The Soil Revolution – part 1

The Soil Revolution – part 1

The soil revolution   The status quo –
where are we now? 

As far back as 2014, Reuters reported that a senior UN official said, “If we continue with our intense farming practices and destruction of wildlife at the current levels – we have realistically 60 years of sustainable farming left. “ (source Scientific American)

This is a sobering thought. But what has happened on the official front since 2014?

Where are the school campaigns that explain to children that to make 3cm of topsoil takes the earth roughly 1000 years, but we only have 60 left. Where are the billboards and media campaigns to the same effect? I am interested in this topic and apart from the occasional scientific paper, it does not seem to be ‘newsworthy.

But this ecological wave is coming nearer and nearer and nearer. And the evidence is all too clear. Since 2014 we had more floods, bushfires, and heatwaves and the destruction simply moves on. First the coral reefs, then the icebergs in Antarctica, the increase of desert and soil destruction, and the massive, massive loss of wildlife. The last one is properly the most talked about topic. And it is lovely to look after the bees, but only bees and no other wildlife would never ever work.

I know it is not the best place we currently find ourselves in, but this blog series is not meant to be just doom and gloom. The essence here is – what can we do about it?  And then act fast!

Luckily there are a few men and women around who really grasped this concept early on and started doing something about it. Some of these methods are really ingenious and we will hear more about their various projects over the next few articles.

But let’s start first at the beginning

When Rudolf Steiner first taught his first Biodynamic soil lectures – now almost 100 years ago – this topic did not seem relevant and he was called a deluded dreamer for most of the 20th century. But not anymore.  Ever since scientists discovered microbes in the soil and even inside us,  the concept of ‘the living soil’ has moved from random fiction to fact.

The first Biodynamic lectures were held just after the First World War and this is by no means a coincidence. Although this war was short (1914-1918), the world saw chemical warfare used for the first time in combat. The real war benefit was only established towards the end of this war, but with peace on the horizon all these chemical plants had no longer any use.  So a plan was hatched that these chemicals could in diluted form be brought out on the fields to get rid of ‘soil and leaf’ pests. This meant the farmer did not have to adhere to long-standing traditional methods of crop rotation, weeding and composting. The ‘miracle cure was of course much easier to administer.

And initially the farmers were enthusiastic. Who would not like more yield and less work? But after a few years, the quality of the soil and produce deteriorated and some farmers asked Steiner for advice.

Additionally, the first year a little bit of fertiliser did the trick, but with every subsequent year more and more fertilizer had to be used to achieve the same result. This is costly but after a while, there is not much of an alternative. left.  The farmers can’t just stop the farm for a couple of years in order to wait for the soil to revigorate. This is not a sustainable business model and the trap continues.

What had happened?

Let’s look first at how the soil works. Compost material (waste from the previous growing season) together with compost tonics and manure are put onto the fields and reinvigorate the soil. This usually happens in late autum (the end of the growing cycle)  and in early spring (the beginning of the cycle). This enables the billions of microbes in the soil to turn the compost into a fertile, nutrient-rich soil, ready for the next growing cycle. This humus is full of fungi, earthworms and insects. It is the ‘internet of the soil’, distributing moisture and letting plants almost ‘communicate’ with each other and certainly cross-fertilize each other (that is the principle of companion planting).

But artificial fertilizers destroy all these natural soil improvers, turning fertile, alive soil (there are billions of these creatures in just a handful of earth) into dirt= dead soil.

Lifeless dirt is then artificially fed to produce the next year’s crop, but there is no regeneration. Once this chemical is washed away by the rain, it is gone and more product has to be put on to replace it. But more importantly, the food you eat is ‘also dead’ as no or very few microbes survive. Dead food lacks nutrients and most importantly microbes. We need the soil and its creature for our survival, too.  IPS, bloating and more severe health crises can often be traced back to food that gives us fuel (and puts on calories) but does not actually ‘feed us’. And that is not even taking obesity and diabetes into account.

I have often talked about the macro-organism and the micro-organism and how they work together. If you are new to this concept it is as follows:

The Macro-organism is the universe, the planets, stars and micro-organisms are all living creatures. Beetles, birds, whales, lions, trees, flowers, and of course us humans. It is like a huge clockwork, every clog and wheel turns individually, but when in harmony they feed and enrich each other. 

Going back to the clock example. Taking a small wheel out of the clock may be ok, but destroying half of the clockwork – what do you think would happen? Most children could answer this.

But this is exactly what we are doing with the planet. Currently, we are losing about 30 soccer fields EVERY MINUTE!

We read above that the earth is capable of making 3cm of good quality topsoil in about 1000 years – please make the Maths.

Additionally, the soil is responsible for catching carbon and hanging on to water. Dirt can’t do that and the results are floods and climate change.

So, we are where we are, and no more gloom! From now on this series will turn to seek real, positive solutions.  We need to make this positive turning point for the sake of our children and grandchildren. The Soil Revolution has started and we are all hell-bent to reverse this damage done over the last 100 years. Come and join in and do your bit!

 

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Start a biodynamic compost heap

Start a biodynamic compost heap

 The LWTM compost symbol

Compost is a great gardening tool and best of all it is free. Chemical fertilizers are expensive and damaging to wildlife. If you have not yet got a compost heap or bin, here are a few tips on how to get started:

Home-made compost is cheap and easy to make, but the downside is that it takes around 6 months to gestate. The speed depends on the position of your heap (sun or shade) and the climate.

The most productive location in your garden is in a hidden corner, away from direct sunlight in dabbled shade.  If you keep your bin/heap in full sun then the compost soil will dry out too quickly.   But positioning it completely in the shade will decrease the time good quality compost is produced.

Biodynamic Composting
The best time to start a compost heap is during  Waning Moon, the nearer to the New Moon the better, or whenever you see the compost heap symbol on the LWTM lifestyle calendar. Compost needs heat to develop, so the best time to start one is in early spring to early autumn. During the cold winter months, the compost soil will lay dormant and the process will restart when the weather gets warmer in spring.

 

What type of container shall I use?
There are many different varieties on the market. You can buy either a custom made container (usually made of wood) or you can buy one off the shelve (usually made of plastic).
I have also seen biodynamic compost heaps that are made out of four wooden posts and chicken wire. I would not recommend them as heat escapes too quickly and the process is not as efficient as it could be.

If you don’t want to opt for a container, then the best natural alternative is to dig a hole in the ground (roughly one square meter wide and one meter deep). That means the earth will act as insulation and all you need to do is cover it with a piece of wood or old carpet to protect the compost from the element

Once in place, sprinkle some earth on the ground, then add organic kitchen waste, grass clippings, leaves, eggshells, coffee and tea bags, hair, straw and wood ash. Avoid all kinds of weeds, metal, glass, plastic, cleaning agents, plants with diseases, dairy products and meat.

 

Make sure the waste is balanced

To achieve a good balance apply the four-element rule:

Fire         Make sure that compost is not too dry

Air           Make sure the compost gets enough air

Water     Make sure the compost is not too wet and slimy

Earth      Make sure the ingredients are balanced.

 Once the waste has reached about 30 cm (one foot), add a thin layer of earth and some compost tonic, then carry on with another layer and spread some earth on top until the compost heap is full. Finally, cover the full heap with some soil and leave to develop.

 How many compost heaps shall I have?

biodynamic compost heap

This depends on the size of your garden, but the minimum is two – one side to fill up and one to use. For a medium-size family garden, I would recommend three bins – one to fill up, one to develop and one to use. This system will ensure that you have good quality compost available all year round.

 

When shall I bring compost out? 


This is the symbol to look out for when turning the soil and to bring compost out. Earth Days are great for this.