Monday, October 30, 2006

An introductory look at the Jordan Valley.

This article is the first in a series of articles on past and present permaculture projects in the Jordan Valley.

Image by Юкатан
The Jordan Valley is one of the most devastated landscapes on the planet. Once home to productive forests with rich soils, today it is denuded of its natural splendor and has been reduced to a salinated landscape which is spiralling into a completely dead environment.

Archeological evidence shows that Jordan had once been a green land. It is known that during the time of the Roman Empire, water harvesting features had existed in Jordan for the purpose of agriculture.

Unfortunately as has been the history of agriculture in most regions of the world, the practices of deforestation and overgrazing have created desolation.

The removal of trees results in a reduced capacity for soils to retain water. Trees increase local precipitation through condensation - this is precipitation that will not register on a rain guage. For example, upland slopes in coastal rainforests can account for up to 80% of the total precipitation. Removing the trees means that this precipitation will not be intercepted and drawn into the soil.

Additionally, trees transpire water into the atmosphere providing moisture for downwind rains. Cut out a forest and you will reduce the rainfall downwind.
Plough agriculture damaged the delicate soils contibuting to erosion. Today the land is characterised by wadis washed out of the hillsides - a telltale sign of serious erosion problems. This problem is compounded by overgrazing. Goats are currently stripping the vegitation off the land dooming it to become a totally dead environment.

Fifty years ago, 1.3 billion cubic metres of water flowed through the Jordan river. Today, less than one tenth that amout flows through the river, and this flow is kept alive by sewage. The remainder has been diverted for agricultural purposes.

To make up for shortfalls in water, aquifers are tapped. And without any attempts to recharge them, they are being depleted, dooming the inhabitants to a waterless future. Compounding this problem, modern industrial agricultural techniques are contaminating the aquifers with pesticides and fertilisers.

Despite this seemingly bleak future, there is a working solution: one that has been employed in the Jordan Valley. The next article in this series will look at the solutions that have been employed and their surprising results.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

David Suzuki retires

No readers, this site is not turning into a newswire, nor will it. This story is here because, over the years, David Suzuki has been very influential to many of us, myself included.

David is now ready, he says, for a simple life out of the spotlight. However, he regrets that the highlighting of the destruction of the environment has not stopped, let alone reversed, the destruction of the planet:

"Nobody any longer knows what a sustainable future is," the bearded, bespectacled environmentalist told Reuters in a recent interview in Australia to promote his book, "David Suzuki: The Autobiography."

"I feel like we are in a giant car heading for a brick wall at 100 miles an hour and everyone in the car is arguing where they want to sit. For God's sake, someone has to say put the brakes on and turn the wheel." [Source]
David, good luck with your future move. We'll miss you on our TVs.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Mycorrhyzae help plants survive heavy metals/salt

[Updated Oct. 27]

It seems like the more we learn about mycelium, the more we learn how beneficial it is to all sorts of life. Research published in the African Journal of Biotechnology (on the Mycorrhyza Literature Exchange site) shows that mycorrhyzae can help plants survive higher levels of zinc and cadmium:
...From a number of physiological indices measured in this study, microsymbionts significantly increased dry weight, root : shoot ratios, leaf number and area, plant length, leaf pigments, total carbohydrates, N and P content of infected plants as compared with non infected controls at all levels of heavy metal concentrations. Tolerance index of cowpea plants was increased in the presence of microsymbionts than in their absence in polluted soil. Microsymbionts dependencies of cowpea plants tended to be increased at higher levels of Zn and Cd in polluted soil. Metals accumulated by microsymbionts-infected cowpea plant were mostly distributed in root tissues, suggesting that an exclusion strategy for metal tolerance widely exists in them.

This news from Scientia Horticulturae (also on the Mycorrhyza Literature Exchange site) shows that mycorrhyzae can benefit tomatoes grown in saline conditions:
This study was conducted to determine if pre-inoculation of transplants with arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi alleviates salt effects on growth and yield of tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill. Cv. Marriha) when irrigated with saline water. Tomato seeds were sown in polystyrene trays with 20 cm(3) cells and treated with AM fungi (AM) or without (nonAM) Glomus mosseae. Once the seedlings were reached appropriate size, they were transplanted into nonsterile soil in concrete blocks (1.6 m x 3 m x 0.75 m) under greenhouse conditions. The soil electrical conductivity (ECe) was 1.4 dS m(-1). Plants were irrigated with nonsaline water (ECw = 0.5 dS m(-1)) or saline water (ECw = 2.4 dS m(-1)) until harvest. These treatments resulted with soil EC at harvest 1.7 and 4.4 dS m(-1) for nonsaline and saline water treatments, respectively. Root colonization with AM fungi at flowering was lower under saline than nonsaline conditions. Pre-inoculated tomato plants with AM fungi irrigated with both saline and nonsaline water had greater shoot and root dry matter (DM) yield and fruit fresh yield than nonAM plants. The enhancement in fruit fresh yield due to AM fungi inoculation was 29% under nonsaline and 60% under saline water conditions. Shoot contents of P, K, Zn, Cu, and Fe were hi-her in AM compared with nonAM plants grown under nonsaline and saline water conditions. Shoot Na concentrations were lower in AM than nonAM plants grown under saline water conditions. Results indicate that pre-inoculation of tomato transplants with AM fungi improved yield and can help alleviate deleterious effects of salt stress on crop yield.

Update: As discussed elsewhere on these pages, Glomus mosseae helps plants resist the uptake of arsenic and thereby increase the uptake of phosphorus. Glomus mosseae has also been shown to reduce the uptake of copper, zinc, lead and cadmium.
A glasshouse pot experiment was conducted to investigate effects of the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus Glomus mosseae on the growth of Vicia faba and toxicity induced by heavy metals (HMs) (Cu, Zn, Pb and Cd) in a field soil contaminated by a mixture of these metals. There was also uninoculation treatment (NM) simultaneously. Mycorrhizal (GM) plants have significantly increased growth and tolerance to toxicity induced by heavy metals compared with NM plants. P uptake was significantly increased in GM plants. Mycorrhizal symbiosis reduced the transportation of IlMs from root to shoot by immobilizing HMs in the mycorrhizal, shown by increasing the ratios of HMs from root to shoot. Oxidative stress, which can induce DNA damage, is an important mechanism of heavy metal toxicity. GM treatment decreased oxidative stress by intricating antioxidative systems such as peroxidases and non-enzymic systems including soluble protein. The DNA damage induced by heavy metals was detected using comet assay, which showed DNA damage in the plants was decreased by the GM treatment. [Journal of Environmental Sciences-China also see University of Ljubljana]
Oyster mushrooms, a type of saprophytic mushroom (not mycorrhizal), have been used to detoxify soils contaminated with cadmium. However, these mushrooms would not be fit for human consumption. When using mycelium to detoxify land or help plants resist toxins, do not eat any mushrooms that fruit.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Seed balls.

Seed balls are a method of propagation widely promoted by Natural Farming innovator Masanobu Fukuoka.

Seed balls are simply seeds mixed with equal proportions of dried compost and clay, formed into small balls, and dried for later sowing.

To make them, simply select the seeds to be used - thick-skinned seeds will need to be scarified, and some seeds need heat or cold to bring them out of dormancy. Legumes will require inoculant if they are to fix nitrogen. Also, for species that can benefit from mycorrhizal relationships, adding the spores of mycorrhizal fungi such as the genus Glomus and/or Rhizopogon, species Gigaspora margarita, and/or Pisolithus tinctorus would be beneficial, though not necessary. [This list is not exhaustive, but these are readily available through Fungi Perfecti.]

Mix one part seeds with one part dry compost.

Next, add one part dry clay and mix.

Then spray in water a little at a time and mix it together until you have just enough water to hold everything together without crumbling.

After that, form the mixture into balls 2~3 cm in diameter.

Finally, dry the balls for later use.

Once dried, the balls are ready to be spread over land that you want to plant. When the rains come, the seeds will germinate.

Using this method along with other Natural Farming techniques, Fukuoka san was able to produce 590kg (1300lbs) of winter grain (barley or wheat) and 22 bushels of rice per quarter acre of land. Moreover, these techniques require the labour of just two people working a few weeks a year to attain the crop. There is no plowing, no weeding, no application of biocides in any form, and no fertilising.

Seed balls may be obscure in North America, but in parts of the world already badly damaged by human activity, their use is easily recognised. The BCIL Alt.Tech Foundation of India uses seed balls to regreen Bangalore. And as most of the planets deserts are the creation of mankind, we can follow their lead to undo the damage we have done.

Imagine tanks used, not for warfare, but to pull land imprinters to give seedballs an advantage. Imaging cluster bombs, not killing, but being used to distribute seed balls over deserts creating green explosions. While some of these ideas may seem unrealistic, they are within the realm of possibility... if we only act.

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