October 30, 2020

Loving The Soil

My friend Dindin arrived on the evening of March 13 on the last flight from Manila to Dumaguete. The next day, life slowed down.

The expected ECQ in Manila took place. All flights were grounded. Boats and buses would follow. Her intended three-day stay with me was extended because of the needed 14 day self-quarantine having come from Manila. Her destination to Bayawan also became vague as to what was required to enter that City.

Our time together those 17 days have been precious. We cooked vegetarian food, I learned how to make Ube Haleya (a sweet dish from the purple yam), and best of all, we worked in the garden, and read beautiful quotes in the evening.

Instead of feeling diminished by the local and world news pertaining to CoViD-19, we felt nourished by the gifts of nature present in the garden.

How good it was to harvest cherry tomatos, pechay, string beans, passion fruit, tiny crunchy cucumbers, patola, and even discovered a big patch of talinum. The tiny red flowers of hibiscus and the blue ternate became ingredients in our salads.

We made it a project to improve the soil, and to mulch the vegetable plots new and old. Before Dindin came, we had kind of given up on planting new crops because of the intense heat now drying the grass. Our existing plots were left except for a few.

Dindin was until this time the chairperson of Ecosystem of Stakeholders for Sustainable Agriculture (ESSA) with headquarters in Bulacan. After the super storm Yolanda, she worked for I-Relief to help farmers in Roxas, Panay start a program to wean beneficiary farmers away from chemical agriculture to organic rice and vegetables.

And now here she was in our garden, raking together the mulching material of dried neem tree leaves.

And now here she was in our garden, raking together the mulching material of dried neem tree leaves.

It was my belief that the dragon fruit plant did not need any care so we left it alone. How dry and thin the soil was. We enriched the soil with compost and dried dung. Found out that it likes calcium so we gathered the eggshells, crushed them and mixed them in. And it also likes watering at least once a week on dry summer days.

Tita Terry, she tells me, true health comes through food. Food grown in healthy soil.

The indigenous people measure progress with adding to life, instead of depleting it. Modern chemical agriculture is a disconnect to the elements and beings that support the ecosystem of growing food. Food grown in healthy soil is nutrient-packed.

The more so when you grow your food with love, touching the earth as to caress it, and to prepare the food mindfully. Like this our immune system will be robust, and able to withstand illnesses.

Beneath our feet dwells a teeming microscopic universe of complex living organisms. In one teaspoon of soil alone may be over 600 million bacterial cells that exist in a complex predatory-prey relationships with countless other microorganisms.

This topsoil food web is the foundation for healthy soil, for healthy plants and ultimately for a healthy planet.

Dr. Elaine Ingram has been researching this tiny universe for two decades, and not surprisingly discovered that introducing agricultural systems alter the species present particularly the fungi which are easily destroyed by agricultural pesticides. (Soil Food Web, Mary Howell Martens)

There is a spiritual and cosmic element to growing food. More on this when I touch on biodynamic farming next time.

From the book of Ezekiel it is written: Along both banks of the river fruit trees of every kind shall grow. Their leaves shall not fade nor their fruit fall. Every month they shall bear fresh fruit for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary. Their fruit shall serve for food and their leaves for medicine.