Why don’t I till the soil or turn it over? Why are there weeds growing around in my garden? These and many similar questions keep coming to me and it is hard to convince people with my answers.
Soil is a very complex structure. It’s full of life. Everything is important. Even the so called weeds. They hold the soil together. Their roots make an extensive network in the soil which also works to absorb rainwater. Some of these roots die and add organic matter to the soil. Even the leaves that fall from these so called leaves add to humus. White Dutch Clover is a star in my garden. It helps fix nitrogen, provides home to ladybirds, flowers attract pollinators, and helps in absorption of water. This is just one of the so-called weeds.
Try comparing a patch of land that has been cleaned, the weeds pulled out and the soil left exposed, to another patch of land with weeds all over. Winds will not blow the soil away from the uncleared soil. Water will not erode. In fact, more rain water will reach the depths where there are weeds. On the other hand, just walking around on a cleared up land will compact the soil and make it still poorer.
The fungus that is present in the soil makes a widespread web. The trees, the bushes, and even the low grass are connected to each other. They convey vital information and take care of their lot. A single stroke of spade into the soil breaks all the connections in its path. Imagine what running a tiller or a tractor does to the soil.
There is life in the soil. Apart from the fungal networks, various bacteria work hard to enrich the soil. Tiny creatures like earthworms churn the soil and help in decomposition. Various organisms work at different stages and different levels to bring about the soil that we see around us.
One more disadvantage of tilling is that it forces the soil to release the nutrients needed by plants all of a sudden and excessively. These are much more than the amount actually required and taken up by plants. The excess nutrients just get washed away or wasted. So, with every cycle of tilling or soil turning, the soil is rendered poorer and poorer nutritionally speaking. The burying down of grasses or plants while doing so also releases an excessive amount of carbon that causes a nutritional imbalance for the plants… also not good.
For me, soil is a sacred thing in my garden and orchard. The less I disturb it, the better it is. Chemicals like pesticides, weedicides, antibacterial sprays, etc. are poisons that have been slowly and slowly killing the soil. The nutritional value of produce from commercial farming is going down. Every year more and more chemical fertilizer is needed to get the same produce. This is disheartening. Maybe people will start waking up to this and start respecting soil.
I will start this new year by planting some acorns (that I found on a rock) near a pathway so that some centuries later, someone like me, may sit down under the oak and be impressed by the wonders of nature.