16675 SPECIES, 709411 IMAGES (and counting)

https://plantnet.org/en/

and https://identify.plantnet-project.org/

 

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A Tribute to Dr. James Duke (1929 – 2017)

When I was digging into the subject of Dynamic Accumulators, I discovered Jim Duke’s USDA database. What a goldmine of information. After some time spent in poking around looking for information, I realized that it reflected a lifetime of work. He was looking for a plant-based cancer cure. What an aspiration!! What a person!!!

From The Green Farmacy Garden, A Tribute to Jim (1929 – 2017).

thebarefootdoctor

From the Desk of James A. Duke
 ~ Helen Lowe Metzman 17 Dec ’17

It’s daunting to be sitting at the legendary Dr. James A. Duke’s desk typing a tribute to him. It’s even more disconcerting to be here in Jim’s basement library/office without him hunting and pecking away with his index fingers. I am surrounded by Jim’s wealth of books, and his articles, poetry, and prose stuffed inside government-issued file cabinets lining the side wall. How I wish I could hear just one more story…like the story of his dangerous flight over Jamaica inspecting for ganja fields, or the story of going to Iran seeking Persian poppies to replace opium poppies, or going down the Shenandoah and discovering Sweet Annie (Artemisia annua) at pit stop number two, or the tale of traveling to China to meet the Chinese fountain of youth.

Searching for the holy grail
On the Appalachian trail,
When I found the herb they call ginseng.
Growing deep down in the woods,
That’s where I got the goods,
That the Chinese call renshen.

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This otherwise outdated office comes alive with artifacts of Jim. Vibrant red colorful fabric molas on the walls of cats, fish, demons and the Mexico musician Antonio Aguilar are a reminder of his early beginnings as an enthobotanist. Watercolors of voluptuous Panamanian Choco Indian women straight opposite his desk are lovely to gaze at but also a reminder of what a charmer this man was. Over the never used brick fireplace in the corner is a highly textured expressionist painting of Jim playing a bass that grows out of tree roots. Photos on the wall of his band, The Howard County Dump, conjure images of Jim working steadily on his computer while listening to classical, jazz and bluegrass on his static radio and also every Sunday morning when he religiously listened to G-Strings on WPFW. The complete volume set of The Wealth of India, botanical references that span the globe, pharmacognosy books, nutritional books, edible plant and mushroom books, as well as many of his own publications are currently shelved neat and tidy even though just a few months ago they were strewn into collapsing piles when he worked tirelessly at his desk in this faded blue computer chair that I am presently occupying.

Jim did not care about the decorative properties of this basement grotto, where he spent so much time as a compiling troglodyte. He did not care one bit about aesthetics. He was a man of the mind. Words mattered. Information mattered. Music mattered. Plants mattered. Family and friends mattered. Teaching and telling stories mattered as did trying repeatedly to get the FDA to test and get fair comparable trials of North American and all medicinal plants alongside Big Pharma and placebos. Walks in the woods identifying local flora mattered. Saving the Amazonian rainforest mattered. Getting folks outdoors and promoting healthy food farmacy mattered.

He was a tome, a walking encyclopedia with a genteel southern drawl that fluctuated between refined and red neck. Women would peel off their shirts down to their undies in our classes for him to urticate or flagellate their arthritic backs with stinging nettles (Urtica dioica). He dined on BBQ cicadas spiced with Old Bay. He ate live palm beetle larva suri grubs (Rhynchophorus palmarum) from the Amazon and coined the word “suriculture.” He would stuff creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea) up his nose to demonstrate how to ward off the anthrax virus. Jim wore bulbs of the stinking rose garlic necklaces to keep away the flu. He cooked Duke’s soup du jour for the garden crew every day for years. He made manuka honey antibacterial salves and concocted pomegranate juice styptics to stop bleeding. Jim’s idea of a research study in the garden was to rub mountain mint (Pycnathemum muticum) on only one of his legs for its pulegone phytochemical, walk through the woods and see which leg ticks prefer. Jim taught us about the ejaculating seeds of the jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) as well as the uses of horny goat weed (Epimedium grandiflorum). I’m not even going to discuss what he had to say about fava beans (Vicia faba). Jim dyed his hippy beard yellow with turmeric (Curcuma longa) and chanted shamanic chants, icaros, “mucarita, mucarita” as he reflected on his experience with La Soga and the ayahuasca ceremony. He formulated medicinal living liqueurs with clever labels like Alzheimeretto,Crème de’mentia, and Hot-Bloodied Mary. He was always on the hot trail of the latest health issue or herbal discovery and would spend days “crawling” through PubMed data to either support or disclaim the information. He would, in his folksy yet scientific fashion, write plant rants suffused with long lists of phytochemicals of each species and continually update his USDA database to report his findings. Day after day, he broadcasted his rants via his enormous email contact list, interviews on radio shows, newspapers, videos and to garden tours.

With his humble yet eloquent teaching style, Jim had a unique gift to make phytochemicals, traditional plant knowledge, and scientific research palatable to all no matter their background. Universities, government organizations, garden clubs, homeschoolers, refined researchers, botanists, herbalists, hippies, and wild edible connoisseurs made their way to the garden not just to learn plant medicine but primarily to meet Jim. He was often asked at the tours, “how did you get your interest in plants as food and medicine.”

Jim repeatedly said that he had a charmed life. He was born on April 4, 1929 in Birmingham, Alabama just prior to the stock market crash. At age five, Jim was introduced to foraging watercress and chestnuts after befriending the lonely old man across the street “who only had his rabbits to talk to.” During the depression when he was eight, his family moved to Durham, North Carolina where Jim became interested in wildflowers and enjoyed going to the woods so much that he worked at a state park in his teens as a junior park ranger. Not only the woods but also music filled his high school years. The guitar was his first interest as he learned to play hillbilly chords and then moved on to bass fiddle in Raleigh. He played with Homer A Briarhopper and the Dixie Blues and cut a record called the “Briarhopper Boogie” in Nashville. A singer songwriter himself, Jim’s songs were cut into a vinyl LP, Herbalbum in the 80’s. He played jazz, big band, blues and bluegrass, and maintained his love of music with jam sessions at the house to his final days of ordering “Alexa” to play his favorite tunes.

hoco dump

After abandoning a music major his first semester at Chapel Hill, Jim eventually received three “academically inbred” degrees at University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill including his PhD in Botany. It was during his Master’s at UNC, that he fell in love with Peggy-Ann Wetmore Kessler, who was also pursuing her Master’s in Botany degree. Together, they shared botany and music and eventually married in 1961.

jim and peggy young puppy love at beach

Between his Masters and PhD, Jim did a stint of military service, where he ended up at Fort Detrick in Frederick, MD. Jim worked on culturing fungi and later understood his projects were for the purpose of developing biological agents with the potential of destroying enemy crops. His time in the military provided him a Korean GI Bill, and Jim returned to Chapel Hill for his PhD in 1961 and traveled to Mexico, Guatemala, and Costa Rica on plant-gathering expeditions. It was during this time that he started his infatuation with Latin America. Jim moved to St. Louis to be at the Missouri Botanical Gardens and Washington University for his postdoctoral work as a taxonomist identifying dried herbarium specimens from Peru. Jim then traveled to Panama to identify the best vegetation to support “vehicular traffic” before starting his career at the USDA in 1963. Jim admits that although he loved his work with plants, he did not always feel comfortable with the reason behind his work. For instance, early on in his career with the USDA, he studied plant succession in Puerto Rico but it was for the purpose of learning how defoliants or herbicides alter that succession.

While at the USDA Jim was offered a consultant job with the Battelle Memorial Institute (1965 -1971) in conjunction with the Atomic Energy Commission to work in Panama for two and half years. He accepted, left the USDA, and moved there with his young family including his “botanical illustrator par excellence” wife Peggy, their three-year-old son, John, and their six-month-old daughter, Celia.

jim peggy young john cissy

Jim’s position was to go off into the Darién bush to investigate and thoroughly document all of the flora and fauna as well as the Choco and Cuna populations for what they were eating. There was a proposal to excavate a sea level canal using nuclear weapons but there was a question of whether radioactive materials would settle into the soil and how these materials may affect the indigenous population and the local food chain. Ultimately, the project was tabled and it was determined that it is not feasible to use nuclear weapons to excavate a canal. The experience of being in the jungle impressed on Jim how deeply tied the indigenous populations were to their environment. Jim’s became a “Panamaniac” studying the food and medicine of the Choco population. Jim often told groups of students that his time spent in Panama was the time when he metamorphosed from a taxonomic botanist to an “ethnobotanist” – a term he did not know at the time. From his observations, he noted the contrast of how indigenous people used herbs versus how his own family used allopathic medicine practices. Jim concluded that there was better living through phytochemistry not pharmochemistry.

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Back from Panama, Jim returned to Battelle in Columbus, Ohio to document his findings, which lead to a compilation of his articles resulting in him publishing his first book, Isthmian Ethnobotanical Dictionary.

In 1971, Jim returned to the USDA where he continued to work as an economic botanist  and received assignments such as crop diversification and the challenging position of seeking alternative cash crops for cultivated plants including coca, poppies, and marijuana that were grown for narcotics. He was appointed chief of the Medicinal Plant Laboratory (1977), whose mission was to work in conjunction with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to collect plants that had potential anti-tumor activity. This position took him around the globe as he documented not only toxic plants but also traditional plant knowledge.

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Mayapple Lemonade Duke, J. A. 1985. Herbalbum; An Anthology of Varicose Verse.

Penobscot Indians up in Maine, Had a very pithy sayin’,
Rub the root most everyday, and it’ll take the warts away.

Farther south the Cherokee, echoing Menominee
Made a tea out of the roots, to keep the bugs off potato shoot.

CHORUS: Mayapple lemonade, wildest thing my momma made,
Coolest thing there in the shade, fruits of amber, leaves of jade,

They couldn’t know etoposide, nor of its aid to homicide
Nor could they know the course it charts, for cancer of the private parts.

I’ll venture to prognosticate, before my song is sung
This herb will help alleviate, cancer of the lung.

CHORUS: Mayapple lemonade, wildest thing my momma made,
Coolest herb in the summer shade, swing your partner’n promenade.

Jim’s medicinal plant compilation led to the development of his USDA database that he continued to work on meticulously for decades. After the Reagan administration shut down his program with the NCI, Jim returned to specializing in alternative crops for narcotics. He continued work with this program while he simultaneously began teaching Pharmacy from the Rainforest ecotours down in the Amazon, where he went at least 50 – 60 times…He lost count.


dukegreenpharmacybookJim retired one year early from the USDA in 1995 to write his Rodale bestselling book The Green Pharmacy. The sales of his book secured him the ability to recognize his dream and build the Green Farmacy Garden in his backyard. In 1998, Jim and Peggy converted a portion of their six-acre “Herbal Vineyard” farmette in Fulton, Maryland into a teaching garden designed by John Snitzer and Kerry Kyde. The Green Farmacy Garden, with its 80 plots represent the chapters of his book. These plots are designed to highlight plants associated with conditions and ailments like Alzheimer’s disease, prostate, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, diabetes, yeast, constipation and bacteria. In the garden, Jim taught about traditional uses of plants across our planet, botanical medicine research, and herbal alternatives to pharmaceuticals. He did so with credibility and debunked anything from Big Pharma to what he felt were charlatan claims.

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Hushpuppy

I remember that sad day
In the year 2002
When I heard the TV say
St. John ain’t good for you
I reckon they forgot
What you really oughta know 
2 billion bucks of Zoloft
Placed second to placebo.

Jim was notorious for walking barefoot in his cut off shorts exposing his bowed legs. He had a disdain for cumbersome shoes, and if he did wear any, they were slip-ons with soft soles. This barefoot doctor led groups to the “Gout” plot and recalled how he used celery seed for his condition and that the pharmaceutical colchicine was originally extracted from the Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale).

Aug. 20- sept 13, 2006  plants michael moore openspace 129.jpg

He walked barefoot down in the Amazon, too, while all of us on my trip in 2003 were sporting overpriced hiking boots, quick-dry safari pants and shirts, and gear to repel mosquitoes and avoid the poisonous bite of the fer de lance. Speaking of the Amazon…I’ll never forget one afternoon when Jim called me into his open-air lodge room to show me blue morpho butterflies puddling or drinking minerals from mud right outside his window where he had dumped the contents of his night time chamber pot.

Down in the Amazon, Jim, along with the Peruvian guides, played not only the typical folk songs de ColoresEl Condor Pasa, but also John Denver’s Take Me Home Country Roads. Jim wrote a parody to the tune of John Prine’s Paradise with a dire warning that the state of the Amazon rainforest would be Paradise Lost.

Daddy won’t you take me to the Primary Forest
By the Amazon River where paradise lies (lay)
I’m sorry my son, but the forest is gone!
I’ll show you some slides, that have to suffice!

In addition to the ecotours to the Peruvian Amazon, Jim’s work as an ethnobotanist offered him the opportunity to travel the world in search of medicinal plants while touching the hearts and minds of many – young and old. I was fortunate to have met Jim in my early thirties around 1991 and again in 1997 just after his Green Pharmacy was published and before the garden was installed in 1998. After the garden was built, I volunteered for several years under the guidance of the prior garden director, Holly Vogel. I am forever grateful that Holly asked me to work at the garden as I got to know Jim and his plants as they aged with the garden.

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I accompanied Jim to the Amazon, United Plant Savers (UpS) Goldenseal Sanctuary in Rutland Ohio, Finca Luna Nueva in Costa Rica, Eagle Hill Institute in Maine, Black Mountain and Brevard in North Carolina, Wintergreen Resort in Virginia, and finally, to the country he always wanted to visit, Cuba. From watching Jim traipse muddy paths barefoot in the Amazon basin, to botanizing while skinny dipping with our Tai Sophia class in Ohio, to assisting him with his rollator on cobblestone streets in Cuba, Jim became not only my mentor but also my dear friend. To read Jim’s Cuba food farmacy trip report click here.

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Jim, a proclaimed altar boy turned atheist, claimed he did not believe in spirits. He did, however, talk about plant-to-plant communication from the aromatic spirits, methyl salicylates, of wintergreen. His tales were sprinkled with his ayahuasca vision of watching three women dressed in white taking notes in his garden, as well as a fellow participant, who in her vision, saw her brother die of a heart attack. Although he would never admit it, I have a hunch that Jim, the skeptic, became a believer of shamanic powers when at the end of the tour his student got back to the dock in Iquitos and was handed a note to inform her that her brother had passed.

Jim was a reductionist botanist who believed in the synergistic healing of the whole plant with their thousands of phytochemicals. Jim believed our DNA has been commingling with plant constituents for thousands of years. Jim believed when given herbs, our bodies will mine what constituents it needs. He fervently believed in the healing power of plants.

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After a bout with neuropathy in his legs, Jim started losing his ambulatory abilities and went from compiling away on his computer to a holding pattern, wanting to go. Jim was, in his own words, “waiting for the reaper to come and harvest me.” An apropos metaphor for a botanist. Portending the inevitable, the garden’s ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi), La Soga, The Vine, which had looked healthy just a couple days prior to Thanksgiving died a week before Jim. Could it be that “celestial connections” intertwined these two? He would say no; it was just coincidence. The last words he told me were that he “hates winter.” Two days later the weather abruptly changed from a balmy late autumn to cold and snow. The reaper came and Jim peacefully passed in his home on Sunday, December 10, 2017, ten days before the winter solstice.

As I sit here at his desk, I must confess that I find solace imagining Jim in green pastures of a tropical paradise perpetually playing parodies, plucking plants and waxing poetic varicose verse. May his words, wisdom and spirit continue to educate and inspire for decades, if not centuries, to come.

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He’s a poet, he’s a prophet,
He’s a walking contradiction, kinda low when flying high
He’s a brujo, a soguero
With celestial connections, he now navigates the sky.
And the throwing up was worth the coming down’
And the going up is coming back around!

~ from La Soga. (parody of Kris Kristofferson’s The Pilgrim Chapter 33)

To hear La Soga and several other songs and stories from Jim’s “Herbal Adventures” keynote at Medicines from the Earth, Blue Ridge Assembly,  Black Mountain, NC, June 4, 2011, click on this video produced by Linnea Wardwell’s www.botanicalmedicine.org:

To read a legacy letter from his daughter, Celia Larsen click here.
For a wiki list of Jim’s books click here.
To view Peggy Duke’s artwork on amazon.com click here.

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лох многоцветковый

In reply to a comment on an old post on Goumi (Elaeagnus Multiflora), I mentioned that googling the Russian translation of Elaeagnus multiflora returned some interesting hits.

All of the sites are in Russian but running them through google translate provides a reasonable translation.

These are just a few of the links.

Searching YouTube using лох многоцветковый provides a number of videos as does Searching for videos not on Youtube and then there is this visual feast.

 

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Brix and Nutrient Density

On Permies.com there is a post, Brix Testing, which references Brix Readings, and What They Tell Us. The source of that article is Biologic Ionization as Applied to Farming and Soil Management

Brix has been used for a long time in the wine industry to measure ripeness.  But Brix has been linked to nutrient density.  Nutrient density in foods is considered to be important to overall good health although there is some debate about definition.

Going back to the Permies.com post,

Crops with higher refractive index will have a higher sugar content, higher protein content, higher mineral content and a greater specific gravity or density. This adds up to a sweeter tasting, more mineral nutritious feed with lower nitrates and water content and better storage attributes.

If one accepts that the wine industry knows what it is doing when it uses Brix to measure sugar content in grapes in order to make business decisions about harvest time, then yes, brix measures sugar content. However, extending high brix to indicate “more mineral nutritious food” aka nutrient dense food seems to be a stretch since there doesn’t seem to be anything that confirms that. In fact, when the question is asked of a Brix-nutrient dense proponent, Could someone explain whether it is known that higher Brix fruits/vegetables have higher mineral and protein contents, or is it only known that they have higher sugar/flavor components?,  the answer given is “I’m unaware of any charts or tables that bluntly state something along the lines of “6 Brix tomatoes have 49mg of this, 75mg of that, and 100mg of the other.”

In fact, most of the High Brix=High Nutrient Density commentary leads to Carey Reams: it is known that he created a bombshell in the early 1970’s when he, refractometer in hand, walked into the office of ACRES USA and placed a simple chart on the editor’s desk. That chart correlated brix numbers with four general quality levels for most fruits and vegetables. Copied innumerous times, it has made its way around the world over and over. The Carey Reams story is told in many places so I’ll only link to one here since it includes a link with more Reams history.

A bit of digging leads to some interesting information:  Critique and study of all the works I was able to gather generated by Carey Reams but nothing on the Brix/nutrient dense connection.

There are hints of trials and research here  and  here. But the most tantalizing of all is The Nutrient Dense Project with some test results. Unfortunately, it appears to be a dead effort.

But there is this analysis – Brix and Nutrient Density of raw data from a competition sponsored by International Ag Labs in 2013 to see who could grow the best butternut squash. Unfortunately the data no longer exists at IAL but the winner’s data does exist and the competition data exists elsewhere.  The blogger concludes that [t]here does seem to be a correlation between Brix and mineral nutrients but others have questions –

Unfortunately, I was not able to find the explanation of the nutrient density standard that was used to rank the samples. However, the results show some interesting things:

  • The brix reading does not correlate with protein content.

  • The brix reading does not correlate with calcium content.

  • The brix reading does not seem to correlate with any other mineral content

But there is information that comes close to linking Brix to nutrient density.  This article from Boreal Agrominerals who sell Spanish River Carbonatite, a glacial deposit rock dust high in trace micronutrients such as zinc, copper, sulfur, iron and magnesium.  The application of SRC to asparagus fields resulted in higher yields and higher Brix.  There is no indication of mineral content. In a second trial with field tomatoes, there is an increase in mineral content but no Bris measures. They dance around the edges but never get to the heart.

Perhaps it is possible to see if there is a correlation between Brix and nutrient density without resorting to expensive lab testing.  If we use a mix of peatmoss and perlite in pots and have one pot with nothing but the mix, a second pot with the mix and an N-P-K formula, a third pot with a rock dust such as Spanish River Carbonatite, and a fourth pot with the same amount of N-P-K as the second pot plus the same amount of Spanish River Carbonatite as the third pot. The seed used would all be from the same fruit.  Taking Brix analysis of leaf tissue of each of the four plants at the same time and of ripe fruit at the same time should yield different Brix readings and confirm whether or not those plants with access to more nutrients have higher Brix readings.  Obviously, this does not test for mineral content but knowing that a plant with higher Brix readings came from a plant with greater access to minerals  would be going in the right direction.

Posted in Fruits & Vegetables, Miscellaneous | Leave a comment

Goumi Fruit Bears Fruit

Two months ago, I wrote that  I got to taste the fruit and can say that the quest has been well worth it.  Goumi is a sweet, juicy treat.

Well, those three little rubies have produced more treats – SEEDLINGS!  I stuck the seeds from the three fruit in some barely moist peat moss and put them in the germination fridge.  They got covered over by some bags of stratifying Japanese red maple seeds.  I checked them a couple of times and then forgot about them.  Two days ago when I was checking the JRM seeds, I picked up the baggie with with the goumi seeds and noticed a small root.  It turns out that all three seeds have germinated.  They were eight months in stratification!!!!  I really do wish that I could learn to be completely patient with Nature. Leave things alone and she will give you a yield.

 

Posted in Fruits & Vegetables, Propagation | 4 Comments

Goumi Again

I’ve written a number of times about my attempts to propagate goumi from cuttings that did not overwinter to a seedling that turned out not to be goumi.  Last year I ordered two goumi plants from a Canadian supplier but their supplier did not ship them so that order was cancelled.

This year I place the order again and it was filled with two extremely healthy plants that actually had fruit on them.  I got to taste the fruit and can say that the quest has been well worth it.  Goumi is a sweet, juicy treat.

I decided to have another go at propagating goumi so that I could get them on their own roots in case the graft failed.  I took 10 semi-hardwood cuttings on August 3, dipped them in Stim-Root 10000, and stuck them in an intermittent misting bed where they got 10 seconds of mist every 10 minutes from 7 am to 7 pm.

Slowly the cuttings deteriorated as the leaves yellowed and dropped off – probably a sign of too much water.  I’ve since then increased the perlite:peat ratio up to between 3:1 and 4:1.

One cutting pushed out a new leaf and showed resistance when I tugged gently at the cutting which suggested that roots had formed.  So I gently pried in loose from the rooting medium with a fork and looked at the tiny roots.  I potted in up in a perlite/peat mix gave it a watering with a transplant liquid fertilizer.  Then I put it a sheltered spot out of direct sun.  It failed to put out any more leaves and died.

But today when I looked at the remaining cuttings, two looked promising.  One had put out a new leaf and the other had managed to keep one leaf.  So once again, I carefully pried the cuttings out of the rooting material and found that each had roots started.

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They were potted up in a porous perlite/peat mixture and the roots were dusted with mycorrhizal fungi.  They were then watered with a root stimulant fertilizer that contains Kinetin.

 

Perhaps this time will be the one where I get more goumi plants.

 

Pictures here.

 

Posted in Fruits & Vegetables, Propagation | Leave a comment

Dynamic Accumulators III – Perhaps You Don’t Need Them

Since I first wrote about dynamic accumulators in 2013 and again in 2014, there has been a fairly fundamental change in presentation around the Net.   The Oregon Biodynamic page now produces a “404” message although the information continues to exist in the Internet Archive.  And  Toby Hemenway and Eric Toensmeier who included the Kourik table in their books have now changed their views.  John Kitsteiner, a permaculture practitioner, has blogged about The Facts Behind Dynamic Accumulators and his post has been posted at Geoff Lawton’s permaculture news website.

So it would seem that this set of information is being removed, more or less, from the permaculture environment. Hopefully, it will be replaced by more substantiated information.

I think that a very strong case can be made for not needing the function that dynamic accumulators supposedly served – that of mining micronutrients which could then be made available to the plants in one’s food forest or vegetable garden via chop and drop, plant teas, or compost. It  doesn’t hurt to use so called dynamic accumulators but their function may not be as essential as it was in light of a substantiated, more holistic, soil-based approach.

Elaine Ingham says:

if the proper sets of organisms are present in the soil, and you are growing plants so that there is food for those organisms, nothing else is needed. The plant puts out the exudates from photosynthesis to feed those bacteria and fungi that specifically make the enzymes to solubilize the needed nutrients from the rocks, pebbles, sand, silt, clay and organic matter… There is an infinity of all plant-required nutrients in any kind of parent material. There is no parent material on the planet that lacks the nutrients needed to grow plants. Until the day you run out of rocks, sand, silt, or clay, there should be no need to apply a mineral fertilizer

Whenever  Ingham says that “all agricultural soils have the needed nutrients in them to grow plants. Everything except carbon dioxide, sunlight energy, and nitrogen are in the soil.“(page 24), the immediate intuitive response many is “How can that be?  The land has been farmed continuously for years and is depleted and produces very little. There are plenty of examples of this.”   And that’s correct in the scenario as it currently exists.  But there are examples where land has been commercially farmed continuously for years on a large scale with no chemicals and the yields exceed those of surrounding farms.

Gabe Brown of Bismarck, N.D. has used cover crops and no till for 20+ years. His fields haven’t seen commercial fertilizers since 2008, and it’s been 12 years since any insecticides or fungicides were used. And after having applied herbicides once every two or three years in recent times, the plan for 2013 [was] to completely eliminate such applications and let the cover cocktails and mob grazing do their thing.  He may, in fact, now be totally chemical free.  The county average corn yield where the Browns live is 100 bushels per acre yet their average yield is 127 bushels per acre which is achieved at a cost of only $1.42 per bushel.  The average cost to produce a bushel of corn in the United States is over $5.00 per bushel.   And he’s not the only one doing this.

OK, so it’s about building soil organic matter, not disturbing the soil by tilling, and never leaving the soil uncovered.  If you do that, you will have a healthy soil microbiology including mycorrhizal fungi.

Mycorrhizal fungi explain both what Elaine Ingham is saying and Gabe Brown’s results. Mycorrhizal fungi form symbiotic relationships with most of the plants on the planet. In exchange for sugars from the plant, mycorrhizal fungi provide nutrients and possibly water to the plant.   You can do a soil test and it will tell you, among other things, which nutrients and micro-nutrients your soil is lacking in. If you do a total soil test, you may find that what your soil is apparently lacking is, in fact, there.  Soil tests are designed to detect and measure nutrients that are available for plants to uptake.  Total soil tests include detecting and measuring nutrients that are not in a form that plants can uptake. Mycorrhizal fungi in the soil will transform these nutrients into a form that plants can uptake.

What if the total soil test shows that you a deficiency in some nutrients?  This is where mycorrhizal fungi come in.  They form networks.  Research has established that they network to at least 30 metres although “[t]he role of mycorrhizal networks in forest dynamics is poorly understood because of the elusiveness of their spatial structure. ” Research has determined that mycorrhizal fungi associated with one plant connect with mycorrhizal fungi on adjacent plants:

The indicated ability of AM fungal mycelia to anastomose in soil has implications for the formation of large plant-interlinking functional networks, long-distance nutrient transport and retention of nutrients in readily plant-available pools.

Mycorrhizal network modelling has determined that  [mycorrhizal networks] facilitate transfer of C, nutrients, water, defence signals and allelochemicals

Although much of the research is either speculative or says that much work still needs to be done,  the possibilities are significant: if nutrients in plant-usable form can be moved from an area of higher concentration to an area of lower concentration based on plant needs, then areas naturally deficient in a nutrient(s) might still be productive to us if we manage the soil properly.  It might also mean that degraded areas could be brought back to useful, healthy production.

And if the supposed function of so called dynamic accumulators is made redundant by establishing and maintaining a microbiology-rich soil,  perhaps ongoing soil testing is also redundant.  If you’re going to lab test, perhaps it’s better to test the fruit, vegetable or nut.  If what you’re putting in your mouth has the nutrients that you need, then your soil management  programme is working – the proof is in the pudding carrot.

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