The Livyon Story…
In search of ways to produce natural landscape paradises
We are a collective of action researchers that gathered around the theme and challenge of finding ways to greatly improve the potential of landscapes towards thriving, not just surviving and being sustainable. We argue that in order for humankind to survive well and long into the future, we need to get beyond just the meaning behind a popularized word like sustainability, which in our opinion can create defined limits and a steady state of comfortable compromise.
We wanted to start entertaining whether it was possible to create super abundant landscapes. We went looking for natural settings around the world that were standouts, where nature was really showing off its full capacity and wondered whether it could be copied or replicated over into less performing regions to mirror its productivity.
The Life Colloid – natures wonder particles
We learnt quite quickly that there was one must have ingredient that went along with and underpinned all these pristine landscapes, and that was that there was always the presence of this unusual putty like colloid riddled throughout the soil. It varied in colour; mostly dark brown to jet black but it always had the texture of fine particle soft putty. The plants that grew in it had their roots so densely through it that it was hard to find; with the naked eye, a square centimetre without the presence of some kind of root looking structure through it. This material growing through it was extremely fine like a spider’s cobweb. It can be likened to an enormous neural network of energy exchange fibre optics. We got the sense that there was a fantastic correlation and cause of what was going on above the ground with the activity under it in the soil.
Pioneering examples to inspire aspirations
In the 1990’s, at the same time this action research was going on, we looked intently into whom there was that was challenging the prevailing notions of landscape design that we could learn from. One who stood out was P.A. Yeoman’s. He was an Australian Farmer who wanted to see if it was possible to design landscapes particularly farmland towards abundant fertility. This was a challenge in the one of the driest inhabited continents on Earth. He thought, what better place to start; if he could do it here he could do it anywhere. He achieved some astonishing results in just a few short years. So much so that people came from around the world to see for themselves what some had said was impossible. He received so many inquiries into how he achieved the results that he wrote a book in 1954 called the “The Keyline Plan.” In it he reveals the Keyline ordered set of principles, techniques and systems. When fully utilised these Keyline Designs can provide the keys and practical approaches to unlock the latent potential of the existing landscape through regeneration and enhancement. See P. A. Yeomans talking in our photo/video gallery.
David Holmgren Permaculture Co-Developer.
The questions that came back from readers of the first book soon impelled him to write another to further widen out the novel concepts raised from the first. The developers of the Permaculture design methods and practices – David Holmgren and Bill Mollison were looking around as well for exemplary practitioners of permanent agriculture methods and decided that P. A’s successes deserved to be included in their teachings as a core fundamental. David Holmgren states the following about the Yeomans, “In the research I did in the 1970’s developing the Permaculture concept, we identified the Keyline system of landscape analysis, soil development and water harvesting developed by P.A. Yeomans as the only example (in the world) of modern functional landscape design that provided a precursor to Permaculture as ecologically functional landscape design.”
In our search for ways to go beyond sustainable towards thriving P.A’s work deeply impressed upon us to continue on our chosen course and if possible further expand his work. That’s when it dawned on us to put forth a bold and challenging proposition. Find a link or bridging point between Keyline insights and super abundant naturally occurring landscapes. How can we go from say a typical Yeomans Keyline Farm to a deep ecological food forest able to sustain a complete biological wonderland and therefore begin restoring and regenerating the Earths Eco-systems to hopefully better than they’ve been in times long past. This proved to be a most worthy starting point although we were already deeply immersed from the outset towards this aspiration.
The Life Colloid
Studying the putty like material revealed that it has a number of stand-out properties. Plants roots will seek it out and go to great lengths, quite literally, to partake of it as if it can sense when it is in the area despite being sometimes in isolated pockets. We’ve tracked, like buried telecommunication cables, the roots leading from the colloid back to a tree a long distance away. Sometimes all we could see is a ball of roots that seemingly was living of no substrate whatsoever! It was upon closer inspection wrapped tightly around this colloid. We thought why it is so sought after. It must contain something really valuable to the plants, what was it? Sometimes it was only in small amounts or not there at all and other places where it was plentiful. We couldn’t see any correlations as to why. We noticed that where there was more colloid there was way more vegetative plants and tall trees.
We collected some of the colloid and put it in a controlled greenhouse environment away from the source. We wanted to make the results as scientifically valid as possible otherwise there would be no mainstream confidence in the process we thought produced the outcomes we arrived at.
We then wanted to have two test bed sets in isolation via partitions under the same roof so that they received the same amount of moisture sunlight and warmth. One bed set of varying soil type had no colloid mixed in and the other set of varying soil types had it mixed in similar amounts. Each bed except for two; one with colloid and one without, received the same vegetable and small shrub plant varieties and were closely monitored over a full growing season from seedling, fruiting, to seed then decay. We also had access to viewing the underground soil profile while they were growing showing root growth patterns as can be seen in the picture below.
The containers that had the no colloid did as what was expected for their soil types from clay to loam with varying degrees of fertile organic matter in them. No noticeable difference from what was to be expected from plants growing in varying degrees of fertility. Poor yields with clay, better with loamy clay and best with compost added to these substrates.
The colloid containers were different stories indeed, even the one with no plants. Every container, including the one with the heavy clay soil showed remarkable improvement. Upon inspection of the roots along the growth timeline we had the same seeking out the colloid as we’d seen in the source locations. Wow, how about that! We were hoping that would be the case. The better the substrate the better the plants did also. The container with no plants was a curious one. There emerged three main types of weeds that the one without colloid did not produce. In fact the one without the colloid only produced a few stunted grass patches and a couple of measly dandelions. The one with the colloid was completely covered with a healthy amount of green cover crop within weeks. Dandelions, stinging nettle, clover, and chickweed with two types of grass. It was like the colloid provided some kind of kick-start switch to the biology within the soil and that provided enough of a change to allow the seeds lying dormant to have a chance to start their metabolisms.
What can be done with this?
Find a way to grow or make colloid, if we could. We were inclined to treat the colloid with more and more reverence as we became more familiar with it. This was a most remarkable substance we were working with; one that nature was really into – pardon the pun. If it could be grown or made then we would be able to put this material into the surrounding soil to enliven the potential of even the poorest soils as was demonstrated with the heavy clay test.
This became an exhilarating prospect and one that we were all keen to pursue. We presumed that the colloid was full of living organisms that got along well with each other and produced some sought of sticky glue or jell in the process of breeding, feeding and producing. We found that under a microscope there was a myriad of types and numbers beyond imagination inside the smallest of samples. They showed large separation as if despite being a dense colloid they kept their space from one another and also exhibited vigorous movement. It was like looking at a chaotic bee hive of activity with a difference there was no queen bee ruler.
We assumed there must be some self-sufficient cycling of nutrition within the mass for it to stay effective in poor soil environments. Astonishing, with close observation under special microscopes that allow one to see living samples without their harm or destruction, revealed there were indeed organisms that are producing their own food supply and they are making excess to individual needs which raised some eyebrows as to why this benevolence towards their fellow organisms. Well they all seem to be there to do the same thing. Make the soil fertile for larger species of organisms. An altruistic collective! Can you imagine the stunned look on our faces when we found this out? They are one of nature’s nurturers!
We found out the process by which to grow the colloid after 8 years of intense effort! We now know why it persists in pristine nature settings and why plants want to envelope it. We also know why it is not common within most landscapes. We have the capability to now make paradise conditions within city environments and to have prolific growth and food security.