Blog: What’s in a Handful of Dirt?

 

 

Dirt, soil, the very earth we stand on is capturing the heart and the mind of science.

Scoop up a handful of soil. The dirt you hold in your palms forms the basis of the life around you, from the earthworms crawling in your garden to the raptors hundreds of feet in the air. But soil is not just a lifeless pile of earth. Symbiotic fungi living in plant roots—known as mycorrhiza—help the plants extract vital nutrients. Other microbes break down decaying plants and animals, replenishing the materials used by the plants.”

There is so much we are learning about soil, the intricate, complex and captivating root system and microbe community beneath our feet. Do you garden and have a compost pile? Have you spread out that composted material on garden beds and marveled at the transformation of various materials? While I have tossed kitchen scraps and lawn clippings into a bin it wasn’t until I met the compost kings at several master Gardener demo gardens in VA that I really began to appreciate the process. We often referred to the men who managed the compost bins as our ‘compost kings’, a title they rightly deserved. From managing the bins temperature, receiving garden materials from weeded beds, to turning them over and then doling out, they were true stewards of this precious material. We then had the pleasure of taking this soil and using it in various garden beds. Soil that’s healthy and viable has a rich smell, deep brown color, holds together fairly well. Some call it ‘black gold.’

In today’s world, we have to acknowledge that we have not been good soil stewards. We have lost over one-third of the earth’s topsoil in just 100+ years. tillage farming, mono-crop farming was born from expansion after WWII. Today, family farms are almost an endangered species.

My podcast guest this week, Kimberly Kresevic, Founder of InSoil Health shares a microscopic photo of soil microbes. She brings her microscope out to farms and shows folks, in present time, what is in their soil. Are there enough microbes to indicate the soil is healthy and thriving? If not what can one do to amend that soil, cultivate and /or innoculate the soil to increase viability?

Mycorrhizal fungi act like mediators within this vast underground world. They are traders too. This tree over here wants more of this nutrient, fungi find a supplier and in exchange they receive food. They love carbs and thrive on carbs from plants.

Microbes: are also multifunctional: they help remove essential elements from rocks, keeping those minerals and more into play. They also help to break down organic matter. We know that various forms of decaying matter are rich with nutrients and the decaying process makes them bioavailable.

It is said that one teaspoon of soil contains a million life forms. Pretty incredible and yet we have so much to learn.

What can you do today to protect our soils?

    1. Look closely at your yard. Are there any more natural plantings you can include? Is so, make that a part of your action plan.
    2. For the beginner and novice gardener, consider leaving or cutting weeds down to the roots only. The root systems of these plants support and keep the mycorrhizal network alive and thriving.
    3. Fill in any bare spots. Make that a part of your spring cleanup. Plant an edible shrub if the spot is big enough. Use wildflowers. Add milkweed or other pollinator-friendly plants. Weeds, wildflowers need little to no attention, are drought resistant and build soil and sequester carbon.

We got an electric mower to keep the paths in our garden manageable and at the same time keep the roots intact. We keep the clippings wherever they land. One new act we added last year is now part of our routine. What are your spring plans this year? What can you do to grow more viable, healthy soil?

I appreciate all the comments. Please share. Thanks. Enjoy.

Podcast: Holistic Nature of Us: Meet Kimberly Kresevic,

Description: Our soil is a living organism. As soil science and our understanding of the complexity contained within the soil grows, our models for growing food change and hopefully for the better. My guest this week, Kimberly Kresevic, suggests that we are growing beyond just organic. Soils need to be abundantly healthy with a strong biome in order to give us nutrient dense health sustaining food. Sustainability, regeneration are the operative words for soil health and long term maintenance in agriculture. Whether small backyard farming or large scale agriculture, Kim’s company is changing how we build soil one farm at a time. Join us for a timely and informative discussion.

About My Guest: Kimberley Kresevic is President and Founder of InSoil Health, a data analytics and educational consultancy based out of Northeast Ohio. With diverse experience in both healthcare and biological cultivation, Kim brings a unique systems-based approach to current food production challenges.  Driven by the principle that nutrition is the foundation of human health and vitality, Kim works with growers in all walks of life and at all scales to improve food quality using natural biological techniques. By focusing on soil population data, systems improvement, and the human health value proposition, Kim helps growers invigorate the Soil Foodweb, reduce input costs, and eliminate the toxic environmental effects of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides.

Transcript:  #50 Kim Kresevic

Blog: Stinging Nettles: Urtica Dioca, Good for Soil, Good for Us

 

 

So many of my podcasts are concerned with growing good soils. Nettles pops up as a great plant, a must in fact for growing good soils and for adding nutrition to our spring diet. If you don’t have any nettles, can you think about dedicating an area just for them? A new addition that will contribute so much to your garden? Seeds are available too if you can’t find a neighboring gardener willing to share.

Nettles are one of my favorite spring herbs. Their reputation to “sting” usually makes many wary or loathe this plant. Yet they are a powerhouse of nutrients not only for the soil but for us too. In biodynamic farming, nettle is a major player in composting. Why?

Biodynamic farming, founded by Rudolph Steiner, encourages its farmers to use nettles in a preparation called BD504. “Stinging Nettle has enormous healing potential. Working in conjunction with Mars, (Steiner worked with the planets, moon cycles etc) BD504 plays a huge role in resolving soils with an imbalance of iron,  magnesium, and sulfur. Excess iron can cause many problems and often presents itself in the form of very tight soil with hardpan or crust. This tightness locks in the iron and other trace minerals, which in turn exacerbates the problem. BD504 preparation loosens the soil texture allowing the nutrients to release, disperse and be absorbed by plants.”

This plant also contains formic acid, phosphorus, and a trace of iron. The square and downy stems are covered with tiny sharp spikes that release an acrid fluid when touched much like a bee sting. Interestingly the juice of the crushed nettle leaves can be rubbed on the sting for relief. Each of these spikes or spines is composed of small cells that contain this fluid. Once dried or cooked the sting is neutralized. However once discovered and tried it makes for a nutritious pot herb or tea.

The Details:
Name: Stinging Nettles: Urtica dioca
Parts Used: the whole plant
Where Found: Nettles are found in most temperate regions and seem to follow man’s migrations. Nettles can indicate a soil rich in Nitrogen.
Young Shoots: Nettles are best gathered in the early spring when they are less than one foot tall. Later in the season they get gritty and accumulate crystals, cystoliths that make them unpalatable to eat. I gather for two reasons, one to cook and eat that day, or two, to make a pot of tea with the fresh herb or two, and then dry the rest for later use including winter.
Stems: Nettles have been valued for its fiber. While in herb school we separated the fibers found using the cut and dried stems gathered late in the summer. We then wove our own cordage. This fiber was also used in clothing, sailcloth and sacking material.

Compost tea: after I gather young nettles for kitchen use, pot herb and tea making, I gather some and place in 5-gallon bucket. I cover about 3/4 full with water. I stir it frequently for about 3 weeks. At the end of three weeks, I add molasses, about a tablespoon to 1/4 cup and let it ferment a bit. When done I dilute the tea 1:10 with water. Then I give each plant a cupful. You can also dilute the tea 1:20, 1 part tea to 20 parts water and use as a foliar spray which can deter bugs and even fungi, such as powdery mildew.
At the end of the season, plants are cut back to the ground and added to the compost pile.

Recipe for nettles as a potherb and/or tea:

  1. Gather tender aerial parts in spring
  2. Wash and chop, wear gloves as they will sting
  3. Place in a pot, about 1 handful and cover with water. Bring ot a boil and simmer a couple of minutes.
  4. Drink the tea water and add the greens to rice, veggies, pasta dishes.

My podcast guest this week, Craig Floyd, manager for the Coogan Farm in Mystic CT celebrates all plants including nettles. Bright green parts poke up at the beginning of spring offering nourishment both for us and our soils, a treat after winter’s greys and browns. Nettles has been a part of my garden. I wouldn’t be without them. I encourage you to appreciate this little stinging plant more for it offers much. The sting reminds us to quiet down and approach them with respect.

Enjoy perusing the seed catalogs and consider nettles.

Judith

Podcast: Holistic Nature of Us: Meet Craig Floyd, Coogan Farm Manager

Description: Do you garden? If so, have you ever wondered what the potential of a single non-hybrid tomato plant could be? My guest this week, Craig Floyd, manages an 11,000+ square foot acre garden for the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center in Mystic CT. Passionate about sustainable farming; he gives us detailed advice about soil health, water needs and practical tips for any level gardener. It’s exciting to meet folks like Craig who are out there walking the talk, growing fantastic gardens. He relates how troubled children, teens and those with disabilities are transformed by walking in his gardens, how the soil heals. Fascinating? Definitely!  I hope you will join us and leave your comments. They are appreciated.

About My Guest: Craig Floyd. Farm Manager for the Coogan Farm in Mystic CT. Craig manages 11,000 sq feet as part of the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center. He’s passionate about using his extensive farming experience creating a sustainable, healthy no-till,, no-spray garden in order to give quality food to the needy. He watches children with emotional and physical handicaps change as they roam the garden. It works for adults too. I encourage everyone to put the Coogan Farm and Nature Center Trails on their to-do list this year. It’s worth it. and if you have the time, why not lend a hand? Volunteers are always welcome.

Transcript: #47 Craig Floyd (1)

#47 Craig Floyd (1) Craig Floyd potting soil mix

Podcast: Holistic Nature of Us: Meet Mark Shepard, Founder of Restoration Agriculture Development

Description: This is exciting! Folks out there are working diligently every day to protect, build and maintain viable healthy ecosystems and produce food. Meet Mark Shepard who founded Restoration Agriculture Development, RAD, in order to save viable ecosystems while growing nutrient-rich food. His approach with his team is to imitate the structure and function of the specific ecosystem’s natural plant communities while utilizing the appropriate agroforestry and water management techniques to produce an agricultural yield. While restoring carbon sequestration, water purification, and infiltration, nutrient cycling occurs while supporting, maintaining and preserving biodiversity. Individually, taking steps to support biodiversity, adds up to big results. I am excited to learn more about how company’s like Mark’s educate and support better agriculture development and maintain various ecosystems we desperately need today.  This is hopeful, positive progress. Please share!

About My guest: Mark Shepard with RAD: Restoration Agricultural Development:
RAD is a full-service environmental consulting, research, and development firm committed to developing agricultural ecosystems that provide nutritious food for humankind while enhancing the life-supporting ecosystem services of planet Earth. Mark Shepard has over 30 years of experience in environmental consulting, production agriculture, and real estate development. Together, RAD has worked on 100+ projects in multiple climates across 4 continents. Through active ecosystem management, RAD combines ecological restoration with agricultural development to improve your landscape.

Transcript:  #46 Mark Shepard (1)

Blog: Gift Ideas for the Gardeners You Love

Tis the season for giving. Any gardeners on your list? Or perhaps you have family committed to helping the environment in some way. Maybe concerned about climate changes we are all facing? Gardens build diversity. Weeds supply nutrients. Trees create an invaluable ecosystem, complex and intriguing.

Why I love this book:  We enjoy a meal with artful presentation, right? From icings on cakes and cupcakes to garnishes on our main dishes, each flower or fruit carved into a garnish excites more than just our tastes. But, did you know there are flowers that can be added to recipes such as teas, salads, yogurts and cheeses that may be out of the ordinary? Yet these flowers are commonly found in our gardens. Rosalind Creasy, in the Edible Flower Garden, marries good cuisine and gardening. Her flowers/plants are arranged alphabetically which makes it an easy yet colorful guide. She includes How to grow along with How to prepare for each plant. In the end, she shares her favorite recipes.
Any surprises? Yes, for me I did not know that lilac blossoms can be added to yogurt. Something to think about in the Spring.

Why I love this book: In a word, COLOR. The author offers a color wheel and then lists plants by color to create a delightful and rewarding palette for anyone’s landscapes. He gives practical design tips, how to connect colors inside and outside to establish a flow between architectural designs, color schemes, and your favorite palette. I had an opportunity to create a larger garden off a deck. Mr. Smith’s book gave me ideas on how to implement the client’s needs with his inside view across a deck to a garden a bit below.deck level.
His plant lists alone are worth the cost of the book but there is so much more to enjoy.

Why I love this book: the table of contents makes it easy to find a plant family category and then look up problems. He uses an easy to read format I wish I could keep in my garden. Fun illustrations, graphics with a sense of humor and highlighted tips make it a treasure for the whole family. Plant suggestions, composting and recipes, this book contains so many worthwhile solutions, it’s a must.

Why I love this book: I appreciate weeds! They are often maligned and zapped with harmful chemicals yet they are often powerhouses of nutrients. Their gifts are many, some are edible and are nutritious, some are medicinal and offer a helping hand to what ails us. And, weeds tell us about the health of our soil too. Ever wondered why your cucumbers did great but not the tomatoes? The weed that is growing in the garden bed next to it could be trying to get your attention and let you know what the soil needs, what the soil might be missing, what could be at too high levels.

Mr. Pfeiffer ( 1899-1961) pioneered biodynamic farming in the US. He discusses weeds that appear each season and shows us what minerals are high or low. This is a new book for me, One I intend to take into my garden, investigate and observe more keenly what my garden is saying to me. Seems like I’ll be engaging in a new kind of conversation with my garden and I can’t wait!

Why I love this Book: Did you know trees talk among themselves and help each other out? I did not know until recently how complex the forest’s ecosystem is in managing nutrients and survival. Trees produce thousands of seeds so one can survive and thrive to maturity. There are older trees that maintain the forest and when we unknowingly cut them down we destroy the invaluable aid and gifts she gives to the others in her care. Pretty amazing, isn’t it? And it’s holistic too. What happens to one affects the whole.
Tending a forest for over thirty years in Germany, with keen observation skills, means we benefit. The author takes us through the life of a tree and shows us how gentler management yields more abundant results. He highlights in many ways how trees communicate and help each other. If one is stressed, the others through complex underground signaling, send some relief. I highly recommend this book not just for gardeners but for those who deeply care about this earth we live on.

Why I love this book: One author is a geologist and his wife is a Biologist and together they marry the world of soils and gut health. And they garden and wanted to create healthier soils. Anne developed a serious disease which gave her the impetus to dig deeper. ( Yes pun intended) Together their collaboration gives us, the reader, an in-depth look at soil and how that relates to growing healthy, nutrient dense foods which ultimately brings us better health. A must for the gardener and those who choose sustainable practices in our landscapes.

Why I love this book: John brings us into the energy and spirit of nature that has helped him co-create beautiful gardens. While his gardens are Australian based I enjoyed his practical advice about paying attention to nature. Nature speaks to us in many ways. Working in the garden with mindfulness, you may be pleasantly surprised by what you feel. So many of the gardeners I know can’t wait to get back in the dirt, plant and tend their gardens where a feeling of peacefulness, some magical connection stirs us.
His book covers many bases from composting, mulches, pond building and working with nature spirits and more. Practical yet poetic, a must for the beginner and the advanced.

Disclaimer: I participate in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn small fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliate sites. Thank you so much for supporting these efforts to pass on worthwhile and invaluable resources. And as I said before I love books. It’s a pleasure to share with you my favorites, especially for the gift-giving time of year. Enjoy. Judith

 

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