A Holistic Approach to Our Hidden Gardens
Our society has gone astray with the way we treat our hidden gardens (the microbes in our soil and the microbes in our gut) to the point of where it is really affecting our health. The U.S. spends more per person than any other country on health care in the world, yet ranks 38th in health care quality and 34th in longevity. While each of us individually is not going to change this situation, there are things we can change to become number one in health.
We will eventually reach a tipping point that causes our whole society to go back to organic diets. Remember that prior to 1950, everyone ate an organic diet: it has only been since then that so many toxins have been introduced into our food supply and dominate it, leading to declining fertility of our farm soils.
Spiritually, many people think that if we do the obvious things like going to church or confessing our sins, that we’ve got it made. However, Jesus Christ, Carl Jung, Edgar Cayce and others have taught us that the spark of God, our soul and spirit, is tucked away deep inside of us. It is a hidden garden to be found only in the stillness.
Gardening is quite similar to this: the most important garden parts are very hidden. For every pound of carbon in the plants above ground, there are at least five pounds of carbon in living creatures in the soil. Through a very complex and magical process, plants photosynthesize by taking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and break off the oxygen and send it back to the atmosphere.
The carbon atom is then formed into long chains for making sugars and plant structures. Forty percent of the carbon sugar chains go down the roots and into the soil to feed symbiotic bacteria, fungi and other microbes that in exchange provide the plant with manganese, calcium, nitrogen, phosphorous and many other nutrients: a barter system. This carbon in the soil is mostly in the form of organic matter, which increases soil fertility with lots of nutrients for the plants, fungi, bacteria and other soil creatures that help the plant. Organic matter in the soil also stores lots of water for times when it is dry.
The other key to gardening is water, but often we get way too much rain, so we need to have raised beds that can drain quickly. The best way to adjust for this is to use raised beds about eight to 16 inches high, about four feet wide, as long as desired and with permanent aisles (walkways). For a no-till system to work, we only walk in the aisles, so the garden beds do not get compacted. For the dry times, we need to make the beds on the contour, so that every drop of rain is trapped in the aisles by the bed walls and sinks into the ground.
The aisles can be a mulch of any organic type, at least four inches thick. Mulch the actual garden beds as deeply as possible. For example, because potatoes grow tall, they can use an eight-inch or deeper hay mulch. These mulches help promote the fungi, bacteria, earthworms and all the other soil creatures required for a healthy environment and the best plant health. This system results in the maximum amount of vegetables harvested.
There is another hidden garden when a person is in the garden—a mobile one—our body. Humans have around 10 trillion cells, but also a hidden garden of 100 trillion bacteria, mostly in the gut. As in the garden soil, the bacteria are key to breaking down food and feeding nutrients to our cells, even communicating directly with them. In return, the bacteria get a nice, warm environment to live in: a walking compost pile—us. We would starve without these bacteria.
Just like the creatures in the hidden garden soil, these bacteria need to be fed clean, organic foods to maintain the healthiest human body. A healthy gut comprises about 80 percent of our immune system. We can’t afford to destroy our gut immune system with toxins in our foods.
Paul Dennis has been an Illinois master gardener since 1982 and an organic gardener since 1960. He studies organic gardening and organic farming issues and human health issues, especially diet and prevention of diseases. Contact him at [email protected].