We describe a system for creating quality soil using Easter Casia plants pre- inoculated with mycorrhizal fungi and Amyuthus worm eggs and using wicking action of organic material to maintain the soil moist without saturating the soil.
We are all dependant on quality soil
We are all dependant on soil for our food, yet the world’s soil is continuously being degraded reducing the production and quality of food. Quality is important so we receive the nutrients and minerals we need. Many ‘modern’ deceases such as diabetes have been linked to lack of minerals in our food.
There is no magic powder that can be spread onto degraded soil which will convert it to productive loam; rather soil is generated by following a process. This is happening all the time as part of the natural process; however the natural rate of soil regeneration is measured in mm per century. But we can speed this up by managing the natural process.
How soil is made naturally
Combinations of organisms create soil. Pioneering plants will first invade barren land. They typically seed and sucker profusely, have strong and deep root systems that can readily extract nutrients. Plants do not make soil directly, soil is created by a complex web of soil creatures but the photosynthesis of plants provides the energy the soil biology needs.
Plants form synergistic relations with mycorrhizal fungi, the plants provide the energy in the form of sugars while the fungi extract and supply nutrient and moisture to the plants. The hyphae of fungi are very fine and develop very high pressure at their tips which also exude enzymes to dissolve rock particles and release nutrients. Lichens and mosses can also attack rocks to release nutrients.
Pioneering species generally have short lives and their decomposing remains helps build up the soil. Bacteria attack the softer tissues while fungi attack the harder lignins. Worms and many other varieties of soil creatures can live off the decaying plant remains and give the soil structure. In particular worms excrete a nitrogen rich slime which helps the soil form into aggregates leaving small pores which can hold water.
Soil creation is totally dependent on water. All soil organism need water but the critical fungi are highly sensitive to the right amount of water available. Areas with too much or too little or an unreliable rainfall will not produce fast enough to replace the natural loss. Soil generation needs steady moisture, not to wet or dry. The wet tropics and the forest rain belt in the 40 to 55 latitude may appear to have good soils but in reality they are very shallow. At the other extreme the deserts belts which stretch around the world are simply too dry to generate good soil.
The best soils are in the Savannah belts in both hemispheres which has the more reliable rains.
The great challenge in soil creation is to maintain the soil moist without either letting it dry out or become too wet.
Here we show a system for the rapid regeneration of degraded soils developed over many years of experimentation.
The Waterright system of soil regeneration
We have developed a system of soil regeneration with four key features.
- Easter Cacia as a pioneer plant
- pre inolulated with mycorrhizal fungi
- Amyuthus worm eggs to aerate the soil and spread the fungi
- the wicking bed system to maintain the soil moist
Photosynthesis provides the energy
Soil is created by the soil biology which needs energy which comes from the photosynthesis of plants. Soil organisms are generally incapable of making its own energy from photosynthesis (with the possible exception of algae) so you must have plants growing to feed the soil biology.
Crops provide some of the energy needed for soil production and if present mycorrhizal fungi will take energy from the growing crop and crops residues.
However there are always losses of carbon to the atmosphere from working and exposing the soil and the action of fertilisers so cropping by itself gives a net loss of soil carbon so extra plants are needed to create soil. These plants can be grown with the crop, which has advantages in providing a host for mycorrhizal fungi or remotely (eg parks, forests and waste lands) and the organic material transported and added the soil.
Our work has focused on using Eater Casia (Senna pendula var. glabrata) to regenerate soil. It is a pioneer species and can grow on severely degraded soil. It is an extremely robust plant which thrives in poor soils, providing large quantities of succulent foliage which can be used for food by the soil biology, It is a legume and can capture nitrogen and with its deep and effective roots system is very efficient at mining phosphorous from deep in the soil. We call it the soil tree because of its role in creating soil.
But just growing a tree like Easter Casia does not by itself create soil. They feed the soil biology which creates the soil. Fungi extract nutrients from the rocks and hard organic material; worms aerate and aggregate the soil, while bacteria decompose soft organic material which feeds the worms. Separately none will create quality soil, but together they work together to create quality soil.
We use Easter Cacia as a host plant for the mycorrhizal fungi.
We supply Easter Cacia plants as root stock already inoculated with mycorrhizal fungi ready for transplanting.
While Mycorrhizal fungi inoculants are available commercially and are often added to the irrigation water. However to survive, the spores need to attach themselves to a host root. If the spores do not achieve this attaching quickly they simply die.
Using Easter Cacia which has already been inoculated with the mycorrhizal fungi is a far more reliable method.
Grow Easter Cacia as a semi-permanent source of fungi
The trees can be left in the ground to provides a permanent refuge for the fungi. Mycorrhizal fungi normally dies when the crops are harvested so having a permanent trees provides a continues supply of fungi which can spread throughout the crop.
Easter Cacia can be grown as a semi-permanent source of mycorrhizal fungi which can be used to initiate mycorrhizal activity in the crops.
The trees need to be regularly trimmed to provide a source of nutrients for the soil biology and hence the plant.
It should be noted that Easter Acacia is a particularly virulent plant which can rapidly spread if unchecked. You should therefore not use this plant unless you intend to ensure it does not go rampant.
Cultivate mycorrhizal fungi
Fungi are particularly important as the very fine hyphae excrete enzymes which can dissolve otherwise inaccessible nutrients in the rock particles and make them accessible to plants.
The most important family of fungi are the mycorrhizal fungi which form a symbiotic relation with plants in which the fungi supply the plants with nutrients not normally accessible to the plants while the plants provide sugars for fungi. The hyphae can exert high pressures at their tips and exude enzymes which dissolve rock particles to release otherwise inaccessible nutrients.
The relation between mycorrhizal fungi is one of the most important in nature, however mycorrhizal fungi are delicate. If the spores do not quickly attach to a plant they die, and if the plants are removed the entire fungi will also die.
Fungi easily killed by sunlight or shortage of water. Cropping, even with the best modern practices of no till can still damage fungal hyphae. In the natural state they survive by offsetting this vulnerability by producing large amounts of spores which are tough and can survive adverse conditions for a long time.
Our approach is to inoculate Easter Acacia with mycorrhizal fungi and plant near the crops. This provides a safe haven for the mycorrhizal fungi which can grow out to attach to the crops to provide extra nutrients and moisture.
Let worms do the work
Worms undertake a critical role in soil regeneration by aerating the soil.
Amyuthus is a large worm which grows up to 300 mm long. It is often called the snake worm due to its length. It is a powerful worm which will transport decaying material from the surface deep into the soil.
They create a highly porous soil structure which can hold large quantities of moisture.
Amyuthus worms are sometimes called snake worms or gardeners friend
They are particularly effective and working the soil creating a porous structure.
Field trials have indicated that they may play a crucial role in helping the mycorrhizal fungi to spread. This has not been the subject of scientific investigation and the mechanism is not known, but such symbiotic relations are common in soil biology.
We supply amyuthus eggs which will hatch out in about three weeks. This is much more reliable way to transport worms We supply the Easter Casia as a root stock, pre-inoculated with mycorrhizal fungi and the worm eggs in the soil.
Field trials indicate that worms play a role in spreading mycorrhizal fungi. Plots just adding mycorrhizal fungi showed string fungal activity where the spores were added but little elsewhere. Adding worm eggs led to a much wider distribution. While there does not appear to be scientific trials to confirm this or suggest a mechanism it still makes a working hypothesis.
Worms cannot digest organic material directly; this has to be broken down by bacteria, either from normal rotting or in the gut of the worm. Worms emit a nitrogen rich slime which helps bond the soil particles into aggregates and provide soil structure.
Wicking beds were developed some ten years ago and are now a well-established technology. Essentially they consist of a lower layer which acts as the water reservoir and is filled with organic material and layer of soil above which in which the plants grow.
The water wicks up to the root zone which is maintained moist but does not become saturated.
Recently wicking furrows have been developed using the same wicking principle. Water flows along the furrow which is preferably lines with plastics to stop water soaking into the ground. The furrow is partially filled with organic material to act as a wicking medium so water can wick out of the furrow and into the surrounding soil.
Again the liquid water does not come into direct contact with the soil so does not become saturated but the soil is maintained moist by the wicking action.
The Easter Casia trimming can form part of the organic mix, the easiest way is to shred the trimming on a grasses area so there is a mixture of wood trimmings and grass cuttings.
The wicking bed technology is patented but anyone using buying the Easter Casia impregnated with mycorrhizal fungi and amyuthus worms is automatically granted a license to use the system without paying a further licence fee on those beds.
How to buy Easter Casia with mychorrhizal fungi and Amyuthus worms
Easter Casia root stocks can be purchased from our web site from our shop. However for the time being the worm eggs are only added when we receive an order so they are always fresh. The Casia should be planted out as soon as possible.
Root stock means the plants have fully developed roots with mycorrhizal fungi but the stem has been pruned back to about 50 mm. When planted they will rapidly develop leaves.
At this moment we are taking cuttings from mother stock but have daughter stock in propagation. Please do not pay until we have confirmed that we can deliver. If there is likely to be a delay we will let you know.
We therefore ask that anyone wishing to buy should first email us (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org) letting us know what they want to buy and when they want to be received.
When ready for delivery we can then email you back so you can order from the web.
They are purchased individually or as a six pack, prices are
1-5 plants $15 each p & p Eastern Australia $9.50
6 pack $63 p & p Eastern Australia $12.50