The Crestone Eagle • August, 2021

Ginny Ducale’s  PermaFest talk on ‘The Living Soil’

by Ginny Ducale

My talk is about many things, mainly green manures or cover crops and building good soil.  Soil is so important in the growing of food for the stomach or even the soul.  The hunger that we talk about around the globe is not only in the stomachs of the world but also in the hearts and minds to find that which really fulfills us.

So, about soil. It is the offspring of the Earth, the Earth is the mother, soil is the offspring and we are the offspring of the soil. We are truly a part of this middle earth . . . you have the center of the earth, the red hot lava, the rocky mantle, and the lithosphere, which is the productive part that interacts with all the cosmic stuff, like air, water, light, and the sun’s heat. The word soil is synonymous with the word soul. Our souls are what the rich earth should be:  cool, soft, moist, nurturing, sustaining, and encompassing. An ever-enfolding wholesomeness. A cosmos of primal knowledge and growth. A richly endowed being and a richly endowed earth.  It is a living testimony.

Soil is alive.  Every part of it is teeming with life.  It supports trees, shrubs, plants, weeds, bacteria, fungi, nematodes, worms, birds, bugs, animals and of course, us. It’s the reason we are here.  It supports all of this. It is organic!

The soil food web illustrating the wonderful relationships that exist in living soil.

It is just waiting to give us all that we desire. You probably can’t imagine that soil wants to give me everything. If you have ever read Rob Brezny’s Free Will Astrology where he talks about Paranoia and Pronoia and their differences.  Paranoia is the fear that everything is waiting to get us at every turn . . . on the other hand, pronoia is the possibility that the Cosmos at every moment is just waiting to give us everything we want.  That is the way that good rich soil is, well-endowed and willing to share.

Soil doesn’t look alive! But just add water. Feed it, and it becomes like a busy city in the middle of the week, slowed down to 1/1000th the speed.  Like looking at the earth from a cloud, you cannot see the cars or the people moving, they just stand still, but then if you come close, it all speeds up. That’s the way it is underground. It is loaded with the living.

Walk through a pasture of grasses, after a rain with animals leaving their droppings.  And it is rich and fresh and green and with worms. And why is it so abundant?  Everything is pooping in it.  It is an act of poop, an act of living and dying. If something is not living and growing in it then it is dying in it and breaking down, to be digested by all the living organisms that are graciously doing to the earth the favor of preparing it for another life cycle.

Not all soils are alike:  There is dry, barren soil, with nothing growing in it, sandy, or compacted. If it has nothing growing in it, it is not organic. It needs living organisms to be organic.

Without a plant growing in the ground, there is nothing happening.  No life, no nutrition, aka notrition. There needs to be interaction, relativity, activity for anything to prosper.  There has to be relationships, clashes, sparks. Relativity, the spark of attraction, the arc of intention, the crossroad of invention. There is an East Indian saying that “It is through the other that we know the self.” Everything is about relationships. But, now that we understand that if there is no plant in the ground, there is no interaction, no reflection, no bacterial organisms feeding, no potential, there is no life and it is not organic soil.

Ginny Ducale at the Perma Peace Fest at the Little Shepherd church.
photo by Lori Nagel

Then there is a biodynamic soil ecology.  There is relativity, between all the living critters in there.  All working with the roots of the plants and trees in a symbiotic service to each other. The roots of the plants making soil sugars called exudates, which attract the organisms like bacteria, fungi, etc., who come and suck up these exudates and then they are hooked.  So, now they are at the service to the roots of plants to bring them all the minerals and whatever, that would make these plants thrive. 

Imagine a plant growing in the ground, sort of like a human but, upside down, where the crown or the head is underground, it’s called the crown, it’s hair creeping through the soil, looking for food, talking to all the little critters and its hands above ground soaking up light and air and water, and its feet growing towards the heavens where the sun has promised eternity. 

But, how does this relate to our gardens and our orchards, and our croplands?  How can this happen so that there is fertility where there needs to be?      

The cycles of life and death

We need to create this scenario:

Make sure something is growing in the soil and living and dying back down into the soil to keep it alive, because that is the other aspect of living soil, it needs food itself, it needs dying matter to feed itself. 

We need to always keep it covered like our hair and clothing does, or like grass does. The sun and the elements dry the surface and kill everything. Use straw, old straw, leaves, compost, natural cotton batting, or any thick material that gives coolness and keeps moisture in the ground

Plant the plants that feed the bacteria, and pull nitrogen, etc. into the soil and build up on the store of organisms that then feed the roots. A few of those plants are legumes, the clovers, vetch, mustard, grasses like rye and barley and oats, pea plants, and many others.  Grow them with your vegetables.     

Hold that nitrogen in the soil during the winter when it is leaching back out, by still keeping it covered. As the cover crop dies and breaks down, it becomes the enriching factor for next spring. We are creating soil alchemy, changes, necessary for the carbon/nitrogen cycle that is the basis of all life.  Carbon is there after the dying process and there before the birth process. It is the backbone of every known biological molecule. Life on earth is based on carbon, and its long chain molecules.  Carbon is the source of energy, nitrogen is for building cell structure.  Bacteria and fungi consume it, and go wild, like a crowd of cheering people at a rock concert. And then they reproduce.

Now you have created a dense hotbed of nutritive soil that can be a rich storehouse of potential for growing the food, trees, flowers, and futures of a very healthy society.

I honor the work of Bill Mollison’s permaculture, Goeff Lawton’s food forests, Sepp Holzer’s ponds, and Masanobu Fukuoka, as well as Mokichi Okada for natural agriculture because nature can teach us everything.