building a beautiful and bountiful world in collaboration with nature

Archive for January, 2014

Love Those Soil Creatures!

imagesSeedling2I spent last weekend at the Nevada County Sustainable Food and Farm Conference.  One of the speaker highlights for me was the presentation given by Elaine Ingham of Soil Foodweb fame.  This is the woman who has single-handedly put soil biology – as opposed to soil chemistry – front and center over the past decade.  The January/February 2014 issue of Horticulture magazine has an article entitled “The Root of Good” that offers an excellent synopsis of Elaine’s work.  The compost tea craze that started up in this county about 2 years ago is a direct result of Elaine’s work.  I assume eco-farmers and gardeners around the country are experiencing a similar explosion of businesses making this microbiologically-rich tea available.

Even the most conscientious of organic growers often create biological monocultures in their soils through the practices of ploughing and tilling.  Breaking up the soil like this creates an environment that strongly favors bacteria over the fungi, protozoa, beneficial nematodes, and arthropods, all of which  are essential to the effective cycling of those soil nutrients – all that nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium that we hear so much about.  If we focus on the biology instead of the chemistry, we create an environment where nature can step in and do the necessary tweaking to get it all flowing.

Compost that is well-made, through processes that ensure good aeration, is essential to reintroducing the vast range of microbes to a soil that has leaned too heavily in one direction.  It can be applied directly or used to make a tea that is then sprayed over the plants and soil.  Mulching or perennial plant cover are essential strategies in maintaining good habitat and food resources for those fungi, once balance has been re-established.  Minimizing the amount of tilling and the size of area that is tilled also helps to maintain a diverse soil ecosystem.

The advantages to focusing on your soil’s biology rather than its chemistry are great.  The practices needed to maintain a healthy soil biology also conserve soil moisture (as California heads into a serious drought!), enhance plant health through the balanced nutrition that the microbes unlock, minimize pest damage because healthy plants have greater immunity, and create foods that are more nutritious for us.

The other big benefit lies in the connection.  When we tend to the health and diversity of all biological beings, we tend to our selves at the deepest level.  We acknowledge the power of the smallest creature to make a difference in our lives.  We acknowledge our own power to make a difference in the lives of others.

Note:  Click the link above on Elaine Ingham’s name to hear her on YouTube!

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Finding the Garden-Farm’s Heart

IMG_3847A garden or a farm is a living organism.  This is not only the ideal, but the result of following through on the principles of permaculture.  Every defined garden space has the ability to be a cell in the body of the larger ecosystem.  Each ecosystem is an organ in the body of Earth.  Holons stack inside holons: bounded infinities stack into bounded infinities.

When an embryo begins its journey to fetus and then infant, one of the first things that happens is the development of the heart and circulatory system.  The heart cells are the first cells to differentiate and specialize.  In the creation of your garden or farm, the first order of business is to define the space, to set the boundary lines.  (These can grow out later on, but all organisms begin with a sense of the edge.)  The second order of business is to find the heart, the circulatory center.

At Bluebird Farm, it took me 9 months to find the physical location for this heart.  It took time to get a sense of the whole, to get my feet and my own rhythm in sync with this place.  We discovered the locations for hedgerows and labyrinths, vegetable rivers and sheep pastures, berry patch and salad garden, but the heart felt like something I was still carrying inside myself.  The full conception of this garden-farm had not yet come into being.

Then one day in early October, understanding unfolded.  A patch of ground occupied by six-foot tall wild lettuces kept attracting my attention.  It wasn’t on the list or the schedule, but I knew the time had come to create a water altar, to give Bluebird her center, her heart. It didn’t take long to remove the lettuces and create a mulched pathway to the spot.  The granite rocks needed to frame the area had been waiting patiently for months.  A  few simple statements infused the space with the necessary intention.  It took another week for the water bowl to show up.  Some pretty rocks volunteered to participate: amethyst, emerald, and shungite.  Because Bluebird is open to a variety of people, I wrote a short message, inviting others to also participate in empowering the water of this farm-heart.  That message reads:

Water is one of the most amazing substances on this planet or in this universe.  In 2012, scientists in Germany confirmed that water has memory.  It records in its molecular patterning the energies of the people and things that come in contact with it. This water altar is a place for sharing love and appreciation with water.  Think of someone or something in your life that you love deeply, or remember an experience that made your heart sing.  As you feel that love and joy and appreciation in your body, place your hands on this water bowl and let your love flow into the water.  It only takes a few moments, but the water will remember! This water will be sprinkled on the soil, plants, and animals that live here on Bluebird Farm, charging all with the powerful energies of love and appreciation.  Thank you for your participation!

The flow of water lies at the heart of all living organisms.  A trickle of water can erode the most solid of rocks.  How might your garden change when you find its water-heart?