Sunday, May 25, 2014

Film: Symphony of the Soil and Soil Microbiology

I had a great afternoon last Sunday watching the Maine premiere of Symphony of the Soil. A film by Deborah Koons Garcia (Jerry Garcia's widow) that talks about the importance of soil health and cultivating it's microbiology for strong, pest free plants as well as our own health (and, of course, the planet's health.) It reconfirms why we need to "grow" soil through organic methods.

Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch from Kitchen Gardeners International
Afterwards there was a panel discussion with the fimmaker, Deborah Koons Garcia, Leslie Oster, General Manager of Aurora Provisions in Portland, Maine (caterer and food expert extraordinaire) and two of my organic gardening heroes, Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch from Four Seasons Farm. Each person lent their perspective and experience to the conversation. All were ardent about healthy soil for the sake of the planet's top soil, for growing healthy plants that are independent of chemicals, and for taste and quality.
I learned so much from this film, and had plenty of questions to ask afterwards. With top people in the field of soil biology and leaders in the new agricultural movement, the film was well made and entertaining. I was able to ask Eliot a few questions when it was over. He set me straight on a couple of things and gave some tips.

This is what I learned and was reminded of (in the simplest terms):
  • All the micro-biotic life in the soil lives on Carbon (all decomposing matter.)
  •  Plants thrive on Nitrogen which is given off by the micro-biotic life/bacteria that eats your Carbon. (So when you add Carbon in the soil, the micro organisms eat the Carbon and give off Nitrogen and Potassium that the plants need to grow. )
  • Healthy plants usually do not need any chemicals to suppress pests, or fertilizers to help them grow. If you build up the organic matter in the soil it relieves the dependance for fertilizers.
  • You can rehabilitate dead soil in three years by adding rigorous amounts of compost and  organic material. (By dead I mean if you have been using a lot of inorganic fertilizers, or soil from a bag that isn't organic and now has no nutrients left. Good soil has the consistency of crumbly chocolate cake!)
  • You don't need to till the soil. Plant right into the root structure of last years plants. (This is a revelation to me, and I am trying it this year...apparently plants like to connect with the root structure of past plants in the soil. Counter intuitive for those of us who like to dig!)
  • Use cover crops to add to soil organic matter. ( This is where I got good advice from Eliot Coleman..after asking the best cover crops for the home gardener in Maine, he said that oats and cowpeas are the best. Planted in the fall, these do not need to be tilled in as they die back at 20 degrees. Just plant right into the soil with no turning in the spring. )
So here is my To-Do list for soil improvement around the house:
1. Make more compost! To do this I will organize my garden clippings a bit..separating soft and tough cuttings from the garden. Soft green material that I cut back, will go in a pile together, and tough things will either go in the burn pile or by themselves. This way I will have a fast decomposing pile that I can use twice a season. The tough cuttings can take their time.
2. Turn over the soil less. Though initially I turn a new bed over to 18inches to get the good top soil down to where roots will be growing, an established bed only needs compost added every year to the top. This also doesn't let new weed seeds to emerge when you turn over the soil.
3. I will add compost even if it is not completely decomposed. Some half composted leaf shreds and old twigs will bring the good micro bacteria right to where I want the organisms to thrive. I remember in Connecticut I lived near the composting guru, Ruth Stout, who advocated just throwing your kitchen waste right into the beds. I actually did that last fall...just buried the kitchen scraps right in the garlic bed..and it seems to be doing great!

No comments:

Post a Comment