Study Says Allotment Soil Is Better Than Conventional Farm Land For Food Growing

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Soil report shows we should all grow more of our own – New research confirms that soil in allotments and back gardens is richer – and more productive – than on farms

Soil is one of the great failures of modern intensive agriculture. Healthy soils, beneath natural grasslands and – especially – woodlands, contain lots of organic matter. This organic matter holds onto nutrients and gives the soil structural stability, allowing it to resist damage by, for example, heavy rain, thus preventing erosion. There’s also plenty of life in a healthy soil, lots of burrowing earthworms, and so lots of pore space too. A healthy soil is basically a giant sponge, which fills up with water after rain, gradually releasing that water to plants in dry weather.

When land is cleared for agriculture, and especially for arable crops, all that goes out of the window. The organic matter in arable soils is lost to the atmosphere as CO2, and the soil loses its structure and strength, leading to compaction and erosion. Arable soils also lose their ability to hold onto water, nutrients and pollutants, leaking nutrients into groundwater and lakes and rivers, causing eutrophication and, if the water is for human use, the need for expensive water treatment.

Although this is all depressingly well-known, the conventional view is that all this soil degradation is the price we have to pay for the high yields of arable crops on which we all depend. But, says new research just published in the Journal of Applied Ecology [Urban cultivation in allotments maintains soil qualities adversely affected by conventional agriculture], gardening proves the conventional view to be completely wrong. The researchers looked at the properties of soils on allotments in Leicester, along with those from other urban sites, and compared them with soils beneath arable fields and pasture in the countryside around Leicester.

The arable soils showed all the usual symptoms: compacted, lifeless and low in organic matter. Allotment soils, by contrast, were more open, more fertile, and higher in organic matter, in fact they weren’t all that different from soils beneath woodland. The reason isn’t hard to find: composting of allotment waste is virtually universal among allotment holders, most also import household green waste as well, and use of manure and other kinds of commercial compost is widespread. In short, soils on allotments are healthy because allotment holders go to a lot of trouble to keep them that way.

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TED Talk: “Everything You Know About Composting is Wrong”

Entertaining and interesting information on composting, it’s not quite “Everything You Know About Composting is Wrong” but he raises some good points about saving as much “leaf mold” (fallen tree leaf) to make into essentially needed rich compost and save your kitchen waste/scraps and waste paper for the Wormary (worm bin) where the worms can actually break it down into a useable form. Compost piles often struggle to break these “ingredience” down but worms enrich them into what’s known as “worm casts”, an excellent source of Nitrogen and Phosphorus as well as many other things.

Speaker: Mike McGrath @ TEDxPhoenixville
More info on speaker: http://whyy.org/cms/youbetyourgarden/

Highgrove: Prince Charles Organic Garden

“The Prince of Wales takes (gardener) Alan Titchmarsh on a tour of Highgrove House – his own personal retreat and family home. Prince Charles gives a remarkably informal and candid interview about the outlet for his gardening aspirations, offering a rare insight into a royal passion. The Highgrove estate has become synonymous with all things organic, and Alan finds out from Head Gardener Debs Goodenough and her team what inspired the beliefs of the most hands-on royal gardener in history.”

Great tour around his land by him and his staff and good look into how he come to be a believer in and and advocate for organic gardening and sustainability. You’ll see things like walled kitchen veg gardens, wild flower meadows, composting techniques, creating comfrey liquid feed, gray water reed beds etc

Link to the nursery that supplies Highrove: http://www.duchyofcornwallnursery.co.uk/