Sustainability: Soil

Sustainability > Soil

Grow soil, not food.

I read that somewhere, years ago, and it was probably John Jeavons. Jeavons’s gardening system is unique in that he has you using a good bit of your space to grow compost. Or rather, to grow things to be composted.

All in all, it is a very necessary thing to consider. When you eat from your land, you are only eating as healthfully as the soil is healthy. If you are lacking certain minerals in the soil, you will end up lacking them in your body. This is one reason why my family doesn’t strive to be 100% eating from this land. We know there are gaps —I mean, it was an industrial agriculture corn and soy field.

Growing soil: We compost religiously — I have already done a post on that. We don’t walk on the soil — I have mentioned that. We don’t till or plow the soil — I have mentioned this too. We have permanent garden beds — I have mentioned this too. We have grass paths between our garden beds — yep, already talked about this. We plant trees so they can pull up deep minerals. — I want to talk about this. We have animals for their manure — I am going to talk more about this in a minute. We try not to leave the soil bare — but we need to do better with this one.

Trees for the garden: I love trees. Plain and simple, and I would plant them for no other reason than for the simple joy they bring me. These beauties sink their roots deep into the earth and pull minerals up into their leaves . . . And then they drop those leaves, conveniently, within my reach each autumn. And so, I thank them, marvel at their beauty and thoughtfulness, and then gather up about half the leaves. I leave the other half to return minerals to the soil that is supporting the tree. The leaves I gather are added to the compost pile or tucked up around other plants — like the hibiscus, or a new little tree just getting established. Since we also heat our home with wood, the ashes are added to the compost as well. The ashes are another source of minerals for the soil.

Animals for manure: We have, in the past, had animals that we intended to eat (chickens, goats, sheep, and cows), or milk (cows and goats), or collect their eggs (chickens), or harvest their wool (sheep).

  • I have to tell you, I can’t do it. I can’t raise a creature, love that creature, and then kill and eat that creature. So I choose to be mostly vegetarian
  • The second great revelation was with dairy animals. I can’t do that either. First of all, you need a male (or have access to the male). Then you have to decide if you are keeping all the babies, if you don’t you’ll have to sell them or find homes for them. Babies come with tiny little horn buds. Some people have no problem burning them off with a very hot iron. I do have a problem with that. So I let their little horns grow. But most people don’t want an animal with horns. And finally, we learned that our family is highly lactose intolerant. So no more dairy animals.
  • My favorite animals (other than rabbits and chickens) to have on the farm are sheep. I adore them. After learning to card wool, spin wool, and knit — I also learned that I am very allergic to lanolin. Like in, it looks like I took an acid bath. Not good. So we sold my beloved sheep.

After all these experiments and failures, we decided on keeping animals for what they can add to the soil. And what they can add to the soil is POOP!

  • We have a hutch of very spoiled rabbits whose sole duty in life is to poop. Michael collects this poop and adds it to the compost pile. I couldn’t honestly even tell you for sure if our rabbits are boys or girls. That’s because their sole duty is to poop not repopulate the planet. Our rabbits all have names from Watership Down.
  • We also have a handful of laying hens. These hens have two duties on the farm. The first is to eat our scraps, our lawn clippings, and our garden weeds, and scratch through it repeatedly while pooping to speed along the compost process. Their second duty is to give us a few eggs a day. Really, this is just a bonus. Our chicks are named after Ogham trees, although really their names are “the ladies.”

No Bare Soil: This is an area where we have lots of room for improvement. What we will strive to do better with next year is succession planting — which means I need to start seeds in containers that can be put into beds when another crop comes out.

I also need to spend time this winter learning more about mulching techniques for the garden beds. This autumn we started mulching the bed with grass clippings from the chicken yard. The clippings have been scratched at for several weeks, so no seeds, and has a little bit of manure in it. So far I’ve covered about half the beds and they seem to be staying pretty weed free. We’ll see how that turns out.

It is really hard to get clean straw around here so I need to do some reading. I have _Practical Permaculture_, _The Resilient Farm_, _How to Grow More Vegetables . . . _, and _No Dig Organic Home & Garden _ queued up and waiting for cooler weather.

2 thoughts on “Sustainability: Soil

  1. Great article! I love what you say about ‘growing the soil’, as in feeding and nurturing the soil, because indeed it all begins there. Totally agree with you about trees– I am a proud Treehugger, and preferring animals as food for the soil and not food for us.


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