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  • Things to garden by – A garden activist’s revolution!

    1. Soil Conditioning – Mobilizing the masses!

    One of the principals of Permaculture calls attention to all edges. Edges are where the most of life is; happening, transitioning, emerging - by law of nature. Add water and you have the power to grow anything. Masses of species and cultures can thrive when safe in the knowledge that water is present.
    You will want to make the edge of the earth that meets with the lowest edge of the sky moist. What’s more, is you want to protect it from the heat of the sun, or equally the sweep of the wind, or the bite of the cold. Just as the sun bleaches nappies white, so does it burn the nutrients in soil. In order to retain the water that you give the plants, as well as protect and retain the nutrients in the soil and keep it full of the necessary bacteria’s that break food down into the accessible nutrients, you have to Mulch!!


    Out of context, it’s a breeding ground for all the things that would scare you out of the kitchen – bacteria, creepy crawlies and degrading vegetable material. In the garden it is a breeding ground for culture. Just as if you left a newspaper outside on the ground, getting wet from the dew or rain and then drying in the sun and heat, repeated day after day, when you lift it, you’ll find the underside damp still, in the shade of the impenetrable pages. Many legged creatures may run away in the shock of the light and probably a few sprouted seeds might be there, pushing length in their pale new stems in an effort to thrive. That’s life, on the edge. This is what you want to achieve in your soil.
    By covering that 10cm ‘edge’, or better known as the surface or top layer of your planting bed with a thick, absorbent but sturdy material, the result will breed just those things, whether you add a lot of water or not. The creepy crawlies will better suit the earth they aerate and the bacteria will instead have a medium to live in and become healthy factory workers, churning out biodegraded nutrients, instead of a stink.
    After a season of doing this, you will have grown a perfect culture for performance art, politics, production and food wealth in the community of species that co-inhabit the garden.

    This is why...

    Most plants have a vast network of tiny roots that infiltrate the ground around them. They are tiny and might not come with the plant if you had to pull it out at the root. You might not even be aware of them consciously – I wasn’t to begin with.
    Often we think only of the anchoring roots, understandably, as they are the ones you see when you pull a plant out of the ground. However it is the finer surface roots that drink the water and all the nutrients in the earth, in great part – THEY are the 99%.
    They are many and as widely spread as they can access and critical to the immediate health of a plant. So given how tender and sensitive they are to live up to their purpose, you can understand then that a dry, crunchy and hard soil would leave them high and dry. You can only blame yourself then if they fail to perform on your demand, if they strike or shrivel up and die. Bad governance has no place in a healthy garden!
    Get this right first before you introduce any fertilizers. Check your soil condition first before you randomly add processed concoctions, you might be surprised by what health is just waiting in the air to find water and a growing medium.
    What material should you mulch with?
    You should decide that from what you have available in these days of the apocalypse – don’t be discouraged by not having the best organic and natural stuff around! Newspaper is fine, if you have a lot of it, but dry grass (though not so much lawn cuttings) like Eragrotis, thatching or veld grass, layered on the bed’s surface is really good. Truth be told, a strip of think black plastic* with holes in it just where your plants can go, works well too if it is called for – especially for smothering unwanted pest plants best grown somewhere else. The decision should be based on the best plan you can think of for your circumstances. Obviously natural and local indigenous material would be best, but the point is keeping the 10cm surface moist and a breeding ground for healthy life.
    What about fierce competition from weeds in such a healthy soil you ponder?
    This is where the mulch gives you control. By surrounding the base of the plant you are growing with a good thick blanket of protection – from moisture loss or bleaching sunlight- you are smothering the germinating weeds in between. Sure you’ll smother your own seeds too if you mulch substantially over your freshly planted seeds, so first mulch and then clear small openings for your seedlings or even your seeds. This way the tiny roots of the plant can access the moisture underneath the mulch where the weeds in between get smothered by the mulch and in that moisture without sun, they rot and become more nutrients for absorption by the preferred plant.

    2. Keeping the soil conditioned – with WATER!!

    Water your plants. It’s sounds cliché, obvious. But it isn’t as random as you might think.
    Just like nurturing a baby from infant to adult, different food and drink are required at different times of development. Tiny new born roots are easily broken and sensitive, so a soft and moist soil will give them a better chance of pushing out. However, dropping big dollops of water on them might rock them loose from their grip and cost them energy trying to re-establish up from down. Keep them in good moisture levels as well as a warmish soil and just like little babies, they will grow in their sleep.
    Never underestimate surface watering. In South Africa we have a limited water supply and should, as a matter of course, save water. Globally, this is going to be a pretty painful reality bite as climate change moves mankind down the funnel we’ve created for us to spiral down to our death. Root drenching is great for keeping the moisture deep in the soil without losing water to evaporation. However, the surface roots that drink so much water, spread further out than the main anchor roots. If you have saved your rain or dew water and can occasionally spread the moisture on a wider birth, all your plants will benefit.

    3. Occupy and let occupy!! Community living means every role is cherished.

    Companion plant, just do it. You know why – I don’t have to tell you. Diversify, embrace different strengths and support tenderness with love and security. Some plants just can’t live next to each other and others that can’t live without each other. If you want to dictate according to some desired result that certain plants should bend to your command, do it. If your dictatorship respects the laws of nature, your garden won’t revolt. I’m probably a bit of a socialist and prefer to let the plants tell me where they are happy by measure of the shared success of their good health while providing me with food and medicine. This is what governs my efforts. Each to their own of course, it matters only in its value to you. Don’t be surprised if plants break the rules either, sometime odd plants fall in love with each other and no matter what book, holy or otherwise says about that, the law of nature has the final say. Be flexible and observant.

    N P K

    4. Plant nutrients 101 – nitrogen – phosphorus – potassium

    Nitrogen – makes leaves grow. The ground gets nitrogen from different sources including lightning... this should give you an idea.
    Phosphorus - needed for strong root growth and seed germination. Not readily available in its elemental form and pretty complicated. If you want to read about it this site explains it nicely
    Potassium – for fruit and flower boosting – pot ash shium... calms everything down – Just what a fruit bearing mama would need.
    This is the most basic nutrient information; anyone can get very involved in the complex depth of information out there on nutrients in the soil. The key to getting a good soil condition is by giving it the best chance following natural methods, like mulching, planting nitrogen fixers, rotating crops and other ordinary ways.
    I have ONE other recommendation for out sourcing soil conditioning and that is making homemade essential micronutrients/organisms. The basic idea is to mix deciduous fruit, water and molasses in a bucket, let it stand for a week or two, depending on how hot your climate is, and then use the diluted deliciousness for a many number of things, including folio feed, soil enrichment, pest control and it’s good for you too. It’s usually called EM between those that know of it.

    Game play - because playing is fun...
    replace 'plants' with 'people', 'gardening' with 'protesting', 'the sun' with 'authority' etc..... for a laugh!
    P.S. Never take me or yourself too seriously!
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