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what struck me most in this section was the earthworm "piston pumps" and the fact of air being 80% nitrogen.
what?!
how did i get this far into gardening and not know that? suddenly legumes make so much more sense. i always thought they were like 'mining' the air for nitrogen, like there wasn't much. what about oxygen and carbon dioxide? that's what i thought the air was made of... nitrogen? wtf?
and the earthworm thing. it sounds indulgent to think of them actively 'breathing' the earth, let alone plowing it, until you realize that there density is measured in TONNES/hectare.
and the km of fungi in a cu ft of soil. i had heard that one before, but it still blows me away.
overall the life in the soil continues to unfold before me, and i guess the rest of humanity. but i liked his comparison of density of animals-- 3 or 4 sheep/hectare or 6.5 million tonnes of earthworms. ha! i hope he snickered when he wrote it.
i wonder how many pounds of chicken that yield of earthworms could feed?
the emphasis on animals and even plants as major earth shapers was very interesting. i always forget to remember that.
back to the earth breathing. mollison is such an interesting combination of sciencey and wooey. i have a very spiritual friend who looked at the manual recently and said she was turned off by the, "overwhelming western white man style of it." i think many science minded folk would be turned off by his easy acceptance of edge science and forrays into spiritual Gaia-ism.
i guess it's just the right combo for me. i like the spiritual faith in the idea of the earth breathing, and i like the scientific explanation for some of the ways that it happens, with the humble admission that there might be more we don't know.


quite a bit of this chapter was geared towards large scale ag. actually, i realized during this chapter something which makes sense of the manual for me-- i think he was hoping that permaculture would become a bonafide *agricultural revolution.* i had thought before how he wasn't writing it for home gardeners like us, but for farmers. now i think he was also writing it as the seminal text for an new INDUSTRY. like, hoping that (imagine if!) all the big money, time and effort that's currently put into agricultural research would be put to use further exploring these complicated earth sciences.
i guess i'm not that hopeful. but in the meantime, it is still awfully interesting for the rest of us.

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Seems a little late for the industry to redirect itself away from its current path, doesn't it?  Big Ag just gained another foothold in the latest continuing resolution budget spending bill.  We small-timers are just about the only hope these days and we'll have to glean what we can from Mollison and others.  

I didn't realize the mass of under-ground critters either.  There's a really cool exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum where you can go "underground" through a worm hole and see all the awesome stuff in the soil.  I saw it years ago and it's stuck with me.  

Makes some sense then when you think about it - all the movement of critters creates movement of gasses.

The second half of this chapter reiterated for me, again, how bad it is to have bare soil.  

Couple other things that jumped out at me...

I did not know that worms can accumulate toxins (like fish accumulate mercury) and could therefore poison birds that eat them.  

My eyebrows were raised when I read, on pg. 215, his suggestion that "in a conservative society, the very basis of land use planning would encompass the concept of PERMITTED or RESTRICTED use of soils... and PERMITTED maximum levels of crop production, or livestock density..."  Can you imagine the outcry here in the states if such a thing were proposed?  It would likely be controversial anywhere, but here especially.  Yikes.  I wonder if such an idea has actually been floated anywhere...

When discussing soil rehab, he mentions "noxious weeds" colonizing eroded landscapes and being used as mulch.  For the first time, I'm seeing my burdock situation with new eyes.  I f$@king hate burdock.  Or did.  Maybe I can learn to appreciate those big awesome leaves and use them as mulch.  Those incredible taproots are tunneling through and opening up my clay soil.  I still don't think I can wrap my heart around the miserable burr.  Not yet.  

Last, I was fascinated by the description of using a chisel plow to rehab compacted sites.  I could imagine establishing a prairie this way.  How cool.  He mentions the small-scale version of this toward the end of the section:  in small gardens, using a garden fork, not to turn the soil over, but simply levering it up a bit, then withdrawing the fork.  I wish I had known that when I first bought this place.  The garden had seemingly fallen out of use in recent years and I busted my ASS turning over the soil by hand.  Then we finally gave in and hired someone to machine-till the veggie garden.   Ah well.  Live and learn!

yeah, i was thinking agricultural revolution like the advent of the plow, or chemical use. like a ' nothing would ever be the same' kind of revolution.
change seems impossible at this point. but it always seems impossible... until it happens. sadly, my pessimistic view is that the big changes are usually for the worse. but my optimist husband reminds me of how some things have gotten worse and some things have gotten WAY better.
many fringe 'philosophies' which will never become popular on a massive scale, nevertheless infiltrate popular thinking and change the dominant paradigm, even if slowly.
i don't know burdock. except i feel like i've seen it in garden catalogs, can't you eat that massive root? have you tried it? i remember in new orleans, when i first got my bed at the community garden i was talking with the caretaker about the weed situation, he pointed out the most wicked one of all-- acetosa-- and i said, "oh, wow, isn't that wood sorrel?" and to find out i took a bite of one. sure enough, i munched it right down. he was looking at me like i was literally insane.
best way to love your weeds is to eat them.
however, i have to admit that after hacking a few beds out of the acetosa monocrops, it was hard to love, lemony flavor or no.
i also found that chisel plow part interesting, even though i don't and probably never will have the land to try it on. tilling is one of those subjects that both sides are so adamant about. one straw revolution was the very first gardening book i ever read, so i guess i started from a weird perspective. but have nevertheless always dug my beds. in that community garden in new orleans, i had two beds side by side, one made from the native soil, the other i built up on top of the soil with a dump truck load of compost/sand mixture-- very rich. i kept both of them under constant mulch. the compost bed i pretty much didn't need to dig. i could stick my hand right down into it, make a hole, and drop my plant or seed in. i could stick my hand pretty far down without needing a shovel. the other bed was very hard, and i usually dug that one. seems as good a guide as any-- if it's so hard you can't even scrabble your hand down into it a few inches-- probably needs dug, and lots of compost added!
haven't read anything about the effect of no-till on cold soils, or vice versa. seems the extra aeration might help warm it though, in the spring. one thing i learned from the manual was about the burning of humus, and the related release of nutrients. i think, though that might be a downfall in other places, too fast to be sustatinable, it might be different here. i think the humus lasts basically forever in our soils (though it builds correspondingly slowly) and the nutrients might be quite locked up because of the cold.
my guess is that cold soils need some tilling, but i am nevertheless curious to experiment.
have you seen the broad forks? also called the Elliot Coleman fork? they are like big wide pitchforks made for that gentle lifting and aeration, without turning. if you haven't read Coleman, you should! he is awesome. not permaculture, but the forefront of organic, and a champion of no-till. more importantly in my mind is his near revolutionary work on extending the harvest through winter in almost every climate.

so, i am skipping the earthworks chapter myself, and in fact, most of the rest of the book. it actually looks very interesting, and if i ever decide to get a PDC i will be happy to read the remaining chapters. but with spring on the way, i'm hot to finish. the only other chapter i definitely want to read is the Cold Climate one. obviously. i've started a bit, and it looks awesome. makes me wish he'd written more about it.
any other chapter you want to read? i'd be happy to read along with you.

Burdock is what is called a dynamic accumulator, that is it dredges subsoil minerals up to the shallower soil levels where they can be used by other plants. In Japanese veggies its called Takinogawa. Another of its uses is as a blood tonic in herbalism. Basically you make an alcohol based decoction of the burdock seed picked in summer. Beats letting it finish and spew more seed forth. Its a pioneer species in disturbed ground. About 5 years back our son had a garden at an old farm site in Glendale WI that was wall to wall burdock that needed digging up. When he got his PDC this year he thought back and wished he had known just how useful the plants were.

Coleman is good but like you say not Permaculture. He is an East coast  organic market gardener. He does some amazing greenhouse gardening.

Meadow your site is a zone five same as here in Southeast WI. Anything we can do so can you. When this discussion is nearing completion let me know and I will send some resources out that should prove to be useful to all of you.

Regarding skipping the earthworks chapter --don't do it. That chapter actually is helpful in explaining a lot of what Permaculture's relationship to water onsite is all about. A good follow up to it are the two books by Brad Lancaster on water collection in drylands. Despite the title its all relevant across much of NA.

A chapter I found to be interesting was the one one Aquaculture as I have been peripherally active with a couple of ventures locally using those ideas, such as Growing Power, and Sweet Water Aquaponics, and the Urban Aquaculture Institute over the last four years. Some work we have done here regarding that is showcased at http://midwestpermaculture.ning.com/ . Go to the Public Forums and Plant Guilds section. Scroll down to Wild Rice Pond Guild and see some pictures and explanations of our project here.

The main thing to remember here is that Permaculture is about whole systems planning not just bits and pieces. I have even found the drylands chapter to be relevant because of two weeks spent in AZ a couple years back and the fact that my grandchildren are living in Phoenix and that is definitely a desert.

I'm game to do more reading for sure.  Academics?  No problem.  Application?  More complicated.  Ha!  

One correction:  I just realized the soils museum exhibit I mentioned wasn't in Milwaukee, it was Chicago.  Here's a link to the website with virtual tours & stuff.  I want to go back and see it again...

http://archive.fieldmuseum.org/undergroundadventure/

I've never eaten burdock though I've always known it was edible.  I'm on an old farm site which borders on fields, so the burdock is happy here.  We have heavy clay soil, so getting those monsters out of the ground is almost impossible.  I swear a few of the plants have burrs as big as quarters.  (confession:  I know from my early gardening years that Roundup just pisses them off).

One other thought regarding the revolution... somebody posted this on Facebook yesterday and it's a perfect depiction of what we basically have to do:

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Like many other pioneering plants ,burdock can be gotten rid of by overplanting it with any species that shades it out. Also try putting a board over it to starve it out ,or sheet mulch the dickens out of it and chop off what grows through. Eventually the stores of energy in the root will be exhausted. Just be sure to overplant whats left so as to deny any burdock seedlings much light. Or learn to love a nutritious edible root and medicinal seeds--- burdock. Or do both. Harvest it while you have it ,starving the "weed" in the process. Plant your Permie garden over the top. The burdock has opened pathways to sub soil nutrients for you. Even after nearly 30 years we still get an occasional burdock and it still tastes great.

Jennifer Thompson said:

I'm game to do more reading for sure.  Academics?  No problem.  Application?  More complicated.  Ha!  

One correction:  I just realized the soils museum exhibit I mentioned wasn't in Milwaukee, it was Chicago.  Here's a link to the website with virtual tours & stuff.  I want to go back and see it again...

http://archive.fieldmuseum.org/undergroundadventure/

I've never eaten burdock though I've always known it was edible.  I'm on an old farm site which borders on fields, so the burdock is happy here.  We have heavy clay soil, so getting those monsters out of the ground is almost impossible.  I swear a few of the plants have burrs as big as quarters.  (confession:  I know from my early gardening years that Roundup just pisses them off).

One other thought regarding the revolution... somebody posted this on Facebook yesterday and it's a perfect depiction of what we basically have to do:

jennifer-- yeah, that is a perfect depiction. very clever.
alright then, earthworks it is. next up.

bryce-- our little Alaskan town is in fact in zone 7b, which sounds downright balmy. but, no offense, people make WAY too big a deal about zones. like it's some nearly complete description of a growing area. all zones measure is how cold the winters get, therefore which perennials will survive (though even that is heavily influenced by snow cover, consistency, and freeze/thaw cycles).
here in cordova we are at latitude 61, almost as far north from Seattle as Seattle is from Dallas. a VERY big difference in the angle and intensity of the sun.
furthermore, i just don't think people who don't live here can even conceive of our extreme maritime climate, there is no comparison anywhere else in the US. we get 160 inches of precipitation/year!!! fully 4x as much as Seattle, the so called 'rainy city.' even more importantly, the PNW tends to get their rain mostly in the winter, and has typically warm, (relatively) dry summers. whereas we get cold rain year round, summers are barely warmer than winters.
we don't get snow melt until May usually, then June and July (our 'summer' months) have an avg high of 62 degrees, and an avg low of 50. i have seen a couple of summers here where there were truly not more than 10 sunny days in the entire season, with weeks on end of 45 degrees and raining. then comes august, the beginning of the REAL rain season, when we can get up to 6 inches in a single day!
clearly, 'zone 7b' just doesn't sum it up. and what you can do there in WI may or may not be remotely appropriate for me here in AK.
that's one of the things i love about permaculture actually. i feel like it pays full heed to the incredible variation of geographical location, local climate and site specifics so that in order to really "permaculture" a place you have to know it really well, look at the land and ask what it has to offer, rather than forcing the same crops and the same functional model as everywhere else. it's limiting but also liberating, since of course the problem can often become the solution.
anyway. now you know (too late) not to get me started on zones ;)
hmmm, re-reading your comment, it occurs to me that you may have me and jennifer confused, and think i live right around the corner from you, in which case your statement that anything you can do, i can do would be pretty much right on... and maybe i wrote this whole diatribe for nothing.... oh well, helps me clarify my place to myself i guess.

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