Nature Based Solutions

Forewarning- I am beginning this post with a rant and a call to action for using critical thinking skills and applying science-based observations in your fruit growing techniques. I expect this post will challenge some long held beliefs and baseline systems and strategies. I encourage anyone feeling shaken by that disruption to take a moment to consider whether an adjustment might be warranted and beneficial to their fruit growing approach.

There has been an ongoing (heated) debate over organic (spray with approved materials) versus natural (no spray, use biological controls) versus synthetic (throw the book at it) versus laissez-faire (hands off approach). I’m not trying to say any of them are the correct/best answer and only you can decide what the best approach is for yourself. I personally struggle with the implication of the terminology ‘Organic’ and ‘Natural’ being applied to any form of human intervention, as by being involved in the process it is inherently no longer ‘Natural’ or ‘Organic’, in the true and literal sense of either word.

That said, if you want a true nature based approach and one that is as ‘organic and natural as possible’ it is unlikely in my opinion that you will actually be able to subsist off of the food that you produce in that kind of system without external inputs from a grocery store which defeats the purpose of the organic and natural based approaches in the first place. By using sprays, even if they are organic approved sprays, it is far more likely that a person could achieve a diet that does not include fruit and vegetables from a grocery store versus a ‘natural’ approach. Obviously if you had enough land you could grow enough to make up for that difference but most of us do not. Also, there are very few areas where the government artificially limits pest pressure through intervention, giving the perception that a ‘natural’ approach can be possible for certain crops (I’m looking at you, California citrus industry).

I am betting there are very very few people who are not just virtue signaling and fabricating an idealized vision of the world which is not realistic with the way that they would like to approach growing their own food. The only way that I can think of to achieve something like that would be a nut crop like acorns as a base for a diet. By harvesting acorns and storing them throughout the year you would be able to potentially keep enough food for a society. But even then some trees are biennially bearing or triennially bearing and collapse of society based upon that approach is inevitable. Having varied nut crops and fruit crops resistant to environmental factors would be a better approach than a monoculture like acorns. Plus, humans of the past used fire as a tool to manage the forests of those societies, so the idea of an egalitarian society based on truly ‘natural’ systems is a farce. They’re always has been and always will be interference from humans to bend and mailed nature to our needs in a very basic sense. Native Americans were, and are, ecological engineers.

Unless you are hunting deer by self-bow, crunching on sour crabapples, and digging up tubers munching berries and acorns to survive, there is nothing “natural” about the the way any of us consume food.

"But wait! Hold on a second! " you say. “Humans are a part of the environment too! We are also natural!”

Ah… But if humans are also ‘natural’ by being a part of the environment, then by definition anything we create should also be considered natural, just as the intentional management of forest land by native Americans was an inherently ‘natural’ but intentional act. By that thought process, synthetic lab fabricated chemicals are just a natural progression of optimizing crop management.

I don’t personally subscribe to that particular argument, I’m just putting it out there to develop a baseline understanding of the points I’m trying to review. I do personally draw a line between human intervention (and existince in nature), the things ‘we’ affect and impact, and the rest of the organisms and processes on the planet which would probably be better off without us.

Which leads us to- ‘Nature Based Solutions’

I was first exposed to the terminology “Nature Based Solutions” by Dr Robert Nairn at an American Society for Reclamation Sciences meeting a couple years ago in a presentation which also included the terminology ‘ecological engineering’. The general idea is that we should first be observers of how the natural world around us addresses particular challenges, and then find ways to incorporate those processes in our systems, sometimes enhancing them for our benefit when possible. His work deals with a myriad of ecological challenges including erosion, siltation in municipal water supplies, and legacy challenges related to the Picher lead zinc mines which helped Americans win World War One.

While we are not engineering water treatment systems for mine contaminants deemed irreparable by the EPA (although the company I work for is helping with it), I do feel that the concept of ‘Nature Based Solutions’ can be applied to fruit growing. I know that many of us are already using a ‘natural’ approach which aligns with a ‘Nature Based Solutions’ approach. By including the scientific method of observation, development of a hypothesis, testing that hypothesis, and documentation and analysis of the results, we may be able to provide information for each other and our future selves so we don’t have to keep “re-inventing the wheel”.

I guess what I’m trying to get to is that it’s all about perspective. Science is hard, taking good notes is time consuming and hard, but it might just be what we need.

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I never really looked at gardening from such a perspective. It’s a hobby, one thing of thousands of things I do. My goal is to grow items that I can’t find at the store. That’s about as deep as it goes for me. I don’t care about using synthetic chemicals. I ingest five of them daily. Like metoprolol succinate or amlodipine besylate. One has a side effect of preventing lung cancer. That would be the statin I take daily to lower certain lipids in my blood.
Since realistically I only have at best 30 years left I’m not that concerned about what I consume. So I’m more than willing to use synthetic chemicals to get some damn fine tasting nectarines.
Perspectives and priorities constantly change throughout one’s life.
With gardening it took about a decade to get to my end goal. I produce a few hundred pounds of great tasting fruit and very little of it can be obtained elsewhere. I have achieved the goals I set out to do. I have not purchased anything from nurseries the last three years. I have all I want to grow. I do plan to make small purchases from time to time. I would like to add a little more but I produce so much I give away hundreds of pounds of food most years.
I’m just going over some of my goals and to show that we all have different perspectives. I’m not concerned about the food industry. I’m trying to enjoy my last few years here. I don’t want to carry that monkey on my back. I’ll leave that up to others. Whatever you guys decide is ok with me. I will use every tool available to me to maintain my garden the way I like. I will adapt as needed if tools are taken away from me.
Since life long studies done for lifestyles and professions show that farmers who use chemicals tend to live longer than the average Joe. So no I’m not concerned about chemicals. My wife is in the life long nurses study. The people doing these studies are well credentialed. My wife is retired after working 42 years as an ER nurse and manager. She is still in the study.
I was also in the health field. After decades of both of us caring for others as a profession are now going to focus on ourselves. So it’s not like I don’t care. I put in my time. I also think we tend to create problems where there are none or at least blow them out of proportion. Not the hill I want to die on.

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Very well put. I belong to Permies.com but I can tell you that the most primitive living people are still very dependent on cultural humans.

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Unfortunately so many humans (in the U.S.) at least are so far removed from having the slightest clue how to survive without running to the store. Organic or not really doesn’t matter. They don’t care as long as someone can feed them. This requires city life as their only option. If you presented each citizen with a hazard warning that their lifestyle would directly lead to an X% known increase in cancer risk, I suspect that many would still take that because the alternative requires work (or different lifestyle), or relocation. So, spray massive amounts of chemicals on everything and nobody cares enough or knows the difference.

I would like to think that each of us can do our part, but maybe our part is only trying to preserve some of the knowledge of what it takes to survive. Also, humans trying to live in areas where humans would otherwise only exist in small numbers requiring massive inputs in many ways (sprays, transportation, water, etc) compounds the issue.

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I have absolutely no problem with anyone using whatever methods available to grow quality produce. If anything, my biggest takeaway (playing devil’s advocate here) is that anything the vast majority of ‘us’ are doing to grow our own food is not ‘natural’, but by mimicking some of the things nature does, we can get to a better place than we were at before. I’m trying to get ‘everyone’ to just stop and think a bit harder to get to the best possible end goals.

Take this, perfect example. Nectarines are a peach with an anthropogenically selected and propagated fuzz-less skin. There is nothing inherently ‘natural’ about their continued existence without human intervention, as even in their native habitat under ideal conditions, they surely would experience higher pest pressure than a fuzzy peach which would be more likely to have seeds distributed. By artificially removing pest pressure through sprays, you are effectively performing the ‘Nature Based Solution’ of what a fuzzy coating would be doing for pest resistance. Sure brown rot and other diseases are inevitable without sprays, but given the climate differences vs the hot dry places peaches originated, there’s nothing we can do about it otherwise in many cases. Surely there are ‘organic’ or more natural sprays available, but in my opinion if the synthetic works better and is safe by the time you eat your nectarine, that is a choice to be made. Sometimes a good dose of Indar can do wonders, or so I hear.

Amen to that. Science is there to help us determine what is safe.

(And sometimes synthetic solutions are the only option to a challenge)

Yes that forum wouldn’t exist without the crowd funding to keep it up and running. As much as people living off grid in a cabin in Alaska would like to be independent, they still rely on society for a portion of their existence. You can’t build a snowmobile engine out of trees, and dog sleds need parts too.

FWIW I enjoy reading there occasionally.

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I see this as a similar challenge to why many of our institutions are in bad health. Few people take the time to do most things themselves because they can pay a specialist to perform various activities for them.

Car broken? Mechanic. Roof has a hole? Handyman. Hungry? Someone grew scion for your apple, grew rootstock, grafted it, harvested and stored it, sold it at market, a trucker drove it across the country, it was stocked at a store you went to in the car your mechanic fixed, and you took the bag home to enjoy it in the house with a roof the handyman fixed. Go to work to pay for it all.

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Good thoughts all. Probably observation of naturally occurring phenomena is one of the primary sources of human knowledge. We are wired to notice patterns and to intuit causal relationships. The invention of the airplane was an eventual result of observing birds and other flying creatures and distilling down the unique combination of properties that allow for flight. So too grafting and likely agriculture itself. That is what we do which makes us distinct from other life, and that distinction is what engendered the term “nature”. Prometheus stole fire, Adam and Eve ate of the Tree, etc. Thats our narrative. Note what happened in both cases. That act aroused the ire of the gods, who punished humans. So the result was both a blessing and a curse. Knowledge of good, yes, but also knowledge of evil and how to inflict it on others, on ourselves, on the garden itself! Reducing one aspect of human knowledge- chemistry- to something like evil is an act of willful ignorance, an example of ideology run amok. The world is made of chemicals after all. But willfully designing and indiscriminately deploying persistent mutagens and teratogens like Aminopyralids, which are virtually guaranteed to wreak havoc for years afterwards is also an example of ideology run amok. Theres a bit of false equivalence there, though, since one is just a backwards way of thinking, and the other one causes serious impacts not just to “nature” but to us growers and the stuff we are growing. Beware: This Manure Will Destroy Your Garden - Tenth Acre Farm

Our inability to distinguish the two, and our proclivity to more or less “teach the debate” - ie focus on the spectacle, the clash of ideologues- instead of looking at it as objectively as possible in terms of inherent value is a good chunk of the problem IMO. Im less concerned with extrapolating any given practice to its logical limits - ie can it feed the world? - and more interested in what is sensible and ergonomic in the sense of thoughtful and functional design. My feeling is that thoughtful design will not only feed the world we have, it will create a better world that is easier to feed, or perhaps even that feeds itself.

We have the ability to be clever. When we choose not to be, or choose to use our cleverness for temporary benefit of bjt a few, maybe just maybe that is the punishment the gods had in mind? Our own incentive structures, both man made and naturally occurring require similar thoughtful design to prevent that type of eventuality. Thats my take in a nutshell. I think you know good design when you see it. Its virtues are self evident. Thats what we should aspire to in my view.

I also think we’d do well to check our use of the word nature. Its so fraught and imprecise. If it boils down merely to “what is”, then a nuclear warhead is a natural phenomenon. If it hinges upon acts of man than no plant or animal, nor ecosystem which mankind has had a hand in can be deemed natural. Theres an essential quality that is missed in both cases: self organization. What is this quality, so misunderstood, and why does it appear everywhere around us if we care to look? The bell curve, the fibonacci sequence, the golden ratio, the tree of life… The heart of the term is something larger than life itself, some quality that defines and escapes human understanding. lets not lose that

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Some good observations. However, I would not classify aminopryalids as an ideology run amok.

I read the article you posted from the guy’s blog. Imo, I would classify his ideology as run amok.

In the article he dismisses the farmer whom he bought the manure from as innocent, and instead blames the U. of Florida, Dow Agro services and the government for his non-target herbicide accident.

However, clearly it was the fault of farmer who sold the manure to him. The farmer either didn’t read, or didn’t follow the label. Most farmers know that pyridines like picloram and aminopyralid are designed with relatively long half lives, even before reading the label.

But in case there is any doubt, the labels plaster warnings throughout the label. Here are some excerpts from the GrazonNext HL label starting with the first page:

“Hay from grass treated with GrazonNext HL within the preceding 18-months can only be used on the farm or ranch where the product is applied unless allowed by supplemental labeling”

"IMPORTANT USE
PRECAUTIONS AND
RESTRICTIONS TO PREVENT
INJURY TO
DESIRABLE PLANTS
• Carefully read the section
“Restrictions in Hay or
Manure Use .”
• It is mandatory to follow
the “Use Precautions and
Restrictions” section of
this label.
• Manure and urine from
animals consuming grass or hay
treated with this product may
contain enough aminopyralid
to cause injury to sensitive
broadleaf plants.
• Hay can only be used on
the farm or ranch where product
is applied unless allowed by
supplemental labeling."

"Pasture and Rangeland Restrictions
• Do not use grasses treated with GrazonNext HL in
the preceding 18-months for hay intended for export
outside the United States.
• Hay from areas treated with GrazonNext HL in the
preceding 18-months CANNOT be distributed or
made available for sale off the farm or ranch where
harvested unless allowed by supplemental labeling.
• Hay from areas treated with GrazonNext HL in the
preceding 18-months CANNOT be used for silage,
haylage, baylage and green chop unless allowed by
supplemental labeling.
• Do not move hay made from grass treated with
GrazonNext HL within the preceding 18-months off
farm unless allowed by supplemental labeling.
• Do not use hay or straw from areas treated with
GrazonNext HL within the preceding 18-months or
manure from animals feeding on hay treated with
GrazonNext HL in compost.
• Do not use grasses treated with GrazonNext HL in
the preceding 18-months for seed production."

"• Restrictions in Hay or Manure Use:
- Do not use aminopyralid-treated plant residues, including hay or
straw from areas treated within the preceding 18-months, in compost,
mulch or mushroom spawn.
- Do not use manure from animals that have grazed forage or eaten hay
harvested from treated areas within the previous 3 days, in compost,
mulch or mushroom spawn.
- Do not spread manure from animals that have grazed or consumed
forage or hay from treated areas within the previous 3 days on land
used for growing broadleaf crops.
- Manure from animals that have grazed forage or eaten hay harvested
from treated areas within the previous 3 days may only be used on
pasture grasses, grass grown for seed, wheat and corn.
- Do not plant a broadleaf crop (including soybeans, sunflower,
tobacco, vegetables, field beans, peanuts, and potatoes) in fields
treated in the previous year with manure from animals that have
grazed forage or eaten hay harvested from aminopyralid-treated
areas until an adequately sensitive field bioassay is conducted to
determine that the aminopyralid residues in the soil is at level that is
not injurious to the crop to be planted.
- To promote herbicide decomposition, plant residues should be
evenly incorporated in the surface soil or burned. Breakdown
of aminopyralid in plant residues or manure is more rapid
under warm, moist soil conditions and may be accelerated by
supplemental irrigation."

I think we sort of agree, like many technological things, it’s not the thing itself which is a problem, but the misuse of it.

I just think that amiinopyralids are a valuable tool for some tough weeds, if used properly.

The advantage of some of the aminopyralids is that they are a selective herbicide, but provide good control of some very stubborn broad leaf weeds, and have low mammalian, avian, and marine toxicity. So much so, that e.g Milestone is classified as reduced-risk herbicide.

Perhaps I’m being picky to pull out one small disagreement out of your post, when I agree with all the rest of it, but I just think pyridines have a place in modern agriculture.

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