[permaculture] Double-dug?

Tripp Tibbetts slowfoodguy at yahoo.com
Mon Dec 7 18:56:34 EST 2009

I'm not sure I am talking about market gardening and permaculture on the same site, so this discussion may be moot.
Around 1700 an English lawyer named Jethro Tull observed (ostensibly without the assistance of an Aqualung) that vegetables grew better in soil that had been broken up.  He deduced from this observation that plant roots must have little mouths with which to eat particles of soil.  How else would they acquire nutrients?  Believing that cultivated soil consisted of smaller particles that would fit more easily into the little root mouths, he invented a horse-drawn plow to put his hypothesis to the test.  His work attracted the attention of gentleman farmers like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who encouraged American farmers to do likewise.
For reasons completely unrelated to cultivation, this method DID improve vegetable production in colonial America.  The more perennial the biomass of an ecosystem, the more its soil biota is dominated by fungi.  Annual vegetables, on the other hand, prefer a soil biota dominated by bacteria.  So by removing the forests from future agricultural plots and tilling, not only were there no trees in the way of New England's row crops, but the fungally-dominated soils of the forest were undone, and the manure that was tilled in swung the soil biota rapidly in favor of the bacteria.  Perfect recipe for turnips and cabbage!
The practice of cultivation is so deeply ingrained in the American psyche that it has become dogma, and self-evident in its beneficence, despite the fact that we know good and well that plant roots don't have mouths.  
So if you're preparing a vegetable plot from a former forest, then by all means, chop up the fungal network and add manure or green compost.  But if you have established garden beds, then utilize and guide the soil food web to maximize production and spare your back.
To read more about gardening with the soil food web, check out Teaming With Microbes, by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis.
I might add as a more observational footnote, that, with the exception of legumes, Nature doesn't fertilize anywhere but on the surface.  Occasionally organic material is ground into the top few inches of soil by ungulates, but other than that, it's pretty much mulch and rain.  And the Piedmont clays of the southeast are probably the MOST likely to benefit from biologically-derived soil structure.  Humble earthworm indeed.
Tripp out.

The best fertilizer is the gardener's shadow.
-Chinese proverb

--- On Mon, 12/7/09, Lawrence F. London, Jr. <lflj at bellsouth.net> wrote:

From: Lawrence F. London, Jr. <lflj at bellsouth.net>
Subject: Re: [permaculture] Double-dug?
To: "permaculture" <permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org>
Date: Monday, December 7, 2009, 10:00 PM

Tripp Tibbetts wrote:
> No, I didn't mean to say that.  But your garden is your garden.  Double-dig if you like.
> I'd wager that if you knew the true origins of cultivation, you'd be a bit embarrassed that you ever subscribed to such an idea...

I do this for a living and have selected the best methods to use to build productive soil.
Why would I waste my money on an unsustainable method or one that doesn't work?

> I'd wager that if you knew the true origins of cultivation, you'd be a bit embarrassed that you ever subscribed to 
such an idea...

Why don't you give us more information about this with references. If  you are using Fukuoka as an example I can 
understand when notill might be useful, in fact I am using that method right now over a large area of fallow garden.

If you're talking about doing permaculture and market farming at the same time at the same site, and you're not on 10' 
deep praier black loam soil, then notill won't lead to acceptable productivity.
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