Now that our yoga studio in Wareham is up and running, the focus comes back to the land and a regenerative approach to growing food. There are only six acres, but trees are being planted, diversity of wildflowers encouraged, fruit and vegetables cultivated using cover crops and no chemicals whatsoever. More than organic farming, this is looking after the earth and replenishing the soil. Or rather, this is getting out of the way so that earth can look after itself.
It is a case of encouraging a diversity of flora and fauna to strengthen the microbiome of the soil and ecosystem. One of my previous blogs was about the microbiome of the human gut. This blog is about the microbiome of earth.
Soil is enriched when, instead of leaving the field or allotment bare after harvest, it is grown with a cover crop before the following year’s planting. Do you remember learning about crop rotation at school? It was one of the few things that stayed with me from history lessons, and it struck me as so simple and genius that I have never been able to understand why people didn’t still do it. The field was divided into four and crops were rotated, always there was one clover crop because it was thought that it replenished the soil with nutrients.
Brilliant, I thought. And it turns out they were right all those centuries ago. potassium and nitrogen, not to mention the deepening of water retention are built with cover crops. Dutch white clover has become a favourite and is one that I will be trying this year. When you first try growing with no chemicals, it seems that one thing after another comes to threaten crops: slugs, black fly, aphids, tomato blight, greenfly. ‘Where are all the ladybirds?’ was my frequent lament. Looking back to when I was a child there were always ladybirds around to eat the greenfly yet there seem to be hardly any ladybirds now. It takes time. It takes time for natural predators to return, for the complexity of nature to regain balance away from the damage that industrial farming and GM crops have caused, and for the thousands of microbes, insects, creatures of the field to shuffle back into their rightful places.
‘Why aren’t the birds doing their job and eating the slugs?’ is another lament. Give it a year or three. I have faith that if the conditions are right a greater variety of birds will return. So more trees and more shrubbery, more berries and safe nesting places will encourage them to stay around. Richard Mabey puts across the importance of the interconnectivity of nature in his latest book Turning the Boat for Home. Mabey has been writing since the 1970s and his books chimed with me as I was growing up, as did HE Bates Through the Woods, and that seventies classic by John Seymour called Self Sufficiency.
Whether it was books such as these, or the thrill I always feel when surrounded by nature that led me to this place of wanting to be so closely involved with the land, I don’t know. But I do know that there is a direct correlation to how much flavour a crop has and its nutritional value. Yoga has the same holistic approach, and in that sense especially it has always felt right to me. I will watch and listen to what this little patch of earth has to tell me. Sunia is Sanskrit/ Gurmukhi that translates as ‘the art of extreme deep listening’. If I practice this with the earth around me then flavoursome nutritious food will soon be on the table.
Meanwhile there are stags who watch my dogs from the safety of the field, there are geese that fly overhead, ducks, hens, and horses on the farm next door, cats, frogs, toads, deer, woodpeckers, robins, owls, and blackbirds. A diverse array of creatures.
If you are interested to know more about regenerative farming thee is a lovely film called The Biggest Little Farm which illustrates the process in depth.