Dark Side Of Double-Digging

Double-Digging Crudely Hits Pay Dirt but…

the ultimate aim of production must be to create a harmonious network of rich and free beingsDouble digging is a technique where you dig, put the soil to the side, dig a bit more and toss that second lot of soil into the first hole. Essentially, you are turning the soil and bugs upside down and letting their shocked, dead bodies feed the your new plantings. In thin soils (like dryland soils) you would be bringing up the subsoil and trying to turn it into top soil. Double digging is destructive.

Double-Digging can be Instantly Impressive

The growth on plants (and sometimes the weeds) is quick and leafy. Double digging is an old farming technique used for centuries in countries with cool climates, deep soils and a careful regime where the soil is rested for long periods to try to recover. If you are in the modern world where land is expensive and there is pressure on you to do use (no time to rest it), or you want to use the space that is close to your backdoor not far away in a forgotten back corner of your garden. Then double digging is not your best option.

There is a serious cost to double-digging. Put bluntly, double-digging does irreparable damage to your soil. Double-digging

  • kills the micro-organisms in the soil.  chicken-diggingThe dead creatures make double digging so amazingly productive. Their little bodies become instant fertiliser for the crops.
  • damages the structure of fragile soils and tempts erosion due to weathering by water and wind.
  • can bring up the useless, hard clods of subsoil unless you are digging on a rare fertile flood plain.
  • has a high risk of erosion from the moment vegetation is removed or hard-hoofed animals are put to graze. The typical Australian soil is only centimeters deep. This risk is amplified by the process of digging.
  • releases carbon into the atmosphere.

Industry is too prone to measure success in the immolate terms of cash or profit, and soil and soul can suffer in the process - L Elmhirst 1944Digging can be satisfying.

We can buy a fruit tree, dig a hole and put the tree in the ground. In a short time the tree may be fruiting and voilà we have the start of a food forest. Or do we? A real food forest captures condensation (more condensation can come to your garden than rainfall).  A Permaculture forest builds soil.  Condensation is trapped and rainfall stored in the soil.  Water is used and re-used.  Organisms are nurtured not sacrificed.  A good permaculture forest design optimises the use of natural energies and serves to increase the health of the soil.  Healthy soil gives us healthier trees and more nutritious fruit.

What Soil Really Wants

umbrella fungi North-America Badgerset farm

Good soil has 5 components:

  1. Air (digging does increase the air, but so do worms)
  2. Water (digging can increase water penetration) but if not designed well it can lead to erosion
  3. Micro-organisms (digging kills many of these). Mulching provides them habitat
  4. Nutrients (plants including weeds can mine for nutrients and make good air pockets with their long roots) Biochar can boost the nutrients in the soil as well as increase habitat for micro-organisms.
  5. rock or other growing media such as recycled brick.

Healthy soil grows in height over the years. We can see the somewhat gruesome evidence of this in ancient graveyards where the ground level has risen.

Jerry Glover
Jerry Glover displays the impressive roots of grasses versus grain

What could be more satisfying than Digging?

Simple No-dig Gardens

No-dig gardens can be designed to capture and filter the rain-water and protect the soil and micro-organisms from erosion.  No-dig gardening

  • is physically easier and faster to set up
  • suppresses weeds
  • can regenerate soil (fertile, rocky, sandy or solid clay)
  • requires less effort
  • uses waste materials and
  • evolves into a beautiful garden
our hills_hoistarium
Our abundant little no-dig garden perches on rock-solid subsoil that could not be dug by man or woman.

No dig gardening requires a little patience but the soil is regenerated, fertility is enhanced and the organisms are constantly building in numbers.

Joyous Songs of Worm Charmers

There are many traditional farming techniques where the nutrients and organisms in local forests are brought to their fields to ‘seed’ worms and nutrients into the fields to improve fertility.  Some people have turned it into a quirky sport like worm charming.

Have fun learning about healing the earth with a permaculture course.

Front-Page-Gallery-6

Save

Save

Under-Utilised Food Plants

How Good Is Your Food ?

Delegate_IPC_cuba

30% of the world’s population are suffering disease and malnutrition. Most suffer malnutrition whilst surrounded by nutritious food plants. Some drive past perfectly good food plants on our way to the shops to buy less-fresh foods. (Did you know there are thousands of edible and nutritious flowers?)

Malnutrition is a global issue

nutrient_rich_saladNew studies reveal powerful revelations about nutrition and food choices. We celebrate discoveries like ‘1 taro leaf can give enough good food to feed 3 children.’

But let’s be honest about malnutrition. This is not a third-world issue. In fact, coupled with the obesity epidemic, malnutrition could be worse in the developed nations.

It’s all about recognising a good food source when we see it.  Bruce French, founder of Food Plants Int [FPI], first noticed this disconnect in Papua New Guinea.

“It wasn’t that the locals didn’t know anything about their food plants, but there were clearly a lot more edible plants than were readily recognised” Bruce writes.

There are now some comprehensive research databases about food plants. Plants For a Future and Neglected Underutilized Species Scientific organisation have also set out to document the food plants worldwide and run international conferences.

GMO’s Can Give A Great Big Bundle of Nothing

budha citrus fruit

Modern agriculture measures success by volume and not by nutritional value. And so, mechanised farming is geared to maximise the yield. Industrial farming needs predictability and conformity yet healthy societies need variety and nutrition.

Bruce French said “when we breed for yield we get a great big bundle of nothing”.  If we want to get more than just nutrient-depleted fibre, we need to look to food species that grow happily in our bio-region and use farming techniques that care for the soil.  Crops for a future based in Malaysia researches the effects of different cropping systems and under-utilised food species.

Let Us Eat Weeds

31294_119781974707117_5358560_n
Ugly Choko (Sechium edule) is easy to grow & every part is edible

Bruce met a woman in Cambodia who was weeding out Momienh (Cleome gynandra). She said, “Everyone else tells me it’s a weed. They say pull it out to grow some cabbages and lettuces.” Bruce told her “Momienh is far more nutritious than western vegetables.” She was so pleased. She said, “No-one’s ever told me that before. I didn’t know. I thought it was just a local plant that was very unimportant.”

In her presentation on secrets of humble plants, botanist Gurib-Fakim shows how weeds can feed and provide medicines.

Grounds For Good Food

World Bank & UN stated that Genetic Modified crops, aiming for higher yeild, are not the way to address world hunger. What we do need is to maintain healthy soils.  Intelligent and educated farming can preserve the nutrients. Healthy Soil  a living, dynamic system.  We now know that the old subsistence farming method of ‘slashing and burning’ destroys the natural fertiliser. Nitrogen and Sulfur are lost – going up with the smoke. Only potash is left.  There is no quick answer. The methods need to fit the situation. But the best step is education. When we make nutrition our goal, we find ways to hold nutrients in the soil, in our food and cycled it back with care.

Bring in the evergreen revolution. Permaculture design invests in sustainable food growing practices in it’s ethics to care for people and care for the environment.

Front-Page-Gallery-4
We openly share our research and permaculture ideas and offer scholarships to people in need. Thanks for supporting us!

 

Micro-Earthworks Boost Soil-Life

Gentle and Easy

Without water, the soil beneath our feet is vulnerable rock with trapped nutrients. Sometimes a few weeds will volunteer to try to help build soil and stop the soil from eroding away.  Throughout the world there is a strong correlation between lifeless soil and a lifeless climate. This is because the forests seed rain and build life. In the tropics the nutrients live in the mulch from fallen from trees. Whereas, in temperate zones the soils are deep and rich.

But most of us live in urban zones where the soil is nearly lifeless. And most people can’t afford machinery to redesign our patch. Frankly, even if we had the money, the machines can’t get in and the job is too small.

Earthworks for Earthusers

Given that more women than men grow food around the planet – here are some ideas for simple and effective earthworks without digging and without machinery.Swales-Microearthworks

Earthworks by machinery can be expensive so most of us try to manage without.  But when water management is neglected, the site struggles to reach full potential.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The principles of permaculture earthworks are valuable for the preservation of soil and creation of abundance.  These basic permaculture earthworks principles help build mirco-organisms, enable plants to access the nutrients, save water and reduce erosion. We can apply the principles for earthworks on any scale: on farms or on a little veggie patch.

Permaculture Earthworks Principles

Water management is taught in detail In permaculture design training. When someone comes to do a permaculture design after years of managing a site, there are many regrets. It is easier to design before you start. However, here are a number principles that can be learnt on the fly:

  1. Catch, store and use every drop that comes to your site. Waste not any water that passes by.
  2. Recognise the 3 sources of water: Condensation, Rain and Underground springs
  3. Slow potentially erosive water. This is the core value of Natural Sequence Farming.

    Paths are great harvesting water. Redirect this water to reduce erosion.
    Paths are great harvesting water. Redirect this water to reduce erosion.
  4. Take water out from the gulleys and send it to the ridges (this is a  powerful tool from keyline water design)
  5. Set up filters. Take responsibility for the quality of the water that leaves your site. The water that leaves you can be cleaner than when it entered.
  6. Use natural energies and filters to support your food forests. Filter, store  and transport water naturally through the permaculture system with biological resources (rather than plastics hoses and pumps).

Design with Pattern thinking

Designs with patterns such as streamlining and using lobes (small diversions) create opportunities to maintain the direction and speed of water flow.  The water will follow the design intention. It will pool and settle-out fine minerals and keep the channels productive and flowing. The water can even help maintain these flow-paths. In truth, you can’t argue with water. Water knows what it likes. What you need to do is sit and listen and coax the water to slow down and spread out.

Design for Wollongong West Primary School where the children can build mounds to capture and direct water, have fun with the maze-like pathways that rise and fall
Design for Wollongong West Primary School where the children can build mounds to capture and direct water, have fun with the maze-like pathways that rise and fall on the bends

Shake It Up

Use a variety of storage devices. Commonly, people want ponds or tanks to give them potable water. These are valuable but they are static and unable to evolve. On the other hand, bogs and forest are more effective to release the water safely.  Once a pond is full, it can do nothing to manage the next drop. Whereas, a forest is a continually working water-filter. It grows with the build-up. It can even respond to a deluge. The forest drops branches and traps more silt. The forest fungi burst into reproduction. Under-storey plants cup and store water, tree branches and leaves fall to protect the soil, seeds germinate. The forest is constantly adapting.

You can learn with us about how to make small, slow yet effective ways to build soil. You can also enjoy learning about earthworks and have a play in some mud.

Schumaker College has raised garden beds
Schumacher College has productive raised garden beds with trenches to direct water flow and duck traffic

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

World First Online

We are the pioneers of online permaculture training and mentorship. Serving continuously over 20 years, we have tutored participants from more than 67 countries. Thank you for working to make a better future for everyone.

Alley Cropping

Alley cropping along the contour lines and working with a keyline system is a highly productive, sustainable way to farm. Here is a shot from Mark Shephard’s co-operative farm, New Forest Farm in the Driftless region Southwestern Wisconsin, USA. The secret is the prune the roots regularly by running a deep blade-shaped plough in the pathway between the trees and perennial vegetable rows. This forces the roots to dive deep and not compete with the next row of crops.

Alley cropping as demonstrated on New Forest Farm USA with Mark Shephard