I am enjoying this site so much, and learning hugely from Dr Redhawks posts on soil microbiology. I notice that the emphasis is on making the soil right so that plants can grow well. Nothing wrong with that, obviously, but I wonder if anybody is working on the opposite way? Say I had a piece of soil that could grow nothing and from which I would not want to harvest (for instance acid mine drained soil ) what could I plant that would assist the soil microbiota to recover? I have a few local plants that I have noticed create the most marvellous soil under them and was just wondering if people have made similar observations of plants...
In the case of soil like you mention you will need to first find plants that can grow in those conditions (lots of weeds will fit that profile).
All plants help build the soil they are growing in and they attract and buildup the soil microorganisms they need for better life.
I would try to locate as many different primary succession plant species as possible and give them all a try.
The first plants usually are lichens these are the soil builders the guys that break rocks into micro particles (dirt).
I've noticed things like chickweed, thistles and others like them, love to be initial succession plants.
Blue berries are also one of these plants and this one gives you fruits.
Thank you so much Dr Redhawk! I have been lurking on this site for years, it has really taught me so much. Your posts on soil and microorganisms are a revelation to me.
I was using abandoned mines as an example of what every conscious South African must be thinking of. But my own case is a bit different, I have a four meter wide strip of native hedging on the roadside of my 2.5 acre plot. It provides windbreak, food and habitat for wild animals and I was very excited when they started returning to this degraded environment (this place was a battery chicken farm for twenty years before I got it and before that who knows what nameless horrors were practiced on this poor land). Especially the bees. But now I discovered that despite promises to cease years ago, weedkiller has continued to be sprayed along the roadside. I became suspicious when my aloes started showing weird growths, I will see if I can post a picture. I have put a stop to it now but how to rehabilitate this strip and stop the glyphosate from getting into the rest of my soil from which I actually eat?
Thanks for the tip about lichens! I had not thought about it but will start scrutinizing rocks and throwing any licheny ones on the strip. And most certainly any pioneer weeds that seem to like it here, the place is full of stinging nettle - which I grow for profit- chickweed and dandelions. I get the odd thistle which I shall transplant to that area. Blueberries probably won't like it on my alkaline soil but an excellent idea for acid mines. I will pass it on to those who work with mine dumps.
I guess what I am still unclear about is whether it would help to inoculate with effective microorganisms or whether I should assume that they are already present and doing their best? Every drop is precious and so before I start flinging it about I thought I should check with the experts.
yes certain plants encourage microorganisms, but buying seeds and planting them does not make them magically appear.
to be honest they would appear even faster if you just mulched the area and kept it wet.
For bioremediation of the soil simply make and apply Lactic acid bacteria, use your EM as well if you have it, but most importantly make some IMO, broadcast it over the area and cover that with a lite strawmulch and water the IMO into te soil.
After a week you can plant whatever you like
making LAB and IMO is easy. I would think the instructions should be somewhere on this site. If they are not than this website is spending way too much energy on producing rocket stoves and lacks what are quickly becoming the most fundamental and effective permaculture tools ever used on the planet.
I wouldn't call that well covered. I suppose if you were really uninformed about soil that could be a helpful introduction, but most of it is just a vague over view from my perception.
I don't see how any of that is relative to what I was saying anyway.
There is also some not so good, even flawed advice in there, again from my perception.
As far as the question in the OP and thread title, "
what plants encourage effective microorganisms"
The answer is all plants do, everyone of them relies on beneficial microbes and has evolved for 100s of millions of years to rely and thrive on various microbes and in microbe rich environments. Even the plants that don't form associations with mychorizals like the brassicas are heavily reliant on secondary decomposers and of course like all plants they also rely on endophytes on the roots shoots leaves and leaves to preform various vital functions.
I see a lot of all the kings soldiers and all the kings men & woman trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again which you're probablly not going to do. It doesn't have to be that complicated either.
Less than 1% of all microorganisms are pathogens to plants. That means over 99% are either benign or beneficial. All are beneficial at least indirectly, and all plants rely on microbes so you don't need to be that picky.
neither LABs, or IMO Were mentioned on that list of links and there was advice in there that would harm any bio-films or mycelial networks in the soil.
You can't till in anything that won't harm your plants in the long or short run. You just have to get the idea of tilling and digging out of your field of consciousness. you can't till or dig without screwing up what took eons to occur in nature, and no it does not grow right back.
the simplest way to encourage microorganisms in your soil is to cover the ground with mulch, and keep the soil moist.
the absolute hands down best thing you can do is apply IMO which you have to collect and make yourself.
use the search engine.
Do not waiste your money or hopes on any microbial inoculants. They are all bunk and the organisms will not likely take off in the garden even if they are still alive when you by them. There are many reasons they don't work even if the inoculants is still "viable".
Secondary decomposes will not thrive and will hardly grow if you add any Nitrogen to your soil. Seconary decomposes are saprophytes. You want lots of these. None will harm your plants, they breakdown dead brown organic matter.
mychorizals won't grow thrive or associate with roots in soils where there is a surplus of N, or Phosphorous.
So again, do not till or dig in any fertilizers.
Plants that are grown in fertilized soils can't form associations with beneficial. They become chemically dependent, struggle for nutrients and become susceptible to nutrient deficiencies, nutrient burn, pests, disease, pathogens, and stresses from heat, cold, too much or too little water etc.
So again just mulch it and keep it wet. As the microorganisms become active they attract earthworms, nematodes, arthropods, soil mites, and larger and larger creatures that feed of the decaying organic matter and off of the necrotic biomass of dead microbes.
In other words by simply mulching and adding water the soil food web will kick in out of "no where" and they will justify, separate and inoculate your soil. Then plant anything, the root growth of anything will kick up the soil food web you've help establish up another notch.
but if you really want it kicking butt and fast, look into making LAB, IMO, and FPJ all of which are superior to compost tea or any inoculum in every way.
the soil food web and thus the whole food web is completely dependent on carbon, and water.
All plants encourage soil micro-biology. So anything that will possibly grow will certainly feed the soil microbes with their exudates.
You can encourage soil microbial life with a healthy layer of carbon mulch -- anything really. Wood chips are my favorite, but any plant material (straw, spoiled hay, semi-digested compost . . . ) will work wonders in continuing to feed the soil microbial herd.
Bryant's advise above is pure wisdom: anything that grows is your friend, whether that be a weed or something else.
Perhaps consider a lasagna mulch, with an inch of freshly finished compost on the bottom, a layer of green biomass (like freshly mowed grass) and then a layer of browns on top (like wood chips). In that scenario, you'd have a zillion microbes living in the fresh compost, a great food source in the freshly cut greens, and then a nice layer of browns on top to keep the sun from irradiating all those microbes and drying everything up.
"The rule of no realm is mine. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, these are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task if anything that passes through this night can still grow fairer or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I too am a steward. Did you not know?" Gandolf
hau Natasha, I didn't mention it before but the organisms that we have found to do the best job of breaking down glyphosate are the fungi.
A blend of spores (mushroom slurry) poured at the inner edge of the property can do wonders for remediation of chemicals as well as bringing a host of good things to the soil as the mycelium grow and build a network.
It also will help plants utilize water and nutrients more efficiently, make new soil structure which creates more water holding ability.
Many people have the idea that bacteria are the be all in the soil world, when there is no such thing, all life is connected, it is what my people call the "hoop of life", it is much like a daisy chain or a Mobius strip.
Thank you so much Dr Redhawk! That is such useful information. Interestingly, this winter for the first time I saw mushrooms springing up on this place. It made me feel somehow that I had won the battle to restore the soil to life :) Into the blender they shall go! No lichens so far but for some reason a patch of moss, I think I shall fling it in that general direction on principle. Sorry to hear about the delay in the book but appreciate that you take time for online consultations.
Dr. Redhawk beat me to it! My first thought on reading this post was "look into mycoremediation". Paul Stamets illustrates the potentials of this method wonderfully in his book Mycelium Running. They can be used to clean up everything from oil spills to heavy metals to radioactive waste. But without even reading anything more detailed, I would suggest what Redhawk said above: get a mix of mushrooms (oysters are particularly good for this), make a spore slurry, and pour it all around the area in question.
Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you sow.
If you've read Dr Redhawk's entries, you know that the water infrastructure is important. I would first look into this and get some earth surgery done to collect, divert, store, accumulate water.
You might want to get some organic matter. I've found tree loppers would give you free wood chip, or a coffee shop would give you spent grounds. A farmers market rubbish skip bin would also give you a lot of organic matter. Just spread these on your land.
A green manure ground cover but in your case not the nitrogen fixers as it was a chicken farm before. Bio accumulators like comfrey, dandelion, thistle or even corn (you can grow corn 3 times in a season to 40-50 cm and slash & drop). This will accumulate organic matter and start decomposition.
Sunflower, parsley even potatoes can be grown to create organic matter and to feed the soil micro-organisms.
IMO as mentioned would be beneficial to provide a starter culture to your soil.
Fish shops would give you fish carcass for free. Just 2 days ago I collected 8 Kg of wild caught flathead carcass. They are now fermenting with kefir to become fish hydrolysate. You can just burry them in your land and let the nature to take care of those.
Good luck, oh and some picture of the land would be good
Thank you all for your very helpful responses! I am a big fan of Fukuoka's 'Do Nothing' approach so I am chopping and dropping with all this new knowledge in my mind, letting my subconscious figure out what to do with it. So far it is looking good, it is a functioning ecology, though a bit narrow as indigenous ecosystems go, the trees and shrubs drop mulch, create great soil, shade and self seed. I think the most important response concerns the water harvesting. Most of the time I try to see the entire landscape as a water harvesting system, that is, I don't see myself as needing to collect water where it is visible but try to ensure it is stored in soil, mulch, shrubs and trees. This makes the most sense when faced with high summer temperatures.
Also with climate change one has to prepare not just for droughts but also for floods. My land is halfway down a mountain side and somehow the winter rains have to make their way from the mountain to the sea. We are seeing about an average of 30% drop in annual rainfall (was 800 mm/year a few years back) with a severe drought the last two years, but when it rains it can flood. House was almost under water eight years ago. Interestingly enough, being so near the sea, what I am also seeing is a slight increase in summer rainfall which has been very helpful in cutting irrigation to a minimum. I had to water the trees to get started, from a plant's point of view this place was a desert, no humus, no shade and just lots of alien invasive vegetation. Now that the ecology is up and running most of the land doesn't get irrigated at all. So the matter of water harvesting is complex. Ideally I would like to slow the water down enough for it to seep but also leave space for it to drain when it has to.
The glyphosate infested strip is along the roadside, and next to the road is a ditch draining my neighbours above me. I have a reedbed cleaning the greywater from my kitchen which slows down the flow, it was bokashi'ed a few years back. I keep a close watch on the road and bridge above it to check that the water is not washing away foundations. I am thinking to chop the reeds for a compost bed in front of it, and make this my first angle of attack for the spread of fungi. Will pour blenderfuls there until I see a rich culture of mushrooms.
A little further down my neighbour (who most foolishly allows his greywater to flow into his septic tank :0) sometimes allows his sewerage to overflow into the ditch just below the bridge which is my driveway. I kept meaning to talk to him about it but am also thinking it would be wise not to waste such a rich source of nitrogen and water. So I will probably put a second compostheap/reedbed system there and irrigate with fungi.
The most problematic area is a raised bed where the tumourous aloe grows. I used to grow borage there but most fortunately stopped. Now I am replanting it with leguminous trees (Acacia karroo) and chop and drop shrubs. Here I thought to mulch the paths with moss and water the trees with effective microorganisms. And then pretty much leave it alone, bar some summer watering until the trees are established.
And mulch the poor aloes with plants that I know prevent cancer at least in humans (cancerbush, stinging nettle, alfalfa). Probably not very Zen in this thought, but we humans need to feel we are helping even if on the surface it looks futile :)
We have some land in the north of Sweden which has no topsoil at all in a lot of places. We're using basic hugelkultur to start creating some. After only one year, the first beds have filled up with native plants and the areas immediately around them are also becoming populated. It's like mulching with added super-powers!
I'm a firm believer in 'no-dig' (too many stones anyway) and only weeding immediately around the plants we want to favour. Roots in the ground at all times. Rotten wood is your friend.
We also have chickens, which roost above half of an IBC at night. This enables us to collect their droppings mixed with shavings to add to the dusty 'soil'.
The combination of these principles allow us to mimic the natural process seen in the woods. Nature knows best, follow her lead and microbes will follow 🙂