How? Why? Step-by-step actions and challenges to help you get inspired in your patch!
Plant a plant every day!
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Where to begin?
It’s simple. Plant a plant everyday. Herb, grass, flower, tree shrub, perennial it doesn’t matter, all bring vital soil value. Vital soils need plant (photosynthetic) generated energy to stimulate below ground activity and connections.
Learn more by watching our video snippets, engaging with other like-minded vital soil growers and registering to participate in online workshops.
Why grow vital soil?
What is this vital soil? Let’s take a microscopic deep dive and have a look below us at what happens in a vital soil. We would see protozoa, fungi, bacteria, and bigger organisms like snails and slugs, worms, spiders and beetles, all connecting, transferring nutrients, communicating and reproducing. It’s the soil food web.
So why do we need a vital soil?
We rely upon it. We eat the products from that soil. The more vital the soil, the better nutritional density our food will carry. Soil also filters our water, and some of our air. A vital soil also caters for many other creatures. A vital soil is essential for our health and well-being because it’s also essential for the health and well-being of other creatures.
What can you do to create this vital soil?
There’s a trigger; plants.
Plants take sunlight energy and transfer it into photosynthesates, making sugars and carbohydrates they then pump through their root systems into the soil, feeding that microbial activity.
So I dare you, I challenge you. Grow vital soil on your patch.
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Diversity is king!
How do plants and vital soil interact? Soil vitality is all that microbial activity beneath our feet and plant activity is photosynthetic. So they are capturing sunlight energy and translocating it into the ground using their root systems in the form of sugars and carbohydrates.
All that soil microbial activity is heavily reliant on that as a food source. At the same time the plant is heavily reliant on the delivery nutrients to its root system via microbial activity, bacteria if it’s a very fleshy plant, and fungi if it’s more a tree. And they bring different nutrients to the rhizosphere, and in doing that the plant uses those nutrients to grow. Similarly the microbial activity use the sugars and photosynthates to reproduce and grow as well. A fantastic symbiotic relationship.
However, not all plants deliver and need the same things. So they don’t deliver the same type of photosynthates, and they don’t all need the same types of nutrition. On a microbial level the same thing occurs, different microbes bring different nutrients, and need different things as a consequence in the way of enzymes and hormones. So guess what; diversity is king.
In a diverse environment, where everything is changing, where there’s a multiplicity of organisms, you will have more resilience in extreme conditions, giving an ability to cope if it turns dry, or in really cold weather… that microbial consistency will be able to adapt and incorporate.
So how do you make a vital soil diverse, after all diversity is king. What you can do is grow a whole range of plants on your patch. Don’t just plant one type of carrot, plant three. Make sure you’ve got annuals planted underneath your trees, or get some native grass plugs and put them in your European lawn.
So you might think there’s a big difference between pruning your plants and vital soil. What’s the connection?
Studies show that every time you remove a branch from you tree or your shrub, its first response is to grow a bigger root system. And there’s commonsense to that. That plant needs to repair and replace, so it needs that nutrition (through its root system) to be able to do that. It needs to draw those nutrients from the ground, hence a bigger root system is really going to work for it.
In that way, that bigger root system creates more vitality in the soil by having more surface area upon which microbial activity can live, and more area upon which the plant can deliver photosynthates and sugars to that microbial activity to give it the food to support its activities.
There are fantastic correlations between pruning and a vital soil.
What can you do? Rethink… that you don’t prune your fruit trees once a year, maybe you prune them many times (small amounts) throughout the year. Each time encouraging them to produce a bigger root system.
It might mean that you whipper snip your weeds rather than poisoning them. In that way they regrow their roots systems, no bare soil.
And it might encourage you to learn about syntropic pruning, and finding out about how that might relate to your space.
I’m here to encourage you to grow vital soil on your patch by rethinking what you do in your garden. The question to mulch or not too mulch. There’s lots of things to consider. One of them is your site conditions. What’s it like? Have you got bare soil? Have you got grass you want to smother? Or have you got dirt with no microbial activity?
Mulch could be the answer.
What type of mulch? Grass based mulch which feeds bacteria. Woody based mulch which feeds fungi or a bit of both. Probably a bit of both. Especially growing vital soil, with its great ability to provide fantastic habitat.
And then think about what it’s doing, how it’s linked to that vital soil? Well, that beautiful habitat is also supplemented with the very fast takeaway food that the decomposing mulch can provide as well.
So in conjunction with that and pulling the mulch back and planting some plants through it, that provide exudates and sugars. That is an excellent outcome and a great way of growing vital soil on your patch.
So I challenge you, I dare you… use great diversity in your mulch and grow vital soil on your patch.
Compacted soil solutions.
What do you do when you’ve got compacted soil? Compacted soil you will notice because it will be waterlogged and it could be a little bit smelly. As a consequence of compacted soil what happens is that the water can’t infiltrate and oxygen can’t infiltrate, and the microbial activity that it tends to encourage are the more negative ones, the ones that happen in an anaerobic environment.
What we want in our vital soil is we want aerobic activity. We want all those oxygen breathing and breeding type entities to be very active. The bacteria, the fungi and all the flow on effect of the food web that comes after those.
So what can you do when you’ve got compacted soil? You can simply plant a hole, range of different species, representative of different root types.
Plant plants that have got a big long taproot that break through, that compacted profile. You might plant species that’ve got fibrous roots that then die off and then they renew and regrow each season as a consequence, leaving some aggregation in the soil which enables that infiltration of both oxygen and water.
Planting a diversity of root system types will alleviate your compaction problems and consequently help you to grow vital soil on your patch.
Keep your shovel on the shed.
Should you dig? Should you use a shovel? What is the science behind that?
Well, if you have a vital soil, you’ve got an extensive microbial activity in terms of all these networks of tunnels and mycelium all in your soil and when you dig, you actually turn them upside down. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my house turned upside down, my things broken, my pantry shattered and thrown everywhere.
That’s pretty much what you do when you dig a soil. And then coupled with it being bare, no plants in there. There’s no food for me. There’s no food for microbes. All that activity that comes from the photosynthetic sugars that the plants deliver to the soil laid away, gone. So there’s no food, there’s no habitat and my house is upset. I don’t think digging is a great thing for a vital soil, especially if it’s comprehensive.
There are other options. What can you do? Well, you can plant above the ground. You can plant in the tops of hay bales. You can make sure that you use a fork that doesn’t change the soil aggregation too much. You can, if you have to dig, dig small patches so that the disturbance area is not so large.
Rethink how you use the tools in your garden, so that you can have vital soil in your patch.
Pre-prepare soil before planting.
We know that trees and shrubs love a fungal dominated soil, so that fungal activity needs to have wood, needs to have timber on which it can grow and live and survive and start to decompose and begin that nutrient cycling.
So that one time that I’ll let you get your shovel out of the shed to dig a hole to pre-prepare, I’d like to see you do that in advance of when you’re actually going to plant, to initiate fungal activity where the plant will need it.
To prepare dig the hole quite large, then backfill it with some timber and bits and pieces of stick cover that over with the soil that came out of the hole.
When you plant back into that, that fungal activity will have taken over that space so that the tree or the shrub that you put into it will have access to that activity. Its roots can interlude and then the exudates it will feed, the fungi will benefit the tree and the plant will benefit, and as a consequence, success.
Pre-prepare the hole a month or six weeks in advance of when you’re going to plant it and you’ll be winning all round, maintaining that vital soil.
What is a weed?
Let’s think about weeds. Think about how you define them in your garden. So for me, diversity is really important. A weed therefore is anything that prevents that diversity, anything that stops that from happening. So on your patch, that might be, as it is in mine, the lawn where I don’t have many species represented as opposed to my garden where there’s lots of plants represented.
And we understand the importance of that diversity, because each of those plants feed the vital soil different sugars and exudates, bringing all the soil microbes happiness, bringing that microbial diversity and resilience, with fantastic end results to the plants that we grow.
So what can you do on your patch? Well, rethink your definition of a weed. What actually is a weed to you? Should it stay or should it go?
And how should you manage it? Think about managing it seasonally. Maybe you chop it, maybe you drop it. Maybe you don’t pull it out. Maybe you do. Rethink what you do in your garden. I challenge you to grow vital soil.
Ways to think about weeds.
Talking more mulch!
Dig or no dig?
About grow vital soil.
Welcome. I’m here to help you grow vital soil and your patch. And today, I want to talk to you about seed collecting. It’s amazing. You might think collecting seed is not related to growing vital soil. But let me help you out with this thought.
We know genetically seeds come from the boy parts and the girl parts of a plant uniting. Well, there’s more that comes into that little seed package than you might imagine. And that is that all of the biome that comes from the soil that you have established, that’s really vital, is actually impregnated into the seed and the seed takes that to its next destination.
You know what that means? That means if you collect seed from your space where there’s vital soil, then that seed will translocate that valuable inoculum into the new space where it ends up.
Fantastic reason to collect seed and from your own garden where you’ve already got great soil or collected from a friends where they have great soil. So that’s what you can do to help grow vital soil on your patch. Collect your own seed from plants that are growing healthy and well in spaces similar to your own.
In a lawn we’ve generally got minimal diversity and we know that to create a vital soil, we really need maximum diversity. And the root systems of different plants do that. What I’d suggest you do is go to your pantry inside, select some species, preferably from four different families of grains and things that you might be eating… that might be millet, it might be sorghum, it might be linseed, buckwheat.
Any of those you traditionally consume, you can then germinate in pots and once they’re established, dig a hole and plant that pot in its entirety in that hole in your lawn. And you may then also plant subsequent pots (don’t plat the pots!) in subsequent holes in a nice button effect (fairly close together).
Leave them to grow in your lawn. Don’t mow them. Let them grow up flower, do their self-feeding thing and that button will extend beyond this diameter. (Once established you can occasionally mow or whipper snip, and that diversity below the ground will be exacerbated by above the ground).
In this way you’ll end up with that diversity in a larger and larger area, potentially rewilding your lawn. So again, give it a go. I challenge you.
So some of the seeds that you might find in your pantry, there’s some linseed, some barley. We’ve also got some amaranth, some millet and some buckwheat. All good to add into your diversifying lawn mix.
Could you plant those red lentils? No… You can try them, but some of them will work and some of them won’t. So freekah won’t, lentils won’t. Chickpeas, Will. Sorghum will, chia will, wild rice won’t. Rolled wheat or rolled spelt won’t. Pepita won’t, popcorn would.
What plants tell you...
Come with me. I’m here to help you grow vital soil on your patch by interpreting the plants that you have on your patch and understanding what they’re telling you, and therefore then fixing or changing that soil profile depending on what they tell you. So use that information. Stay informed.
Consequently, just look at these two. I’ve got some wandering Jew and some ox tongue thistle here. And both of those plants are telling me some different things. The wandering Jew is telling me there’s a lot of free nitrogen around and it’s trying to grow and absorb that free nitrogen. The ox tongue thistle is telling me that there’s a little bit of a trace element imbalance. Things are not quite organised there.
What would I do to help grow vital soil in that circumstance? Well, the free nitrogen I need to put some different consuming plants in there to help those greens all take up that nitrogen and move it into other parts of the plant that can then be decomposed and added to that nitrogen cycle.
And so the ox tongue thistle for the trace element aspect, I think probably the best thing I could put in here is a diversity of well decomposed compost. So then have some fungi and some bacteria and they self-organise the availability of those trace elements, making it more an option for other plant families to then grow here and proliferate.
Consequently, what we’re all about is getting that diversity, helping assist that balance of the nitrogen and all the nutrients that are associated with the nitrogen to make sure that those plant families can all be represented and growing vital soil as a consequence. So interpret the plants that you have in your space. Interpret what they’re telling you, and therefore change your habits, add the soil, ameliorants that you need, and grow vital soil on your patch.
More video snippets coming soon…
Plant a plant every day!
Watch our video snippets for tips, connect on social, share your ideas and success, subscribe for workshops and news…
So how do plants and vital soil interact. Well, soil vitality is all that microbial activity beneath our feet and plant activity is photosynthetic. So they are capturing sunlight energy and translocating it into the ground using their root systems in the form of sugars and carbohydrates. All that soil microbial activity is heavily reliant on that as a food source. At the same time the plant is heavily reliant on the delivery nutrients to its root system via microbial activity, bacteria if it’s a very fleshy plant, and fungi if it’s more a tree. And they bring different nutrients to the rhizosphere, and in doing that the plant uses those nutrients to grow, and similarly the microbial activity use the sugars and photosynthates to reproduce and grow as well. A fantastic symbiotic relationship.
However, not all plants deliver and need the same things. So they don’t deliver the same type of photosynthates, and they don’t all need the same types of nutrition. For microbes the same thing occurs; different microbes bring different nutrients, and need different things as a consequence in the way of enzymes and hormones. So guess what; diversity is king. In a diverse environment, where everything is changing, where there’s a multiplicity of organisms, you will have more resilience in extreme conditions, giving an ability to cope if it turns dry, or in really cold weather… that microbial consistency will be able to adapt and incorporate.
So how do you make a vital soil diverse? What you can do is grow a whole range of plants on your patch. Diversity is king, and to enable that to happen you need to have lots of different types of plants, and diversity in your mulching.
Our planet achieves environmental health through soil life diversity, delivering persistence and enhanced climate extreme resilience.
Our aim is to encourage vital soil growth across the country. We’re here to help build the circle of knowledge…
Food grown in vital soil delivers maximum nutrient density providing health benefits to the consumer.
Our lives depend on it… vital soil = vital life. Plants create, and thrive in vital soil, aiding a robust food chain supporting a gazillion organisms…