GARDENING WITH WOOD CHIPS
It happens sometimes that people fall in love with soil – this skin of the earth that carries the composted history of all life that came before it – that likewise carries the potential for all future life – a womb for seeds that can absorb the heat of the sun and the moisture of clouds.
Some years ago Anne and I watched Paul Gauche share his vision of soil – of keeping dirt covered and growing in a layer of leaves or wood chips- mimicking the floor of a forest where nature takes care of everything needed for abundant life. We’ve been pitchforking and tractor bucketing wood chips ever since – it makes so much sense to us. Highly recommended to watch the video www.backtoedenfilm.com. You may soon find yourself collecting woodchips for your own garden.
If you cover your garden with 6 or 8 inches of woodchips you’ll get the obvious benefits of fewer weeds and needing to water far less. More importantly, you’ll be massively enhancing the life force of your soil. Instead of adding chemicals to make your plants grow, you’ll be mimicking the conditions nature uses.
These chips of wood, twigs, and leaves you add to your garden will soon be home to a billion composting bacteria in every teaspoon of soil. As the layer begins to decompose, the bacteria release the nitrates that plants count on for their growth. Manures can enhance this process; it’s a main reason we keep chickens at our farm.
These nitrates that come from bacteria make up one side of the nature’s fertility cycle. Fungi make up the second side of the cycle. Like plants, fungi love the nitrates from the bacteria. As these fungi consume nitrates, they create amino acids and proteins as they grow. Fungi live for a couple of months and when they die they complete the fertility cycle by becoming food for the bacteria.
In the conventional farming that developed in the 20th Century, we forgot the fertility cycle and came to depend on pouring chemical fertilizers straight into the soil. Gardening with a rich deep layer of wood chips returns us to the cycle of nature. As the bacteria create nitrates, our garden plants live from this natural bounty of the fertility cycle.
A soil like this can produce tremendous bounty. You can love the harvest of the soil, but you can learn to love the soil too. You can start looking forward to feeding the soil when you have access to wood chips or the leaves of fall. You get happy as you watch the chip layer depth increase. You stop tilling the soil because the life of the soil, the bacteria and the mycorrhizal fungi, are so intricately interconnected.
CHICKENS AND SOIL
We added chickens to our farm for many reasons other than just eggs and meat. We get bug control, weed eaters, and manure manufacture – we get partners for building our living soil. When we collect food scraps from restaurants and supermarkets, we bring food for our chickens directly – and indirectly we feed our soil. The food that the chickens eat will become manure. The food that the chickens don’t eat will become food for the compost cycle.
When you fall in love with soil you tend it with delight. You see in the soil the stored energy of the sun’s shining on earth, of life coming into existence, then passing to death, decomposition and then regeneration for the next coming of life. The majority of what we eat we grow here at Many Spokes farm, from the bounty of a soil we have come to love. The eggs that come from our hens – they are connected to this living soil – this is where their deep color and rich taste come from – healthy soil, healthy food, healthy chickens, healthy eggs.