I would like to thank everyone for supporting my post yesterday! I gained 100 more subscribers in one day and that makes me very happy! I’m so glad to see people getting into growing.
Like any human advocating anything I have an ulterior motive. I want you to grow plants, and I certainly want you to grow soil. What I get out of this is hopefully a group a “sleeper cells” across the world who become ecologically conscious and passionate for preservation and changing agriculture. Without delving too much into my personal ethics – allow me to explain.
Farming and gardening has changed drastically in the past century. We went from a population of 99% farmers to a population of 1-2% farmers within this time. This was due to the advent of synthetic fertilizers which really gained momentum shortly after WWII. Munitions factories, some overnight, turned to producing nitrogen fertilizers since they had the same set up already. This steamrolled us into the future we live in of acres and acres of corn and soy which use 15 calories of energy for every 1 calorie they produce. This entire system has become entirely dependent on petroleum and if it were to all disappear overnight there would probably be a world-wide famine. Couple this with the fact that the small percentage of farmers’ average age is in the 60s, due to retire soon. These old farmers even discourage their offspring from getting into the family business because of huge corporate farms and making it very difficult for the ‘little guy’ to actually turn a profit.
We will, within our lifetime, face a huge change in the way we farm and I believe the only solution to actually ensure food security and ecological sustainability is to localize our food production. Gone will be the days of stocking our grocery stores from 3K miles away. I’ll slow down here, because you are probably getting the impression that I want you to be a farmer – and I kind of do. But what I want more is for you to grow organically (acreage doesn’t matter) and teach your children to do the same. The more of us achieving this very attainable goal will spread awareness to our peers and families and hopefully convince them to do the same. Geoff Lawton, a permaculturalist, believes we only need to increase that 1% of farmers tenfold. If 10% of us become food producers, you will be amazed the impact it will have on the world.
Welcome to v/JustGrowIt! The purpose of this sub is to get people to just grow something. I prefer edibles, but ornamentals and environmental are also welcome. This sub is different from v/gardening in that I want you posting your plants and your experience. Articles and other reads are fine in small quantities, but they belong more on v/gardening or v/permaculture (give those guys some love too). You can really post whatever your like so long as it is something you are growing – Mushrooms, houseplants, planted aquariums, weeds, grass, etc. are all accepted here! Take pride in what you grow and share advice and anecdotes in the comment section. Let’s get on with the tutorial.
Want to start, but don’t have any land? – This is a hard problem for me to personally address. My yard consists of roughly 4,000 square feet and so I have no need to learn how to grow indoors or on very little land. There are many online guides for such things and I recommend you seek them out and report to me with results. I would still like you to read this guide to learn a little bit and maybe you have a friend or family member with a bit of land you can work in. I’m sorry I cannot help you further.
When you get that itch to get out in the garden the first thing you are likely thinking about is plants. Secondary thoughts may include things like sunlight, spacing, available land, companion planting, pH, etc. Primarily, however, I encourage you to think of soil. As you garden your goal is to focus on growing soil first and plants second. Why? Because the richer and more nutrient dense your soil is, the healthier your plants will be. The healthier your plants are, the less need there is for chemical intervention. Healthy plants fed by good soil produce their own antibiotics, antifungals, pest control, and are plenty nourished by the soil eliminating the need for fertilizer. But how do we get there, what’s the secret to growing soil? In the words of Toby Hemingway – “add organic matter.” Is it really that simple? Yes, but there is room for expansion.
If you are like me, you live in a neighborhood. When your home was built they very likely stripped the topsoil from your property to sell elsewhere. Just because grass can grow, doesn’t mean everything will thrive – at least not yet. The majority of fruits and vegetable we grow have become dependent on humans and our ability to mix in manure, compost, and other wonderful additions to the soil to make rich earth with good tilth (softness). When I began gardening I thought I could just dig up some grass and pop a plant in there. Sadly, those I did this with did not do so well (your mileage may vary).
So here is how to do it – find a local source of compost or well-aged manure. Short of this, make your own compost (see “compost” below). Aside from this some methods will be slower than others. Cover cropping is a great way to increase organic matter in the soil and is best done in preparation of a site for another plant. Cover cropping is most often done in the spring or fall to prevent erosion as well. In my opinion you should always have something in a garden bed. Peas, for example, can be grown in the spring before tomatoes – simply sow directly into the ground and wait for them to emerge. Once the peas begin to grow let them grow to about a foot tall, then cut them back and mix them into the soil. Allow a few weeks, then plant your tomatoes. You have not only added organic material, but also increased the nitrogen content as peas are legumes – meaning they fix nitrogen into the soil via bacteria in their roots. Finally, the root-hairs of any given plant make up miles of organic matter over a growing season. These small fine roots seek out nutrients, give it to the plant, then die a few days later. This leaves a massive amount of organic matter in the soil over a few years.
I know this is intimidating at first, but organic material breaks down into ‘humus’ which is the best thing for any plant. Humus is a stable well-decomposed compost that holds nutrients, regulates pH, and makes very happy soil. Another thing is to not think of soil as inert matter that simply holds plants in the ground – soil is very alive. One Tablespoon of good soil contains over 7 billion different microbes! Most of these diverse creatures are eating organic matter (OM) and pooping nutrients available to plants. Fungus are also present decomposing carbon-rich OM like leaves and wood and breaking them up so bacteria can finish the job. The more you work the soil/till the more of these microbes you kill.
Forming a garden bed and digging:
A note on digging – Digging and tilling are good for killing grass and putting plants in the ground, but they can also be quite harmful to the microbiome under our feet. The microbes in the soil form colonies called aggregates and these are very sensitive to disturbance. Every time you step on soil or insert a spade you’re killing something so try to minimize killing quadrillions of something by tilling. Digging also aerates soil, but only temporarily. Over time the soil will become more compacted and eventually hard-pan if you dig and don’t add organic matter. Even adding organic matter on top of the soil (see sheet mulching below) makes the worms do all the aerating and over time will create a better tilth than tilling/digging. Please be mindful.
Due to Voat restrictions, I had to split this up, sorry.
Part 2 Part3