Dear Clive, great to get the seed catalogue and to see you were awarded the OAM (noting your comment it should have been a joint award for wife, Penny, too). There are a few comments I need to make about the catalogue:
Franks Pea – The catalogue puts an apostrophe before the ‘s’, suggesting the pea is from some bloke, first name Frank. Not so. It comes handed down to May Barnes of Capertee, NSW from her ancestors whose surname was Franks. I was alerted to this cultivar years ago in one of the Diggers magazines and was most grateful I was able to contact May directly to get seeds. I’ve grown Franks peas ever since, and May and I swap letters on a regular basis (she is now well into her 90s and still an active gardener, a testament to her vegan lifestyle).
Corn ‘Painted Mountain’ – In several magazines, and the current catalogue, there is a note that this corn can be ‘popped’.
I’ve grown a number of crops of this corn, have an excellent popcorn machine, and have had zero fortune in popping any of the seed. My seed is very dry too. I wonder if others have the same problem?
2-Peters Kale – I started growing this from seed sourced from the Seed Savers Network based at Byron Bay, NSW. I’ve suggested to Diggers that this would be an excellent variety to add to the inventory.
It is a very productive kale and has leaves softer than most, making an excellent steamed vegetable. In fact, I have this every day for breakfast on peanut-buttered wholemeal toast with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast on top
(and on occasion sliced tomato under the steamed kale).
I had been unable to trace the provenance of the original seed (maybe from two blokes called Peter in Tasmania?) but this year I have grown some ‘Dwarf Siberian Kale’ which as far as I’m concerned is identical to the 2-Peters Kale.
One would hope that the current record drought will focus the minds of primary producers to see the futility of raising livestock. Veganism is no longer a dirty word and there’s a fast-growing awareness that
the most economical way to produce food for human consumption is via plants alone.
The products and practices of the various branches of the livestock industry are devastating for human and environmental health.
If all humanity was vegan then we would be able to produce all our food on much less land now used to grow plants and livestock, and we would be able to leave aquatic ecosystems entirely alone. The land saved would be revegetated to help stem the damage humans have done to the biosphere.
The biosphere has produced the conditions on Earth that make it possible for us to survive, yet the forces of ignorance and greed are destabilising the biosphere with the death by seven billion cuts. Cheers, Ian B.

Dear Ian, thank you for your numerous letters over the years but particularly this one, which has stimulated us to set up a Members Corner (see p19), not just to give Diggers staff feedback, but so members can pass on their garden experience and wisdom to other members more directly.
We will now correct our title to Franks Pea; check out whether Corn ‘Painted Mountain’ really pops; and trial Dwarf Siberian Kale for future listing.
Finally, we’re not certain how 2-Peters Kale came to be, but it’s possibly named for Tim Peters, the farmer from Oregon who bred several new strains of red Russian Kale in the 1980s.
Best wishes, Clive

Are eucalypts and firestick farming the answer to carbon sequestration?

Dear Clive, we have read with interest the correspondence in the previous Autumn and Summer Garden magazines regarding firestick farming and its possible effects on the levels of soil carbon. It seems an over simplification to equate firestick farming with throwing a lighted match from a passing bus. Both Bill Gammage in his book The Biggest Estate on Earth and Bruce Pascoe in Dark Emu suggest that the use of fire in pre-European land management was far more nuanced than that. Its impact on soil carbon levels is likely to be minimal compared with the impacts of European agriculture. Dr Christine Jones, in her submission to the Victorian Government inquiry into Soil Sequestration (2009), points to 41 soil samples taken by the explorer Paul Strzelecki in 1841 throughout south-eastern Australia:
The top 10 soils had organic matter levels ranging from 11% to 37.75% with an average of 20%. The lowest ranking 10 soils ranged from 2.2 to 5.0% with an average of 3.72%. Today agricultural soils with organic matter levels between 3 and 5% are regarded as having high organic matter. Soil tests for agricultural soils now frequently fall below 2%.
Jones argues that organic matter levels were around five times higher in the early settlement period than Victorian soils today. Firestick farming shapes up pretty well in that comparison. Sadly, subsequent clearing, regular cultivation, long fallows, stubble burning and overgrazing have all contributed to the loss
of organic matter.
In the Autumn Garden magazine, you ask whether eucalypts are the answer to carbon sequestration. A sound first step would be to begin with good agricultural management: maintaining ground cover, minimal cultivation, non-inversion tillage to let oxygen and moisture into compacted soils, cropping directly into pastures with feasible and sound management through rotational grazing and strategic destocking during droughts. These practices, combined with planting more trees, including eucalypts, would help carbon sequestration and improve farm profitability.
John Weatherstone, an innovative farmer at Lyndfield Park on the NSW Southern Tablelands, has planted over 80,000 trees since 1982, including a variety of eucalypt species, doubling the property’s carrying capacity.
Eucalypts enhance on-farm biodiversity
and can be managed to minimise fire risk. In the unfortunate event of a fire, most species will recover; most exotics will not. Yes, they are definitely part of the answer to carbon sequestration. Regards, Robyn & Rob L

Dear Robyn & Rob, wow, that is chapter and verse, so much so that we have highlighted the paragraph describing the rapid decline and fall of Australia’s
soil fertility. In comparison, Italians have been farming for thousands of years and, if Australia’s farmed systems had been used there, we wouldn’t have enjoyed the Italian renaissance!
Regards, Clive



Dear Editor, flinging matches out of the Landcruiser window into tall dry grass is not firestick farming. It is arson. But a genuine understanding of fire as a tool can benefit many ecotypes. Australian soils have multiple layers of biochar, sequestering carbon, holding water, storing cations and supporting beneficial fungi. A lot of that biochar was created by wise pyrolysis burning. Diggers sell biochar for $15 a kilo, so it must be good. We made 2,000kg yesterday with just a box of matches, a fire permit, and a bit of science.
I’ll try to explain my thoughts on how firestick farming is not what it used to be, and how Aboriginal production of biochar worked over a far wider area than just earth ovens (vital foci though they were).
We have 20 acres of Themeda and Microlaena grassland, with cows excluded 25 years ago. Eucalyptus pauciflora, E. viminalis and Acacia melanoxylon are grouped around it. I observe its systems to behave in totally different ways to the grazed areas across the fence. The native grasses are summer active, unlike most imported grasses. They have very active mycorrhizal associates.
In pre-hoof days the soil was at 150psi on the penetrometer (1200psi in the cow pasture next door). The highly porous soil means the soil atmosphere and above ground air actually interpenetrate to depth. As the sun goes down, the air above ground cools and pressure drops. Within minutes damp patches appear on the ground as higher pressure, high relative humidity (RH) soil air moves upwards on the pressure gradient. The damp patches increase in size and remain all night.
So a foot-thick layer of air at 99% RH covers the land all night. Any mist/dew/fog/frost is captured into this boundary layer and drawn back into soil when the sun comes up and air pressure above increases. Dew forms on the Themeda and remains all day, coating the leaves. Effectively the soil acquires 1mm rain every night, or an inch or two a month on top of official rain.
Pre fox and cat, vast numbers of small marsupials would have been tilling everywhere to ensure soil porosity and capillary uptake of dew. Post hooves, porosity is destroyed by constant pressure. Lots of bark and branches fall off the trees and lie thickly in the Themeda.
A fire started early morning (like an Aboriginal group kicking a campfire apart after breakfast) will just burble along in the overnight humid air blanket. The twigs don’t go to ash, but to char. My suggestion is that the greater part of the continent was a continuous flow, mosaic pattern biochar reactor. Regards, Peter M

Hello Peter, thanks for your fascinating thoughts and insights which relate well to our feature article on firestick farming (see p14).
Best wishes, Clive

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