I want to highlight a plant that I don’t hear a lot of people talking about – Black Medic (aka Medicago lupulina). Black Medic is a Florida native that is a nitrogen fixer, pollinator attractor, and medicinal plant. All of these pictures were taken in my front yard this morning (in Central Florida), and demonstrate just how dominant, beautiful, and beneficial this plant can be. As you can see from this first picture, Black Medic seeds prolifically and will grow into thick stands in the spring.
It’s also a pollinator attractor, not to mention beautiful.
The third and fourth pictures are from a plant I pulled out of the ground. You can see the nodules on these roots, which are the homes of bacteria living symbiotically within the plant’s flesh. These bacteria, in exchange for plant sugars, provide the plant with ammonia based nitrates they convert from atmospheric nitrogen, which plants are unable to use. Black Medic is one of a select number of plants referred to as “nitrogen fixers” which, with the help of these bacteria, are able to convert and use their own nitrogen, one of the most essential of plant nutrients. This ability allows them to live in nutrient deficient soils and provide for nearly all of their needs literally out of thin air. Carbon, also taken in from the atmosphere, along with this converted nitrogen, largely make up the biomass of the plant. Once the plant dies its accumulated biomass is then returned to the soil for other organisms and plants to use. This is one of the major sources through which soil is built over time.
Black Medic is also used by herbalists as a tea or infusion for it’s calming effect. Shoot, it relaxes me just knowing that it exists. And it’s flowering right now! so go see where it is growing around your yard and collect some seeds!
I was lucky enough to go out in my garden this morning and capture this amazing picture. The untrained eye may not realize it, but there is a LOT going on here, and it is an excellent demonstration of beneficial/predatory pest relationships. If you look closely you will see aphids in three different forms here. The first aphid (small translucent green) is a living and thriving aphid who is being farmed by an ant. Aphids eat plant sugars by penetrating the protective surface of the plant and releasing the food. The ant, that you see, has a mutually beneficial relationship with the aphid. The ants corral the aphids, try to protect them from predators, and even bring their eggs down into their mounts to protect them during the cold season, bringing them back up when the weather is again suitable. In return for their labor, the ants get the pleasure of “milking” the aphids. They jostle the little creatures while they are sucking the plant sugars and cause them to spill their spoils. The ants then harvest the plant sugars for themselves and their friends.
The next aphid you will see in the picture is a parasitized aphid. This aphid has a large, brown body, and is actually dead. A parasitic wasp has laid an egg inside of him, allowing his body to be used as food for the developing pupae. In this next picture you will see that some of the brown bodies have holes in the rear and some do not. The holes are where the wasps have hatched. The third aphid you see, in the first picture, is covered in a blueish green fuzz. This is a beneficial (to us), parasitic fungus which infects and feeds on living aphids As you can see, from this broader picture, the plant (Okinawa spinach) was covered in aphids, but upon closer examination it can be seen that over 90% of them are parasitized or killed by beneficial fungus. Sometimes, when I have harmful insect infestations, I use organic sprays or manual labor to remove the pest, but it is important to only do this when it is necessary for the life of the plant. The reason for this is because predatory/beneficial insects need these pests to maintain their populations in your ecosystem. This is just one small example of how allowing natural ecosystems to evolve and develop in our food producing ecosystems can solve many of our problems.
My theme for this week is inherent bias – that voice within, that if left unchallenged, will serve only to defend our current belief system, and given that its Martin Luther King Day, there’s no better time than now to listen to an audio reading of a letter he wrote while being held in Birmingham jail. Many of the points raised in this letter are timeless and can help all of us to challenge our inherent bias.
The voice within, which will bring you into linearity with the progressing connection culture, is the voice of understanding.
This understanding arises when opinion is held off, for just a little while longer.
If holding off on judgement is not something you are interested in doing for moral advancement, then do it for professionalism.
A professional does not engage. I professional collects data and takes action that is most effective in accomplishing the means desired. The professional sees no advantage in venting the byproducts of emotional response, unless it’s seen fit.
While reading a New York Times article on why women often stay more quite at work, I was reminded about a construct which exists in all of us.
Inherent bias: It’s the reason more black officers are shot by other officers while undercover than white officers. It’s the reason women’s opinions and observation are often less heard and valued than men.
Oppression of others does not have to be overt.
One of the solutions is mindfulness. Without meditation and mindfulness we have a high risk of falling into reaction and of never fully turning the gaze of our awareness onto our own reality.
It takes a calm mind, which has the ability to sit through emotional fluctuations, to see truth in a situation.
In life, those who observe longest without falling into opinion acquire the most understanding.
The second we attain an opinion our judgement is immediately biased. Especially if we are sure that we have come to the correct conclusion.
Hold off just a little bit longer – just as a matter of professionalism. See what you might hear.
Inherent bias is the enemy. It clouds our vision. It takes our edge. Our emotions can become strings, which allow us to be played like an instrument by those who know the chords.
Seek truth or allow yourself to be the defender of someone else’s story.
Fluoridation of public water supplies is a topic which I notice arise quite often in my circle, which mostly includes groups and individuals that I would loosely describe as naturalists, or, depending on the individual or occasion, activists, liberals, non-conventionalist, hippies, and/or conspiracy theorists. In this mixed group of non-conventionally opinioned folk I have heard many arguments against the addition of fluoride to drinking water by public utilities. But, there is also the conflicting opinion which is held by the large group of regulatory agencies and supporting bodies that not only say it’s safe, but say it’s beneficial for cavity prevention. This is demonstrated by the fact that, as reported by the Center for Disease Control, 74.6% of the U.S. population was receiving fluoridated water from their public utility in 2012 (CDC statistics page). So, what supports these two conflicting viewpoints?
It’s quite possible that many people aren’t aware that fluoride is added by most public utilities, often by law, to public water supplies. The reason given is that certain levels of daily fluoride intake have been shown to be beneficial in preventing tooth decay and cavities, so in turn, most cities have chosen to put it into the water supply to aid in this cause.
So, here’s the debate. Fluoride is considered to be a toxic chemical, but, like all toxic chemicals, toxicity is determined by dose. So, let’s look at the doses. The CDC recommends fluoridation at a level of 0.7–1.2 mg/L, so let’s use the top end to be safe, 1.2 mg/L. A terminal dose of fluoride is estimated to be from 32 – 64 mg/kg of body weight, so, once again, to be safe, let’s use the lower end, 32 mg/kg of body weight. This would mean that a 50 lb child would have to drink at least 480 L (127 gal.) of fluoridated water, in one sitting, to die. So, obviously nobody is going to drink a terminal dose of “optimally” fluoridated water, so that’s not our concern here. The main concern of fluoridation opponents is the long-term, low-dose ingestion of fluoride over time.
Fluoride is a compound that naturally exists in many water supplies throughout the world, and, depending on the level, can cause major human health concerns. Sever cases can be found in African, eastern, and middle eastern countries, and is seen as a major water sanitation and health issue by the World health Organization (World Health Organization).
The pictures shown above are sever examples of long-term, high-dose exposure to fluoride, possibly coupled with nutrient intake issues. Some water supplies studied have fluoride content levels over 9 mg/L, over seven times the CDC’s recommended levels.
Bone development issues and tooth enamel dotting and discoloration are well known symptoms of chronic high dose fluoride intake, but these are rarely the points that I have encountered through discussion with fluoridation opponents. The main point that have been brought up to me are the potentially adverse neurological and cognitive effects which may be caused by fluoride.
There has been activism and controversy since the original introduction of fluoride into water supplies beginning in 1945 that fluoride can cause decreases in cognitive development and functioning. This concern was elevated when the Harvard School of Public Health performed a study in which they state that they, “found strong indications that fluoride may adversely affect cognitive development in children” (Harvard Study). However, a study was done a few years later, by University of Otago, New Zealand’s oldest university, in which they claimed to have far exceeded the scientific rigors of the Harvard study, and concluded that, “Our analysis showed no significant differences in IQ by fluoride exposure” (Otago study).
It is very much worth noting that the Harvard research involved reviewing former studies, mostly from China, where risks from fluoride are well established, so the availability of information on other possible contributing factors to IQ levels of test population was inherently limited. The Otago study on the other hand pulled from comprehensive data on a relatively controlled population of people within the city where the university is located. In the Otago study they were able to account for socioeconomic position, education of father, whether the subjects were breast fed, and any number of other possible contributing factors. The other major difference in the two studies were the levels of fluoride to which the subjects were exposed. The Harvard study focused on much higher dose exposure than the Otago study.
So, where are we at? Well, it seems that, at higher than recommended doses, according to Harvard study, there seems to be an inverse correlation between fluoride intake and IQ, though subject IQ also could have been effected by other socioeconomic issues and possible exposure of other toxins. It also seems that, from the Otago study, using more precise information, there seems to be no significant correlation between IQ and long-term, low-dose fluoride ingestion.
So now what? Well, there were also some other studies done which I found through the the Official Website of the European Union, here in section 3.4 of their informational page on fluoridation. I won’t go through all the studies individually, but the high points were two cited studies that surveyed across a range of long term fluoride exposure levels and were adjusted for relevant confounding variables. Both of these studies showed significant correlation between fluoride intake and IQ with high-dose intake.
From these studies, I see reasonable cause for concern about long-term ingestion of fluoride in moderate to high doses. For me, it is worth noting, that IQ was the only test measure used in these studies, which it may have some effect on, depending on dose. This leads me to wonder what effects it may have on other, untested, cognitive function (intuition, motor skills, sense of well-being, social sense, etc) or any other subtle ways in which we interact with our surroundings.
Let’s get to a conclusion here. So, will I drink the fluoridated water here in Orlando, FL? If I’m thirsty enough, yeah, sure. Will I keep a jug of non-fluoridated water with me so I don’t have to make a habit of it? Yes, I will likely continue to do that, but keep in mind, I drink herbal infusions daily, eat nutrient dense superfoods, spend a half hour a day meditating, grow my own food, and the list goes on. Is any of this stuff necessary? Nope. I’ve seen people survive on McDonald’s value meals. The body is a badass – it can make do. I mean, depending on what you choose to do with your life, a little lowered cognitive function might help you get along with your boss better. For me though, I have to be at peak cognitive performance to keep up with the rockstars, so it’s not worth the risk, and that crap tastes like chlorine anyway. Peace out!!!
The freshly established Orlando permaculture meeting had it’s first action day. The weather was great and so was the comradery. The day began with a quick synopsis of the master plan, where Mark shared with us the design he had created for his future front yard, food producing ecosystem.
Once the course of action was in order, and Fran had assumed her position in the director’s chair, the dirt started moving.
The first thing we did was dig 1.5 ft wide by 2 ft deep trenches to begin the creation of a series of hugelkulture mounds to capture and hold water and nutrients.
Once the trenches were dug we lined them with cardboard to help retain the water within the trenches. This will aid in the decomposition of the woody matter that will be deposited in the ditches.
The next step was to fill the trenches with partially decomposed wood chips, sticks, and logs.
Next, on top of the woody carbon layer, went a layer of compost, top soil, and food scraps. This layer creates the planting bed which seeds, herbs, shrubs and trees will be planted into. A cardboard layer was also placed between these two layers to create a temporary barrier to protect against intrusion of the underlying grass. The cardboard, over time time will decompose, but by then the grass will be too weak to come up through the soil and mulch.
The final phase was to put down some more cardboard and cover the entire area, including the beds, with wood mulch. This layer will work to suppress the weeds and grass, add to the organic matter on property, and help retain the moisture underneath.
The canvas has now been prepared, and with a little time, and some thoughtful planting, a thriving edible ecosystem can now be developed and nurtured.
Many thanks to everyone who made it out, and just as many thanks to those of you who wish you could have made it out but weren’t able. We’ll see you all back at Marks house on Tues Dec. 2nd for the next Orlando permaculture meeting. The meeting will be at 7pm, but if you want to come early, some of us will be showing up at 5 to help wrap up some of the loose ends from the project. Treats are always welcomed, and remember to bring a chair, cushion, or pad.
Our first meeting was a grand success! There was a great turnout of amazing, Earth-centered, genuine, and passionate people. We have a few general announcements here, and an overview of what we decided upon during the first meeting.
The topic for next meeting will be “working with Florida soils”, so bring any knowledge and resources you may have.
Our first action day event will be on Thurs, Nov 20th at Mark Fowler’s house at 7529 Compass Dr. Winter Park, FL 32792. For more information on this and future action day events visit our Google Drive folder or our action day Facebook group Permaculture My Yard – Orlando.
Many decisions were made during this constructive meeting and this is what we came up with:
We will meet the first Tuesday of every month at the home of a willing host
Group announcements will take place at the beginning of each meeting
Topic for following meeting will be decided at each meeting
Topic will be discussed on an open floor after announcements
Snacks and treats are always welcomed
Full potluck meetings will be announced the meeting prior
Action days will take place between meetings and will be decided during each meeting
A free plant raffle will take place at end of each meeting
Plants will be provided on a voluntary basis by members