I Think Elton John Said it Well.
I think Elton John said it well when he sang, “It’s the Circle of life, and it moves us all.” The idea that natural processes are cyclical is very important (relatively speaking, this “circle of life” has been ignored for a historically short time period i.e. the oil age). In our current peak-oil-blowoff party, I get annoyed when I see someone throwing away a banana peel. Don’t they know that every nutrient they send away, could have been reintegrated into their environments naturally? We shouldn’t need nutrients from fossil-fuel fertilizers. Elton John said it well, but Sir Albert Howard, said it better:
All the phases of the life cycle are closely connected; all are integral to nature’s activity; all are equally important; none can be omitted. We have therefore to study soil fertility in relation to a natural working systems and to adopt methods of investigation in strict relation to such a subject.
We live in an urban environment and we are growing vegetables and plants. With each tomato we harvest, we are removing nutrients that were once in the soil. This creates a net loss of nutrients, and makes it necessary for us to facilitate the return of these nutrients. We have to — maintain the cycle.
So how can this be done?
Just to get an idea what I am talking about, I’ll list some nutrients that should be in our soil and in turn, grow and nurture our plants. The first three that I will list are macro-nutrients and are used in the largest proportions during plant and fruit growth. Since the introduction of synthetic fertilizers, especially in the wake of the Second World War, macro-nutrients have been especially emphasized leaving, in the dust, the equally important micro-nutrients.
- Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium
- Calcium, Sulfur, Magnesium
- Boron, Manganese, Zinc, Copper, Iodine, Cobalt, Tin, and Nickel
This means that we will have to find some other way to introduce nutrients back into the soil. One option, which we have talked about before is composting (decay). The easiest way, but not the most reliable, is the use of some sort of water-soluble fertilizer. These will add nutrients, but will do nothing to rebuild the soil, and will may cause some sort of excess nutrient run-off. I recommend composting , as it rebuilds the soil, improves soil-water holding capacity, and acts as a nutrient storage center. Today I’m going to talk, albeit briefly, about the “magic” world of nature, and one way it has solved the problem of nutrient replenishment. This is just another part of that all important natural working system.
When you have a garden or a farm, it is important not to grow the same crop in the same place year after year. This will cause a nutrient deficiency, flourishment of pests, and can lead to reduced harvests. This brings me to the point of this post: The first law of being a human — Propagate plants with natural abilities that are to your advantage. At Bridge City we are talking about … peas.
Nitrogen-fixating plants take-in inert atmospheric nitrogen and convert it into a bioavailable form that can be used by plants. In the Bridge City garden we are using leguminous plants to fix atmospheric nitrogen (i.e peas, beans, clovers) which are then added to our compost bins. Many vegetables deplete the soil of available nitrogen (especially collards, tomatoes, corn, etc.), so by growing and composting legumes we essentially have an edible self-replicating nitrogen biomass accumulator on hand! At the same time the whole process is solar powered.
There are some other things to keep in mind as well. First, N-fixing plants need certain types of bacteria in the soil to allow nitrogen fixation to occur, or to meet its full potential. In some cases, the levels of naturally occurring N-fixing bacteria may be low, thereby limiting the potential growth and N-fixation of leguminous plants. You can buy these in a powdery form known as a soil inoculant at your friendly neighborhood K-Mart, where they will be known simply as “Pea and Bean Enhancer.” (THE SAME THING) After adding an inoculant to the soil, you should never have to do it again. The bacteria duplicates exponentially, and should be there waiting for the next pea planting.
Second, the nitrogen collected by the plants will congregate along the roots inside little nodules. You can actually pull the plant out and see these little tumor-like growths protruding from the roots. This is one visually stunning example of nature nurturing, and sustaining itself. These roots can be composted or you can leave them in the soil to decompose, adding nitrogen directly to the soil.
It’s not easy to do everything in a way that is constantly giving back to the soil, and in turn to you. It was Sir Albert Howard who said, “The whole problem of health, in soil, plant, animal and man is one great subject.” If you keep that in mind, you can really make a meaningful difference personally, but also, for something more vast. Just remember that, “Eating is an agricultural act.” Your decision to grow your own food, to eat from locally supplied sources can really make a difference in the way that food is produced, the way the land is cared for, and, in turn, what we will be leaving for future generations.
We are Bridge City Guerrilla Gardens. Let’s bridge the gap between us, our food, and our communities.