The universal symbol for farmer is of a man on a tractor.
That is far from the reality on my little flower patch. Oak & Olive Flowers is a one-woman operation, and my patch of ground has never seen a tractor or tiller, at least since I’ve been on this land.
When I first began gardening (way way back), I surmised that the required inputs for plants to grow were water and sunlight. My understanding of soil was basically as a neutral medium in which plants do their thing.
Only later did I begin to learn about the wonders of soil life. Seriously, you guys, this is fascinating stuff. Dr. Elaine Ingham is a rockstar pioneer in this field, coining the term the Soil Food Web to describe the way in which soil is actually a living community. There are more microorganisms in one teaspoon of healthy soil than there are humans on earth. What?!? It’s an incredibly complex system of bacteria, fungi, earthworms, microscopic insects, algae, beetles, and more. Furthermore, if left to its own devices, living soil creates a structure and chemical environment that is perfect for plant growth and maximizes water storage capacity.
You can probably guess what I’m going to say next. Tilling and other conventional farming techniques destroy that soil structure, kill organisms, and inhibit the soil’s
ability to hold water. This has major implications for crop productivity, but also bigger picture things such as runoff/flooding because of reduced water storage capacity in compacted soils, and reduced carbon sequestration in soils.
I garden because I am a passionate advocate for environmental responsibility. So, for me, the only way to garden is the way that makes the most ecological sense.
But besides the eco-responsibility aspect, no-till flower farming is the best! I don’t have to worry about maintaining any machinery, I get to work my body by using well-designed hand tools, my flowers are extremely happy and require very little watering/fertilizing, and it’s like Christmas morning to pull aside the mulch and see my dark, crumbly soil teeming with life. Not to mention the satisfaction of pulling out a weed with an intact 2 1/2 foot tap root because the soil is so loose (see photo just above)!
If this blog thing ends up being more than a Saturday-morning-in-February-fluke, future posts will further explain the techniques that I use and aspire to use, such as permaculture, mulching, how I prep my beds, occultation (which does not refer to devil worship), and more. But for now I hope I’ve gotten you a little bit excited about amazing living soil!