Thursday, May 3, 2012

Post #9 Great Success: Soil amending workshop at The Armstrong House Education Center

Like I espoused in Post #6, a garden's fertility and productivity comes from its soil.  Composting has recently gained popularity among lay people, food activists and conservationists so we are seeing an explosion of creative composting methods: composting barrels, worms that eat food scraps, anaerobic bokashiindustrial sized apparatuses, whole cow composting, clean and classy indoor systemshumanure, and- the topics of today's post-  1) 'green manures' and 2) sheet mulching'.  1) Green manures are not manures at all; instead, they are plants- such as the nitrogen fixing clover- which add nutrients to the soil.  Green manures are usually planted in lieu of more desirable plants (vegetables, crops) in order to make the soil better for future growing.  2) Sheet mulching (also known as lasagna gardening) is a way to make compost in the place where it will be used.  Unlike other compost operations that are done 'off site' and brought to the garden, sheet mulching starts and ends right on your garden beds.  The 'sheets' of organic debris are laid down by the gardener in a systematic way and simply left to decompose.  See these websites for examples.

Today at the Armstrong House Education Center, Sarah Bush of Edible Revolution and myself hosted a sheet mulching workshop where participants gained first hand experience in amending soil.  In attendance were eight garden owners from Pound Ridge who all shared one thing in common: they wanted to learn more about how to build and maintain healthy soil.
A demonstration piece from the workshop.  These are the ingredients we used in our sheet mulching (in order).  The ingredients of your sheet mulching may vary depending on their availability and your needs. 
The workshop was full of enthusiastic energy:  piles of organic material (manure, wood chips, leaves, compost) laid ready to be applied to the existing soil, workshop participants stood with open eyes as Sarah spoke intimately about gardening nuances, and each participant shared their personal story of garden frustration (weeds, rocks, pests) as the others nodded with empathy.  After roughly 30 minutes, the group was driven inside by worsening weather where we continued our discussion over warm tea.  With the help of diagrams I spoke about the mechanics and importance of nitrogen fixation, the microbe- induced process of taking stable gaseous nitrogen and turning it into a usable plant nutrient.  The group continued to share stories, ask Sarah and I questions and take notes on their new discoveries.

Garden designer Sarah Bush teaches workshop participants about making healthy soil.

After my second cup of tea I realized that although the workshop was based on amending our garden soil for the future, it became much more than that.  As most participants left the Armstrong House Education Center, they recognized the community resource we had created for them.  In the classic phenomena of synergy, all of the elements of the day- me (a student of soil ecology), Sarah (an experienced food producer and garden designer), all the workshop participants (with their combined experience and enthusiasm) and the Armstrong House (a prototype for Living Lighter on the Land) - came together to create something special.  Spontaneously and sincerely, the workshop became a very real learning environment- a place where people could share what mattered to them in order to grow and solve problems.  There was a tangible energy in the air.  There were new friendships and partnerships established.  Life experience was passed between near strangers.  Perhaps there was something in the tea.

Living Lighter on the Land is about coming together to solve problems.  As social animals, it's natural to gravitate toward cooperation, partnerships, shared experiences and community, all of which are alive at the Armstrong House Education Center.


earthpeace girl said...

This is terrific! Thanks for sharing this! My friend Laurie Evans told me about the center and you and I can't wait to meet you. :)

I was just telling her that, IMHO, everyone's life goal should include, besides being a bazillionaire, or meeting George Clooney in person, getting off the various grids (energy, water, economics, food) that just barely keep us on life support.
We might find true freedom as a result. :)

Tate Bushell said...

Hi there, thanks for reading and thanks for the support. Come by and check out the Armstrong House Education Center when you can, I would love to meet you. Come to an event or email me for a visit.