gather and grow

Homegrown, hand-spun living in the city

Over the summer, I fulfilled a long-time dream of mine: I completed the Soil Food Web course (affiliate link) with Dr. Elaine Ingham, a soil microbiologist and a leading authority on regenerative agriculture. She had been on my radar ever since I first heard about her during my Permaculture Design Course in 2011. I thought that taking her Soil Food Web intensive course would not be possible for me for a while, given that a) it would likely involve traveling to someplace far away and that b) I have a small baby. But then I found out that her Soil Food Web course was being offered ONLINE. I was able to access Elaine’s incredible knowledge of soil from the comfort of my home, with the baby sleeping in the next room while I watched the lecture videos and participated in the webinars.

I took this course because I really wanted to deepen my understanding of soil. As a gardener, as a permaculturist, I know that the soil is everything. If your soil is not healthy… well, good luck trying to grow healthy, abundant plants in it. And so far, to be perfectly honest, I haven’t been systematic or fully informed in my efforts to build soil fertility: it’s been a bit improvised and hit or miss. The same goes for my compost piles, some of which turn out better than others. Even though I’ve had successes in my garden, I can’t say it’s because I really knew what was going on underneath the soil surface.

The second reason goes beyond just my garden. I’ve come to realize what an enormous role soil — a vast carbon sink, actually — can play globally in mitigating climate change. Soil carbon sequestration is presenting itself as a promising avenue for sequestering atmospheric carbon for long, long periods of time — something we all know must happen soon. I wanted to understand this better as well. So even though the Soil Food Web course was a commitment in terms of time and money, I viewed it as a long-term investment that will hopefully bear fruit, quite literally, in my future work.soil-2

The Soil Food Web course is a self-paced, 10-week online course divided into six units. Each unit ended with a live Q&A webinar with Elaine. She is a hard-nosed scientist, but able to present the information in an accessible way that makes it relevant to a wide audience: backyard gardeners, permaculturists, cattle ranchers and farmers, non-profit workers, students, climate activists. In the course of the 10 weeks, we dug deep into the matter of life in the soil and how to balance the soil biology and get all the right critters that help our plants grow better. We learned

  • how to identify species and make sense of soil lab analyses
  • how to create good habitat for diverse critters
  • how to balance the (all-important, if you ask Elaine) bacteria-fungi ratio
  • how to deal with compacted soil
  • how to make three kinds of compost and compost teas
  • and more

Whew! it was an information-packed experience. Now I’m looking forward to un-packing what I’ve learned, and putting it into practice. Good thing I have lifetime access to all of the lecture videos!

In my next post, I’m going to share some of what I learned that should also be useful to any of you interested in building soil in your backyards. Or wherever, actually.

If anyone is reading this and wishing you had been able to take the course too, the good news is that it is being offered again! The next course starts on September 15th. Click on the banner below for more information. Even if you’re not sure that you want to take the course, you can access great free resources such as some of Elaine’s introductory videos. This stuff is important. Check it out.


SFW banner

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