Soil. It’s the building block of life on Earth isn’t it? We rely on top soil for so much, from the nutritional value of our food, to grazing land for our livestock and for enough growth of wild flowers and natives, or weeds as you might think about them, to sustain insect and bird populations. We need soil, and yet we traditionally treat it poorly. We call it dirt. We cover it in pesticides, as if nature is a second class citizen we can just get rid of. We refuse to cherish or nurture it in many cases, and it has absolutely no formal policy to look after it. Whilst we recognise the need for healthy air and water for life, soil has been pushed aside and disguarded.

And yet soil is amazing. To start with there are more organisms in a teaspoon of soil than there are humans in the planet. The soil is an ecosystem which few of us ever see, other than the occasional earth worm. This ecosystem ensures the soil is kept at peak health, has air in it and drains. And yet we dig through and plough with no thought for this ecosystem let alone the carbon that’s emitted with each turn of the plough. For decades rather than feeding the soil, farmers have fed crops, ignoring the soils need for replenishment and we find ourselves now at the point where farmland is depleted, and so degraded that in heavy rain, empty field are seeing top soil washed away.

But there is good news. Urban soils in parks, gardens and allotments have been found to be far healthier than our traditional farmlands. There are simple reasons for this. Parks and gardens often have a layer of leaf litter that breaks down into them each year, continually adding humus, that hero of organic matter, into the soil and supporting the ecosystems to be healthy, trapping moisture and adding nutrients. Allotment gardeners generally don’t plough but use a layer of compost or manure annually to feed the soil, acknowledging the need for the soil to be regenerated after the crops of the year have been harvested. Far fewer pesticides are used. In cities the soil is treated in a far kinder way.

That brings us to thoughts around soil and the climate and ecology crises. Soil captures carbon and acts as a sink. It does that best of course when fully covered in plant material to draw the carbon down. The soil ecosystems are healthier if soil is not continually turned over, and of course there are ways to ensure that doesn’t happen!! So we are committing, across the Incredible Edible Bristol gardens, is no dig gardening where we commit to feed the soil with organic matter regularly and don’t dig, but allow the soils ecosystem to pull the nutrition into the soil. We’re also committed to ensuring earth is covered for as much of the time as possible, using green manures, perennial planting and mulches.

Using plants like squash keeps the soil covered so watering needs are reduced as they keep the soil covered and weeds struggle to grow with limited light.

And we’re committed to sharing our skills not just with our community gardeners but with the whole city through workshops and courses at our Incredible learning space, which will be launching in April…….

The fight to stop the ecological emergency is on and soil is key and we can all help. If you’d like more info on no dig practices go to the guru of no dig at where you’ll find lots of information.

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