Friday, January 29, 2016

Paradise Shift

A friend of ours used to be a landscape gardener in Florida.  When she moved to Maryland, I observed to her that landscapes in Maryland looked like they could use a Florida touch. After consulting the book Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke and +Eric Toensmeier, I think I see why Florida's gardens do so well by comparison. The obvious factors are that Florida is flat, making it easier to work the land, there is more sunshine there, and that the many retirees in Florida are more inclined to gardening. As you move north from Florida, the ground stays flat for hundreds of miles, yet crops struggle to grow. As the book shows in Feature Article 4, there are areas of the country where the parent material of the soil (the C horizon) predominantly supplies the lowest amount of plant nutrients of almost anyplace in the world. One of those areas is the Southeast, from Georgia all the way up to Maryland. The C horizon there consists of a geological class called "ultisols."

Other advantages of Florida gardeners, i.e. the concentration of retirees and the sunshine, might be obviated by financial catharsis returning us to agrarianism and by a steady shift of climate northward with increases in global warming. While flat ground may be an advantage now, the low elevation of the state of Florida will also be its undoing, as it is eventually inundated with the rising ocean. On the other hand, the elevation of our land in Maryland may be just high enough to become waterfront property for our children to inherit.

In the meantime, dealing with the ultisol nature of our land will be an ongoing project. According to Jacke and Toensmeier, ultisols require "careful nourishment during early forest garden succession and tight nutrient cycling for the duration." When they wrote these words, the authors hadn't become familiar with biochar and its ability to serve as a nutrient sponge in the soil. Since then, however, Toensmeier has teamed up with +Jonathan Bates who is an advanced user of biochar. Together they have created an idyllic forest garden on just 0.1 acres of their Holyoke, MA residence. Their book, Paradise Lot, tells all about it. For a quick look, Geoff Lawton paid them a visit and posted a free (other than the price of registering your e-mail address) video to pique your appetite.

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