Friday, 25 April 2008

The Earth Beneath My Feet

The seasons are changing; summer is slowly making way for autumn. In the air there are still clouds of common brown butterflies & dragon flies, the flame robins look fat & happy and the eastern spinebills are keeping me on my toes as they mimic our customer beeper.
My boots repel the heavy dew that glistens in the morning sunlight; the leaves rustle as I walk through the orchard. Picking chestnuts means eyes to the ground , as well as chestnuts & their burrs around my feet I see new ant hills,

spider holes, worm castings, freshly germinated clover and a multitude of fungi.

My mind drifts off wondering about these interesting fruiting bodies that started off as a spore. When the spore germinates it produces tiny threads called hyphae. When mattered together, these hyphae form mycelium before they appear above ground as fungi. There are many types here but wouldn’t it be nice if some where edible, may be a truffle or morel or chanterelle even a field mushroom (actually there are a few patches of mushrooms) but a greater array would be nice.

Then to the bigger picture, the soil and the world it contains, since a handful of good soil can contain millions of life forms what does their world look like. To start with there are the macro organisms, the ones you can see such as earthworms, springtails, ants, millipedes, mites, and nematodes.
Then there are bacteria such as rhizobia, that fix nitrogen, bacteria that works with phosphate, mycorrhizae fungi, actinomycetes and protozoa.
All these life forms interact to build soil structure. The bacteria exude polysaccharides (sugar) which bind partials of soil to form pods and develop soil structure .The hyphae of Mycorrhizae fungi also bind soil partials .The mycorrhizal fungi also form symbiotic relationship with the roots of plants. Carbohydrates are supplied by the plants and in exchange the fungi search out nutrients and moisture for the plants. The hyphae look like fine cobwebs, around 1 micron. Mycorrhizae fungi are not host specific and often spread from plant to plant and species to species. The strands of their hyphae are interconnected and apparently travel long distances seeking nutrients for plants. In addition various helpful bacteria assist plants to get their nutrition far away from their root zones.

All these processes are enhanced by the addition of good compost which provides the material for the micro organisms to work.

While thinking of these relationships Peter Proctor suggests that in the Agriculture course given Rudolf Steiner in 1924 when talking about the preparations for the first time and how they would enrich soils & plants that in Chapter 5 these micro organisms are what he was talking about.
“Now if you treat the soil as I have described, the plants will be able to draw on what they need from a very wide area. They will be able to use not only what is in their own field, but also what is in the soil of a nearby meadow if they need it or what is in the soil in a neighboring forest”
For me this paints a wonderful picture of another world, the world under my feet which is busy building life giving soil to grow health giving food.

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