Natural soils or tecnosoils?

Natural soils or tecnosoils?

Artificial soils, also called tecnosoils, technosols or technosoil are, as the name implies, artificial soils made from mixtures of different non-hazardous waste and by-products. These technosoils are usually complemented with other raw materials for their application both in the improvement of agricultural soils and in the restoration of degraded areas.

The main applications of the tecnosoils are amendment for agricultural soils, material for the recovery of degraded and/or contaminated soils and water, covering of rubbish dumps, employment in areas affected by urban works and infrastructures (roundabouts, roadsides and areas non-recreational garden areas), material for the recovery of mines and quarries or soils degraded by erosion, fire or loss of productive capacity.

The elaboration of the mixtures in order to obtain these artificial soils has a double purpose; on one hand, waste are valorized, minimizing the potential environmental impacts derived from a poor management of these and, on the other hand, degraded soils are recovered without excessive costs.

The idea is to take advantage of all the available resources in the market to valorize and transform them into the best amendments, fertilizers and tecnosoils, essential for the optimal management of agricultural soils or for the correct restoration of soil and environmentally degraded spaces. In this way, wealth is also generated and it is managed to avoid the unwanted and unnecessary elimination of multiple residues and products currently underutilized, able to be reincorporated to a new life cycle, maintaining an environmentally and economically sustainable model that also favors the fight against climate change.

We are working on projects developing tecnosoils in CARTIF, one of them is SUSTRATEC Project, which aims to develop precisely innovative tecnosoils, i.e., artificial soils, which will also possess special features that will make them innovative.

The main novelty of these technological substrates is that they will have a self-fertilizing capacity as well as atmospheric pollutant uptake. The aim is to create “soils to the letter“ and to amend agricultural soils taking into account the different problems. The tecnosoils to be developed will come from the valorization of the sludge coming from the purification plants and agri-food industries. These soils will be complemented with other raw materials such as sugar foams, mussel shell, coffee residues, or pruning, in addition to other additives.

One of the main innovative elements will also be the inclusion of encapsulated bacteria in tecnosoils that will be developed, and that they exert beneficial effects in the field, improving the fertility due to its capacity to fix nitrogen. In addition, artificial soils fixes atmospheric pollutants and contribute to reduce greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.

Do we toast with cava?

Do we toast with cava?

During these dates we usually toast at Christmas celebrations. The idea is to toast with a frothy drink, although sometimes we don´t know how to differentiate well one from the other, because we may confuse the terms “sparkling wine”, “cava” and “champagne”.

Cava and champagne are two types of sparkling wine that are elaborated in the same way, using the champenoise méthode”, with similar grape varieties; besides, the first is elaborated in Spain and the second in France. The cava came out in the late nineteenth century while champagne dates from to the seventeenth century. Taking into account also that the climate and soil influence the quality of the grape, it’s very difficult to compare, even using the same method.

The French drink with bubbles was known in its beginnings as “champagne”, in honor of the champenoise method, but when Spain joined the EU, our French neighbors claimed their right in exclusivity, with which Spain could not elaborate this sparkling wine and also call it champagne, since it was only valid for sparkling wines produced in the region of Champagne; so it was decided to re-baptize this Spanish Designation of Origin as Cava Designation of Origin (D.O.), doing honor to the underground cellars or cavas, where these sparkling wines were elaborated.

Another difference is that to bottle up champagne, it can be mixed grapes of different vintages, compensating the quality by this way. When it is made only with one vintage, it is called “millesime” or “vintage“. By contrast, in the cava the typical thing is to bottle wines of a single vintage.

After explaining the terms, let’s focus on the Cava D.O., the Spanish.

Usually, D.O. refer to a particular region, for example, Ribera del Duero D.O., La Mancha D.O., even in non-wine products, such as Sierra de Cazorla Oils, Rincón de Soto Pears, Cabrales Cheese. The Cava D.O. is the only denomination of Spanish origin that puts the vinification method (the traditional champagnoise or second fermentation in bottle) to its geographical origin. Of course, it is not possible to label a sparkling Spanish with the “word” cava if it is not produced in officially recognized zones or wineries.

In the case of wine, the Cava denomination is the only denomination of Spanish supraterritorial origin, together with Rioja; this means that it exceeds the autonomic borders, although more than 98% of Cava’s total production comes from Catalonia, existing also production areas in municipalities in other regions.

The Regulation of the Cava Denomination and its Regulatory Council was approved by Order of 14.11.91 (BOE 20.11.91) and modified by different Orders. Prior to these Regulations, on February 27, 1986, the Order establishing the reservation of the “Cava” Denomination was published for quality sparkling wines produced by the traditional method in the region determined therein. But there were a number of sparkling winemakers that already made the production of wine base and/or cava prior to the entry into force of the Order of 1986. That is why, within the terms of reference of the regulations there are a number of exceptions that apply to certain wineries that may use the term “Cava D.O.” even if they occur in municipalities that are not among the 159 that are mentioned in the Regulation.

The curiosity is that of the wineries that are mentioned as exceptions there are one of Zaragoza, one of Girona, one of Valencia, one of Barcelona (regions included in the Cava Region), but there is one winery in the region of Burgos, one wine cellar of Aranda de Duero that, although it is not included in the Cava region, can elaborate sparkling wines by labeling them as Cava D.O. Strange, isn´t it?

Vegetal covers or mulches, right or wrong?

Vegetal covers or mulches, right or wrong?

More than once, especially in the villages, we have heard a farmer saying a similar phrase: “Wheat is growing a lot due to rains this year, what a pity! Because many weeds will grow and I will have to spread herbicides”. Before this comment it could open a long discussion.

It is known that weeds are a problem, but there are other ways so that they do not encroach crops, without resorting to herbicides. We must not let them grow so that invade crops, but neither eradicate them, because they also have other beneficial effects, such as they help to control pests and favor the presence of pollinators in the field.

So, what happens? Should we leave them or not? Well, there are other solutions such as leaving margins between crops and introduce aromatic plants or fruit trees which prevent the emergence of weeds in these margins, like cereal fields were interspersed with orchards and even fruit trees years ago. It is what is called creating mulches.

What are the covers or mulches vegetal?

The implementation of mulches consists on sowing between the streets or lines any cultivable crop species or let the natural vegetation grow spontaneously. The mulches are used as a strategy for soil management, because they reduce the risk of erosion besides increasing the biodiversity of the natural enemies of the usual crop pests.

Mulches compete with weeds for space, light and nutrients and, therefore, they help to reduce the costs of weed control which is an advantage for the farmer. Other cover crops produce allelopathic substances (biochemical compounds that influence in growth, survival or reproduction of other organisms) which inhibit the growth of certain weeds and, in general, mulches, like hedges, are a reservoir where beneficial organisms can live, which can pass to the crop in search of prey (pests).

Are mulches used a lot?

Mulches are widely used in organic farming. Organic farming, regulated by (EC) Nº 834/2007 Regulation of 28 June 2007, forbids the use of chemical pesticides and synthetic origin fertilizers; therefore, in organic production different management strategies are developed to comply with regulations. One of these techniques is to increase the diversity in and around the crop with different plants which stimulate the diversity of beneficial organisms. The most important diversification technique is the use of mulches between lines of crops.

The mulches issue is highly questionable by both parts, the staunchest supporters and those who never would put into practice. It is clear that by introducing a new crop between the lines of other major crop, for example a vineyard, there will be a competition with the vines, and this can join a production loss, but it can also be very interesting to get a higher quality product due to improvements in soil, or a different microbial flora which can influence the sensory characteristics of the wine produced with those grapes may appear.

Sometimes it takes several decades and we evolved on many issues but in other cases it tends to do things as in the past, as in the case of introducing mulches between lines of crops, although you can always add new techniques as a result of R & D. In CARTIF, we work both in of viticulture and enology fields, where we have made seeding experiences of mulches of aromatic plants between vineyard lines, as in the development of low environmental impact and organic farming techniques.