“Winter renders the soil youthful again.” – Stanley Crawley, A Garlic Testament: Seasons on a Small New Mexico Farm
When we think about winter we are often drawn to the imagery of desolation, of cold unforgiveness. However, life continues its slow pulse under the soil, and beauty is still found in the garden. As I have slowed down in the garden this winter I have discovered the blooms of the daphne, the beauty in the red stems of blueberries, and how morning dew hangs on the branches of maples. Life can still be found out in the garden and as the cold morning air charges through me, I am awakened to all that is still stirring.
The soil is not dormant during this time. As the soil freezes and thaws the nutrients, organic matter, and seeds that remained on the top horizon of the soil are buried deeper. Soil compaction, a threat from the rain and overuse of soil, is loosened in this churning of the soil. Stanley Crawley calls this process “fluffing”, a term that easily renders the transformation taking place. This is a natural form of tillage that doesn’t require plowing, only patience and the willingness to let the seasons take their course.
Soil life changes and is malleable with each given day. Roots of plants, especially the root tips are sloughed off and die back, releasing nutrients that feed beneficial microbes in the soil. This cycle of growth and decay fuels the microbes that feed on the organic matter that emerges from the decaying root tips. These microbes in turn create humus, the rich dark layer of soil made from decaying organic matter. Humus is vital to the soil as it holds nutrients and creates a healthier soil structure. This is how life is in the soil, cyclic and embedded with connections that are dynamic and create communities.
In this period of freezing and thawing the earth demands that we wait. Our work right now is to watch and observe, slow down, and be patient. Walk the paths of the garden and see this slow thaw unfold. Learn to see the beauty in this cycle, in this restoration of both soil and people.
-With love from the Garden