Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Soil Microbes use Rocket Science to Maintain the Earth's Atmosphere

One could also say that we could use the incredible Rocket Science of these Microbes to save our planet and reverse the negative effects brought about by the misuse and abuse of scientific discovery
Photo Credit: Nicholas A. Tonelli

So why is the Science of Soil Ecology & Microbes rejected in favour of the Industrial version for Commercial Agriculture ???

There's an old Sci-Fi classic from 1956 called "Forbidden Planet" where the film’s setting is of a bleak landscape on some far away planet and the concept of space travel that was inspired by many of the inventions which came out of world War II and intrigued people about the future possibilities of where mankind's ever expanding knowledge could take them. The film starts out with a spaceship from Earth (which looked more like a flying saucer aliens would have invented and used) which carries a small rescue mission that lands on a planet called, Altair IV, where a radio message from Dr. Edward Morbius warns them away from landing on the planet because of some unknown mysterious danger. This Dr Morbius and his daughter Altaira are the only people left alive from the original scientific expedition. An ancient alien race called the Krell have been gone for thousands of years, but they've left behind an incredible infrastructure and library of their existence among which there is one device Morbius calls the “plastic educator.” The device can greatly expand human intelligence, but there is a price to pay for that increased knowledge. As the film continues, these new arrivals from Earth are about to find out just how costly that knowledge really is. That machine in the film more than anything was intriguing to me as a kid watching that flick in the early 1960s. What if they could really invent such a device ? I mean just  suppose for a moment that you could be hooked up to such an intelligence machine and all the collective information of the various scientific disciplines could be uploaded into your mind. You could get employment almost anywhere right ? But the knowledge is nothing if you don't really understand how to properly apply it. If you have a great lack of communication and social skills (even common sense), like most of our world's intellects, you'd be greatly handicapped in the understanding of how to properly apply that knowledge to the benefit of yourself and others around you. Interestingly this would require cooperation with others and how many intellects have the patience to deal with those they view as their inferiors ? The world's soil microbial community are different and operate with an incredible amount of programmed instinctive knowledge and accomplish important tasks with incredible efficiency. In fact it appears that the microbial community is nothing more than life self-perpetuating information strings running remarkably sophisticated complex nano-machines and science hasn't a clue as to how they do what they do for us. 

illustration:  Mattias Adolfsson
When left alone and unmolested from  irresponsible human activities, all of the microbial soil communities underneath the  Earth's various ecosystems operate in a sophisticated complex united Social Network of cooperation that humans could only dream of. And yet we are supposed to be superior to them as the top organism on the planet. We've been force fed that these things are the most primitive living organisms on Earth, at least that's what the official scientific narrative has told us in School and the textbooks. As time pants on to the end, we find that is not really true. In fact all of the Earth's supposedly higher lifeforms would all perish without them. Frankly, I don't know if I really want humans to gain much more understanding and knowledge of the natural world under the present system based on their past historical activity of abuses of further knowledge. Take the latest research on a certain specific microbe which is brilliant at operating the Earth's biochemical nitrogen cycling. Here is an opening brief description of the soil microbe as given by Microbe Wiki  
"Anaerobic ammonium oxidation (Anammox) is a significant component of the biogeochemical nitrogen cycle. The process was discovered when it was noticed that ammonium was being converted to dinitrogen in a fluidized-bed reactor system at a yeast factory nearly 20 years ago. An unusual characteristic of anammox metabolism is the production of the metabolic intermediate hydrazine, which is one of the strongest reducing agents known in biological systems. "It is used as rocket fuel and in the manufacture of explosives and pesticides."
(Source - Microbe Wiki)
The last line in red of the quote in that description really expresses how much I hope that Scientists never crack the code of how these microbes do what they do. Even if they at some future point in time exclaim that they have solved the puzzle, you can bet that it will  somehow always be incomplete and imperfect. The very idea that such knowledge would be acquired and put to use by the present  irresponsible world leadership is a frightening scenario to ponder. And yet despite this, a team of European scientists in the Netherlands found something very interesting about this Anammox  bacteria. Published earlier this year in Nature, the researchers tell how they have ascertained the structure of a molecular machine that performs chemical wizardry using rocket science. Here is a reprinted quote from Nature and Discovery [keep in mind some of this may be boring for many]:
"Anaerobic ammonium oxidation (anammox) has a major role in the Earth's nitrogen cycle and is used in energy-efficient wastewater treatment. This bacterial process combines nitrite and ammonium to form dinitrogen (N2) gas, and has been estimated to synthesize up to 50% of the dinitrogen gas emitted into our atmosphere from the oceans. Strikingly, the anammox process relies on the highly unusual, extremely reactive intermediate hydrazine, a compound also used as a rocket fuel because of its high reducing power. So far, the enzymatic mechanism by which hydrazine is synthesized is unknown. Here we report the 2.7 Å resolution crystal structure, as well as biophysical and spectroscopic studies, of a hydrazine synthase multiprotein complex isolated from the anammox organism Kuenenia stuttgartiensis. The structure shows an elongated dimer of heterotrimers, each of which has two unique c-type haem-containing active sites, as well as an interaction point for a redox partner. Furthermore, a system of tunnels connects these active sites. The crystal structure implies a two-step mechanism for hydrazine synthesis: a three-electron reduction of nitric oxide to hydroxylamine at the active site of the γ-subunit and its subsequent condensation with ammonia, yielding hydrazine in the active centre of the α-subunit. Our results provide the first, to our knowledge, detailed structural insight into the mechanism of biological hydrazine synthesis, which is of major significance for our understanding of the conversion of nitrogenous compounds in nature."
Dinitrogen gas (N2) is a tough nut to crack. The atoms pair up with a triple bond, very difficult for humans to break without a lot of heat and pressure. Fortunately, this makes it very inert for the atmosphere, but life needs to get at it to make amino acids, muscles, organs, and more. Nitrogenase enzymes in some microbes, such as soil bacteria, are able break apart the atoms at ambient temperatures (a secret agricultural chemists would love to learn). They then "fix" nitrogen into compounds such as ammonia (NH3) that can be utilized by plants and the animals that eat them. To have a nitrogen cycle, though, something has to return the N2 gas back to the atmosphere. That's the job of anammox bacteria.
"Most nitrogen on earth occurs as gaseous N2 (nitrogen oxidation number 0). To make nitrogen available for biochemical reactions, the inert N2 has to be converted to ammonia (oxidation number −III), which can then be assimilated to produce organic nitrogen compounds, or be oxidized to nitrite (oxidation number +III) or nitrate (+V). The reduction of nitrite in turn results in the regeneration of N2, thus closing the biological nitrogen cycle."
Let's take a look at the enzyme that does this, the "hydrazine synthase multiprotein complex." Rocket fuel; imagine! No wonder the scientific community was surprised. The formula for hydrazine is N2H4. It's commonly used to power thrusters on spacecraft, such as the Cassini Saturn orbiter and the New Horizons probe that went by Pluto recently. Obviously, the anammox bacteria must handle this highly reactive compound with great care. Here's their overview of the reaction sequence. Notice how the bacterium gets some added benefit from its chemistry lab:
"Our current understanding of the anammox reaction (equation (1)) is based on genomic, physiological and biochemical studies on the anammox bacterium K. stuttgartiensis. First, nitrite is reduced to nitric oxide (NO, equation (2)), which is then condensed with ammonium-derived ammonia (NH3) to yield hydrazine (N2H4, equation (3)). Hydrazine itself is a highly unusual metabolic intermediate, as it is extremely reactive and therefore toxic, and has a very low redox potential (E0′ = −750 mV). In the final step in the anammox process, it is oxidized to N2, yielding four electrons (equation (4)) that replenish those needed for nitrite reduction and hydrazine synthesis and are used to establish a proton-motive force across the membrane of the anammox organelle, the anammoxosome, driving ATP synthesis."
We've discussed ATP synthase before. It's that rotary engine in all life that runs on proton motive force. Here, we see that some of the protons needed for ATP synthesis come from the hydrazine reaction machine. Watch the cool video below which is 3:21 minutes in length.

What does the anammox enzyme look like? They say it has tunnels between the active sites. The "hydrazine synthase" module is "biochemically unique." Don't look for a common ancestor, in other words. It's part of a "tightly coupled multicomponent system" they determined when they lysed a cell and watched its reactivity plummet. Sounds like an irreducibly complex system.

The paper's diagrams of hydrazine synthase (HZS) show multiple protein domains joined in a "crescent-shaped dimer of heterotrimers" labeled alpha, beta, and gamma, constituted in pairs. The machine also contains multiple haem units (like those in hemoglobin, but unique) and "one zinc ion, as well as several calcium ions." Good thing those atoms are available in Earth's crust.

Part of the machine looks like a six-bladed propeller. Another part has seven blades. How does it work? Everything is coordinated to carefully transfer electrons around. This means that charge distributions are highly controlled for redox (reduction-oxidation) reactions (i.e., those that receive or donate electrons). The choice of adverbs shows that their eyes were lighting up at their first view of this amazing machine. Note how emotion seasons the jargon:
"Intriguingly, our crystal structure revealed a tunnel connecting the haem αI and γI sites (Fig. 3a). This tunnel branches off towards the surface of the protein approximately halfway between the haem sites, making them accessible to substrates from the solvent. Indeed, binding studies show that haem αI is accessible to xenon (Extended Data Fig. 4c). Interestingly, in-between the α- and γ-subunits, the tunnel is approached by a 15-amino-acid-long loop of the β-subunit (β245-260), placing the conserved βGlu253, which binds a magnesium ion, into the tunnel."
We would need to make another animation to show the machine in action, but here's a brief description of how it works. The two active sites, connected by a tunnel, appear to work in sequence. HZS gets electrons from cytochrome c, a well-known enzyme. The electrons enter the machine through one of the haem units, where a specifically-placed gamma unit adds protons. A "cluster of buried polar residues" transfers protons to the active center of the gamma subunit. A molecule named hydroxylamine (H3NO) diffuses into the active site, assisted by the beta subunit. It binds to another haem, which carefully positions it so that it is "bound in a tight, very hydrophobic pocket, so that there is little electrostatic shielding of the partial positive charge on the nitrogen." Ammonia then comes in to do a "nucleophilic attack" on the nitrogen of the molecule, yielding hydrazine. The hydrazine is then in position to escape via the tunnel branch leading to the surface. Once they determined this sequence, a light went on:
"Interestingly, the proposed scheme is analogous to the Raschig process used in industrial hydrazine synthesis. There, ammonia is oxidized to chloramine (NH2Cl, nitrogen oxidation number −I, like in hydroxylamine), which then undergoes comproportionation with another molecule of ammonia to yield hydrazine."
So here's something you can meditate on when you take in another breath. The nitrogen gas that comes into your lungs is a byproduct of an exquisitely designed, precision nanomachine that knows a lot about organic redox chemistry and safe handling of rocket fuel. This little machine, which also knows how to recycle and reuse all its parts in a sustainable "green" way, keeps the nitrogen in balance for the whole planet. Intriguing. Interesting. As Mr. Spock might say, fascinating.

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Radboud University, Discovery Institute and Nature. Note: Some materials were edited for content and length.
(Source) - (Source) - (Source)

So where does Mankind go from here ?

Image: EocWatch
For the past few decades the focus has always seemed to be on the big oil companies like Exxon, Chevron, BP, and Shell who have been perceived as the main climate change culprits. It's understandable because they are such big exposed targets and we are all shackled to them in what they provide for us as what we consider today as a normal life. And yet people for the most part have totally ignored the same dirty irresponsible behaviour of industrial corporate agricultural giants such as Monsanto, DuPont, Dow Agro-Chemical, Bayer, Syngenta, and BASF. Funny, we don't hardly here from BASF because they mostly deal with other large corporate business interests, but they are huge. All of them came out of World War II making munitions and other explosives for both the Allies and Axis powers, so they have a history of being in the death business. We know that between 20-30 percent of all man-made green house gases in the atmosphere comes from the overuse and abuse of chemicals manufactured by industrial agriculture. These very chemicals should be restricted for manufacturing purposes and transportation, not for the Earth's soil. By dumping agricultural chemicals [synthetic fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides] onto our soils, we disrupt nature’s delicate balance of water, soil and air cycling. As we've seen in the above research, soil organisms have been perpetually monitoring Earth's carbon cycling components for countless 1000s of years, now suddenly we have 150 years of supposed scientific enlightenment under our belt and the function of these sophisticated cycling mechanisms are in jeopardy.

But what really are the true solutions for turning things around ? This just question begs once again, why is a scientific microbiological approach to farming practices considered, "anti-science" or "pseudo-science" by the Elite powerful and why are the people who advocate and practice such disciplines considered Voodoo Science practicing Luddites ??? You can thank the WSU Garden Professors for that one. Then on the other hand there are innumerable clever memes out there on the Organics sites floating around the Internet which promise a brighter future if everyone would just become an activist and practice what their favourite organization's philosophy recommends as a viable sustainable practice. While I am all for doing things by means of a holistic responsible approach through the practice of Biomimicry [replicating what Nature does], I am also aware that the world's problems won't be fixed through another materialistic scientific innovation approach as a cure all for what ails the world. I read the headlines daily promising that if humans would only just support such and such ideology regarding building healthy soils, we could turn around this present climate change crisis. It will never happen. First it assumes that everyone around the planet will get on board with the idea and they won't. Secondly, everyone reading knows the world we all live in, the all too common daily terrorizing News headlines lately and the failure of any government to provide viable solutions for any lasting piece and security. The best I can offer from a personal practice perspective is pay attention individually to your own garden, urban landscape or commercial farm and share your experiences with neighbours and friends. 
To conclude, here is a video of Dr. Kristine Nichols of the Rodale Institute talks about soil health and soil biology in regenerative organic systems. She hasn't always worked with Rodale, in fact she has worked as a Soil Microbiologist with the USDA, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory (NGPRL) in Mandan, ND for over seven years. Since 1993, Dr. Nichols has studied arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi – a plant-root symbiont. Her most recent work involves the investigation of glomalin – a substance produced by AM fungi. Glomalin contributes to nutrient cycling by protecting AM hyphae transporting nutrients from the soil to the plant and to soil structure and plant health by helping to form and stabilize soil aggregates. Dr. Nichols has been examining the impacts of management such as crop rotation, tillage practices, organic production, cover crops, and livestock grazing on soil aggregation, water relationships, and glomalin. This comes from her Bio there. One of the main things I loved about her presentation here to farmers is the fact that she humbly acknowledges is how she and others as Scientists learn from the feedback from Farmers as to what works and what won't work or needs improving upon. That isn't normally done in today's world.

No references as I don't believe most are read anyways

Monday, November 16, 2015

Mycorrhizal Fungi run the Largest Mining Operation in the World

Up to 85% of plants depend on fungi to survive. Plants and fungi depend on each other for nutrient cycling and water absorption
Photo: Amanita muscaria by Courtney Celley: US Fish & Wildlife Service

Image: Landeveert 2001

Thin-section micrograph of a tunneled feldspar
 Scale bar = 100 micrometers

"If you sift the mineral particles from conifer forest soil, wash them, and examine them under a microscope, you will discover a startling detail: tiny tunnels, three to ten micrometers across"
 "The tunnels curve and branch and sometimes more than one pierces the same particle. What could have created these microscopic boreholes?"
Jennifer Frazer
There was a nicely done article which came out on the journal Scientific American by science writer, Jennifer Frazer, who has degrees in biology, plant pathology and Mycology. I thought the beauty of post was that she has taken on the unseen microbial subject down onto a microscopic level to help the average reader understand what is going on in the complex sophisticated microscopic world where mycorrhizal fungi mine the soils not only for the basic food nutrients for plants we are familiar with like nitrogen, phosphorus, etc, but also those hard to come by trace elements [Zinc, Copper, Manganese, etc] which plants need for strong immune system health and survival against a potentially hostile world of pathogens. Oddly enough many soils are rich in important nutrients, but they are often locked up in a physical form which makes them unavailable to most plants. That's where the fungi come in. She references this photo here below to compare chemical weathering etches scar patterns [which she compares to an earthquake graph] into a mineral called Feldspar with the contrasting mycelial strands which have a twisting tangled pattern which fungi normally make.

Image: Landeveert 'Feldspar' 2001
Although, interestingly, Fungi do manufacture a number of chemical acids and other enzymes which do indeed breakdown and weather rock in the soils. The photograph below she used for illustrative purposes only is Mold, growing in a Petri dish from a sample of dust and debris which was taken from some repair work in the bathroom of an apartment. To take this picture, the photographer, Bob Blaylock put the entire Petri dish on the stage of my microscope. The mold is growing in EasyGel nutrient from Wild Goose Science. The mold strands beautifully illustrate the same design patterns we see in the common mycorrhizal fungi hyphae which are clearly different from the chemical etching done on mineral rock if we were talking mere chemical reactions on stone. 
"The tunnels seem like they were made by something … alive. They are the spitting image of hyphae – that is, filaments – of fungi."

Image by Bob Blaylock (Mold - August 2010)

She then provided another beautiful illustration of some people can actually see feel and touch. Something they may have commonly stumbled upon if they have ever gone for a walk in the woods. Most granite rocks and boulders in forests will be colonized by lichens and mosses. Most folks also understand the degradation and weathering effects that such organisms have on buildings like bricks, rock, rood slates or even the gravestones in a cemetery. 
"But why would a fungus tunnel into a rock? There’s no food there, and it no doubt takes a sizeable capital investment to assemble and secrete the acids necessary to eat raw rock."
"There is a precedent: lichens. The crusty creatures, a combination of fungi, algae, and attendant bacteria/archaea, are the first and last word in Earth-based rock colonization. Wherever naked stone is found, lichens will be there."
Sure enough. I've previous written articles on Biological soil crusts (Lichens, Mosses, Cyanobacteria, etc], from desert areas and also from here in Sweden within the shallow soils of some of this regions Boreal Forests. Such ecosystems are fascinating and foundations for any future life development. I wrote the Boreal Forest example specifically because most people find deserts boring and the soil crusts which exist there are probably not even remotely noticed by the average person. Hence the Boreal forest example has bigger and better examples of mosses, lichens and fungi which most people find more exciting and sexy when it comes to the visual. But it should be noted that Desert Biocrustal systems are equally important. I'll post the links below. But it is interesting that the microscopic deeper soil layers of this subject are not effected by the surface work from these living organisms.

 "Caloplaca thallincola" by Jymm - Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
"They cover almost 10% of Earth’s land surface, and if you are paying attention on your next forest or tundra hike, you will be astounded to note just how much real estate they have staked out – not just on rocks, but also on tree bark and soil."
"The fungal half of lichens are the drilling specialists, excreting acids that break down rock and enable the fungus to get a hypha-hold in micro-trenches, cracks, and etch pits (small lens-shaped cavities formed by the action of water). The acids are derived from the food that the algae provide to the fungus." 
"But the shafts in the photos at the top of the page were found nowhere near a lichen or a boulder. They were inside little bits of stony soil. What other fungi could be driving these tunnels ?" 

An interesting feature of the illustration below which you really don't see are those hormonal substances that the mycorrhizal fungi  manufacture or produce which hinder or suppress the plant's root  from growing root-hairs and might even encourage actual dichotomous branching from the root tip itself which will further enhance performance. So this tangled looking fungal mantle which covers this area of the root and inserts itself in between the cortical root cells is where all the interactions of nutrient, water and sugar exchanges take place between the fungi and the plant. This allows a much enhance performance of root area absorption than it had previously or if it were under and industrial science-based management as recommended by Dow Agro-Chemical and/or Monsanto. See how superior nature is compared to imaginary human improvements influenced by nothing more than bottom line profiteering ???

Reference: smith se read dj (1997) Mycorrhizal Symbiosis (second Adn) Academic Press

The illustrated image above also comes from her referenced resource material from the Department of Forest Mycology and Pathology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences here in Uppsala, Sweden. See how she describes what is going on in the above image:
"The fungus forms a root sheath called a “mantle”, and from this mantle, it sends hyphae both into the soil and into the root. The hyphae that invade the root do not actually invade the cells there. Instead, they weave a web around them, a structure known as the “Hartig Net”. Why would a tree put up with such a flagrant home invasion? To start, the net is a secure place where the fungus and the tree can exchange goodies.
"But fungi are also particularly good at seeking and absorbing (you might think of them as biological “Bounty”) owing to their diffuse bodies, which comprise a vast network of tiny tubes that max out surface area. Since fungi live in their food and secrete their digestive enzymes directly into it before resorbing the digested slurry, they are effectively one giant inside-out intestine (to those of you who dislike mushrooms, I apologize for putting you off them forever now -- though if it helps, mushrooms themselves generally do not digest anything, being strictly reproductive structures. That doesn't help either, does it?)."
She next provided the readers with an illustrative photo example of a soil penetrating root with end cap and it's fine root hairs without the colonization of the mycorrhizal fungi. The purpose really is to illustrate just how limited any plant is without the extra aftermarket add on parts I described in past posts where I compared a plant to a factory stock car out of the showroom and multiple species of fungi & bacteria as all the extra modification parts which further enhance that high performance which makes it a true muscle car. Here is her description followed by the image:
"Unassisted, trees are limited to their own relatively meager collection of root hairs, found only near the tips of roots. The rest of the root is just a conduit. Fungi, by contrast, absorb across their entire bodies. Furthermore, root tips are vastly larger than a hypha. Even root hair cells – the finest filament available to roots, which sprout from the side of root tips -- are around 15 micrometers in diameter. That’s one and a half to five times as large as a hypha. You can easily see them with the naked eye."

Image: Oergon Caves, by AnimalParty - Wiki Commons (2011)

Now what I find interesting about this image above is that it also beautifully illustrates the limited nutrient and water uptake infrastructure of a farm crop grown and maintained through the common everyday recommended conventional industrial business model we have today. If we just focus strictly on how the synthetic fertilizer inputs and all other synthetic pesticides actually cause a sterile soil system, the dosage concentration must be high enough so that a certain percentage will be actually used by the crop plant. It's a numbers game. The plant has certain specific requirements for proper growth. The industrial practices deliberately limit how much rooting absorption area will exist in the soils. So the chemical potency needs to be high enough to ensure that enough uptake from the limited root infrastructure will provide such requirements to the plant's above ground food producing  factory. Such high potency of chemical inputs also assure that the mycorrhizal fungi will never colonize these crop plant root systems. The high synthetic fertilizer potency triggers an epigenetic switch within the plant's DNA to actually turn off production of the chemical signaling which sends a message to fungal spores or hyphal strands to colonize the root. If the mycorrhizal fungi already exist, the shut off switch will trigger the fungi to detach from the root system. In any event, the root absorption area becomes far limited and the soil changes from a mycorrhizal soil to a bacterial one which actually favours weed (ruderals) competition. This is because a mycorrhizal system will outcompete the weeds for available phosphorus. If there are any weeds that do germinate, they will be greatly stunted in growth. This also benefits the Agro-Chemical companies who want to sell the farmers more synthetics to kill off those weeds. The conventional Agro-system remains flawed, inferior, but this at the same time allows the industrial business model to remain intact and more powerful. It's extremely important for everyone to understand where the problem lies, what makes it flawed and why there are such powerful lobbies to keep the status quo. But there is more in understanding how this root structure operates by illustrating things we see and use in our world. Look at the illustration below. This is a core boring and cleaning device with water jets engineered into the head for cleaning out a bore hole.

Image; Stone Age Gopher Water Injection Bore Hole Head

Like an industrial water well drilling bit designed with jets to soften, lubricate and cool down the material ahead of it so that the drill head can more easily bore a round core through rock and other challenging material, a plant's root system also can itself bore through many challenging materials. The illustration at right shows that such technologies may also be used in branching off a main bore hole shaft and going horizontally, just as plant roots do. As I have written about previously, there are several shrubs and trees which have an incredible ability known as hydraulic lift & Redistribution of water from deeper layers to the surfaces which also may be shared with other shallower rooted plants. But the reverse is also possible and it's known as hydraulic descent where water is taken from the surface during rain storms and stored into the deeper layers of the sub-soils. The plants have a tough root cap which can expand it's growth further into tough soil materials with the help of water and other enzymes it itself may produce. But the plant is limited and this is where the fungi also manufacture enzymes and biologically created acids to dissolve minerals pushing ever further into newer soil regions that the plant wouldn't otherwise have access to and on a microscopic level. 
"Taken together, these traits mean fungi can probe and penetrate crevices that roots and root hairs cannot. Thus by partnering with fungi, trees can make use of a much larger soil volume than roots alone could do, and can consequently absorb more water and nutrients than trees without fungal partners."
"Ectomycorrhizal fungi hold up their end of the deal by secreting acids that dissolve mineral particles from a distance. Via special digestive proteins called enzymes, they can also access organic forms of nitrogen and phosphorous in the soil (like amino acids, peptides, proteins, amino sugars, chitin, and nucleic acids) that plants wouldn’t otherwise be able to exploit. But there is a lot of other competition in the soil for these nutrients -- from other fungi, from bacteria, and from protists." 
"And the tunnels in those mineral particles sure looked suspicious."
"Scientsts began to connect the dots. What if ectomycorrhizal fungi were not just passively sopping up whatever nitrogen, phosphorous, magnesium, potassium, calcium and iron they could scavenge from the soil? What if ... what if ectomycorrhizal fungi are actually mining hard rock for their trees?"   
"One clue can be found by looking at thin sections of fungus-enveloped root still embedded in soil. In this sample, probing hyphae sprouted from the mantle have wrapped mineral particles in a fungal embrace."

Image: Landweert et al 2001

In the above photograph, notice the thin section of an ectomycorrhizal root tip showing root (r), fungal mantle (fm), mineral particles (m), and ectomycorrhizal hyphae (h). Scale bar = 50 micrometers. Scanning electron micrographs of these particles show the fungi not only grasping, but invading them. In the photograph below again notice the scanning electron micrograph of branching hyphae that embraced and penetrated a mineral particle. Fungi seem to enter the particle at upper right and center right. Scale bar = 10 micrometers.

"As you saw in the image at the top of this post, thin cross sections taken from tiny pieces of feldspar and hornblende – common minerals in conifer forest soil – reveal tunnels inside with rounded ends, curving paths, and constant 3-10 micrometer diameters that also seem to finger fungi as their drivers."
"Scientists speculate that secretions of organic acids at the tip of the hyphae driving the tunnels release potassium, calcium, and magnesium ions from the mineral, simultaneously excavating the tunnel and releasing these valuable elements for absorption."   
"Could anything else be responsible?"
"Scientists have also observed that the tunnels are found most commonly near the soil surface, and much more rarely deeper down. That definitely seems to implicate something alive."
"And as mentioned above, the tunnels look radically different from the etch pits and saw-tooth cracks that are the hallmarks of purely chemical weathering. As a result, scientists now think ectomycorrhizal fungi have *two* ways of shanghai-ing nutrients for their trees, summarized below."

Illustration: Landweert 2001

"Fungi can access organic sources of phosphorous and nitrogen that would otherwise be unavailable to trees via enzymes they make, but also by mining soil minerals"
"Fungal mining has many advantages. Some feldspars contain pockets of apatite, a major source of phosphorous in forests. By excavating these otherwise locked nutrient chambers, fungi are able to access a phosphorous source that would be unavailable to plant roots alone."

"Fungal tunnels and the acids used to make them also speed up mineral decay and increase mineral surface area available directly to plant roots. Futher, fungal mining cuts off competition from other soil microbes for nutrients by accessing minerals in seclusion directly at the source. And it provides trees access to minerals even in acidified soil (the product of decades of acid rain), which can make grabbing them straight from the soil more difficult chemically."
"The speed with which fungi drive their tunnels is not blinding, but not glacial either, considering the miner is just a few micrometers across. One estimate suggests that the tips of fungal hyphae could be pushing their leads at the rate of 0.3-30 micrometers per year. If so, the authors calculated that 150 meters of pores are formed each year per liter of “E horizon” soil – a type of forest dirt leached of many minerals. In this same relatively small volume, 10,000,000 hyphal tips would be tunneling into sand grains at any given moment."
"Spread across the soil of an entire planet, the extent of fungal mining surely dwarfs anything  undertaken by humans. Its scale, and the volume of soil that fungi have helped create over what may be half a billion years of delving, beggar belief."
(Source: Scientific American & Jennifer Frazer)
This is where industrial agriculture fails horribly from an ecology standpoint. From a profit standpoint however, the business model excels in prolific sales which creates satisfaction for both Corporate Executives and those all important Wall Street Stock Market Share Holders. (So all you "Occupy Wall Street" Activists ? Why not Occupy Industrial Ag ??? They are as much of a part of the problem as those evil Bankers you are always on about). You know what the really sad and scary thing is here ? Science defenders will embrace the bad science of the industrial Ag business model of the biotechnology people, but will hardly utter a word about the amazing things good science has uncovered about how the natural world really works. This information is pure gold for anyone interested with biomimicry or biomimetics practical application for any type of agriculture. What is extremely important to walk away with here is how mycorrhizal fungi can also open up soils and create a greater ability of soils to percolate rainwater or even irrigation and infuse carbon into the subsoil layers. The potential for biomimicry and reducing if not totally eliminating synthetic chemicals of all types is huge here with such knowledge of how natural soils work. The ability for potential in using mycorrhizal fungi to detoxify contaminated soils with heavy metals is also promising and has already been used in many applications.
"Soil without biology is simply geology"

Gabe Brown
In the next couple days I have some further posts related to this one here. One is healthy deep-rooted pasture plants and the other is of one single variety of the same mycorrhizal species and the numerous separate findings and benefits for which they attribute to this fungi. Stay Tuned as I'll post more links below here.
References for this Article
Scientific American (Nov 5, 2015) The World's Largest Mining Operation Is Run by Fungi 
Research Gate: Linking plants to rocks: ectomycorrhizalfungi mobilize nutrients from minerals
Biological Soil Crusts both Deserts and Forests
Biological Soil Crusts: What Are They and Why Should I Care ?
Biological Soil Crusts: Boreal & Temperate Forests ????

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Arrogance and the Ecstasy: The difference between Good Science & Bad Science when it comes to Soil Health

"Soil Without Biology is simply Geology" 
Gabe Brown, North Dakota Farmer

I love the inner workings of soil ecology, especially on the level of microbiological mechanisms working together to create that perfect health scenario where soil becomes rich and black emitting that healthy fragrance of earthy freshness which excites the senses. Not all people today are on the same page of soil health. Certainly industrial science and their intellectual defenders consider those not on board with their version of perceived educational level as nothing more than Luddites who have beliefs in nothing more than myths and fables when it comes to practices for making healthy soils either in the home backyard garden, urban commercial landscape or even commercial scale farming. Today if you reject the popular Agro-chemical and Biotech industry's schtik on land management,  growing crops or any other care for landscape or gardening maintenance, you are accused of being nothing more than being anti-science or pseudoscience. There is in reality no such positions. The reality is that there are only good or bad science. But the usage of such terms is almost always meant as a derogatory insult by people who view themselves as your intellectual superiors, who when backed into a corner, having run out of answers to logical questions posed by other people seriously concerned with ecology issues. Let's illustrate it this way.

Photo Image: The Telegraph in UK

Say a great majority of people who drive Automobiles do so recklessly, disrespect traffic laws, take short cuts, speed faster and faster to obtain their goal without regards to other human life on or off road. How reasonable would it be if a minority complained about the reckless driving of others, sought more help from official channels to create new laws and regulation or at the very least to enforce the traffic laws which were already on the books, but the powerful majority rather than giving us satisfying answers instead  justified their irresponsible driving and instead accused the other side of being "Anti-Automobile" or "Pseudo-Drivers." In recent times, the popular term 'anti-science' as used by those defending the Agro-Chemical - Biotech Industry has emerged in defending their corporate business models and at the same time going on the offensive to label someone else's position of biomimicking Nature in farming or landscape practices as inherently ‘pseudoscientific.' It is crucial to note that the ‘anti-science’ accusation is often nothing more than the usual irresponsible strawman and red herring arguments which are generally a last resort tactic used to stifle fair-minded discussion and intelligent debate. The strategies they most often employ are condescending questions accompanied by the abusive, insulting, not infrequently obscene language that's typical of a certain online demographic of anonymous sock-puppeted avatars which appears to operate better within a herd mentality with an agenda to silence any dissenting views, which traditionally have been the lifeblood of scientific progress. Looking back historically, most college students were often encouraged to engage in scientific inquiry as opposed to just sitting there in class and being expected to absorb all the same facts as the Professors presented them. This is where newer generations come up with newer intriguing observations followed by improved technological innovations. But seriously folks, these are the new lows to which scientific discussions have sunk to and behind the scenes these degenerate methods of scientific discussion are backed by the very corporate entities which promote themselves as the real victims of anti-science bullies. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Harvard Univ., Cambridge, MA (1993–2009)

Harvard Yard Restoration Project

Not long ago something came up that I had read about a couple years back from Harvard University which I thought was brilliant at the time, but didn't comment about by writing a post on the subject. Looking back I really should have. But now take a look at this very short video on the landscape department at Harvard University who have taken the conscious responsible step not to use any synthetic chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides or fungicides) in the maintenance of their lawns which have a very high foot traffic. Their decision has also greatly reduced their costs and cut water use as a result of this practice which has increased water percolation deeper into the soils allowing the groundskeepers to water using 30% less of what they were using. Now you'd think after watching this video, everyone would be on board the organic bandwagon championing their successful approach right ? Well, not everyone and in fact they were viciously attacked and maintenance practice methods are now being labeled as being anti-science and loaded with myths lacking peer-review. Watch the video and I'll follow up with the part of this post first dealing with subheading below dealing with the "Arrogance" - The video runs about 3:30 minutes, the video link below that from Vimeo is about 5:54 minutes.

Harvard Yard Soils Project
 The Arrogance when it comes to Soil Science
I seriously loved the biomimetic practical application done by the Harvard University Landscape staff in attempting to provide a more healthy environment within the commercial landscape by actually replicating what Nature is programmed to do perpetually out in the wild and also for the benefit of the students who attend Harvard and also helping to dramatically cut costs in the university's grounds maintenance budget. I can personally relate to every single thing mentioned within that wonderful video having been a head gardener and landscape overseer with a property management company. However, not everyone was pleased with that video and it's content describing the successful program referenced in the Harvard Yard Soils Project mentioned in the original Home and Garden section of the New York Times. This was the case with the Professors over at the Washington State University Agriculture Extension page which is connected with a public relations Group who champion so-called peer-reviewed industrial agriculture as the ONLY version of science that they consider to be the answer to the Universal question, "What is Truth?" In a sickening response by means of a sort of orthodoxy approved rant written by one of it's main contributors, Jeff Gillman takes the stage and proceeded to demonize what the Harvard maintenance crew have done by labeling their program as "VooDoo Science", a phrase he cherishes because it was coined by one of his beloved Professors named Mike Dirr from the University of Georgia's Ornamental Horticulture Department. The article he wrote on their blog was called, “If Harvard Says That It Works Then It Works Dammit!” which preceded to poke fun and insult everything in a New York Times article in their Home & Garden section 
NY Times: "The Grass is Greener at Harvard"  which revealed what the Harvard groundskeepers and supervisors were doing in their Yard soils restoration project along with the methods and explanations they gave in the video interview for taking this holistic organic approach to modern landscape maintenance. I'll give some of the examples of this gang's condescending & arrogant approach which is a common theme which runs throughout their blog pages to the Public, then you decide.
"We share the opinion that many organic techniques, such as compost tea, are “Voodoo Science” (that’s a term I stole from Mike Dirr) and so she thought I’d be interested in the techniques that Harvard was using."
Readers here need to understand that one of the largest targets for anger expression over at the The Garden Professor pages are against those gardeners/landscapers who advocate the use of compost teas. They literally hate it, insisting it is not scientific because there is no peer-review on the topic. Generally rather than intelligently explaining their position, the usual tactic is to demonize the practice as anti-science, not having peer-review [** see footnote on flaws of peer-review] and generally rejected by the agro-chemical industry as a whole [gee what a surprise that is]. No kidding, the industry manufactures, packages, slaps a label to items to be sold at a high profit, so are people really surprised why the professional agro-chemical companies would demonize something that basically costs a potential client time as opposed to giving over money from their wallets ? I am not necessarily an advocate of Compost tea, I mostly apply compost or mulches to my urban landscapes and allow the microbiological organisms to do the work for me. You should note that these professors also advocate the application of mulches and compost, but demonize anyone for practicing the use of compost teas. However, I have successfully used variations of compost teas within the early time frame of seed germination over to replanting seedlings into one gallon containers. In my germination media I have a fairly sterile germination flat media loaded mostly with vermiculite because I want to minimize the risk of damping off. While the seedlings are in the flats, they have no need of added plant food as they early on live off the seed germ which provides them all they need for early life nutritional requirements. But as the seedlings grow bigger and stronger in the flats, these requirements change and they need to be transplanted into larger containers and of course food nutritional requirements increase as well. I won't use synthetic chemical pellets for feeding as these are often too rich and mostly wasted in the watering process. The teas really cost nothing or less to make, with some of the ingredients mentioned in the video and article which were used by Harvard crew I also have used like the Molasses which is for the benefit of the bacteria, not the plant. I also used Seaweed extract and a weak addition of Fish emulsion. I do not keep seedlings and small plants long in the pots as I am not in the nursery business and I out-plant as soon as possible for a specific project where I want the young plants to develop extensive root infrastructure within the native soils and not in containers. But I found the organic lawn cocktail intriguing and support the Harvard Landscape crew in their responsible holistic approach to create an microbiological based deep soil which allows no chemical run off or ground water infiltration and more efficient use of watering with less time and volume required. I also know of the water percolation qualities which are far superior to organic soil systems than the synthetic maintained soil systems which close soil pores and repel water causing far more runoff. Jeff Gillman's article runs through the same theme of the usual derogatory hubris followed by an acknowledgement that they have had positive results which in his opinion had nothing to do with real science. Indeed his intellectual summary where he utilizes his intellectual speak was:
"So why are the people at Harvard raving?  Well, it looks to me like they did a bunch of good things, incorporated one Voodoo science technique, and then attributed an inappropriate amount of their success to the Voodoo science technique.  Go Harvard!"
The less than good and fair scientific critique his article provided the readers was followed by further arrogance and condescending diatribes in the comments section at the bottom of Jeff's article by some of the other contributing professors and their cult following. For example, here is what Garden Professor Linda Chalker-Scott had to say:
"Bravo Jeff! As I like to point out to people, nature creates its own compost tea by rainfall trickling through compost used as a mulch. Gee, how simple! What riles me is that the carbon footprint of this practice is conveniently ignored. It takes ENERGY to continuously aerate this stuff. People that apply it to other peoples landscapes use ENERGY to drive there." 
This was one of the most irresponsible and seriously unintelligible  things I have ever seen this woman respond to in print. She too like Jeff Gillman is an advocate [evangelical religiously driven] of the "peer-reviewed" only because a Scientist's says so gang. She exclaims that what riles her most here is the issue of carbon footprint here with running equipment to aerate the tea mixture. In a previous comment back in 2010, she said this about the energy wasting Carbon footprint problem issues where she grossly exaggerated how Harvard Yard recommends aerating or oxygenating these compost Teas. 
"The compost tea I object to is that which requires pump aeration 24/7. What an incredible waste of energy."
Carbon footprint - 24/7 energy wasting hours of electricity or fuel for a generator ??? At the Harvard Yard's own website, they give recommendations for brewing the compost teas and lawns it says require only 18-24 hours of aeration. (Source) This is hardly 24/7, but I kid you not, most of their cult following will not even attempt research the golden gems of perceived truth which flow from the mouths of any of these Garden Professors. The other important point is that from Harvard's own website, this compost tea brewing and application isn't done on a continual regular weekly basis. At most every two or three weeks, or at least once a month. Hardly something that causes regular energy waste and damaging the Earth's Carbon Footprint.  Never underestimate the need to hold to one's faith commitments no matter how biased or unscientific. Seriously, folks, can anyone see the uncanny similarity here to past historical intimidation of Ecclesiastic Hierarchical religious structures which controlled Academia in the Dark Ages and the uncanny similarity of this present day Scientific Orthodoxy which must not be questioned ? Let's discuss energy wasting and carbon footprints with synthetic fertilizers. In 1909, it was a German chemist named Fritz Haber who developed a high-temperature, energy-intensive process to synthesize plant-available nitrate from air. The USA's Industrial agriculture's reliance on this same source of plentiful synthetic nitrogen is literally killing the soils on this planet. Mr Eric Fleischer was quoted in the article they criticized who said this about the Nitrogen issue:
“Once you get that nutrient cycling system going, it can produce 150 pounds of nitrogen an acre. With that kind of available nitrogen, why would you fertilize?”
Ask any garden professor how Nature historically provided nitrogen from the air to plants in nitrogen poor soils prior to the green revolution. Okay, since they aren't exactly on board with biomimicry I'll give it a go. The atmospheric nitrogen was acquired by soil bacteria from deep porous soils which actually breathed and turned such gaseous nitrogen into a form which then became available to plants. This same process as practice by the landscape crew at Harvard allowing microbes to do the work is exactly what the Harvard Yard project was and is all about. But these professors poking fun and making these "aeration is anti-science" arguments are just plain stupid and really exposes the angry bias the professors have against practices that work in replicating nature and exposes the flaws of their preferred industrial science-based regimen. What Linda and Jeff  are condemning when talking about aeration is something that is also being practiced by almost every single sewer treatment plant across the United States and they are doing it for the same exact reasons as stated by the Harvard Yard maintenance crew.
"In wastewater treatment processes, aeration introduces air into a liquid, providing an aerobic environment for microbial degradation of organic matter. The purpose of aeration is two-fold: 1) to supply the required oxygen to the metabolizing microorganisms and 2) to provide mixing so that the microorganisms come into intimate contact with the dissolved and suspended organic matter."
(Source - US Gov. EPA: "Wastewater Technology Fact Sheet Fine Bubble Aeration")
So here is another question. Are the EPA and Professional Sewer Treatment Plants across the United States using peer-reviewed science in aeration or are we to now believe what they are actually doing should be given the label VooDoo pseudoscience ??? Are they collectively insisting that their readers believe the EPA, their  Scientists & Engineers who work for the Sewer Treatment Plants are actually "anti-science" Luddites ??? Remember, both Linda Chalker-Scott and Jeff Gillman made fun of the crew at Harvard Yard for the aeration idea which they incorporated into the compost tea solution. Then she further condemns them with this last line in her statement:
"But somehow we just can't let nature do the work for us."
But that is exactly what the Harvard Yard folks are attempting to accomplish. Let nature do the work by adding things that won't hinder microbiological soil organisms the way synthetic chemicals manufactured by their cherished industrial science colleagues do, that was the very point they made. Linda Chalker-Scott's and Jeff Gillman's insistence on adding compost on top of the grass instead of the compost tea is also not the answer since this would be an aesthetics issue, the same as if they directly applied steer manure like most people did on their lawns in the old days. Does anyone remember this Harvard Yard is a student lawn for studying and associating with each other at lunch and other break periods at a school ? Is there anybody who still remembers the synthetic chemical industry's original product promos on those TV Ads to home gardeners and landscapers who used to purchase steer manure at the retail nurseries to use on their lawns ? It was said that the synthetics didn't have the foul stench of natural steer manures which offended gardeners and their neighbours. It was said that natural fertilizers also contained dangerous e-coli bacteria and other pathogens which were unhealthful for humans. Hygienic practices help eliminate any potential hazards regardless of such fears. But suddenly now, we've now gone full circle and back to "Let Nature do the work, but don't feed them nutrients found in the compost teas, provide them with synthetics." Except the microbes dislike the synthetics. Mycorrhixal fungi won't even colonize the plant's root system.

So to sum up, apparently it would seem that the position of Jeff Gillman, Linda Chalker-Scott and other Garden Professors is that the US Government's EPA and Wastewater Treatment Plants around the United States are indeed using VooDoo anti-science techniques which do nothing but waste energy, add to the problems of climate change and ultimately do nothing to the garden according to their own personal version of scientific worldview. Okay, whatever! Not everybody in the comments section was pleased with the condescending arrogance which was on full public display. These three outraged people had this to reply:
"OK, so where's YOUR data? All I see is a lot of smug sarcasm. Give us some science. That's your job. I can be convinced either way. As soon as somebody comes up with some good data I'll get on board with their argument. The advocates of compost tea haven't done it. Neither have you. Nor has anyone else, I assume, since you don't cite any research. Why is horticulture so afflicted by bad science and no science at all? Step up to the plate, folks. 
 Owen Dell, ASLA, Santa Barbara, California
"From a natural perspective, you are adding organic materials to the soil, instead of killing the microbes with synthetic chemicals. This has an overall positive effect on soil composition, *THE BASIS* for plant health and its ability to defend itself against pests and diseases. By the way guys, do you think Harvard or anyone with a proven recipe for compost tea would broadcast it over the internet? This is proprietary information folks! People are going to be able to charge a *premium* for compost teas over synthetic fertilizers. The process is simple and inexpensive. Simply take nature and tweak it a little. Nature will appreciate the 75 cents in electricity used to aerate each batch. Compost teas help facilitate an overall better growing environment."
Russ Stevens
"Hi Russ. Thanks for your comment. Here's the thing — I really don't care if you, Harvard, or anyone else gives us their recipes (though, actually, Harvard does give you their recipe online). If you haven't run a replicated experiment then we're not going to care what you think of compost tea. That's the way researchers are — they demand evidence. Without it we simply won't believe you. A picture of a happy lawn or garden is meaningless. I've seen plenty — both with and without compost tea."
Jeff Gillman
"I absolutely approve of your need for solid evidence. However, Harvard has switched from fertilizer to compost tea and reduced the amount of water needed by 30%. I don't care about any of the other benefits other than water reduction. The root growth is much deeper, so more water is absorbed. I am not sure how you are addressing this other than rolling your eyes. So, are they lying, mistaken or right? Because it has to be one of them."
Noah Binder
"Hi Noah, As I mentioned in the article above, Harvard started doing a lot of stuff that has proven to be useful (like aerating and and adding compost to the soil) along with using the compost tea. It seems much more likely that these practices are causing the benefits that you mention rather than the compost tea. If it is indeed the compost tea providing these benefits then that needs to be proven using research methodology."
Jeff Gillman 
In another recent article penned by the Garden Professors, was an article called, Academic Freedom vrs Science Based Advice , the same failed insistence on science-based, peer-review, etc, etc, etc is promoted again and again as a religious doctrine. I'll never understand why their posts must always carry examples of other people's garden or landscape practices which outrage them. They conveniently ignore the glaring problems that completely sink their pet science-based theories on what they think all pro-organic people or advocates believe in by focusing attention on nonsense trivialities [real or imaginary] that they think they can win debating points on. They will often times do this by inserting unquestionably obvious silly claims out of Farmer's Almanac and other New Age publications and imagine that by inserting these citations in many of their posts, they attempt to attribute to ALL pro-organic gardening & landscaping people a blanket identification of them all as nothing more than a bunch of anti-science Luddites and that is a flat out lie. That is actually contrary to how they think science works, NOT how science works. I'll provide some of the recent articles on the fallacy of that precious peer-review and Scientific Method myth at the close of this post below. Now let's get away from all this negativity and talk some positives and real world practical applications as practiced by Harvard Yard and others like Farmer  Gabe Brown. BTW, as an important side point, you should be aware that the inspiration or reason for this latest rant against compost teas once again from the Professor gang because believe it or not, somebody at Washington State University Extension Program is offering free classes on how to make compost teas and no doubt this has infuriated these very Professors within the scientific orthodoxy there at Washington State:
The Ecstasy when it comes to Soil Health

photo image by Ray Weil
The soil on the right has been farmed and tilled the conventional way where chemicals and tillage are the norm. On the left, no-tillage practice and the use of cover crops which encourage mycorrhizal fungi and other beneficial microbes. The soil on the left is healthy and fluffy which greatly facilitates water percolation, while the soil on the right has almost fossilized closed pores which impede water percolation and encourages far more  runoff

The above illustration is a beautiful example of what regular heavy use of chemicals on an industrial level as recommended by Big Ag results in a bacterial soil system on the right and how cover crops which encourage a mycorrhizal system on the left, it doesn't take a science expert or peer-reviewed paper to understand which one is healthy and which is not. One of the best things I can relate to are the deeper more extensive root systems such as the example of the Harvard Yard grass sample in the photo at right which is the result of vastly improved lawn health which has provided superior water percolation. Remember on the positive side regarding irrigation, they said they were able to cut water usage by 30% which resulted in yard maintenance water savings of over two million gallons of water a year. Things like this are important bits of info which have strong potential in drought ravaged areas of the west coast of North America and elsewhere around the globe. The reasons of course are  that the soil structure is now more porous and can more easily facilitate greater rainfall and irrigation capture and store it like a sponge for future needs. This was the same identical experience of Organic Farmer Gabe Brown who after years of healthy soil development of cover crops extending the mycorrhizal soil structure, one exceptional thunderstorm downpour dumped 13 inches of rain in one hour at it's peak. Gabe Brown's farm fields faired far better when compared to his neighbour who conventionally farmed with chemicals and plowing lost tonnes of topsoil, while Gabe's fields only experienced runoff after 8 inches had fallen. Even the Ag Extension Agent later estimated his soil percolation capacity at 8 inches of rain per hour. Harvard was happy to obtain one inch per hour. Now I'll provide my own critique of the article from my own 30+ years of holistic practical application through observation perspective, otherwise known as biomimicry or Biomimetics.
New York Times: "The Grass is Greener at Harvard"
Other positives experienced by the Harvard Yard crew were the complete elimination of chemicals for which the Harvard Yard folks then allowed *cough-cough*, "nature to do the work for us"
"The organically grown grass on campus is now green from the microbes that feed the soil, eliminating the use of synthetic nitrogen, the base of most commercial fertilizers. No herbicides or pesticides are used, either. Roots reach eight inches into soil that was once so compacted the trees planted in it were dying." 
“And we don’t have to buy compost or fertilizers, so we’re saving an additional $10,000 in those materials.”
 The other criticism by the professors when asserting that compost tea was scientifically worthless [in their biased opinion] and that application of compost directly onto the grass would allow nature to break down the compost naturally and allow nature to work for them, had one major flaw. Yes, you could do that and naturally nature would break it down and the grass would benefit. But these Professors clearly have not kept in mind the maintenance aesthetic reasons for why Harvard took this compost tea approach in the first place. See why as they explained it here:
“At commencement, rain or shine, we have 10,000 people here,” Mr. Carbone said, gazing at the expanse where chairs are traditionally set in front of Memorial Church. “We get about 6,000 to 8,000 people here every day.”
As a maintenance person in charge of making a park and surrounding urban landscape aesthetically pleasing as possible, especially in the case of high traffic use lawns, you cannot practice the old school method of dumping layers of compost, steer manures or other top dressing which will take longer to break down and in the mean times create a nightmare of a mess where people track this stuff all over sidewalks and inside classroom buildings because it clings to their shoes. Does any of this make any sense to anyone reading ??? It didn't the garden Professors. But the compost tea also itself came from the composted materials which were actually provided for free by means of the regular garden maintenance like grass clippings from mowing, shredded bark, branches and leaves from the University's own trees and shrubs. Past old school practices meant spending large volumes of money to haul this organic material to far away landfills which also require a fee for dumping.
"The test plot’s new ability to absorb and hold water (thus reducing irrigation needs), coupled with the benefits of composting 500 tons of grass clippings, pruned branches, leaves and other material that was trucked off campus to the tune of $35,000 a year, quickly convinced Mr. Carbone that the program should be expanded."
Wow, more huge savings is also money earned. The tea also wasn't just brewed from those composted materials. Does anyone remember in the video what other ingredients were added to the compost tea brewing process and why ? If not, you can also go to their own website and read the specifics of the tea ingredients, why they are used and what they do. The link also provides different measurements for differing applications. Additional ingredients were Seaweed Kelp extract, Hydra-Hume [Humic Acids derived from Leonardite], Molasses, liquefied Fish Emulsion. Does anyone know what these additional ingredients do for the soil microbial community ? Notice in their own Results report below that the goal was not to focus attention on feeding plant foliage and growth, but on root development and soil maintenance by stimulating the underground microbial community and also the other living organisms or critters which thrive and benefit the plants by their presence. The last point is also imperative as the absence of excessive nitrogen in the soils allows slower growth above ground of the plant foliage, in this case the lawn which doesn't have to be mowed as regularly. As a former commercial landscaper and head maintenance grounds person, this goal is exactly what you ideally want because it lessens the work load require in maintenance. 
Illustration from Harvard Yard's own Summary report

Lignite or Brown Coal
Using molasses provides some sugars and trace elements for the beneficial bacteria which thrive off sugars and remember the goal here is not feeding the plant foliage, but rather the underground microbial community. The usage of Hydra-Hume is interesting as these are root growth stimulating humic acids derived from Leonardite (source), which comes from further broken down Lignite which itself is also called brown coal which is a low grade form of the black coal, but still important. Plant Health Care Inc or (PHC) whom I previously purchased my mycorrhizal mixes from in the past, farms and packages mycorrhizal fungal mixes and their blends utilize humic acids in their injectable to help  stimulate plant's root hair growth which are necessary for mycorrhizal fungi colonization. The use of Kelp or Seaweed extracts and Fish Emulsion are also interesting and I found a link on their effects with regard to plant growth as a bio-stimulant. There were three categories tested by the Horticulture Department at North Carolina State University, Seed Germination, as a Transplant Production Fertilizer and Foliar Fertilization Spraying. Believe it or not I agree with their findings, the only time I have ever used such liquid mixes with these two products is in the Transplant Production as I stated above. But I have also used them with delicate tropical plants like Cannas which are sensitive to the harsher synthetic fertilizers which always tended to burn the leaves, even when very little was applied. Here is the link for your own reading:
Below here is one photograph of a Harvard Yard Groundskeeper from that New York Times article utilizing a spray application of the compost tea on shrubbery. I am not an advocate of any type of foliar spraying, just as I am not an advocate of amending soil prior to planting. Is it because they don't work or offer anything of value ? No, they may well eventually provide something of value to the plants but not enough where it matters and I basically believe it is more of a waste of time and money. One point I will agree with those Professors is adding the mulch under the trees and shrubs where there is no grass. Let nature handle the mulch break down, but also inoculate to make sure that efficiently does take place. It would also lessen the time it takes to brew more teas if you just concentrate on the lawn care. Many urban landscapes do not have the healthy microbial ecosystems that healthy untouched forests and other chaparral plant communities do. So I make sure. 

Image: Harvard Yard Soils Project
The difference for me and those professors is that I don't have a driving need to condemn, insult and condescendingly put down and make fun of those people who wish to do things that way and I couldn't care less whether their version of science and peer-review says it's okay or not. The Garden Professors have a cult following which gives them a pass on the insults and derogatory name calling. From what I've noted recently, it appears to have nothing more than cheap entertainment value to the faithful. There was one other point which neither the Harvard Yard video or article, nor did the Professors pick up on. Remember Harvard Yard said they got rid of using all chemicals ? Beyond the obvious fertilizers and pesticides, they also do not use fungicides. Take a look at what was said here in the article:
"And the 40-year-old orchards at Elmwood, which have been treated with compost tea, are recovering from leaf spot and apple scab, two ailments that had afflicted them."
"We can already see the leaf spot has receded, and the trees have a much more vibrant canopy," said Dr. Faust
So why is it that these problems dwindled to almost nothing when they changed over their system to a organic one ? Do you remember how nature prevents fungal disease, powdery mildew and other pest attacks in plant communities ? Why do we have a massive increase in fungal attacks on plants in these modern times which results in these increased uses of the agro-chemical fungicides ? If you don't know, take a walk out into a healthy pristine forested area and view how most all of the common blight and insect attack problems just don't seem to exist there as they do under many of the artificial conditions we humans have provided within the urban landscape utilizing the industrial maintenance regimen recommended and advertised by the industrial science business model. In most all organisms, disease and other problems are prevented through healthy immune systems which are capable of extracting important trace elements like copper, zinc, manganese, etc. Why aren't these trace element nutrients easily available now ? It's because many of these synthetic chemical herbicides, which includes Glyphosate in Round up are heavy metal chelators which tied up those nutrients so that they are no longer available to the plants. These chelators are small molecules that bind very tightly to metal ions. People don't even know that the original usage for glyphosate was a descaling agent, before Monsanto purchased the patent and gave us that wonderful weed killer. Heavy usage of this product prevents the plants obtaining these important trace elements and then we get fungal diseases and then we have to purchase more synthetics fungicides to spray on the plants to counteract the effects of the disease. At that point the system further degrades and spirals down hill as a result of following the conventional science-based business model where ONLY the Biotechs and Agro-Chemical companies come off the winners, at least from a profit potential standpoint. But nature and humans still lose. That's is the reason I see why Harvard has experienced a dramatic drop in these blights and other fungal diseases, although they didn't really mention it or maybe they don't actually know why there was a dramatic drop. I'm sure someone there does.
 My Own Personal Experience in building healthy Soils within the Urban Landscaping business (Home Garden and Commercial)  

Photograph taken in May 2011
The photograph here of my mother's front yard in El Cajon California where I grew up was taken in May 2011. Take special note of the palm tree in the landscape foreground at right. The roses along the hedge are gone as is the expensive to maintain lawn which is in an area of Southern California where water rates are hiked up on a regular basis now during this mega-drought. I completely have changed all of this over to a drought resistant Oasis setting with Mexican Fan Palms, California Fan Palms, Screwbean Mesquite, Mexican Redbird of Paradise, Baja Fairyduster and in the far background two blue/green Mexican Fan Palms native to Baja California. Nothing has regular irrigation to it and over the period of four years all plants were inoculated with a rich blend of mycorrhizal fungi and beneficial bacteria. Every year since 2011 a thin later of shredded cedar and pine bark mulch has been applied to building up the cool shaded mycorrhizal soils which have improved dramatically. In the photograph below, this shot was taken prior to a day long monsoonal storm which hit San Diego County in California on the 14th of September 2015, this year. It's the same location as above, but four years later with no synthetic chemicals ever applied. The storm dumped close to two inches of rain here on September 14, 2015. I'm not a fan of any Nursery grown plant over one gallon. It's simply not necessary when you create healthy soils. Last year that largest palm behind the Baja Fairyduster nearly doubled in size because for the first time, I inoculated it in July 2014.

Image: Mine (September 14, 2015)
This photograph was taken immediately after the rainstorm had subsided. The landscape here is on a gradual slope. The plant community itself has several years of soil care with no chemicals ever applied other than decorative shredded cedar & pine bark mulch. The soils have also been inoculated with a multi-blend of mycorrhizal mix from MycoApply for several years to build up the microbial content of the soul beneath the mulch layer. A fresh thin layer of mulch is applied every year which is gradually broken down by the mycorrhizal and beneficial bacterial community. No other feeding is ever required and on this trip to California, I had neighbours come over and even parents dropping and picking up their kids from Pepper Drive School across the street asking me what special fertilizer I used to keep the landscapes shrubbery flowering constantly. To be honest, I had never given the longer period of flowering a second thought, but it's true, other landscapes these same shrubs have a limited two month or more window of flowering, while these shrubs are five or six months in flower bloom. I would reply that I never ever fertilize with anything, I simply inoculate with a multi-species blend of of beneficial fungi and some beneficial bacteria. It totally goes over their heads because they are so indoctrinated into understanding that only something like a special Scott's Miracle-Gro can accomplish any such thing. There's a lot of work in the deprogramming business to be done now days.

Now back to the afternoon monsoon rain in El Cajon. During that storm, water from the housing development on top of the mountain above in that photograph came pouring down all the rain and curd gutters across from my mother's place. The water was crystal clear and heading for the ocean. What a complete waste. No infrastructure as yet exist to capture any of this illusive rainfall which shows up so irregularly now days. I spent an house walking over back and forth filling up an orange five gallon Home Depot instantly by placing the bucket nose first towards the mountain in that curb. Two seconds at most and the bucket was full. I would bring the bucket back and dump the entire contents onto one of the shrubs in the landscape. In the above photo, it was mostly directed at the red flowering shrub in the fore ground of that Mexican Fan Palm. The shrub is a Baja Fairyduster. I must have dumped more than 10 full five gallon buckets on the center of that shrub and almost instantaneously the massive amount of water simply disappeared. Same situation with that Island Manzanita planted by the curbside you see above right in the photo. Numerous buckets of rainwater dumped on this shrub and almost instantaneous percolation with zero runoff whatsoever. Why ? Because the ground underneath those shrubs is like a sponge soaking up whatever you throw at them. Now look at the short videos of the rainfall we had in El Cajon California which was indeed a rare event.

Above and below these are very short 30 second videos of the rainfall we experience with the second one quickly showing you the rainfall across the street. The water is running off the housing development in the hillside above ran strong and clear. The video is after the rain had already climaxed in intensity. The water at it's peak was stretched out into the middle of the street. But this water once again is mostly wasted as it makes it's way to the Pacific Ocean far down stream. Something has to change in order to capitalize on such a free resource which is dwindling during this climate change influenced mega-drought the experts say is here.


The best way for me to illustrate what happens in heavy carbon based biologically created soils is to have you view a TV Advertisement from a company that produces a rather porous concrete which has exception storm water runoff percolation structure built into it which is illustrative of what mycorrhizal soils accomplish in nature. Pay close attention as they reveal a side view of the surface porosity abilities all the way through to the ground level.

In Summary of Good and Bad Science 
I no longer visit the "Garden Professors Blog" as the atmosphere  over there went from helpful advice to this ongoing ever increasing  arrogance of ONLY peer-review & science-based answers the universal question, "What is Truth ?".  When others readers over there wrote or commented about seeing something with their very  own eyes and being successful at some specific practice in landscaping, gardening or commercial farming, the humiliating response from some of these academics is it was not enough to convince the Professor Orthodoxy that what they were doing was scientific-based or peer-reviewed to translate as a truth. The replies were often that if what a commenter said was indeed true, then science would have peer reviewed it and publish it in a respected science journal and only then could it be even considered an admitted truth. But even that is tentative if we (The Garden Professors) doesn't meet the personal standard of what we consider real science. There are things I agreed with over there a couple of years ago and still do, but the mood and feel of the atmosphere morphed into one of arrogance, pompousness, snarly smug sarcasm, derogatory name calling against fellow academics at another university nothing to gain but fulfillment in life in knowing they've accomplished something wonderful to the benefit of their fellow man. I'll tell you, had it not been for this latest round of bashing people who loved gardening and landscaping and just happened to successfully use Compost Teas, then I would have never have written this post. That's to bad because what the Harvard Yard people did accomplish in a healthy sustainable and responsible way deserves their own post minus the negativity which for which I found a need to defend what they have done.

Ask an Expert Trending Questions
are general questions answered by a
variety of individuals within the
eXtension system, not The Garden 
The above disclaimer is on the Ag Extension's own website which advertises the Garden Professor's page. Clearly the extension wants to separate or distance themselves from that blog. It is clear there is a rift over there as the latest post by one of the Professors angry at the free offering by the Extension to the public to participate in the webinar on "Compost Teas". These days it seems keeping a career as a Professor at any University means you can be totally wrong, still keep your job and enjoy a great reputation as an revered Academic as long as you adhere to the prevailing Industrial Science business model. Of course the way you keep your career on track is to pretend to look excited and glad when your failed expectations get exposed in the comments section under one of your own hubristic garden rants. Just keep hyping the public relations schtik of industrial agro-science that promises how only they can feed to world or heal the Earth and your career will  be safe. Seriously people, do any of you really believe that such a prestigious academic institution such as Harvard University is going to actually have people on their staff who practice pseudoscience beliefs, publish anti-science papers and employ Voodoo Science Luddites to run their Harvard Yard maintenance programs ??? In the end, no one needs peer-review to arrive at the truth. Science today is a useful tool, but it's hardly something to regard as hallowed. You've heard it been said to follow your heart ??? Don't trust your heart, use your head along with a well trained conscience. Once again, while I respect many of the things written and discussed over there, the mood over time gradually degraded to one of being in some kind of higher plain parallel universe with the folks running it evolving some a sort of secular version of a god complex which rather than draw people hungering for truth and understanding about the natural world and how to better maintain it, many walk away more discourage than when they came. The sad thing is many of the faithful followers somehow are there mostly for the entertainment value of the controversy and outrage against those considered uneducated Luddites.
"The gullible believe anything they’re told; the prudent sift and weigh every word."
Proverbs 14:15 
For the folks with a bit of time on their hands (like 59 minutes), here is a video talk by Gabe Brown of Bismark,  North Dakota who farms 5400+ acres utilizing most of the same techniques as Harvard Yard and does so without GMOs or the need for industrial Agro-Chemical companies advertised regimens.

In defiance of the WSU Garden Professor's attempts are squelching their own Agricultural Extension's Webinar about how to make and use Compost Teas, here is that Webinar. It's a little over an hour so make time
Washington State University: "Making and Using Compost Teas" 
What Harvard Yard actually says about their own Restoration Program 
The Religious Fallacy of Peer-Review
The Myth of the Objective Expert

"Many nonscientists perceive reviewers to be impartial. But the reviewers, called independent experts, in fact are often competitors of the authors of the papers they scrutinize, raising potential conflicts of interest."
NY Times: For Science's Gatekeepers, a Credibility Gap
"By promoting the sanctity of peer review and using it to justify a number of their actions in recent years, journals have added to their enormous power."
Playing the "Peer-Review" Card to Shut Down Dissent
The treatment of peer-reviewed science as an unquestionable form of authority is corrupting the peer-review system and damaging public debate. 
"Increasingly, peer review is cited as kind of unquestioned and unquestionable authority for settling what are in fact political disputes. Consequently, the findings of peer review are looked upon, not simply as statements about the quality of research or of a scientific finding, but as the foundation for far-reaching policies that affect everything from the global economy to our individual lifestyles." 
"Increasingly, peer review has been turned into a quasi-holy institution, which apparently signifies that a certain claim is legitimate or sacred. And from this perspective, voices which lack the authority of peer review are, by definition, illegitimate. Peer review provides a warrant to be heard -- those who speak without this warrant deserve only our scorn."
"You can almost visualize peer-review dogmatists waving their warrant and demanding that their opponents be silenced. For someone like George Monbiot, the British climate-change alarmist, peer review is the equivalent of a holy scripture. Boasting of his encounter with an opponent, who challenged him to a debate on speed cameras, Monbiot wrote: "I accepted and floored him with a simple question." Predictably, the question was: "Has he published his analysis in a peer-reviewed journal?"
The Peer-Review system Under Attack
"The process is under assault from critics who say it is ineffective at filtering out poor research, while it perpetuates predictable work at the expense of more imaginative thinking. In the long run we all suffer, argues Don Braben of University College London, because economic growth depends on unpredictable scientific advances."
"For centuries, this is how science has operated -- through research done in private, then submitted to science and medical journals to be reviewed by peers and published for the benefit of other researchers and the public at large. But to many scientists, the longevity of that process is nothing to celebrate."
"The system is hidebound, expensive and elitist, they say. Peer review can take months, journal subscriptions can be prohibitively costly, and a handful of gatekeepers limit the flow of information. It is an ideal system for sharing knowledge, said the quantum physicist Michael Nielsen, only "if you're stuck with 17th-century technology."
"The blame for this sad situation lies with the people who have imposed a publish-or-perish culture, namely research funders and senior people in universities. To have "written" 800 papers is regarded as something to boast about rather than being rather shameful. University PR departments encourage exaggerated claims, and hard-pressed authors go along with them."

 U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that good science will not always be published in a peer-reviewed journal
"Publication (which is but one element of peer review) is not a sine qua non of admissibility; it does not necessarily correlate with reliability, and in some instances well-grounded but innovative theories will not have been published. Some propositions, moreover, are too particular, too new, or of too limited interest to be published."
"Judgments based on scientific evidence, whether made in a laboratory or a courtroom, are undermined by a categorical refusal even to consider research or views that contradict someone's notion of the prevailing "consensus" of scientific opinion. Science progresses as much or more by the replacement of old views as by the gradual accumulation of incremental knowledge. Automatically rejecting dissenting views that challenge the conventional wisdom is a dangerous fallacy, for almost every generally accepted view was once deemed eccentric or heretical. Perpetuating the reign of a supposed scientific orthodoxy in this way, whether in a research laboratory or in a courtroom, is profoundly inimical to the search for truth. A categorical refusal even to examine and consider scientific evidence that conflicts with some ill-defined notion of majority opinion is a recipe for error in any forum."
"Unable or unwilling to investigate scientific methodology and determine just what is orthodox and "generally accepted," the Ninth Circuit instead seized upon publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal as the badge of respectability, the sine qua non of admissible "good science." The court thereby converted that editorial tool into something no scientist or journal editor ever meant it to be: a litmus test for scientific truth. This is not the way scientists work in their laboratories and symposia, and it is not the way that science should be used in the courtroom if the goal is to ensure the most accurate and valid judgments possible."
 "As scientists, physicians, historians of science and sociologists of science who are members of the "scientific community," amici can assure the Court that this is not how scientists work in their pursuit of truth. Amici challenge the Ninth Circuit's premise that the only "good science" is that which is "generally accepted" and published in peer-reviewed journals, and reject the notion that scientific analysis and conclusions that might diverge from what a court deems the published "consensus" are so unreliable as to be wholly unworthy of consideration. The quality of a scientific approach or opinion depends on the strength of its factual premises and on the depth and consistency of its reasoning, not on its appearance in a particular journal or on its popularity among other scientists. Even if it were possible to determine the existence and character of a "consensus," which is itself a task fraught with difficulty, prevailing views and conventional wisdom have all too often been consigned to the dust heap of the history of science. If the purpose of the Federal Rules of Evidence is to enable the fact-finder to make the most informed decision possible, by providing the assistance of qualified experts who possess "scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge [that] will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue," Fed.R.Evid. 702, then it would be a grave mistake to require that all scientific analysis be supported by a consensus and published in a particular form in order to be considered."
 The Scientific Method is a Myth
"It’s probably best to get the bad news out of the way first. The so-called scientific method is a myth. That is not to say that scientists don’t do things that can be described and are unique to their fields of study. But to squeeze a diverse set of practices that span cultural anthropology, paleobotany, and theoretical physics into a handful of steps is an inevitable distortion and, to be blunt, displays a serious poverty of imagination. Easy to grasp, pocket-guide versions of the scientific method usually reduce to critical thinking, checking facts, or letting “nature speak for itself,” none of which is really all that uniquely scientific. If typical formulations were accurate, the only location true science would be taking place in would be grade-school classrooms."
"All of this paralleled a shift in popular notions of science from general systematized knowledge during the early 1800s to a special and unique sort of information by the early 1900s. These notions eclipsed habits of talk about the scientific method that opened the door to attestations of the authority of science in contrast with other human activities.  Such labor is the essence of what Thomas Gieryn (b. 1950) has called “boundary-work”— that is, exploiting variations and even apparent contradictions in potential definitions of science to enhance one’s own access to social and material resources while denying such benefits to others."