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This week's Book of the Week feature is Humusphere, by Herwig Pommeresche.
From Chapter 9: Practical Examples and ‘Recipes’
One of my major objectives is to establish this subject in schools and kindergartens, but also in extracurricular adult education. If you, dear reader, have become curious after reading the last chapter and want to try out agricultural methods that follow the principle of the cycle of living material yourself, then you can find accounts of my own experiences, practical tips, and “recipes” here. I wish you all the best in your gardening endeavors and rich harvests!
The examples described here are old, but at the same time very new gardening methods, and are equally applicable to farming. All of these examples are documented in detail in further writings and articles as well as in my Little Humusphere Museum in Norway, Jochen Koller’s Humuseum in the Allgäu, and the Gut-Neuenhof-Stiftung along the lower Rhine (see appendix for addresses). They need to be developed further to the point where they are also transferable to and manageable over larger areas. Then they’ll be able to change the entire structure of farming and the way we grow our food. This represents a massive research and development opportunity!
GOOD OLD COMPOST
We need to completely change our view of compost. Traditionally, self-sufficient gardeners have collected all the food for the life in the soil in the form of a compost pile. And at first, so much is going on within it, so turbulently, that nothing at all can sprout or grow there. Later, once the compost pile has ripened and calmed down, it becomes mild and is mixed with sand and used for seeding and—in a more highly concentrated form—during the first propagation phase. Diligently and persistently applied, ripe compost can support nearly disease-free growth (Chaboussou 1985; Howard 1943, 1979, 2005; King 1911, 1984, 2005; Seifert 1948, 1991; Sheffield 1949, 1970, 2016; von Haller and von Haller 1978). But when growing in pots, we sometimes find that ripe compost can reach the limit of its energy reserves.
In fact, compost does not carry enough reserves to provide the energy and nutrients that small plants need to grow within the limited soil volume in plant containers. Indeed, it has already squandered this energy in its shady spot at the back of the garden during the initial hectic phase (see the upper left of page 71 of the color images). Thus, composting all the way until ripe compost is produced does indeed produce mild, healthy soil, but it is missing important organic recomposition processes and energy that have already taken place or been expended during the ripening process.
That’s why a basic tenet of organic agriculture is: provide the freshest, most nutrient-rich organic material as food for the edaphon at the location where the soil life is closest to the plant roots (i.e., as a soil cover around the plants). The function of ripe compost can then, at least in part, be taken over by well-nourished garden soil. This is, after the idea of the cycle of living material, the most important aspect of the organic-biological movement that Müller-Rusch recommends for any agricultural method.
Now we go from composting to the next method: mulching.
GREEN MANURE? MULCH!
The function of green manure spread over a field has long been known and acknowledged: the accrued plants are left on the field and are—while fresh—plowed in or mulched for the purpose of “soil improvement.” Really, we’ve always known what’s good for the soil. Cover the soil loosely and airily with all of the fresh plant material that accrues in the garden, and make a feed-mulch cover out of it for your edaphon. It should be immediately clear that the key here is not the NPK content of the material but the quality and freshness of the plant remains used. Every green plant is a collector of sunlight and suitable for use as green manure—including weeds!
A few more thoughts on the conventional methods of mulching: It’s clear again here how heavily the theory one ascribes to determines the further procedure. If you’re guided by the salt ion theory, you’ll be mulching with black plastic. But if you’re guided by the life in the soil, the edaphon, then you’ll quickly recognize that without holes in the plastic, the plant roots won’t receive enough water or oxygen. The stale, carbon dioxide–containing air breathed by the edaphon cannot make it out of the humus layer and instead is kept there, poisoning the edaphon and the plant roots. It also gets very hot directly under the plastic, reducing the amount of edaphon.
If you mulch with waste material (e.g., with nongreen leaves or straw), it will simply remain as waste, with limited nutritional value, as the leaves have already given most of their energy back to the tree, the straw back to the grain, and excrement is nothing more than the leftovers that animals and people were unable to make use of in their bodies. But it is nonetheless better than plastic, and it does encourage edaphon growth, just not as well as it could. Think about life and how it is maintained. If you have a cow, a sheep, or a guinea pig, you don’t just toss it a single bale of straw or handful of woodchips each year and expect a sprightly guinea pig, twin lambs, or 6,000 liters of milk. You have to supply your animals with the foodstuffs they need on a very regular basis. The same thing goes for the edaphon!
The edaphon can also be fed with hay, twigs, and leaves as well as limited amounts of wood and straw. The fresh green parts are rich in chlorophyll and living cytoplasm, but the supposedly “dead” parts (like wood) are also “eaten” by microorganisms—usually more slowly—and are fully and completely incorporated into the living organism. However, you must take care to mix in the proper ratio of fresh material and to store it for the right amount of time.
Mulch Is a Complete Habitat for the Edaphon
Or to put it another way: a climate-regulated nutrient layer for just about all inhabitants of the soil. The fresher and richer in nutrients it is, the more vital and lower in contaminants, the better.
About the Author:
Herwig Pommeresche was born in Hamburg in 1938 and has lived in Norway since 1974. He received a degree in architecture from the University of Hanover. After finishing his studies, he became a trained permaculture designer and teacher under the instruction of Professor Declan Kennedy.
Alongside other permaculture experts, he served as an organizer of the third International Permaculture Convergence in Scandinavia in 1993. He later served as a visiting lecturer at the University of Oslo. Today, Herwig Pommeresche is seen as a pillar of the Norwegian permaculture movement. He also serves as an author and a speaker.
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