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Quote of the Day: Wendell Berry

October 21st, 2012

“Soil loss…is a problem that embarrasses all of our technological pretensions. If soil were all being lost int a huge slab somewhere, that would appeal to the would-be heroes of “science and technology,” who might conceivably engineer a glamorous, large, and speedy solution – however many new problems they might cause in doing so. But soil is not usually lost in slabs or heaps of magnificent tonnage. It is lost a little at a time over millions of acres by the careless acts of millions of people. It cannot be saved by heroic acts of gigantic technology, but only by millions of small acts and restraints, conditioned by small fidelities, skills, and desires. Soil loss it ultimately a cultural problem; it will be corrected only by cultural solutions.”

– Wendell Berry found in The Small-Scale Poultry Flock: An All-Natural Approach to Raising Chickens and Other Fowl for Home and Market Growers–With information on building … feed, and working with poultry in the garden

I’ve always thought that gardeners grow soil not plants. Without soil, we wouldn’t have gardens. Since I inherited no soil at our previous place and spent 10 years building it up to a nice rich earth, I know what at it takes to climb back from ‘ground zero’.

It takes a lot of hard work, lots of manure, rock powders, humus and other inputs to grow mere inches of topsoil. I probably added a foot of inputs each year to gain a few inches of soil over the course of 10 years.

This is one of the reasons I’m always encouraging the use of mulches and cover crops instead of letting the soil lay bare. Also the reason I advocate for a no-till system and permaculture. Preserving our soil is one of the most important things we can do for future generations!

What soil preservation technique is your favorite: cover crops, mulch, compost, etc?

12 Comments to “Quote of the Day: Wendell Berry”
  1. Linda on October 21, 2012 at 6:38 am

    I’m confused. I thought cover crops needed to be turned under in the spring. Wouldn’t that be tilling, since you’re turning the soil. Set me straight, please!

    Reply to Linda's comment

    • Susy on October 21, 2012 at 8:15 am

      They don’t need to be turned under. You can cut them off at the roots and use the tops of the cover crops as mulch, which will then break down into the soil. You can also graze the cover crop with chickens or other fowl and they will eat it and slightly work it into the soil.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  2. Julia@Throwback Road on October 21, 2012 at 8:29 am

    Have you seen the movie “Back to Eden”….if so what are your thoughts on his methods? If you haven’t seen it it is an interesting watch. I am thinking about incorporating it into my small fruit orchard and back beds this year. Also, once you throw the fall manure seed down on your raised beds to you have it on a watering schedule? Lots of questions this morning :)

    Reply to Julia@Throwback Road's comment

    • Susy on October 21, 2012 at 9:37 am

      I don’t generally have a watering schedule unless it’s mid-summer and dry. Then I will water a bit when first planted to help with germination. Other that with cover crops fend for themselves. Most of them are pretty tenacious and will do just fine. You can tailor your cover crop to your conditions, some like heat, some like cool, some do OK with lots of water, others like it on the drier side I think the key is trying a few and finding the ones that work best with your planting/growing schedule and your particular microclimate.

      I don’t think I’ve seen Back to Eden, I’ll have to look it up – sounds fascinating.

      Reply to Susy's comment

      • Misti on October 21, 2012 at 8:10 pm

        I watched part of the movie a few months ago but was never able to go back and finish—had other things to do. His thoughts were very compelling.

        Our soil is mostly sand which is typical of many areas of east/south east Texas, though we find pockets of clay and sometimes something good, like nice dark soil. Luckily we don’t live in a new subdivision with new fill or anything like that. Our place in Florida was awful…considering that 50 years previously it was likely part of the Everglades, the entire area was all limestone fill. Digging a hole was un-fun.

        to Misti's comment

  3. Jodiana on October 21, 2012 at 9:47 am

    I’m in zone 5 in NY and I’m trying to figure out which cover crop to plant. I finally got my gardens cleaned out and tilled, oops. I keep seeing that I seem to be too late to plant anything….

    Reply to Jodiana's comment

    • Susy on October 22, 2012 at 7:07 am

      Winter rye will still germinate in low temperatures, it’s not too late to plant it.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  4. Nebraska Dave on October 21, 2012 at 10:08 am

    Susy, if you have ever heard of Ruth Stout and her method of deep mulching, that’s what I’m attempting to do on a large scale. I found two large bales of four year old hay to cover a large portion of my garden. The rest will be covered with neighborhood grass/leaf yard waste mixture. I have hauled over 100 bags of yard waste and spread it four to six inches thick on my garden in hopes of mostly just controling the weeds. Until the fall leaf drop season is over, I plan to keep dumping mulch on the garden. You are correct in that four to six inches of mulch will dwindle down to less than an inch by spring time. It’s been a real adventure to garden on a bigger scale.

    I hope that you are getting settled from your move. Have a great New England day.

    Reply to Nebraska Dave's comment

    • KimH on October 21, 2012 at 3:44 pm

      I love Ruth Stout.. She sure was a wise old lady.. She actually got a lot of grief for her no till method, but Im a total believer. I do till, but I dont have any choice where I am, however, this year, I created a bed that I plan to “Ruth Stout” in from here on out.

      When I was 16 years old in 1977, my mom read about RS in Mother Earth News and we built a garden outside one of the barns in a cattle holding pen that wasnt being used any longer. We used baled hay as our mulch, laying down 4-6 inch blocks to keep the weeds down & to rot into the soil.. It worked great and we even got some veggies that first year. I laugh now at how much we didnt do as to how much we did… but I was a convert.

      Reply to KimH's comment

  5. Bonnie Fowler on October 21, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    I live in Iowa, crop rotation is vital to the ongoing future of our culture. I often notice farmers move their livestock to the empty corn fields after harvest. The animals can glean anything left in the field along with their rations to gain winter fat and the manure helps the field. Cover crops on off years also help.

    It seems the dust bowl days were so long ago, but it could happen again so easily. We have learned from that example, but if we went into a serious drought would it really be so far away?

    Reply to Bonnie Fowler's comment

  6. KimH on October 21, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    Mulch & compost are king in my garden.. I dont have a garden here at my home so I cant do what I want always, but once Im done with my garden at the community garden, I throw in some sort of cover crop seed, and hope they get growing a little bit before they till the gardens for the last time. I should run over there afterwards & throw more seed out. ;) Winter Rye grass would be good. ;)

    Reply to KimH's comment

  7. EL on October 24, 2012 at 12:35 am

    I do slow composting (takes about a year normally). I am also using dead branches and leaves for mulch this year. We also have a horrible invasive legume (luckily an annual) that I am using as a cover crop (although I have to rip the seeds off to do this).

    I love my compost heap!

    Reply to EL's comment

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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