This year, I will focus on basics, as I have tried to do in the past. My readers know that in simplicity there is always a complex ebb and flow of energy, a tide of substance, attachment, form and energetic interactions that science calls variously pyramids, webs or cycles, a shed, (ie: watershed, or perhaps air shed, food shed, energy shed, etc.) or occasionally they speak of relationship as a series of trophic levels. I understand the science. However, there are relationships that have not yet been discovered as well.
Each and every organism is ultimately classified because of several distinct features of their unique sort of existence, they consume and excrete, exchange gasses and reproduce. My compost pile for instance cannot “reproduce” so it is considered inert, even though the actual processes alive within and amongst the inanimate substance of the “compost pile” is a veritable menagerie of organisms.
Spores and colonies, protists, hyphae and layers of a diverse fabric of life are integral instigators in a confluence of resonant energies that in turn lead to the outpouring of the cornucopia of life giving and life affirming food.
Permaculture, the sort I practice, transforms me into a form of epiphite, cultivating not only plants, but the soils upon which they grow. In turn making my living off the relationship with the structure of that other plant. My relative success and failures have been characterized by two very plain facts. So simple as to be overlooked by most.
First off, the ability to make any soil grow healthy plants is to have three basic ingredients a structure to support the roots which allows water to percolate through and enough air that the roots of plants don’t get waterlogged or choked of gas exchange (after all they are organisms too!) Enough sun rain and tending to out-compete other plants from overtaking them. Finally nutrients that can be assimilated need to be available. Remember, this trinity is only point number one. The second is that any dirt can be turned into soil with enough time or intervention, but wisdom comes when we learn to be efficient about the kind of “help” that we lend our soils. Time teaches an observant learner.
Ironically, I’m mentioning air, and drainage as I look out into the yard and see standing puddles atop the frozen Earth, temporary lakes that will go out with the frost. The soils that I have transformed, as if by magic all have one thing in common. I found a way to admit air. Recolonizing damaged land begins by allowing air and occasionally water to percolate and merge with the soil. Secondly, even if I do not have compost to add I immediately add relatively thick mulch to the area I have worked. This helps to keep the sun from drying out the newly established matrix of air/water/critter culture.
In my own relationship with my soils, I spare few efforts in building and maintaining them. Heavy feeders get compost added virtually every year and all of my beds get nearly as much compost annually as the bed produces in food for the table as well. Imagine if each wheat or cornfield could do the same across our great nation…within a few years, there would be no flooding of consequence and virtually no wind erosion.
The most efficient way of adding air/moisture to soils is the human powered broadfork. It is a tool which is a bit like an oversize potato fork, usually it requires one person to stand on it and to lean back on the handles to loosen the soil. In my case, I often took on dirt, not for the purpose of showing off, but because that is what I inherited. More than once, I had to reclaim soils that had become nothing but waste dirt, unable to support any life. As we learn to reclaim ever larger areas, we will need to attend to the long term treatment of our soils, of bear the burden of having to spend massive amounts of time and energy reclaiming them again one day if we forget these two basic tenets.
Targeting our attention to just one thing is often the reason for not seeing the forest because of the trees and when we widen our perception to include the great proliferation of microscopic life that can be right there under our feet, things start to transpose. Things we thought were of prime importance pale by comparison and things we thought were insignificant become paramount.