Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District

We inspire and partner with our community to protect the natural resources and agricultural future of our District.

16-year-old South African Invents Wonder Material to Fight Drought

South Africa is experiencing the worst droughts on record. Eight of the country’s nine provinces are in a state of disaster, with thousands of communities and millions of households facing water shortages. The agricultural union Agri SA has requested over $1 billion in government subsidies to help farmers through the crisis, but a cut-price solution could soon be available — from an unlikely source.  Johannesburg schoolgirl Kiara Nirghin, 16, recently won the Google Science Fair’s Community Impact Award for the Middle East and Africa with her submission “No More Thirsty Crops.” She created a super absorbent polymer that could be used to combat the nation’s crippling drought crisis. Using orange peels and avocado skins, the precocious student created a super absorbent polymer (SAP) capable of storing reserves of water hundreds of times its own weight, forming reservoirs that would allow farmers to maintain their crops at minimal cost. The polymer has the added benefit of sustainability as it uses recycled and biodegradable waste products.

Source:  Expresso Show


How Plant-Soil Feedback Affects Ecological Diversity


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Plant-soil feedback is the idea that as plants grow in soil, they change the soil, and that the soil in turn affects their growth. When the soil surrounding a given plant promotes the growth of conspecific plants, plant-soil feedback is positive. But when the soil discourages the growth of conspecific plants, the feedback is negative. In independent studies published in Science today (January 12), researchers examined how mycorrhizal fungi—which live in and around plant roots and help plants gather nutrients—affect plant population diversity.

Both groups used greenhouse experiments to model plant-soil feedback, examining plants with different microbial symbioses and nutrient-gathering strategies. François Teste of the University of Western Australia and IMASL-CONICET/UNSL in San Luis, Argentina, and colleagues used their resulting data to predict how plant-soil feedback relationships might affect plant diversity in the long run. Meantime, Jonathan Bennett of the University of British Columbia, Canada, and colleagues tested their greenhouse study findings in the field.

“The take-home message is that these below-ground mechanisms—which, in general, we call the plant-soil feedback mechanism—[are] important in driving local plant diversity,” Teste told The Scientist.

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Source:  Ashley P. Taylor, The Scientist, January 13, 2017

Ranching Cattle in California

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It may be hard to believe but ranching is the number-one land use in the state of California. Teresa O’Connor, assistant editor of UC Food Observer,  was surprised to learn this fact, and she’s certainly not alone.

This complex connection of California ranching to food production is a mystery for many. The public rarely understands the ecological benefits of livestock grazing, nor the tough economic returns, according to Sheila Barry, Livestock Advisor and Director of Santa Clara County for University of California Cooperative Extension.

“Working ranches occupy roughly 40 million acres in California,” says Barry. “Whether these working ranches are public land or privately owned, many ranchers represent the fourth or fifth generations stewarding the land and their livestock. The fact that the most prevalent land use in California goes largely unnoticed by much of the public puts ranching at risk.”

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Source:  Teresa O’Connor, UC Food Observer, January 23, 2017

How to build new topsoil

In order for new soil to form, it must be living. Life in the soil provides the structure for more life, and the formation of more soil. Building new topsoil is much like building a house (Bushby 2002). A good house is one which is comfortable for the occupants. It requires a roof, walls and airy rooms with good plumbing. Soil with poor structure cannot function effectively, even when nutrient and moisture levels are optimal (Bushby 2002).

The roof of a healthy soil is the groundcover of plants and plant litter, which buffer temperatures, improve water infiltration and slow down evaporation, so that soil remains moister for longer following rainfall. The building materials for the walls are gums and polysaccharides produced by soil microbes. These sticky substances enable soil minerals to be glued together into little lumps (aggregates) and the aggregates to be glued together into peds. When soil is well aggregated, the spaces (pores) between the aggregates form the rooms in the house. They allow the soil to breathe, as well as absorb moisture quickly when it rains. A healthy topsoil should be about half solid materials and half pore spaces (Brady 1984).

Friable, porous topsoils make it easier for plant roots to grow and for small soil invertebrates to move around. Well-structured soils retain the moisture necessary for microbial activity, nutrient cycling and vigorous plant growth and are less prone to erosion. Unfortunately, soil structure is very fragile and soil aggregates are continually being broken down (Bushby 2001). An ongoing supply of energy in the form of carbohydrates from actively growing plant roots and decomposing plant litter is required, so that soil organisms can flourish and produce adequate amounts of the sticky secretions required to maintain the ‘house’.

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Source:  Dr. Christine Jones,, February 8, 2010.

Build Soils with Good Forage

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You may have thought that planting a cover crop and leaving it alone until termination and planting of the cash crop is the best way to get all the soil benefits of the ground cover. Cover crops by themselves certainly improve soil biodiversity, soil organic matter levels (which influence tilth and moisture capacity), nutrient cycling, and weed suppression, among many other benefits. And usually less disturbance means soil life and structure has the chance to flourish.

From a strictly soil health perspective, planting followed by mechanical harvest does defeat many of the soil improvement objectives of cover crops. Bringing animals out to graze the cover crop, however, may deliver even more soil health returns than a hands-off approach.

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Source:  Genevieve Slocum, On Pasture, January 23, 2017

Healthy Soils Summit Packs the Room: Climate Smart Ag Initiative Launched


On January 11th, hundreds gathered in Sacramento to participate in the Healthy Soils Summit put on by California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). Both agencies now have Healthy Soil Initiatives. The NRCS program is on-going, while funding for the CDFA Healthy Soils Initiative is expected to reach farmers in summer 2017. According to an NRCS press release, the aim of the meeting was to “explore roles and collaborative opportunities for managing California soils for health and natural fertility, while reducing greenhouse gases.”

The event was extremely well attended by a diverse group of farmers, researchers, non-profit organizations, and government representatives. The group enjoyed a full slate of panels, and those who couldn’t find a seat in the CDFA auditorium joined from an overflow room at CDFA and via webinar.

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Source:  Chelsea Mitchell, CalCAN Policy Intern, CalCAN Blog, January 23, 2017

How to Build a Rainwater Collection System

Image titled Build a Rainwater Collection System Step 1

Did you know the average roof collects 600 gallons (2,271.2 L) of water for every inch of rainfall? Don’t let all that water go to waste! You can make a rainwater collection system for under a hundred dollars and store hundreds of gallons of water to use for your garden or other purposes. Read on to learn how to prepare your water storage unit and start collecting rainwater.


  • rainwater should not be used for drinking long-term, even if filtered or treated, as it is in fact, distilled water without minerals and can cause mineral deficiencies after long-term consumption.
  • You can keep the debris out of your gutters with screen over the gutter or the commercially available gutter “louvers” which send the debris over the edge of the roof while allowing the water to enter the gutter.
  • Keep your gutters free from debris, particularly maple tree seeds. These can easily overwhelm the best strainers.
  • Plastic downspout fittings are extremely durable.
  • Check for free buckets and drums online at Craigslist, or ask at local hardware stores, car washes, stables, farms etc.
  • This water is not suitable for human consumption straight from the spigot, however it is the same water that was washing onto the lawn prior to the addition of the collection system. If you wish to make the water potable, boil the water vigorously for 1 to 3 minutes (depending on your altitude) to kill bacteria, parasites, and viruses. After cooling to room temperature, pour the boiled water into a filtered water pitcher (typical brand names are Brita, Culligan, and Pur) with a fresh filter. Depending on the pitcher, this will reduce most heavy metals, chemicals, and other contaminants to safe levels for temporary use. You may also choose to use a steam distiller to purify the water for drinking and cooking purposes. Steam distillation removes more impurities than filters.


  • Water collected from some rooftops will also contain chemical components from the composition roofing.
  • Do not drink rainwater without treating it first (see above), but the water can be directly used to water plants, wash things, for bathrooms, etc.
  • Many parts of the earth receive ‘acid rain.’ The rainwater combines with sulfur compounds that come from burned coal and form sulfuric acid. This is a global phenomenon. The pH of the rainfall rises after the first five minutes of a downpour, and the molarity of the acidic water is fairly low.
  • Check the legality of doing this with your local city officials, as it is illegal in some areas to collect and hold any kind of water for re-use.

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Source:  wikiHow