This workshop was presented at the Inland Northwest Permaculture Convergence and many people wanted to see this workshop who could not attend, so we are writing it up for everyone to see.

i traveled and did projects in india for 2 years.  what i discovered is they have a 10,000 year history of sustainable farming there.  in the european system we used tilling and have destroyed our soils even making wars to claim new soils when our soils no longer produce.

it was a major shift for me to see that every soil has what every crop needs  (elaine ingham has gone all over the world including saudi arabia and found this).  all the soil tests are about what is available.  microbes make whatever is in the soil available.  

so what they have done in india for all these years is to make what i call microbe tea which in their case is made from cow dung, cow urine, a legume flour and molasses which is fermented for 3 days.  they call this givumreitum and many other names (many languages in India)  with this method they can use 1 cow for 30 acres.

they add nothing more to the soil and have gotten crops for thousands of years, although they traditionally used cropping systems with diverse plantings, usually .  Six different crops.  The system was replaced with our western type system with the green revolution.

see my web site for an example of a cropping system.

one of the reasons i am so excited about this is that putting the microbes back into the soil means that the carbon sponge which is the essence of the ecosystem is reestablished.  the CO2 from the air is sequestered in the ground.

Important Themes.  These themes are outside of what Toby Hemenway calls the agriculture paradigm in his video Agriculture Will Never Be Sustainable.  If they are outside our normal paradigm they are hard to comprehend.  Read over them maybe once a day for a while and see how they change what you will do on your land.

  1. All soils have everything every plants needs.  Elaine Ingham tested many soils around the world and found this was true.  What most soil tests show is what is available.  What makes what every soil has available is the soil microbes.
  2. Plants do not have intestines in their bodies as animals do.  Their intestines are in the soil microbes that take their secretions of carbohydrates and return to them minerals they extract from the soil.  This is how forests grow and plants throughout time.
  3. The microbes working with the plants help form 4 plant layers.  1) carbohydrate layer, 2) protein layer, 3) lipid layer and 4) secondary plant metabolite layer.  None but the carbohydrate layer is complete without microbe partners.  To animals this means that the microbiome of the animal is not fed resulting in the huge increase in chronic diseases we have seen in humans.  A name is being used for foods which feed animal microbiomes.  It is nutrient dense food.
  4. when these 4 layers are present the plant has the ability to resist insects.  Please see the Bionutrient association for a huge selection of scientific information about what this means including that plants which are attacked by pests are actually not fit for human consumption
  5. Plants grown with the microbe partners will resist weeds.  The microbe partners  create an environment that feeds those plants and does not feed the weeds.   This is as simple as a more fungal based microbial pattern will not support weeds.  There is also a pH factor, more acidic soils support more weeds.
  6. the amazing thing is that, without tilling, the soil will hold more than 250,000 gallons of water per acre.  with tilling the mycorrhizals and the glomulin that holds that water are destroyed (as well as soil compaction, fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides)   more than 70% of their crops are grown without  irrigation , often with less than 20 inches of rain a year coming in 2 separate monsoons with very little water in between.  the plants  with the help of their microbe partners take the water out of the soil and do well.
  7. This main thing I hear with this microbe inoculation based no till system is where do the      microbes get their organic matter.  First of all they get it from the plants that we plant and they partner with.  The other very important place they get their organic matter is from the dead bodies of the microbes.  The microbes have a rapid cycling and 60-70 % of organic material may come from the bodies of the microbes.  

How to get the microbe partners into the soil.

I use microbe inoculations.  Holistic management uses animals with rumen such as cows to deposit manure and urine on the soil which because of the rumen are fermented which enhance microbial life. I mention holistic management because they are working with millions of acres around the world bringing back rivers and turning arid deserts into lush plains.   In permaculture the method of choice is compost.  Most compost does not have mycorrhizals.  Animal droppings probably do not have mycorrhizals either so microbes probably will encourage mycorrhizals.  One thing I noticed by digging in 20 people’s yards which had been receiving 4-5 inches of compost a year was that there was a line at the bottom where they had applied the compost and the soil was not extending down past this line.  This might be the result of too much compost.  The idea of compost is not to substitute compost for your soil  but to feed the soil so that it begins making top soil, which means the microbes are taking off and growing on their own.  If the microbes take off this means that after several years you would not need to continue with compost or microbe inoculations.  One thing that might stop this is acid rain and toxins which is killing microbes around the world.  This is why the forests are doing so poorly.  They need microbe inoculations to rebalance their soils.

Mycorrhizals needs to attach themselves to plant roots so it is best to soak the cover crop or whatever crop you want to plant in microbes before planting.  Once planted I also spray about every 10 days with mycorrhizals and bacteria with my 4 gallon back pack sprayer.  Some folks believe that the pressure in the big sprayers might kill the microbes.    I buy soluble mycorrhizals from Fungi Perfecti (an Olympia, Washington Company).  They ship very quickly.  I buy bacteria from TeraGanix effective microorganisms EM1.  I use smaller than recommended amounts 1 tsp of EM and 1 tblsp of mycorrhizals with 1 tblsp of molasses and 1 tblsp of kelp.  

Compost tea is made from compost with a bubbler.  Geoff Lawton recommends this for areas too large to use compost.

There are a whole array of commercial companies now that are suggesting what to add to the microbes to get fantastic results the first year.  It is usually some trace minerals.  The idea is to get the microbes to grow quickly.  What I add is kelp and chick pea flour for the mycorrhizals and molasses for the bacteria.   I like to add volcanic ash which is often in layers in soils near us for the trace minerals.    

I see fairly rapidly a blackening of my soil which we used to call humus.  One garden I did I had humus down to 18 inches after 3 months.  After one month it was 6 inches, 2 months 12 inches.  

If you have alkaline soils I would use a chop and drop tree area.   Example:  If you are growing grains or beans and your harvester is 10 feet wide then put in trees such as mimosa and mulberry (or whatever does well locally) in a 4 foot swath between where the harvester will grow.   Mimosa is nitrogen fixing.  Both of these trees are fast growing.  In India they will allow a central leader to turn into a tree and then use the side shoots for chop and drop.  In increasingly hot climates, shade does a lot of good.  Vary this as works for you.  The ideas is to get some wood into the soil and for me it is too much work to get it from off site, so I grow it on site.  Chop and drop the trees leaving a woody layer on top of the soil.  


The main reasons our soils have no microbes is because of tilling.  Another reason is acid rain, and toxins in the soil.  Many people want to know how to farm or garden without tilling.

For big operations a lot of counties in the U.S. have no till seed drills that you can rent. These machines both lay down the previous crop and make little cuts in the soil to allow the current planting to be drilled into the soil and then covered.  Running a chisel plow or Yeoman;s plow on contour will make cuts that can be planted.  You can also cover with a tarp for small areas.  In about 1 month you will be able to plant into that area.  

Broadcasting of seed into a crop.   Many arid areas get much better results planting in the fall. For a fall planting,  it is necessary to lay down the existing  cover crop,    This can be done with tarps.  It can be done with a roller.  It can be done with walking on the crop with humans or animals.  The crop is usually lies itself on the  ground by the spring and in the early spring you can plant into it.  Find out from farmers in the area how spring plantings work compared with fall plantings.   If you have harvested the crop, then you can plant in the fall into the stupple.  For vegetables or fruits, where you have harvested the crops there will be space and you can broadcast into that space.  

I was speaking with someone this morning who was making a slurry (slurpy, muddy mix) to which she had added her seeds and then spread.  I suggested she add the microbe inoculant to this mix.  I also suggested that it might work better to broadcast the seeds, spray in the microbes and then put a  small amount of soil on top.  Or you could use straw or weeds, anything to cover the seeds will increase the change of germination.   M. Fukuoka recommended we use seed balls.  There are lots of ways on the internet to make seed balls.