Some things we learnt from Dr Christine Jones

At the coming of her retirement, we would like to honour the incredible career of Dr Christine Jones by sharing some of the things we have learned from her over the past decade or so.

For those not familiar with her, her CV describes her: “Dr Christine Jones is an internationally renowned and highly respected groundcover and soils ecologist. She has a wealth of experience working with innovative landholders to implement regenerative land management practices that enhance biodiversity, increase biological activity, sequester carbon, activate soil nutrient cycles, restore water balance, improve productivity and create new topsoil.”

Christine is a trailblazer, a genius information collator, and we are blessed to call her our friend.



Lee’s first introduction to Christine was in 2014. Joel Salatin came to Taree (!!) while Lee was first building his greenhouse, and Christine had been invited by Darren Dougherty to introduce the day. Lee vaguely knew of Christine, and when he saw her standing by herself at lunch he thought to go over and chat about his new project. It turns out she was really nice and very encouraging, and also gave a fair bit of direction.

She pointed out that compost or vermicast ‘teas’ are too unstable as a commercial product, and recommended extraction. She also chatted about the then-confronting notion that there’s more going on in extracts especially than living biology. She talked about these chemical signals between plants and microbes called autoinducers, now more commonly known as ‘signalling molecules’. It took five+ years of rumination on this by Lee to realise that Christine is right, and the signalling molecules in Biocast are probably a more significant mechanism in living biostimulants than the microbes themselves.


Over-fertilisation detriments

It is common, in our experience, for folks desperately chasing plant growth to turn to more and more fertiliser use. However, in the next Christine Jones field day Lee went to a year or so after this first meeting, she highlighted some of the underground impacts of doing this. The field day was on a property in the Manning Valley with high fertiliser input to try and support their relatively high cattle output. The season had been very dry, but there had just been a quick 40mm of rain.

Christine predicted that if we were to dig up a grass plant, there would be actively growing white feeder roots as a response to the rain stimulus. The shovel was got, plants dug up… and no white feeder roots. “Well that makes a fool of me” commented Christine on the walk back to the shed. But then we dug up a comparison grass next to the shed and another in the laneway, and lo and behold there were the feeder roots! The fertiliser regime had dramatically reduced the pasture’s ability to respond to the rain, to grow, to build soil and so on.

This was in the days before the rhizosheath was identified and the incredible microbe-plant interaction in the soil was fully appreciated. Christine has since done many talks showing how the use of high analysis fertilisers can disrupt this relationship. The plant-microbe disconnect makes plants less vigorous and more vulnerable, and soils hard and dry – as those on the Manning Valley property were the next time Lee visited on an increased fertiliser regime.

Christine explains it better: 

Liquid Carbon Pathway

Some of Christine’s best known work is explaining and promoting the process of humification, or long term carbon storage in soil. At a quiet field day at Killabakh hall in 2016 she explained how photosynthesising plants feed liquid carbohydrates to soil microbes. The diverse consortium of soil microbes in part then uses the carbon in those carbohydrates to create humus; a very stable substance which is the basis of healthy, fertile soil. She calls it the ‘liquid carbon pathway’, and it was a topic she had been discussing for some time. It was not new to him either; but Christine always presented fresh science and new layers of information that deepened Lee’s understanding.

Christine explains it better:

&That afternoon is what we best remember of that day though. Christine had expressed an interest in seeing the worm farm, and Lee took the opportunity then to show her around. She braved the sloppy wet conditions, and showed up with interest in our processes with all sorts of wonderful leading questions. To bounce ideas with someone with such depth of knowledge was incredibly affirming.

Lee invited her to dinner with us, at a time of life where we had very humble means, but thankfully could rustle up some home kill pork and a few garden veggies to eat like kings. The conversation was wide ranging and showed what a delightful human she is. She emailed to thank him for dinner, and the email exchange began.


Quorum sensing

In 2018, Lee happened to be heading over Christine’s way, so dropped her an email to see if she’d be around for a cuppa. The reply: no, I’m in the States speaking about quorum sensing.

Quorum sensing?

This was an entirely new concept for us and Lee decided it was one we needed to know about too. Together with Jason and Naomi Simmons and Lachie and Heather McPhie, a day was organised at Jason’s for Christine to lead a discussion on the topic. It was magnificent; not only to learn from Christine, but to be with 40 deeply engaged and interested farmers wanting to better their production systems through soil and plant health.

Essentially, quorum sensing is how microbes figure out who’s who in the zoo of their immediate environment. Is there a critical mass, for example, of pathogenic bacteria to become virulent? Can we work together to form a biofilm? It’s a deep topic. Quorum signals can even trigger the immune response of a plant! The opposite to quorum sensing is quorum quenching, whereby the signals of any one species are lost or toned down amongst the signals of the diverse masses.

Christine explains it better:


In 2020 the world shut down. Christine’s talks moved online, and the email exchanges ramped up. There were some crackers. She started talking about the ‘holobiont’, which became our word of the year.

There’s a great plant microbiome graphic she often uses from Gopal and Gupta (2016) (below), who define it thus: “A ‘holobiont’ is thus an assemblage of the individual and its symbionts living and functioning as a unit of biological organization, having the capacity to replicate and pass on its genetic composition; therefore, a unit of selection.”

A holobiont IS the host plus it’s microbiome and virome. All plants and animals are holobionts.

Christine explains it better:

Figure 1 from Gopal and Gupta (2016), Microbiome Selection Could Spur Next-Generation Plant Breeding Strategies Front. Microbiol. 7:1971. 

Full text available at:

Rhizophagy cycle

Christine introduced us to the work of Professor James White and his team, who are uncovering a real world stranger than science fiction. So, it turns out that plants EAT microbes (‘microbivory’) via their roots, and can gain almost a third of their nutrients that way. Microbe remains are then spat back out into the soil and REFORM into living microbes, off to gather more nutrients and participate in the functioning of the rhizosheath. This is the rhizophagy cycle.

Dr White explains it better:

White JF, Kingsley KL, Verma SK, Kowalski KP. Rhizophagy Cycle: An Oxidative Process in Plants for Nutrient Extraction from Symbiotic Microbes. Microorganisms. 2018 Sep 17;6(3):95.

Full text availble at

Horizontal gene transfer

To completely blow your brains off, the last concept we’ll leave you with, as introduced to us by Dr Christine Jones, is horizontal gene transfer. It has become one of Lee’s favourite conversation topics for the last couple of years. Microbes, and plants via microbes and viruses, can exchange genetics within the same generation. This means, for example, plants can borrow genes from microbes to fight off a pathogen. This also seems to have significance intergenerationally, as plants from former crops can leave a ‘genetic legacy’, whereby the following crop is able to utilise leftover genetic material in a similar way. The mechanisms of adaptability within diverse systems are incredible!



Without a doubt, Dr Christine Jones has a gift for collating complex, cutting edge information and conveying it to the layman in an actionable, and often inspiring way. Many cite her as pivotal on their journey to more regenerative practices. For us, her legacy to us has been to open up a world beyond the simple, launching us who knows how far ahead of where we possibly could have got to by ourselves.

We were blessed that the last live Christine Jones event we attended was the Coastal Multi Species Forum we orchestrated in Dungog. It wasn’t actually even a Christine Jones event; she was there as a participant. Ever the learner, and standing in testament to her belief that the farmer is the front runner of new agricultural knowledge; Christine was gracious, approachable, fantastic giving in her explanations, and asking questions of others – holding a true conversation and thereby helping to make the day invaluable.

We do not need to look for the next person to stand in Christine’s shoes. She has lit enough flames of interest and inspiration to go deeper, to go further forward, to learn more, to try something different, to unravel and understand the complexities that are presented in a farming system in the thousands of people she has spoken with over her career. It is now up to all of us to carry it forward to whatever degree; to never stop learning; and never stop trying to understand what the next thing is and how it fits into the big picture.

With enormous gratitude for her contribution, we wish Christine all the very best for her retirement.


Additional resources:

Amazing Carbon, Dr Jones’ website:

Soil Secrets: The Fundamentals for Building Profit, Productivity and Natural Capital With Dr Christine Jones
Lower Blackwood Catchment LCDC in Western Australia put together a fantastic Christine Jones compilation resource in 2023 with videos, articles and podcasts:

YouTube – Search Dr Christine Jones on YouTube for plenty more of her excellent talks!