Alan Chadwick at the Urban Garden Symposium,1975, Part 1
The full text of this lecture can be found below.
See here for an Introduction to Alan Chadwick's Lectures and a Glossary of Terms
Contents of this Segment:
What we as gardeners want, and how we go about achieving it. Biodynamics as the culmination of thousands of years of agricultural practice. Drainage as the all-important factor in gardening. The raised bed as a simulation of a landslide in nature. No division between plants, herbs, and the all-important weeds. All cultured crops have developed from wild plants (weeds). The meaning of fertility, which is the production of warm, moist gasses in the soil. All soils can be made to become fertile. Soil texture and its importance in the garden. Capillary action, which is the rising of moisture from deep down in the earth, and how this is affected by soil texture. Stratifications in the soil. Compost is best used as it is in the process of decomposition, not after it has already decomposed. Inclination and declination of the sun and moon affecting plant growth. Thermal control at the surface of the raised bed created by the close placing of the plants. The four elements bringing about the interplay and change of conditions which contribute to fertility. Acceleration in the growth of plants in order to keep tenderness in the vegetable crops. The soil in the beds are more fertile after the crop is harvested than before it was planted, bringing about a constant improvement of the fertility in the garden. (14:27)
Full Text of this Lecture:
Alan Chadwick Lectures at the Urban Garden Symposium in 1975, Part 1
Everything is Governed by an Invisible Law
What is it that we want? We want youthful flavor in our food. We want good color in the flowers. We want lusciousness. We want youth so that we don’t have to cook any more than is necessary, or not at all. And so, what are the ways in which we approach the growing of these matters? The French Intensive System is the result of thousands of years of master culturalists culminating in a whole answer of this matter and, adjoined with Biodynamics, brings about a whole fruition and gives those very answers.
The primary essential to all good growing is drainage. This, the ancient Greeks taught us by telling us that the finest plants grow not in the alluvial soils of valleys, but on landslides. And it was because of that that they built landslides in the valleys, and, eventually, called it by furrow, plowing. We do it all today, and that is the whole reason for it. With that method came about the raised beds of ancient culture right up to today. Through that method you get perfect drainage and warm moist air to the roots as well as to the foliages.
For one must indeed think of roots as leaves in the ground, and leaves as roots in the air. In this way you get a much better picture of a plant. One must also realize that there is no divination [division, distinction], such as we make, about a vegetable garden or a flower garden or weeds or plants. They are all plants. You happen to cook the cauliflower, and we happen to eat the bulb of an allium, an onion. And when you get married, you carry asparagus plumosus nanus in your hand, but you love to eat the asparagus as a fern frond, as a vegetable. There is no difference between any of them, they are all plants.
But the most important plants of all in the garden are weeds, and so there is no more important plant than weeds. Weeds are origins. From weeds we have everything that we have in the garden. Every lettuce, every bean, every apple, every berry, have come from the origins—the weeds. And in those weeds are more nutriments and more total juices than any of the cultured plants of man which gradually become less and less. However, the method of the French Intensive bed is now a raised bed, above ground level, with a small walkway around it to be get-at-able.
The next matter to consider is the word fertility. Fertility is not something. It is a marriage of everything. It is a marriage of the matters in the soil, of decombustion, of the production of warm, moist gasses in the soil and in the air, which is what all the plants live upon, and the intermarriage of all those matters. Therefore, it is perfectly justified to say that literally any soil is a good soil. You can grow perfectly in sand. You can grow perfectly in loam. You can grow perfectly in peat moss; not everything, but many things, and most things. The word that we all look for, and that the whole world is looking for at the moment in its alarm, is fertility. And added to fertility is the magic of man’s mastery of the understanding of the laws of nature. When that is applied, in to what is called the French Intensive bed, you produce the very classical result of true fertility.
Texture is probably the most important matter which the world, agriculturally, has forgotten. Texture is entirely essential for the production of warm, moist gasses and for the production of the important word capillary. Capillary really means, as we understand it, the rising of waters from the deep earth. It also has a resultant upon the dews, which you might call the compressions from the atmosphere. But this word texture in the soil, is vitally important. You cannot have capillary if you have a seizing surface on your soil. Neither can you have capillary if you have a fine, loose soil underneath. You must have a loose flexible soil about two inches on the surface, and below that you must enter textured soils. That means actual roughage, and the more roughage, the more down, the better. In this way you will get decombustion, capillary, and the action of pulsation into the soil. That is breathing, that is action of the revolutionibus as spoken of by Copernicus: the effect of the planets and the ruling of the cycles.
When those things are interwoven, the next procedure to produce the fertility of a French Intensive bed is the high culture of stratification. Is it not true to say that, in the whole procedure of nature, she lays her soils in layers. In this way the roots of the plants and the surfaces of the plants growing grow through the areas which they need in their different ages. The child begins on milk, then goes into bread and milk, and then it goes into more things and more things and more things. And it is exactly the same thing with plant life. They demand texture, it is a word we have lost. The idea of chewing your compost up with a machine is most irrelevant. If you wish to use compost immediately, instantly, then chewing the compost up is advisable. But if you want compost in its true important form, you must have it as enormous texture. And you must use that compost in the form of decomposition, not as decomposed, as soil. It is as the structure of decomposition that its forces play and produce the warm, moist gasses, which is what all roots and the leaves live upon.
When one talks now about roots and leaves living upon this in the French Intensive bed, you have to entertain the interplay of the planetary system, which with its sleeping and waking, inclination and declination, does the matter of feeding through the atmosphere so that the plant breathes in through the air and travels down through the roots into the soil, thus actually feeding the soils. And likewise, in the opposite pulsation, feeding out through the roots, through the soil, up the stems, through the leaves into the air. This is a procedure which goes on in opposition, like breathing in and breathing out. And this is the whole essential of the study of biodynamics introducing the play of the cycles with the work of the revolutionibus of the planets.
Now, when these beds are stratified, with different soils, different composts and different fertilizations the plants are aware of this and the planting of those plants must be placed so that they make literally a thermal control of that bed. That, as the warm moist gasses are being built up inside the bed by decomposition, those gasses are rising and are held by the foliage of the plants themselves, like a small conservatoire, like a small conservatory, like a glasshouse. Therefore those plants need to be planted so that they cover the entire bed, or if not planted, so that they are sown so that they cover the entire bed as quickly as possible. How superbly all nature grows in meadows, in places where the plants cover the whole soil. How unhappy plants are when they are distraught by the inference of the elements destroying the soil area.
That whole soil area of a half inch above and two inches below is, indeed, the very skin of the world. It is the area of discontinuity between earth and air. And it is the four elements, earth, fire, air and water that are all the time bringing about interplay. The sun is shining, drying it up. The only reason that you water plants is that they should dry. You want this continual change from one thing to another, it is the whole original vision of a holiday: this perpetual change that brings pulsation, inclination and declination, excitement, change. Nothing in nature is ever static for one moment. Therefore, the sun dries the soil and we moisten it. And the wind blows and dries the soil more than the sun does. And the cold comes. And the heat comes. And the four elements play and are all the time destructive. But if you place these plants so that they protect the skin of the world, the half inch above, the two inch below, you have a thermal control. It’s like a sheet of glass with a window. And therefore, the whole of the procedures that are taking place within the soil bed and within the atmosphere under the plants is not being disrupted but is being held above the plants by their foliages which are not disturbed by the matter.
Therefore you get within that area, perfect growth control. It is only when plants stop growing for a time that they get tough. And if the collar of any plant gets tough it will never recover in that area, and the plant will never be a good plant again. You must in growing all plants think of the word acceleration. From the time that the seed is born, there must be a continual acceleration of that plant, faster and faster and faster. Therefore you would sow your seed and get germination on the certain cycle that is going to proceed and continue ad lib, for if that plant stops it will not be worthwhile. That is the whole reason and purpose behind the huge culture of the French Intensive bed. The result of the formation of that bed, which is an endless, and extremely cultured work, has this result: that all the crops grown in such a bed, formed in such a cultured manner, when you take that crop out, that soil in that bed is infinitely more fertile than when that crop went in. And can this be said today about the approaches of horticulture and agriculture? This is the whole matter that the whole view of agriculture is striving and hunting for. It is of the utmost importance that you improve, improve, improve, and that is exactly what this classic system brings about, and it cannot be otherwise.
[Transcription of this lecture 2015 by M. Crawford and G. Haynes]