Tuesday, April 12, 2011


As I mentioned last week, I was working on the soil in my yard biodynamically. I've mentioned that to several people, and each time they've looked at me like I just said I was building a rocket to travel to Mars, in my garage, out of scraps I pulled out of the alley. Working the soil in any way, in this culture, is perceived something like that, as in, "Plant a garden? Why not build a rocket..."

By biodynamically, I mean that I'm digging the first twelve inches of soil out of each garden bed. I then fill the trench with an inch or two of leaves and wood chips (the leaves I pull in bags out of the attic, where they spent the winter holding heat in my house). The next step, I step into the trench with a garden fork, pulling up another ten or twelve inches of soil and breaking it by bouncing it on the tines. In this way, the wood chips and leaves are worked in, to hold water, and provide nourishment for the vegetables as they break down.

Careful not to step in the trench, I cover the pile of soil I pulled out of the trench with a thin layer of leaves, and push and pull the soil back in with a rigid garden rake, creating a sloping mound eight or ten inches taller than the surrounding soil. After, I cart away the remaining soil with the wheelbarrow, to make compost. Eventually, I'll cover each bed with compost, an inch or two of nitrogen rich compost, from the piles I made when I dug up the sod last summer, to make the beds I'm working now. Because I raked in so much dry carbon -the leaves and wood chips - I'm also spreading red clover seed, because clover in a nitrogen fixer, which means it pulls nitrogen out of the air and emits it out of the roots into the soil. The carbon needs nitrogen to break down. If too much nitrogen is used breaking down the carbon, there won't be enough for the veggies. The clover I can cut again and again, and each time, the nitrogen clinging to the roots will fall away. The bacteria in the soil will regulate the nitrogen, so there won't be too much.

This method is one I pulled and revised from a book by John Jeavons, with the grammatically challenged title How to Grow More Vegetables* *than you ever though possible on less land than you can imagine. Understanding the science he alludes to is considerably more of a challenge than the title, but I understood intuitively the soil preparation part. Biodynamic is a method originated by the philosopher seer Rudolf Steiner, early in the 20th century. According to Jeavons, this fall I could have as much as a thousand pounds of potatoes instead of the 250 lbs I had last year. We shall see.

One thing is certain, one has to be biodynamic to garden this way. I hit a wall, so-to-speak, yesterday. I ran out of money last week, and I've been subsisting on free bread from Trinity Lutheran down the street, dandelion greens, potatoes, and bean sprouts. I tore up much of my driveway too, which I hope to be the orchard. I've turned the soil in about 600 sq ft of garden. I was working on a bed near the back door when I simply ran out of motivation. Very sore, poorly nourished, looking at the 1600 sq ft of garden remaining, with at the time nothing but bread and potatoes in the house, I had to let it go. I got paid today. Paid all my bills, bought a few minimal groceries, with about sixty dollars left, to last till...? Bought a six pack too, of which I've had two, about to get another, celebrating my good fortune. It's only early April. Plenty of time to work the soil before planting.

And soon, the Earth will provide. I'm actually leading an ideal life, for me. Dreaming, waking, writing for several hours, working in the yard through the day, reading in the evening. Working the soil this way is like a meditation (focus on the breath, switch sides regularly when using the garden tool, quiet the mind). I picked up five works by Rudolf Steiner at the library today. I'm finding few writers who speak to what I'm feeling of late. Steiner has much to say about the spiritual life. There are few such exemplars of the method of exploring the interior life to make the world a better place for others; I'm eager to indulge. And maybe tomorrow, biodynamically work more soil. Or maybe put it off for another day of rest and recovery. I have at least eight to ten days of soil preparation remaining. I could do it in three, but there is no hurry.

There is a tremendous satisfaction, I am discovering, knowing that given a few seeds and a few simple tools, I could grow and forage and hunt my way through the rest of my life quite nicely. I heard Jamie Dimon at JP Morgan got himself a 19 million dollar raise recently. He's one of those who thinks being a plutocrat is the pinnacle of human existence. Put the two of us on a thousand acres, with nothing but said seed and tools and the clothes on our back, and we'll see who's biodynamic. I'd show him everything I know; but his kind would prefer to wait until I grew, foraged and hunted enough to survive the winter, and then kill me, or get someone else to do it. Try to, anyway.

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