The Permaculture PrincipleObserve and Interact gives me a great excuse to bring out the ‘mad proffessor that seems to direct much of what I do. I love to read about a new technique, or in the case of this post an old technique, and then ‘play with it’. Yesterday I did just that with an experiment in Soil Fertility and burning.
Biochar, Burning Wood and Terra Preta
I have done a lot of reading on Traditional Agricultural practises. One technique that is or has been used all over the world is the burning of wood prior to planting crops. This is normally associated with swidden (slash and burn) agriculture. We have an image of indigenous people destroying forest to grow crops, depleting the soil of nutrients, then moving on. The reality is that this is a sophisticated way of farming that uses a period of building soil fertility under trees, and then using that fertiltiy to grow crops. In many ways it resembles the old English Two field rotation. One year crop, one year fallow. In fact it isn’t that long since the burning of stubble in grain fields was made illegal here. What I’ve also read is that in India the wood was slow burned, or charred, rather than burnt fiercely. This throws up some interesting possibilities to observe and interact .
I wanted to write a short post to keep up to date with my vegetable/grain polyculture experiments. The overall aims and objectives are described in my vegetable/grain polyculture design, but the page is really a number of linked projects. This post updates a couple of those polyculture projects.
I like to use compost tea to soak seeds, and to water seeds in when planting, especially in modules. At this time of year the temperature is too low to create a decent compost tea, so how do we achieve the same results?
I pre -germinate all of my larger seeds by soaking them for up to 12 hours, and then setting them on damp kitchen paper. That allows me to only use seeds that have shown themselves as viable. This saves empty spaces in pots and modules.
Pre germinating Soy beans by soaking
I prefer to use actively aerated compost tea in the soak water, to get a healthy bunch of soil microbes coating the seed and root prior to planting out. For smaller seeds I tend to use compost tea to water the seeds initially to achieve the same effect.
mustard seedlings germinated using compost tea
For a really basic explanation take a look at the Compost Tea Link. Alternatively there is a lot of information about compost tea in the archives.
It’s only November and I already have almost all of my seeds for next year. Some of that is down to seed saving, something that I should have done more of in the past, but the rest is down to thinking ahead. It all sounds a bit organised, but some of the seeds came too late to sow this autumn, and will have to wait until spring. The seeds that I have are very different from what I’ve grown in the past, and really show the direction that my food growing is taking, growing in a polyculture. This is the pattern for my experiments next year. New additions include rye, perennial rye, spelt, perennial wheat, soya beans, and millet. Increases include lots more broad (fava) beans, but with a substantial reduction in the salads, and leaves. This all fits in with my desire to grow all of our own food. We eat a lot of grains, so unless I grow grains, I will never produce all that we eat.
These Polyculture Pictures have been waiting for a week to publish, but I haven’t had time.
The picture above shows the chicory seedlings that were sown recently. The warm soil has allowed them to germinate, fairly easily. They are in a mixed Polyculture of Beans and Echinacea, with the beans as the primary crop.