Topsoil

I hate it when we have erosion in our fields.  I try to make sure that doesn’t happen, but it’s hard to avoid entirely.  A summer downpour is hard on a freshly tilled field.

Agriculturally-caused topsoil loss is a very serious problem these days.  I’ve just finished reading Mark Shepard’s Restoration Agriculture and he makes a convincing case for perennial food crops rather than annuals, in large part to protect and preserve topsoil. He correctly says that anywhere annual crops are grown, it’s easy to find eroded and degraded land.

A few days ago I took advantage of a pleasant afternoon to go fishing.  While waiting for a bite that never happened, I noticed the hillside along the creek that feeds the pond.

IMG_6230

Nature carved that ditch, over many hundreds or thousands of years.  But notice how nature also healed it. There are trees on the hillside, and where it’s too steep there is moss.  No matter how hard it rains now, that hillside is not going to erode.

It’s common these days to hear people say things like “We’re destroying the planet.”  The reality, it seems to me, is that no matter what we do, the planet will be fine.  It’s humanity we’re in danger of destroying, not the planet.

If as a result of unsustainable agricultural practices we deplete all the topsoil, we may starve.  But meanwhile nature will just patiently go about the multi-thousand year task of making new topsoil.

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21 comments on “Topsoil

  1. shoreacres says:

    Here’s a video I watch from time to time, just because. It’s of the wildflowers blooming in Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan. It’s one of the most remarkable examples of nature’s ability to recover I’ve seen. Now, if we can just start following that precept: “First, do no harm…”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, It’s so true about nature being able to heal itself. In nature there is no bare soil. It’s covered with what we call weeds or grass, leaves, fallen trees, and brush. Man (human race) came along and decided he/she could do better than nature and stripped off the covering and planted crops in rows. You ever see plants growing in rows in nature? I live in the state that abuses the ground probably more than any other state. The University of Nebraska says that the soil loss can be up to 30 tons a year per acre. That’s a lot of topsoil. Most of it is washed away and irrigation can contribute to the loss as well. In mankind’s wise scientific wisdom we now have a chemical called Polyacrylamide and is a long-chain synthetic polymer that acts as a strengthening agent, binding soil particles together which makes it harder to wash the soil away. Isn’t that wonderful?

    Terra Nova Gardens’ soil was tilled once three seasons ago when I first got the property. Heavy mulch has been the weed control ever since. I know that on your scale that can’t be done and recognize that to grow on a market scale, gardens have to fit the use of machines. I grew up around farming and row crop growing so I still have heart for nice looking straight rows of corn and beans along a country road.

    Have a great Virginia dry planting day in your topsoil.

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    • Bill says:

      Excellent comment Dave. I hadn’t heard of polyacrylamide. Good grief. Is there no limit to our hubris?

      You’re doing things right on Terra Nova. We’re transitioning away from tilling and toward raised beds, but for now on most of our gardens we’re just trying to steward the land as responsibly as we can, while we rip it open every year.

      It’s turned warm and hasn’t rained in a few days. My hope is to dive into planting tomorrow. The few things I put out last week were killed by our record-breaking cold spell.

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    • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

      Something that kept popping into my head as I read everyone’s comments was “do unto others”, “do unto others”. Am I the only one to think this applies to (a lot) more than just loving your neighbour and perhaps to Life itself?

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    • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

      Dave, I thought the name sounded familiar when you mentioned polyacrylamide. This is also the water-absorbent gel used in the hanging pots from plant nurseries. I have bought it for the same purpose, in years past, and it is clearly labelled as NOT intended FOR FOOD CROPS. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyacrylamide

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  3. associatedluke says:

    It’s a big difference between destroying the planet and destroying the planet for us to live on. We destroy ourselves… amazing revelation in a short post. It’s why I check it every day, even if I don’t comment. Thanks, Bill!

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    • Bill says:

      I’m very glad that you enjoy the posts Luke. I usually don’t feel that I have much to say, but I do enjoy keeping the blog going.

      The earth is resilient and the universe seems programmed to favor life and to evolve toward increasing complexity. I’ve heard people argue that we’ve already passed some sort of tipping point and that the best humanity can do for the planet now is act in some sort of hospice role. I don’t accept that. I’m optimistic that we humans will correct our errors before it’s too late, but even if we should drive ourselves into extinction (which I consider exceedingly unlikely) nature will keep going and millions of years from now another (hopefully wiser) species will take our place.

      But as I said, I’m an optimist. Where some see the world heading for environmental catastrophe, I prefer to see that concern as evidence that we’re going to prevent that from happening.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. bobraxton says:

    agreeing: patiently go about the multi-thousand year

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  5. Will earth breathe a sigh of relief when we are gone? 🙂

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    • Bill says:

      Humanity is part of nature too, and generally the loss of a species signals some larger ecological problem. So my guess is that the earth would prefer we stay, but that we behave better.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Have to agree. Just tweaking you a little, Bill. I, of course agree. What we need to realize is that when our actions lead to the destruction of another species, we are also increasing the likelihood of our own destruction. –Curt

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  6. avwalters says:

    We had a windstorm the other day. Even, before the driving, freezing rain kicked in, the visibility was near nil. What was the obstruction? Why is was the soil from the corn field next door. That farmer plants corn, year after year. Tills in the worst conditions and sprays like there’s no tomorrow (which, if this continues, may be the case.) What does he care? It’s leased land. Our landlady is too stupid to see the damage.

    So, when we put in our garden, there will be cover crops. Even the septic field will have a cap of clover and lavender. The brambles will have a permanent cover between the rows.

    We see. We learn. We try to do better.

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    • Bill says:

      Yes, exactly. I’m encouraged by the fact that so many are seeing, learning and trying to do better. The desertification of what was once known as the Fertile Crescent was caused by unsustainable agriculture. I see no reason why we have to repeat that mistake–even while admitting that it is a possibility.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    Bill, this is just such a massive subject; but you are so right; Nature will prevail, in spite of all the idiotic crap we humans do to the Earth and ourselves… (Speaking of which, y’all seein’ Roundup ready dandelions down that way yet?; )

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    • Bill says:

      I’ve heard that Roundup-resistant pigweed is a big problem now. And I’ve read that even more types of Roundup-resistant weeds are turning up. Not surprising at all. Input costs keep climbing as they now have to spray combinations of herbicides. Nature quickly adapts.

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      • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

        Perhaps we should just be eating these “weeds” instead of poisoning them… ‘Cause, if I’m not mistaken, Pigweed and Amaranth are the same plant. Highly valued in some cultures and disparaged in ours… ):
        I remember my parents being amazed when some Chinese people – who had originally stopped for honey – became quite excited by the (as yet unweeded) pigweed in the garden and how they were overjoyed when told they could take as much of (the weeds) as they liked.
        Wikipedia has massive amounts of info
        “… widely used by the Chinese for its healing chemicals, curing illnesses such as infections, rashes, and migraines… ”
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amaranthus

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I came across your blog through another blogger, Curt over at Wandering Through Time and Place, and I’m so happy I did! I’m loving the eclectic feel of your blog! I grew up in a small farming community in the Southern Willamette Valley of Oregon. Farming has been in my family since my ancestors settled this area after coming across on the Oregon Trail. Looking forward to reading more!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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