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Podcast 033 - Helen Atthowe on Soil

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Location: Kingston, Canada (USDA zone 5a)
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Credit: Mariane Cicala

This is one great conversation between Paul and Helen Atthowe about dirt, no-till gardens, Masanobu Fukuoka and challenges of growing organically, “naturally” and/or permaculture growing. This podcast is the result
of a question Paul received: “How do Fukuoka techniques affect Permaculture and can Permaculture and Fukuoka techniques be combined for something better?”

It begins with Helen talking about building her soil: adding compost tea, manure and rock dust. After 5 years she eliminated all additives including manure. Her system of living mulches eventually made these additives unnecessary in her Natural System. The splendor of this no-till natural system held its own for only about 5 years. Biology dictates that if we constantly take without replacing (harvest, harvest, harvest) the soil structure and its complexity will change. It gets depleted and her biggest challenge (she doesn’t add manure) is the nitrogen deficiency.

She talks about constant observation and appropriate modifications.
The discussion then gets splattered with mixed opinions:They agree that carbon is energy, but Helen disagrees that accumulators can add enough carbon to make a difference; she mows clover for carbon and no till beds have plenty as a rule. They move onto nitrogen(with the omission of manures) and they agree that Hairy Vetch is one of the most important nitrogen giving plants. Helen cover crops with vetch, peas and grains. They disagree if simply planting legumes (and Paul of course mentions Black Locust Trees) makes much of a difference.

Helen doesn’t think it’s nearly enough in a no-till system, where the legumes are not distressed aka tilled or at least mowed. They further discussed Fukuoka’s self-maintaining system where chickens initially ran through the fields leaving behind plenty of nitrogen. They are both going to do further exploration about the complexity of his system, past and present. Bottom line, this podcast leaves a lot to kick around and test and investigate. I have to add 1 personal note: Peanuts, the mother of legumes, with the “pea” underground and the ability to pull up the plant, harvest the pea (nuts) and return the plant to the soil
where there’s a bounty of nitrogen spilling into the soil.

Relevant Threads

No Till.. But How?
Hairy Vetch
Building Soil With Cover Crops
Soil Biology Test


The One-Straw Revolution

Sowing Seeds in the Desert

Relevant Links

Helen Atthowe's Website

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