This post has been a long time in the making. Today, with the compost heaps done for the year, and with enough coffee inside me, I think I am ready to make it. I'm almost certainly going to be making assumptions that aren't true. Please let me know in the comments!
These are the three big compost heaps. Last year, there were two. They are about 2m wide and 3m deep, and when they are all settled down and compost, they are a little over a meter tall. So, let's say that each one makes 6m3 of lovely wormy, rich and humussy compost.
If you look at the back left, you'll see the three little piggies. Just opposite them, there are two more identically sized heaps, and another in the orchard. I think I can probably fill a couple more, so expect this number to go up next year.
The one on the left has recently been emptied out onto next year's potato patch. Well, it's been piled up in two long rows. A good 6m3 over about 50m2. And this is why I have the best potatoes! It takes a year to fill a compost heap. Then I leave it for a year, and empty it onto next year's potatoes. Rinse and repeat.
This is the nettle field. With a bit of triangulation, you can probably work out just about where it is in relation to the compost heaps. There, once again are the Drei Wollies in the background. They get into every picture!
As soon as the snow melts and spring starts next year, these nettles are going to shoot up like crazy, and will be the first fresh greens that the piggies get to eat. They'll have a good cubic meter of them a day whilst the rest of their food starts to catch up. As soon as I can get them on beans and peas and sunflowers, I'll leave the nettles alone to get big and strong.
At the end of the summer, I shall strim the lot of them to the ground and chuck the lot on the compost heap. Nettles make deep roots which get right into the subsoil and the rocks underneath them, bringing up minerals and goodness with them. These minerals then get into the compost, which then goes to enrich the soil, and eventually gets into the potatoes (and everything else) and into my belly.
Or in other words, these baby nettles here, which have been growing since the end of summer this year will be on the compost heap next year, on the field the year after that, and in my belly the winter of 2024.
When I empty a compost heap, it's still very much alive. I'll find a cluster of worms from time to time, that then gets chucked onto one of the recently filled piles for them to go and get tucked into. The rest of it, far from being crumbly and sterile is still recognisably plant material. It's black or dark brown, and it's bloody great stuff, but I like it to go into the ground still vibrant and incomplete. Feeding the soil means adding active stuff to it. The opposite of this is dousing a field with chemicals. Insisting that your compost is "done" is half way between the two extremes.
In this is the essence of my problem with Permaculture. I am obsessed with compost, but as a spectator. I pile it up and I delight in it a year later. Permaculturists have an obsession with the compost which is much more to do with control. They want it fast, they turn it, they create rules for the management of it. And it is incredibly important to them that they bring in material from outside.
My barracks is supposed to be self-contained. It's not quite there yet, but well on the way. Bringing in organic material from outside in order to feed my compost so that I can layer it on many times a year is absolutely the major problem of humans.
Capitalism, consumption, greed, the human virus. These might all be unpleasant, but they have only really become a problem (by which I mean an existential problem) since we demanded more of our planet than we can safely take from it. Our use of the planet's resources vastly exceeds the ability of the planet to replenish them. We know this.
If there was a second planet, or a third, or a fourth, from which we could extract what we need, or deposit our waste, it is likely that our way of life would only be disgusting and flatulent and egotistical without it being actually existentially threatening.
Permaculturists seem to believe that they have access to extra planets. If your system of gardening requires you to exceed your means by supplementing from outside, then I say there is something wrong with your system of gardening.
This dominance of the processes, and the exuberant overuse of resources is not in any way surprising. Permaculture suffers from a very good name which is easy to believe in, but it is a lie. Permaculture is inherently unsustainable, the opposite of permanent, and the culture is one of dominating the land in order to extract maximum yields from it. I always hear a lot more talk about market stalls, volumes, profits from permaculturists than I hear about taste and flavour and heritage. It's a cash business - it originated in the market gardens outside Paris. It has always been about profit. It is only different from massive agro-businesses in size and scale.
And finally, no-dig.
I'm all for no plough, and not digging so deep that you screw up the strata in the soil. But by not digging, all you are doing is further separating yourself from the earth which sustains us. Anyone can grow crops in a 30-cm layer of "perfect" compost, but if you really want to grow to sustain yourself, you absolutely need to understand what you are dealing with and you do that by physically interacting with the soil.
Deliberately disconnecting yourself from the very point of the garden - the earth - with a layer of cardboard topped with imported cow shit and coffee grounds makes you a worse gardener in every way. I cannot even begin to take someone seriously as a gardener who erects a physical barrier of man-made amazon packaging between him and the soil, and then refuses to physically engage with it.
Gardening is hard work. It fails frequently. Attempting to dominate the process, and then sell the profits as if you had earned them is fine. People need to eat and not everyone wants to grow their own. Assuming a position of moral superiority in order to sell books and grow your cult, when your cult is a lie, is wrong.