worm in a garden

Start with the Soil

Want a sustainable, ecological garden? Start by nurturing your soil!

An exuberantly healthy soil is the cornerstone of a sustainable garden. The virtues bestowed by a living, fertile soil are legion. When we pack the growing earth with organic matter, via thick mulch, self-renewing roots, and buried debris, we’re beckoning the industrious workers of the soil. Worms, tiny beetles and mites, bacteria, fungi, and a host of helpers arrive to feast on the offerings and on each other. They churn and tunnel and munch and spawn, chiseling minerals from rock and humus, all the while loosing a veritable avalanche of fertility to be shared with plants. The plants themselves shelter, feed, and are nourished and protected by whole communities of soil life in a mutually beneficent partnership. A vast commerce of shuttling minerals, sugars, acids, antibiotics, hormones, and all the molecules of life connect this thousand-species hive together. For the price of a little mulch and a bit of care, rich and extravagant empires can be built beneath the earth, empires that will funnel their wealth upward to plants and in turn to insects, to birds, to all wildlife, and to people as well. In the ecological garden, we do all we can to broaden this river of flowing fertility, and we start with the soil.

Feeding the soil engages us in a partnership that benefits all. By applying the techniques and point of view offered in this chapter, the base of life’s pyramid- the abundance of the soil- becomes broad and sturdy. Life builds on life. Whatever we plant in this rich earth will have a far greater chance of thriving; whatever we hope to feed, whether wildlife, ourselves, or perhaps just our senses, will be deeply nourished. And serendipities we never hoped for- a surprising new wildflower, a rare butterfly, or sturdier plants that bloom longer, fruit heavier, and grow in tough conditions- will grace our lives almost daily.  –Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture

Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, 2nd Edition
  • Hemenway, Toby (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 313 Pages – 04/01/2009 (Publication Date) – Chelsea Green Publishing (Publisher)

I’m currently slowly working my way through a library copy of Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture and while the author obviously isn’t approaching the concept of home-based food production from the same worldview that we would be, there is still a great deal of information that I’ve gleaned from this book!

Now that I’m past the nuts and bolts of what permaculture is and how it works, catching and conserving water, basic garden patterns and designs, and soil building, I’m digging into some of the more interesting details. Such as those about the symbiotic relationships of various plants with the land and each other as well as information about how to observe the land (which I’ve been trying to do) in order to get a vision for how our homestead set-up will be in the future.

The charts will be invaluable resources going forward and I keep thinking as I read that I wish I could highlight this detail or that.  My head is swirling with ideas and I’m starting to feel excited rather than overwhelmed! Frankly, I’m not sure my personal library will be complete until this book is in it!

Want a sustainable, ecological garden? Start by nurturing your soil!

How do you feed and nurture your soil?

Last update on 2024-05-22 at 18:21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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  1. I really admire that you (and others thankfully) are able of looking past things you don’t agree with and still glean valuable knowledge. So many refuse to do so.

  2. It was the title that initially kept me from checking this book out of the library; I figured it would be all new age. But a review on another blog changed my mind, and I agree it is loaded with excellent information. I think I should check it out again!

    We started addressing out soil after reading Neal Kinsey’s Hands On Agronomy. We’ve used his soil testing service because he gives recommendations in organic soil amendments. We’ve been having our various paddocks tested (one each year) and have begun to remineralize them. If we feed the soil we feed the plants, which feed the goats and chickens, and us. It’s been a costly endeavor, but it’s an investment in our homestead. That’s what stewardship is all about.

    5 Acres & A Dream The Blog

    1. Hi Leigh! That’s what I thought too and aside from the typical evolution garbage (which is expected) I’ve not seen any of that. Which I’m glad for since it is indeed such an excellent resource.

      My husband was just at a grazing conference yesterday and has been sharing some of what he learned. The guy was talking about soil testing and pastures and replenishing the soil with amendments. He was saying I guess how inaccurate most soil testing is and that what’s in the soil isn’t necessarily available to the plants and you need to be testing your grass instead to get a true reading. He said some other stuff that I don’t know if I necessarily agree with so I’m curious about this topic now. I had been researching & planning on soil testing & amending the veg gardens this year too so I’m glad you mentioned the book and will look into it.

      I enjoyed listening to your interview with Scott by the way!!

  3. I use a lot of grass clippings and straw from the chicken coop. That is about all I have. I don’t make a lot of kitchen scraps, except during canning season. That all goes to the chickens, usually. I use the clippings and straw as mulch in the rows. I pile it on thick and the grass clippings are usually fresh and green. It will make a white fungus that looks like white paint drippings, but that is good. It is a sign that it is breaking down. It is a good fungus. 🙂 If you lift it up and look underneath, you see wonderful things! I never have enough for in between the rows. By the end of the season, it is gone. The worms and thingies have broken it down. My soil is not as good as I would like it to be, but it is much better than it would be if I didn’t pay attention to it. I also put the plants back into it, after they have served their purpose. I don’t keep compost piles. If I need to compost something, I usually use the chickens to do that, or I will dig a hole in the garden and bury whatever I want to compost. Then, when it is done being composted, it is already where I want the compost. LOL! That is the way my grandmother did it.

    This comment is disjointed and doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I am tired and can’t see straight. (lame excuse…)