Thursday, October 20, 2011

Garden wrap-up and the movie "Dirt"

From Susan and Lloyd:

Thanks to Susan Cunningham for this summary of Tuesday night's meeting and movie. More later. We ask each of us to prepare our plots for the winter, which really is the promise of spring. If you need help, let us know. We'll set a few group work days later for focusing on the whole garden paths and appearance.
Bobbie, Susan, Lloyd

Those of the garden group who could make it last night (10/18) had a good discussion with Alice about putting our gardens "to bed" for the winter and enjoyed the movie about our relationship with the soil.

What Alice suggests we each do to our own garden plots is to "amend" the soil as needed.  This basically means turning the ground and adding compost and peat moss.  It's best to remove as many weeds as possible but we need not worry about small weeds because they will die off over the winter.  We all agreed that Bermuda grass has a mind of its own and will go wherever it wants which is why we need to put weed barrier down on the paths between the boxes. (More on that below.)

Alice suggests we put a good layer of straw or leaves on the amended soil and then cover it with black plastic which will absorb the sun throughout the winter and "cook" the materials below.  Alex Strebler suggested stapling the black plastic down.  Some of us have heavy-duty staplers if anyone wants to borrow them.

We agreed to keep an eye out for bales of straw that neighbors or commercial enterprises might be using for Halloween/fall decorations and ask them if we can have those bales when they are finished using them.  If they are willing to drop them off at the garden site, that would be great.  If not, it will be up to all of us to transport them.  Individual gardeners will work their own plots.  Susan Cunningham will coordinate who is working on which community plots.  She has already started pulling out plants and weeds and would welcome help whenever you are available.  She can be reached at (314) 550-0866  or

Plan for the paths between the beds:  Alice suggests cardboard or any kind of weed barrier tapped under the edges of the wooden frames (I picture using a chisel and hammer.)  Then we need to pile as much straw as we can get free or buy to put on top of the cardboard.  The straw will absorb water and decay over the winter.

Alex Strebler is taking on the paths as his Scout project.  He has ideas for pea gravel or other more permanent material that will act as a weed barrier and will be more attractive than cardboard and straw. He will start next spring on this.  Let's give Alex a round of applause !!

Lloyd did a quick review of our first year's work.  Most of the gardeners have already expressed the intention of trying again next year.  We all agreed that weather was a big factor this year, and we're hoping Mother Nature is a little kinder to us next year.  Lloyd gave credit to the City of Pacific for providing the water connection, the sign, encouragement and regular mowing of the grassy areas.

Susan has been taking small quantities of produce from the community beds to the Tri-County Senior Center.  Next year, she will ask the director of the Center as well as the food pantry workers at Agape Help House what would be most useful for us to plant for them.  We're learning these things as we work our way through the process and are always open to new suggestions.

Lessons learned from "Dirt: The Movie."   Monoagriculture (one crop over millions of acres) is killing the natural nutrition in the soil.  Farmers have to use large quantities of nitrogen and other chemical fertilizers to replace what is being used up in the soil.  Only 20% of the nitrogen is actually absorbed by the plants, and the rest seeps down into the groundwater or runs off into streams, rivers and eventually to the Mississippi Delta where a "dead zone" has been created that has killed off all the marine animals and fish (except jelly fish which can evidently live anywhere.)

"Industrial agriculture is war against the soil," was one of the statements made.  That biologist also called it "agricultural armageddon."   The movie showed areas of the world where the soil has died from lack of rain and nutrition.  Massive numbers of families are being displaced which leads to wars over resources.  (From a TV special:  Watch what happens in the American southwest as ranchers and farmers have to give up producing food.  It is already happening in Texas where ranchers are selling off their herds.  Most of them are older folks and will not have children or grandchildren who want to take the chance of working against the odds, so those productive farms and ranches will become desert.)

Soil degradation leads to human degradation.  The suicide rate among farmers in India is very high because of drought and soil depletion.  Their wives and children have to relocate to cities where they are destitute and living in slums.

(Note that our U.S. military is now being sent to East Africa in small numbers because of the civil wars in those countries which are mainly about loss of land and water.  The Pentagon has been studying climate change for many years now and is preparing to intervene in places where we have not been before. )   One of the scientists in the movie said that we humans have about a 120 year window in which to reclaim the soil, the protective covering of the Earth, or the consequences will be mass starvation and more wars.  

THE GOOD NEWS is that there are many "grassroots" efforts to reclaim the soil and rebuild it.  Soil is not "dead."  It is alive with all the micro-organisms needed to grow living things.  Large tree farms and experimental gardens are springing up all over the world.  Schools are starting their own gardens to teach children the importance of saving the soil.  ( I wonder if Meramec Valley R-III is starting gardens for the kids to work???? Does anyone know?)  Maybe after we figure out the best strategies we could offer our help to school personnel who want to try a garden project.

The most inspiring part of the movie for me was the hummingbird story.  This is an African parable about a wild fire and the animals who were losing their habitat to the fire.  The large animals and birds watched a tiny hummingbird fly to a lake, pick up a drop of water, fly back to the fire and drop it on the fire over and over.  The large animals and birds questioned the hummingbird and sort of made fun of him for thinking he could put out the fire.  The hummingbird's answer was "I'm doing the best that I can."  And all the other animals started helping.

We can all do a little bit to help save the soil.  E.g., start a compost pile in your back yard and watch it turn into DIRT.

Susan C.

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