Published: 21 October 2013
Sue's Views: Soil Types
So finally we’re starting on the course proper. Things are certainly cranking up now.
We started off sorting the men from the boys by digging in the rain and squashing mud in our hands to identify soil types. There seem to be lots of sandy loams, sandy clay loams, silty loams…at least I’ve got the basics that soil is made up of stone, water, air and organic matter. 45% stone, that seems a lot. The stone is subdivided into sand, silt and clay, sand being the largest particles, clay the smallest. I’m bringing in my soil next week to check what type it is and what the pH is. That should be really useful.

They seem very keen on the ‘no dig’ system here, promoted by Charles Dowding. The benefits include: not having to dig!, not disrupting the soil structure and all the useful fungi below the surface, not releasing carbon into the atmosphere. However, the traditional digging method of gardening is beneficial because it helps to aerate the soil, you can integrate compost, it brings pests to the surface to be eaten, you remove weeds. I’m going to try no-dig in my raised veg beds at home. Although I was planning to put green manure on there this winter (if it’s not too late already) but how would I incorporate that if I don’t dig it in?
Before I leave the subject of digging, I have to mention the toad! We were single digging in Schumacher garden when suddenly someone screamed and this toad started jumping around. It had been right underground about 10cm down. I didn’t know they went down underground like that.

Having planted seeds for winter salad at School Farm this week, I’m keen to try some at home. They’ll have to take their chances outside: I gather pigeons, frost, slugs etc all take their toll. I’ve gone for pak choi and cos lettuce. We’ll see if they survive. I’ve never tried to grow veg over the winter before. Hopefully the seeds will go in this weekend.
We started trying to identify plants this week. The binomial system of genus and species. I’ve now got to embrace Latin. Some of these names are really difficult. I’m meant to know 90 different ones, luckily not just yet. We’ve talked about dicotyledons, hybrids, families, perennials, half hardies, all sorts of names that were familiar to me but I was not totally clear what they meant. It’s good to have all that stuff clarified.
We have the advantage of being able to go to the Schumacher Earth talks free of charge, and I missed the girls’ bedtime this week just so that I could find out more about agroecology. I find it fascinating but have never been clear how economic it is. It encompasses all those natural farming techniques of harvesting water, growing trees amongst the crops, rotation of crops, permaculture etc. The talk and video were fascinating and it was great to have some local farmers who use the system come and talk about their own experiences. 
The talk stimulated me to look online for evidence on costing. From what I have found, you can get 90% of a normal farm income if using agroecology techniques which was better than I had expected. The huge impact seems to be on farms in developing countries which can raise their output by up to 40%. The UN are saying it’s not being looked at seriously enough. I can see what they mean. What an opportunity to improve productivity but also work with nature. If anyone has more information on this or would like to correct me on anything please do tweet me!
Reported by Sue  

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