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Posts Tagged ‘soil’

Goat vs. Wildfire

Photo: Goat Green LLC.
Lani Malmberg “contracts with federal, state, county, and city governments, homeowners associations, and private landowners for noxious weed control, fire fuel load abatement, re-seeding, watershed management, and land restoration.

While we’re on the subject of fungi and their role in improving soil, how about the work that goats are doing? Goats are not as ubiquitous as mushrooms, but they can really help restore damaged land and even prevent wildfires.

Coral Murphy Marcos reports at the New York Times, “When megafires burn in unison and harsh droughts parch the West, local governments, utilities and companies struggle with how to prevent outbreaks, especially as each year brings record destruction.

“Carrying an unconventional weapon, Ms. Malmberg travels the American West in an Arctic Fox camper, occupying a small but vital entrepreneurial niche.

“Ms. Malmberg, 64, is a goat herder and a pioneer in using the animals to restore fire-ravaged lands to greener pastures and make them less prone to the spread of blazes. She developed the fire-prevention technique in graduate school and is among a few individuals using grazing methods for fire mitigation. …

“Ms. Malmberg works with her son, Donny Benz; his fiancé, Kaiti Singley; and an occasional unpaid intern. The team runs on the goats’ time and have their dinner only when the day’s job is done. They arrive early and open the trailer. The goats jump out, ready to eat, as Ms. Malmberg watches that they don’t stray. The team sets up an electric fence to confine the goats and their meals to a specific area overnight.

After the goats digest the brush, their waste returns organic matter to the soil, increasing its potential to hold water.

“Goats are browsers that eat the grass, leaves and tall brush that cows and other grazers can’t reach. This type of vegetation is known as the fire fuel ladder and leads to wider spread when wildfires spark. More than quell a fire, Ms. Malmberg aims to prevent it from even starting. ‘By increasing soil organic matter by 1 percent, that soil can hold an additional 16,500 gallons of water per acre,’ said Ms. Malmberg. ‘If helicopters come and dump water on the fires, nothing is done for the soil.’ …

“ ‘Lani is a leading example of someone who has carved the pathway and is a trailblazer in this industry of prescribed grazing,’ said Brittany Cole-Bush, one of Ms. Malmberg’s mentees and the owner of Shepherdess Land and Livestock in Ojai Valley, Calif. ‘We want to support ecology as much as possible. We want to support the growth of native perennial grasses.’ Ms. Cole-Bush, who uses goats and sheep in her business, believes that fortifying perennial grasses, rather than planting grass annually, will make the land more tolerant of drought.

“Ms. Malmberg, who has a master’s degree in weed science from Colorado State University, spends most of the year traveling around the West on jobs. Last year, for the first time, the Bureau of Land Management contracted Ms. Malmberg and her goats for fire mitigation in Carbondale, Colo. …

“Ms. Malmberg’s assignments can take anywhere from a day to six months; she prices them after evaluating the site. In late August, she was hired to work on a property in Silverthorne that took six days and cost more than $9,000.

“At the beginning and end of every job, Ms. Malmberg asks the spirits in the area to protect her herd. She lights a ceremonial stick of tobacco and calls out to introduce herself, an intruder on the land, to the animals living there. …

“The work can take longer because of on-the-ground conditions. The Carbondale mitigation project was pushed back three weeks because mudslides caused by last year’s wildfires had closed Interstate 70, the state’s main highway

“Scientists say that wildfires have become hotter, more intense and more destructive in recent years.

“Experts attribute the longer and more ferocious fire seasons to climate change. Wildfires in the West are growing larger, spreading faster and reaching higher, scaling mountains that were once too wet and cool to support them. Studies have shown that wildfires are leading to skin damage and premature births.

“The cost of fire suppression has doubled since 1994 to over $400 million in 2018 — a cost, Ms. Malmberg notes, that doesn’t account for how people are affected by the loss of their land and homes.

“ ‘How do we value the nest that supports us?” Ms. Malmberg asked. ‘We’re just about out of time to change the ways of how we do things.’ ”

Amanda Lucier’s excellent photos of Malmberg’s work are at the New York Times, here. You can also search this blog on the word “goat” for related stories. I’m kind of a fan of goats.

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Photo: Charles Russo.

Mushrooms, lichen, and fungus are increasingly fascinating to me. I’ve posted photos here and on Instagram, where I especially love the mushroom pictures of @chasonw.

When John’s employees visited from Ukraine, they used to enjoy looking for wild mushrooms to eat, but I don’t know any Americans who are sure enough of themselves to take a chance.

Today’s article by Margaret Roach at the New York Times explains why you really need mushrooms in your yard — and also which ones are safe to eat. (A tip of the hat to Hannah for the story!)

“They appear spontaneously, or so it seems, popping up out of the mulch, rising in a single spot on the lawn or bursting from between the pathway pavers like little marshmallows. But there is an intricate master plan at work, just not one to which most gardeners are privy. What are the mushrooms in our gardens trying to tell us — and would you be surprised to learn it’s mostly good news?

“ ‘Without the fungi we wouldn’t have soil, at least not the way we know it now,’ said John Michelotti, of Catskill Fungi in Big Indian, N.Y., a family farm on land his great-great-grandfather bought, where Mr. Michelotti spent his childhood summers. ‘Their filamentous underground mycelia are essential for the nutrient cycling and balance of our soils, plants, microbial life — and ecosystems as a whole.’

“Today, Mr. Michelotti leads guided mushroom walks, teaches classes about mushroom growing and medicinal mushrooms at the New York Botanical Garden and elsewhere, and produces health extracts from fungi — in between occasional calls to identify mushrooms in his role as a poison-control volunteer. …

Photo: Missouri Department pf Conservation
Giant puffball.

“Fungi serve various critical ecosystem roles. The saprobic species act as powerful decomposers: Oyster mushrooms, for instance, work to recycle a dead tree.

“Mycorrhizal fungi help plants build resilience and resistance to pathogens. In a symbiotic partnership, they translocate water and mine nutrients and micronutrients, making those resources available to plant roots. Some 92 percent of plant families rely on such services, according to the North American Mycological Association.

“In return, up to a third of the energy that plants make through photosynthesis goes to feeding simple sugars to the fungi, Mr. Michelotti said: ‘This plant-fungi symbiosis is how the earliest plants accessed essential nutrients that helped them inhabit land in the first place. …

” ‘People come up to me to ask, “I’ve got these mushrooms in my lawn — how do I get rid of them?” ‘ he said. …

“His message, always delivered patiently: ‘Can we perhaps look a little deeper about what the fungi are doing here?’

“Mushrooms — the fruiting or reproductive bodies of fungi — are not a disease, but a sign of health, he explains. They indicate that, under the grass, ‘your soil is running with vast networks of mycelial mats and trillions of microscopic organisms working together, helping break down organic matter to make nutrients available to plants.’

“His questioners might have seen some thin-stemmed, pointy-topped little Conocybe apala, mushrooms that come and go quickly, often unnoticed. Or maybe something more emphatic just erupted? From late summer into fall, soccer-ball-like giant puffballs (Calvatia gigantea) are the headliners.

“ ‘Watch the film “Fantastic Fungi” if you want to really appreciate the puffballs in your lawn,’ said Mr. Michelotti, who has a walk-on in the documentary — and a favorite recipe for puffball piccata.

“Again: Enough with the eradication efforts. First, you can’t eradicate them — most of the fungi’s life is unseen, below ground, and continues even if the fruiting bodies are removed. And ‘if you pick them and toss them somewhere, or mow them, you’re actually helping spread their spores,’ Mr. Michelotti said.” More here.

Read how Michelotti makes his delicious piccata from giant puffballs in the fall.

Photo: Suzanne’s Mom

100616-mushrooms-in-fall

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In a move that will benefit the environment, farmers are placing increased emphasis on the quality of their soil and cutting back on ploughing. It took a kind of soil evangelist to create the revolution.

Erica Goode has the story at the NY Times.

“Gabe Brown is in such demand as a speaker that for every invitation he accepts, he turns down 10 more. …

“Mr. Brown, a balding North Dakota farmer who favors baseball caps and red-striped polo shirts, is not talking about disruptive technology start-ups, political causes, or the latest self-help fad.

“He is talking about farming, specifically soil-conservation farming, a movement that promotes leaving fields untilled, ‘green manures’ and other soil-enhancing methods with an almost evangelistic fervor.

“Such farming methods, which mimic the biology of virgin land, can revive degenerated earth, minimize erosion, encourage plant growth and increase farmers’ profits, their proponents say. And by using them, Mr. Brown told more than 250 farmers and ranchers who gathered at the hotel for the first Southern Soil Health Conference, he has produced crops that thrive on his 5,000-acre farm outside of Bismarck, N.D., even during droughts or flooding.

“He no longer needs to use nitrogen fertilizer or fungicide, he said, and he produces yields that are above the county average with less labor and lower costs. ‘Nature can heal if we give her the chance,’ Mr. Brown said.” More here.

Sounds like wisdom that even a backyard farmer could embrace.

Photo: Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times
“My goal is to improve my soil so I can grow a better crop so I can make more money,” [says Texas farmer Terry] McAlister, who farms 6,000 acres of drought-stricken cropland. 

 

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