Monday, March 18, 2019

A different perspective on garden fertilizers

This is John Kohler again, this time a shorter video than usual. He has a great deal of success with his garden and his take on fertilizers is different from most the experts you'll hear. Even the other videos that mention Kohler as their online inspiration have not fully adopted his ways. John insists he does not even think about NPK fertilizer numbers, instead, he thinks in terms of his soil being alive and rich with a full array of minerals.

* fungal dominated compost
* microbes
* trace minerals

The NPK will sort themselves from that.

To keep his soil alive he warns about chlorine in municipal water. This is the first time I've heard any gardener mention that.

At Benton radar site tippy-top a Pennsylvania mountain, someone had given my mother a cutting of an African violet. It was a single fuzzy leaf with 1/3 its tip cut off. She gave me a coffee can and told me to go out and fill up the can with dirt.

It sounds absurd writing this, but I ran into the forest to scratch dirt into the can. Me and dirt. She knew who to ask. Going into the forest was easy. The whole tiny site was scratched from primeval Pennsylvania forest such as you see in the Last Mohican. I was positively Little Longfellow joyfully fulfilling an errand assigned by my mother and doing it in trochaic tetrameter.
Shot into the shaded forest 
As an arrow from a bow. 
Forest dark by filtered sunlight
On an errand with a can. 
Fill a tin with scented soil
Soil with the smell of life
With its flavor of tobacco
And the stinkweed old Mundungus
With the echo of the breakdown
And its smack of burbonwhiskey
Filled with scent of grinding coffee 
With its rollypolly bugs.
And its wriggling writhing worms.
Smelling strong of rotting wood
Soil blackened of decay
I scooped up a full can of dirt but deemed it insufficiently dark and not nearly alive. It was brown. Just dirt. I knew I could do better than that. There were rotting logs all over the place,  right there at the edge of the forest. Lots of them. In fact, building a fort in there, it was harder finding good branches that had fallen than it was finding rotting logs. I ran over to the nearest rotting log, pushed it over, it broke apart, and I scooped up material from underneath it where rotting log blended with soil and decayed leaves. Black. Blacker than regular black. Contrasted with bits of broken down wood. Not exactly dirt. It was dirt loaded with decaying material. It was spongy in texture and it smelled like the earth is living. It smells like life out of death.

I was eight and a half years old and I intuited that black dirt with a scent would be better than brown soil that didn't have strong enough smell. I understood grades of living earth. The best dirt has a pleasant soft feel and an appealing smell of wet wood.

Back home, the leaf portion was put into the black dirt with its bits of rotting log, placed on a window sill above the kitchen sink in front of a large window that faced east. (With the omnipresent radar in the distance. The eye of Gatsby's billboard.)

And the leaf of the African violet blazed. My mother was amazed. Her self-image was that she had a black thumb. She did not have a way with plants. She did not know how to care for them. But in that particular instance, in that specific place, it all came together for impressive success. Hers was the best African violet that I've seen since. A mound of dark green leaves, a dome loaded with violet blooms. 

Back then I didn't care about plants. Especially small ones like that, but Mum was thrilled with her African violet, and although she kept trying at subsequent places she never duplicated that success. And strangely she attributed it to the east facing window and to the regular convenient watering and mist from the kitchen sink and she gave less credit to the impossibly rich natural soil.

1 comment:

john said...

About chlorine. Packrats are nearly impossible to drive out of where they want to be. Ask Bill Murray. I tried to flood them out, collapse their tunnels, and of course useless rat poison. So one day I got some big jugs of cheap bleach and poured 2 gallons down one of their holes. Ended up killing a whole section of plants and bushes in the garden, bleached them white. And the holes were back in about a week.