Karl Herchenroeder

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April 9, 2014
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A fungus is among us at Hotel Jerome

Through his work with Colorado Soil Systems, Jimmy Dula aims to reduce the Roaring Fork Valley’s dependence on fossil fuels and far-away food.

“We depend on food and its abundance, and we can create that here. And we can do it in a way that’s not harmful to our watershed and not harmful to our health,” said Dula, who will explain how at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Hotel Jerome.

Dula founded Colorado Soil Systems in September 2012 and has been meddling with compost tea and biochar since. He also established a fungal library at Aspen High School.

Today, he will be joined by Pitkin County’s new resource for backyard farmers, Jeff Pieper, who offers free advice for any agriculture-related issues. He serves as agricultural extension agent and Colorado State University liaison to the county.

At the Aspen High School fungal library, there are 23 different species — all native to the Roaring Fork Valley. So instead of having to order non-native species from the West Coast, locals can access a nearby product already adapted to the environment. By partnering with the school, Dula also mentors International Baccalaureate biology students. Their work includes research on the dietary patterns of fungus.

“We’re trying to figure out what fungi like to eat what,” he said. “So we’re testing which fungi are good at decomposing spent grain from Aspen Brewing Co., coffee grounds — if we could find something that liked to eat pine-beetle kill and could break down pine-beetle kill and take all that carbon from the trees and put it back in the soil, that would be awesome.”

For anyone interested in organic landscape and local food, Dula will be discussing ways of increasing soil productivity and how to build food forests with fungi. Using a permaculture design, Dula has grown apples, pears, cherries, herbs, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower all together in one system.

“Not like a monoculture, where you have the same plant row after row,” he said. “That’s not really how nature likes to function. Permaculture is starting to take off.”

The biochar that Dula uses is made from compressed pine-wood pellets. When it is added to soil, it increases plant productivity and sequesters carbon from the atmosphere. The trees pull carbon down from the atmosphere, incorporate it into their biomass, and then the biochar takes that carbon and puts it into the soil.

“Once you do that, it seems to be stable in the soil for 100 to 1,000 years, depending on what you made it from and how you created it, too,” he said, adding that a lot of research is still needed on the effectiveness of biochar. “So it’s really promising material for increasing plant productivity and mitigating climate change, as well. It’s a baby industry right now.”

Compost tea is a liquid biological amendment that restores bacteria and fungi to soil. In short, it feeds the soil’s food web, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture says is critical to every healthy system or watershed, including biological activity, diversity and productivity.

“It does a number of things beneficial to the soil and the plants, like regulating the flow of water and nutrients,” without using conventional concentrated-nitrogen fertilizers, he said. “It’s a new organic landscape-management practice.”

He added that it’s the same practice now used at Harvard University, Princeton University and Battery Park in New York City. Additionally,the University Colorado at Boulder has seven compost-tea machines, while Dula uses one, which brews 250 gallons of the tea. Dula soon will be brewing the tea at Cozy Point Ranch and working with Aspen TREE, also at Cozy Point Ranch, on compost-tea education classes.

To get more information about today’s event or the Cozy Point Ranch classes, contact Dula at coloradosoilsystems@gmail.com.


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The Aspen Times Updated Apr 9, 2014 08:36PM Published Apr 9, 2014 04:06PM Copyright 2014 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.