"Gardening without Poison."
"Such a fundamental new method is only good and ready when it has become simple"... are the words of Alwin Seifert (1890-1972). A remark that we very much consider to be applied to us and our composting method...
An e-mail from one of our readers made us look for a small green book that must have been in our bookcase for more then 40 years. And there it was, forgotten and squeezed behind some books... 'Gardening without Poison', in a sixth edition, dating from 1974.
In Germany, in 1971, published by Biederstein Verlag. Munich, with the title: 'Gärtern Ackern - ohne Gift'. And in the Netherlands, published by Hollandia BV Baarn, ISBN: 90 6045 741 2. A booklet, which is essentially about making compost and its successful use in the vegetable garden, characterized by Seifert's personal report.
When we see photographs of Alwin Seifert on the internet we see an angry man. And his book has an accordingly angry or disgruntled overtone. Seifert's fight for a microbiological method of plant breeding is still as relevant today as it was then. Unfortunately... the wheel must still be invented... and the resistance (of the fertilizer lobby) still is huge.
When we discovered the booklet, in the 70s, it was a real relief for us and it contained many news, which we then could not hold as we do now. However, it has been a starter for us and in our subconscious it certainly has had an impact. Apparently understanding matures by time.
On soil and soil minerals.
On page 74: "Only in recent years, thanks to the particularly difficult ground I had to work on, it has become clear to me that it is not the compost, which does so well to grow our plants and bushes and trees, but the billion-fold life in the soil itself. This is only because it can get away from the compost as it enters the unfertilised soil next to the roots of our fruit trees, manufacturing permanent humus, and releases potash, lime and phosphoric acid out of the soil minerals and makes it available to the roots of our trees".
Seifert here mentions the three nutrients potash, lime and phosphoric acid. Now, as one can measure more substances into the soil, even more 'necessary' substances will be referred to. Which in itself is not to say that this also must be added to the soil as a fertilizer. The soil itself contains these substances. Soil is mineral. What Seifert found out is that the compost ensures that those substances are absorbed by the plant. And this is what Elaine Ingham says also.
Page 102: "If the soil is full again with the proper living elements, then the plant on this soil is so healthy that it cannot be affected by any harmful element. The healing power of the weed, is thus transferred through the compost and soil into the cultivated plants."
Page 48: "For as the soil had become richer, created by the captured humus in the compost, the need for weed control was reduced. During the last years of the test the land was as well as free of weeds - which meant the land had become in perfect health, it was in biological balance. (...) A massive occurrence of certain weeds is always a sign that the soil is not okay, is used unilaterally, or is sick. Weed is the cure with which nature is trying to restore a disturbed equilibrium. But to do so, people rarely give it its time."
Our potting soil is a mix of matured compost and rock dust. In here we usually find clovers... A sign that our soil contains but little nitrogen?
|In the raised beds between the carrots.|
Pages 39 and 40: In the year 1925 Seifert took forest plants from one garden to his new garden where he planted them under similar conditions. Except that now they were placed under a roof overhang so they were more dry.
"In contrast to their healthy growth (...), they were now affected by the larvae of a sawfly, wherein each year at least three generations appeared, so that the plant instead of leaves only had veins.
The then customary poisons had no effect. (...) The damage was repaired by a couple of cans with water. The larvae of the sawfly where gone - but not quite. (...) The sawfly still was there, but could not harm the healthy plants. He waited for his chance now and that would come at the time that I would have forgotten to pour the plants. So the harmful insect could only attack the plants when it was sick.
If I had not found the cause, then I would have been spraying and dusting with the poisons, which came on the market over time, during the twenty-nine years that I lived in the yard, having only contested the outer appearance of the disease, and never have been able to cure the disease itself. (...) This led me to the conviction. that the so-called harmful insects or fungi are a phenomenon on the second plan, which affects only those plants that have become susceptible or defenseless for one reason or another."
About compost versus manure.
Page 41: Seifert shares a garden with the same soil with his neighbor.
"... and the whole was covered with the yellow, stony loamy sand from the road construction. This uniform plain was fenced. I worked with compost, my neighbor with manure. Years later, the soil of the neighbor was yellow and rough still, but mine was a dark garden soil. On my part vegetables grew, on the other side of the fence just weeds. Compost made the fresh underground into a dark garden soil, more rapidly than the manure did."
Dr. Elaine Ingham: "Compost your manure." Or even better: Add to the manure, at least the same amount of organic materials, and compost that.
About water culture with fertilizer.
On page 53: "In order to grow, for example, our potatoes, we would have to put, (...) considerable amounts of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus acid salts, together with trace elements. (In here) the plant roots should incorporate the necessary food - a simple process. This according to the example of the test, which has made Justus von Liebig famous. He had brought to growth plants in these nutrient solutions without soil. Thereon, in later years, plant breeding as a aquaculture was developed. But concealed was that plants, in a real pure water culture, poison them selves, due to their own secretions, that enter the water through the roots."
And then about compost:
"We have, however, (...) given only rough materials, (...) which digest in the soil by the plant and animal life, which is transformed and prepared into an absorbable food, on which the plants apparently thrive much better. This convincingly has been proven by the fact that, with such a poor food, we have fed potatoes, seventeen times in a row, on the same land... and in addition we obtained a maximum yield and quality. With fertilizers of any kind, we would have been to our end, like experience has shown, in three to four years."
After which he continues his arguments by praising the earthworm and the fertility of the soil the worm makes.
On (in)visible life in the soil.
Seifert's explanation about the food intake by plants is enlightening.
On page 56: "In one gram of fertile soil one counts ten billion living beings. (...) One gram of clay is composed of five hundred billion particles that have a functional area of two square meters. From montmorillonite, a plant life auspicious clay mineral, one gram has an effective surface area of 400 to 600 square meters!
This complete world of billions of living beings makes a nutrient solution from the plant residues, which is taken up by the plants by their root hairs. Above that it makes carbon dioxide, which continuously rises from the soil, which then is included in the plant by the extremely small nipples (stomata) on the bottom-side of the leaves. Therefrom starch and sugar is manufactured, with the aid of the energy of the sunlight, whereby new plant mass is made, new crop.
Nitrogen bacteria release nitrogen out of the air that is in the soil, which is necessary to build up the chemical structure of the humic substances. What finally remains of all the multiple substances in the soil, serves as a breeding ground for a dense tissue of algae and fungi.
This tissue keeps the soil particles together and at a distance at the same time. Such a interlaced arable garden soil is loose and airy and warm and can hold large amounts of rain and snow water. The rain can not clog the land and an upper crust can not occur, the water can not wash away the soil and the wind can not blow it away."
On page 66 we find the remark: "Experience has shown that a little-finger thick layer of normal loamy garden or arable soil is enough between 20cm thick layers of greens." Which means that we had to deposit this thin layer between each layer of organic waste. And after waiting for months we were left with the same that we had, at the moment we were setting up this 'heap of compost': Organic materials between 'a thin layer of loamy garden or arable soil'. Our confusion about this so-called 'art of composting' was enough to turn our back to it.
At that time we had a goat farm. From the manure of the goats we made compost by mixing it with the organic materials, like the last grass cuttings from the pasture land. Each year after the grazing season the land needed a last cut to reap the remaining grasses that were not eaten by the animals. So the grassland could start its new spring season clean. This, along with the garden waste and fallen leaves from the trees, we composted our goat manure. This provided us a wonderful product. In fact, this has become the origin of the method, which we have developed later to composting grasses and herbs. Supported by the method of the German engineer H.Krantz we went doing tests with the composting of verge and meadow grass clippings, that remained from the Dutch nature maintenance. What eventually emerged as a composting activity, which was later continued in the form of a Private company.