Bare Bones Biology 234 – Soil

Up to now we have wandered around the subject of organic gardening, because you can find a great many books written by people who are far better gardeners than I am, and if you were to ask a question we could answer it. That leaves room for me to chit-chat a bit as we both think about growing healthy and meditate about gardening as communication with and homage to the ancient beauty of the reality of our Life (Bio) system.

But now we need to think about next year because this is a good time get our seeds. Seeds are important. We do not want genetically modified seeds (GMO seeds), for a number of reasons. GMO is in my career field, and I’ll discuss it later. In the meantime, if we buy plants or seeds, we should ask. Unless they are guaranteed non-GMO, find them somewhere else.

We live in a mountain/desert environment, so it might be best to get seeds that are known to do well locally – maybe seeds that are saved every year for the next season, or maybe from a catalog that sells “heirloom seeds.” ( Heirloom seeds and plants have been saved from the generations before “agribusiness” took over food production in the corposystem. They are adapted to the many different environments of our earth. Plants that have grown here before are more likely to do well here again.

141123-Bryan-ASC_2673RLSs copyNow for the soil. (For an example of a specialized publication, somewhat technical, that relates to our is an interesting book by Dr. Kelly J. Ponte, Retaining Soil Moisture in the American Southwest.) In addition, Old-style farmers and native American traditions, and of course your local organic-gardening neighbors, offer many tips on organic soil improvement. Our three gardens have died back and are covered with snow, but before that happened, we started working “organic materials” into the soil. In one garden, the one where we bought “organic” soil, we simply returned to the garden the beans, corn and squash that we grew this year, the whole plants, roots, stems and all, except for what we ate.

Then we dug up a new garden area and planted a bunch of pinto beans and let those die back on top of the soil. That’s known as a cover crop. It’s often best to use some kind of legume for a cover crop, and that’s another thing we’ll discuss later. As soon as possible in the spring we’ll plow all those bean plants back into the garden soil along with whatever compost is available.

We are building compost piles where we throw organic material to make “compost.” That means we pile it up, often in some kind of container that is well ventilated, to provide a good environment for organisms that live by decomposing the “garbage.” The compost can later be put on the garden and dug into the soil.

Or we could just throw the garbage on the garden, but piling it up helps to grow the micro-organisms that do the work of composting and make up as much as a third of healthy soil. It also cuts down on varmints such as mice, rats and bears. Micro-organisms generate soil by feeding on the “garbage,” breaking down indigestible parts, and releasing nutrients. The organic material also helps to retain moisture in the garden. This is how soil is created by nature, and we want to encourage it to happen faster in our garden, which now is mostly sand and clay. So over time we hope that billions of micro-organisms will find a happy home in the ecosystems of our compost and our garden soils.

141123-Bryan-ASC_2690RLSs copyWe can put any organic material on the garden that is good for our own bodies, from organic brown coffee filters and coffee grounds to the piece of elk skin that Bitsy brought back from the woods, but we do not add the man-made chemicals I have mentioned (,…2-healthy-body/) that are not healthy for us or for the Biosphere. We do not use wastes from dogs or other animals that are being treated for fleas or worms, because the flea killers are either pesticides or hormones and the wormers can kill worms in the garden. I did actually see a worm in my garden last season. Also, we do not want to be eating flea hormones or worm poisons (or their byproducts) with our Thanksgiving dinner, and we do not want to use toxic corn in any of our rituals.

Similarly, we do not add wastes from humans who have been taking medications like antibiotics or hormones — because antibiotics kill micro-organisms, and we don’t want to feed hormones to anyone, especially children. No plastics, and no potatoes, corn, wheat or soy beans (aka meat) from McDonalds or similar organizations, unless they are labeled non-GMO. No problem; next year you can grow your own compost ingredients.

Basically we want to nurture our plants only with healthy air, water, soil, and additives, because as a generalization, what goes around, comes around; what the plants eat, we eat (…2-healthy-body/). The good news is, if we do a good job, our garden will be more productive every year than it was the year before.

Or so they tell me. Let’s see what happens in our three gardens this coming year.

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Kelley J. Ponte, PhD. 2004. Retaining Soil Moisture in the American Southwest. Sunstone Press. Santa Fe At the end of this book is a list of 35 suggestions that were discussed, including: Add organic matter; create a compost pile; cover water bodies; use efficient irrigation methods; collect and save rainwater; mulch thickly; keep land covered with vegetation or eosion control barriers; pull out all weeds.