Soil Is Sacred
This morning I found a note I had made in a book on biodynamic gardening:
“Soil is not a factory. Soil is a living being.”
When I began gardening at age 16, no one introduced me to soil as a living, breathing being, guiding me to be more awake, aware, curious, and respectful of soil’s life. Since that time — over the 45 years in the garden — this awareness has grown. When I began studying biodynamic gardening in 1986, a door opened and the spirit of soil came alive for me in ways I had not known before.
“Let the beauty you love be what you do” — Rumi
“There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground” became a mantra for me. From my experience of continuously gardening for 45 years, my heart deeply knows that soil is sacred.
This awareness alongside regenerative gardening practices is essential for the mending needed between humans and Earth. My Elders spoke of their concerns for the climate 35 years ago. As an herbalist and gardener, tending soil, healing plants, trees, and pollinators is revolutionary.
When I speak of soil, I speak of earth… of organic matter, teeming with nutrients and microbes. Soil is a living entity. When we tend the soil -—with live compost and biodynamic preparations — we tend our inner soil. There is no barrier between the earth beneath our feet and our inner soul.
With all the uncertainty in the world right now, we need to turn to the soil for healing.
I don’t think everyone sees soil this way, but when we put our hands in the soil, we open ourselves to connection — to this wild community of life hidden amongst the particles of dirt — and this connection promotes awareness.
This awareness grows, alongside the garden plants, as we tend the soil. In that way, we engage in an act of deep self-care, which grows into care for family, friends, and community. Ultimately the simple act of being in our gardens is a form of peace prayer. For me, it is. The moment my hands touch the soil, space is created. Space to just be.
I crave that space… that freedom from distraction… that space where my thoughts quiet down, and I listen to the field sparrow in my hedgerow, to the woodpecker working on the old cherry tree, to the late winter breeze rustling last year’s Echinacea.
The moon’s fullness (March 18) and the Spring Equinox have me studying the biodynamic calendar and feeling excited for spring. My seeds sit on my altar, full of potential.
Compost Brings Life
On this sacred morning, the first day of Spring, I rose before the first rays of dawn and made my way to the sea. On every equinox and solstice, I stand at the same spot and greet the dawn with prayers, song, and smiles of gratitude. I honor the land that I stand on, including the gardens I tend, as the homeland of the Wabanaki people, Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, and Abenaki, who have lived on these ancestral lands for over fifteen thousand years.
The stewardship of gardens has been a sacred practice for me for decades now. In that time, I have devoted an enormous effort to the study of compost.
“The composting process has always fascinated and mystified me, symbolizing release and renewal, decay and rebirth, and hope and forgiveness. A well-built compost pile recycles and transforms what once was alive into nourishment for the next generation. As gardeners, we participate in all aspects of the birth, death, and renewal cycle, whether creating a new garden bed, thinning greenhouse seedlings, pruning trees, or pulling weeds. Every day we end the lives of so many plants, insects, and microscopic life forms whose names we don’t even know. I am forever grateful to the compost pile as a place to lay the day’s weeds and food scraps, relieved that the lives just ended will re-emerge as something new.” (How to Move Like A Gardener, p. 11)
The life within our garden soil depends on a cyclical relationship with compost and biodynamic preparations. And a healthy compost pile requires my attention and care; the rich, dark, loamy final product isn’t made by simply tossing our kitchen scraps in a bin.
Three keys to healthy compost include:
- Apply lots of fresh green herbs like comfrey, tree leaves, organic straw, as well as cow, horse, sheep, goat manures from happy, well cared for animals, if possible
- Layer the pile so it’s aerobic (air flows through the layers) and heats up to around 120-135 degrees, and keep the pile covered with straw or blankets so the heat builds up
- Turn the pile to expose all parts of the pile to oxygen
With care and deliberate action, your gardens can thrive this summer. Rudolph Steiner reminds us: “Fertilizing must consist of enlivening the soil, so that the plant is not in dead soil, and does not have difficulty making it through to the fruiting stage out of its own vitality. The plant does this more easily if from the very beginning it is embedded in something living.”
Yearly applications with living compost benefit our garden soils, bringing an abundance of vitality and health, for the plants that grow there and for ourselves when we consume them.
Seeds Contain Hope
This morning, I walked to the Echinacea patch. I left the young plants standing in autumn, and their bright orange centers have turned stiff and brown as most of their energy is shunted into the production of seeds. During the winter, under the duress of freezing temperatures and blankets of snow, the stiff, dry stalks and cones become damp and soft. By now, in the earliest Spring, most of the hard, squat seeds have either dropped or been consumed by finches. Carefully, I inspected a few seed heads, scraping my thumb across the dark brown spikes. Only one seed popped out and I studied it with wonder.
“Seeds contain the hope and genetic coding for a biologically diverse future. Each seed we hold in our hand has stories to tell of how it came to fruition, how the health of the soil, watershed, and pollinators contributed to its maturation, and who the gardeners’ ancestors were, their voices guiding the next generation in the rhythmical work of planting, tending, harvesting, praying, and believing in the miracle present in seeds.” (How to Move Like A Gardener, p. 134)
If you have access to gardens or wild areas, I encourage you to visit them and look for seeds. At this time of year, depending where you live, this may require patience. Take your time and observe the beauty of last season’s plants, the elders, some brown and bent, generously gifting their seeds to the earth and the bounty of the new season.
When you find even one seed, hold it in the palm of your hand. Listen to its story and let its miracle of abundance open your heart to what might be, the stirring of life… of love… within the soil of our gardens.
Deb Soule is an herbalist, author and founder of Avena Botanicals, a biodynamic herbal farm in midcoast Maine. Deb’s passion for plants, gardens and wellness, and her commitment to sharing herbal knowledge with others is central to her work. Visit www.avenabotanicals.com for more information about Avena Botanicals and The Whole Garden, an online gardening course with Deb Soule, available in now in realtime and for future replays.