It has been suggested that this period of the 21st Century might well be called The Age of Biology, because the biggest challenges will be biological and the biggest breakthroughs will be in the realm of biology.
In this article, we will continue the discussion from the last issue on Biological Agriculture and Gardening, but this time going into specifics of biological thinking, biological discoveries and applications that improve plant and food success with biological solutions.
- One of the most important ideas I was introduced to at the AcresUSA Conference was the fact that insects and plant diseases have simple digestive systems that cannot break down complex carbohydrates, proteins and plant oils. Therefore if a plant is well-nourished and can store complete carbohydrates, they will not be attacked by pathogens like fusarium blight; when plants are still healthier and can store complete proteins, aphids, corn earworm and cabbage looper will no longer be able to eat them; when plants can store complete lipids (plant oils), powdery mildew, late blight and fireblight cease to attack them; and when the plant is healthy enough to build complex essential oils, they cannot be attacked by beetles, and they have a high level of tolerance to environmental stresses. This is not a theory; it is based on field experience. This means pest resistance or immunity can be achieved through nutrition. And plant nutrition depends on a proper balance of nutrients and a strong microbial community to digest the nutrients and make them plant-available. Therefore over time, soil building could replace or reduce other forms of pest management.
- Grow your own fertilizer with cover crops that use the natural force of photosynthesis to build organic matter and, with legumes, nitrogen. Then cut it down, spray it with a combination of beneficial soil bacteria and fungi to encourage rapid decomposition, and turn it into the soil to feed the soil life and your next crop.
- Brewing compost tea is a method for very rapidly increasing populations of beneficial soil microorganisms, and for digesting organic fertilizers like fish hydrolase, into a more valuable plant food. This process requires a high level of aeration to support the soil microbes, and offers a local source for soil innoculant and plant fertilizer.
- Plants send as much as 60%-80% of the nutrients they produce in photosynthesis to the community of beneficial bacteria and beneficial fungi in the neighborhood of their root zone. To human thinking, this is “giving away the farm”, but plants and their soil community are so interconnected and interdependent, they do not see themselves as separate. This is how they have adapted to survive.
- When insects hatch and begin to feed on plants, the plant chemistry begins to change. This “wound signal” moves into the root zone with the normal nutrient “leakage”. This chemical signal is then carried through the vast network of fungal mycelium to hundreds or thousands of other plants, who “read” the signal and begin to change their chemistry to be offensive or even lethal to the insects. This natural defense system works best when there is a strong microbial population, and when plant have enough nutrition to build their defense chemicals.
- The idea that bacteria and fungi are the digestive system of plants is not unique. Termites cannot digest cellulose in the wood they eat, but bacteria in their guts can. Plant roots of legumes cannot “fix” or capture nitrogen from the air, but the bacteria in their roots can. We animals also have beneficial bacteria living in our digestive systems which are essential to our well-being, and which we notice most often after we have killed them with a dose of antibiotics. Interspecies cohabitation, as in lichens and coral reefs, are common in nature. Paul Hawkin once said, there are so many microorganisms living in and on our human bodies, we should refer to ourselves as We, not I.
- German researchers recently discovered that there are three separate “families” of bacteria living in human guts. These “enterotypes” are as distinct as blood types and may explain why the effect of medicines and nutrients vary widely from person to person.
- Chemists have never been able to explain why compost, which usually contains less than 1% NPK, has such a strong beneficial effect on plants. That is because the answer is biological, not chemical. Compost feeds the soil life which dynamically increases the availability of nutrients in the soil, as well as increasing the populations of microorganisms.
- More and more new patents are for biological fungicides and insecticides, which can non-toxically replace petrochemical products.
- Worm casting and compost teas sprayed onto the foliage of plants have been found to prevent fungus problems and even some insect damage.
- An investment in seeds of flowers that bloom through the summer will give you more pest control (through beneficial insects) than the same investment in pesticides.
- ”Push-pull” technology developed in Kenya and adopted by 46,000 small farmers, uses biological thinking. Maize is intercropped with a repellant plant and is surrounded by an attractive trap plant in the border. A destructive pest is “pushed” by the repellant plant and “pulled” by the attractant plant which together protect the maize. The system also reduces a prevalent weed, reduces erosion, increases soil organic matter, fixes nitrogen, conserves soil moisture and supports beneficial insects.