Ask an organic gardener or farmer what she grows, and there’s a good chance her answer will be “dirt.” Beautiful, sweet-smelling, dark chocolate-colored dirt filled with humus, rich with minerals, and teeming with millions of bugs, worms, and microogranisms. Repeat after me: Dirt is the single most important living element in the garden.
And believe it or not, you can spend all the time you want fussing over your plants and pouring Miracle Gro on them, but if the dirt isn’t rich, healthy and alive, the garden isn’t going to flourish. Miracle Gro and other fertilizers its ilk are basically the equivalent of steroids for plants. You pump them up with it, and they get all leafy and big, but in the long term you’re contributing nothing helpful to the soil or the garden ecosystem. (And I’m not even going to go into what I think of the Scotts Miracle Gro corporation. Yuck. Maybe another day.) So in summary, don’t shoot your plants up with electric blue ‘roids, okay? Okay.
Small-scale organic farmers and gardeners think of the soil as a living organism that is part of the larger ecosystem of their garden and surrounding land. To illustrate, the soil in Open Lotus garden is just as alive and important as the pepper seedlings and the asparagus, just as alive as the oak tree in the back of the lot, and just as alive as the hawk looking down at me from that tree. Each element has its role, and each is critically important. The oak tree gives the garden late afternoon shade during the hottest part of the day through the summer, and it also gives us leaves at the end of the fall to turn into compost which will be turned into the wonderful material that we amend the garden beds with next spring, which helps our garden grow abundantly.
Considering this idea, it’s no surprise that organic food producers get a little bit obsessed with their soil. They put their sweat and love and labor into it, they wear it on their clothes and their skin, they touch it, they smell it, they taste it. It’s not unlike being in love.
In order to give you a sense of the organic food garden as part of a beautiful, complex ecosystem, I’m going to be sharing a series of posts about the main components of the garden ecosystem and talk about different methods we, as food growers, can employ to maximize the vitality (or life energy) of our growing space to produce abundant, nutritious food. And this week, it’s going to be all about the dirt, so go ahead—get excited, and stay in touch!