Cultivation by tracking nature

Soils are vital for human survival and underpin many sectors of our economy. It is estimated that 99 % of the world’s food comes from the terrestrial environment. But soils are also home to over a quarter of global biodiversity. Millions of soil-dwelling organisms promote essential ecosystem services – from plant growth to food production. They support biodiversity, benefit human health, promote the regulation of nutrient cycles that in turn influence climate, and represent an unexplored capital of natural sources.

Our knowledge of soil life is growing continuously, thanks to recent technological advances and awareness of its value. However, it is estimated that only 1 % of soil microorganism species have been identified. Therefore, understanding the highly complex and dynamic life below ground remains one of the most fascinating challenges facing scientists today.  —

Humans are clever, but without intending to, we have created massive sustainability problems for future generations. Fortunately, solutions to these global challenges are all around us. Nature has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with.  Animals, plants, and microbes are the consummate engineers. After billions of years of research and development, failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival.  —

During World War II, the British brought together approximately twelve thousand people at Bletchley Park, near London, to crack the German Enigma code, which they did—not once, but twice. Francis Crick and James D. Watson discovered the molecular structure of nucleic acid, the double helix, in 1953. And in 1962 Ringo Starr joined three other young men from Liverpool, England, in a pop music group that would become the most accomplished rock-n-roll band in history. What do all of these events have in common?

In each case, diversity trumped ability. No one person would have cracked the Enigma code even once, let alone twice. Could Crick have discovered the double helix without Watson, or Watson without Crick? Most historians of science would say not. The Beatles were certainly more than the sum of four moderately accomplished musicians. You get the picture. In all of these examples, people succeeded not by being brilliantly capable individually, but by leveraging their differences to achieve much more than they could have if they were acting alone.  —

Circumstantial evidence of an approximate Law of Nature?

As you dig into the subject of adding cover crops to a no-till system, the power of diversity jumps at you from a very different angle. The same holds true on permaculture’s designs or agro-ecological forest gardening, to name a few. The keys being:

Diverse soil cover

  • An all-year green cover with at least 50 different types of plants, the more the merrier. A good thumb rule would include 20% flowering plants attracting insects and 60% leguminous plants promoting a high level of biological activity in the soil.
  • Manage such cover to achieve maximum benefit feeding the very bottom of the food chain (the microbes in the soil)

Vertical Biodiversity

Ground cover, shrubs, hedges and trees integrated, reduces the need to intervene by means of sprays and dust.

Structural Biodiversity

Creating ecological hotspots in the form of isles, corridors or forests catering from beneficial insects through to birds, reptiles and mammal addresses increased biological cycling and recycling.

Genetic Diversity

The advantages of a team effort by increasing the biodiversity should be followed through to genetic diversity, since it serves as a way for populations to adapt to changing environments.

Organic Agriculture

The organic paradigm can only be grasped, once the focus is on biological cycles with the understanding that “even the tiniest living cells are autonomous beings with their own agendas; failing to recognize their capacity to determine their own actions would be to thwart their freedom and undermine reason itself.”  – I. Kant

And defined by the IFOAM community as

“Organic Agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic Agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved.”


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