Permaculture starts with the soil

It doesn’t have to be this way, but catastrophic climate change and epidemics of mental and physical health are destroying lives.

 Originator of Permaculture Bill Mollison said simply “All the world’s problems can be solved in a garden” . 

Earlier another wise man said ” Let Food be thy Medicine” . 

 Realizing these truths, many people are withdrawing their  support from the agribusiness dash  big pharma corporations controlling food, health and climate. An eg? Bayer crop science ..bayer health. I actually don’t think nearly enough people are aware, but a growing number are, and we are literally gardening for our lives. Who can afford not to when buying artificially fertilized and sprayed  food is , (apologies to conventional farmers) , a health hazard to both the grower and consumer?

Soils ain’t soils, and trying to grow food in Western Australia’s kikuyu infested dust is just plain heart breaking. Much of Merri Bee Organic Farmacy was degraded like this , we had non wetting sand on the flat bits and steep clay hills bereft of topsoil on the rest.  We could  still grow stuff when in the good old days it rained,  but when rain stopped falling that much in 2008, formerly easy crops to grow failed. CC was not a hoax! With the help of Dr. Elaine Ingham we are converting our soil back to the luscious, productive chocolate crumbs no doubt was at white settlement  by teaming with microbes. Where this 3 year process is complete, LIVING SOIL holds 10 times its own weight in water, no longer needs to grow weeds, produces abundant disease- free plants and ( as a huge bonus) just happens to cool the planet whenever the sun is shining.  By using the billion year old partnership of animals, plants and fungi ,our farming has entered a new phase of abundance. We now strive to show others the way to regenerate soil, for a myriad of benefits to ecosystems, people’s health & profit margins. The smallest things on Earth are turning out to be the most powerful on our farms and in the medical world. Beneficial gut flora are realised now to be key to mental and physical health. Catalyst Gut Reaction 2 part series explored this 2 years ago. Working with biology  to grow food as medicine means better nutrient density &  keeping qualities and forgotten flavours.  Higher vitamin and mineral content  is the result of increasing concentrations of microbes. ….as is carbon sequestration. .Monoculture cropping often relies on ploughing , poisons & fire which all destroy soil microbes , making 99% of  farms emmitt rather than sink carbon. We aim to demonstrate the alternative.

Our farm is a carbon sink now, and our soil carbon  levels are increasing at an ever faster rate too. Colin Seis ‘s farm in NSW is measured to have sequestered 33 tons of CO2 per hectare in 2010.Dr Christine Jones website amazing carbon may have an update , We know his soil carbon has been increasing exponentially using pasture cropping techniques.

Perennial food plants have many eco system benefits over annual cropping so we are developing food forests on Nature’s model.  Merri Bee Organic Farmacy is a permaculture that’s been evolving over the past 32 years. With over 90 species of fruit  on our 10 hectares beside the Blackwood River in Nannup, life is easier. The  ever- expanding garden of Eden  supports us, our animals, and loyal customers who care for the environment, animal welfare and their own vitality. We are so grateful to them and excited  be part of the growing fair food movement. Besides supplying real food, we now teach soil building skills so we can all grow in health and happiness in a safe climate.

Reeling from global warming since 2008 we purchased an additional 20 ha in a supposedly wetter region ( Karridale) in 2012. Both properties are tested free of pesticide residues & heavy metals. We were certified organic for a decade  and continue to manage the land organically. The information age has enabled us to absorb & then apply the discoveries of visionaries: Dr E. Ingham ( soil microbiology ) the late BC Mollison (design, earthworks for water harvesting and more) Gabe Brown( multi species cover cropping) Colin Seis ( pasture cropping) & Allan Savory ( cell grazing) . Tons of green waste (normally burnt at the tip) are re recycled into compost, full of beneficial microbes.The microbes are multiplied in a vat of aerated water & this “compost tea” is sprayed on paddocks. Then microbes unlock minerals, build structure & (with perennial pasture species planted in the wake of chook & pig tractors) atmospheric carbon is sequestered along deep roots. The land is now absorbing rainfall, a dramatic improvement! Swales collect any escaping overland flow in downpours & grow abundant  forage for the herd of 5 animal species.  Bio fuel is generated from pig manure.  The combination of multi species fauna and flora, plus 7 acres devoted to wildlife, ensures clean, fresh water feeds into the Blackwood year round.

 What have been our challenges along the way? What solutions did we come to? Our challenges are mainly to do with climate change: hungry wildlife and increasing pestilence, plus I have to say increasingly pesky food laws, did put a  dint in income .

A rapidly heating and drying climate necessitates hand watering of newly developing soil/garden areas, a major time drain: our irrigation season now goes for 10 months a year, not 2 months in summer as was the case up until 2008. Water issues preclude using reticulation, so flood irrigated pits, swales and huglekulture areas are being developed. Carbon is the sponge which holds water & minerals, and the need to irrigate daily has reduced to weekly in improved soils, plus our well fed plants naturally resist pest attack.Fungi and bacteria feed our plants the full array of nutrients, and this confers frost and disease resisitance as well . Soil  this good takes 2 or 3 years to develop and we have not yet found a short cut. 

Our remote rural location means attracting decent permanent workers is difficult, with so many young people affected by health issues. We rely on travellers from overseas through WWOOF, HELP X programmes etc. Over decades we have learnt to: communicate well, spend the time on initial training,  be flexible and use the talents & passions of the individual, to make the workplace  nurturing & fun  and to be assertive and goal- focused from the start. We have had amazing people help us a lot. We face the challenges of many farmers such as our advancing years however, I feel better now than I did when i was 20!   Supermarket food prices have not risen to any extent in 30 years, while the cost of fuel, labour, rates and charges has gone through the roof. Encouraging consumers to invest in the health benefits of food grown in live soil as opposed to “dirt plus fertilizer” is our aim. One bug is the false claims of competitors. Organic grain for our animals is in short supply due to bad seasons &  lack of growers It is expensive but we think chemical free is worth it….when you know that conventional grain crops rely heavily on round up and are aware of it’s effect on gut microbes who protect us from cancer and 200 other auto immune diseases, you find the money. We seek alternatives to grain which can be grown on site such as acacia seed, amaranthus, quinoa , kangaroo grass etc. “Insect hotels” are harvested to provide the otherwise expensive protein needs of our stock. We selectively breed good foragers.

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