Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Importance of Learning to Build Soil Fertility

Building soil fertility with on-site resources while severing the tie behind consumer demand and rich corporations is my main focus at Mad Love Organix.

Two cubic feet of organic potting soil waits in the shed. And my desire to add the entire contents of the bag to the two main crop German Butterball potato plants left in the ground is a strong one to fight.

Intended to grow small containers of 30-day baby greens. And
to save enough for early spring next year.
We made a trip to the store last week and purchased 2 bags of organic potting soil, both 2-cubic feet, for 13 dollars each, and a 1.5-pound box of Dr. Earth bat guano, high in nitrogen, for 12 dollars. On-hand we also have a liquid feed of bat guano, high in phosphorous and potassium. We keep these to feed whatever it is we are growing in containers.

After pulling up our 3, All-Blue potatoes and harvesting only a bit over one-pound, I believe the main crop may benefit from some added mulch. With tight resources but unlimited time, throwing 13 dollars into a bed of 2 potato plants seems financially unjust.

Harvesting a small harvest now while focusing on building soil fertility over time to produce larger, more nutritionally-dense potato harvests seems simple, logical, and inexpensive. However, my personal ego-centered desire screams “More! Now! Fast!”

I’ll wait.

This fall we are adding a fourth 8-by-4 foot bed in order to add alliums to our crop rotation. Alliums is what the encyclopedia refers to as the onion family, which consists of garlic, leeks, shallots, scallions, and well, onions. The order of our crop rotation will then be legumes, to brassicas, to roots, to alliums. Then back to legumes.

Double-digging and cover crops will be our method of preparing the soil for this new bed. Cover crops will also be grown all next season to let the nitrogen fixers do their job. We do not plan on adding any compost this fall because the limited supply we do have available will be worked in to the three 8-by-4 foot beds we are currently growing from.


Rockstar, our helper, is pointing out
 where the new bed will be going.
I believe next fall we will have enough compost to add to all four garden beds. Also by then, we will begin our allium plot by planting garlic in the ground.

I know next fall may seem like light years away. And some people may wonder why not just go to the store for a few relatively inexpensive soil amendments that will add a ton of nutrients to the soil right away. That way I can plant garlic this October and not waste any time. Good point. I did do it with the third 8-by-4 foot plot we added earlier this spring.

Yes, I want healthier food. Yes, I want to save money on food. But now I realize I want to support the idea of mother earth providing everything I need, as I train my brain to stop thinking “I need this. Let me go to the store.” I feel brain washed into this way of thinking from spending 27 years in a world which thinks like this.

I also do not want to disturb the life processes of the soil taking place on their own. It’s similar to the body. (Because in truth, we are one.) I know the body I inhabit needs protein, one of four macronutrients, in order to perform at its best. But what happens when I give it too much protein? The digestive system stops performing at its best, and gas may build up, feeling quite uncomfortable. Although my muscles, my appearance your eyes may claim as truth, may bulge, I can be hurting from within.

So with the soil. Just as I do not know how to give my body the exact amount of nutrients it needs, regardless of what science, nutrition, and my ego may claim to know, I also do not know how to give soil the exact amount of nutrients it needs to grow whatever variety of plants are present.

My body knows more than me and so does the soil. And the body and the soil also know more than science.

On top of that, what we see is not the truth.

Yes, it's organic. But is it necessary? My diet does not find
seafood necessary. There are more environmentally sound ways
of getting those nutrients. And using peat moss in my own garden is
selfish. It takes the environment centuries to make that stuff, and the
environment makes better use of it than I could ever imitate.
If I get in the habit of feeding brassicas with a nitrogen feed purchased from the store, which quickly give visual results in the form of plant size, the soil will also get in the habit of needing external nitrogen to feed the plants.  I believe the soil and the plants have an intimate relationship going on. And from using on-site compost along with nitrogen-fixing cover crops, the life in the soil will grow to work with you and your plants in ways mined and transported fertilizers can and will never do.

The hard part is waiting. Working and waiting for invisible forms of life to do their job. But I suppose we’re all in that boat together whether we grow food or happily eat “edible, food-like substances,” as Michael Pollan likes to put it.

Another reason it is important to severe the tie behind consumer demand being met with excess supplies from rich corporations is because this is the cycle that threatens our very own food supplies to begin with. They, the rich corporations, who trickles down to mean us as a collective whole, yes, you and I, supply them, giving the O.K. to deplete earths most valuable and basic resources, the land, the water, and the air.

Once we deplete these resources there will be no more food. There will be no more health. And there will be no more life. But let’s say they, the rich and powerful corporations comprised of us, have a falling out before the resources do. (I believe in nature vs. man, nature always wins. It’s law. Also, man is nature. Go figure.) Then what? Here man is left only with nature to survive. I don’t know about you, but I would like to know how to build soil fertility with on-site resources now, rather than later.

Hopefully I can make sense of the results.
This year I finally purchased a soil test kit from Penn State Extension for 9 dollars. Once the results come back from the lab, I’ll let you know what condition our untouched soil is in. In the meantime, no more soil amendments purchased from the store will be added to the ground. However, the tie has not yet been severed.

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