Gardening isn’t about plants, it’s about everything else: the soil, the insects, the birds, mammals and reptiles, and how you sit in this world. The plants are the final flourish, the gift of reciprocity from all the others.

                                                                ~ Alys Fowler

The weather seems to have turned from winter to the beginnings of spring. The crocus are coming up and small bits of green can be seen on a few of the shrubs around the yard. That means it’s time for me to break open the compost pile, separate the gooey black decayed matter from the not-yet-ready vegetation, and spread the compost on the garden beds.

Opening the pile is always interesting. Some years the whole center is a mass of good dark compost ready to be used. Every once in a while, it will be incompletely cooked; probably due to an insufficiency of moisture making it down into the middle of the pile. At any rate, all the unready material will be pulled aside and added to the bottom of the next year’s pile.

Alys Fowler notes, “By composting, you reduce your carbon and financial footprint; your waste doesn’t have to be transported, nor do you have to buy nutrients in. By embracing rot, you will start to see failure in a new light: that courgette that succumbed to mildew won’t have failed if it goes back to the compost.”

Having spread last winter’s compost in late spring, much of it will be broken down by the March and April snow and rain. Turning it in before I plant helps to aerate the soil and incorporate the compost. I seldom use fertilizers in my garden, except when I first plant the seeds or seedlings.

Adele Peters reports, “Nitrogen fertilizer is typically made from natural gas at large factories …  Fertilizer causes serious environmental problems; it’s a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, makes soil less healthy, and pollutes waterways when it runs off fields … Russia’s biggest exports are oil and gas. But the country is also the largest global exporter of fertilizer; and as the world continues to react to the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine, fertilizer prices for farmers have spiked and could even lead to an increase in food costs.”

There are other ways beside composting, of course, to minimize the need for nitrogen fertilizer. Many companies are exploring other production alternatives to obtain more ‘green’ or sustainable fertilizer products or farming methods. Regenerative agriculture is a different approach to farming. Wikipedia defines it as, “farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.”

Researcher Lindsay Campbell writes, “There might be more to regenerative agriculture than its ability to enhance farm ecosystems, capture carbon or boost soil biodiversity. Recent research has pointed to perks going beyond the farm and all the way to your fork — suggesting food grown on regeneratively managed farms is more nutritious than conventionally produced alternatives.”

She adds, Professor David Montgomery‘s study shows how soil condition impacts what crops contain. “The biology of the soil was really the part that got overlooked in moving to chemistry-intensive farming … It may be that one of our biggest levers for trying to combat the modern public health epidemic of chronic diseases is to rethink our diet, and not just what we eat, but how we grow it.”

“With the threat of climate change, there is a growing consensus that regenerative agriculture will do more good for the planet. Because of this, proponents have pushed for it to become the future standard practice in agriculture. But if regenerative methods do have the capacity to generate more nutrients in food, this could add another element to the conversation. “

Campbell adds, “In a time when we are given so few opportunities to have meaningful relationships with the natural world, gardening is our route back, because it can be done anywhere: on a rooftop, on a windowsill, in your back garden or with a community … For a garden to be successful it has to acknowledge the desires of the non-humans, too. In this way, gardening becomes less an act and more a relationship with your soil and the many things she supports.”

It’s getting warmer, so maybe it’s time to get out there and get your hands dirty.

Additional information:

Lindsay Campbell, Food Grown on Regenerative Farms Could Actually Be Healthier For You, March 09, 2022, Modern Farmer

Alys Fowler, Gardening Can Help Save The Planet. How? Start With Your Soil, Sat 25 Sep 2021, Alys Fowler’s gardening column

Adele Peters, Russia Is a Major Fertilizer Exporter. Here’s How Farmers Can Use Less of It, 03-10-22, Fast Company

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