Growing Tilth, a Sustainable Nutrient Base for a Garden of Abundance
We do a lot of talks and workshops on Soil Building as it is perhaps THE MOST important aspect to a healthy, productive, and sustainable garden.
The soil is an organism or entity that is very much like a human or an animal or a plant; and like every organism, the soil is also a colony or an ecosystem of other organisms. Like a human body, the soil has a complexity that should be approached holistically when addressing health and well-being.
We do lectures and demos for garden groups and clubs, two-hour workshops on various topics within soil building, a 3 hour long Overview on Artful Soil Building workshop, and an intensive Full Day Art of Soil Building Course. More on each workshop and course can be found below... scroll down...
Plants enjoy tea too! Just as with human skin, plants can absorb many nutrients through the pores on their leaves. Plant teas are applied by spraying the plants foliar areas with nutrient dense brewed liquid fertilizer - or tea.
We'll go over the basics of brewing plants teas made from aged manures, compost, and various herbs. And we'll also discuss the Biodynamic 500 prep. Making your own teas is simple and easy. The cost is minimal. And the whole process is so much more clean, graceful, and effective than buying expensive commercial fertilizers.
We usually offer this workshop every other year for one of the first Saturdays in June. (If it is very rainy, we will reschedule for the next day.) Workshop is 3 hours long.
Instead of only focusing on the health and vibrancy of our plants in our garden we should instead focus on the soil itself. If you don't have healthy, vibrant soil, you'll be forever struggling to keep your plants healthy and vibrant and productive.
By supporting your soil and its systems, you will attain a state of productive sustainability.
Gardeners use up a lot of natural resources and simply adding NPK fertilizer isn't going to make up for it. One of the most important things you can do to make your garden productive and sustainable is to put attention and effort into soil building - the building of your tilth. Tilth building takes work and effort and some investment now, but will really pay off in the future. You'll have a garden producing in sync with nature, and your plants will produce food that is more nutrient dense.
We will go over composting, animal manures, green manures, cover cropping, soil layers and structures, mulching, subsoiling, tilling, and using mushrooms. We will also talk about herbal amendments, foliar sprays, kelp, garden teas, compost tea, manure tea and other ways to increase or adjust soil nutrients. You'll leave the workshop with an understanding of these various techniques as well as some hands-on experience on applying these techniques to your garden or farm.
The more diversity the better. You can add mycorrhizal fungi to your compost pile or to your mulching around your garden plants.
Naturalized colonies of fungi attract other fungi that are present in your locale and encourage growth and diversity.
Mushrooms unlock nutrients from straw, sawdust, and organic debris, feeding and interacting with the roots of underlying plants while improving the soil activity, and they process elements like manure and promote healthy decay.
There are two main types of mushroom species - Decomposers and Symbionts.
Decomposers break down materials such as manure or wood. Symbionts attach themselves to plant roots and become a part of the larger organism that is the plant. Symbionts basically help the plant better digest nutrients.
Decomposing species pave the way for more symbiont species to naturally occur and proliferate.
Getting Symbiont mushroom species established through commercial products can be challenging and expensive, and I believe that they are naturally available and present in the environment.
Having a diverse understory of beneficial fungi will hopefully establish a natural balance needed for not only establishing natural colonies of Symbionts but also in discouraging the fungus not beneficial to the garden. (Similar in concept to encouraging beneficial insects to re-balance populations and thus decrease amount of bad-insect stress.)
Soil needs biomass or organic matter!
It is the biomass that acts like a web holding nutrients and water in the soil structure and contributing to the natural processes that creates more nutrients.
A solid rule of thumb would be to plan on 60% of your growing space to be growing for the soil and 40% for your eating. This seems extreme, but is a great ratio to try for if you are just starting a new garden, have poor soil, or if you want to grow very intensively (closer spacing of plants, growing and harvesting multiple crops from one bed, etc.).
Some of my favorite biomass plants (cover crops, green manures) are:
A NOTE ABOUT PURCHASING SOIL AMENDMENTS:
Amendments are quick fixes; they should not be depended on for long-term use. Instead, use the amendment to do some initial balancing and then work on creating a soil that is sustainable within itself. Use only OMRI approved commercial amendments. Many soil and garden amendments being sold commercially say they are approved for organic gardening but are not organic at all!
Composting is a great way to build biomass as well as diversity within the soil’s biomass.
A compost pile is another organism and colony ... each pile has to have enough volume of material for effective decomposition - plan on each pile starting out at 3 cubic feet at a minimum.
You need four basic things to make good compost: moist green material, dry brown material, air, and water.
Herbs in your Compost Pile
Just as herbs are useful for our own bodies’ health and well being and for addressing diseases and problems, they also work similarly in the health and well being of your soil.
Why would do bother feeding your micro-herd?
The members of the Micro-herd make nutrients more bioavailable to plants. The more diversity of microorganisms, the more nutrients you'll have at the ready for your plants. Why liquify or decoct these things? The decay that occurs when these things are soaking in water releases humic acid and humates that combine or pair up plant nutrients and release them into roots.
Teas extract water-soluble nutrients. And if brewed for three days and stirred or boxed, will also greatly increase friendly microbial flora. You can test for pH - use baking soda to get it more alkaline or add vinegar to increase acidity.
Aged Manure Tea
Age manure at least 6 months, and put a big handful in a 5 gallon bucket. Stir with a stick to get lots of air into it. Sit and brew at least 3-4 hours and then use.
Add about 4 cups of alfalfa pellets to 5 gallon bucket of water. You can add an optional spoonful of molasses to speed up microbial growth ... I pour this bucket into a second empty bucket and go back and forth a couple times like that, this process is called boxing. Let it sit and stew about 3 days, boxing it at least once a day. This Alfalfa tea is super charged and really wakes up a soil - it attracts earthworms and other insects and micro-organisms as well.
Stinging Nettle, Comfrey, Kelp, and other herbs and weeds make great teas as well.
Here's an outline of what we'll be covering in the Art of Soil Building Full Day Course:
This intensive course is usually scheduled every other year for the one of the first Saturdays in June. (If it is very rainy, we will reschedule for the next day.)
We practice a combination of classic organic gardening techniques mixed with what is called French Intensive or Biointensive (John Jeavons) style gardening and a heavy sprinkling of Biodynamic techniques as well.
Creating Tilth - Our focus in this workshop is on soil building, not on fertilizing plants. When I talk about soil building, I am specifically focused on the good of the soil itself not on its outcome production-wise for the plants. Of course, the plants planted in this well-built soil will thrive and be healthier, more disease resistant, more productive etc. but the mindset is different - we're not forcing plants to produce in adverse conditions. We're building the perfect conditions and letting the plants thrive.
This is a similar organic concept to dealing with an insect issue - some people see a bad bug and spray a pesticide. An organic person may avoid the pesticide and squish the bug, but a person gardening in an intentional and sustainable way would realize that those solutions are just quick fixes, and that putting in insectary plantings of plants that attract beneficial insects to create and encourage a sustainable system is a much better long-term way to deal with the problem. Same with soil issues - it is not about simply testing a few main elements, and if one is low, buy a commercial version and pour it over the soil. It is about working to create a self-sustaining, self-revitalizing, healthy, nutrient-loaded soil that has what it needs to balance itself long-term.
Our Art of Soil Building Workshop is an all-day intensive workshop and is very hands on. It is one thing to read about building tilth and another to dig in and see it and experience it.
10 am to 3 pm, with a couple short breaks and a break for lunch.
Cost is $145.00 for the day. (Two people from the same household/farm can take $20 off the second person's tuition.)
To register, please visit our Current Schedule Page. Registration must be received 4 days prior to the class.