Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Seed Germination & Old School Ideology vrs How Nature Actually Works

Plant Propagation, Seeds Germination
The art work here beautifully illustrates it all for us on just how a Plant's life begins as a seed.  You may most likely have seen this in some Elementary School Science Project when the teacher takes a large glass jar, creates a cylinder roll with a paper towel & lines it around the jars interior. He/She then proceeds to put a small amount of water in the bottom of the jar, maybe a couple of inches. Then you can watch the as the water moves upwards in the paper towel just as sap moves up a tree. Once the towel is saturated, the teacher then proceeded to  insert the seeds one by one in between the wet paper towel and glass. The all you had to do was watch it grow.
Paloverde seeds
I actually did this once, but rather with some Catsclaw Acacia and Blue Palo Verde seeds. At the time I was about 18 years old when I conducted that life changing experiment, but more on that later. These seeds are probably the best and easiest of the wild seeds to accomplish such an experiment and especially is it extremely illustrative and fun for your children if you are a parent.

Now here's something from the "Science is the ever self-correct mechanism ever evolving ever improving animal" Department,  that I would have thought was figured out and completely understood a long time ago when it comes to seed germination. So is science really self correcting ????? emmmm, well sort of ! Quite often it's ideologically, politically, economically or even on rare occasions religiously driven, but that's another subject. One of the claims by those who have blind faith in the way Science is supposed to work, is that the advantage of scientific investigation is that if someone claims to have made a discovery of how to create cold-fussion energy, then that claim can be proven to be false or unwarranted by further research and scientific testing. This rosy picture of this science as an infallible enterprise suggests that scientific errors will be recognized and corrected, with false claims falling by the wayside during science’s inexorable march forward. There's one problem with this worshipful affirmation. The problem is that things never really work that way because life is far more complicated as a result of human imperfection and error. Like any other human endeavor, scientists & scientific inquiry can become stained or tainted by the same imperfect qualities of  stupidity, bias, negligence, lying and deceit that plague all other human beings. Still, one would hope that certain progress in some simple areas would have changed by now even after many decades.

This brings me to what is the best Nature-Based techniques for seed germination ? By nature based, I mean how does it work best in nature ? Surely many of the professional Plant Nurseries know what good propagation techniques are all about. Why they are in the business of caring about good result$, but then maybe some don't know after all. Maybe it's a numbers game for them too and they may play by the percentages game as well. Here's what I'm talking about. A few days ago I visited the San Diego Safari Park's website. I guess they've changed their name from San Diego Wild Animal Park, - whatever. I didn't realize it at the time, but their website has a blog section where articles from various departments within the Zoo are published with public comments allowed at the bottom.

Planting Tecate Cypress Seeds 
There was an article written by a Lauren Anderson who works for the Applied Plant Ecology Division at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research has partnered with the Nature Conservancy, the Bureau of Land Management, and the California Department of Fish and Game to preserve this unique species of Tecate Cypress. It basically it was a well written article educating the public about an important matter involving their local ecology. After all, these recent phenomena of Mega-Fires have threatened it with extinction in most of it's range. But in the comments section, there was a question posed by a commentor named,
Lee from Vancouver:
"An interesting blog Lauren. How do you get the cones you collected to open. I gather you used heat, but how is this done without burning the cones?"
Now the answer to this question didn't come from Lauren, but from I imagine her Supervisor named 
 Laurie Lippitt, Sr. Research Technician:
"Lee – Greetings. The Reforestation Center first soaked the cones in 92°C water for 24 hours. The cones were then surface-dried and placed into a drying chamber at 49°C for 4 hours. When the cones did not start to open , they used 52°C for about 8 hours and finally another day at 54°C. The cones that had partially opened received a final drying period at 52°C while the cones that had not opened went through another round of hot water soaking followed by drying at 52°C. So, you can see that the process was not just a single step. Once the cones were opened, they were tumbled to extract the seed and upgraded in an air separator to remove some empty seed. The finished seedlot had 42% germination, which is rather good for cypress seed."
Cypress Seeds
Now I have to admit that this result and answer blew me away because I had always gotten almost 100% germination rate from this very same seed of Tecate Cypress, no matter what the geographical location I collected it. What threw me was that I had heard of these same low germination rates as far back as the later 1970s in textbooks, yet here they were still. But more on that later. Here is another account of low germination numbers of another cypress called Italian Cypress and the advice given by another expert who has worked in the forest industry, though this individual was a bit closer on the mark in his explanation.
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Shifting gears toward another prime example on Cypress seed germination. However, the subject was now about Italian Cypress seed germination. So a novice gardener, I presume, wanted to ask an expert on the subject what ways he new as an expert, to successfully germinate Italian Cypress seed. The website is AllExperts.com and the particular page here is with the subject of Conifers. The Profile for this particular Expert's background is for a Jim Hyland:
Expertise Profile:
Registered Forester in the Southern US with 30 years experience in managing pines. Expert in pine forest health from management to control of pests to ID of species.
Here is the question he published followed by his expertise answer:
Question from reader:
"Hi Jim,
I have a cone collected from an Italian Cypress tree, not from the ground. The cone dried and opened up with seeds falling out of it. I’m not sure how long the cone had been growing and if it was time to harvest, but I collected it in spring. Could this seeds be germinated successfully? What is the best way to germinate them?
Thanks"
Jim's answer Answer:
"There is a chance that they will germinate but I would not expect a high rate say about 50% would be good but you will more than likely get around 25%. First they need to be stratified-cold-stratify (wet a paper towel, wring out, and put the seeds between the folds of the towel; seal in a plastic baggie and keep in fridge for a month). Before you do this they should have wings on the seed--rub the seeds in your hand and remove the seed from the wings."
"After a month in the fridge plant them in potting soil just barely under the soil. Seed - sow late winter in a cold frame and only just cover the seed. The seed usually germinates in 1 - 2 months at 20°c. The seedlings are very subject to damping off so should be watered with care and kept well-ventilated. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. 
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Now this is what amazes me. These numbers predicted to germinate are so low. Why ? If I can get almost 100% (okay 99.5% - .05 for error) then why can't they ? Or maybe it's technique from the old conventional school thinking of propagation method to potting. My problem here is once again I am a critical skeptic, but I was trained that way by one of my former instructors. I like science, but I'm also a science realist. A lot of Science has also helped destroy much of our planet because many & most of their technologies are based on making fast profit$ and the bosses of these researchers who work for most of these big corporations want results NOW, not when it's safe to be revealed. So as always, in my mind I'm thinking again, there must be a better way. 

Well, the first thing I wondered about when I was in my late teens, 'How does this work in nature?' When I went out in nature, what I most often saw after a fire swept through an area were the high numbers of seedling (100%?) on the ground, not the low (45%). But WHY ?? As I've written about previously when I went with my brother to a friends house for a Bar-B-Q on North Peak in the Cuyamaca Mountains just exactly one year after that horrible Cedar Fire in 2003, the ground was covered with millions upon millions of Incense Cedar Seedlings which were so thick and heavy at 3-4 inches high, I at first thought they were annual grasses growing up first before the other plants. Closer inspection proved otherwise.

Okay so back to the early 1980s. I made a special point of exploring regions where Tecate Cypress could be located. In fact I've always wanted to establish an example of a Tecate Cypress Forest woodland setting in an urban landscape as I attempted to do at my mother's home which I wrote about on my "Earth's Internet" blog. The title of the article was about the correct Soil and I used the Tecate Cypress as my example of what not to do. Trust me, Tecate Cypress needs specific structural requirements withing the soil to succeed. "Is the Plant in the Right Soil ?" One of the first things I meditated on was the way the seeds were dispersed. It was also without exception by a fast moving fire which was necessary to melt the resins which glued the cone compartments together. These seeds and cones can stay viable for decades on end. There were a number of other things that came to mind. 

The fire sterilizes the soils for the most part and that helps take care of any possible pathogen problems later on and also a common problem in nurseries, "Damping off " where the plant's root collar is attacked, rots and the tiny week/s old seedling falls over dead. So I reasoned fire will also take care of that pathogen issue, so great, some form of a fire component is necessary.  The other issue was weather and climate. What was/is it and how do I replicate it. At 3500' to 4500' elevation it is windy and bitterly cold and very wet in wintertime when these seeds would have been first influenced. So both wet and cold are a must at the same time. Now admittedly, the AllExperts guy Jim Hyland, did touch on some of these points, but he didn't fully go all the way or far enough. I believe because he was in a hurry for results & that's what the client asking the question wanted to hear.  He mentioned one month, and no doubt thereafter out planted into seeding trays. 

There is one other important thing of note here about seeds reaction to winter dormancy. They actually are not all that dormant. They are actually slowly working under the ground, though you may not see them doing this. I once did some experiments with both Coulter and Torrey Pine seeds by actually outplanting them directly into the ground in November with no extra help from me and I had locations marked off where they were located to later check on their progress. By late January most of these seedlings were pushing up through the snow at my property in Anza Ca and any further cold spells from then on seemed as water off a duck's back to them. They were un-effected. Just a side point understanding, but interesting to know. Something is always going on all that time, though slowly. 

Here's how it has always worked for me and anyone reading can replicate these results with any cypress seed. First thing I did was create a fire component scenario. I pulled out a sheet of Aluminum Tin Foil and laid this sheet on a Weber Bar-B-Q Grill. Underneath this grill I have already placed very small dry twigs and dried pine needles. I want a hot fast burning but not too long of a fire. The foil has holes in it to allow some fire & smoke in through the slits but not to much. I don't want the cones burnt up and cooked along with the seeds. Once 30-50 cones are piled in there on top of the tin foil, I light the fire which burns quickly hot and fast. Sure enough all of the cones popped open as a result of the heat melting processes. The smoke and heat under the slightly closed lid also destroy any pathogens that may have been on the outside cone shells as well. Now the seeds easily fall out onto a table as I work each cone clean. I have no need of a professional seed tumbler as a lot of that is for the science class for merely a visual in my opinion and is an unnecessary expense. There is absolutely no mess at all.
Now how to work the weather component. What I already knew about that areas climate  is that it is cold and wet for at least 4-5 months up in the mountains at high elevations. It's not like down below along the coast. I find a small to medium sized clear glass jar and put all of the seeds in it. I next boil some water and pour this over the seeds and allow them to soak overnight. I do this with all seeds, pre-soak even if vegetable garden seeds. Next & this is import, unlike the mention of letting the seeds dry out - NEVER LET THEM DRY OUT!!!

They suggested a wet paper towel holding the seeds in plastic zip-lock, but the jar works better for me. What I do the very next day is drain off the excess water in that same jar and close the lid tight, swish the seeds around inside the jar to where they are evenly dispersed around the inside coating glass walls where they easily stick, then place this jar of wet seeds on the bottom shelf of a Fridge and wait approximately 3 months almost exactly. I say three months because that is the length of time it takes for the seed to swell enough to where all the seeds are baring that small white germ where the taproot is about to pop through. 

At this point it's time to plant in seed germination flats, but you first better have your potting media ready. This is another one those interesting life changing experiences of something you had as a student in school. I wanted something safer in potting preparation than the conventional chemical program offered in the textbooks. One Ag instructor of mine, Mr Rutherford challenged me to figure it out logically if i disagreed with the book. I did.
Nursery Potting Soil Preparation
Make this real easy. Go to your favourite garden outlet and get some bags of good potting soil. You are going to also need to purchase a large bag of Vermiculite which will look exactly as the material in the photo to the right here. This is nothing more than mica which heated up will have expanded like popcorn. These have air pockets and allow for good aeration of the potting soil to fight off pathogens spores   which mostly want a airless anaerobic environment, but that's not enough. I also used Food Grade  Hydrogen Peroxide (35%) which I cut with water down to 3%. This also helps further oxygenate and kill any leftover nasties that may want to eat your seedlings. I never water the seedlings with it. I only pre-treated the potting soil inside the germination flats which is itself mix 50%-50% Vermiculite - Potting soil. I also use a slight bit of wood ashes in this mix. I then place potting mix in the flats to the top and proceed to then water with the H2O2 mixture. I like to purchase the food grade Hydrogen Peroxide (35%) because it doesn't have the chemical stabilizers and preservatives that the pharmacy over the counter stuff has. In the past I have bought from Peaceful Valley Nursery Supplies up in Grass Valley California which deals in organic gardening, landscaping and Nursery supplies. It has no preservatives. But you probably could get away with the standard store bought also. I have. I don't really water continuously with this mixture, but simply use it as a disinfecting drench initially in the flat containers packed with potting soil before planting seed in the potting media
"Damping Off"
This way the pathogens are eliminated before planting and more importantly done safely.  I have never again been plagued by "Damping Off" which in the past was always a huge and disappointing issue. How refreshing it was to find an alternative to most of the long held practice of conventional science-based poisonous technologies used out on the Horticultural market. On a special note, I don't believe the pathogens are bad or evil. Like other things in nature they just do what they are assigned to do. They provide a great service in natural balance for keeping the plant world in check. If every single seed became a success, we would have stunted trees and shrubs as a result of intense competition with one another. We would never again see the eventual old growth forest we have come to appreciate. Still, in the home garden and Nursery activities, we should always look to safer alternatives from what Science-based Chemical Companies have tried to indoctrinate us with.


Next I space each seed about one inch apart in all directions in the flats. All I need is for them to pop up and compete upwards for space and at about three or four inches I transplanted into 1 gallon containers with the same mix. I seriously have seen one seed germinate for every hole I've evenly spaced and planted (100% rate). I didn't like the manner in which they had the 40% rate at the SD Zoo. Here is what their planting instruction calls for taken from their own page. Notice in the photo how all of their spaced holes with the already provided for containerized tubing has 4-6 seeds in each space ? They are expecting failure and will thin them if more than one comes up. In my method I never expect or plan for any failure.

Eventually your trees in pots will look something like this photo of Vietnamese Golden Cypress seedlings to the right. At this point you should let them develop just a little bit further, then plant them in those one gallon containers. I water and feed them with a mixture of seaweed extract and they'll also feed on whatever was in the potting soil mix you used. There should be enough nutrition  there to get them going until transplant into one gallon pots and then finally into the soil. Once the outplanting has proceeded, then inoculate the plant root area with a good blend of mycorrhizal inoculum applications later, which you really HAVE TO DO folks. 

 At that point they will quickly get a foot high and I'd plant them then. They grow extremely fast so make sure you have a tough rocky soil. And as always, please purchase a great mycorrhizal inoculum and mix the powder into the planting holes so that colonization is quick and efficient. Don't think you can get away without using one. If you still don't understand the Fungi thing, then quickly find out and save your money on the science-based chemical junk. You don't need it and you can spend your hard earned money elsewhere.  Give them a huge healthy head start. There is no real extra work that goes into mixing a half teaspoon of mycorrhizal inoculent mix or less in the hole.

Forest Service helps tecate cypress after fire
I'm not really wanting to be overly critical of the Zoo Employees and All-Expert Dude, but clearly there are better nature-based applications which should be implemented over the conventional old school science-based failures. These above methods can be tried and experimented on with most seeds. Even if climatic conditions or ecological environments are different in say Africa or India from there in southern California and the plants are of radically different species. Then by all means watch, study and observe how nature really works where you live and accomplishes these tasks. Perhaps you are dealing with Umbrella Acacia (Acacia tortilis) , but may you know for a fact that the Elephants eat the bean pods and they run through this animals digestive tract with it's tough acids to break down the hard shelled seed coats and then proceed to germinate in a Elephant's Poop Pile. Then feed pods to your cattle or some other herbivore. Find ways to adapt and improvise.  

There are still Errors to be found in many many science text books these days which have not been changed for years. Some of the same failed, though okay at the time methods used back then should have been changed today with newer understanding but they haven't. So what should a student do ? Be a thinker. Schools seem nowadays to only encourage unquestioning textbook studies and excellent test takers basing answers on those same textbooks, but rarely encourage the ongoing growing thinking processes that utilize logical simple to understand practical applications found in nature. Be creative based on what you observe out there. 

Real science is NOT the Internet and a Lab, it's field observation as well and that more than anything else improves great learning ability that has been lost. I'm sorry that many of you students will not be able to observe a natural world in it's fully functional state as it was in the past, but the Industrial Science Corporations that the majority of mankind have put their faith in at the encouragment of your politicians have destroyed a good portion of what once existed out there in Nature. Hopefully with helpful suggestions of others in the Nursery business who have gone through the hard knocks will be able to provide further helpful assistance to you.
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Resource Links:
Vermiculite:
http://www.vermiculite.org/ 
Vermiculite & Food Grade Hydrogen Peroxide
Googled Hydrogen Peroxide and Plant Growth
Liquid Smoke and Seed Germination
Stimulation of Empress Tree Seed Germination by Liquid Smoke
Finally, here is an important Note on a post I wrote about the Fire Ecology of Tecate Cypress, which like other plants, the prevailing Experts insist upon Cypress as needing fire to propagate is more fiction than reality.
What We Need Here is Wildfire to Propagate !!!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Biological Soil Crusts: Boreal & Temperate Forests ?

Biological Soil Crusts on a Granite Rock Slab

This is actually a continuation from an article I did on Biological Soil Crusts which dealt with the more traditional focus of Desert Dryland habitats by those dedicated to studying them. My other blog "Earth's Internet" goes a bit deeper into these topics. Here is that article's link:

 I was out walking through the woodlands with my wife just recently and observed something normally considered only a desert phenomena, yet there it was behind my house. Biological Soil Crusts in a Boreal Forest setting ? Hey, how about a Temperate Forest setting ? Most of the literature and folks who study these amazing natural wonders usually don't even come here with their research work and the question has to be asked - Why Not ? It's usually a sort of Drylands Desert Thingy!!! But cannot those same biological components above in the photo on the granite rock slabs also be considered biological soil crusts in the forest floor ecosystem like the one behind my house here in Sweden ?
Let's see now, Biological Soil Crustal mechanisms by their very definition from a reading taken from  soilcrust.org are officially cataloged as  
"Major components are cyanobacteria, green algae, microfungi, mosses, liverworts and lichens." 

Well that would classify my backyard as a typical Biological Soil Crust Habitat , would it not ? But wait a minute, there's more to that soilcrust.org definition, take a look:
"Biological soil crusts are the community of organisms living at the surface of desert soils." 


Woah, wait a minute, back up the Science Train for a moment. Why doesn't my "cyanobacteria, green algae, microfungi, mosses, liverworts and lichens" in my backyard qualify as official Biological Soil Crust ? Well I'm assuming it's because by the officially approved Panel of Peers definition such plant community can ONLY be found in Desert Drylands. Yeeeaah and all Ferns only grow in moist lush Tropical, Temperate or Boreal Forests ONLY!  Hey I didn't just fall off the Crust Truck you know. I appreciate and naturally so do many others who know me that I am not exactly your basic conventional Science Dude.

I have a habit of actually watching and observing nature and making practical applications on those observations. I tend to toss out the Ideological Assertions, Assumptions and Speculations for the FACTS as I observe them with my own eyes. I am also burned out with the way conventional science-based wisdom infected with various ideological philosophies has ruined our planet. So over the years I tend to be a healthy open minded skeptic. Sometimes that puts my understanding which has always resulted from making practical applications at odds with the conventional science follower types.
 What I do know from experience and from personal first hand observation is that things sometimes CAN be what they SEEM. The Biological Soil Crusts behind my backyard covering every exposed Granite Rock faces or shallow soils all through  these Boreal Forests serve the exact same function and purpose as those Desert Biological soil Crusts. And what is it that they do ? They make Soil and hold it in place, just like they do in any other varied ecological habitat around the Earth. When I first came here I was astonished at the sheer amount of granite bedrock everywhere and just how shallow many of the soils were here around western Sweden. I wondered how anything grew at all in these Forests. Obviously LOTS of water takes care of that and it rains here all the time. Now in the past when we've had some periods of no rainy days lasting for a month and a half, many of even the bigger shrubs & trees on Hissingen Island (it's really a Penninsula - but don't ask why !!!) will die. The soils are shallow here, but what soils there are come from these magnificent biological machines. Take a look below at this photo of how common it is to have wind blown downed trees here. The average soil is just not that deep and it doesn't take an extremely violent windstorm to topple down the trees here.



 


Now to give you some geological perspective of Western Sweden, take a further look at the Göteborg Archipelago where the majority of the geology is exposed to the elements. However, in some small niches on these islands, there does exist some soil and vegetation




One of the things that first struck me when I first observed this tough seemingly harsh rocky granite  landscape is where did all of this soil come from in the first place ? If you listen to and believe the story that is told of the history of these particular geological formations of western Sweden with it's extremely abundant Archipelago island chain strung along all around it's coasts, is that it's formation came from the time period of when the Ice Age ended and the great Glacial receding came along and reveal this rock hard sterile looking landscape. Of course like all receding glacial landscapes, for many years there is this sterile appearance to it. Take note of this series of photos which reveals a seemingly lifeless barren landscape after glaciers disappear.

Upsala Glacier, Argentina 1908 to 2004


Krossfjorden, survey of Fjortende Julibreen Glacier

Okay, as you can see and take note above, this is common around the globe. But notice the sterile landscape for which is left behind after the glacier recedes. Makes sense. Every landscape starts with a blank canvas, so how did this particular soil develop over time to allow plant life to be possible ? Clearly seeds just don't blow in on the wind and take hold automatically transforming it into a brand new forested ecosystem. There are clearly a series of successional biological mechanisms which need to take place prior to this seeding event. This is where Biological Soil Crusts come into play. So assuming the Swedish nature Signage along the trail pathway was telling me the truth about how the Ice Age World  finally disappeared, then how did this Soil come about anyway ?

Spores of all these Lichens, Algaes, Mosses and various forms of fungi need to enter the scene first to create a foundational Soil system for the succession of life to begin. A clue for me on how this soil could have developed over time came from that top photo on this page. There was just something interesting I noticed.The rock face with the biodiverse colonies of Lichens, Mosses, Algae and Fungi/Bacteria was pock marked in a sort of checkerboard pattern and I wonder why and what could have done this. Take a closer look:

Now if you look closely, you'll see the area is clearly pockmarked as of some bird or animal were foraging around for some sort of sustenance. And you would be right. It's the local Scandinavian Magpie which does all of this. I've actually watched some of these feisty birds tear up someone's nice lawn before looking for Earthworms for which there are millions in these northern Boreal Forests.

Clearly you can see something has foraged around and turned over some of the mosses here in the photograph to the left, no doubt looking for earthworms or Sowbugs, both of which are abundant underneath this layer of living biological material. Below, let's take a closer zoomed in magnification look at what has happened exactly.

 







Okay so we get a good idea and picture of just what happens to these granite rock slabs and interestingly, these organisms seem to repair it themselves much more rapidly so that by next year the whole process starts all over again the following year. But what happens to this material once it's turned over by these critters ? Well these granite slab and boulder formations here run for great lengths from north to south and there are many fissures, crevaces and cracks running the same directions. It is here where the soil builds up and let me show you how. This next photo illustrates where the uplifted material goes once it's disturbed. It falls off the edges and into these voids or spaces only to collect and decompose. Not only organic matter, but bits and chips of the granite pebbles and sand grains themselves appear here. Take a look.


This build up here is about 10 inches thick just from this season. Here is an window into the world of the creatures I've seen responsible. These are birds for in or around the forests here. Take a look.
This first bird here you will recognize, but it's far different than the common city pigeon you are use to seeing. It's called a European Wood or forest Pigeon (Columba palumbus) and this is the same ground foraging bird I photographed at the Gunnebo Estate in my other post. They looked like a covey of giant quails in groups of 12 - 15 rummaging around on the ground there. These pigeons are huge and shy. Not like the city pigeons and probably make a better meal for those who enjoy hunting and game foods.

This next bird is not just your common black bird. It is much larger and the male seen here with the yellow ringed eye and orange beak sings like a Western Thrasher or Mockingbird for those familiar with them, The female is dull sooty brown with dull brown beak. The male's singing is beautiful and echoes everywhere through the forest. The are ground foragers like the Pigeons and pick through the easy to turn over mosses and lichens.

This next bird is probably more recognizable to most as they are found not only throughout northern/central Europe, but across North America and Asia in Siberia. We know it as the common Magpie, but they also are ground foragers and are often picking and turning over the mosses and lichens here. With that in mind, let me show you some other images of just where all of these Biocrustal Colonies love to show up here in Sweden. Actually anywhere they want. Often times houses with the clay tile or stone roofs will need replacing if old enough. That's because on the north sides of roofs there are usually heavily encrusted mats of these lifeforms eating and chewing their way through the mineral material. After all, that's what they do. They also chew through headstones at the Cemeteries here and I have some photos of this. People after some decades will have to replace a family member's headstone if it has been severely damaged and crumbled by these crusts. These first two pictures are from the surrounding walls of one cemetery just to illustrate their prolific ability to colonize just about anywhere.



These next pictures are examples of grave stones. when my wife's grandmother died and we went up north for the funeral in this little small town with a small church with an attached cemetery, which was very very old, the wear patterns on the granite stones were extremely well worn and these living things were responsible for this break up of tough mineral rock material. Like the man made material of concrete and such, nothing is safe from these biological mineral breakdown machines.















Well that is enough material to illustrate just what these organisms are capable of doing for a healthy planet, even if we are inconvenienced at times. This cemetery was actually one of the more better maintained one's I've seen. It appeared to me that they have from time to time gone in here and pressure-washed most of the stones as a regular maintenance procedure. Unfortunately on many of these stones, the biological material in manufacturing some of those strong enzymes for which they accomplish their soil building and fertility processes have taken their toll on the normally rock hard material where even the pressure washing will pockmark out chips and chunks of stone which defaces the writing on the grave marker. Eventually the stones almost always have to be replaced, but not for some couple decades depending on how bad the environmental circumstances.

So should we consider these as Biologcal Soil Crusts ?  I think so. They are the same organisms with slightly differing functions in the habitats they are found but ultimately accomplish the same goals. This is not a definitions shell game or word semantics debate. Definitions have a way of changing as we gain more understanding. Why even the Antarctic and Arctic regions are technically deserts by definition. The both have extremely low humidity levels somewhere around 3% and extremely low precipitation averages, though you may not think it so. Cynobacteria which is often spoken of as part of these desert crusts also accomplish this in the photo below.

Would you consider after viewing the above photo that these Cynobacteria a desert ONLY organism ? No of course not. What the Swedish example does is focus attention on an otherwise ignored and discounted amazing biological process found in our desert environments. Yes they are different and yet the same. They work faster and greater which allows one to illustrate a process otherwise unseen or regarded as of little importance. This is now obvious with all the NOT-SO-ECO-GREEN ENERGY VENTURES which are now being bulldozed into the Deserts around our planet which is creating other ecological nightmares for which many of the companies involved couldn't care less.

What will they now do as a means of maintenance with these places ? Once the soil is stripped of their Biological Soil Crusts in these deserts, dust storms become far worse. As a means of maintenance, these companies cannot allow and biological grow in between these solar panels or other wind energy units. Yet like the Oil companies who create moonscapes inside of their oilfields for a purpose, then Eco-Not-So-Green Companies will most likely employ some of the same methods used by the Big Corporate Oil Industry to sterilize the soil arounf their oil wells. Ever see a sterilized looking oil field ? Wanna know why they are sterilized ?

Oil Fields No. 1, Belridge, California 2002

You'll first off take note that I did NOT pull a picture out from a Saudi Arabian Desert Magician's black Top-Hat here. This is Belridge California. First off it should be noted that Oil Companies CANNOT afford to have dry grasses or anything else to facilitate the movement of a grass fire inside ANY of their fields. 

When I worked for Coors Bio-Tech back in the late 1980s, we had an Orange Peel Solvent much like the picture here to the right called Bio-T Max. It is known by another name in the chemical industry called D-Limonene. It is water soluble and has numerous practical cleaning and degreasing applications. As a Manufacturing Representative for Coors Bio-Tech (yes the same Golden Colorado Company that makes Beer) it was my job to canvas for official distributors for this product. One of these was a Chemical Distributor of products to the Oil Industries from Santa Barbara to Bakersfield California. Very well known oil producing areas to many. 

This individual solid a chemical herbicide that was guaranteed to destroy the soil and prevent any seed from germinating on that site for at least 7 years. I bet most of you didn't know this. Monsanto created Agent Orange for the Vietnam War as a Tropic Forest defoliant for which these areas today are still mostly desert regions. And yet these Oil Companies still need or require a strong chemical sterilizer to keep fields plant life free


What do you suppose the Not-So-Green-Energy Companies will be using as a means of an ongoing disinfecting Soil Sterilant program ? Will they even use one ? They have to maintain a plant-free zone and hiring manual labor for a perminant maintenance solution will be cutting into profits which is what all of this is about in the first place.

Have they even considered a company which manufactures a Biolgical Soil Crust Inoculum for which a healthy more ecologically sound solution would correct an already mistake ridden system ? I doubt it. However, someone should monitor what they intend on doing to the soils out there as a means of regular maintenance. In the interest of responsible sustainable technologies moving forwards in this area, we have this company's site to view:

Terra Derm: Restoring Soils on a Global Scale



The facts here show and prove that there are many many amazing things out there in the natural world yet to be discovered, researched and understood for use as a practical application for proper custodianship of this Earth. No matter what or how we want to define these amazing organisms, or what personal professional bias we have on these subjects, the work with which they accomplish everywhere around our planet Earth should be admired by everyone. To that end I hope I've made an otherwise boring science subject fascinating to the average person.

Earthships: the future of self-sustainable living ?

Self-sufficient Housing/Earthship Biotecture


Generally whenever this subject has come to my attention in Yahoo News or some other Eco-News Source trying to tell me about what the future will one day look like, I suddenly get visions of some sort of planet wide Apocalypse where civilization as we know it has been destroyed and the world has been reborn by all the leftover rural Mililitia Group Survivalists who left the city decades ago because they somehow had an uncanny insight as to what was coming. Suddenly they change and lay down their Arms and take up a Bohemian New Age Lifestyle. They then proceed to create a newer enlightened civilization who rebuild towns and cities patterned after something like the scenes from  "Planet of the Apes Village".

"It Takes A Village"
However, the funny thing about those futuristic Utopian Societies who have supposedly advanced towards a more enlightened secularistic society, is that they can quickly revert back into bad old habits of their ancestors causing the Utopia to become Dystopia.
There they go again!
But this subject is not about another Science-Fiction. Though it seems like Charlton Heston worked with quite a few of them. No this is about a movement with the ever popular modern catch phrase, "Sustainable Living". I'm all for sustainable responsible living, but I also like normalcy in my life and a comfortable traditional feel in the world around me. I don't think being a person who loves the natural world and caring enough to choose more ecologically responsible solution to living which more accurately reflects the natural world, necessarily means that a person need physically change their personal decor by sporting a Pony Tail, some John Lennon type spectacles, being Sandal clad, bead necklace toting and Yoga meditating on what my next move in life will be. Unfortunately that is where most of the opinions on people promoting sustainability move towards. No doubt there are still those Counter Culture Folks out there somewhere, but I think the majority people advocating true greener solutions now days are just tired of the same flawed Industrial science-based technologies that are driving our planet into the ground.


But let's get back to the subject of this latest terminology labeled "Earthships". I'll be the first to say the name doesn't help it any. Many of the building materials don't offer much better, though I do advocate and encourage recycling. The very name though has a sort of Agent Mulder-ismness about it. I've never seen such time as now where folks are fascinated that there just may be Extra-Terrestrials, Aliens or some other Entities from the Spirit Realm out there somewhere who are only wanting to help us if we'd just let them. Wow, if this isn't a testimonial to the utter failure of this world's leadership of it's Politicians, Clergy or Big Business Gurus, then I don't know what is. I generally run away in the other direction when this subject comes up.

I don't have such a problem with the material's used so much as the bizarreness of the outcomes of some of these buildings decor & designs. I will however agree that the first line of defense towards an energy efficient home is just how well built it is in the first place. For example, I think of a thick-walled Straw Bale type House with double or triple pane windows and in-floor heating is perfect. In fact my very first book about the subject was purchased from Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano, CA back in the middle 1990s. The Nursery itself is featured very prominently in the book as they have several Strawbale builds.

The first and most prominent buildings being their huge Barn for which they run workshops and store seed at 60 degrees. The even had a volunteer workshop on building with Strawbale construction and education on it's basic fundamentals which helped in the Barn raising. The other building of course is the Navajo Indian style rounded Hogan Retail area where customers pay for their plant purchases. Then also their main Sales & bookkeeping Office where they run the entire Nursery from and help their commercial client accounts. The image to the upper left is a great resource for strawbale construction ideas and techniques.

Tree of Life Nursery Sales Building
Behind this building is a newer building which we saw last year with all manner of featured books for sale on Sustainability and the growing popularity of growing California Native Plants.

Casa La Paz at Tree of Life Nursery



Now to me, this is what normal should look like. Nothing bizarre or extreme in the way of decor and I happen to prefer Hispanic Architecture and surroundings. But take a look at some of the interior construction and design. All very familiar and something comfortable that I can live with. The other thing that is attractive about them is the insulation factor of the thick walls for both winter's cold and summer's heat. In both cases this draws the most energy, depending of course on your geographical area.

Aside from the actual material for building a home, for me the windows have got to be number one in quality and especially triple pane or at the very least dual pane windows. This doesn't matter whether we are talking hot or cold climates. The insulation factors for both sound and heat retention or keeping interiors cool in summer is dramatically improved. It may seem expensive at first, but the savings are awesome. Also you need a good glass that has a high performing Low-E (emissivity) Coating. 

This prevents the Sun's rays from penetrating the inside heating up interior objects while infrared heat radiation from the sun during summer is reflected away, keeping it cooler inside. This coating results in more efficient windows because radiant heat originating from indoors in winter is reflected back inside. If nothing else, these windows are a must. 

One way to illustrate this is if you've ever driven through the desert in the summertime during a hot day and even if have the Car's air-conditioner on full blast, the Sun, if on the Driver's side still penetrates and you feel the burning sensation, despite that fact that the Air Conditioner is on Maximum. If you do anything, no matter what the building material used, get good quality windows and other insulation. Of course this is why Car Window Tinting became so popular starting in the 1980s to the present. Now having said all of this, when it's all said and done, you've got to be comfortable with the right look for your own home. Again I'm not into the odd-ball looks of many of the poster child eco-green housing, but I don't mind a bit of natural interest added to the design. For example I love what the Escondido Creek Foundation did with their Elfin Forest Interpretive Center. And I really love the artwork inside.
Elfin forest Interpretive Center - Harmony Grove
Here is one other example of Dick Clark's home which was on the market for sale. While it has an Earthship stylishness about it, it truly has a naturalness that blends in with the surrounding landscape. Take a close look.





Now there is some bit of quirkiness to this and no doubt a whole lot of expense, but still these home can blend in perfectly with the surrounding natural landscape if the right choices are used. Although I must say, no amount of landscaping will improve much on a lot of the Scandinavian Design from the 1960/70s which has popular down to the present. Trust me, I know these things.
I'd almost even prefer that New Mexico Earthship Commune that Peter Fonda & Dennis Hopper stayed at briefly on their way through the southwest. Somewhere near that Sacred Mountain Gas Station. Hmmmmmmmm - Okay, well maybe not!

For those interested in the concept, below are some further important reading resources on the subject for your further interest. This just came out recently:
http://earthship.com/
http://www.triplepundit.com/2011/06/earthships-provide-path-future-sustaining-homes/
http://www.birdsontheblog.co.uk/the-earthship-has-landed/
http://theknoxvillejournal.tumblr.com/post/22842223011/earthships-homes-of-the-future