Gardens for the Grand Kids: an Organic Model for Slow Release Fertilizer in a Post-Petroleum World

Compost requires labour and tillage. In other words, it is a renewable input. It is one that mimics natural processes, or interjects materials into them. I guess it is a bit like starting a wine with cultured industrial yeasts. What, though, if we fertilized our post-industrial gardens with natural slow release fertilizer? This desert parsley is living from the nitrogen release of a community of lichens on granite, for instance.

A non-lichen version is shown by the ones below, living off a small community gathered around the base of a siyaʔ There are some yellow bells thriving there, too, and some forget-me-nots. In this example, there is tillage, conducted by voles. It is this kind of community that composting aims to replicate, with humans instead of voles, or, rather, petrochemically-powered machines instead of organic creatures.

If we are going to thrive off of “wild” soils, we need to do it as a community. Here is another example of lichens releasing nutrients slowly:

In this case, a tree planted some 60 (?) years ago, is serving as a cost-free ladder for lichens to harvest nitrogen from the sky, which is then slowly washed off, down to the soil below. Meanwhile, many creatures live within the decaying wood and on it. Some of them, like hawks, keep the moles in check. And when trees fall, well, they very slowly turn to soil, over hundreds of years, all the time storing water and releasing nitrogen with the help of a community of lichens, and many fungi.

Rather than burning logs every winter in big slash piles to prepare the ground for more tree plantations, it will one day be necessary to lay them out properly to create garden communities, which we can harvest. We might as well develop the expertise, and some foundational gardens, now, before we really need them. Very slowly, a community of lichens can build up a complex community on bare rock.

This one is not edible. How to encourage the ones that are, well, that’s part of what we should be working on now, so that our great grandchildren have the skills to thrive. The dead pine below has created quite a productive environment over its lifetime.

The siyaʔ below, and the Oregon grape it encouraged. There’s already a fair bit to eat there.

We may find that by combining wood and rock, we get the best benefit. Here’s a large-seeded desert parsley enjoying the good times.

Perhaps our great grandchildren’s gardens will look like the little one below, little bowls catching snow and nutrients, and raising a leafy spring crop.

Planting them now, though, that’s the trick. This is slow gardening. It requires commitment, and not just a little joy and love.

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