Working on my raised vegetable bed, I'm learning once again that soil is alive. Every time I dig into the earth, I meet beetles, worms and centipedes. Apart from those, the soil is teeming with micro-organisms and fungi and all sorts of things that you can't even see with the naked eye. All of them work together to keep the soil fertile. And to keep us in food.
Without good, fertile soil, we simply can't survive. It gives us nearly all of the food we eat. And via the plants that grow in the crumbly fertile earth, we take in the soil's nutrients and minerals that allow us to grow and thrive.
We are soil. It's where we come from.
Sadly, as with so many things that sustain life on this embattled planet of ours, the news on soil is not good. In the UK alone, industrial farming methods are responsible for the loss of 2.2 million tons of topsoil a year. That's 2,200,000,000 kg of the stuff that keeps us alive. Every year.
Deep ploughing breaks up the structure of the soil, disturbing the habitats of her creatures. The earth becomes exposed to the elements and is eroded away. Pesticides kill even more beneficial organisms, and artificial fertilisers do nothing to restore the organic matter in the soil. The stuff we are made of is washed into rivers and carried off in the wind.
This is what happens when we take for granted the gifts we are given. For our greed, for profit, for an ever growing population, we demand more bounty from the soil than she is able to give.
It doesn't need to be this way. If we learn how to give to the soil in exchange for her bounty, in thanksgiving for our lives, we can restore the quality of the land and secure our future. All it takes is for us to respect the soil and allow it to do what it does best. We can learn how from looking at what happens on the forest floor.
I had the good fortune of spending an afternoon in the woods just a few days ago. Spring is at its peak now, and the forest was flushing green, dotted with celandines, wood anemones and the first bluebells. Its beauty alone is life-giving.
Nobody has dug up the forest floor to make these things grow. The prolific plant growth is sustained by a deep layer of hummus: dying plant matter from previous seasons, some of it straight from the trees, some of it first passed through herbivores that live there. And all of it mixed up underground by worms and all those other beneficial creatures that live in healthy soil.
So that's what I'm doing with my vegetable bed. In gratitude for everything the soil has given me all my life, I have gifted it with horse manure, compost, and friable top soil dug up in our building works. All of that is now being mixed together by my friends the worms, ready to feed the vegetables I sowed. Ready to feed me.
Consciously giving to the soil is magic making of the most essential kind.
(image from pixabay)