No Dirt Gardening!
A "Natural" Experiment: GMO farming.
This is the World Organic News Podcast for the week ending 27th of March 2017.
Jon Moore reporting!
We begin this week with post from farmer406: No Dirt? No problem: Strawbale Gardening.
The concept of growing food from a bale of straw was odd at first until I thought it through. Commercial growers have been using alternative growing mediums for years, so why not scale it down for the backyard Do-It-Yourselfer? It is, of course, different than growing in dirt.
The idea is to line up a row of straw bales into garden beds. Turn the bales so as to have the stems facing vertically and the bale twine on the sides. This allows for better water retention and the twine doesn’t rot as quickly, usually lasting the entire first season.
The bales are then wetted and some sort of fertiliser added to the top. This done to start the decomposition process. A fish and or kelp based fertiliser is applied and the bales begin to decompose. Into the spaces between the lines of straw, seedlings or seeds are placed. Continue as per any other garden bed.
The advantages of this system are numerous. Good organic matter, great drainage, heated beds at the start of Spring (from the decomposition process), no digging (always a plus for me), almost non existent weed issues, especially if the bales are clean of weeds to start with and a ready made pile of organic matter for next seasons garden beds.
This also a great way to start gardening on compacted soils, thin soils, soils likely to be a bit wet at the start of Spring and excessively sandy soils. All these conditions, except for the excess water require the incorporation of organic matter to render them suitable for gardening. With straw bale gardens you start the process above the soil and let the soil biota, earthworms and microbia do the incorporating for you.
I used a variation of this method by using the straw a bedding for dairy goats over winter and piling the bedding, complete with manures and urine, into garden beds. In all cases the organic matter boost and a food harvest is the outcome.
I have also seen these done with spoiled bales of lucerne hay, that’s alfalfa for those listening in the Americas. To my mind this is overkill but it does bump up the nitrogen levels especially in the second season so it might be an option depending upon your rotation plans.
However you do it, it is a viable option as far as I can see.
Compared to our next post: Doubts About the Promised Bounty of Genetically Modified Crops as reported in the blog: SEPTISPHERE.
To sum up the thrust of the post before we dig a little deeper,
Twenty years ago, Europe largely rejected genetic modification at the same time the United States and Canada were embracing it. Comparing results on the two continents, using independent data as well as academic and industry research, shows how the technology has fallen short of the promise.
The big sales pitch with GMOs back in the late 1908s and 1990s was the promised reduction in pesticides. This has occurred but not in isolation. Whilst the pesticide use has fallen, it is still being used and alongside this use is a huge jump in herbicide use. Let me explain the process of GMO farming. GMO seeds are designed to be resistant to pests and to withstand the application of herbicides. That being the case, each cell of the GMO plant contains a pesticide which is deadly to insects and, apparently, safe for humans and other non insect animals to consume. Therefore there is no need to spray insecticides. Now the resistance to herbicides means a farmer doesn’t need to till between the rows of plants to remove weeds. They just need to spray a herbicide, a herbicide who’s patent coincidently is owned by the GMO seed producers. So the claimed benefits of GMO farming are less pesticides, less tillage and better weed destruction.
The reality is a little more complex. The one thing which appears to have been overlooked is a thing the scientific community like to call: Evolution. “How does that work in this situation?”, I hear you ask. Well, I’m glad you asked.
By spraying the one herbicide the GMO plants were resistant too, glyphosate, you might know it as Roundup, over the populations of weeds, year in and year out, the farmer is in reality changing the local environment of the weed species. Creating a new ecological niche is another way to think of it. Once the weeds were growing in competition to the plough, the crop and the application of herbicides, now the weeds species are living in a niche where resistance to the herbicide alone will ensure reproductive success. It is worth remembering that reproductive success within a given niche is the sole purpose of the evolutionary process.
So not surprisingly, over time, the GMO farming sector has been carefully selecting for weed species with an ability to survive being sprayed by Roundup and then reproducing. Even less surprising is the seeds these plants scatter on their demise are, mostly, also resistant to Roundup. It would appear the resistance to Roundup is on a sliding scale and so further applications of this herbicide were found to be effective at removing many of these semi-resistant individual plants. Can you see where this is heading? Yes, much more herbicide is used in the USA and Canada than in Europe. Ah but I hear you cry, much lest pesticide is also used in North America. Yes but so too is that figure falling in Europe, mainly through the use of ecological methods such as crop rotations, companion planting, interplanting and the retention of hedging which acts a base for insect eating birds and predatory insect species.
Toss in the World Health Organisations findings in 2016 that Glyphosate is a probable carcinogen and the longer term prospects for GMO farming look poor. Remember glyphosate is marketed as Roundup the most ubiquitously used herbicide in not just agricultural settings but also in suburban gardens and local authority weed reduction plans.
If only ten percent of us turned those lawns into straw bale gardens, the use of glyphosate would plummet. The two posts I’ve highlighted this week represent alternative ends of the agricultural spectrum. We have, in the West, since the second world war handed over our food production from the garden level to the industrial. If you think of the health changes in that time, one thing stands out. Body mass, in the both West and the industrialising nations of the world. The experiment has been run on the GMO method and the side effects are, I believe, not worth the expense. So line up your straw bales, shorten your supply lines and taste real food again!
And that brings us to the end of this week’s podcast.
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Thank you for listening and I'll be back in a week.
No Dirt Gardening!
A "Natural" Experiment: GMO farming.
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