This week's episode: Carol Hughes and the EquiBiome
published Dec. 13, 2019
Celebrate the Unseen
published Nov. 4, 2019
For several weeks now I’ve been sharing with you what Gabe Brown, the author of Dirt to Soil, describes as the Five Principles of Soil Health.
Principle 1: Limit Disturbance - That tied in well with the first Horses for Future podcast with Jane Myers. In her equicentral system, limiting disturbance means design your pastures so the horses are off your grass when they aren’t actively grazing. Arrange your pastures so the horses come back to a central area for water, hay, shelter.
Principle 2: Armor your Soil. Gabe Brown is writing from the perspective of a production farmer, but his principles still apply. Again, we can refer to the podcast with Jane Myers. Many of us have those sections of our pastures that are overgrazed and damaged. In the dry season the ground becomes rock hard. When the rain does finally come, the water can’t infiltrate into the soil. It ends up running off the land and flooding the lower parts of your pastures. In the rainy season, it turns into a muddy mess. Jane Myers reminds us that we can use the waste hay from our horses to repair these sections of damaged ground and restore them to useful pasture.
Principle 3: Build Diversity. In the book I am currently reading: Wilding by Isabella Tree, there’s a wonderful metaphor. Tree writes:
“In general the more species living in an ecosystem, the higher it’s productivity and resilience. Such is the wonder of life. The greater the biodiversity, the greater the mass of living things an ecosystem can sustain. Reduce biodiversity, and biomass may decline exponentially; and the more vulnerable individual species collapse. In the “Song of the Dodo” (1996), David Quammen describes an ecosystem as being like a Persian carpet. Cut it into tiny squares and you get not tiny carpets, but a lot of useless scraps of material fraying at the edges.”
Some of our small horse properties definitely resemble scraps of material fraying at the edges. But others look like beautiful Persian carpets, rich in biodiversity. How to create those magical carpets is what we are exploring.
Principle 4 is this week’s addition. It’s: Keep living roots in the soil. It’s time to plunge down into the soil and explore what lies below. This week we’ll be celebrating what has remained unseen for too long - the association between plants and mycorrhizal fungi.
We’ll begin with what we can see. This is a fun time of the year to look for fungi - not to eat, but just to marvel at the many different types that can be found. Other people go out birding - looking for whatever species of birds are in their fields and woodlots. I’d like us to do the same for fungi.
Over the next couple of days I’ll share some more quotes from “Wilding” so we can appreciate more fully the association between plants and mycorrhizal fungi.
Remember horse people can make a difference!
P.S. Some of you may be wondering about these Planet Projects. What is their point? One of the founding members of Horses for Future runs a riding program and summer camp for children. She wanted to make sure children were included in the Horses for Future initiatives. Adults can make decisions about how to manage a horse property. Children are often left out of that process. She wanted to make sure there was a place for them in Horses for Future. So as we learn more about sustainable horse management, I have been mindful to include projects that everyone can participate in and benefit from - no matter their age.
Celebrating the Unseen
published Nov. 5, 2019
Mycorrhizal - It’s an odd word. It comes from “mykas” - fungi and “rhiza” - root. It refers to the symbiotic association between fungi and plants.
If the goal is healthy pastures, healthy horses, and more carbon sequestered in the soil, it helps to understand the role that mycorrhizae play.
Here’s how they are described by Isabella Tree in Wilding:
“A tree’s life support system extends into a dark and invisible universe that microbiologists and mycologists are only just beginning to fathom: that of the mycorrhizae - fine, hair-like filaments of fungus that attach themselves to the roots and create a deep, intricate and vast underground network.
The fine fungal filaments extend from the roots of plants to supply their hosts with water and essential nutrients. The plants, in return, provide the mycorrhizal fungi with carbohydrates they need for growth. At a hundredth of a millimeter in diameter - ten times finer than the finest root - these filaments, or ‘hyphae’, are invisible to the naked eye. A single filament may extend hundreds or thousands of times the length of one tree root. Mycorrhizal partnerships can be highly specific, associating with only an individual plant or species. They can also be generalist, creating vast community structures, known as common mycelial networks.
One of the most crucial processes of life on earth, mycorrhizae arose 500 million years ago, when primitive plants emerged from the ocean to experiment with terrestrial life. To colonize land, plants had to find a way of acquiring mineral nutrients, in particular scarce minerals like phosphate - an essential nutrient readily available in water but occurring in extremely low concentrations in soil. On its own, a plant’s ability to extend it’s roots to explore for nutrients is limited. Partnerships with mycorrhizae expand that capability exponentially. 90-95 percent of terrestrial plants in all ecosystems on every continent have mycorrhizal relationships. A single bluebell, for example, may be colonized by eleven or more species of mycorrhizal fungi, most of which have not been scientifically described. Without them, a bluebell, with its short, thick roots, growing in soils where phosphate is typically available at less than 1 part per 10 million, would die. The same is true for trees. . . . Using an arsenal of biochemicals unique to fungi, mycorrhizae can even die rock, extracting minerals and bringing them into the plant food cycle.
Another key function of mycorrhizae is to act as an early warning system. Chemical signals transmitted by mycorrhizae from a plant under attack stimulate a defensive response in other plants in the vicinity, prompting them to raise levels of protective enzymes. By acting as a communication network - even between plants of different species - mycorrhizae alert plants and trees to the threat of pathogens, and to predation by insects and herbivores. They can even stimulate the release of chemicals from the tissues of a tree to attract predators for the particular pest assailing it. . .
The delicate mycorrhizae are, inevitably, destroyed by the churning blades of ploughs. They are highly susceptible to agricultural chemicals, whether in fertilizers or pesticides. At low concentrations, phosphate is a nutrient that mycorrhizae convey to support life. When added to the land in large quantities as artificial fertilizer it becomes a pollutant, overwhelming natural biological systems and depressing the mycorrhizae’s spore germination and viability. Nitrates, insecticides, herbicides, and, of course, fungicides reduce mycorrhizal colonization of roots and inhibit the elongation of the hyphae, the fungal filaments. Even livestock dung, which is routinely loaded with anti-working agents (ivermectin) and, often, antibiotics, can leach into the soil, and destroy mycorrhizae.” From Wilding by Isabella Tree
How we manage our pastures does make a difference to the healthy growth of mycorrhizae and to the amount of carbon they are able to sequester.
Horse people can make a difference! And what is more given today’s report on the climate crisis, we are all the more needed.
Horses for Future Podcast
Cherish Your Homes
published Nov. 11, 2019
I was planning on a different theme for this week, but yesterday I got the most horrifying email from my friend Heather Binns. Heather lives in Australia. Some of you may know Heather through her blog, Horse Magic. And you may also have heard in the news about the fires that are burning in Australia.
When I heard about the fires, I wondered if they were anywhere near where Heather lives. But then I thought - no I’ve seen the photos of her woods. That’s not the kind of area that burns.
And then her email arrived and I learned that she was in the fire zone. I can’t imagine. I live in the Northeast - a wet climate that doesn’t have the kind of fires you read about in the news. But I’ve been in California when it is burning. I’ve smelled the fires from a hundred miles away and seen the sky grow dark from the smoke. And I’ve driven in Montana and Colorado past mile after mile of burned trees, but I still can’t imagine what these fires are like.
And now I am reading Heather’s email. The fires are coming. She has written about it in her blog. Normally, she would just post the link and you could read it or not, but here in Horses For Future, I am posting the full blog.
The climate crisis has become personal for far too many of us already. Horse people can make a difference. But more than that we MUST make a difference.
Please read Heather’s blog post. Tuesday will be the bad day. I know I will be hoping the fires turn away from her beloved home, the horses, and the forest she loves so much. But if they turn from her, they will be burning elsewhere.
Horse people MUST make a difference. We must plant seeds that grow into rapid change. Thank you everyone for the seeds you are planting. I know we all cherish this beautiful planet.
Heather’s Horse Magic Blog: Nov. 10,2019
I’ve interrupted my series on my travels to write down my thoughts as our community endures – and prepares for the worst fires in this area in memory. I live on the north coast of NSW, Australia – just north of Coffs Harbour.
This area is normally a ‘subtropical’ climate. Coffs Harbour is a tourist town, and has the famous ‘Big Banana’ as a long time tourist attraction. It is a seaside town, with magnificent mountains behind it which lead to some of the most beautiful national parks and forests. Here is a link to tourism in Coffs Harbour.
To live in this area is such a gift. We have not only the benefits of a large regional centre, such as an airport, large hospital, university etc. – but we have at our doorstep fabulous beaches and oceans full of marine life – and rivers and creeks to explore.
Our property is only about 2 km from the ocean as ‘the crow flies’ but we are up on the escarpment, nestled in a beautiful valley – the Bucca valley. Here we have the best of both worlds – our property contains forest, creek and pasture – yet we are only ten minutes from a shopping centre. We have always felt fortunate living here – and we have been on this property now since 2004 and owned it since 2001.
Finding this property was a ‘homecoming’. All my life I’ve searched for home and finally I found it – just under 20 years ago. We owner built our house after living in a small shed for several years. We had to start from scratch here – putting in a road, developing pasture, fencing, creating our water supply, creating gardens etc. – but it’s been worth all the hard work – because we still feel the same about this place as we did almost 20 years ago.
This place is our retreat and our respite from the worries of the world – it’s our place to explore nature, to admire the forest, to watch the never ending bird varieties. Most people who have visited here would agree that there is something very special about this land. Even trades people or delivery people struggle to leave – and they probably don’t know why! They keep talking, lingering, looking out and saying what a nice spot it is – we call it the ‘don’t go’ vibe!
So now, like every other property owner in this area, our place is under threat. Friday was one of those hellish days for bushfires. In the past few months the fire threat has been very real here and that’s something we have never really had to consider until the last year or two.
Is this a symptom of climate change? Well no one knows for sure – but I would suggest we do everything in our power to slow down the climate change march. As for the ‘climate change deniers’ – well I would say let’s just do everything we possibly can – not argue about whether it is true or not!!!
This year on the north coast it feels different – there was a feeling of danger about two months ago – then a very small amount of rain settled everything down. However, further west, fires have been raging in the forest for months. Friday’s weather conditions were ‘perfect’ for a catastrophic fire day. In fact Friday has changed everything. Friday showed how easily our ‘sub tropical’ north coast can burn at present. Here is a map from the Rural Fire Service showing today’s fires -Sunday.
Fire crews and staff are working around the clock to try and contain these fires – they must be exhausted! I thank them and all the volunteers who are working tirelessly.
We have prepared our property as best as we can and are continuing to do so . I have packed and gone through items I don’t want to lose – and really those items are a very small amount. When the crunch comes you realize what’s really important!
While I have rambled on – what I really wanted to write about was how it feels to be waiting – and I would guarantee that everyone else feels like me. It really is ‘Waiting for the Enemy’. I have a constant feeling of anxiety. I’m struggling to focus on normal life. That’s why I’m writing about this – because it’s one of the few things I can focus on!!
I’m just watching and waiting. I feel dread thinking about Tuesday which will be another catastrophic day. Nothing is guaranteed.
I looked at our forest this morning and felt such sadness. I watched the birds and the wallabies – a new joey trying out its legs this morning….. I stared into the depths of the forest – marveling at the healing powers it holds…
As for our animals – the horses will have open access to the dam and the big open paddock and the cat carriers are at the door ready.
But I thought to myself – this is how a soldier would feel, waiting to go into battle – or waiting for the enemy to appear. It’s not until you experience a similar feeling (although I imagine it would be so much worse!) that you understand. It’s the waiting…. and the watching…
So – good luck to everyone who is affected. Stay safe and leave in plenty of time.
Here's the link to Heather's blog:
Horses for Future Podcast Episode #3: Fire! A Conversation with Heather Binns
Published Nov. 15, 2019
I’ve been listening on the radio to the news reports about the fires that are burning in the Amazon rain forest and in Australia. It’s disturbing to think of these fires. But they are just another in an endless line of news stories. It wasn’t personal. And then I got an email from my friend Heather Binns who lives on the east coast of Australia. Her property was in the fire zone. The fires were coming towards her.
Suddenly the news was very personal. And very horrifying. I knew that one of her horses has a bad leg. He would not be able to travel out on a trailer. She would have to leave him behind, which meant she would probably have to leave all of her beloved horses behind. He couldn’t be left on his own. That would panic him. It was unthinkable. Suddenly the news reports from half a world away felt very real.
Tuesday was going to be the bad day. I waited for news and was so relieved to get the email that said the weather had been in their favor. The fires had turned away from their property. They didn’t have to evacuate. And for now they were safe.
The climate crisis is real. People are beginning to experience directly what this means - flooding for some, droughts for others, fires, hurricanes, forced evacuations, loss of life.
We had agreed that if Heather still had an internet connection after Tuesday, we would do a podcast interview. I am sharing her interview to help make what is happening around the planet personal for all of us.
We stand on the precipice of climate catastrophe. This week there were far too many people waiting, watching for the fires that were coming towards them. It is horrifying. We are all waiting. Climate is not local. It effects us all.
This week’s Planet Project was to cherish your home. This is a beautiful planet. We need to remember what we are working for because we could all too easily lose what we love.
You can listen to this post at: https://soundcloud.com/user-798671983/episode-3-fire-a-conversation-with-heather-binns
Welcome the Herbivores
Published Nov. 18,2019
Gabe Brown teaches five principles of soil health. I’ve talked about four of them: Limit disturbance, armor the soil surface, build diversity, and keep living roots in the soil. His fifth principle is integrate animals.
Here’s a quote from his book “Dirt to Soil”:
“What difference does this make? To answer we must understand how soils were formed. Centuries ago, tens of millions of bison, elk, deer, and other ruminants roamed the North American continent. These ruminants took a bite of a plant here and another there, causing those plants to release root exudates in order to attract biology that supplied the nutrients needed for regrowth. The pressure of predators kept the herds of ruminants on the move, and they often did not return to the same spot for long periods of time. The plants thus had ample time to fully recover, all the while pumping massive amounts of carbon into the soil. (As noted earlier, a plant that has been grazed will photosynthesize more and pump much more liquid carbon into the soil compared to a plant that has not been grazed.)”
Introducing grazing animals was a core element of the Knepp estate Rewilding project that Isabella Tree describes in “Wilding”.
I feel as though I want to quote her entire book, but instead I’ll just encourage you for this week’s Planet Project to read it for yourself.
You’ll find yourself celebrating your grazers and the very important role they can play in restoring biodiverse, healthy habitats.
Horses for Future
Welcome the Herbivores
Nov. 22, 2019
Allan Savory’s 2013 Ted Talk is a great talk.
It’s been on my must share list since we started Horses for Future. Savory makes a very powerful case for the role that grazers must play in soil restoration.
Once you’ve watched his Ted Talk, here’s another from Savory:
Horses for Future
Podcast Episode 4: An Introduction To Carol Hughes and EquiBiome
Published December 6, 2019
I’m joined again by Manda Scott, veterinarian, author, sustainable economist, Shamanic teacher, and climate crisis activist.
In June when I visited with Manda, she told me about a course she had just been on with Dr. Carol Hughes. Carol is a biochemist who has been gathering data about the gut biome of horses. When I heard what she’s been doing, I knew I wanted to do a podcast on her work.
This week I’ve asked Manda to introduce Carol’s work. Next week we have an interview with Carol. We've been looking at biodiversity in our pastures. These podcasts look at the gut biome of horses. How does this relate to our horse's health? And is this related to the biodiversity in our pastures. There are so many questions. The equibiome project gives us a tool to gather data that will help us to answer these questions.
You can listen to the podcast at sequester carbon.com or on soundcloud at:
Horse People CAN make a difference in the climate change crisis. Please share these podcasts and posts with your friends.
Horses for Future
Podcast Episode 5: Carol Hughes and the EquiBiome
Published December 13, 2019
In previous podcasts we talked about biodiversity in our pastures. In this conversation with Dr. Carol Hughes our focus is the gut biome of horses. How does this relate to our horse's health? And is this related to the biodiversity in our pastures. There are so many questions. Dr. Hughes equibiome project gives us a tool to gather data that will help us to answer these questions.
You can listen to the podcast at https://soundcloud.com/user-798671983/episode-5-carol-hughes-and-the-equibiome