Lecture by Alan Chadwick in Saratoga, May 2, 1972
Lecture 1, Part 1.6
An Introduction to Alan Chadwick's Lectures and a Glossary of Terms
The full text of this lecture segment
Contents of this Segment:
Soil must be kept alive; Soil texture; Dew and capillary; Destructive effects of roto tillers; Cultivation during summer and during winter; Thermal control in the French Intensive System; Mulching; Constitution of potting soils; Nature loves the human being; the Sensitivity of plants; Nodules of bacteria on legumes.
Villa Montalvo Lecture Series
Saratoga, California, 1972, Lecture 1,
Cultivation, Part 6
...in soil. And that’s a difference; it’s a big difference. Now, fertility can be lost if you allow a soil to become arid. Fertility can be lost if you allow a soil to become bogged. And at all times your soil must be kept cultured with growth, with moisture, and with nutriment. And dependent upon this is the use of cultivation and fertilization.
Fertilization, covering mostly the word utterly forgotten today, and not observed at all: texture. The texture in soil is two-thirds of the whole answer of fertility because of dew and capillary, dew and capillary. Literally speaking, may we say—of course it’s not correct, but I’m using terminology—that dew does that, and capillary does that. Now, you cannot get capillary, and you will definitely interfere with dew, if you lose texture in soil. Here enters the scene of rototillers and all these other inconceivable madnesses that are supposed to avoid us labor. And the moment that you powder any soil below a few inches you have lost, totally, capillary. Capillary comes about by textured undersoils and a fine soil on the surface. You will not get capillary in any other soil at all. Ever. And of course, it also affects dews enormously because of the breathing of the growth that is taking place in the ground.
Now I must go back to cultivation, to furrow, and the plow. There are times of the year of the cycle, when different procedures of cultivation can, and should, take place. And now you will see that I’m beginning to express how easy it is to damage the fertility of soil. As easy as it is to damage a beautiful bloom of an orchid, or a strawberry, or a fruit. It is just as easy.
In the period of the declination of the Sun, is dormancy and sleep in the world when the whole of the atmosphere says to the world, “Sleep and rest now, you must relax. If you want the spring and tension to come, you must go to sleep and rest.” And so all the soil sleeps, and the fertility of the soil sleeps. And at that time you can do mostly what you like with it. You can dig it. You may turn it. You may loosen your sub-soils. And you will not damage it. You will aerate it and do it good. If you do that in the height of the inclination of the sun you will destroy it. The procedure of the turning of the soil for aeration must take place in the dormancy. The only other procedure, which you can use to aerate the soil during the inclination period or the equinoctial periods, is to turn it very quickly, and quickly to bring about its surfacing for capillary again. If you do that instantly, you will not cause destruction.
But observe, that if you wish to aerate soil properly, for the whole purpose of what the aeration is the landslide, you must be rough. You must leave it rough. You must turn your soil in great sods, in chunks, that all the airs, and the snow, and the frost can get to it and cleanse it, and purify it, and aerate it. If you do that in the summer you will destroy the creativity of the soil. But, at all times, to maintain pulsation in the soil, creativity, you must keep that surface of loose soil open to the operation of the pulsations. And for this purpose you must use your hoe, your rake, or your light fork very delicately.
But preferably—and of this we will deal in one of the other talks—the French Intensive system overrides the whole of these matters by causing the plants to do exactly what you would do with implementation. And it also takes the place of the entry of what came about about fifty years ago known as mulching. Mulching still remains a predominant matter in orchards, soft fruits, and rhubarb, and asparagus culture, where you cannot use the French intensive system so well, if at all.
But I am talking very much for flower and very much for vegetable culture in French Intensive beds at the moment. That’s what I’m focusing on. Therefore, what one is saying is this: That there are very definite times of year when very definite techniques of cultivation can be used. And that is, that your digging and opening up of the soil can take place only in the dormancy period. It can take place in the other periods providing that you restore the soil immediately to its operative position, that you do not leave it open, and that you plant it immediately, and set it under way again, and keep it moist.
Now when you have different soils for potting... And potting soil is literally one-third sharp, one-third compost or leaf mould, and one-third turf loam. That is an ordinary constitution of what potting soil is. When you have those soils in bins for your greenhouse work or your potting work, you can at no time disregard those bins of soil. They have got to be kept fertile. If you do not look after them, if you do not moisten them, if you do not keep them at the right moisture and protect them from too heavy rains, or such like matters, they will lose fertility. Do we understand that you can go to a desert, you can find the most fabulous alluvial soils, come from rock, and mineral, and compost; beautiful mineral soils. And you can moisten it and it will produce nothing. Fertility is not there. Fertility is a life which is put in, either by Nature, or us.
And here enters for the first time—and it will enter many times in these talks—the enormous propensity of this matter which is so delicious: that human beings are required and loved by Nature to be in the garden. There is much that Nature, of itself, needs man as a partner, as a benevolent, and requires and loves him for his duties in magnification. The planting out of plants, the taking of strikes, the manipulation of landslides, which only enormous storms will bring about. And in the observation of a garden you become aware that Nature is watching you whilst you’ve been digging. For do not delude ourselves. For even the scientists have recently discovered that they can find criminals by plants, by their reaction to somebody who has been in a room where a crime has been committed. That the sensitivity of plants—of course you have to have a human instrument to bring about an ordination of what it’s saying, of a graph—but the sensitivity of plants is so much more than any sensitivity that we have.
That when you do that to somebody and they flinch, and their eye flickers to protect it; plants have infinitely more than this. And that the response of plants in a garden, and a farm, and growing, and the love and adoration of people that they share, not just with their plant because they want a turnip or a lettuce, but this huge emanation of the exhilaration of living, of the spirit of life is what the garden, air, and plants are aware of. And don’t let us delude ourselves that we can go into the garden with a commercial aspect and say, “I’m going to get two thousand dollars. I don’t care what happens, I’ve got to have two thousand dollars. I’m, I’m so sorry, did you hear me?” And of course, they’ll all change and it won’t go right. Or rather, it will probably be that you’ll get two thousand dollars and all that goes with it. And that’s not very much what we want.
So, with cultivation of the soil enters the scene of also some plants which bring about cultivation and improvement of the soil immediately. And this constitutes very much a collection of plants known as the bacterials. The bacterials simply means that on the roots of certain plants are little nodules called bacteria. And that those nodules are, and were, assessed, as you know, by your Virgil and your Georgics; are assessed as the most vital food elements in soil for bringing about beautiful crops. In fact, as you know, the Greeks would sow fava bean or lucerne, and when it was lush, plow the whole thing in. And as they plowed it in they would sow fava bean or lucerne on top in it. And when it was lush and beginning to be spring, plow the whole thing in and sow the cereal. And the most fantastic crops of cereal. As you know, the Greeks had better cereal than we have today, by far.