Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Compost is awesome

Composting has the potential to save the world.  The more composting that we accomplish, the more food we will be able to generate and the easier it will be to reduce the current CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

CO2 levels in atmosphere

Bokashi composting is especially good for many different reasons.  Bokashi reduces the potential for pathogenic activity in compost while speeding up the decomposition process.  Soil that is produced using the bokashi composting system is excellent for increasing the productivity of unhealthy soils.

The lactic bacteria that are a part of the bokashi composting system are beneficial in many ways.  Many of them are commonly found within our own digestive systems and have been proven to have a beneficial effect on our digestion.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


Paulownia is an amazing tree.  Specific species of paulownia are being used around the world to produce food and quality wood while protecting soil and water run-offs and sheltering crops that prefer shade.

The seedlings grow slowly and are delicate.  Once established they are difficult to remove without exerted intelligent effort.  Growing a plant such as this requires a systemic approach to farming.

Biomass produced per acre exceeds III type expectations for lignous crops of any kind.  Moringa being the one known exception provided high environmental humidity and sunlight.  Some species of Paulownia grow slowly, while others produce a dense bush, rapidly.  Lopping off at the ground each year before winter produces a type of natural growth that is just amazing to behold.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Biogas Digesters on Mt. Everest

Engineers are helping to develop a system to convert the 12 tons of poop left on Mt. Everest by climbers each year into useful energy for local residents.  What was previously an environmental problem is well on it's way to becoming a beneficial resource for warming and lighting homes.

Picture by Paul Sober
The difficulty with using the poop directly as an input to a traditional bio-digester is that it's extremely cold there and there is not a lot of carbonaceous bio-waste laying around (because stuff just doesn't grow very well there).  Engineers have designed a system using solar cells and batteries to increase the temperature to an acceptable level and they're working on a system to increase the carbon:nitrogen ratio so that the gas produced will have lower CO2 levels.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Perrennial Grain Crops

The Land Institute is working on a project called the Perennial Agriculture Project, which studies perennial crops (grains) for farmers and agriculture. 

It's exciting stuff because perennial plants don't have to be replanted each year.  The fields aren't torn up every single year, so that the farmer only has to care for the plants and harvest the crop.  This represents a significant reduction in fuel costs.  Also perennials have more extensive root systems and are capable of pulling nutrients from deeper in the soil.  Those deep root systems also increase drought tolerance and general crop stability.

Growing perennials is generally cheaper, which usually means that it has a lower energy cost.  Energy cost is a major factor when considering the environmental impact of some activity vs. the returned benefit.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Bokashi Composting

Bokashi composting is a great way to process biodegradable wastes into rich, healthy compost.  It is really amazing stuff.  Food wastes often contain chemical energy in the form of sugars and carbohydrates that are easy for insects and pathogenic bacterias and yeasts to use for their own nefarious purposes.  By fermenting food wastes with lactic acid bacteria, free energy is converted into lactic acid which prevents pathogenic bacterias, molds and yeasts from growing.

bokashi compost fermenting

Insects and plant seeds are also sterilized in the process, so that the output is rich, sanitary food for the biological processes in healthy soil.  Bokashi compost decomposes rapidly in the soil so that nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, present in the food waste, is made available to the plants as they need it for their growth processes.  The extra bio-matter provided by the food waste also improves water retention and porosity of the soil, which results in healthier, more productive soil.

finished compost

Bokashi at home is simple to do.  The easiest method is to purchase some bokashi bran on the internet or from a local enthusiast or gardening group.  Then you put your food scraps into a bucket and sprinkle the bran on in layers.  It's really that simple.  Keep the bucket sealed and it will be free from bugs and offensive odors.  It smells a little like fermenting cider.  After a few weeks of fermenting, just dig it into the soil and watch your garden flourish.

Bokashi bran is easy to make by spraying some bacteria culture onto some wheat or rice bran and then allowing it to dry.  You can purchase a lactic acid bacteria culture, like the one developed by Dr. Higa Teruo and sold by Teraganix, or make your own by cultivating lactic acid bacteria already present in your environment.


Learning about the bacterias and yeasts that are present in the environment around me has been an educational experience.  Lactic acid bacteria consume sugars, such as lactose, the sugar found in milk, and they produce lactic acid, which is a natural preservative.  Culinary strains of lactic acid bacteria are used to make yogurt, kefir and many other fermented foods.

I believe that bokashi composting, and industrial processes developed using the principles of bokashi composting are going to make it possible for normal economic and business patterns to repair environmental problems related to environmental imbalances caused by uncontrolled release of greenhouse gasses.

Written by: Paul Sober

Friday, October 23, 2015

Drought tolerant crop plants

I live in California, where we have had water restrictions for many years.  It is frustrating for me, because I am a farmer.  Farms operate on water.  Crops die when there isn't water.

In an environment where water is scarce, growing drought tolerant crops is a great way to decrease risk of loss while decreasing consumption of valuable resources.  Additionally, growing drought tolerant crops is a great way to build soil and reduce evaporative losses from the soil because drought tolerant plants have natural biological systems in their leaves to protect their internal water supply, while converting sunlight into chemical energy and useful crops.

desert herbs

Many drought resistant crops produce essential oils in their leaves, or have other mechanisms to protect their leaves from the effects of summer heat and reduced water availability.  The leaves of drought tolerant edible herbs get coarser and more flavorful as they adapt to a drier environment, meaning that the summer heat and dryness are actually an important part of making the crop more aromatic and therefore, more valuable.

Greenhouse cultivation of these crops is generally pest free since the oils in the plants are also often a mechanism to reduce palatability for insects.  Most bugs will go running directly in the opposite direction when they get a whiff of a plant like fringed sage, which has a strong camphorous odor.

Aromatic, repellant plants, when grown in between rows of tomatoes, successfully repels most insects, so that no chemicals have to be applied to the tomato plants.  It's true that some insects may not be completely driven away by this trick, but generally, I believe that this way of growing plants produces two different crops simultaneously, without having to go around spraying all kinds of stuff on anything. 

Drought tolerant crop plants
  • goji
  • paulownia
  • wormwood
  • fringed sage
  • wyoming sage
  • any of the artemesia genus
  • silver sagebrush
  • sage
  • white sage
  • elektra sage
  • santolina
Plants from this group, grow and propagate reliably and with reduced water requirements once established.  Roots usually grow down till they reach sufficient water to sustain themselves indefinitely without irrigation.  This ability is what has helped these amazing plants to remain alive through environmental adversity, such as it exists in the deserts and in other arid wild-lands.

fringed sage

A field of white sage, in the morning, just after a rain, is a beautiful thing to behold.

Essential oils have many uses, including protecting harvested grain from insects. 

Generally, these oils have a pleasant, camphorous or piney odor.

Most of these plants have extensive networks of roots that prevent them from being transplanted successfully.  Cultivation from seed requires a little care and patience, and they are generally easy to care for once established.  Plants that have been heavily pruned will survive stress better with more strength and continued vitality.  The leaves of artemisia plants are generally soft and velvety with a silver/grey hue.  Old growth has a dingy, grey appearance, while fresh, new growth is bright and sparkly.


Friday, October 16, 2015

Poo Power!

The largest wastewater facility in New York City, The Newton Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, is being redesigned and re-engineered to produce methane fuel and fertilizer from raw sewage.  It's totally awesome.

Giant digesters, in the shape of massive steel eggs, are capable of processing 1.5 million gallons of sludge every day.  It's exciting because all that bio-matter is capable of returning to the soil, where it can benefit agricultural operations.