Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Dark Earth

I tend to be pretty self secure, especially in my little world that I am creating. But, like anyone, when I venture out, out there, amongst the heathens, I fear looking a little stupid. Maybe stupid is the wrong word. I don't mind being different.... I thrive on that. But I try really hard to be fairly well informed on topics that I talk about. So, I was somewhat uncomfortable today when I sent an e-mail to the department head of organic agriculture at Iowa State University, concerning dark earth. I had been reading everything I could find on the internet about this mystery soil of the amazon, but after two days I just kept running into the same articles over and over. Reading was no longer going to cut the mustard and creating dark earth is something I really want to try. It's nothing short of miraculous stuff. I can't afford the project. I am doing some quick calculating and I think I could take the project start to finish for around $2500.-$3000. For many people in agriculture that is a trifling amount of money. For me, well, it's practically a king's ransom. Hold on! I'm getting ahead of myself. I should explain dark earth to you a little bit. It is found in the amazon rain forest. The amazon, known for it's lousy soil. Everything there just grows on the fallen remains of trees, debris, composting humus. But there are areas where ancient indians of the area created pockets of exceptionally rich soil. Soil that remains fertile after more then 1500 years of continuous cultivation and rainforest downpours that leach every vital nutrient out of any other native soil. Scientists have been studying the dark earth, but they aren't totally sure how the indians pulled this off. The most significant ingredient seems to be charcoal. There is other stuff in there, too. The scientists can't decide if the dark earth area was also used as a bit of a dump or if the combinations of ingredients were specific and on purpose. Some say that there are pottery shards thrown in with the charcoal. That is where the dump theory comes from, but other scientists think the pottery shards are too small to just be garbage and it must be created intentionally. They even go so far as to say the shards act as a method of keeping the soil loose, like vermiculite or perlite would now. There are also some bones and fish remains found in the mix. When it is done, you have created perpetual, organic fertilizer. The queen mother of nutrient dense soil. There seems to be two ways of doing this. Some areas of dark earth are big planting patches. Another method is the trench method. Because of our hills, the trench method would make the most sense. My plan is to have a back hoe come in and dig a trench about three feet deep and about three hundred feet long. It doesn't have to be straight or pretty or exact. Then the trench needs to be lined with wood. I have plenty of trash trees on the property, but I think that I need to buy hardwood also. Hardwood is suppose to make better charcoal. Then the very long bonfire has to be lit. When it has gotten well under way, the fire is covered with green matter. This smothers the fire somewhat. After the green plant material has been added, then I want to add lime, composted manures, either fish emulsion or fish. Bone meal would be good as well if it is affordable. Once everything is added then the soil is pushed back over the trench. The reason the trench appeals to me so much is because of our hills. We have a problem with rain water rushing down the hills and picking up speed and creating wash outs. Sometimes they develop into some pretty huge ravines. But if I place the trench about two thirds of the way up the hill, the rain water should drop into the trench instead of galloping down the hill wrecking havoc. Once in the trench it should have the opportunity to percolate through the charcoal and other ingredients, feeding the field below the trench. It would work like a very long french drain. It would also allow more moisture to deeply water the area.. I am curious if it would also help to get non contaminated water back into aquifers. Would it act like a charcoal filter? I don't think they know that yet. One thing that some scientists are theorizing about is whether this charcoal would sequester carbon emissions and help reduce greenhouse gases. If it does work in that way, it would be one of the most effective ways of combating the greenhouse effect that is currently known of. So, let me sum up...fertilization, incredibly effective, yet organic. Different sources have said that the crop production shows anywhere from 400% to 800% greater productivity. Imagine that! 400% productivity jump with out any input from Monsanto! Cheap erosion control that doesn't require costly tiling. Deep watering without expensive irrigation methods and best of all, the possibility of a method to clean the air at very little cost. What I did today, which more then likely made me look stupid, was to contact Iowa State University and asked them to point me in the direction of a grant for around $2500-$3000. to install a trench in the hope of creating dark earth. We just won't know until we try. I'm willing to try. I just wish I had the money for the project on my own. No one to muck up the process or poke their nose in where I don't want it. But I have no money.... so fingers crossed and hoping for the best. If it works, then I don't mind looking stupid at all. Louie

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