I don’t know if any of you have noticed, early in the morning, the sunlight on the waters. How extraordinarily soft is the light, and how the dark waters dance, with the morning stars over the trees, the only star in the sky. Do you ever notice any of that? Or are you so busy, so occupied with the daily routine, that you forget or have never known the rich beauty of this earth—this earth on which all of us have to live? Whether we call ourselves communists or capitalists, Hindus or Buddhists, Muslims or Christians, whether we are blind, lame, or well and happy, this earth is ours. It is our earth, not somebody else’s; it is not only the rich man’s earth, it does not belong exclusively to the powerful rulers, to the nobles of the land, but it is our earth, yours and mine. We are nobodies, yet we also live on this earth and we all have to live together. It is the world of the poor as well as of the rich, of the unlettered as well as of the learned; it is our world, and I think it is very important to feel this and to love the earth, not just occasionally on a peaceful morning, but all the time. ——— Jiddu Krishnamurti
When you build a mineral rich, humus rich soil from the beginning, and follow the cycle naturally evolved on this planet, your soil will always be fertile. Add to that the fact that plants will alter the chemistry AND life of the soil to cater to their own needs, it becomes a better and more efficient body of soil the longer you grow the same main crop in that soil. Make sense?
It doesn’t work in modern, ahem, ‘conventional’, agriculture because nothing is being returned to the soil - we are raping our lands of fertility and giving nothing back. This is why we are in the dire situation we are, as a species, it’s called fucking yourself and we know how to fix it so let’s do us all a favor and our children a favor and set the example in our own homes, in our yards our gardens and our communities. Let’s unfuck the species one body of pillaged soil at a time, one opened mind at a time, OK?
So the point being, as long as you are returning to the soil what grows in it the fertility remains the same and increases over time. Yes even with taking the flowers out of the equation the massive amount of leaves and stems and roots returned to the soil along with cover crops and companion plants keeps the nutrient/life cycle thriving - Mother Earth allows for the fact we need to consume her products and in the larger picture an equilibrium of life and death, birth and decay is always met. It’s too simple, that’s the problem, in a society that is too far removed from nature it is not even a thought in most peoples minds.
We are taught that solutions are only obtained through science and technology and by the same means we are herded like cattle. Across the country and increasingly across the world, people are forced to eat the same foods, shop at the same stores, listen to the same music, watch the same TV. Decay of the imagination starts early with children zoned out to YouTube and an overwhelming amount of instant gratification. Do you see the connection? Nature is no longer something we as societies are a part of - humans have taken themselves out of nature and nature is now something to visit, to watch on TV, to photograph and share on various social media platforms. This is an extremely dangerous position we have put ourselves in. Being disconnected from that which we came, being disconnected from that which nourishes us.
People no longer understand nature and this is the root of our problem and this problem will not be solved by the same people in power that put us here. It can only begin to be solved by you and I, in our homes, with our families, network of friends and within our local communities. It is not about making drastic large scale changes, it is about the changes you can make in your daily life and how that is then observable to all you come in contact with.....
.....Be the change you want to see in the world....is that so hard?
So to wrap up the initial thought here. It is a circular cycle, stay within that cycle and all is returned back to the soil to nourish future life. Water degrades rocks (rock dust in the potting soil mixes we make) and microbes consume these degraded rocks and exude plant available minerals which of course plants can then uptake and incorporate into their own flesh and at the end of their cycle these minerals return to the soil as their flesh degrades. The longer this cycle occurs the more organic matter the soil contains and the more organic matter the soil has the more life it harbors, the more water it holds and the more life (plants) it is capable of growing.
I hope this makes sense and I hope this can spark the motivation needed for just one person out there to, perhaps, start a little garden with their family, start composting their house and yard waste, spark a conversation with a neighbor and so on....
“To the extent that people separate themselves from nature, they spin out further and further from the center. At the same time, a centripetal effect asserts itself and the desire to return to nature arises.” - Masanobu Fukuoka
“Microbes produce extracellular enzymes that target all essential macronutrients, including C, N, P, and S (enzymes from plant roots target only P and possibly N) (Burns 1978; Allison et al. 2007a). The availability of these nutrients fluctuates in space and time, and nutrient supply does not necessarily match microbial or plant nutrient requirements. The main function of most extracellular enzymes is therefore to bring nutrient supply (from chemically complex resources) more closely in line with nutrient demand." 'Soil Enzymology' - Girish Shulka & Ajit Varma
Enzymes are truly the precursor to all life and indeed there is a body of evidence that suggests enzymes predate DNA/RNA, that enzymes played a key role in the formation of DNA/RNA. All enzymes start inside of cells, whether single celled organisms or the cells of plants and animals. Some enzymes remain inside cells to perform necessary functions (intracellular enzymes) and others are created and secreted for a number of specific reasons all relating back to requirements of the host organism (extracellular enzymes). In the soil we are mostly concerned with extracellular enzymes and it is these enzymes that are responsible for the beginning of the degradation process that turns your mulch, dead plant material, topdressed amendments etc into humic substances (HS) including humic and fulvic acid, and ultimately plant available nutrients.
Enzymes are created within the cell by stringing together chains of amino acids, creating proteins (enzymes are proteins). Within a single bacteria (or fungi) there are upwards of 1000 different enzymes being produced/stored and up to several thousand copies of each type of enzyme - equating to millions of enzymes in each microbe!
Think about the trillions and trillions of microbes (bacteria & fungi) in your soil and all the enzymes they create at their and the plants disposal. Try to fathom the endless processes constantly taking place in your soil and interacting with your crops. Turning over organic matter, creating humic and fulvic acid, breaking down nutrients to plant available form (mineral salts) etc etc....This is the process of Life, this is the building blocks to greater life forms on Earth. This is a process we actually need no knowledge of to succeed, through holistic observation one can easily see the larger scale process at work. This is no-till gardening at the core, working with and letting nature take its course, and aiding the process in order for both soil and plant to thrive, today and for generations to come.
The key to this whole process and maintaining it at a very hands off level, is your mulch layer. Plain and simple. With a quality soil to start with and a mulch layer to continually feed the process, you are providing everything the plant and soil needs to thrive. Above and beyond this process we can then take 'advanced' natural methodology (supplements) to push our crops to unnatural/supernatural levels towards what I call 'peak health'.
Through supplementation we can harness the evolutionary process of nature and implement it in ways that would otherwise never occur in an untouched natural ecosystem. Does this make sense to you? I think now more than ever, it will take a (super)natural approach to reverse the damage we have done to our planet, to most quickly bring back the health of our soils, globally, and through this process we can explore what more nature has to offer by utilizing the knowledge we as humans are able to obtain and thus implement, with the mental and physical capacities evolution has blessed us with.
Here's an example....When inorganic (plant available) Nitrogen is high, this triggers plants to create more phosphatase enzymes that are exuded into the soil, via roots, thus allowing the breakdown of organic P into non organic P (Plant available). Phosphatase being, by far, the most prevalent, if not the only, enzyme plants release. So in other words, in order to balance the higher N uptake, the plant releases compounds (phosphatase enzymes) to seek out more P for the plant to 'balance' out the higher Nitrogen content and this directly leads to an increase in biomass aka crop yield, which also produces more organic (plant) matter to mulch the soil with and increase the humus content of the soil and the Carbon sequestering potential of the soil!
This is where your supplement comes into play and in this system, aka natural farming aka no-till gardening, with these natural processes in place I believe the best supplementation will be via foliar application. Leave the soil in the expert hands of the plant to conduct the symphony of life....The plant can assimilate nutrients/minerals, hormones etc via stomata, taking your crop to the next level, while leaving the soil to its own superior devices, providing water only, and mulch of course.
So in theory, with an increase in N via foliar application, this will induce the plant to scavenge the soil for more P (continually provided via decomposing mulch) and in turn increase your yield. This is one small example of the possibilities here!
We here at Mountain Organics foliar spray with our nutrient/mineral, terpene, hormone rich botanical tinctures alternating Tonic (featuring live sprout extracts and nutrient accumulating herbs), Lemon Mint, LRO & Ritha. While feeding/supplementing your crops (and in turn via root exudates, the soil) these are also acting as a very effective IPM (Integrated Pest Management) tool leaving you with vibrant, healthy, nutrient rich and pest free plant food and medicine!
More on foliar applications later and what I am very very excited about, the hormone content of sprouts and how this relates to plant health and yield via foliar application!
Thanks for reading!
A 'No-till' garden/farm WITH a consistent mulch layer (whether in the field, in containers or indoors) is the best and most logical way to grow the most nutrient dense food and medicine. A constant source of decomposing mulch degrading into humus increases enzymatic activity which then increases microbial activity. These three items combined (decomposing mulch - enzymes - microbial activity) will ensure a high level of humic/fulvic activity, consistent plant nutrient availability and disease suppressing attributes. Maintaining the mulch layer will keep your soil in a state of 'maximum performance' thus allowing your crops to perform at 'peak health.'
Enzymes play a crucial role in soil function and are the precursor to microbial and in turn biochemical activities of the soil ecosystem. There is a significant correlation between enzyme activity and the organic matter content of your soil. This all relates back to simply maintaining a consistent mulch layer! Free enzymes entering into the soil can 'combine' with humic acid (humic colloids) within your soil thus adding stability, or longevity, to the free or extracellular enzymes. Soil enzymes play a crucial role in C, N, P, and S cycles.
- Enzymes have a role in decomposing organic inputs
- Transforming organic matter
- Making unavailable nutrients available to plants
- Plays a role in Nitrogen fixation
- Detoxifying unnatural compounds in the soil such as pesticides and heavy metals.
Mulching gives you the power to create & disperse your compost and in turn your vermicompost directly in your soil and while your crops grow in it! (There is no need to bring in an outside source of humus!) This also allows the appropriate microbial community to develop that is BEST SUITED to live and to function in your soil. By adding mulch and the subsequent humus it creates you are constantly enhancing enzymatic activity (urease, phosphatase, protease, chitinase, deaminase, dehydrogenase, glucosidase, arylsulfatase, amylase...) and microbial biomass.
Whereas with direct mineral fertilization you are DECREASING enzymatic activity and DECREASING aka KILLING microbial communities and thus INCREASING disease and pest susceptibility!
I hope this is starting to connect the dots for some of you? This is the system that naturally evolved on this planet over millions of years, this is how plants grow and thrive, this is how life is sustained! We should in every way encourage this process and mimic/recreate this process when we are growing in containers or indoors.
A no-till system that includes mulching keeps your soil at peak performance. There is a constant renewed source of organic matter/humus (including humic and fulvic acid), enzymatic activity, microbial activity and thus plant nutrient availability. Nothing can replace the benefit one will receive when all of this is allowed to occur directly in your soil and to remain untouched aka with no-till!
The best mulch is the leftover biomass from each crop, leaves, stems etc. If just getting started or extra mulch material is needed the best option is simply straw. If you are mulching indoors and want to avoid dust created by straw you can previously soak your straw outside in water. For a nutrient added option add kelp meal, neem meal or similar amendment to the water while soaking! One can also take it a step further and utilize nutrient accumulating plant material if they have it at their disposal and is plentiful. Comfrey, borage, nettle, yarrow, dandelion, lambsquarter, clovers, horestail are all examples of nutrient rich plant material to mulch with! Small home gardeners that juice regularly might find it beneficial to use the leftover pulp to add/replenish your mulch layer.
The key to No-Till Gardening is 'Soil Building' - and while soil mixes and quality can be drastically different from garden to garden the long term approach is the same. The lower quality/amount of humus one starts with in their soil will determine how much time and attention they'll need to give to this process in the coming months/years. So with that said, please do your research and look at all your available options when it comes to acquiring the compost/humus portion of your mix! Not all are created equally! A high quality widely available commercial compost such as Malibu Compost is a GREAT place to start! There are many local options so check with local small organic farms, nurseries and landscape/soil companies that specialize in organics to see what is available locally - even craigslist!
Making your own of course is an excellent choice and you can control exactly what goes into it including really beefing it up with high nutrient amendments etc. There are plenty of resources already out there to help start your own composting projects and regardless of how deep you go into it I urge everyone to at least keep a simple pile for your kitchen and yard scraps!
Back to soil building.....Outside of extreme circumstances where you need a massive amount of humus immediately added to save sick/dying plants there is never a need to add compost or castings to your container gardens! This is wasted energy better spent elsewhere! The best compost/castings are the ones made directly in/on your soil. Period.
Starting with a new soil mix is the time to get to know your soil. Observing how cover crop seeds sprout, their health, how the soil interacts with water, how your plants grow in the soil, how they look after plain waterings, how they look after 'feedings'. These are all important observations to take mental note of to see how your soil is performing. This needs to be a conscious effort. Let the act of gardening clear your mind so nothing is left except the soil and the plants. Listen to the soil, listen to the plants, let your 'self' forget it exists..all that exists is the soil, and the plants, as one recirculating entity....
A common problem is for vegetative plants to be growing beautifully and when flowering/fruiting is induced the plants nutrient uptake kicks into overdrive and all too often this is when new gardeners discover their soil doesn't quite have enough 'juice', and at this point (leaves yellowing and falling off from the bottom up, new growth not as vibrant/deep green, lackluster flower/fruit set etc) it is simply too late. You need to ensure the plant/soil has enough juice going into flowering.
The best way to both get to know the limits of your soil and to ensure your first and future crops yield well is to simply start off by feeding more frequently and on the heavier side. Now this may sound 'dangerous' to those coming from an NPK / conventional gardening background or mindset but the big difference here is the holistic approach we take. We never add something for Nitrogen because our plants aren't green enough and we never add Phosphorus because we think the plant needs more to produce heavy yields etc. Our inputs cover all the bases all the time. For example, when you feed 'something' everything it could possibly need in every meal, you never have to think about if it needs more of this or that, but simply that it is getting enough. Make sense? When you mulch with chopped comfrey from your garden, you're feeding the soil a complete, 'holistic' meal. When you make a botanical tea or water with our 'Tonic', or a homemade ferment, you are providing a complete source of nutrition. The plant can take what it needs immediately and leave the rest to cycle within the many lives of the soil until the plant calls upon it....
A simple observation to seeing if your plants are getting enough or close to too much is how deep green they are. Are they so green they almost look black sometimes? Perhaps a little curl down/inwards at the very tip of the leaves? Yea, that's a good sign they're getting enough right?! NO this is not inherently BAD, YES this is a healthy sign your soil has everything a plant could need and then some! And it's important to keep in mind that you are growing in a dynamic living soil, this is a huge buffer to your plants and when your plants let you know (as noted above) that they are being 'fed' enough, you simply back off on your feedings and let the plant/soil relationship take the lead. After a few plain waterings you might feed again, lightly, and continue to observe. You want to find that point of 'peak health' where the plant can go all the way through flowering without ever 'asking' for more. The second a plant asks for more is the second you start losing out on yield. Does that make sense?
This whole process is about finding balance. Finding the balance where your soil/plants always have just enough to thrive off. Remember, we don't just want to grow "good enough" plants, we want to grow the BEST plants, the RICHEST most nutrient dense food and plant medicine. Right? The only way you are going to do this is by finding the upper and lower limits of your soil and your supplemental inputs.
There are two types of supplements, one is for short term immediate use and the other is long term 'slow release'. Long term supplements are your physical amendments that are top-dressed from time to time. My go to's are kelp and neem cake. Short term supplements are liquid in nature and readily available to the plant. These can be anything from teas to ferments to tinctures. I, of course, utilize our line of botanical tinctures for short term supplements.
In making sure your initial soil has everything you need it's a good time to go all out on your first mulch. Remember, you can never over feed from mulching whole plant material, its really not possible! You CAN apply too much at one time which can either start a 'hot' composting process on top of your soil which we want to avoid, and too thick can sometimes mean your cover crop seeds can't sprout through the mulch. Again, like most things, it's about balance.
Some excellent nutrient rich plants to grow (or forage!) for mulch: Comfrey, borage, yarrow, nettle, alfalfa, dandelion, horsetail, lambsquarter and all herbs especially mints. If you have any of these, and I'd highly recommend comfrey, go out and harvest some and chop it up. After tossing down some cover crop seeds (clovers, alfalfa, fenugreek, flax, buckwheat etc) lay down your fresh chopped, or dried, nutrient dense plant material along with a dusting of kelp meal and neem meal. Top this off with some straw. Remember, not too thick your seeds can't sprout THROUGH the mulch, but not so thin you can still see seeds on the soil.
If you don't have comfrey or other plants to add to the mulch, don't worry, stick with the cover crop seeds, kelp, neem and straw and you'll be good. Once you get to your first harvest in the coming months that will then provide the bulk of your mulch anyways!
*****Dust free tip for small gardens using straw*****
Put your straw in a bucket/tub with a handful of neem and kelp and fill it with water. Let it soak overnight or up to 24 hours and this will both 'supercharge' your straw with nutrients PLUS of course once you drain it you now how dust free straw to use! :D
Going forward you can pick a schedule to top-dress with your long term supplements and watering or foliar spraying with your short term supplements. Stick with a routine and only back off once your plants show signs they are being very well fed, OR increase if they need more. Over time you'll then find the 'sweet spot' and even farther in time, a few cycles/crops down the road, you'll notice what was once a light feeding is now a heavy feeding! Your soil is becoming richer over time! With the mature, living soil I work with now, I only add long term supplements about 3x a year and that is only a small dusting of kelp and neem cake at the beginning of each cycle. I only foliar spray 1-2 times weekly with our botanical tinctures and waterings are always just pure water. My biggest concern, which doesn't really amount to much time or thought at all, is simply keeping the soil mulched and cover crops sprouting at the beginning of each cycle. That's it!
Aside from your long/short term supplement the most important aspect to a self sustained garden is your mulch and cover crops. First off, every part of the plants not being utilized as finished product should ALWAYS be reincorporated back into the soil it came from! Leaves and stems etc can simply be placed or let to drop onto the topsoil where it will decompose into humus and increase the nutrient content of your soil, the nutrient potential of the soil and the amount of life in your soil.
Cover crops provide incredible benefits:
- Roots provide aeration, better water penetration.
- Roots provide increase soil life activity with constant interactions between bacteria/fungi and the roots of cover crops.
- When cover crops die back it becomes mulch and then decomposes back into the soil further adding humus and increasing soil life activity.
When your crop of choice is young this is the time to plant cover crops and this can be as simple as tossing/sprinkling seed directly onto the mulch, not much effort on your part is needed! When you water much of the seed will be forced lower down into the mulch and will germinate quickly, taking root into the soil. While your crop is young the cover crop will benefit from plentiful light and be able to grow thick and strong. At some point your intended crop will grow tall and block much of the light from hitting the topsoil and the die back process will begin. This is all part of the natural cycle and in most cases between the leftover biomass from harvest and dying back cover crops this will all provide PLENTY of mulch material to keep the critters in your soil plenty happy and fed which in turn means a constantly renewed source of fresh nutrient rich humus back into your soil!
I don't think it is discussed enough, but there is a very special place in nature where death feeds life, life consumes death. A HUGE percentage of life on Earth actually lives in this specific place and if there was anything close to magic occurring in our gardens it is in this place and it can and should be in your container gardens as well. It won't exist without mulch. It is the exact layer where the decaying mulch touches the topsoil. This is where the magic happens. This is where the worms come up to cruise around in the dark, where the decomposers/shredders are hard at work munching away at decomposing organic matter, where bacteria and fungi then in turn consume the castings left behind by the decomposers, and then this runs through the gut of worms turning the humus into calcium laden aggregate, perfect soil building little nuggets of humus...
I hope I was able to reiterate this concept well, and that you can then take the main concepts and adapt it to your garden /situation etc. Main points being:
- In the early stages of a soil it is beneficial to find the limits, in that way you can pinpoint the 'sweet spot' for your plants and in time be able to recognize when you can reduce outside inputs.
- The importance of cover crops and mulching, and getting to the point where upwards of 100% of your mulch is from harvest leftovers and cover crops dying back - this is your fresh humus source!
- Utilizing both long and short term supplements to encourage your garden to grow at 'peak health'.