Greater Life Force In the Garden: A Soil Fertility Manifesto

Reader Contribution by Erik Thiel
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At Mad Love Organix, we strive to simplify the complex organism we have become.

Dependent on materials outside ourselves, we daydream about how things should be: simple, practical and sustainable.

Daydreams can be enlightening. Before any plants were growing in the front yard, Mad Love Organix sprouted as an idea, just a random daydream. But it wasn’t my idea. And I am not responsible.

That brings me to a point. I, alone, am no one. I do not grow food. I do not water the garden. I do not

photosynthesize. I do not put the life force in the soil. I do not make the seed.

A natural force other than I is responsible for all this. That same natural force uses this body I like to consider my own to garden. When gardening, something makes me feel aware that I am one with this natural force. And this body feels one with the natural earth. Feeling connected to an unknown something so colossal and vibrant, so much more than what the body’s eyes can see, gives me the impression that everything is interconnected and together we are one.

The seeded idea of Mad Love Organix has germinated into reality. And the reality we face is made complex by the large corporations who have industrialized everything, especially organic gardening.

“Feed the soil, not the plant,” is a common quote I heard early on which stuck. Trips to local nurseries, outdoor gardening stores, even hydroponic shops all offered one thing to build life in soil – products.

And products I bought. And bought. And sometimes couldn’t afford. Other than eating healthier, I thought I was supposed to be saving money, too.

Those large corporations got me. Again. Here I am looking for materials outside myself and the home for life-giving forces, when that feeling of oneness keeps letting me know everything can be available on-site. 

Conversations with other gardeners quickly gave way to us saving food scraps. With two people living off 100% plant-based diets, composting has become a process which occurs as naturally as brushing our teeth. With a compost pile checked off our to-do list, more research revealed many different ways of building life in the soil.

One approach, referred to as biodynamic farming, strives to see the farm as a living organism. Consisting of separate organs – the farmers, the animals, the vegetables, the fruit, the land, the soil, the buildings, the water, the air, the community and so on – each organ is a life-giving resource to another organ. Essentially, the organs sustain the whole organism, while never becoming depleted, but instead, more available and life generating.

The only thing inefficient with taking this approach and applying it to our home garden, is that we do not have animals for a source of manure. Or land for the animals. That something continued to tell me that everything can be done with on-site resources on a small, home garden level.

Research then led to the term “permaculture,” which led me to discover food forests. Starting with bare, damaged, or un-used land, people use nitrogen-fixing cover crops to build nutrients in the soil. These cover crops are chopped down as mulch, creating a layer of organic matter.

Fruit trees and a biodiversity of edible plants are then planted, along with cover crops, until the forest functions on its own and cannot be stopped by the human body. That greater force is in full control, providing a forest of food. Chickens and other animals may also be used to build nutrients in the soil.

With this new-found information, I thought why can’t the compost pile along with the use of cover crops be enough to effectively build life in the soil?

It is simply too difficult for me to believe this mysterious universe, both beautiful and ugly yet magical at all times, developed a system where the manure from large animals is a must to build life-generating soil capable of producing life-giving food.

I am not arguing the fact that manure, especially from on-site, is a valuable resource used “to animate the life processes of the soil,” as Nicolaus Romer wrote in a July 1987 Temple-Wilton Farm Newsletter, a biodynamic, community supported farm since 1986 located in New Hampshire.

There’s just that something keeps telling me there are other ways, too.

Ways that allow small, home gardeners to grow organic-based gardens without supporting large corporations quite possibly responsible for some degradation of land, animals, water, and air, those natural elements sometimes referred to as life.

Inside a small, self-sustained home garden that same something continues to give me the idea that the quality of life will grow and expand to uncontainable levels generating life-giving inspiration much larger than the garden itself. Or me. Or you. Or we and the garden combined.

But then again, that is just an idea. And what do I know?

After much more research, I found a source of inspiration. 

A man with 2,400 acres of land used to grow organic-certified grain. And this man does not use animal manure or compost. He has simplified the complex ideas of needing anything outside oneself, of needing costly, unsustainable materials coming from depleting organisms. All Bob Quinn uses are cover crops, also referred to as green manure.

Eureka! Of course it is possible. And this guy has been doing it since he sold his cattle in 1985 to focus on the grain aspect of his business, Montana Flour and Grains (MFG), which he sells for about 50 percent more than conventionally-grown grains, according to the USDA. Quinn also incorporates crop rotation.

This is what I’m talking about: an inexpensive and practical approach to building soil fertility with on-site resources for the small organic-based, home garden. Or a massive 2,400 acres if you’ve got it.

Everything is quite simple. It’s just difficult to look at all the ideas mega-corporations attempt to sell, and research those ideas in order to boil them down to raw simplicity.

For right now, I am moving forward guided by these simple concepts: Cover crops, crop rotation, and composting. And by that colossal, vibrant natural, life-giving force guiding everything. 

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