Why I run this site


My Mission

Colin Austin 4 June 2013

Thanks Marianne for the jog

I have just received an email from Marianne  Kambouridis in Ballarat telling me about the great work she is doing on sustainability in her school.  This has prompted me to write down what I believe, what I am trying to achieve and how you can support my aims.

Grandfathers syndrome

I suffer from a medical condition called grandfathers syndrome this means that instead of going out, spending the last of my money and generally having a good time, like a normal sensible person, I think about what life my grandchildren will have and in turn their grandchildren.

The current population of the world is seven billion, by the time my grandchildren are mature it will have risen to nine billion.  But more important the world will have changed dramatically, presently the bulk of the people live in the developing countries living very modest life styles, in my grandchildren’s life time they will enjoy greater purchasing power and wealth than we currently do living in the affluent west.

Our capitalist system has certainly proven highly effective in increasing our wealth but only looks at short term profits and does not take into account the longer term effects or the cost to the natural environment on which we all depend for our food, clothing, shelter and equally important access to enjoy the wonders of the natural environment.

What can I and you do?

It is up to people, you me and the rest to look after the future for our grandchildren.  But what can I and you actually do that will have a real effect.  I can do nothing about the wars and conflicts which stem from the inequalities of the world or the unfortunate prejudices of extremists.

But I am an engineer, for many years I had a successful career in science, technology and innovation so I know how the process of innovation works - but now I am old and no longer work creating innovative products for profit or commercial gain. But for all my life I have had an interest in growing plants and the essential role that soil and water play - may be because Hitler took a personal dislike to me and when he tried to bomb me to death and missed he tried to starve me into submission.

Growing food to me is normal.

Soil and water

So I have used my experience of the process of science and innovation to develop better technologies for soil and water. For decades I have worked on ways to regenerate degraded soils and use water more effectively. Wicking beds and now my biopacks to regenerate soil are the latest in my innovations. This development is not just a hobby for an old man, neither are they a business in the sense that they cost rather than create money - at least for me - but I hope there is a wider benefit for people around the world.

Worshiping money

In my life time our ability to produce products has increased beyond believe, due to a combination of science, technology and the capitalist system.  We are better of beyond the beliefs of my childhood. We are currently watching a dramatic global change as technology spreads to the majority of the world’s populations in the developing countries. Thankfully this is raising their living standards but is leading to an unprecedented pressure on our natural resources on which we all depend.

Unfortunately western Governments work on the belief that the profit motive by itself will resolve these environmental challenges and all they have to do is sit back and manipulate the financial system remotely. You only have to look at the economic situation in the economies of Europe and the US to see the limitations of this philosophy. Whatever your politics you would have to admit that China’s policy of interacting with the private sector in a more pragmatic way has been more successful.

Soil carbon

Soil carbon is the second largest carbon sink after the ocean.  Soil could absorb fifty years of man-made emissions giving us time to develop and implement new energy technologies while providing a more secure food supply, (see my books Resolving climate change vol 1,2 and 3). This is not going to happen by itself but needs Governments to become actively involved.

Future generations

But having the affliction of grandfather’s syndrome I believe that these technologies of soil and water can play an important role in making a better life for future generations. So I run my website, publish my newsletter and help columns and generally spread the information and try and also try and persuade the Governments of the importance of soil carbon.  You can help by spreading the word, telling your friends in person, or using the amazing power of the internet.

I believe that everyone has a right to a healthy diet, there is no way that I should be making money from people, (or people working trying to help people), who lack financial resources, to enjoy a healthy diet. Any technology or information I have I make available to them for free with no suggestion of payment.

But from time to time I write articles or booklets on my activities and I invite people who are enjoying an affluent life style to make a contribution (typically $5 per item).  This will never make me rich but it does help with my costs of research, experimentation and education. 

I am also a human being with normal emotions and it does give me encouragement to feel that there are people out there who appreciate what I am trying to do and help me overcome the frustrations of  dealing with Governments on soil carbon.


Colin Austin

Innovation - our heritance our future



wicking worm bedI guess many people visiting this web site are just looking to find out how to make a wicking bed, this can be very easy and cheap - an old veggie box from the supermarket - a hole in the side for drainage - put a pipe in and fill with soil and you are there, simple as simple.  You can find out more by clicking wicking bed and manual.

But there is more to this site than that.  It is about innovation.  Elephants and dolphins are intelligent but it is people that have the ability to create new ideas and pass these on to others - this is what makes people different. It’s pretty impressive that we can sit on a remote mountain or beach and with a smart phone access the amazing source of information that is the internet.

This site is more than a manual on wicking beds - it is a study of my life’s immersion in innovation. But innovation is not all fun and gizmos; innovation means challenging the conventional wisdom.  I first starting experimenting with wicking beds almost twenty years ago when conventional wisdom was that drainage was essential and that the wicking bed must fail because the soil would turn putrid.  Conventional wisdom was wrong, it is true that plants roots do need air but the rising and falling of water levels in a properly managed wicking bed is like a breathing action in the soil, sucking fresh air in and expelling stale air.

We hear about the successful innovations but failure is the norm, I have had my share of both.  My development of computer simulations for designing moulds was both technically and financially successful, fortunately for me as it allowed me to continuer further innovations into sustainable living which has been riddled with failures.

I spent a small fortune on trying to develop a cheap system of subsurface irrigation to save water - great in theory less so in practise.  I also developed a system of flexible pipes to pump air into the soil to help root growth. Later I developed systems for improved irrigation scheduling and flood irrigation, technically successful but probably too complex to achieve widespread adoption.  But they did provide invaluable learning experiences which led to the success of the wicking beds.

But technical success does not mean acceptance or financial success.  For over forty years I have experimented with how to improve soil quality by increasing organic matter and soil biology. The techniques I (and many others) have developed systems which could give us much healthier foods - reducing diabetes, heart attacks and obesity and store enough carbon in the soil to compensate for fifty years of emissions. Yet it seems impossible to shift the conventional wisdom away from pills and chemical fertilisers.

In some ways wicking beds have been a great success partly as they can be made for virtually nothing from what is virtually scrap. I am still astounded by elderly ladies going to the tips to collect old bath tubs and making successful wicking beds.

Despite their wide spread adoption I feel that that the real benefit of wicking beds is in danger of being missed

They are becoming to be seen as just another self-watering pot which typically use separate water chambers or inert stones. The real benefits of wicking bed are they create that controlled moisture levels in which soil biology can thrive.   BioPacks provide the trace minerals which are broken down by fungi and released to the plants which in turn produce the complex phytochemicals which are essential for our health. The system of coaches can provide technical expertise, completed wicking boxes and BioPacks.

Eating fresh nutrient rich vegetables and herbs is more effective than taking pills as dietary supplements and is also a lot cheaper. We have reached the point where more than half the world population live in cities. 

Wicking beds are well suited to modern city life and small wicking boxes as they will fit onto a veranda.  They can provide small but critical quantities of nutrient rich food.

They also provides a way of recycling food scrapes and are a source of interest in the natural world that many city dwellers miss.