buying a pass comes with the added bonus of access to a whole array of classes on natural chicken farming, aquaculture, permaculture and many others, as well as the opportunity to be part of a global community (which includes over 22,000 ‘Eco-Entrepreneurs’) as well as many helpful resources, which definitely makes the course good value for money.

For those on a budget: Lucky for us, Mark has very helpfully written a book (called Restoration Agriculture) which details his ideas of the way forest ecology and agriculture can be linked, so reading it gives you a good idea of what’s involved in this course. Alternatively, much of Mark’s work is inspired from a book called Forest Ecology, from which you could gain all the basic forest ecology principles, although at around $100 this book is also an investment in itself.

Mark Shepard’s book, Restoration Agriculture, is a great place to start learning about the principles of forest ecology

1. Richard Perkins (Ridgedale Permaculture Farm)

Best for: People that have land and are ready to get up and running

Not so suitable for: People without a farm, or people looking for more theoretical information

Course overview:

Like Richard’s farm itself, this course is efficient, practical and successful because of it. It is structured and extremely well thought out, guiding you through all the necessary steps for starting a farm, from clearly establishing your objectives and values, to the basics of forest ecology, right down to the nitty gritty numbers game of how to truly make a farm work in today’s economy. For everything to do planning and decision making, this course is invaluable. Richard describes the course as “helping you start smart”, and that is exactly what this course helps you to do.

One of the real strengths of this course is the interaction that you get with Richard himself. In addition to weekly seminars where you are invited to ask questions, you also have the chance to have your work and ideas critically evaluated with personal feedback tuned to your specific context and situation. It’s essentially like he is consulting for your farm, but remotely and much more cheaply than it would be to fly him onsite. Something else that is a real bonus is that all the videos, information and resources on the course are available to you for life, meaning that if there are some bits that are more relevant to you later on, you can revisit them in your own time.

I have to stress though that this course is really designed only for practical purposes- if you have a farm or are in the process of buying land to start farming, this course is the one for you. However, although the course does touch upon the general principles of Regenerative Agriculture, if you’re looking for a more theoretical approach to agriculture from an ecological or more general viewpoint, you’d definitely be better off with one of the other courses on offer.

Where to access the course: You can access this course through Richard’s website, http://www.ridgedalepermaculture.com.

For those on a budget: Ridgedale just recently offered another, more affordable way to access the online course, making it available on a monthly subscription basis as opposed to all in one go, so you can pick and choose the chapters that suit you. Alternatively, you can buy his book, Making Small Farms Work’, and use the information inside to apply it to your situation. Rich also has a great youtube channel full of information about the work he does on his farm which, although doesn’t give you as much information as you gain through the course, does give you a flavour for the work he does at Ridgedale.

Hopefully this has given you a little flavour of what you can expect from each of these courses- happy learning!

Tash


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Mazi Farm Blog by Natasha Foote - 4M ago

Why do we till? Tilling for many people is synonymous with the way we practice agriculture nowadays. If I asked you to picture an agricultural scene, chances are you've probably pictured a big tractor hauling something metal and heavy through a field.

There are countless things we do by rota everyday, without really taking a moment to think about why or how we're doing them, just because everyone else is and it seems like the done thing to do. The question is – could tilling be one of those things? Could something that is so emblematic of farming actually not be the best way of doing things, or – worse- could it even be harmful?

Why till?

Tilling, in one form or another, has been practiced for millennia, with forms of tilling even being documented since ancient Egyptian times.  As with all agricultural practices, tilling has gone through centuries of technological developments, moving from using simple hand-held tools and animals drawn ploughs, to the hefty high tech tractors we see today. These developments have allowed us to work the soil harder, longer, deeper and much more efficiently.

There's many good reasons why tilling at first seems like a great idea, which is why it gained such traction in agriculture in the first place. Initially, it was thought that by grinding up the soil into finer particulates, tilling made nutrients more easily accessible to the plant. And, at first glance, all seems well. Soil after tilling is fluffy and clean, plants are easily planted and seem to thrive in their new homes. But after time and on closer inspection, things aren't all rosy in the gardens after you till...


Why did the fungi leave the soil?

Because there wasn't 'mush-room'!.... Or was it because of tilling?

Tilling is a philosophy grounded predominantly in the idea that soil is mainly just a physical and chemical substrate. However, it does not take into account the biology that underlines the functioning of healthy soil. And the idea of no-till farming is largely due to exactly that biology- namely, an invisible ally called 'fungal mycelium', of which you can find literally miles and miles in just a spoonful of healthy soil.

This mycelium works in a multitude of ways to help plants, and therefore farmers, out. It helps unlock natural nutrients, rebuilds soil structure, aerates the soil and exponentially increases the water retention of the soil. Crucially, certain kinds of beneficial fungi make what is known as 'symbiotic relationships' with plant roots. Through these associations, fungi exchange carbohydrates and minerals for simple sugars produced by the plant and exuded through their root systems. In this way, fungal mycelium help to nourish plants. Mycelium has also been shown to play a crucial role in the transfer of water to plants, as well as other molecules such as enzymes in response to problems. In this way, ferrying nutrients, water and information, mycelium acts as the neural network, or, as Paul Stamets puts it, the 'internet' of the soil. However, tilling breaks up the long strands of fungal filaments, destroying the helpful mycelium and all the benefits along with it.

Tilling practices also kill off other kinds of crucial soil microbiology. For example, tilling kills earthworms who play a crucial role in soil health, through aerating the soil with their burrows and digesting soil which creates nutritious humus. 

Furthermore, tilling, by turning and mixing the soil, breaks up all natural layering of the soil pulling finer soils up to the surface of the soil leaving it vulnerable to erosion, which washes away all the crucial nutrients we need for our plants to grow. This also works to compact the soil, which creates the anaerobic conditions in which plant pathogens thrive. The turning and exposing of soil also leaves it vulnerable to water being lost through evaporation which, especially in a Mediterranean context like Greece, is the last thing you want to see with such a scarce and important resource.

The reality of implementing no-till

It's not always easy to put ideology into action. No-till techniques require patience and it's clear that after centuries of working our soils, things won't happen overnight- instead, we have to rely on the old adage that 'good things come to those who wait'! Furthermore, no-till as a technique poses many technical challenges, from designing new affordable technologies such as no-dig seeders to building up biological knowledge of our soils. Clearly a lot of work is required to design new innovative approaches and techniques that allow farms to be run efficiently without the use of tilling.

However, we have taken inspiration from many encouraging studies that have emerged throughout the past few years, showing numerous benefits from practicing no-till agriculture. For instance, researchers from a 21 year study in Germany reported that implementing these practices slashed energy inputs by between half and two-thirds, drastically reduced pesticide and fertiliser inputs, increased biodiversity levels and improved water retention.





To begin our no-till experience, we have been hard at work here at Mazi creating a no-till vegetable garden, through the layering of our soil with manure, cardboard and woodchips, which will be added to year on year. We are also working to extend this philosophy across all of our land, implementing strategies help to rebuild and repair our degraded soils and experimenting techniques to help us run our farm without the help of a plough. We're excited to see how our soil quality will change over time and to share our progress with you as our project develops.

As always, thanks for reading our blog – we really appreciate the 'morel' support!

Tash

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When you ask someone to picture essential farm tools, they might say a tractor, a greenhouse, perhaps a pitchfork… But probably they wouldn’t say a microscope?

Perhaps at first it seems like something that is more suited to scientists who wear white lab coats than farmers in muddy dungarees and wellies - but here at Mazi, we believe that a microscope is perfectly at home on a farm and should become a key part of any farmer’s toolkit.

Here’s why…

It is well recognised that soils are comprised of physical, chemical and biological properties. However, in recent times there has been disproportionate attention given to the chemical and physical side of soils, without due respect given to the biological aspects. This has given rise to the idea that soils are a chemical medium, and that all that is required for plants to thrive is to give the right dosage of certain chemicals at regular intervals.

However, we are moving away from the idea that their management is simply a chemical balancing act, and acknowledging instead that soil is a living, dynamic ecosystem comprising a complex diversity of life, which the basis of the fertility of our soil. We are therefore entering a new era of understanding soil as a function of it’s biology.

Although chemical tests and geophysical analysis of soil are useful, adding biological analysis to the mix will allow us to ecologically and effectively manage our agroecosystems. So how can we do this?

The magic of life under the microscope

Microscopes allow farmers a glimpse into the magical world of soil microbiology that has previously been very abstract and difficult to interact directly with. You don’t need a PhD to master the microscope - far from it! With a microscope and a patient eye, you are able to see the fungi, protozoa, bacteria and nematodes that play such a vital role in the health of your soil with (relative) ease.

So why might this be of interest to a farmer? Well, analysing your soil in this way will allow you to:
 

  • Analyse the quality of your compost/ compost tea  

  • Analyse compaction and anaerobic conditions

  • Find out about diseases before they become a problem

  • Find out about changes in your soil and how effective your techniques are
     

Analysing your soil can be as simple as taking weekly samples and taking a quick peek at them down the microscope. This could then be all it takes to figure out what management techniques are needed, which can then be administered and adjusted accordingly.

Analysing your soil in this way is efficient, effective and helps you to get more in touch with the biology in your own soils, enabling a deeper understanding of soil functioning. Furthermore, doing this analysis yourself is much cheaper in the long run, as there is no need to send costly samples of soils away to laboratories for analysis. And, crucially, knowledge of your soil will empower you to make the right decisions for you, instead of being dependent on third parties that may not have your best interests at heart.

 

Nematodes feed on bacteria, fungi, protozoans and even other nematodes, and play a very important role in nutrient cycling and release of nutrients for plant growth.

 What do I need to get started?

You don’t need a really expensive, high-tech piece of kit to get started sampling your soils. A simple compound light microscope with magnification of at least 400x is sufficient to see the major groups of microorganisms, and will set you back around €200- €250.

There are a wealth of resources available online for keen microscope amateurs. We would recommend starting out by taking a microscope course aimed specifically at farmers- we have been following an online course by Dr Elaine Ingham, of the Rodale Institute, who offers a comprehensive microscope course which can be found here.
 

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Soils—and the biological, chemical, and physical processes they and their interactions enable- provide the backbone of agricultural production and our natural ecosystems. They are the interface between life and death, between living biology and geology. Both human and plant nutrition are rooted in healthy soils. They filter our water supplies and buffer the effects of severe droughts or floods. They help to regulate the Earth’s climate and store over four times more carbon than all of the world’s forests combined. Maintaining soil health is also critical for biodiversity; over two-thirds of the world's species live beneath our feet and more life can be found in a teaspoon of healthy soil than there are people on the planet. As Gershuny and Smillie note, in ‘The Soul of Soil’:

“To understand soil is to be aware of how everything affects and is affected by it. We are all part of the soil ecosystem.”

Regenerative agroforestry, therefore, centres first and foremost around the creation and maintenance of healthy soils. It does this through a combination of techniques designed to increase organic soil matter, and thus soil quality, such as using crop rotations, manures, or living manures, and careful management of soil including little or no tillage. In this way, agriculture is both a product of and producer of soil; life makes soil and soil makes more life.

But what does healthy soil look like? And how can we be sure the practices we are implementing are having a positive effect on our soils?

  What is soil quality and why we measure it?

Soil quality is defined as the soil's ability to "maintain or enhance water and air quality, and support human health and habitation".

At Mazi, we strongly believe that soil quality is a central pillar of our work, and a system that measures changes in soil quality is necessary to enable us to intimately know our state of soil, enabling us to implement the most appropriate management practices. This knowledge could also be used to feed into research strategies, as well as help inform regional or national policies of best agricultural practices.

   How to measure soil quality?

Many attributes of soil contribute to soil quality, and these attributes are all highly interrelated. All processes of soil degradation-compaction, salinization, acidification, loss of biological activity, pollution and erosion should be taken into account when making soil management decisions. This makes things a bit complicated and it is vital that a range of measures should be tested in order to paint an accurate picture of soil health. This can be a little overwhelming, especially for farmers short on time and money.

At Mazi, we have chosen to focus on a few techniques that we are honing with the aim of regularly and consistently recording changes in soil quality as project progresses. Included in our routine health assessment of key indicators of soil quality are:

  • Infiltration tests - how fast does water enter the soil and how well is the water retained? This is closely related to the soil erosion rates and the porosity of the soil.

  •  Bulk density - regular monitoring of this gives one of the most conclusive indicators of soil tilth and measures compaction rates of soil.

  • Electrical conductivity - a measurement that correlates with soil properties that affect crop productivity, including soil texture, cation exchange capacity, drainage conditions, organic matter content, salinity and subsurface characteristics.

  •  pH - how alkaline or acid the soils are and what this tells us about plant growth

  • Nitrate NO3 - Testing for available nitrogen levels

  •  Aggregate stability - the amount of stable aggregates in the soil

  • Earthworm counts - one of the most universally accepted parameters for soil quality is the number of earthworms that are present

  • Physical observations - color, soil structure, top-soil depth

  • Microscope - looking at the biodiversity of our soils and compost under the microscope

We will be updating our website with a more detailed insight into each of these components of our soil tool kit - watch this space for more information!

 

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When we talk about wildfires, we usually talk about the well known tinderbox areas of Australia, California, and southern Europe. But, as recent events have shown, fires are a global concern. So much so that we have seen places like the UK (that well known “green and pleasant land”) and places as far north as Sweden burning. These unprecedented events show that nowhere can now be considered ‘safe’ from the risk of fires.

For us here at Mazi, this is not just something happening somewhere far away- this is very real and very personal. A few weeks ago, Greece saw some of deadliest wildfires ever known to Europe. The tragic fires that happened on our doorstep in Mati shows the seriousness of the situation, and have been a harsh reminder that we are still, and will continue to be, far from invincible to the forces of nature.

The fires at Mati saw devastation to wildlife and livelihoods. Source: The Guardian, 2018

Currently, every year, fires consume vast swathes of land, and everything else in their path along the way - plants, trees, homes, livelihoods, animals and humans. In windy, dry and hot conditions, wildfires can sweep through landscapes in mere minutes. And their economic and social impacts are felt well beyond their charred edges.

That being said, it’s important to recognise that fires are not inherently bad. Like everything else, fires are contextual - in adapted ecosystems, fires play an important ecological role through, for example, nutrient cycling and ecosystem disruption. In fact, they have played a key role in evolution of both our environments and us, with our cultures built around fire and it’s abilities to transform raw food, gifting us with the energy we needed to fuel our development. But in places that historically did not evolve for fire, or in places where fire has become far too prevalent, is it environmentally destructive, releasing vast amounts of  carbon dioxide into the atmosphere whilst burning people's livelihoods to the ground.

So what do these fires have to do with agriculture? Well, everything. The way we manage the millions of kilometres of land we use to grow our food is key to quelling fires; sympathetic and intelligently managed land is an oasis, whereas poorly managed, degraded land is kindling.

Regenerative agriculture  works to prevent fire, and/or the detrimental effects of fire, in a number of ways. Firstly, it increases organic matter in the soil. This means two things; better water retention and more quality soil. Organic matter on and in soil is rapidly combusted by fire, therefore reducing the amount of organic matter in the soil. Agroforestry techniques, such as cover cropping, mulching and composting, work to quickly rebuild organic matter in degraded areas which, in the event of a fire, provides a safety buffer of soil organic matter that can be drawn upon, allowing the system to bounce back much quicker.

Furthermore, ground-water and soil moisture levels are correlated with fire retardation. This makes logical sense - any would be kindling is wet which, as any ‘happy camper’ in the British ‘summer’ can tell you for free, will not burn despite best efforts. Similarly, soil with high water retention will not burn so easily.  Organic matter plays a key role in soil water retention - just a 1% increase in soil organic matter equates to 150,000 litres of water stored in the ground per hectare. Water storage in the soil also means that during dry spells, leaf litter is able to draws up water through capillary action which keeps it from drying out. This is why everything we do at Mazi focuses on soil building, from wood chipping all the organic matter that would otherwise have been burned in the region (check out this video of us for more info) to mulch our land, to our huge compost project we have in the works which will bring life and organic matter to our soil.

Secondly, agroforestry works to prevent fire through intelligent incorporation of plants in a diverse polyculture. Intercropping plants and trees with different properties reduces the risk of fire and increases landscape resilience. For example, conifer foliage is notoriously flammable due to the high content of resins and oils. But combining conifer foliage with broadleaf trees drastically reduces the risk of fire compared to a pure conifer monoculture. These fire resistant trees can also be planted as a fire break around plantations for protection, such as the carob trees we are planting here at Mazi. As well as intercropping different fire resistant trees such as  we have also incorporated prickly pears into our intercropping strategy which, in addition to helping to prevent fire, also provide a tasty fruit crop.

Lastly, in general, trees (specifically native trees) play a key role in fire prevention. Dense regrowth and closed woodlands of native species are promoted as fire protection methods. This works to prevent the intensity of fires by changing the nature of them, for example switching from crown to surface fires. This means that instead of burning the trees all the way to the top creating intense and unmanageable fires (‘crown fire’), only the ground litter is burned which creates the least devastation for the woodland and are the easiest to put out (‘surface fire’).

The heat is (literally) on to build a more resilient agricultural system capable of offering practical solutions for our degraded and fire prone landscapes. Farmers may make unlikely firefighters, but agroforestry systems can make a formidable firebreak and I don’t know about you, but I’d say that’s definitely something to get fired up about.

Thanks for reading!

Tash


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By now, you’ve hopefully read some of our blogs about regenerative agriculture (and if not, what are you waiting for? Click here to check out our latest pieces). If so, you’ve figured out that we’re trying to do things a little differently here at Mazi by implementing a forward-thinking agriculture which works towards a more resilient, happier, healthier tomorrow.

It may at first seem like that this kind of agriculture, with its focus on diverse polycultures, building soil health and using only organic inputs, is inherently at odds with conventional, industrial agricultural practices. It is easy to think of these systems as separate and opposing entities, non-compatible neighbours who argue over their high fences. But this ‘othering’ only serves to create animosity rather than the resilient food system we need.

   

Yes, industrious, extractive and destructive farming exists, and this must be addressed- but so do many farmers that care for the earth and are just trying to get by and make a decent living.  From our experience here at Mazi, we know all too well that farm life brings with it complications. Sometimes, for whatever reason, compromises have to be taken and things don’t always go the way you wanted. It is not by pointing fingers that we will start transitioning our agriculture. Producing food, and providing the worlds vital sustenance, is no easy task and we have enormous respect for each and every farmer working to put food on our tables everyday.

It is for this reason that, far from being prescriptive, regenerative agriculture instead works to be a toolbox of farm-ready techniques and practices that can be chosen and adapted to different contexts.  Rather than a dogmatic approach, regeneration can take many shapes and sizes in the path to agricultural transition. Whether you are big, small, conventional, organic, regenerative or otherwise, there is something in regenerative agriculture for all.

It is the enormous potential of this hybrid approach which makes regenerative agriculture so exciting. Incorporating a few easily implementable, small changes can make a huge difference, regardless of your context.  For instance, research has shown that planting strips of wildflowers across fields of wheat monocultures drastically reduces pest pressure, therefore slashing pesticide use. Incorporating wildflowers in this way resulted in an increase in wheat yields of up to 10% (plus it comes with the added bonus of making the place look pretty at the same time!). Studies have also shown that planting strips of trees, or ‘shelter-belts’, around fields offer an array of benefits. For example, they can help protect plants against drought by modifying the microclimate around the crop by reducing wind speeds which removes moisture from the air. Research has shown that in this way, shelter-belts increase wheat yields by at least 3.5%. Trees can also help to reduce pesticide spray drift by trapping pesticides in their leaves, and even only a 10m tree belt has been shown to reduce ammonia in emissions by about 53%.  Lastly, only a 1% increase in organic matter in the top six inches of soil is enough to drastically change the soils water holding capacity by 20,000  gallons of water per hectare. Even without an overhaul in practices, all of these small steps can add up to a big difference not just for the environment, but your wallet.

Equally, regenerative agriculture must not automatically reject innovations gained through industrial agriculture. For all of its problems, industrial agriculture has brought with it a whole host of technologies and techniques which can be intelligently incorporated into regenerative agriculture for our benefit. Examples include smart mechanisation, such as tractors and keyline ploughs, which (unless we suddenly find millions of people struck with a serious case of green fingers) will be necessary to provide enough food for everyone. Other technologies we have borrowed here on Mazi include our drip irrigation system, which has saved time, water and many, many trees.  

There is a reason that we are called Mazi. Mazi in Greek means together, and we believe that it is only together, pooling knowledge and resources, borrowing tools and inspirations and adapting techniques to a range of contexts that we can create meaningful change. It is not our aim to separate ourselves with an ‘us vs. them’ mentality, but instead to unite, adapt and share.

‘Lettuce’ work together create the kind of tomorrow we’re working towards!

Thanks for reading,

Tash

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If you ask someone why they want to eat something, the answer is usually because it tastes good. Whichever food fad you follow, however long you spend counting calorie after calorie, however much we like to pretend we’re seeking out nutrients, vitamins and essential oils- ultimately it’s a flavour high that we’re all after. We make our food choices because we love the way the food tastes.

It’s not often that a book concerning health and food encourages you to give in to your taste buds. But that’s exactly what Mark Schatzker’s illuminating new book, ‘The Dorito Effect- The Surprising New Truth about Food and Flavour’, wants you to do. Yes, you heard that right. Far from the usual telling-off you we’ve learned to expect in most discussions about nutrition, this book not only encourages you to indulge your pleasure seeking food behaviour, but argues that our health depends on it. Now that’s the kind of nutritional advice I can get on board with -although there is a catch.

This book delves deep into the relationship between flavour and food which, as it turns out, is a important part of the puzzle which has been sorely missing in our discussions around food. The main crux of Schatzker’s argument is that in nature,  flavour appears alongside nutrition, i.e. flavour = nutritional quality. Far from being the cause of our food problems, our flavour fascination is actually nature’s way of helping us get the healthy nutrients and vitamins, or as Schatzker refers to them ‘plant secondary compounds’, we need to survive. He argues therefore that flavour hedonism actually holds the key to reversing our health crisis, but if only we can reconnect food and flavour. However, the problem is that the way we have been practising agriculture, specifically the way in which we have selected for certain traits (such as shelf life and transportability) means the flavour has been diluted out of our food and, along with it, all the things which makes it wholesome and healthy.

 





Schatzker’s second, concurrent line of argument is that whilst we have been steadily divorcing flavour from nutrition, we have simultaneously been creating ever-more convincing artificial flavours. So, in short, we have become very good at making bad food taste good and good food taste bad. Eating has therefore become more about tricking our taste buds than the nutritional experience that they were originally designed for. It is this that Schatzker calls ‘the Dorito effect’, i.e. the process of taking something with relatively little nutritional value (plain corn chips) and managing to convince ourselves that we are eating something else (tacos). This leads Schatzker to add his own definition of junk food; “food that tastes like something it is not”.

The idea that humans may possess an innate nutritional wisdom may sound a little far fetched to you, but Schatzker creates a compelling argument robustly backed up with sound science. Thoroughly researched and resolute, The Dorito Effect is a  light and humorous read which steers you gently through the science of flavour research. By combining many perspectives from the agricultural and flavour world, it offers a refreshing and fascinating read.

This carries huge implications for the role of agriculture in producing and selecting for flavoursome, nutrient rich food. This applies not just to breeding and seed selection but also the actual techniques used which drowns out flavour (and therefore nutrition) from our food, such as over application of fertiliser and building of soil quality. Clearly this highlights the imperative of developing agricultural systems that are able to genuinely feed the world high quality nourishment. Although this is touched upon by Schatzker in his book, the main focus is given to proving  the link between flavour and nutritional value. His work could therefore make an interesting platform to expand upon research between agricultural techniques and flavour.

Clearly, flavour is a big cause for corn-cern and I enjoyed this book so much I just had to taco-’bout it. Hopefully you enjoyed reading about it too!

Tash

 

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