Monday, June 27, 2016

How to Biomimic Nature's Companion Planting & the Reasons You Should

For those keenly aware of their surroundings when you're out walking in Nature, you will always find that companion planting is very common. That's what makes various ecosystems everywhere so very unique and successful. Humans now are finding this out as they reverse engineer many of these systems through mistakes introduced by previous bad science which has allowed invasive plants to disrupt these systems. This has happened on every single continent on this planet. The early Native Americans knew the value of companion planting when they created farming systems known as "The three Sisters Farming" no doubt from their observations of how things worked well together in the natural world. In theory, the three sisters crops benefit from each other. The maize provides a structure for the beans to climb, eliminating the need for poles. The beans provide the nitrogen to the soil that the other plants use, and the squash spreads along the ground, blocking the sunlight, helping prevent establishment of weeds. The squash leaves also act as a "living mulch", creating a microclimate to retain moisture in the soil, and the prickly hairs of the vine deter pests. But again, this pattern is an unmistakable part of Nature found repeatedly over and over for 10s of 1000s of years. So what happened ?
A California Biologists Perspective - Bert Wilson
"Permaculture, Agroforestry, and Agroecology. These words have many characteristics in common, in terms of agriculture. The concepts from permaculture (permanent agriculture), agroforestry (growing tree crops and vine, field crops together), agroecology (study of agriculture using the basic ideas of ecosystems) are all interrelated. If you think about it, each of these systems is moving agriculture (growing living organisms for the benefit of man) closer to the natural world. The missing component is the integration of wildland plants into the mix. Every time you remove wild habitat, the agriculture suffers in that area; maybe in small ways, but small ways add up to big ways. For example, researchers have found that having strips, or areas of wild plants adjacent to, or growing within field and orchard crop areas support native pollinators such as bees and flies that help to increase pollination of the crops and so increase crop yields."
"Wild plants may support some of the predators and parasites that prey on your agricultural crop pests, and add stability to the immediate habitat, by redundancy. The cultivation of agricultural plants has, by definition, probably net negative impacts on an ecosystem (the practice of agriculture removes soil nutrition from an area, and decreases biological diversity, from microscopic soil organisms to large mammals). Incorporating indigenous plants adjacent to agricultural plantings supports more variety of beneficial organisms, and increases biological diversity, and can add nutrition to the site. Then, if one plant or animal fails one year, there are others to perform that function temporarily. So the 'plant-animal community' of cultivated plants, naturalized and indigenous plants and animals small and large, and other organisms, can recover from adversity more quickly, and reduce adversity's effects. Another analogy is that this plant-animal grouping is like a giant web; if one strand of the web fails, there are other strands to hold the web together. The more interlinking strands, the stronger the web. Also, in terms of humankind, there may be some species, even though we don't realize it now, that could help us to survive in the future. So it is to our advantage to save all the natural habitat that we can. One way is to integrate wild plants into the edges of our gardens, fields, and orchards. Instead of just mimicking nature, how about including nature?"

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This is Bert Wilson of "Las Pilitas California Native Plants Nursery" who for many years just didn't grow plants for sale, but spent countless hours studying, documenting and educating others on the biological mechanisms in which various plant ecosystems function and operate. While other sites selling native plants have also done this, none come close to the scale with which Bert Wilson attempted to help his customers understand the underground mycrobiological interface which makes the successful whole plant ecosystems in pristine states appear to be so healthy and successful. Interestingly, from my own conversations with him on the telephone in the past, he said some eco-activist organizations were disappointed he didn't take a more active political role in furthering the cause for ecology. Actually he did do this through indepth ecosystem education far beyond anything many of these groups have ever accomplished through their civil disobendience inspired protests and filing a plethora of lawsuits. Bert's writings of the basic fundamentals and principles of how plant systems work are further enhanced with what the Groasis-waterboxx attempts to accelerate in these natural processes as opposed to handicapping them as the conventional science-based practices have done for decades. My main post on the Groasis Company is below.
Mainpost on Groasis Waterboxx Technolgy and it's incredible potential
This is what happens when science-based practices are shackled to Corporate Business Interests 
For the past 100+ years, human technological innovation has  attempted to harness nature in making what the industry leaders decades ago have always viewed as improving Nature's flaws. 

Image - Utah Wildlife
Of course the theory behind site preparation and grinding up all vegetation into a mulch by a giant Balldozer pulling a roller is that this will (in their imagination) ensure no competition and the resulting nutrients feeding the trees. In actuality they've just eliminated the very mechanisms which would have helped the tree seedling/saplings survival
D-9 Bulldozer site preparation
Same misplaced theory for deep ripping the soil in site preparation. Ensure that no chaparral lignotubers and roots are left to resprout and compete with their precious plantation trees. 
D-9 Bulldozers ripping baparral with anchor chain
Old time outdated irresponsible method for site preparation. Even still, many a practices today are deeply entrenched in the mind of those employed with the Industrial Forestry business model.

Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service (retired)

This scene above looks almost exactly like Garner Valley in the San Jacinto Mountains where I once lived for 20+ years. They actually disked this Jeffrey Pine forest floor like this periodically. However this photo is in actually what the US Forest Service calls a scarification program which was done by disking to expose bear mineral soil, as in this ponderosa pine stand in the Pike National Forest of Colorado. Their theory was that establishing newer trees needed site preparation by mechanical seed bed preparation and competition control which they felt was necessary to establish the new pine seedlings. Garner Valley has had numerous such projects done exactly the way you see above. The process ultimately was chaparral cutting, disking, then mulching and smoothing of the ground. Pines were then planted and had to be maintain by hand watering the first couple years by Forest Service personel using an old time farm caterpillar pulling what is known as a Water Buffalo Trailer which were military surplus items provided such government agencies after World War II for their conservation work. Throughout the 1980s, I drove past numerous tree planting projects by the U.S. Forest Service along Hwy 74 through Garner Valley and watch them rip up the landscape of all chaparral, disk & mulch organic material left over and smooth out the surface in preparation of tree planting. After planting for the next two years they used an old Ford Tractor or WWII Farm Caterpillar to pull one of these Water Buffalo Trailers and hydrate the pine seedlings by hand over countless acreas.

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Old time Army Water Buffalo Trailer
The Chaparral Institute has done an incredible job of documenting many of these irresponsible outdated practices as used by the U.S. forest Service and Timber Industries whose goal is servicing the land as a monocropped agricultural program. It doesn't matter if their justification claims to be science-based. People are going to have to stop using the term Science in the general sense and understand that many will misuse and abuse that term in justifying a commercial business model. Take note of the terrible aftermath of the 2003 Cedar Fire in San Diego County California and the attempts to reforest Cuyamaca State Park which lost most of it's forests in the video below. Notice the ignorance displayed in attempts at obliterating all chaparral believed to be a major invasive competitor of forest tree re-establishment.
Chaparral Institute: Loss in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
How the Groasis-Waterboxx can rapidly speed up the process of companion planting
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Oregon State University
The ultimate goal of Pieter Hoff's Groasis-Waterboxx as represented in the animation above is to help facillitate long downward growing rootsystems which will hit subterranean moisture which will provide assured survival success. This is highlighted in the photo at right of a large main taproot of a Western Juniper in eastern Oregon. Create that type of root  infrastructure and you're home free. However, the planting of an additional companion nurse plant will also further the successful survival rate along with other shared nutritional requirements and health benefits further enhanced by the mycorrhizal fungi interface happening between differing plant species. The benefits of utilizing chaparral plants, especially those with incredible lignotuber developing abilities is that they have multiple taproots which drive and spiral downwards deep into the earth. This is why I have often photographed many examples of erosion exposed rootsystems on my own treks for the purpose of illustrating their capabilities. Pieter Hoff's website also has several pages also provide photos of rootsout in the wild dedicated for this same illustrative purpose. For example, this lugnotuber of a plant common to the southwest, Algerita or Mexican Barberry.

by Bob Harms - University of Texas

Mexican Barberry (Algerita) Berberis trifoliolata (Mahonia)

Lignotuber: "A rounded woody growth at or below ground level on some shrubs and trees that grow in areas subject to fire or drought, containing a mass of buds and food reserves."

Nobody ever considers the underground rooting network infrastructure and the successes this creates if grown correctly and they should. Especially where I come from where climate change made worse drought conditions are making it more and more impossible to maintain a healthy good looking urban landscape. People everywhere in dryland regions should seriously start looking for shrubs which would make the best Nurse plant companions to trees they wish to plant. And good looking native ornamentals should be researched first before considering some long time traditional retail nursery alternative.

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You'll notice the design of the Groasis Waterboxx Cocoon actually allows for two plants to be inserted, not just one. In their videos they provide examples of how well this works in the commercial greenhouse and shadehouse vegetable operations where this type of association is desirable. But also in some examples, they show outplanting at remote locations where they have deliberately planted two differing plant species to compliment each other. As the example above which shows Mountain Ash on the left and perhaps a type of Mulberry on the right.
The Green Deserts' research project in Spain
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Image - (Biodegradable Goasis Cocoon)

Okay yes, size does matter
The concept of planting two companion plants together in replication of what actually goes down in Nature all the time for the past 10s of 1000s of years is not only good common sense, but also thrilling. Think of the possibilities of doing your own experiment and jotting down all the data and making comparisons to the conventional recommendations by the so-called experts using dogmatic science-based conjecture ? Think of how you can instill appreciation and teach your own kids if you have them on how nature actually works. Seriously, they'll never get this from the textbooks at public school. However to get the full benefits, you first need to de-program yourself from conventional  teachings. Realize the "Survival of the Fittest" is now a dead concept. Mutualism rules. Take a closer look at our planet and what this blind faith doctrine has done to overall ecosystem health over the past 100+ years. Look where we are now with climate change. Next, stop being impatient when it comes to planning your urban landscape design. I understand everyone wants instant landscape installation. Hence you've purchased in the past five, fifteen or 20 gallon trees or box container larger specimens. Purchase very  small trees & shrubs which will far out perform any five gallon container or burlap tree or shrub. Ignore those large specimens at the nursery. Forget the 6' tall burlap examples like the illustration below. They will NEVER develop a proper deep rooted infrastructure that the devices from grosasis-waterboxx cocoon will encourage to develop. My only regret in writing this is that I'll never be able to test this in a drylands type climate. For me this patented product came too late. For me I would have loved this device back in the 1980s when I was more heavily involved with looking for the basic fundamentals and principles in how whole plant ecosystems work in cooperation with each other. This is the type of thing that should be taught in elementary schools and fortunately it is being taught and practiced down in Palm Springs, California on some of their desert projects.
Reforestation Groasis waterboxx desert planting experiment with Palm Springs School District

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When planning your urban landscape you need to think smart. Everyone wants instant landscape, but at what cost ? The tall tree in the burlap wrapping as the above example should always be rejected in favour of something which will out perform it on the road to life with far less maintenance and care. Also there is less danger of large trees with spiraled girdling root systems which will easily blow over in wind storms.
The Native California Plants used in three different habitat restoration experiments
Whitewater (High Desert), Mission Springs (Low Desert), Dos Palmas (Salton Sea), in Southern California
Honey Mesquite -- Prosopis glandulosa 
Screwbean Mesquite -- Prosopis pubescens 
Blue Paloverde -- Parkinsonia florida 
Sugarbush – Rhus ovata 
Velvet Ash – Fraxinus velutina 
California Sycamore – Platanus racemosa 
Holly Leaf Cherry - Prunus ilicifolia 
Wishbone Bush - Mirabilis bigelovii 
Cheesebush - Hymenoclea salsola 
Paperbag Bush - Salazaria mexicana 
Beargrass - Nolina parryi 
Joshua Tree - Yucca brevifolia 
Apricot Mallow - Sphaeralcea ambigua 
 Groasis: You can also cooperate in your own Groasis Tesform Experiment
Gallery of successful plant companions, both for natural biomimetic replication in urban landscaping or habitat restoration
Image - Kevin Franck (2013)

Jeffrey & Coulter Pines planted in among Redshank,
Sugarbush, Scrub Oak, Chamise Chaparral plant community
back in 1983 in Anza Ca, (Terwilliger area)

Image - Kevin Franck (El Cajon, CA 2013)

Torrey Pine & Laurel Sumac
 Rattlesnake Mountain - El Cajon, California

Image - Kevin Franck 

Cuyamaca Cypress in Chaparral Community

(Adenostoma, Quercus, Cercocarpus)

Image by Game Warden Bill Bish

Indian Paint Brush with Artemesia-Sagebrush
An Icon of the Old West, Sagebrush (Atermisia tridentata) is Still Demonized as a Competing Invasive in it's Own Native Habitat

Image - Tarelton State University

Antelope Bitterbrush & Pine Tree

Image - María Florencia Urretavizcaya, Guillermo E. Defossé

 Austrocedrus chilensis (Chile - Argentina)

Image by J. Deacon - University of Edinburgh

Oagan Pipe Cactus in Palo Verde

Image - National Park Service
Saguaro National Monument

The Sonoran Desert studies on companion trees and nurse plants are beautiful examples of how Nurse Plants work and operate in real time. The interesting phenomena of Hydraulic Lift & Redistribution are also points to consider when planning any type of project whether urban landscaping or habitat restoration. And let's not forget the winter dormancy phenomena of hydraulic descent where rainy season moisture is pumped deep into the earth's subsoil layers in recharging subterranean moisture reserves. The goal here is not only immediate and long term survival success, but also the elimination of time wasting and expensive hands on on maintenance. Even in human societies, giving someone a hand up towards sustainable independence is far better than continued welfare hand outs which keeps people on lifesupport.
Hydraulic Descent An Ecosystem's Tool for Filling Vast Underground Reservoirs

Roots: 'Hydraulic Lift and Redistribution'

There is incredible potential for reversing the damage humans have done to the Earth using such a technology as Groasis Waterboxx. But only human leadership (Politics, Scientists, Religion, Corporations, etc) stands in the way.  The average person follows leadership /good or bad). Radical change in this world's leadership is imperative. 
Update July 16th 2016
Anti desertification and reforestation with the Growboxx plant cocoon

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