After discovering your ecosystem, it's time to travel to the center of your earth. Sun and water, that's what plants need! That's what we usually hear. And it's quite true. But we often neglect, in every sense of the word, the fundamental element that shelters, generates, destroys and digests life. The soil.
7 billion living beings
More than just clay, silt, sand and humus, soil is one of the richest ecosystems on the planet. And I'm not just talking about the earthworms you sometimes see. A handful of relatively good soil contains over 7 billion living things. Mostly bacteria, but also fungi, algae, nematodes, springtails, woodlice and other mites. All of them play a decisive role in the life of the soil and enrich it. All the plant life in your garden is at stake in the first thirty centimetres under your feet. Earthworms eat plant waste and their galleries aerate the soil. Springtails break down the soft parts of leaves, sowbugs attack more solid waste. Bacteria, in short, are the leaven that will make your plants rise like good bread.
Not just Shiitake
To clarify, when I talk about mushrooms, I'm not referring to button mushrooms or Shiitake mushrooms. I'm thinking of the long white filaments that grow in the soil and are called mycelium. One would imagine them to be plants, but fungi are a species closer to the animal kingdom. They are, along with bacteria, the main decomposers of dead matter from which they derive their food. This decomposition benefits other organisms that actively participate in the life of the soil and the development of plants. These long white filaments, invisible to our eyes, stretch in networks, connecting roots and transporting nutrients. In exchange, they receive sugars from photosynthesis. These fungi represent a complex form of civilization, based on the exchange of food, water and information. They are, in a way, the internet of the soil, sharing knowledge and know-how between the roots of similar or different plants.
This is how, in simplified terms, a healthy soil works. Interconnected. Interdependent. In constant dialogue and exchange. And that's how we can ensure diverse, highly productive, high-quality crops. The problem is that most soils are either dead or in poor condition. There are many reasons for this. The purpose of this article is to not only avoid weakening your soil but also to make it more fertile. So what are his mistakes?
A culture without cultures
At the end of the Second World War, in the USA and Europe in particular, agricultural practices changed radically. Between the need to feed a population devastated and destitute by years of deprivation and the need to anchor an economic system based on growth, politics and industry joined forces to radically transform agricultural practice. Through intensive monoculture, regional and national crop specialisation and the separation of livestock and crops, agricultural landscapes have lost their diversity and soils their richness.
The chemical and transport industries, active in wartime for the armies, recycled in peacetime the surpluses from the war.In traditional organic farming, the dialogue between cereals, vegetables and animals ensured a balance. In traditional organic farming, the dialogue between cereals, vegetables and animals ensured a balance. The interactions between the different living species, from bacteria to manure, allowed for a lively management of the soil and pests.
Towards sustainable production
Intensive production has made it possible to generate surpluses that can boost an export economy. The specialization of crops has forced countries to develop an import economy. You can see this every day in your supermarkets. No country is self-sufficient anymore, even though we have never produced so much food. Overloaded with pesticides and insecticides, impoverished by the practice of monoculture and ploughing, the soil is dying en masse. The first response of industrialists was to develop chemical fertilizers. This method, which is coming to an end, is increasingly being replaced by the production of GMOs. It is obviously the same companies that produce and sell pesticides, insecticides, fertilizers and GMOs. And obviously, for them, the economic model is perfectly profitable.
This article is of course not a platform against these practices. It is a simple, analytical observation of a system.
But, in addition to being questionable from a health point of view, ecologically damaging, it is also financially extremely expensive. We will see, in the course of these articles, ways of making, on the scale of the garden, not requiring the purchase of any pesticide, no insecticide, no fertilizer and almost no machine nor seed. And this for an equivalent or even superior result in terms of volume. And without comparison in terms of quality.
Love your soil
It is important to love your soil, your land. And to know it. Before talking about compost, green manure, mulching, I suggest an easy and fun test that should please your children. The jar test. To find out if your soil is clay, silt or limestone (which will determine what you will plant in it), simply do the following:
Take a jar and fill it halfway with soil. Add three-quarters water and a teaspoon of dishwashing liquid. Shake and let it sit. The sand will settle to the bottom, then the silt. Then the clay and any organic debris floating around. Depending on the proportions, you will have a good idea of the quality of your soil. In the link, you have a particularly enlightening article from the FAO.
The varieties of our trips
Between your desires and the possibilities, there is sometimes a world of difference. It's good to know if you can sprout tomatoes or potatoes, lettuce or cabbage instead. Because this is the time of sowing. Not in the ground yet, though, but in the nursery. That is to say, warm, indoors, in trays. You can easily find seedling soil and trays that you can replace with egg cartons. You can of course buy your seeds in garden centres or at the Migros.
But I recommend you to go and visit Kokopelli's website, whose link I put below. They are not the only ones, but I buy my seedlings from them, as their story appeals to me, pleases me and touches me. Place your trays in a sunny place, a windowsill facing south. Each bag of seeds contains all the necessary instructions. For the rest, all you need is good soil, sun and water. And patience for the wonder of the shoots of life that will come to spring forth. I thus leave you with your jars-test, with the beautiful ballade which will lead you to choose the seeds, the species and the varieties which will sublimate your garden of cocagne.