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The Secret of Walla Walla Secret Sweet Onions

Walla Walla onions are the official state vegetable of Washington state. But there’s a special secret to these onions’ deliciousness. The reason WallaWalla onions taste amazing is the amazing prime farmland soils in Walla Walla. Some of the richest most fertile soils on the planet grow onions that can actually be eaten raw with a smile. For more info on the growth of Walla Walla sweet onions, take a look at this History Link article.

Kill Slugs Safely, Improving Soil Health

Seaweed

Besides being an excellent natural slug repellent, seaweed is a good soil amendment.

Seaweed repels or kills slugs because it is salty. Mulch it around the perimeter of the area you want to protect, piling it a few inches thick, to create a barrier. It will improve the soil while repelling snails and slugs.

Diatomaceous Earth

Commonly known as Insect Dust, Diatomaceous Earth repels snails and slugs because it is sharp and jagged, made of microscopic skeletal remains. You can sprinkle it on plants, around the plant bed as a barrier, or make a spray with it. Mix it with water to spray on plant leaf surfaces. Experiment to see how it works best with the snail and slugs in your garden. Diatomaceous Earth is an excellent soil amendment, giving the soil microscopic spaces for air circulation, for improved water retention, and for microbial habitat.

Healthy Soil, Healthy Wine

One of the current “best practices” for the wine industry is biodynamic viticulture, as successfully practiced in Oregon and for many decades, if not centuries, in Europe. Wines grown with biodynamic practices have “brightness and a purity of place.” Terroir is the word, something with a lot of cache these days.

At Bergstrom Wines in Newborn, Oregon, Josh Bergstrom, the winemaker, studied viticulture in Burgundy, France. He found that the best producers had biodynamics in common, so he adopted biodynamics in his family’s estate vineyards.  This means no synthetic chemicals or fertiziers. It focuses on building soil health and adding animal and plant biodiversity. The wine produced by Bergstrom has no residual insecticides or pesticides, plus tasting “bright” and earthy, with its natural terroir due to grapes grown in living soils rather than chemically altered or degraded soils.

In September 2016, Oregon’s King Estate Winery became the largest biodynamic vineyard in the United States, as certified by Demeter USA. Demeter USA is the world’s only certifier of biodynamic farms and products.

Check out the full article in Alaska Beyond, the onboard mag from Alaska Airlines, page 73 of the April 2017 issue: “Ecology Meets Enology” by Kerry Newberry.

“Healthy Soil is the Real Key to Feeding the World”

Dr. David Montgomery of the Dig2Grow team is at it again in this groundbreaking article that cuts through some nasty and pervasive myths about food and agriculture. Professor Montgomery notes “The key to sustaining highly productive agriculture lies in rebuilding healthy, fertile soil.”

Here are three big myths that he goes on to disprove:
Myth # 1, that large-scale agriculture feeds the world today:  not true because family farms produce more than 75% of the world’s food today.
Myth #2,  that large farms are more efficient:  not true because small diverse farms produce more than twice as much per acre as large farms.
Myth # 3, that conventional farming is needed to feed the world:  not true because conventional farming depletes and degrades the soil, making it unsustainable over time.

Check out the whole article, “Healthy soil is the real key to feeding the world.”

Call For Proposals For Soil Health Projects

The Washington Soil Health Committee is announcing the availability of competitive grants to stimulate the development and adoption of innovative approaches and technologies related to Soil Health on Washington agricultural and forest lands lands, as defined below. Proposals will be accepted from eligible entities in Washington State. The Soil Health Committee anticipates that the amount of funding available for support will be up to $10,000 per year for each approved proposal, subject to appropriations actions. Proposals for competitive consideration of grant awards for single or multi-year projects not to exceed 3 years in duration are requested for projects that focus on innovation, resource assessment, research, education, and public outreach. Proposals will be considered from conservation districts, non-profit organizations, governmental entities, and landowners.

For complete information and to apply, see this document.

“We Are Legion”

“We are legion.” Mushrooms, or Fungi, are everywhere.  They are an essential component of healthy soil. As old as the oldest plants, and far older than animals, fungi occupy their own branch in the tree of evolution. Without fungi, green plants would perish. They restrict the length of life and prevent abnormal reproduction of both plans and animals. Without fungi, neither plants nor animals would survive. We have much to learn about how to live productively with our fungal friends, but one novel partnership has proven successful in the Swiss Alps.

As reported in Earth, January/February 2017 at p. 36, mycorrhizal fungi used to inoculate plant roots on steep, eroding, gravelly hillsides stabilized the hillsides within a few years of inoculation. It turns out that fungi can be an eco-engineering tool to stabilize steep slopes.

As Paul Hallett, a soil scientist at the University of Aberdeen Scotland, reported, the study shows that “there are benefits to using a fungal inoculum in restoring a quite degraded alpine environment.”  The next step is to establish more field sites to test a “wide assortment of environments exploring the influence of both plans and microbial diversity on stabilization.”
The Washington State Soil Health Committee hopes to find a good field site to demonstrate an eco-friendly way to mitigate slide hazards, especially on sites disturbed by construction, logging, or other human activities.

Must Read — The Hidden Half of Nature

The Dig 2 Grow team (David Montgomery and Anne Biklé) recently released The Hidden Half of Nature, an exploration of earth’s smallest creatures — microbes. Specifically, microbes in the earth beneath our feet. Kirkus Reviews acclaims the book as “A must-read for avid gardeners, those interested in bolstering our precarious food supply, or anyone remotely concerned with their health and the soil under their feet.” Learn more about The Hidden Half of Nature here, and follow their Facebook page for fascinating insights on microbes and soils.

A Year of Soil Health Projects and Progress

Five state-wide soil health projects funded by the Washington State Soil Health Committee (“SHC”) in 2016 have achieved excellent results. In late fall of 2015, the Washington State Soil Health Committee awarded grants to four organizations to conduct soil health field trials across the state. By September 1, 2016, reports were in for all projects, with initial evidence of positive findings.

These projects explored soil health issues in diverse geographic areas, from the forests of the Nisqually River watershed to small farms in San Juan County, from a vineyard and orchard in Klickitat and Skamania counties to dryland farming in the Columbia Plateau, as well as pasture lands across the state. New strategies for improving soil health were tested, documented, and are now being published and shared with farmers, ranchers, and resource conservationists.

Preliminary results in San Juan County show that biochar, when added to crop soils, significantly increases total carbon content as well as enhancing soil nutrient and moisture retention. When the crops are harvested in the spring of 2017, all indications are that there will be a significant overall improvement in plant productivity.

In Klickitat and Skamania counties, soil health has been significantly enhanced by adding a thin layer of compost to orchard and vineyard soils along with a cover crop to a degraded pasture. These soils have been tested using the Haney soil heath score and are measurably improved by the addition of compost. The recovery of soils in the degraded pastureland has been remarkable to date and will be monitored and tested in the spring of 2017.

In the Nisqually River watershed, forest soil health has been found to benefit in many ways from longer rotations and attention to conservation of topsoil. The Nisqually Community Forest will serve as a statewide model for forest management, with increased focus on the importance of managing forest soils through best management practices.

Finally, Foster Creek Conservation District developed a draft strategic plan and purchased equipment to instigate a long-term Soil Testing and Monitoring program within the Douglas County region. This new program commences in spring 2017 and will assess changes in the soil for participants in FCCD’s Direct Seed program. Two soil health workshops were held for local producers – one in June (in collaboration with Okanogan Conservation District), focused on cover crops and direct seed, the second in November targeting crop rotation. A copy of the Symphony of the Soil Educational DVD Collection was also purchased, and is available for loan to Douglas County producers.

To achieve these excellent results, the SHC worked in partnership with soil scientists and other experts from WSU, UW School of Environmental Sciences, NRCS, Nisqually River Council, Nisqually Land Trust, Nisqually Tribe, Northwest Natural Resource Group, Microbial Matrix Systems, Inc., Domain Pouillon Vineyard, Dirt Hugger, Forage, DOE, as well as the four projects managers, the Foster Creek Conservation District, the San Juan Islands Conservation District, the Underwood Conservation District, and the Washington Environmental Council. The SHC is funded through a partnership agreement between the Washington State Conservation Commission and NRCS.

“Scientists Sound Alarm on Climate”

“Soils around the planet are soaking up far less carbon than we previously believed. This is a harrowing development. Soils absorb trillions of tons of carbon that would otherwise end up in the atmosphere. However, recently released research revealed that soil will absorb far less carbon as we near the year 2100 than was previously estimated. That means this is yet another factor that will cause more warming to the planet.” 

Dahl Jamail, “Scientists Sound Alarm on Climate,” October 3, 2016, Truthout

Pesticides and the Future of AgroSpheres

Two undergraduates may have saved the planet from the toxic residue of agricultural pesticides. In 2006 and 2007, the EPA found that the world was flooded with 5.2 billion pounds of pesticides each year. The breakthrough invented by two U. of Virginia undergraduates is to speed the degradation of these pesticides on the surface of plants. Currently it takes weeks, sometimes months, for the toxic effects of the pesticides to wear off. The new solution, called AgroSpheres, is doing this in a matter of hours.
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AgroSpheres consist of a tiny ball of enzymes created biologically to breakdown pesticides into other products that are non-toxic, such as sugars or fats. This new process is currently being tested on a vineyard in Virginia. It will allow safe harvesting sooner and faster, ultimately protecting the health of the farm workers as well as the plants and their living soil communities, which would otherwise be contaminated by these toxins for weeks or months after each pesticide spraying. Read the full story in the Smithsonian’s “Could These College Inventors Tackle the Global Pesticide Problem?”