Lift Library Book Recommendation: SOIL (Matthew Evans, 2021)

We partnered with LIFT with a regular rotation of resources on the shelves at understorey, and so it is a great delight to continue to share Juliet’s reviews and services on our blog.

Now, have you read this book, “SOIL”? Helen Dew, in Carterton, who supported the founding of LIFT Library (and still does!), recommended this book to me, before she had even finished reading it. I bought it last Sunday. I think it is one of the most important books in LIFT – and is also an enjoyable read.

It follows on very well from last week’s write-up of Masanobu Fukuoka’s book, as so much of what he wrote in the previous century was repeated here. Why are we taking so long to learn important lessons? This book makes that clear.

Soil: The incredible story of what keeps the earth, and us, healthy 2021 Matthew Evans (an Australian).

(From the blurb) “For too long, we’ve not only neglected the land beneath us, we’ve squandered and debased it, by over-clearing, over-grazing and over-ploughing. But if we want our food to nourish us, and to ensure our planet’s long-term health, we need to understand how soil works – how it’s made, how it’s lost, and how it can be repaired.”

As I was reading I marked pages where I wanted to quote bits and got to 25. I have had to cut back to avoid making my newsletter too long. So these are some extracts to give you a taster.

“Between the poisoning of the land, and erosion, it’s estimated that the world has lost a third of its cropland in the last 40 years. We’re fast depleting the very thing that feeds us and filters our water. We’ve used the land as our dumping ground, without fully understanding what we’re leaving in our wake.”

“We often hear that we are what we eat. In terms of plants, we are what a plant eats, too. And if you eat meat, you are also what your animal eats. Essentially, you are what you eat eats. And all of this, it must be said, comes down to the quality of the soil, and the abundance of tiny microbes in it.”

“Scientists have now found that bacteria, fungal spores, diatoms and even algae can persist in clouds. They often are the genesis of precipitation – rain, snow or hail. This discovery has spawned a whole new field (or sky?) of research, named ‘bioprecipitation’.”

“People can do what they like with their diet, but really, globally, the best advice is the most boring. Eat a wide variety of plants, mostly. Eat your veg. Sure, have some meat, some sugary treats, some fast food if you want – but if you eat well 90 per cent of the time, that other 10 per cent isn’t really so important.”

“Australian agricultural land loses about 1.5 billion tonnes of topsoil a year as it moves downhill, thanks to water erosion alone. That’s about 2.2 tonnes per hectare, per year. When you spread it out, it doesn’t look like much; less than a millimetre a year. But over a 30-year period, you can lose 27 millimetres of topsoil. Which again may not sound like much, until you consider that it takes about 1000 years for nature to build 10 millimetres of topsoil over much of our continent – and we’re losing it nearly 10 times faster than it can be made.” (Reading this made me think of the effects of the recent events in the North Island!)

“It is the plough that has done arguably the most damage to our planet. Turning soil, it turns out, has done way more harm than any could have imagined. It has unleashed at least a third of the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that has appeared since the Industrial Revolution. The plough was the single biggest emitter of human-induced carbon into the atmosphere up until about the 1950s. Bigger than coal, bigger than oil.”

“Colin Seis, an Australian sheep farmer, has led the charge. He’s perfected a system of direct-drilling grain seeds into pasture. Through a complex series of cropping, resting and grazing, he’s able to grow food and store carbon and build soil life. He does all this without resorting to glyphosate, while keeping living plants in the ground all year round……He reckons a lot of farmers still work on what he calls the ‘Moron Principle’, where they keep putting more things on. More nitrogen, more herbicides, more phosphorus.”

“SAVE OUR SOIL” The best way for growers to protect soil is to avoid bare earth – whether it’s in your home garden, or on the world’s biggest farm. Don’t dig if you can help it. Ideally, keep continuous, living plant cover if possible, mulch any bare earth, and encourage diversity. The more diverse the array of plants you can grow, the more diverse your soil microbes become, and the more resilient your land is.”

“hugelkulture (German word meaning ‘hill culture’) Waste wood from logging is laid around hills, perhaps mimicking terraces, or put into shallow trenches and piled up, then covered with earth….It is simple composting at work…….As the wood is slowly consumed, it is turned into soil through the action of microbes.” (Remind you of recent events up north? Why don’t the forest-owners require the forestry companies doing the logging to also do this?)

“A study from the United Kingdom has shown poorer health outcomes for people with smaller domestic gardens. Research from 2019 also suggests that the industrialised urban habitat is low in microbial biodiversity, which means people aren’t in contact with enough beneficial bacteria.”

“Compost can store about half the carbon that might otherwise be released into the air. And in the process, that living system magically creates humus – the soil superfood that makes our gardens better.”

“In short, the five principles of regenerative agriculture look like this:

Keep the soil covered (no bare earth).
Minimise soil disturbance (don’t dig).
Aim for diversity (in plants and animals).
Make sure you have living plants all year round.
Integrate livestock.

“If science has shown us anything, it’s that mother nature is on our side. We just have to work with her, not battle her constantly.”

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