[permaculture] TESTS & EQUIPMENT required for a functional SUSTAINABLE AG LAB?

Douglas Hinds cedecor at gmx.net
Wed Mar 6 01:55:59 EST 2013

Since the links and signature became corrupted (apparently by 
Thunderbird, my email client) I'm going to re-post this message using 
plain text, rather than links. (I should probably go back to using 100% 
plain rather than html text anyway).  And add a few additional 
explanatory comments

On 03/05/2013 12:51 AM, loren luyendyk wrote:

> Douglas,
> Are you familiar with the work of your fellow Méxicano Eugenio Gras and Mas Humus (http://www.mashumus.com/)?

No, but he was educated here in Guadalajara and built ecological houses 
here before focusing his attention on agriculture, professionally. If I 
ask around I may be able to locate him, but his shift in focus (along 
with his use of chromatography), apparently comes from the other two 
members of COAS (Consejeros en Agricultura Sostenible y Permacultura), 
Jairo Restrepo and Sebastiao Piñedo, who wrote the book used in his 
courses on chromatography.


That's Gras' book on Keystone Design, which is a valid (and even 
necessary) concept, imo.

But a dozen years ago I made a clear public statement that I continue to 
subscribe to:

"Agriculture is a good business for everyone except the farmer.  The 
intermediaries providing inputs, consultancy and financing get theirs 
long before the harvest, without assuming the risks that farmers can't 

So I don't do that. For me to even get involved, an agreement covering 
everything from beginning to end must be in place. IOW, we will partner 
with farmers but not turn them into our clients.

Consejeros en Agricultura Sostenible Y Permacultura


And these people don't tell you where they're located. They're a lot 
like God, operating mysteriously in the background and only making their 
scheduled appearances on earth when they drop by to perform miracles.  
(They too are victims of the capitalist system.  This is what they do to 
keep alive.  I may be forced to wind up like that myself. Time will tell).

> I have not experienced their work personally but they have been doing chromatography measurements of the health of soils and produce with pretty simple equipment, from what I hear.  MasHumus is also promoting the use and production of biofertilizers which are possibly the only real solution to medium-large scale food production nutrient needs- beyond composting.
> I think it is pretty important if we are considering creating standards and tests for organic and sustainable agriculture,

I agree. We also hope to be able to demonstrate exactly how soil organisms perform the labors they perform, as well as the fact that chemical agriculture disrupts those abilities, thereby locking unsuspecting farmers into a permanent state of dependency that wouldn't be necessary if soil microorganisms (who work for free) were allowed to become established and do their thing.

THATS why we need to know which substances they produce, the activity of each substance and the environmental conditions required for their production.  Because while you, I and others here know that the two types of agriculture are incompatible, most folks haven't experienced the fundamental difference and that's why it all has to be spelled out, in order to close the door permanently on what constitutes a big mistake. The same thing happened with DDT and Tobacco. The parasites continued to feed on the rest of us for as long as we let them.

> our equipment and methods (ideally) should be easily reproducible and accessible- "campesino" style- available to common farmers beyond the "first" world of scanning electron microscopes and even sterile petri dishes, autoclaves, and incubators.

That is exactly right. As things stand, most folks are left out in the 
cold, on the outside, looking in.

> With simple equipment and measurements you can increase the edge and get more data because the farmers themselves are able to do the testing.  You may not be able to quantify statistically the concentration of fungal hyphae per unit area etc, but there can be very real qualitative measurements that still provide good data- which at the end of the day is the important part becuase we are trying to make a case for why we should support beyond organic/permaculture style food production.

Yes, this is what it's all about. That is the real nature of the world we live in.

> If you are talking about measuring metabolic pathways another tool/metric that I think is very useful is the refractometer (hand held) to measure Brix.  Brix levels can indicate metabolic shifts in plant growth (at a certain point the metabolic pathway changes and different chemicals/compositions are produced in the plant).  This can indicate when food become nutritionally dense (brix 12+).  See the work of the Weston A. Price Foundation regarding nutrient density and brix.

I have a couple a refractometers.  We use them to measure the quality of 
those fruits that require high brix (i.e melons & pineapple), but I 
don't subscribe to the school that attributes mystical characteristics 
to brix (Astera et al), whose aggressive and argumentative hype 
contributes little to put similar unsubstantiated claims from the 
chem-gene jockey crowd in perspective (IMO).

Being unfamiliar with the Weston A. Price Foundation I googled on them
and found some very mixed opinions, like:



  From Wikipedia:
"The foundation has been criticized by Joel Fuhrman and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for "purveying misleading information" and "failing to update their recommendations in light of contradictory evidence".


"More than 50 years after Weston Price's death, food activists Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig founded the Weston A. Price Foundation in their words to "disseminate the research of nutrition pioneer Dr. Weston Price....Dr. Price's research demonstrated that humans achieve perfect physical form and perfect health generation after generation only when they consume nutrient-dense whole foods and the vital fat-soluble activators found exclusively in animal fats.""

and lastly,


Of the 20 items listed I am strongly opposed to half of the first 10 and consider the second 10 irrelevant.

So I'm not subscribing to that one, but thanks anyway.

> Annabelle Ford from UC Santa Barbara has studied the composition/biology of mayan food forests which is possibly the most roots example of the contrast between monocultural managed vs. polycultural wild food systems.  I am not sure how into the meatbolic pathways of the plants she got, more looking at the forest as a natural component of their culture, and the fallacy that the Mayans lived in a cleared space free of trees in the scorching central american sun... much like the tourists see at the better known archaeological sites that were cleared of the forest- which actually contained all the food and medicine that the Mayans deliberately cultivated.

That one I can go with, theoretically. But I couldn't find anything on her or her work on the ucsb.edu website.

In any case, I consider most natural trees to be better company than most people (and they do a lot less harm - the planet would be much better off with a lot more trees and far fewer humans) and as stated previously, the fruit of naturally occurring (albeit sometimes selected) fruit trees constitutes the principle source of my nutritional needs),


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>> Loren Luyendyk
>> 805-452-8249
>> Permaculture Design and Education
>> ISA Certified Arborist #WE-7805A
>> www.sborganics.com
>> www.globalpermaculture.com
>> www.surferswithoutborders.com
>>> From: alia at dietrick.org
>>> Date: Mon, 4 Mar 2013 21:56:58 -0800
>>> To: permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org
>>> Subject: Re: [permaculture] TESTS & EQUIPMENT required for a functional SUSTAINABLE AG LAB?
>>> A spectrophotometer can be used for measuring stuff like inorganic N and P.
>>> You would probably also be interested in a method of measuring potentially
>>> mineralizable nitrogen, the N bound up in organic matter than can be
>>> released by microbe activity. This quick summary of methods might be a good
>>> starting point:

>>> http://isnap.oregonstate.edu/WERA_103/2003_proccedings/p28%20Sullivan%20-%20Mineralizable%20N.pdf

>>> I've used the anaerobic incubation method -- after the incubation, you'd
>>> analyze it with the spectrophotometer just like for the inorganic N. Not
>>> sure what equipment you'd need for the other methods mentioned.
>>> With the soil microorganisms, it depends on how precisely you want to
>>> categorize what's there. On the one hand, you can use a microscope to look
>>> at the broad groups of organisms (Elaine Ingham's method). This would
>>> probably be more practical. You can also use microscopy to quantify
>>> mycorrhizal colonization (there's a vinegar and ink method for staining I
>>> heard about recently, cheaper and less cancer than the old standard for
>>> staining roots). I think you might need two different types of microscopes,
>>> though. On the other hand, genetic sequencing is getting cheaper and
>>> cheaper and can give you a lot of interesting detailed information. But, if
>>> you're partnered with a university, they probably have some of that
>>> equipment. I think for identification of the substances the microorganisms
>>> are creating, you'd use gas chromatograph-mass spectrometry (GC-MS).
>>> Alia
>>> On Sun, Mar 3, 2013 at 7:14 PM, Douglas Hinds <cedecor at gmx.net> wrote:
>>>> On 03/03/2013 03:25 PM, Chris Carnevale wrote:
>>>>> Hi Douglas,
>>>>> I'm not sure about what kind of equipment you would need, but certainly
>>>>> soil testing would be important.
>>>> Particularly to quantify the presence of nutritional elements and the
>>>> microorganisms that constitute the soil food web.
>>>> I would also like to be able to identify the substances being created by
>>>> those organisms, the activity of each substance and define the
>>>> conditions required for the production of same.

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