OmniVerdi Omega

The OmniVerdi Omega, a kind of artificial soilcrust, is designed to improve the growing conditions for the seedling in the field. Applying the Omega to each seedling in the field will decrease the overall project costs on the long run, especially by eliminating the need for weeding and less replanting.
Competition from herbaceous vegetation is partially avoided as none can establish closely to the seedling. During eventual bush fire the base of the seedling is more protected which thereby might resprout easier afterwards.

 

Evaluation after 1 year: preliminar results indicate a higher foliar biomass and total leaf surface for the seedlings with the OV Omega applied. On average the seedlings without the OV Omega had less and smaller leaves. 

Earlier versions of the OmniVerdi Omega were too expensive and complicated to manufacture and transport. Finally, a very cheap and easy to cast-in-the-field version was developed. The total cost is about 0,15 to 0,50USD varying between countries due to different material prices and labour costs. 

Also monitoring is greatly facilitated, even can be automatized by drones and image processing, as the seedling with the Omega applied stands free in the surrounding vegetation and has an uniform background around it looking from above.
The aerial image in the slideshow below shows an experimental plot where 8 seedlings were planted without and another 8 seedlings with the OmniVerdi Omega. The advantage of the improved visibility becomes very clear.

 

Previous versions of the Omega
These were a crucial part in the develpment of the idea, but are no longer used. Descibed here for information.

OmniVerdi Omega 1st version: Artificial insulation mulch layer (2013)

It is produced of recycled cardboard and has eco-friendly compostable additives for resistance to fire, fungi and termites and to make it impermeable.  The amount of additives added determines the life-time it needs to remain functional under field conditions, for a few months to many years.

Its benefits and purposes:
- It creates a micro-climate in the soil near the seedling, which improves the conditions for mycorrhiza and other soil life to exist, which on their turn bring countless benefits.

- It holds the soil moisture for much longer time near the seedling, as direct sun radiation is blocked and soil temperature is decreased. The buried side-wings avoid the moisture from escaping.

- It decreases the competition for water, light and nutrients with weeds. Avoids the need of weeding.- Adding some water-gel-crystal on top of the soil beneath the Omni-Verdi can boost significantly its effect.

But it was not good enough yet……
Problems:
- Weeds liked a lot to germinate right along the borders, because of the favorable conditions brought by the Omniverdi, and after several months of growing these weeds started to push upwards and to fold the Omniverdi, by which the main positive effects were soon lost.
- For Large scale production too much recyclable cardboard would need to be bought on the market, driving its prices and thereby might push existing recyclers out of business and might increase demand for virgin woodpulp, which would all lead to undesired side-effects.  
- Production required too much energy. Production facility quite expensive and medium-high level technicians required.
- The composition was too flammable, for which I went to a Belgian fire-retardant manufacturer for solutions, who did have some solutions, but that increased far too much the production costs, and during bio-degradation some non-desired chemicals would be released.  Their eco-friendly solution was even more expensive.  The idea was to make it really un-flammable so that during a quick bushfire the base of the stem of the seedlings would be protected from too much direct heat and afterwards they could re-sprout from there.  It needed to be really resistant to fire.

Alternative materials researched: iron sheets, bioplastics, etc…. all too expensive and too high CO2 footprint.


More thinking was needed…..   the next version followed.

OmniVerdi Omega 2nd version: Gypsum plates (2016)

To lower the production costs significantly first of all the production process needed to be very simple with very low investment and requiring only low-tech or even unschooled labor. That in combination with choosing a raw material that is available everywhere would make it possible to completely decentralize the production.  Gypsum was chosen, very cheap and available in every little construction shop, to be mixed with a bit of water and poured in silicon molds. All that was needed where a few 15USD molds, some buckets and a hand-drill to mix. The production was now possible at any place, as close as possible to the planting site. The overall costs and CO2 foot-print went seriously down.

Main purposes:
- increase seedling survival in the field
- decrease post-planting maintenance costs
- facilitate field monitoring

How it is installed and used, to understand better its functions

The Omniverdi is a modular device; at least 2 units must be placed, directly on top of the soil, side by side to protect 1 seedling, forming a layer of 60x60cm which the seedling in the middle.

Recommended is the assembly of 8 units to form a patch of 120x120cm with 9 planting positions, ideal to create functional assemblies of divers species of different plant types for ecological restoration purposes. 

In case of installation on slopes two tiny holes are provided in each unit to fix the Omniverdi in place with the aid of pins. Fixation might also be required in case of presence of digging and browsing wildlife that might lift of shift the Omniverdi.

The benefits of the Omniverdi Omega in Gypsit in more detail
 - Omniverdi assist seedlings planted in the field to resist better to drought:
The micro-climate in the soil near the seedling is improved by the installation of the Omniverdi; the white 2cm thick layer protects against solar radiation decreasing drastically topsoil temperature near the seedlings and the impermeable bottom side of the layer decreases the loss of soil moisture. Hereby the conditions for mycorrhiza and other soil life to exist improves significantly, which on their turn bring countless benefits.
 

- Seedlings protected with Omniverdi suffer less from competition of surrounding herbal growth:
Each unit of OmniVerdi weights about 2kg and is installed directly onto the soil. By fitting at least 2 units together small planting spaces are created between them where the seedlings are positioned with little space left for weeds to establish. The weight ensures that germinating weedseeds below the units does not develop, avoiding hereby the growth of competing annuals closeby the planted trees/shrubs.

 

- Omniverdi, in contrast to similar technologies, enables the creation of multi-species assemblies, of vital importance in ecological restoration: 
The design of the OmniVerdi is such that multiple units placed in certain configurations form several planting holes at well defined spacings. As shown in the first image 8 OmniVerdi together form a patch with 9 planting positions, which can be occupied by divers species in strategic ecological combinations of old-growth, pioneer, protective, N-fixing, shade and other species of different plant types.  Hereby the crucial interactions between species can occur resulting in better plant survival and development, and thus so fortifying assisted natural regeneration.  
 

 

- The use of Omniverdi can decrease the overall establishment and maintenance costs:
Less or even none weeding will be needed, avoiding losing seedlings by accidental cutting during weeding. Less soil moisture is lost, decreasing or even annulling the necessity of watering.
The seedlings become and remain for a significant period much more visible in the field making it easier for monitoring.  Identification codes can be marked onto the Omniverdi nearby each seedling avoiding the need for other identification materials. 

- Omniverdi can help secure litterfall in place:
Tiny vertical barriers have been included in the Omniverdi design to help avoid leaves and twigs being carried away by wind or waterflow, forming hopefully a layer of litterfall after a period of time.  Transferring manually this litter placing it below the Omniverdi from time to time is highly recommended.

 

- Omniverdi facilitates automatized monitoring:
The Omniverdi installed in the field form a well defined shape of contrasting color which remains clearly recognizable for a significant period of time, up to several years. By software-driven processing of the image feed of overflying drones the planting spots can be recognized and geotagged automatically. Once the planting spots are known drones equipped with more advanced sensor technology can overfly the spots and gather more detailed data for each spot whereby the underlaying contrasting color patch of the Omniverdi helps significantly to narrow the data down to the planted trees/shrubs/etc. The possibilities here are open to imagination.

- Omniverdi can be used for fertilizing and soil corrections:
As the Omniverdi biodegrades over the years gradative supply of micronutrients can be released. The quantity of each nutrient can be defined and adjusted for each project case.  The main component gypsum can act slightly in soil pH correction over the years until the Omniverdi is fully degraded. The degradation period can also be adjusted according to project requirements from several months to up to many years.

- Omniverdi and bush fire:
The Omniverdi is not flammable and hereby the seedling protected with Omniverdi might suffer less during eventual bush fires. In case a layer of dry biomass has been formed on top of the Omniverdi and surrounding soil and in case this layer burns too during bush fire then the soil temperature beneath the Omniverdi will not increase too much, protecting in that way the roots and maybe also the base of the stems of the seedlings, by which re-sprouting is more probable.

Still not good enough; this 2nd version also had its problems:
The flat plates were dificult to install on stony soils and on slopes, conditions to be found on most tree planting sites.  The solution really needed to be much easier to install, especially on stony uneven soils. 
Also the planting distance was not natural, so the Omega needs to be individual for each seedling, so that th corerct planting distances can be respected.

So that is how it arrived to the very simple cement on the spot casted version....

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