Living bridges of India
My friend Richard Powell’s awesome permaculture garden.
Eric Toensmeier is trying to raise funding for his new book “Toolkit for Climate Stabilization with Tree Crops”. I recommend you watch the video on the Kickstarter page and donate some money to the project so the book and be produced and we can save the world!
In a world impatient for a quick fix we must continue to make the long, steady progress needed toward a rich, green, abundant world, started by planting one tree at a time and repeated over and over around the world.
—Mark Shepard, Restoration Agriculture
Pictured above are photos that I took of soil in two different spots less than 10 feet away from each other. The pictures don’t do it justice but the health of the soil has a stark contrast from the top to the bottom.
The top photo is only a foot away from a railroad where nothing has been allowed to grow at all. The soil remains dead and lifeless. Nothing but sand, gravel and pollution.
Just ten feet away a layer of topsoil has been built on this same degraded and abused soil. The difference is the plants that have grown here and contributed to the soil. There is an overstory of Mother’s Tongue (Albizia lebbeck) and an understory of what I think it Napier Grass (Pennisetum purpuream). Both of these species are extremely fast growing “invasive” plants. The most interesting thing about this spot is that the railroad company comes through every year with a machine and cuts everything down. What I suspect has happened is that this is replicating a “coppice” system. The space would not allow trees to grow that couldn’t take annual cutting so two species came in that do fine with an annual cut. Contrary to what you may think, the railroad company may have actually sped up the building of topsoil by cutting the plants down to mulch the ground and triggering them to put out new growth.
These are two pioneer plants with superpowers. Albizia lebbeck fixes nitrogen very heavily. It draws nitrogen out of thin air and places it into the soil. Pennisetum purpuream has the ability to grow extremely fast and produce amazing amount of biomass that can build the carbon bank in the soil. The soil where the two are growing has a thick layer of mulch decomposing. The two plants working together have combined to restore a small space of soil that was destroyed and nothing else will grow. Humus has appeared out of thin air. Rather than pinning these plants as “invasives” we should thank them for filling in the spot that civilization destroyed, building topsoil and being the first step in succession to a forest.
This observation can teach us about how to build soil in a food forest system. This space shows that even on the worst soil, healthy soil can appear without importing anything. Under our fruit trees and perennial vegetables we can build healthy fertile soil with support species much like these. There are endless amounts of species that can play similar roles in perennial polyculture systems. We can cut the vegetation and replicate how the railroad has triggered the plants to produce topsoil. We call this a “chop and drop” system.
Also of interest is that a mulberry tree (Morus alba) has popped up as an overstory to this perennial polyculture. It is fruiting right now and I have been eating the delicious leaves for the past few weeks. The “crop” plant has soil being built right under it by the “support” plants. We can do this in our own backyards. No soil is too far gone to restore with the amazing cyclical forces of nature.
I have been wanting to try this with some Solanaceae species. I may try grafting bell pepper (Capsicum annuum) onto an established perennial Habanero bush (Capsicum chinese) this Spring.
Anonymous asked: Where do you live? Ok that sounds creepy. Lol. Where do you forage is probably the better question. What part of what state?
I reside in Central Fl, zone 9a(ish). I am about an hour South of Orlando. If you are curious about D. alata yams, they are found in a pretty good chunk of the state.