The Midwest holds some of America’s best soils. It’s no accident that farming has taken hold here. These soils took thousands of years to form and have been maintained by a diverse variety of prairie grasses and the animals. The animal eat the grasses, scatter seeds and nourishing poop, and stampede, which scores the earth and can break up deadpan or compacted soils.
Prairie grasses draw water into the deep roots, which prevents water loss, leaching of nutrients, and hold soil firm. Roots and grass eventually die, decompose and provide rich organic matter to support the life of future grasses. The roots and insects push through the soil to aerate, nourishing their pathways. This ecosystem became molded to these conditions, replenishing nutrients, disturbance that serves a regenerative capacity, and an ecosystem resilient to both drought and floods.
Fast forward to generations of agriculture where one plant is demanded season after season. The only inputs are chemical fertilizers, pesticides and aeration and fluffing comes from tilling. To be blunt this destroys soil.
Tilling the earth constantly and leaving it bare after disturbance leaves no room for anything to take root and stabilize the soil, nutrients literally wash away in the rain, flushing often synthetic chemical nitrogen into our common waterways and water bodies.
One root depth at even integers for miles, ripped out annually never gives any form of biotic community a chance to thrive. We think “weeds” are bad, but, in fact, they are helpful. They are “companion plants” that balance the pH of the soil, fix nitrogen, attract beneficial insects and accumulate nutrients. Weeds are only “bad” because our eye sees a blemish, rather than a welcome and helpful friend.
When an insect comes along that really like corn and find miles of it, you can bet there will be a problem. Enough corn to feed an a hungry insect army, eager to adapt to a vast food supply. But if that corn is mixed into a vast diverse mix, it is harder to find and less rewarding for the travel required.
Enter what Wes Jackson calls the “Perennial Agroecosystem”. Modeled after the prairie grass systems they:
Even with no- or low-till agriculture the water usage is much higher with annuals. The key lies in plant and species diversity. “Nearly all of nature’s land-based ecosystems feature perennial plants grown in diverse mixtures. Natural ecosystems, in general. use and manage water and nutrients most efficiently and build and maintain soils.” (Jackson, page 167)
Diversity specifies two types: multiple species and diversity within species. Look to the natural landscapes in your bio-region a model. You don’t have to use the same plants, but finding plant communities suitable to the environment that model natural structures is a great place to start. This will be different depending on where you are, what are the conditions, and see how nature has maybe worked out some of the quandaries you come across. Working with the intelligence found within local ecosystems will help you grow abundance in food, soil and connection to your biome.
Steady State Revolution http://steadystaterevolution.org explores the ideas of a sustainable economy. In order to have a sustainable society we must create an economy that develops within the limits of the ecosystem instead of growing beyond them: a “steady state” economy. http://steadystaterevolution.org/what-is-a-steady-state-economy/