Here’s what someone recently wrote in a comment to our discussion of organic gardening: "Soil food web gardening is revelatory in its practice, artful in it
crafting and leads to a supernatural culturing of the world around, in
and through us." Wow!
So I schlelpped to Virginia recently to hear a talk about the soil-food web by none other than Jeff Lowenfels, author of Teaming with Microbes. And what I got for crossing the Potomac was unexpected – laughs! Lowenfels has gotta be the funniest, most animated speaker on the gardening circuit today (okay, not exactly the Borscht Belt, but still). This lawyer, TV host, 35-year newspaper columnist who started Plant a Row for the Hungry could stand in for Jon Stewart any time.
So it’s a biology lesson laced with Karl Rove and Larry Craig jokes and frequent jabs at the EPA, but still a lecture, and my notepad is filled with details about what researchers learned after the invention of the electron microscope – just don’t ask me to explain any of it. But I DID grasp the point that it’s the bacteria and fungi and nematodes that do the work of feeding our plants, and you don’t get more basic and maybe even revelatory than that. And here’s that great chart from Life in the Soil by Jim Nardi to remind us of all that subsurface action.
WHAT HE HATES:
- Miracle Gro. But times are a’changing – the company is now the biggest supplier of
- Like Amy, he was NOT happy with Anne Raver’s article in the NY Times blaming global warming on earthworms. (He says it’s the more recent imports from SE Asia that are hurting the forests, not the types of earthworms we find in our gardens).
- Tilling, because it kills everything. Says rototillers are a "guy thing – they love having a big engine between their legs."
- Weed-B-Gone. (Google "lawn dog cancer" to learn why)
- The EPA, those "guys across the river" who are protecting the "Mafia" that makes commercial gardening products. He urged us to make our local nursery find out what’s IN the stuff they sell.
- Monoculture lawns – they’re "bullshit"!
- Black plastic, because it destroys the whole soil-food web.
WHAT HE LOVES:
- His lawn, with obvious passion.
- Paul Tukey and SafeLawns.org.
- Mycorrhizal fungi, which he says are sold by all GOOD nurseries.
- The KIS Brewer for compost tea.
- Compost, as long as you know what’s in it.
- For fertilizer, soybean meal from the feed store.
- Fertilizers that are less than 10-10-10. ("Forget NPK"!)
- Plantskydd deer repellent, because it lasts 6 months.
- Soilfoodweb.com for testing soil. (There’s also this great page there explaining everything.)
I asked Jeff how often he sprays the the compost tea and the answer reflects the gradual transformation that happens with its use. The first year he used it weekly; second year, once in early spring, again in mid-spring, then June and at the end of the season. In the third and following years, just twice – in the spring and again at the end of season. And how often does he apply the soybean meal? As soon as the lawn greens up in spring for most of the garden. Vegetable gardens get it two or three times a season. And note that he applies it only as a side dressing, not mixed into the soil.
HELP GET THIS GUY ON VIDEO
If you’re wondering how a photo of Karl Rove and a "Larry Craig bathroom shot" help explain soil science, I’m afraid the book won’t help you. And while it’s terrific that Jeff is carrying the soil-food gospel to assemblages of garden writers, it just won’t be the same coming from anyone else. So I’m on a rant to get Jeff to put his funny, inspiring talk, with its inspired slides, on video and free online for the world to see. I promised him that gardeners and environmentalists of all stripes would be watching and linking and the word would spread virally! Readers, please weigh in with your own convincing arguments. (Just make them up if you have to.)
Finally, here’s a tip. Jeff knows a kid in Anchorage who made $200K in one summer spraying compost tea on lawns. Sure pays better than blogging.