Soil Atmosphere in Crisis

For thousands of years, farmers have been trying to keep the living earth at bay by stripping all plant life from their fields. Because of evaporation issues around the destruction of organic soil-air boundaries, most of those historic fields are salty and useless now, yet the process continues in this corn-on-the-cob field in Okanagan Landing…

The Poisonous Relationship Between Water, Soil and Heat

A privately-installed artwork for public consumption (really.) And what’s better than art that you can eat, eh?

This, however, is an agricultural installation with an eye on the future. Applause is deserved.

The Old and the New

Agricultural test plots in preparation for being wrapped in shadecloth, on old orchard ground heavily cropped for years by corn. Notice the compaction of the fine, non-organic lake bottom soils, and the scrubby crop of weeds. This dirt is unwell.

Given that if we can’t keep this soil alive, we’re eating out of petri dishes, I suggest that experiments in plant breeding, such as the one above, might be something too old, too late. The plants being tested here are not creatures of the soil but creatures of the air and the light: they root in air, they branch and leaf in air, their pollen is carried on the air, many of them release their seeds to the air, and up there in the air they eat the light. The soil is an environment for bacteria and fungus, which regenerate the soil atmosphere, so that the roots of the plants can breathe. To refresh a previous conversation along these lines, the oxygen in the soil comes from below the root zone of most plants, where organic material that has slowly fallen down through the soil is decomposed by bacteria.

The Irony of Weeds

The complete Mediterranean model for this form of agriculture included the pasturage of goats and sheep, which fed on wild land and brought organic material back to the soil in their faeces. Wouldn’t it be ironic if in its absence, the only thing that is keeping the precious subterranean atmosphere alive on this field is the cultivation of cheatgrass and stray weeds in the spring?

Seemingly, cultivated plants are only possible if they rise out of non-cultivated environments, or environments subsidized by wild material. At the moment, I suspect the system is limping along in the surface area of the soil, where oxygen levels fluctuate with the seasons, rising in the spring and dying in the fall when the ground freezes, while the deep atmosphere is becoming toxic. It is a seasonal process but not a sustainable one. Our universities should be studying this. The answers might be more important than global warming or improved processes for standardizing the production of wine in industrial laboratory environments. If our grape vines are setting roots down into dead air, what then? I’ve not found any studies on this yet. If I do, I’ll let you know.

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