Regenerative Land Management
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Hello and welcome to Part 4 of a 6-part recap series.
It’s been a humbling exercise to keep up with all the fun stuff that comes with producing a podcast. Creating new episodes is only one of them.
Interviewing a bunch of rebel back-to-the-landers was a pretty attractive introduction to the idea of starting a podcast and getting good ideas out in the open.
I’ve loved it and am excited to release the other episodes that I have edited and waiting for you.
Doing these recap episodes, however, has been another kind of adventure.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s been an invaluable practice for me to do these reviews. I feel like I’m getting out of this podcasting adventure the education that I was looking for.
All the same, creating audio content from a screen full of notes that you’ve taken from what other people have said is a lot more difficult than just speaking off the cuff.
We humans are intrinsically a part of the planet we live on, and we're as inseparable from it as we are intertwined with its other expressions of lifeforms we co-exist with.
We are all composed of recycled molecules that we cyclically share with bacteria, viruses, other creatures, and the soil itself.
There are plenty of religions that tell the story of how we came from the soil, and to the soil, we return.
Yet we continue to tell ourselves and teach our children, the egoic myths that lead most people to think that we can somehow live healthfully, independent from healthy soil, not to mention the life-enriching variety of other earth dwellers that we share it with.
It’s imperative for us to weave our inherent interconnection with the rest of our planet's existence back into our culture. We’re all part of an organic planet.
Like the unimaginable number of different cells that we need for our bodies to function properly, our planet (our larger self) needs its cellular diversity to remain intact and cared for.
Like us, when the planet loses significant parts of its functioning body, imbalances occur that can be much more difficult to return from than if things were already in a more relative state of balance.
This episode is all about land management and what we’ve learned from those who’ve been doing the work and measuring their results.
Building healthy soil is one of the most important things that any of us could be doing right now. I’m going to say it again; healthy humanity depends on healthy soil.
I’m going to be a little honest with you. I’m not the plant guy of the family. I enjoy planting things here and there, and I love preparing food with fresh harvest from the garden, but I’m generally not the guy you can rely on to keep a seedling alive long enough to transplant it or make sure the fertilization schedule stays current.
This episode was a bit of a challenge for me to get into. I’ve had to shed a bit of my imposter syndrome to be talking to a bunch of plant-enthusiasts about something that I know very little about, compared to them.
At the same time, that’s the theme of this entire podcast. While I certainly have a fair share of things I’ve learned and can teach newcomers to the farm, this has been my season to humble down, take notes and be a student.
Let’s see what that’s looked like.
I’ve divided this episode into three sections. First, we’ll talk about the planning stages of land management, followed by a recap of some of our guests’ soil-building tips. Lastly, we’ll wrap it up with some insights they’ve learned from working with the plants themselves.
Let’s jump in…
It all starts with a good design
Justin Dolan learned a valuable lesson about doing your due diligence and having your land surveyed.
While he strongly recommends doing so before buying your property, it worked out to his advantage when he disputed his neighbor’s practice of spraying herbicides too close to his gardens.
A little investigation taught him that what they both thought was the neighboring golf course’s road, was actually on his side of the property line.
The circumstance drove the golf-course developer toward unexpected production costs, leading them to sell the property to Justin at a low-enough price that Justin was able to take it on and turn it into what’s become the country club’s 18-hole permaculture disk-golf course.
In telling his story, Justin recommends that when negotiating your land purchase, you can often get the seller of your new property to share the costs of that assessment.
Justin also recommends hiring someone to do a biodiversity study, upon buying it, to educate yourself on what you have living on your property. How cool would it be to have a customized bird-watching laminate card for you and your visitors to relate to your neighboring critters with!?
He says that “real” country clubs should be taking care of the countryside. What a concept!
Water management is a crucial element to focus on, for any land project. Amidst that is to give sufficient focus on how we manage our wastewater. Justin’s greywater and blackwater systems are built to bioremediate toxins.
Bioremediation is a process where certain plants break down the molecular structure of certain toxins, transforming them into inert matter.
The methods he uses make both economic and ecological sense.
Some of the plants he uses include planting lana, hemp, fungus, and oysters to filter the water.
He says that hemp is an ideal product to feed with these wastewaters. He also uses plastic bottles filled with biochar to further filter out pathogens.
The Benefits of Greywater and Blackwater
Esteban Acosta was another guest who's put some significant thought into optimizing greywater and blackwater.
His biodigester systems have been refined to a point where they produce cooking gas, by fermenting the kitchen and bathroom wastes produced from a small residential home!
The price of gas keeps going up, folks. Investing in a design that can give you free fuel while creating garden fertilizer is an investment seriously worth considering, especially if you’re still in the process of building or designing a new home.
One thing that Justin expressed that stuck with me was that if you design your communal spaces to be beautiful, people will want to protect and contribute to them.
Justin has an infectious enthusiasm for using his property as a living seed bank. He encourages us to share and propagate as many different seeds as we can find.
Start Printing Your Own Money
Like Nico Botefur from Essence Arenal, Justin encourages us to plant our houses by putting bamboo in the ground as early as possible.
He boasts that it’s like printing your own money. Seeing the price you can pay for prepared bamboo canes in some places, I’d say he’s right.
Nico further reminds us to plant plenty of it and use it liberally in ways that the bamboo poles can be replaced easily. It’s a renewable resource that can be fun to work with once you get the hang of it.
A Food Forest Design Like No Other
At Finca La Isla, Peter Kring has designed his food forests in an impressively systematic way.
His property is designed as a network of crisscrossing rainforest corridors that frame out a series of 1-3 acre lots.
Each of these lots has a themed collection of fruit trees and exotic palms planted within them.
That way, the wildlife can pass through his property freely, and while he loses some quantity of food to these neighboring critters, they contribute to the health of the soil, and therefore trees, in very beneficial ways.
The key is just to plant more trees!
Let Go of Your Attachment to Your Property
His neighbor, Terry Lillian Newton, invites us to try and let go of our attachments to what we think the property should be and learn to appreciate its innate essence.
Terry reminds us that if you want to have horses, plan for plenty of open space and a diversity of grasses, herbs, fruits, and flowers. Plant them all around their grazing areas or along the perimeter.
She recommends learning more about this method in a book called Paddock Paradise, by Jamie Jackson.
Building Healthy Soil
Switching over now to the topic of building healthy soil, we’ll start with Ed Bernhardt, the guy who refers to the back-to-the-land movement as a “silent revolution.” Ed refers to himself as a deep ecologist who aims to live with the land rather than on it.
Ed provides us with several great recipes for making valuable items like fast compost, his “kombucha for the plants,” a kitchen-made insecticide that's suitable for chewing insects, and even a biosand water filter.
Ed also reminds us to do what we can to recycle our waste. Shredding newspaper and food scraps into compost is a great start. If you live in an urban environment, you can look into buying Compost Drums or Worm Bins to make transforming your trash into treasure, faster and tidier.
Bokashi: The Benefits of Microorganisms
Justin Dolan makes his bokashi microorganisms in his livestock corral and uses his animals to mix it. The process adds nutrients to the mix while creating beneficial bacteria that eat pathogens in the corral.
Making bokashi in the animal corals and spraying a tea version of it around the coral keeps it disinfected and smelling great.
In Justin’s bokashi-production video, we also looked at his method of sustaining moisture and nutrients in the soil by creating Biochar.
He digs a big hole, about 2×3 meters wide and a meter or so deep, and fills it with wood waste.
He ignites it, covers it with a dense layer of palm leaves with some sand on top, and leaves it to smolder. He comes back the next day to remove the leaves, and he’s left with a pit full of biochar – enough for the whole year!
His extra touch comes when he removes the biochar. He fills the hole back up with wood to make a hugelkultur bed.
Hugelkultur is this great method of mounting up wood logs and covering them with dirt. That dirt is planted on, and the wood underneath goes through a slow decomposition process, providing long-term fertilizer for the garden.
How Peter Kring Emulates Nature
Peter Kring mimics nature in the ways he applies mulch to his food forests.
He mulches heavily around the dripline of the trees, adding biochar and manure to the mulch. That way, the biochar-inoculated-mulch bed slowly covers the area as the trees develop.
Peter also adds micro-organisms to the mix during wet times of the year.
For more efficient use in your dripline applications, he recommends harvesting mulch from a nearby forest floor and hydrating it to extract the beneficial microorganisms before applying.
When taking harvest from our trees, he encourages us to put something back for the tree to continue to thrive.
Find out what minerals each tree needs and create a schedule of applications. It doesn’t have to be a heavy fertilizing regiment.
A bit of calcium carbonate (or rock phosphate) mixed with some manure and worm compost can be very effective.
He recommends making it in large quantities and then adding your biomass, biochar, and micro-organisms, as needed, throughout the year.
For more information on biochar, Peter recommends checking out the documentary The Secret Of Eldorado – TERRA PRETA, on YouTube.
The Benefits of Soil Improvement
Esteban has proven again and again that Biodynamic-preparation applications significantly improve commercial-scale coffee and wine production.
In his practice of working with other landowners, he teaches those coming from a more conventional background and don’t trust organic methods to consider replacing a small percentage of their fertilizers with compost to start.
That way, they can measure the results and make decisions from there.
He encourages us to grow our biomass precisely where we want to plant our gardens and trees in the coming year.
He primarily uses plants like Macuna & Mexican sunflower for this task. Plant it heavily where you want to plant, and chop it back just before it goes to seed.
This practice aligns with Esteban’s approach of setting up conditions where the soil can feed itself.
Healthy-soil biology largely replaces the need for soil amendments. He recommends using small amounts of high-quality compost with high quantities of cheap biomass grown on the fields.
Simply apply compost tea on top of the biomass. His Biogas installations provide multiple yields of gas & liquid fertilizer in quantities that can allow you to apply an abundance of that tea weekly, or even daily.
Why Building Soil Should Be Your Top Priority
In Nico’s YouTube video, he uses the water from his tilapia ponds to drain directly into his biomass pile, which composts down and is moved to the gardens for top mulching.
He also has hoses to inoculate his garden beds with the tilapia pond water. Nico shares the opinion of many of our guests of how building soil should be the #1 priority when starting a new project.
Now, onto the Wonderful World of Plants
My first guest, Suzanna Leff of Finca Amrta, is as passionately connected to her gardens as anyone I’ve met.
Planting and processing harvest are some of her favorite tactics for helping her volunteers experience the magical qualities of life.
In Finca Amrta’s farm tour video, one of her volunteers describes how they grow their vanilla beans by gently helping each flower pollinate itself. So cool!
Ed Berhardt shared a valuable insight when he pointed out that many medicinal herbs often tolerate shade, making them great to plant near the house or amidst tall trees.
One of the most exciting things I’ve learned from Ed occurred when I went to his place a few years ago, and he taught me how to propagate bamboo by cutting down a culm and creating several 1-meter-long portions from the upper third of the cane.
You cut each piece so that it has at least four nodes. In between each node, you cut a small square out of one side of the culm – big enough for rainwater to get to it.
You plant the cane laying down lengthwise, half in the soil, with the open windows exposed to the elements.
As the culm fills with water and hydrates, it’ll send roots down at each of the nodes, as well as shoots that’ll begin to climb to the sky. It takes a little longer to get going than if you just dig out a more mature shoot from the side of a clump, but it requires much less effort.
Besides the hemp & lana that Justin uses for his blackwater bioremediation, he also uses Mexican Sunflower, a plant that he and Esteban use for Green Manure.
Another one of his favorites to plant around is a bush called Miracle Fruit.
He says that it’s an excellent food for people with diabetes. This miracle fruit removes your ability to taste the acidic qualities of the foods you eat afterward.
This results in sour foods like lemons and vinegar tasting sweet! It’s a great way to satisfy a sweet tooth with non-sweet foods!
How Justin Does it Differently
Justin likes to play with different plants to create microclimates for other plants and his living spaces.
He uses vining plants to cool down the walls of his house and also uses them to create trellised wind-breaks or dappled shade for more delicate foods.
He encourages us to rearrange our perspectives on what medicine is, or can be. He sets the example of planting herbs as a living first aid kit all around and outside your home.
He also encourages us to plant things like neem, hombre grande, madero negro, garlic, and chili, to be used as ingredients for natural pest control. In some cases, it might even be worth importing some beneficial insects like the praying mantis or ladybugs to eat more invasive species like ants and mites.
Besides, who wouldn’t love to see more praying mantises and ladybugs around, right?
While he recommends that we remove weak and dying plants to keep insects away, he also reminds us that intentionally stressing plants can build resilience in some cases.
Peter Kring's Incredible Tips
Peter Kring is another master gardener who turned out to be a treasure trove of tips. Most notably, he recommends that most fruiting trees should be pruned after their fruiting cycles.
You have to do your homework, though.
Some fruits, like rambutan, can be pruned back as much as 2 meters, while others, like the mangosteen, don't like to be pruned at all.
Peter’s nursery operation consists primarily of grafted durian, chompadek, and other exotic fruits that produce better quality fruits faster when they're propagated as a graft.
As he explains in his YouTube video on the topic, it can shave several years off the time you might have to wait for the tree to bear mature fruits.
Another little tip that he gave us is that if you mix the variety of durian trees you plant in an area, they’ll pollinate each other, and the diversity will increase your harvest seasons. I’ve seen similar things done with avocados.
A Powerful Way to Irrigate Your Gardens
While, like me, Lynx Guimond may not necessarily be Sailcargo’s go-to plant-management guy, the tour we took on his farm really blew me away.
There are far more foods that can be planted near the beach than I ever imagined.
For any properties that need to conserve water, he’s demonstrated, yet again, that greywater filtration is a powerful way to water your gardens in a nutrient-rich way.
I’ll leave you with one final tip that I’ve picked up from my own land management learnings. It’s in alignment with the principle often described as Value the Marginal.
While planting food has its obvious value and importance, don’t skimp on the pollinators. We need to plant pretty things.
If not for ourselves and the aesthetic pleasure of our guests, we need a diversity of flowers in our gardens to attract the ever-vigilant birds and bees that make our gardens an Eden.
Thank you for making it this far
Whew! I know this episode was jam-packed with valuable information, so for your convienence, we've created an awesome, downloadable PDF that contains all the tips and tricks from this episode! You can download it here: https://sharinginsights.net/land-management-tips-pdf
With that, my friends, I bid you a wonderful rest of your day.
Remember to subscribe to the podcast if you haven’t already, so you’ll get notified when I eventually release our next episode on natural and sustainable construction methods.
Go find a seed and plant it somewhere lovely!
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Special thanks to Peter Mukuru for editing this episode!
- Music: Rite of Passage by Kevin MacLeod
- Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4291-rite-of-passage
- License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/