Friday, 29 December 2006

Natural Correlations with the Sun, Moon and Planets

The book I'm reading at present in called "A Philosophy of Gardening" by Wolf D Storl and is one of the texts recommended by the Biodynamic Agriculture practitioners.
The author points out many scientifically proven correlations related to the sun, moon, and planets (which cause electromagnetic & gravitational disturbances) which I thought were worth detailing on this blogsite. Here goes:
* 12.4 hour lunar impact on tides and oyster reproduction
* Human female conception correlation with each ones lunar phase when born
* Weather, rainfall and barometric pressure with the moon
* The full moon impact on the human psyche - increased crime and aggression, and mental patient reactions.
* 11 year sunspot cycle impact on icebergs off Iceland, good Vintage years for Bordeaux, Indian drought patterns, and shifting flowering dates of some plants
* 8 year precipitation cycle connected with movements of Venus
* 6 - 8 year beech nut harvest - correlated with movements of Jupiter, Mars, & Saturn in various constellations
* Rapidly growing herbaceous plants linked with nearer planets - monocots (whatever they are!) influenced by the Moon & Mercury, dicot herbs (ditto!) with the Moon and the sun
* Biennial shrubs connected with the two-year rhythm of Mars
* Perennial herbs and hardwoods connected with the 12-year cycle of Jupiter
* Most conifers connected to the long enduring (30 year) cycle of Saturn
Pretty weired, eh!

Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Myths of Safe Pesticides

On 9th November 2006 I posted a blog article titled "Are Organic Fruit and Vegetables Better for You?" At the time I also sent an email to Andre Leu, the current Chairperson of The Organic Federation of Australia, inviting him to provide me with his thoughts on this matter. He has today kindly sent me soft copies of 2 papers he was involved in drafting. The first is titled "The Benefits of Organic Food" and the second "The Myths of Safe Pesticides". Both are quite detailed and very informative, so I've decided to post their contents as 2 separate blogs. The first one has already been posted ... and here is the second ....

"The Myths of Safe Pesticides"
Andre Leu, Chair – Organic Federation of Australia

Conventional farming is dependent on synthetic biocides (pesticides, fungicides and herbicides). These poisons are used in food production to kill pests, diseases and weeds.

There are more than 7200 registered biocide products used in Australian agriculture.(1) This is similar in the USA and Europe. We are assured by our regulatory authorities that these poisons have been rigorously tested and that they are used safely on our foods and in our environment.

1. The Residue Myth
One of the major mythologies is the belief that most modern agricultural chemicals leave few residues. We are mislead into believing that they breakdown and do not persist in our food.

A typical claim states:“… Organophosphorous pesticides, carbamate pesticides are mostly biodegradable, and therefore do not concentrate in the food chain. Synthetic pyrethroids … are generally biodegradable and therefore tend not to persist in the environment.” (2)

These types of statements give the false impression that few agricultural pesticides persist in our food and environment.

1. Most agricultural and veterinary chemicals leave residues in food. That is the reason why residue tolerances called the Average Daily Intake (ADI) are set for these poisons.

The following are some of the poisons found in Australian foods in 2003: Acephate, Azinphos-methyl, Bifenthrin, Bioresmethrin, Captan, Carbaryl, Chlorfenvinphos, Chlorothalonil, Chlorpyrifos, Chlorpyrifos-methyl, DDT, DDE, Dimethoate, Diphenylamine, Endosulfan, Fenitrothion, Fenoxycarb, Fenthion, Iprodione, Maldison, Metalaxyl, Methamidophos, Methidathion, Methoprene, o-phenylphenol, Parathion-methyl, Permethrin, Piperonyl butoxide, Pirimicarb, Pirimiphos-methyl, Procymidone, Propargite, Propiconazole, Pyrimethanil, Tebufenpyrad, Tetradifon, Vinclozolin 2

The testing in Australia only looked at a small sample of the large number of chemicals used. The majority of agricultural chemicals are not included in residue testing. Some of the most widely used chemicals, including herbicides such as Atrazine, Glyphosate, 2,4-D, Diuron and Paraquat were not included in the testing.

2. Many of the current chemicals, including some of the Synthetic Pyrethroids, Organophosphates, Carbamates and Herbicides are as residual as banned Organochlorines such as Dieldrin, DDT, Chlordane, Heptachlor, Lindane and Aldrin.

2. The Breakdown Myth
One of the biggest myths is the assumption that once a chemical degrades it disappears and is harmless. Most agricultural poisons leave residues of breakdown chemicals when they degrade.(3,4)

1. A substantial number of agricultural pesticides such as organophosphates like Diazinon become even more toxic when they breakdown.

2. Where there is research, it shows that many of the breakdown chemicals from agricultural poisons cause health and reproductive problems.

3. There is virtually no testing to detect the residues of the breakdown chemicals of agricultural poisons in our food.

4. Very little research has been done to determine safe intake levels for the breakdown chemicals of agricultural poisons. Consequently there are virtually no safety levels to determine the Average Daily Intake (ADI) for the toxic breakdown chemicals that contaminate our food.

3. The Rigorously Tested Myth
One of the greatest myths is that all agricultural poisons are scientifically tested to ensure that they are used safely.

A: registered agricultural and veterinary products
The majority of agricultural poisons are mixtures composed of one or more chemicals that are defined as the active ingredient(s) and are mixed with other mostly toxic products, such as solvents or surfactants that are defined as “inerts”.

Only the active ingredient is individually tested to determine a safety level for the Average Daily Intake (ADI). The actual registered product, which is the mixture of chemicals used by farmers, is not tested for long term problems such as cancers, hormone disruption, birth defects, nervous system damage and immune system damage.

An example of this is Roundup, which is a mixture of the active ingredient Glyphosate, solvents and surfactants. Testing shows that this product is more toxic than the active ingredient Glyphosate. In fact Glyphosate barely works as a herbicide without the addition of these toxic so called ‘inert’ chemicals. (20)

The vast majority of the more than 7200 registered agricultural and veterinary products used in the production of Australian foods have no testing for health and reproductive problems. This is the same in most other countries. This means that there is no scientific data to determine a safety level for the actual products used on our food.

B: Chemical Cocktails in food and water
The other important issue is that several different toxic chemical products are applied in the production of most foods. These can be a combination of herbicide products, pesticide products, fungicide products and some of the synthetic fertilizer compounds.

Most foods have a cocktail of small amounts of these toxic chemicals and these are absorbed when we eat or drink them. A study by the U.S. Center for Disease Control found a cocktail of many toxic chemicals in the blood and urine of most Americans that they tested. (3,4, 5)

Regulatory authorities assume that because each of the active ingredients is below the ADI that the cocktail is also safe. They do not test for the safety of these combinations of chemicals – the chemical cocktails that we ingest everyday. Recent studies raise serious concerns. The emerging body of science demonstrates that many chemical cocktails act synergistically. This means that instead of 1+1= 2, the extra effect of the mixtures can mean 1+1= 60 or even 1000 in toxicity.

A study in the journal Toxicology and Industrial Health showed that combinations of low doses of commonly used agricultural chemicals can significantly effect health.

In the experiments conducted by Warren Porter et al at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, mice were given drinking water with combinations of pesticide, herbicide and nitrate, at concentrations currently found in groundwater in the USA. They exhibited altered immune, endocrine (hormone) and nervous system functions. The effects were most noticeable when single a herbicide (Atrazine) was combined with nitrate fertilizer. (6)

Atrazine is widely used in many agricultural industries including sugar cane and grain production. Atrazine is also one of the most persistent herbicides that pollutes much of the drinking water in the Midwestern USA, in parts of Europe and Australia. It is measurable in corn, milk, beef and other foods in the USA and Europe.

Porter’s studies show that the influence of pesticide, herbicide and fertilizer mixtures on the endocrine system may also result in changes in the immune system and affect fetal brain development. Of particular concern was thyroid disruption in humans. This has multiple consequences including effects on brain development, level of irritability, sensitivity to stimuli, ability or motivation to learn and an altered immune function.

A later experiment by Porter and colleagues found that very low levels of a mixture of the common herbicides 2,4-D, Mecoprop, Dicamba and inert ingredients caused a decrease in the number embryos and lives births in mice at all doses tested. Very significantly the data showed that low and very low doses caused these problems. (7)

4: The Very Small Amount Myth - ‘The residues are too low to cause any problems’
The current model of toxicology (science of poisons) works on the notion that the lower the dose the less the effect of the poison. When animal testing shows that a certain dose level of poison causes no observable ill effects, this dose becomes the basis that is used to determine the Average Daily Intake (ADI). Authorities then claim that any residue levels below the ADI are too low to cause health problems.

Research shows that the toxicology used by our authorities is inadequate in determining the safety of chemical compounds. (3,4)

A significant numbers of studies show that compounds that are considered to have very little toxicity in parts per million (ppm) have a range of adverse effects in parts per billion (ppb). These compounds disrupt our hormone systems at levels 1000 times lower than previous research stated was safe. Agricultural chemicals have been shown to mimic hormones such as estrogen, block the receptors for the hormones or actively negate the effect of hormones. These chemicals have been implicated in lower sperm counts, increases in breast, uterine, testicular and prostate cancers and deformities in the genital-urinary tracts. (4)

An example of this is Atrazine – one of the worlds most commonly used herbicides. Two peer reviewed studies conducted by Tyrone Hayes shows that levels 1000 times lower than currently permitted in our food causes severe reproductive deformities in frogs. (8,9)

Sara Storrs and Joseph Kiesecker of Pennsylvania State University recently confirmed Hayes’ research. They exposed tadpoles of four species of frogs to Atrazine. ‘Survival was significantly lower for all animals exposed to 3 ppb compared with either 30 or 100 ppb… These survival patterns highlight the importance of investigating the impacts of contaminants with realistic exposures and at various developmental stages.’ (10)

5. The Regulatory Authorities Myth
The greatest myth is that government regulatory authorities ensure that agricultural poisons are used safely and that there are no adverse health or environmental problems from these chemicals.

History shows that there has been a consistent failure of regulatory authorities to prevent the contamination of the environment and human health by products previously said to be safe such as Asbestos, Lead, Mercury, Dioxins, PCBs, DDT, Dieldrin and other Persistent Organic Pollutants. These products were not (and are still not in many cases) withdrawn until decades after good scientific evidence was presented to demonstrate that they are harmful.

Regulatory authorities around the world seem to be ignoring a large body of published science showing that the current methods of determining the safety of the agricultural poisons are grossly inadequate.

A: Environmental Fate
Pesticides do not just pollute our food; they poison our drinking water and air.
Research in Switzerland has demonstrated that some of the rain falling on Europe contains such high levels of pesticides that this rainwater would be illegal if it were supplied as drinking water.(11) Rain over Europe is laced with atrazine, alochlor, 2,4-D and other common agricultural chemicals sprayed onto crops. A 1999 study of rainfall in Greece found one or more pesticides in 90% of 205 samples taken. Atrazine was measurable in 30% of the samples.(12)

Atrazine interferes with the hormone systems.(8) It causes tumors of the mammary glands, uterus, and ovaries in animals.(13) Studies suggest that it is one of a number of agricultural chemicals that cause cancer in humans.(14, 15)

European regulatory authorities have decided that Atrazine will be banned in 2006 because of the recent science showing widespread contamination at levels that cause serious health problems. Authorities around the world including the USA and Australia have decided to ignore the overwhelming body of science about the adverse effects of this chemical.

B: Epidemiology and Scientific Testing
Most of the biocides used in farming are synthetic chemicals that have never existed before. Scientists are finding that they are having serious unintended consequences on the environment and human health. There is an abundance of published scientific research linking commonly used pesticides such as Malathion, Diazinon, Chlorpyrifos and other organophosphates as well as the carbamates, synthetic pyrethroids and herbicides to disruptions the hormone, nervous and immune systems. They are linked to cancers such as pancreatic, colon, lymphoma, leukemia, breast, uterine and prostate. Scientific research also links these chemicals to autoimmune diseases such as asthma, arthritis and chronic fatigue syndrome. (3,4,16,17,18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23,24)

This article is not intended to detail them all as it would be thousands of pages long. A few examples have been selected using two of the most common so-called ‘safe’ herbicides.

A case-controlled study published in March 1999 by Swedish scientists Lennart Hardell and Mikael Eriksson showed that non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) is linked to exposure of a range of pesticides and herbicides.(17) Hardell and Eriksson published an earlier study linking phenoxy herbicides to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) in 1981. These are widely used herbicides such as 2,4-D – part of the infamous Agent Orange.

Prior to the 1940’s non-Hodgkin's lymphoma was one of the world’s rarest cancer. Now it is one of the most common. Between 1973 and 1991, the incidence of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma increased at the rate of 3.3% per year in the U.S., making it the third fastest-growing cancer.(18) In Sweden, the incidence of NHL has increased at the rate of 3.6% per year in men and 2.9% per year in women since 1958.

One of the biocides linked to NHL by the Hardell study is Glyphosate. A previous study in 1998 implicated Glyphosate to hairy cell leukemia.(19) Several animal studies have shown that Glyphosate can cause gene mutations and chromosomal aberrations.(20) Denmark banned Glyphosate on September 15th 2003 because it was so persistent that it polluted most of the water table.

The response of many regulatory authorities is to ensure that use of Glyphosate is increased substantially around the world with the approval of "Roundup Ready" genetically modified crops.

C: Children and the Unborn
The greatest concern about these pesticides in our food and water is for the unborn and children. The 20th Australian Total Diet Survey found pesticide residues in infant food. The regulatory authorities ignored the data by stating “These results confirm that although infant foods contain pesticide residues, these are at very low levels.”

The fact is that children have the greatest exposure in terms of the amount of biocides they absorb in proportion to their size. According to the 20th Australian Total Diet Survey. “In general, the dietary exposure to pesticide residues was highest for the toddler age group. This is due to the high food consumption relative to body weight.”(2)

However because this dietary exposure is below the ADI, many regulatory authorities continue with the belief that this exposure does not cause any problems.

The research by Porter et al at the University of Wisconsin-Madison showed that children and the developing fetus are at risk from common agricultural chemical mixtures found at levels below those that the authorities regard as safe. The studies shows that the influence of these low dose mixtures on developing neurological, endocrine and immune systems can cause changes in the ability to learn and in behavioral patterns of aggression. (6,7)

Research conducted independently by Hayes et al and Storrs et al showed that exposure to amounts more than 1000 times lower than previously regarded as safe caused serious health and developmental problems to the fetus and juveniles. (8,9,10)

Dan Qiao et al of the Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology, Duke University Medical Center found that the developing fetus and the newborn are particularly vulnerable to amounts of pesticide far lower than currently permitted by most regulatory authorities around the world. Their studies show that the fetus and the newborn possess lower concentrations of the protective serum proteins than are found in adults. (25) A major consequence is developmental neurotoxicity. This is where the poison damages the developing nervous system of the unborn and children. (16,21, 25)

The scientists stated: “These results indicate that chlorpyrifos and other organophosphates such as diazinon have immediate, direct effects on neural cell replication... In light of the protective effect of serum proteins, the fact that the fetus and newborn possess lower concentrations of these proteins suggests that greater neurotoxic effects may occur at blood levels of chlorpyrifos that are nontoxic to adults.” (25)

Apart from Europe banning Atrazine and Denmark banning Glyphosate, regulatory authorities have made no effort to remove toxic chemicals from food. They continue to perpetuate the myths of safety.

Avoiding Pesticides and other Biocides
It is time to dispense with the myths that food from conventional farming is safe to eat. The lack of rigorous testing and the blatant disregard of current science confirm that there is a lack of credible science to back claims that the poison residues in food are safe to consume.

The only way to avoid these poisons is to eat certified organically grown food as it is produced without these toxic compounds.

A detailed scientific analysis of organic fruits and vegetables in the USA, published in the peer-reviewed journal Food Additives and Contaminants, showed that organic foods have significantly less pesticide residues than conventionally grown foods. (26)

A similar study in Australia by Ruth McGowan for the Victorian Department of Primary Industries conducted 14000 tests on 300 hundred samples of certified organic produce. The study concluded that: “The results demonstrate that Victorian organic produce is virtually ‘chemical free’.” (27)

Both of these studies showed that vast majority of organic foods have no residues. Where residues were found these were due to the widespread contamination caused by several pesticides used in conventional farming. Even then, these residues were substantially lower in organic foods than in conventionally produced food.

Most importantly scientific studies are beginning to show that eating organic food results in lower levels of these pervasive chemicals in humans, particularly children.

A study published in the peer reviewed journal, Environmental Health Perspectives, found that children who eat organic foods have lower levels of one class of agricultural pesticides in their bodies. The University of Washington researchers who conducted the study concluded ‘The dose estimates suggest that consumption of organic fruits, vegetables, and juice can reduce children's exposure levels from above to below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's current guidelines, thereby shifting exposures from a range of uncertain risk to a range of negligible risk. Consumption of organic produce appears to provide a relatively simple way for parents to reduce their children's exposure to OP [organophosphate] pesticides.’ (28)


1 Infopest (2004). Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries.

2 20th Australian Total Diet Survey. (2003) Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ)

3 Short K. (1994), Quick Poison, Slow Poison, 1994, ISBN 0 85881 127 8

4 Colborn T, Dumanoski D. and Myers J. P., (1996) Our Stolen Future,, March 1996

5 Higgins Margo, Toxins are in most Americans' blood, study finds, Environmental News Network, Monday, March 26, 2001

6 Porter W, et al. (1999), "Endocrine, immune and behavioral effects of aldicarb (carbamate), atrazine (triazine) and nitrate (fertilizer) mixtures at groundwater concentrations," Toxicology and Industrial Health (1999) 15, 133-150.

7 Cavieres M, Jaeger J, and Porter W, Developmental Toxicity of a Commercial Herbicide Mixture in Mice: I. Effects on Embryo Implantation and Litter Size, Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 110, Number 11, November 2002

8 Hayes, T.B., et al. (2002). "Hermaphroditic, demasculinized frogs after exposure to the herbicide atrazine at low ecologically relevant doses." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 99:5476-5480, April 16, 2002,

9 Hayes, T.B., et al. (2003), Atrazine-Induced Hermaphroditism at 0.1 ppb in American Leopard Frogs (Rana pipiens): Laboratory and Field Evidence Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 111, Number 4, April 2003

10 Storrs, Sara I. and Kiesecker, Joseph M. (2004), Survivorship Patterns of Larval Amphibians Exposed to Low Concentrations of Atrazine, Environmental Health Perspectives 112: No10.1054-1057 (2004).

11 Pearce F and Mackenzie D, "It's raining pesticides; The water falling from our skies is unfit to drink," NEW SCIENTIST April 3, 1999, pg. 23.

12 Charizopoulos E. and Papadopoulou-Mourkidou E. (1999), "Occurrence of Pesticides in Rain of the Axios River Basin, Greece," ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY [ES&T] Vol. 33, No. 14 (July 15, 1999), pgs. 2363-2368.

13 UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY REVISED HUMAN HEALTH RISK ASSESSMENT Atrazine April 16, 2002 Reregistration Branch 3 Health Effects Division Office of Pesticide Programs

14 Mills P et al, Cancer Incidence in the United Farmworkers of America (UFW) 1987-1997, 2001, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 40: 596-603, 2002

15 International Agency for Research on Cancer "Overall Evaluations of Carcinogenicity to Humans 6-Chloro-N-ethyl-N¢-(1-methylethyl)-1,3,5-triazine-2,4-diamine" VOL.: 73 (1999) (p. 59)

16 Aldridge J, Seidler F, Meyer A, Thillai I, and Slotkin1 T, Serotonergic Systems Targeted by Developmental Exposure to Chlorpyrifos: Effects during Different Critical Periods, Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 111, Number 14, November 2003

17 Hardell L. and Eriksson M. (1999), "A Case-Control Study of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and exposure to Pesticides," CANCER Vol.85, No. 6 (March 15, 1999), pgs. 1353-1360.

18 Harras al, editors, (1996), CANCER RATES AND RISKS 4TH EDITION, NIH Publication No. 96-691, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland, 1996, pg.17.

19 Nordstrom M. et al, (1998), "Occupational exposures, animal exposure, and smoking as risk factors for hairy cell leukaemia evaluated in a case-control study," BRITISH JOURNAL OF CANCER Vol. 77 (1998), pgs. 2048-2052.

20 Cox Caroline, Glyphosate (Roundup) JOURNAL OF PESTICIDE REFORM, Fall 1998, Vol.18, No. 3 Updated 01-02, Northwest Coalition Against Pesticides, Eugene, Oregon.

21 Buznikov G A, et al (2001), An Invertebrate Model of the Developmental Neurotoxicity of Insecticides: Effects of Chlorpyrifos and Dieldrin in Sea Urchin Embryos and Larvae, Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 109, Number 7, July 2001.

22 Cabello G, et al, (2001), A Rat Mammary Tumor Model Induced by the
Organophosphorous Pesticides Parathion and Malathion, Possibly through Acetylcholinesterase Inhibition, Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 109, Number 5, May 2001

23 Garry V F, et al, (2001), Biomarker Correlations of Urinary 2,4-D Levels in
Foresters: Genomic Instability and Endocrine Disruption, Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 109, Number 5, May 2001.


25 Qiao D, Seidler F, and Slotkin T, (2001) Developmental Neurotoxicity of Chlorpyrifos Modeled in Vitro: Comparative Effects of Metabolites and Other Cholinesterase Inhibitors on DNA Synthesis in PC12 and C6 Cells, Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 109, Number 9, September 2001

26 Baker B, Benbrook C.M, Groth III E, and Lutz Benbrook. K. (2002), Pesticide residues in conventional, IPM-grown and organic foods: Insights from three U.S. data sets, Published in: Food Additives and Contaminants, Volume 19, No. 5, May 2002, pages 427-446.

27 McGowan Ruth, (2003),“Government test prove…”: Results of Victorian Government chemical residue survey substantiates ‘clean’ claims for organic produce. Published in the proceedings of the Organic Futures for Australia, 2nd National Organic Conference, Adelaide 2-3 2003. Organic Federation of Australia 2003.

28 Curl, C. L, Fenske F.A, Elgethun K, Organophosphorus Pesticide Exposure of Urban and Suburban Preschool Children with Organic and Conventional Diets, Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 111, Number 3, March 2003

The Benefits of Organic Food

On 9th November 2006 I posted a blog article titled "Are Organic Fruit and Vegetables Better for You?" At the time I also sent an email to Andre Leu, the current Chairperson of The Organic Federation of Australia, inviting him to provide me with his thoughts on this matter. He has today kindly sent me soft copies of 2 papers he was involved in drafting. The first is titled "The Benefits of Organic Food" and the second "The Myths of Safe Pesticides". Both are quite detailed and very informative, so I've decided to post their contents as 2 separate blogs. Here is the first one ....

"The Benefits of Organic Food"
Andre Leu

Many people purchase organic food because they believe it is healthier than conventionally grown food. The organic industry is constantly told that there is no evidence to support these claims. This article looks at published information that shows that organic food is substantially healthier than conventional food.

Research published in 2001 showed that conventionally grown fruit and vegetables in the USA have about half the vitamin content of their counterparts in 1963. This study was based on comparing published US Department of Agriculture figures.

A scientific study published in the Journal of Applied Nutrition in 1993 clearly showed that organic food is more nutritious than conventional food. Organically and conventionally grown apples, potatoes, pears, wheat, and sweet corn were purchased in the western suburbs of Chicago, over two years, and analysed for mineral content. The organically grown food averaged 63% higher in calcium, 73% higher in iron, 118% higher in magnesium, 178% higher in molybdenum, 91% higher in phosphorus, 125% higher in potassium and 60% higher in zinc. The organic food averaged 29% lower in mercury than the conventionally raised food.

A recently publish review of scientific research by Charles Benbrook, Ph.D. reveals that on average organic foods contain about one-third higher in antioxidants than comparable conventional produce.

These phyto-nutrients have been shown to have major roles in preventing and reversing diseases such as heart disease and arterial diseases. They are important for preventing and reducing inflammatory and auto-immune diseases such as asthma and arthritis. Most significantly they are shown to have anti cancer and other protective properties for our health and well being.

A study by the Danish Institute of Agricultural Research and the University of Newcastle's showed that cows raised on an organic diet produce milk with 50% more Vitamin E and 75% more beta carotene than conventionally farmed cows. The organic milk has two to three times more zeaxanthine and lutein, which are powerful antioxidants. Higher levels of omega 3 essential fatty acids, that provide protection from heart and other diseases, are also found in organic milk.

A scientific article published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry stated that organically grown corn, strawberries and marionberries have significantly higher levels of cancer fighting antioxidants than conventionally grown foods.

The European Journal of Nutrition published a study by Dr John Paterson from the University of Strathclyde, UK. The study found that organic vegetable soups contain almost six times as much salicylic acid as non-organic vegetable soups. Salicylic acid is produced naturally in plants as a protective compound against stress and disease. It is responsible for the anti-inflammatory action of aspirin, and helps combat hardening of the arteries, heart disease and bowel cancer.

Two comprehensive studies have been published that compared the differences between organic and conventional foods. Both studies analyzed around 40 previously published studies, each independently of the other. One study was conducted in the UK by nutritionist Shane Heaton and the other in the USA by Virginia Worthington as a peer reviewed university graduate thesis. Both studies came up with similar conclusions showing that there is overwhelming evidence that organic food is more nutritious than conventional food. Heaton stated: ‘On average our research found higher vitamin C, higher mineral levels and higher phytonutrients – plant compounds which can be effective against cancer.’

In the past there have been a number of media stories claiming that organic foods contain higher levels of dangerous pathogens. All of these stories were proved to be false and most of the media presenters apologised publicly for promoting inaccurate and misleading stories.

It is a requirement of organic certification systems that animal manures are composted, or that two non-food rotations are grown on a manured site before it can be used for crops. A United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report concluded that the superior management practices of organic agriculture reduce E. coli and mycotoxin infections in food.

Food Additives
The use of antibiotics, anti-microbials, hormones and other growth promotants are prohibited in organic production. Where animals are treated with veterinary chemicals, they are not allowed to be sold as organic. Similarly the use of synthetic chemicals as preservatives, colourings, antioxidants etc are prohibited in the processing of organic foods. There is an increasing body of concern about these synthetic compounds in the diets of humans and animals used for human food.

Chemical Residues
Many studies show that most conventionally farmed foods have pesticide and other chemical residues. Repeated tests show that many of these foods can carry a cocktail of synthetic poisons.

A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found a cocktail of many toxic chemicals in the blood and urine of most Americans that they tested. Studies show that most living organisms carry a cocktail of synthetic man made chemicals.

A growing body of science is showing that repeated exposures, to cocktails of minute amounts of synthetic chemicals, have a range of adverse health effects. A recently published study shows that as little a one tenth of a part per billion of a common herbicide can damage reproductive systems.

Peer reviewed published research has demonstrated that many of these types of chemicals are known to disrupt the hormone, nervous and immune systems. The escalating increase of certain types of cancers such as lymphoma, leukemia, breast, uterine and prostate cancers are linked to agricultural and other synthetic chemicals. Similarly, a good body of scientific research also links these chemicals to the dramatic increases in auto-immune diseases such as asthma and chronic fatigue syndrome. Cancers such as Non Hodgkin’s lymphoma have gone from being one of the rarest cancers to one of the fastest growing cancers amongst people exposed to agricultural chemicals.

Several studies analyzing organic foods showed that they have significantly less pesticide residues than conventionally grown foods. Most importantly scientific studies are beginning to show that that eating organic food results in lower levels of these pervasive chemicals in humans.

A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that children who eat organic foods have lower levels of pesticides in their bodies. The University of Washington researchers who conducted the study concluded ‘The dose estimates suggest that consumption of organic fruits, vegetables, and juice can reduce children's exposure levels from above to below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's current guidelines, thereby shifting exposures from a range of uncertain risk to a range of negligible risk. Consumption of organic produce appears to provide a relatively simple way for parents to reduce their children's exposure...’

The United Nations FAO states the case very succinctly. ‘It has been demonstrated that organically produced foods have lower levels of pesticide and veterinary drug residues and, in many cases, lower nitrate contents. Animal feeding practices followed in organic livestock production, also lead to a reduction in contamination of food products of animal origin.’

The facts show that organic foods have significant health benefits because of higher nutritional values. They excel in the antioxidants that prevent heart disease, cancers, anti-inflammatory and auto-immune diseases.

Baker B, Benbrook C.M, Groth III E, and Lutz Benbrook. K. (2002), Pesticide residues in conventional, IPM-grown and organic foods: Insights from three U.S. data sets, Published in: Food Additives and Contaminants, Volume 19, No. 5, May 2002, pages 427-446.

Buznikov G A, et al (2001), An Invertebrate Model of the Developmental Neurotoxicity of Insecticides: Effects of Chlorpyrifos and Dieldrin in Sea Urchin Embryos and Larvae, Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 109, Number 7, July 2001.

Cabello G, et al (2001), A Rat Mammary Tumor Model Induced by the
Organophosphorous Pesticides Parathion and Malathion, Possibly through Acetylcholinesterase Inhibition, Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 109, Number 5, May 2001

Charizopoulos E. and Papadopoulou-Mourkidou E. (1999), "Occurrence of Pesticides in Rain of the Axios River Basin, Greece," ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY [ES&T] Vol. 33, No. 14 (July 15, 1999), pgs. 2363-2368.

Colborn T., Dumanoski D. and Myers J. P., (1996) Our Stolen Future,, March 1996

Curl, C. L, Fenske F.A, Elgethun K, Organophosphorus Pesticide Exposure of Urban and Suburban Preschool Children with Organic and Conventional Diets, Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 111, Number 3, March 2003

Faloon W. (2001) Vegetables Without Vitamins, Life Extension Magazine, Florida March 2001

FAO (2000) Twenty Second FAO Regional Conference for Europe, Porto, Portugal, 24-28 July 2000 Agenda Item 10.1, FOOD SAFETY AND QUALITY AS AFFECTED BY ORGANIC FARMING

Garry V F, et al, (2001), Biomarker Correlations of Urinary 2,4-D Levels in
Foresters: Genomic Instability and Endocrine Disruption, Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 109, Number 5, May 2001.

Hardell L. and Eriksson M. (1999), "A Case-Control Study of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and exposure to Pesticides," CANCER Vol.85, No. 6 (March 15, 1999), pgs. 1353-1360.

Harras al, editors, (1996), CANCER RATES AND RISKS 4TH EDITION, NIH Publication No. 96-691, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland, 1996, pg.17.

Hayes, T.B., et al. (2002). "Hermaphroditic, demasculinized frogs after exposure to the herbicide atrazine at low ecologically relevant doses." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 99:5476-5480, April 16, 2002,

Hayes, T.B., et al. (2003), Atrazine-Induced Hermaphroditism at 0.1 ppb in American Leopard Frogs (Rana pipiens): Laboratory and Field Evidence Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 111, Number 4, April 2003

Heaton, S (2001), Organic Farming, Food Quality and Human Health, Soil Association, Bristol House, 40-56 Victoria Street, Bristol, BS1 6BY, United Kingdom
Journal of Applied Nutrition (1993); 45:35-39. Organic Food is More Nutritious Than Conventional Food
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, (2003) February 2003

Nordstrom M. et al, (1998), "Occupational exposures, animal exposure, and smoking as risk factors for hairy cell leukaemia evaluated in a case-control study," BRITISH JOURNAL OF CANCER Vol. 77 (1998), pgs. 2048-2052.

Paterson, J (2002) European Journal of Nutrition (vol. 40, p 289)

Pearce F. and Mackenzie D, (1999), "It's raining pesticides; The water falling from our skies is unfit to drink," NEW SCIENTIST April 3, 1999, pg. 23.

Porter W, et al. (1999), "Endocrine, immune and behavioral effects of aldicarb (carbamate), atrazine (triazine) and nitrate (fertilizer) mixtures at groundwater concentrations," Toxicology and Industrial Health (1999) 15, 133-150.

Short K. (1994), Quick Poison, Slow Poison, 1994, ISBN 0 85881 127 8

Worthington, V (2001) ‘Nutritional Quality of Organic Versus Conventional
Fruits, Vegetables, and Grains’ THE JOURNAL OF ALTERNATIVE AND COMPLEMENTARY MEDICINE Volume 7, Number 2, 2001, pp. 161–173"

Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Adapting to the Environment

Chris Henggeler from Kachana recently sent an email to a group of us who are working on a project aimed at accelerating the adoption of regenerative land management in Australia. Attached to his email were the following series of images that I thought were worth sharing more widely. Unfortunately we do not know the name of the names of the people who developed the concepts and artwork.

.... and the moral of the story is:

Fire & Drought Impact At Ochre Arch

Last week Jan and I were staying on Ochre Arch, and the effects of both the current drought and fires were very evident. There was a storm which provided some brief relief through 5 mm of rain however this event was immediately preceded by extreme winds that stirred up a dust storm – evident in the accompanying picture.
Given that our farm is located over 530 km from Melbourne and 300 km from Sydney ‘as the crow flies’ and that the prevailing weather patterns are from the north west it would be reasonable to assume we would not be impacted by the remnants of fires in Victoria or the Blue Mountains to the west of Sydney. The reality is quite different. On the first day we were on the farm there’d been easterly winds leaving us in the midst of smoke from the east. Several days later the winds were from the south and south east, bathing us in smoke from the fires in Victoria. The attached image shows just how thick this smoke was, creating what to some might appear impressive sunset affects

Friday, 1 December 2006

What Plants Can Tell Us about the Soil

It is quite widely accepted that the most appropriate plants will germinate and grow naturally in the soil to match the full range of conditions (soil health, mineral content & organic matter, ground cover, climate, aspect, parent body material etc.) that apply at that particular point in time.

Last week Pauline Roberts and John Polglase and from Divstrat Pty Limited were visiting Ochre Arch to help us try and locate some bore sites to drill for underground water. John is currently studying geology and commented at one point that the greatest emerging threat to soil health is acidity, driven in part to the application of some chemical (inorganic) fertilisers.

It’s curious how things can ‘connect’ closely together at times. I’m presently reading the book titled “Culture and Horticulture: A Philosophy of Gardening” by Wolf D Storl ISBN 0-938250-01-9 and came across the following text, strongly reinforcing John’s comments:

Acidity or Alkalinity (Percentage Base Saturation, pH)), or sweetness or sourness of the soil is indicated by the pH scale ranging from 1 to 14. Soils range from very acid soils of about a pH of 4, which is about the acidity of tomatoes, beer, or grass silage, to a pH of 8, which is about as alkaline as sea water or eggs. Most plants prefer to grow in earth that has a pH of 6 or 7. Humus buffers the soil between 6 and 7. Wet soils are usually sour; they have low base saturation because the bases (Ca, Mg, Na, K, etc.) usually leach out in the rain, leaving an excess number of hydrogen ions that are the indicator of acidity. Sandy soils, peat-moss formations and the podsols of northern, wet climates furnish examples of this happening. In dry climates, as in southern California, the opposite happens – alkalinity increases and salts are deposited on the surface of the soils. Before indicator tests for pH came about, farmers could tell by looking at the weeds whether a soil was sweet or sour. The presence of sorrel, sour dock, buttercups, tussocks, hawkweeds, horsetails, knotweeds, cinquefoil and daisies indicates an acid soil; whereas alfalfa, sweet clover, burdock, coltsfoot, chamomile, and others indicate a sweet soil.

The application of chemical fertiliser tends to acidify the soils so that the addition of large quantities of lime is concomitant with their use. Humus derived from careful composting, on the other hand, has such a buffering effect that the organic gardener does not have to worry about the pH at all. Humus and microorganisms buffer the soil by letting excess H ions go when the soil is too acid, and letting Ca ions go when the soil is too base. If … the gardener wishes to increase the pH he can sweeten the soil by the addition by the addition of ground limestone or dolomite; or he can make the soil more acid by adding pine needle mulch, coffee grounds, oak leaf mulch, cotton seed meal etc.”

The book goes on a bit later to say ….

“…. plants actively work at creating for themselves the soil they need. Some plants function as accumulators and change the soil in one direction or another, e.g. daisies collect calcium in acid soils, horsetail collects silicon even in silicon-poor soils, orache collects salt etc. Upon their death, these plants will enrich the soil with these elements and change it accordingly.”

Personally reflecting on the above for a moment ….

I’ve observed on many occasions that one of the main weeds that seem to emerge underneath and around winter cereal crops sown with chemical fertilisers is Capeweed (Arctotheca calendula). These plants have “masses of yellow, daisy-like flowers with dark, almost black centres” (see and it makes me wonder whether Capeweed is related in some way to daisies and if so whether they are thus indicating acids soils.

Another observation is with Patterson’s Curse. The conditions for growth are bare and in some cases compacted soils that I’m reliably informed will also be deficient in copper. Patterson’s Curse accumulates copper, and horses which graze in paddocks that are heavily infested with these plants have been known to suffer from copper poisoning.

Just about every grazier will have observed Stinging Nettles growing in stockyards and under stock camps. This is an indicator of high nitrogen levels, associated with the breakdown of concentrated amounts of animal urine and manure.

Broadleaf plants emerge rapidly on some bare soils as nature’s way of providing protection and assisting in the build up of litter and organic matter.

Taproot generating plants such as thistles grow on compressed soils as a mechanism for ‘opening up’ the soil, allowing aerobic (air based) processes and decomposition to work effectively.

So it’s all very interesting stuff, this ‘reading’ the sign-posts of nature.

Oh, and by the way, both Pauline and John are both amazing people and I’d encourage anyone who is searching for underground water or is looking to do farm mapping to get in touch with them. There contacts are on the Divstrat Pty Limited website.

Wednesday, 29 November 2006

Look After Your Natural Assets

The Upper Murrumbidgee Catchment Cordinating Committee in conjunction with Landcare recently produced a revised edition of its "Look After Your Natural Assets" landcare booklet. This is a pretty neat publication for anyone who happens to have an interest in small blocks of rural land (or even big ones in my view), and covers a whole range of subjects such as plants, soils, water, conservation, management, revegetation and contacts.
Copies can be obtained (for free!) via email to

Friday, 10 November 2006

View Satellite Imagery of NSW Free

In this morning's edition of The Weekly Bundle produced by the Lachlan Catchment Management Authority the following article appeared:

"View Satellite Imagery FREE
The Department of Lands (DOL) have recently published whole of NSW SPOT 5 satellite imagery on their website. You can link to this free site via the web address below and click on the Imagery tab., then "click here" under Lands Spatial information exchange to see the Spot5 images.

You may have to download some small image viewing software that will allow you to view .ecw images, but after this is installed, you can view any Spot 5 satellite image in the state. The response is impressively fast and allows you to view your farm, your town or your catchment."

I spent a bit of time checking out the site and was pretty impressed with what's available.

A user can search for locations based on aspects such as Address, Lot/DP (this is what works the best for finding rural properties I think), Catchment Management Authority, Suburb, City/Town/Suburb and Local Government Areas.

There are also several different display images on the landscape available, such as colour satellite photographs, topographic maps, Landsat Imagery and Multispectral satellite imagery. I confess that I do not understand what these last 2 are ... but would like to ... the different coluors of the landscape are quite marked and raise many questions in the context of making land management decisions.

Readers living outside NSW who would like a property to check out can email me at and I'll give you the Lot & DP (Deposited Plan) numbers for Ochre Arch to work with.

Thursday, 9 November 2006

Are Organics Fruit & Vegetables Better For You?

Glen, my personal gym trainer from Bennettswood Fitness Centre, was telling me about a show he’d seen on TV recently where tests were done to see if food grown organically was ‘better’ than conventional grown produce. A further comparison was done to see what the impact of freezing fruit and vegetables was. The main outcome of the tests was that overall there was no material difference between the 2 – which was a surprise given all of the talk about the need to move away from chemicals. He sought my thoughts on the subject and I confess to not being of much assistance.

After the training session with Glen I contact Carolyn Ditchfield, a friend who owns the soil health business called “From the Soil Up” based at Inverell. Carolyn has done quite a bit of reading on the subject of soil and food health. We’d had previous discussion where she’d enlightened me on the need for “minerally dense” foods and I wondered whether this was an important measure. She sent me an excellent email outlining her ‘top of mind’ thoughts on the subject of organic V conventionally grown foods. After reading it I sought (and was granted) her permission to create a post on my blogsite outlining her main points. These follow.

Carolyn’s Comments on Organic V Conventionally Grown Foods
“It really goes back to the definition of ‘organic’ – was it ‘organic by neglect’ (i.e. don’t do anything and it can be labeled organic)? Also, there are some organic growers out there, purely in it for the premiums, or simply have poor soil knowledge.

The unfortunate thing with many of these studies is they are often conducted with a background bias in play – was it the conventional industry trying to prove a point (the same happens with it is the organic industry trying to prove a point)? You really need to check out who conducted the test and more importantly how they selected their test foods, was it measured dry matter basis or wet weight (i.e. fresh) etc.

Yes, minerally dense is the term often used, but it doesn’t take into account the form or ratio of minerals and/or enzymes, amino acids etc which is often more important – going back to basics, flavour is the biggest determinant and the good old ‘Brix meter’ gives a reasonable gauge on that for those of us that are not overly sensitive to slight variations.

Freezing will not change the mineral content significantly, but does have quite an impact on enzymes etc – which as stated above can be even more important for health giving properties.

As for chemical residues – if the chemicals were solely used externally – yes, you can rinse of some of it, but most are applied with oils and other artificial surfactants, so water alone barely does anything, you need to use some form of detergent to really move it. But the biggest problem is that most the chemicals now used in the horticultural industry are systemic, i.e. they move internally via the sap and become part of the fruit of vegetable – and there is no way to rinse those off. It is stated that given enough time after the spray the fruit will breakdown the chemicals – but that is a bit of blind trust really, you never really know, but the most alarming part is that while they claim to have regulations preventing contaminated fruit being sold through registered fruit markets. Apparently since the regulations were introduced in Brisbane’s Rocklea markets at least a decade or more ago there has not been one prosecution. Yet I know of one story of a university lecturer feeding his canaries lettuce from the markets and killing them all. He took the lettuce to the university laboratory and identified the chemical – not a happy chappy! But it also says something about the enforcement policy and our safety. I also know of many farmers that have sprayed just prior to sending veggies in.

I would still choose organic over conventional in most cases.”

Contacting Carolyn
Landholders interested in learning more about soils and soil health can contact Carolyn on email:

Post Script
I’ve subsequently learned that the TV program Glen watched was called “What’s Good For You”. It screens 7.30 pm Mondays on Channel 9 and is hosted by Sigrid Thornton. The program has a web site at The web site provides detail on the episode where the topic “Are Organics Fruit & Vegetables Better For You?” was discussed. See for these details.

Monday, 6 November 2006

Wildlife Observations on the Gold Coast

After receiving and reading our latest Ochre Archives Newsletter long time family friend, Athol Hodgson (who lives in the Gold Coast Hinterland) sent me a very informative email sharing his observations on the wildlife in his area. I subsequently sought and was given Athol’s permission to publish the main points in his email as a “guest Blog” which is what this now is.

You’ll notice when reading Athol’s comments that among other things he has observed a significant decline in the number of Magpies. This seems particularly curious. I suggested to Athol that perhaps the cane toads might have had some impact (due to the poisons that are in glands on their backs) and I also embarked on a bit of investigative research to see if I could find someone who was able to provide some scientifically based thoughts on the change.

On the research front, I contacted Toni McLeish, who works for the NSW Department of Environment and Conservation and coordinates the Grassy Box Woodlands Conservation Management Network. Toni kindly referred me to Greg Ford who is the Regional Coordinator - Vegetation and Biodiversity for the Queensland Murray-Darling Committee based at Toowoomba West. Greg in turn expressed interest in the case recommended that I approach one of the following groups:
* Birds Australia -
* Birds Queensland -
* Centre for Innovative Conservation Strategies, Griffith University –
* Assoc Prof Darryl Jones (at above centre) is an expert on wildlife in urban areas

I opted for Darryl, and received a very helpful and informative response, the main points of which also appear below.

Athol’s Observations
“Although I've not taken the time to do extensive studies of birds and animals, I am fascinated by them. Where we live here in the hinterland we are fortunate that there is an abundance of birdlife, particularly along Mudgeeraba creek, which is just a few hundred yards from our house as the crow flies, and the crows outnumber all the others put together. In fact, the entire Gold Coast is home to thousands! At Nobby Beach for a time, and I was amazed at the number of crows there. The first thing I noticed upon arriving on the Gold Coast was that the crows here have a different call. It is short and clipped as opposed to crows down South, and in the West. This, despite the fact that my brother told me a crow was caught in Greenethorpe (near central NSW), and was found to have a tag which was attached in Darwin! Are some crows migratory?

Here we see wattle birds, lorikeets, peewees, butcher birds, currawongs, (though not as many now for some reason). Ibis are also in abundance, and they have become a nuisance in recent times, being real scavengers. Down on the creek there are crimson rosellas, eastern rosellas and king parrots.

Magpies have largely disappeared, don't know why. Up until two years ago there were thousands. I am skeptical about the cane toads decimating them. If this was so, surely they wouldn't all disappear at once. Some three years ago we were visiting Tamworth, and at that time there was literally a plague of magpies, who hung around for a couple of months, then vanished, except for a few who stayed. We actually have two or three pairs here at present, but I have seen no young ones. I have found that they start nesting in August, and that applies to the bush where we lived, in Sydney, and the Gold Coast. However, I have not seen any young ones this season, whereas there was some last year.

Water dragons abound along Mudgeeraba creek.

We have been delighted to see the return of green tree frogs, but they only emerge after rain. Two nights ago there was a light shower and I spotted one on the back step. And three weeks back I went to water the plants (water restrictions now decree that we only use water cans) and I wondered why the water wouldn't come out. I found a green frog in the spout!

At a one acre block just five minutes from us, there are cockatoos and a family of plovers, which intrigue me, as they nest on the grass, not even in a hollow, and with no nesting material .Last summer they nested three times, as predators of some kind kept swiping their eggs. They finally managed to raise one chick. Large wood ducks can be seen almost daily on their land, and last summer a pair of crows nested in a tall gum tree just outside their front door.

Just after dark a couple of weeks ago near home a fox crossed the road in front of us. The sad thing is that development is going on at a great rate all over the coast, which means loss of habitat for many.

This morning I encountered my first cane toad for this season. They haven't been around, no doubt because we have had no rain to speak of. As with snakes, a lot of myths surround them. One story which I don't believe is that they spit deadly venom when cornered. In 1970 in North Queensland I encountered an average of six every night. We had an outside toilet there, and my wife wouldn't go down until I did the surveillance. Not one ever spat at me.

Last summer we were at my partner’s daughter's place- and there were hundreds of tiny toads in the grass. I suspect that the birds prey on them as they say the small ones don't have any venom. I recall the teacher at the Greenethorpe public school telling us about cane toads. That would have been about 1943, and as you know, the toads were introduced to control pests of sugar cane. As with most introduced species, this move was disastrous. Take the Indian Mynah. Sydney now has a plague of them.

Something else that I have discovered, when we were living in Meadowbank on the banks of the Parramatta river I befriended a pair of butcher birds, which I tamed fairly quickly and had them literally eating out of my hand. I read about them in two different bird books, and I found that a pair of birds occupies a certain area, and no other butcher birds are allowed there. However, the books didn't mention that every pair has a different call, unmistakably butcher bird, but a different melody. I discovered that very quickly. During our stay there, over about five years, I watched them nest each year, then was fascinated when the fledglings left as soon as they could fend for themselves. How they found an unoccupied area to move to I don't know.

Last night, upon arriving home in the dark, I spotted two small geckos under the eaves outside our garage. I've not seen any before. There are usually two per house I'm told.

I have always loved pelicans, and they are in abundance on the Gold Coast. You have no doubt heard how the pelicans that frequent Lake Eyre desert the lake as it dries up during drought, heading for the coast. Then when the rains come and the lake fills again, they fly back. No-one knows how they can work out that the lake has filled again. Another aspect of pelican life intrigues me. I have only ever seen adult birds. I just went into Google and accessed 'Pelicans' which tells me that the birds nest in secluded spots or on islands. The young stay in the nest for a month and then frequent a crèche for a further two months, when they join the adults. I have yet to find just where they nest, having visited secluded spots and islands.

When we came here four years ago, there were hundreds of lorikeets coming into our back yard each morning. We have grevillias growing outside our back fence, and they love to get the nectar from these. However, despite the fact that the grevillias had an abundance of flowers in spring, the birds have largely gone. It is now rare to see one pair. Curious!”

Assoc Prof Darryl Jones Thoughts on Athol’s Magpie Observations
“My first impression - is that the impression of a major decline in magpies is very likely to simply be an impression (!). They are one of the relatively small numbers of species that have thrived in the wake of urbanisation, while lots have disappeared. However, there are some current issues that could certainly be affecting things in a specific location. The first is that these birds are reliant on friable soil and short grass to obtain almost all their food. So when drought continues and the grass dries and the ground hardens they are in trouble. However, these birds also maintain their territories for life and I cannot imagine any natural conditions that would force them to leave their patch - apart from concreting the whole thing over.

And these territories are the exclusive domain of a single pair and whatever offspring may be hanging around since last breeding season. No other individuals are tolerated on these spots - unless, as sometimes happens, someone is feeding lots and the territorial system breaks down in the vicinity of a particularly rich scavenging site.

I am aware of some situations were people do poison birds - usually crows - and magpies are hit inadvertently.”

Saturday, 4 November 2006

Impact of Lawn Mowing Height & Frequency on Plant Root Growth

At the beginning of last month I posted an article on this blogsite titled Growing Lawn Without Watering. In response, one of the readers (Peter B.) commented: “Liked your article on grass …. I was under the impression the more frequently the grass was cut (at maximum height setting without catcher) the stronger the root system … maybe this is an urban myth?”

Judi Earl is an Holistic Management Certified Educator based at Guyra who has a strong scientific background in pasture growth and the interaction of pasture and animals. She and her business partner Lewis Kahn collectively own and operate Agriculture Information and Monitoring Services. I contacted Judi and sought her thoughts in respect of Peter B’s question, and her enlightening response is below:

“There is huge potential to improve water cycling if city folk realised the impact they could potentially make by improving all their collective small patches of land.

I've no doubt that mowing at maximum height enhances root growth and improves the persistence, vigour and health of lawn species. On average for pasture grasses cutting, or grazing, to leave a residual height around 5cm will not result in any damage to root systems. Leaving this amount of green leaf enables the plants to regenerate leaf from energy derived from photosynthesis without the need to draw energy for regrowth from the roots or crown. Obviously the actual ideal height for cutting will vary between species some may be able to be cut lower than 5cm without damaging root biomass and some will likely be favoured by higher cutting but 5cm from my reading appears to be the average.

Certainly in the defoliation experiment I conducted some years ago defoliation to 3cm height reduced root biomass. Plants cut to this height every 2 weeks had about half the root biomass of those cut every 4 weeks and these had half the root biomass of those cut every 8 weeks. I had 8 species in the experiment and this effect was apparent in every one. By cutting less intensively (leaving more residual) plants actually grow faster and may be cut more often without impeding root growth. This has all the benefits you so nicely describe in your blog.

If it happens that you get good soaking rain to really wet the soil profile to depth during the growing season you could potentially take the opportunity to give the lawn a good close trim. This will enhance the turnover of root material (organic matter) in the soil and with good soil moisture conditions the regrowth ability of leaf material and new roots will be enhanced.

That's what I do with my lawn although I have a sort of leader follower thing happening occasionally. I often get a couple of days grazing for my old horse every now and then and then follow the next day with the mower. The mower also spreads the manure nicely which speeds up its breakdown and evens out the height. I've been doing this for a few years now and this spring my lawn isn't aware of any drought and I've a whole new suite of different species appearing.”

My thanks go to Judi for sharing her knowledge, and also for giving me permission to publish her comments. If anyone would like further information you can contact Judi via email at

Tuesday, 24 October 2006

Ochre Archives Newsletter - Issue No. 3

Welcome to the third edition of ‘Ochre Archives’. Our farm continues to reveal its features and secrets to us, as you will see in what follows.

Findings from recent trips to the farm
Trees and Shrubs
There is a large Red Gum that has developed what in we’ll call large calluses, caused by branches growing out and rubbing against and in time ‘welding’ to the rocks creating additional anchor points. The callous in the photo is approximately 600 mm across.

Many of the native species are currently in flower. Mikla Lewis has kindly informed us that the species with blue flowers in the picture below is Rock Isotome (Isotoma petraea) which was used by Aborigines as a substitute or addition to 'Pituri' - "a highly valued stimulant used for ceremonies, operations, socially and for spiking waterholes to aid the capture of game".

The Yellow Box (Eucalyptus melliodora) trees have an amazing volume of flowers on them, especially given the current dry conditions.

Rock Formations
Along one of the ridges are 3 outcrops of rocks that are akin to packs of playing cards on their sides. The one in this photo has a shelter under it, used by species such as Red-Necked Wallabies and Euros.

Geckos are regularly seen under bark in fallen timber. This one hangs around the house and is deadly on moths!

We’ve knick-named the large Lace Monitor (Varanus varius), also known as a Goanna, that lives in the trees in the front paddock “The Boss”. It is about 1.5 metres long and occasionally wanders around the house and sheds like it owns the place!

Native Animals
It’s not that often we get to see Echidnas on Ochre Arch, but they are around. We snapped this one down the creek in the front paddock after dark last week.

The Crested Pigeons that nest in the car shed have successfully raised a new generation:

Three more bird species have been identified, taking the total to 61 so far:
Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike (Coracina novaehollandiae)
Leaden Flycatcher (Myiagra rubecula)
Brown Thornbill (Acanthiza pusilla)

Following light rain in early September some native bees invaded the rain gauge on the property.

Dung beetles were also ‘weaving their magic’, digging manure deep into the soil and creating their tunnels that improve aeration and water infiltration.

In Closing
There’s much more we could tell you but in the interest of space and time that will do for know. Phillip continues to compile other more in depth articles on his blog site,

Once again, feedback is most welcome, via email to Best wishes for the festive season.

Kind regards… Phillip & Jan Diprose

Link to: Ochre Archives Newsletter - Issue No. 1
Link to: Ochre Archives Newsletter - Issue No. 2

Thursday, 12 October 2006

Global & Australian Water Situation

Last night I attended a Lecture at Melbourne University given by Maude Barlow on the topic “The Right to Water: Approaches to the World Water Crisis”. Maude is the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians (Canada's largest citizen's advocacy organisation), a Director with the International Forum on Globalization and co-author (with Tony Clarke) of "Blue Gold. The fight to stop the corporate theft of the world's water".

Her initial foray into this critical global issue started over 15 years ago in response to Canadian concerns about the USA taking actions to source water from Canada to help sustain its business and population needs concerns that remain valid today.

What follows is a sample of the facts and issues she spoke of last night.
* Canada is known as a water rich country, whilst the Mid and South West of the USA is going through the driest recorded period in the past 500 years.
* The World Trade Organisation now classifies water as a ‘good’ making it ‘acceptable’ for it to be traded and treated the same as another other commodity.

Maude outlined 2 major concerns in respect of water globally:

1. Ecological
Surface and ground water is progressively becoming polluted. In China, as an example, some 85 % of surface and 90 % of ground water in the cities is polluted due mainly to the impact of manufacturing. The Chinese believe that 60 times the profit is made from a single drop of water if used in manufacturing as opposed to agriculture, and as a consequence have diverted water from the agricultural north to the cities.

Coca Cola now supplies 10 % of human ‘liquid intake’ in industrialized countries and has a goal to increase this to 20 %. They have constructed huge armed fortresses in poor countries within which they have undergound water pumping facilities. In some of the cold climates they now ‘harvest’ melting ice in the spring. One of the core strategies for achieving the ‘liquid intake’ objective is through negotiating agreements with schools whereby the higher the per capita consumption of Coca Cola the higher the profit margin will be to the schools from these sales.

Mexico city is currently sinking due to the extraction of underground water, and they are piping water in.

2. Water Inequity
Globally it is estimated that 2 billion people do not currently have adequate water supplies, whilst it is wasted by the rich. In one poor country the poor pay about 14 times the amount for water compared to the rich – driven by the rich having the water piped to their houses whilst the poor have to pay for water transport.

Last year 200 billion litres of water was bottled and sold creating a substantial pollution issue with disposal of the plastic bottles. It is Maude’s view that water should not belong to any person or corporation, and that it is a basic human right to have good quality adequate water supplies.

Australia is the driest human inhabited continent with the most variable rainfall - which is declining. Our rivers are salinated and our aquifers under the cities are being polluted and drained. The rate of water extraction in 25 % of the water catchment areas throughout the continent exceeds to rate of recharge, and our population is forecast to grow by 25 % in the next 15 years. At current water usage rates Sydney is competing with Beijing and Mexico City to be the first major city in the world to run out of water. Our general populace (and particularly our politicians) believes that we should continue to strive for unlimited economic growth. We are the 3rd highest per capita users in the world, after the USA and Canada. Since the 1990’s our water usage has increased by 65 %, and there has been a 90 % increase in ground water use. We are also a massive exporter of “Virtual Water” – water is used to produce goods that are then exported – and by so doing we are exporting ‘fruits’ (for want of a better term) using water in such as away that we damage the environment.

Currently the Federal Government is espousing 3 ‘solutions’:
1. Installation of desalination plants. These should be seen as a last resort as they are incredibly power hungry (electricity – generated via non-renewable resources) and they generate substantial pollution in the air (visual and smell) and water around them
2. Increase underground water pumping
3. Introduce water trading – This is likely to increase the gaps between the haves and the have nots. The biggest problem will come if we allow the government to introduce ‘corporate middlemen’ (apologies – this is not meant to be a sexist term) who make profits out of buying (e.g. from farmers) and selling (e.g. to city users) water. There have been instances overseas where these decisions have been made, with disastrous social consequences.

Maude suggests that our community and governments need to take 3 significant steps:
A) Accept that we can no longer sustain ‘unlimited growth
B) Create a new ‘water ethic’ encouraging better practices. Maude quoted Martin Luther King who once said: “Legislation won’t restrain the heart, but will help restrain the heartless”.
C) Water needs to be acknowledged as a basic human right rather than a good or commodity

Getting involved
Those seeking more information or wanting to get involved should check out the Watermark Australia website at (email which is funded by the Victorian Women’s Trust (

Wednesday, 4 October 2006

Domestic Animal Breeding Tables

At the bottom of my father’s papers that Mum and I sorted through after he passed away some years ago was a document titled “Breeding Tables”. It lists the main types of domestic farm animals together with information on the duration of various breeding aspects. I came across the document again earlier today and decided to create a blog article outlining the core content. Here goes!

GESTATION PERIOD (days): Mares 340, Cows 283, Ewes 150, Sows 112, and Bitches 63

Duration: Mare 5-7 days, Cow 1 day, Sow 1-2 days, Ewe 2-4 days, Bitch 1-3 weeks
Return after Parturition: Mare 7-10 days, Cow 21-28 days, Sow 4-6 months, Ewe 5-6 weeks, Bitch 5-6 months
Return if not Impregnated: Mare 2-3 weeks or more, Cow 3-4 weeks or more, Sow 17-20 days, Ewe 20-21 days, Bitch 5-6 months

Pulse beats per minute: Horse 38-43, Cow 50-60, Sheep75-80, Pig 70-80, Dog 80-90
Respirations per minute: Horse 8-12, Cow 12-16, Sheep 20-30, Pig 20-30, Dog 15-25
Temperature Degrees Celsius: Horse 37.8-38.3, Cow 38.3-38.9, Sheep 39.4-40.0, Pig 38.9-39.4, Dog 38.3-38.9

Tuesday, 3 October 2006

Snakes Keeping Other Snakes Away - A Myth

Various people have commented to me from time to time that some species of snake keep other species away. For example, some say that pythons (or carpet snakes) keep black snakes away, and that black snakes keep brown snakes away.

I decided to find out whether such statements were fact or myth, and touched base with an authority (James) who works in the Biodiversity Conservation Section of the NSW Department of Environment and Conservation. James' reply to my email reads:

"The theory that some snakes keep others away is an urban (or rural in your case) myth. Snakes have habitat preferences like every other animal so it may be that this story arose out of the fact that in certain habitats you see more of one kind of snake than another. There is no evidence that the type of competetive exclusion you are referring to occurs, in fact there are plently of areas where you will find pythons, black snakes and brown snakes living together. They tend to eat different things and use the habitat differently so as not to compete too much."

Thanks for clearing that one up, James.

Growing Trees & Creating Hollow Log Habitats

Matt Kilby is a bloke who is passionate about trees, and is a well known and respected guru in designing tree and shrub based nature corridors and such like. If you are looking for advice and assistance in this field, Matt works for Trees for Earth whose web site is
If you are thinking of installing 'hollow log habitats' for use by birds and animals then check out

Sunday, 1 October 2006

Growing lawn without watering

Last night at a dinner party here in Melbourne the question was asked by one of our hosts whether anyone had any tips on how to grow green lawns without watering. Jan and I have never watered the lawn on any of our house blocks and in recent years I’ve made several changes from conventional lawn growing practices that have at least in part resulted in us having what I consider to be reasonable year-round green grass cover on our house block. Each of these changes, together with the underlying logic is below. It is the combination of factors rather than one item in particular that provide us with the end result we now have.

Not watering the lawn
Our basic belief is that nature will make available the most appropriate vegetation type to match the soil, climatic & other conditions. Watering lawns favours the development of shallow rooted plants and creates a dependency on regular watering. Conversely not watering fosters the growth of deep rooted plants. The deeper the plant roots the greater the organic matter in the soil and the greater the ability the plants have to draw both water and minerals from depth.
It is also important to know that if treated well the type of plants growing will progressively improve to those that are generally accepted as being the best for the environment. In the early stages bare ground will be covered by mosses and in some cases lichens. In the first photo you will see ‘grass’ species growing. When we first came to our current home most of the area in the photo was bare ground and moss.

Cut the lawn at maximum mower height.
Cutting the lawn at maximum height means that there is (or should) always a reasonable amount of green leaf left on the plants. This is turn means that each plant has at least some amount of ‘solar panels’ left to continue photosynthesis, recover reasonably quickly and maintain a green appearance. Interestingly, when cattle graze a healthy pasture for short durations at high densities they tend to leave the pasture height at a level similar to what a lawnmower does at full height. Mowing at maximum height also means that it is easier to push the mower through the grass and it can be done effectively using lower revolutions and fuel.

Cut the lawn when the plants are within growth Phase 2, which also by default means the frequency of cutting is reduced.
Plants have 3 core growth phases:
Phase 1 – Essentially plants are ‘getting organised’ in terms of root mass and leaf volume for the major (next) growth phase. Most people tend to cut their lawns while the plants are still in Phase 1. This equates to over-grazing in a farming system. Plant root mass declines such that the plants die (in some cases) or at least never really prosper. Without ground cover and organic soil matter the loss of soil moisture is very rapid.
Phase 2 – This is the ‘power growth’ phase and lasts from the end of Phase 1 through to the time that the plant has just flowered and set seed but is still green. To grow healthy and dense pasture in a grazing enterprise the goal is to introduce stock when the plants are near the top or end of Phase 2. Mowing the lawn at this stage has the same impact of encouraging denser plant tillering and keeping the plants still in the green phase. NB. There is still likely to be ‘haying off’ or drying during the peak of summer but if the grass stand contains perennial plants there will still be a small amount of green leaf matter in the dry stand – meaning that recovery after rains is very rapid.
Phase 3 – This is pretty much the ‘haying off’ or drying period for the plant, during which gradual senescence occurs.

Cutting the lawn within a couple of days of rain
Until such time as the lawn creates its own level of ground cover I only mow within a couple of days after it rains. In so doing I’m avoiding creating a mini-dust storm and also ensuring that as much top soil and organic matter remains on the soil surface as possible.

Not using the grass catcher i.e. leave the clippings on the lawn
The lawn clippings (where they are thrown by the mower) will normally not be noticeable within 2 days of mowing. So doing allows nature to recycle the nutrients, reducing or eliminating the need to apply external fertilizers, and supplies a natural mulch – increasing soil moisture retention and infiltration. It also makes the effort of mowing much less and avoids the need to (and expense of) placing the clipping somewhere else.

Not applying fertilizers
The application of inorganic fertilizers (which are by default ‘salts’ as they are water soluble) can increase the salt levels in the soil and in so doing kill off worms and other in-soil organisms. I guess I could apply organic fertilizers. However this would make the grass grow faster, meaning I’d have to mow more often, which I don’t want to do!
Worms play a very important role in soil health through creating ‘tunnels’ to enhance water infiltration and also improving soil quality. Did you know that all worms have the ability to detoxify carcinogenic substances in the soil (assuming they are able to actually survive in the toxic soil)?

Not trimming the edges (or out the back at least)
The main reason I don’t do this is that I could not be bothered! However by not trimming the edge I am also encouraging ‘edge effect’ within the back-yard environment – creating a different environment or micro-climate for the protection and encouragement of creatures such as small lizards, which in turn help control the numbers of some ‘pest’ organisms such as flies and other insects.

Not using Glyphosate to kill plants in the lawn
Glyphosate is the key ingredient in Roundup, and is used by many people to kill unwanted grass around edges, in garden beds, and in cropping. It is known and accepted that glyphosate kills tadpoles (and by default up to 95 % of frogs in the environment) if it ends up in creeks and water supplies. Allowing the chemical to go into water is in direct contravention of the labeling instructions, but never-the-less I happen to believe frogs (especially tadpoles) have an important role in nature and do not want to take the chance of making an error.

Covering bare walking tracks with fallen leaves and bark from eucalypt trees
Most people tend to lay pavers, which pretty much prevent water infiltration and encourages more rapid run-off, leading to flash flooding. Using bark and leaves reduces cost, improves infiltration, stops erosion, provides a place to spread the leaves and bark (rather than take the stuff to the tip), and provides a safer surface to be on in the wet as it is non-slip. Of course we also spread the leaves and bark on garden beds and other bare ground to provide cover and natural mulch.

Minimising the use of pavers in other locations
Our backyard, like many others, has a basketball ring and clothes line. It was tempting initially to pave the area under the clothes line and where the family plays basketball but we resisted; and only have pavers where one stands when actually hanging out the washing and practicing penalty basketball shots. Thus we are still allowing as much of the backyard as possible to directly receive and utilise natural rainwater. In the 3rd photograph you will see how healthy our lawn is, together with the location of some of the pavers ... and where the family plays basketball! Interestingly, if we don't play basketball for a couple of months the grass grows back over the bare ground progressively.

Looking for & marveling at the gradual increase in plant diversity
Rather than ‘freak out’ when seeing, say, a milk or other thistle in the backyard we look at the plants and wonder what it is in the environment that led to nature’s decision to prompt such a plant to grow. Thistles are a broadleaf and have tap roots. Thus they are very effective at covering bare ground (reducing erosion and evaporation) and opening up the soil structure. They are also fairly low-down in the plant succession hierarchy. Thus as the health of the soil and ground cover increases their numbers decrease and will disappear. Broadleaf plants have great difficulty growing in dense healthy and high perennial pastures as they don't get the light they need to start, and find it difficult to spread their leaves.

Trialing ideas
Most people have grown up in a paradigm telling them that a good lawn is a single plant species (monoculture) of, say, Couch or Kikuyu or Buffalo that is kept even through regular cutting. I challenge readers who have such a mindset to have the courage to run a small experiment in their backyard by setting aside an area of, say, 4 square metres (2 metres X 2 metres), not mowing it for 3-6 months, and closely watching to see what grows. Don’t freak out and run for the chemicals if you see Clover occurring … this is nature creating its own source of nitrogen for the benefit of other plants. If after then you mow that area when the plants are in Phase 2 you should be able to create an acceptable looking lawn that you can use like you have in the past.

Friday, 29 September 2006

Fire Risk posed by Electric Fencing

It was recently suggested to me that the use of electronic fencing in areas such as Grenfell creates an unacceptable fire risk, especially during the summer months. With this as a backdrop I set about conducting some research on the subject. Below are the organisations and people I contacted or gathered information and views from, together with what I found out.

Wesfarmers Federation Insurance (WFI)
I contacted one of the WFI Regional Managers who in turn spoke with a couple of his peers. In short WFI does not consider electric fencing to constitute a material fire risk and thus does not charge a premium over conventional fencing where these types of fences are used.

Gallagher Australia Pty Limited (GAP)
Gallagher is one of the leading global designers and manufacturers of “Power Fence Systems”. I contacted GAP and received an email response which in part reads:
“Re starting fires - the voltage is sent through at a very low ampere which makes it very difficult for a fire to start. On extremely hot days you can turn your fence off for greater piece of mind as the animals won't be moving around anyway on the really hot days.”

Australian Government Department of Environment & Heritage
A web search brought to light the following on the Federal Government Department of Environment & Heritage website (see link to full article if required):

“7.3.3 Fire risk posed by electrical fences
Electric fences have been suspected of causing several fires (McCutchan 1980, Sexton 1984), however McCutchan (1980) concluded that the combination of conditions necessary to ignite surrounding vegetation make electric fences a possible but improbable cause of bushfires. He found that an arc can pass through the air between an electric wire and another electrical conductor if these components are separated by several millimetres or less. Alternatively, an electrical 'flashover' can occur across a suitable green leaf that contacts an electric wire and a conductor separated by 20 mm or less. These events will only be capable of starting a fire if very dry, finely divided tinder, such as thistle down, is present between the conductors, and there is also sufficient dry vegetation within the immediate vicinity to be ignited. High temperatures, low humidity and the presence of wind are conditions that will cause the tinder to become suitably dry (McCutchan 1980).
To reduce any potential fire risk in areas where bushfires are a hazard it has been recommended that fences be well maintained, porcelain insulators be used (Sexton 1984), vegetation be cleared in the immediate vicinity of the fence line (Australia Standards and Standards New Zealand 2003) and, in high fire risk seasons, the output voltage be reduced or current-limiting resistors installed (Australia Standards and Standards New Zealand 2003, Sexton 1984). However, Coman and McCutchan (1994) point out that reducing the voltage is unlikely to greatly reduce the fire risk and, because higher voltages are likely to be necessary in the drier months to counteract the poor conductivity of animal fur, this may reduce the effectiveness of the fence."

NSW Rural Fire Service - Forbes
I spoke to the Forbes office of the NSW Fire Service. In the 20 years the person I spoke to has been employed by the NSW Rural Fire Service he is aware of 1 or 2 instances where fires started on farms that had electric fencing, but it was not clear what the cause of the fire was i.e. electric fencing was suspected but not proven. Electric fencing is not considered to be a material fire risk. The major ‘man-made’ causes of fires on farms include angle grinders, welders, headers, slashers and power poles (cross-arm breaks).

NSW Rural Fire Service – Volunteer – Orange
A family member who lives on a farm at Orange and is a volunteer member of the local bushfire brigade advised that he went to a fire a few years ago that burnt down the local gun club. The fire was allegedly started by an electric fence but is at present subject to a Coronial inquiry (as the damage caused was over $50,000) and cause cannot be confirmed.
“Farm fire causes are many and range from machinery sparks, stubble burns (& burn off in general) that have got away, hot mufflers and cigarette butts in stubble/grass, lightning strikes etc. and of course arson. The inquiry into a fire at Alectown a few years ago found that the fire started by a tree touching power lines.”

NSW Rural Fire Service - Sydney
The Customer Support office advised that the RFS does not have statistics regarding research into the fire risk associated with electric fencing. They referred me to Section 7.3.3 of the 'Cost effective feral animal exclusion fencing for areas of high conservation value in Australia' document produced by the Australian Department of the Environment and Heritage - which I'd already located (and have included above).
For information in relation to Asset Protection Zones or other Bush Fire Protection Methods for building in a bush fire prone I was referred to the link below;