I started my working career in banking so if we compare agriculture to banking the soil is our capital . Healthy soils are alive with a careful balance of bacteria, fungi , earthworms and a myriad of other organisms within and on top of the soil busy making soil fertile using organic matter as their food supply. The fungi , among many other talents, are capable of extracting minerals from the soil bedrock while the earthworms aerate the soil allowing the bacteria and other organisms to grow and assist the whole process. Even the villain of the veg garden, the slug, has something to give. Their slime is full of minerals beneficial to other organisms in the soil ( it is also used in some surgery and cosmetics because of its adhesive quality in liquids among other things). The aim of the biological (organic) farmer is to use the surplus fertility created in a healthy soil (the interest on our capital) to produce crops. However if we continually use chemical fertilisers and herbicides etc. which suppress the soil biome we will one day find that the soil can no longer provide all that is needed beyond chemical fertilisers to grow a crop. We will find that we have been living off the capital and when it is depleted it is very hard to get it back. This is the biggest challenge facing today’s chemically dominated agriculture with huge implications for climate change and biodiversity.
The first field I ploughed in Helen’s Bay in 1991 is still producing great crops. Growing green manures, that is growing a green crop to plough back in to feed the soil fauna is an important part of our crop rotations. We supplement this with organic mushroom compost, the substrate that is left over after the mushrooms have been harvested. However looking at some of the new “vegan organic“ farms ( no animal manures used) we realise that their use of green manures is much more intensive than ours so this is an area we will be focussing on over the next few years. Rather than spend the whole summer hammering away at the weeds in spaces between our plants we should be growing clovers etc that suppress weeds and add precious organic matter to the soil. The challenge is to minimise the amount of bare soil at any given time. Of course this will require careful timing so it does not interfere with the early growing stages of our veg. Innovations like this are what makes growing organic vegetables so interesting.
And now to covid 19 which has had such an impact on our lives. When humans first started to domesticate animals the transference of disease from these animals was a risky business. However through natural selection we became either immune to these diseases or learnt how to manage them. Examples of this are tuberculosis and brucellosis which are still prevalent today but we manage to control them with regular testing and pasteurisation of milk.
As we penetrate ever more deeply into wild areas for logging, mining and agriculture we are both displacing the wild animals and coming into more contact with them and the diseases they might carry that could be harmful to us. Covid 19 is maybe such an example. As someone said it is like nature has put us on the naughty step but will we learn the lesson.
We hope you keep safe.