Monday, December 14, 2009

Compost and Saving the World at 3am

Compost.  Who would think I'd wake up at 3am and spend the next three hours researching that? 

The next book - and perhaps another I'll be recommending, is How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons.

This one is weightily technical (actually there's a "for beginners" book which I probably should have bought first) but full of information.  Actually it's not that hard to understand. 

So Mom was online when I got up, we discussed the book and she asked if it said anything about compost.  "I'm sure it does."  She had a problem with her composter smelling bad and drawing pests.

I did some research and found one particularly good site. Perhaps the most in-depth tutorial on the subject I've ever read.

If you don't know what composting is (maybe you've spent the last few decades on Mars) it's the process of turning your garden waste (the part of the plant you don't eat) and your kitchen veggie waste into stuff that your garden can use to grow more and better plants.

Right now I'm reading about the double-dig method, crop area percentages, companion planting and more. 

If this works, then I've been gardening "wrong" all my life.  Well I have always used compost, so I'm doing something right. 

The introductory section had some info that was downright scary.  Something that I only vaguely understood before:  "United States croplands are losing topsoil about 18 times faster than the soil formation rate.  This is not sustainable.  In fact, worldwide only about 42 to 84 years of topsoil remains." 

That's based on a 1994 survey.  Meaning that we're down to about 27 to 69 years.  This could happen in our lifetimes.

Remember the Dust Bowl? From 1930 till around '36 entire cities were covered in dirt that had eroded from farms in Texas and Oklahoma, Kansas and New Mexico.  In some places the storms lasted till 1940.  Caused by poor farming techniques and drought, these massive dust storms, called "Black Blizzards" reached as far north as Chicago and Boston.

Check out this video on Surviving the Dust Bowl.

In the Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck writes, "And then the dispossessed were drawn west- from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico; from Nevada and Arkansas, families, tribes, dusted out, tractored out. Car-loads, caravans, homeless and hungry; twenty thousand and fifty thousand and a hundred thousand and two hundred thousand. They streamed over the mountains, hungry and restless - restless as ants, scurrying to find work to do - to lift, to push, to pull, to pick, to cut - anything, any burden to bear, for food. The kids are hungry. We got no place to live. Like ants scurrying for work, for food, and most of all for land."

If we don't get our acts together and heal the earth we're in big trouble.  The good news is that according to this book, you can grow enough food to feed yourself on as little as 1/4 or even 1/8 acre.  We can return sustainability to the Earth.

They're making some big claims, among them, their plan will let crops grow with a 67-88% reduction of water use, 100% increase in soil fertility, a 200-400% increase in caloric production per unit of area.

Quantum says, "if it even does half of what they say, are you going to be disappointed?"  Heck no!

Once spring starts I'll be double-digging the garden and doing my small part to save the world.

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