19th May 2022
CREATING & MAINTAINING SOIL FERTILITY WITHOUT EXTERNAL INPUTS
A friend sent me a fascinating article in the Guardian Newspaper about the world wide destruction of healthy living soils, and how to create and maintain soil fertility without external inputs or animal manures. Well worth a look – for more see: LATEST POST
Working with the soil, immersing your hands in healthy vibrant living soil is at the same time, both grounding and a primal act. Hearing the wind stir the leaves of trees you have planted and watching seeds that you planted grow into healthy young plants is deeply satisfying. Always remember though that nobody in the history of the human race has ever grown a plant; plants grow themselves with the help of soil micro-organisms, sunlight, carbon dioxide and water and much, much more. It is better to stand in awe than to claim ownership. In the words of Dr Vandana Shiva:
“We need to cultivate the humility that the soil makes us, we do not make the soil, and we can only serve her processes of making life.”
What we can do is understand the natural processes involved, learn how to nurture them, provide the ideal conditions for these natural processes to blossom, and above all provide love and care.
The purpose of this blogsite is to inspire you, to enlighten you, but above all to instil a passion in you to grow food regeneratively and sustainably whether for you and your family in your garden, or for small holders, or growing with your local group or community, whilst at the same time revitalizing and regenerating your soil’s life and vitality.
This blogsite will help you understand the natural processes of plant nutrition and the life of the soil, so that you will know how to encourage these natural processes, by building a vibrant healthy living soil and healthy nutrient rich food. This should be our legacy for future generations.
To quote James Samuel, Technology Consultant, and Project Manager, New Zealand:
“The signs are clear and the jury is in. The industrial, oil-dependent, chemical-based food production experiment has failed to meet its promise and is now clearly unsustainable. The quality of its outputs is declining, it is driving soil loss at an alarming rate and then there’s that issue of dependence on increasingly expensive fossil fuels. While agri-business continues to blow its own trumpet claiming industrial agriculture is the only way to feed the worlds growing population, research is proving otherwise.
The United Nations Conference on Trade And Development (UNCTAD) report recommends that farming in rich and poor nations alike should shift from monoculture towards greater varieties of crops, reduced use of fertilizers and other inputs, greater support for small-scale farmers, and more locally focused production and consumption of food.
The UNCTAD Trade and Environment Report 2013 warns that continuing rural poverty, persistent hunger around the world, growing populations, and mounting environmental concerns must be treated as a collective crisis. It says that urgent and far-reaching action is needed before climate change begins to cause major disruptions to agriculture.”
The present horticultural and agricultural system is based on a completely outdated over simplified chemical approach to plant nutrition, which is extremely dependent on petrochemicals and as a result is extremely vulnerable as peak oil approaches. Those that are aware, recognise that the chemical approach has been self-perpetuating – the more you use, the more you destroy the life in the soil and the higher your requirement for chemical intervention. In contrast, regenerative organic and biological approaches involve using less and less inputs as the soil biology kicks in. What is replacing this outdated thinking is a wonderfully intricate biological understanding of living soils and plant nutrition that leads to a healthy, dynamic balanced soil life, nutrient rich food and healthier animals and human beings.
To quote from the original statement of the UK’s Soil Association:
“Many scientists and agriculturists now realize that their knowledge of the natural processes underlying soil fertility is incomplete. They recognise that these processes are only partly explicable in terms of agricultural chemistry and that the pure inorganic approach to the study of soil science is a line of thought as dead as the mechanical determination of nineteenth-century physics.‘Dead’ is the appropriate word, for the missing link is life itself.”
It is certainly important that we try to grow food as sustainably as possible, but in the current situation where soils around the world are more and more depleted of life giving organic matter, and indeed of life itself, not to mention accumulated poisons, more is needed than mere sustainability. Only when soils are regenerated back to vibrant health can we then use sustainable practices to keep things continuing at this new healthy level.
When you come across the word ‘sustainable’ in this work – this is shorthand for ‘revitalising, regenerating, and then maintaining’ the soil in which the food is grown, which results in ‘nutrient dense food’. The use of the phrase ‘regenerative’ here, does not exclusively mean ‘Regenerative Agricultural Practice’ which is a recent specific form of sustainable farming. My use here is general, because all sustainable methods of growing crops are ‘regenerative’ – in that they regenerate the life of the soil, bringing it back to a vibrant healthy living soil, whether it is Organic, Biodynamic, Biological, Permaculture, Forest Gardening, Bio-intensive, No-Dig, or Regenerative.
And ‘Biodynamic’ as used by the Biodynamic Agricultural Association is also a usesfully descriptive word. Biodynamic is derived from two Greek words, bios life and dynamos energy, in other words to create a vibrant, energetic, living soil and subsequent plant life, that brings health and life forces to those who eat the produce.
I have not concentrated on the damaging effects of conventional agriculture and horticulture, as this is a given, and has been covered by thousands of others over the years, along with increasing scientific evidence of its destructive effects on soils, soil life and ecosystems.
I come from an organic background, farming and gardening for over thirty years in the UK in Shropshire on the Welsh border where in the last few years of farming I used Biodynamic practices and more recently became interested in Albrecht’s and Reams’ ideas and the Biological approach to growing food, as well as the theory and the practice of Permaculture. We now live in New Zealand where over the last 12 years we have continued to garden using Organic, Biological, Biodynamic, and Permaculture gardening practices.
As a result I have not tried to promulgate any one form of sustainable and regenerative food growing, but to consider as many aspects and approaches as possible. In my mind they all have something to offer and usually they are complimentary and what is more important, the result of using many approaches is more than the sum of its parts. There will always be fanatics who insist their particular approach is "the way", whether they are from the Organic school, the Biodynamic school, the Permaculture school, the Biological school, or the Regenerative school etc. However I will be covering all these and more, because I have time for all these approaches, indeed I use most of these approaches regularly. The problem with sticking to one method exclusively is that one misses out on the many good aspects of other approaches.
This work does not include keeping animals for food. This is not because I am vegetarian, although my meat is restricted to the occasional fish, but because keeping and farming animals organically and sustainably has been so well covered by so many people, that I don’t think I can add anything new to the information already out there. On medium to larger properties, keeping animals as part of a permaculture design makes sense, even if it just involves a few backyard chickens or a couple of hives of bees. For over thirty years we kept a whole range of animals on our farm as part of an integrated system of grain crops, vegetables, fruit and animals. My great interest, however, is in revitalising our soils and producing nutrient dense food for both animals and ourselves................However, for those who want to learn more about keeping farm animals, here are some books on keeping animals on a small scale:
1) Keeping Your Own Free-Range Pigs : A Beginner's Guide to Raising Porkers, Baconers & Backfatters by Jen Owens – Hyland House Publishing Pty Ltd – (Australia) - ISBN10: 1864471174 - ISBN13: 9781864471175
2)The Backyard Sheep : an Introductory Guide to Keeping Productive Pet Sheep – by Sue Weaver – Storey Publishing LLC – (USA) - ISBN10: 1603429670 - ISBN13: 9781603429672
3)The Complete Guide to Organic Livestock Farming: Everything You Need to Know about Natural Farming on a Small Scale (Back-To-Basics Farming) - by Terri Paajan – Atlantic Publishing Group, Inc – (USA) - ISBN-13: 978-1601383815 - ISBN-10: 1601383819
4)Self-Sufficiency: Hen Keeping: Raising Chickens at Home – by Mike Hatcher – IMM Lifestyle Books – (UK) - ISBN10: 150480032X - ISBN13: 9781504800327
5)The Contented Chook: Practical Tips and Inspirational Ideas for Keeping Your Hens Happy – By Gardening Australia - ISBN10: 0733330533