Fallowing land, Jubilee year for land

 

Biblical principles and todays gardens?

middleeasternploughmangrimmversion2016From childhood, I have had the blessing of being immersed in scripture.  My parents regularly read the Bible and Bible storybooks to us.  My father had only one year of high school, but he had gone further in knowledge of scripture than anyone that I knew.  On Sunday evenings our small church frequently featured a Bible quiz.  Because he could answer quicker and more questions than anyone, a “Dean Alleman rule” was instituted:  When anyone answered three questions, that person was not eligible to answer again until no one knew the answer.  From that heritage, I have questioned why we don’t celebrate Christmas as the disciples and Paul did, wondered if it was significant that the only time in the Bible a man tells a woman “I love you” it is Samson to Delilah and raised the question of “fallowing”. I have known of the “fallow” year rule, but have never heard a farmer or gardener practice it or discuss it**.  After all, we eat pork, plant two kinds of seeds in a field (rye with clover) and wear cotton/polyester clothes. Fallowing fields is commanded by God:

Ex 23:11 but during the seventh year let the land lie unploughed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.  (See also, Lev. 25: 1-4)

 Interpretations of “fallow ground” law

To what extent is the ‘land rest’ command binding on the Christian today? What are the principles by which to interpret scripture on the matter of land rest?    Do we choose the general interpretation, looking for the principles behind the law?  This approach would conclude that practices like crop rotation, manuring the fields, composting and mulching meet the purpose of these regulations and are the equivalent of “rest”?  Or, should we follow the practice of some observant Jews who do not use the land at all during the seventh year. I read of some who lease their orchards the seventh year (to Arabs) to meet the requirement of the law of land rest?

Basic principles

What is the basis for the Christian taking this scripture literally?  First, I assume that the Gen. 2 instruction to Adam to “serve and preserve the land” provides the basis for interpreting this passage.  Second, Jesus (Mark 2 23-28) tells us that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  From this I conclude that the Sabbath rest was made for human benefit in three areas: 1. Observing the Sabbath and the Sabbath year was commanded the Hebrew people as a symbol of their trust in God to provide for them.  Letting the land rest for the seventh year demonstrated their trust in God.  2. Resting the land from cultivation during the Sabbath year provided for rejuvenation of the land.  3. Sabbath rest for the land was one way of providing for the poor.  These three principles stand behind the literal application of the fallowing law (as it does the related practices in Leviticus).

Trust in God

How do Christians demonstrate their trust in God for provision of food?  Trust in God for provision of food seems even more distant in a society where most do not have gardens, get their meat and dairy products from the grocery store and buy their orange juice from Brazil and more distant sources.  Gardens, however small, give parents and children a way to experience dependence on God.  Even when the water comes from a faucet and the fertilizer comes from a bag, there is realization that some part of the growth is beyond our control.  Organic practice seeks to feed the soil and let the soil feed the plant.  Here the dependence is a bit clearer.  With the use of permanent mulch, the work of worms and their allies to convert leaves, grass and kitchen trimmings to “new earth” is evidence of God’s creative work on our behalf.  The third principle, providing for the poor relates closely to this one.  Giving a portion of our garden production to the poor acknowledges that we rely on God to provide for us.  However, one benefit that observing the Sabbath rest demonstrates, trust in God, is difficult to provide for in modern agricultural practice.  Is it possible that returning to a literal “fallowing” would be an opportunity to increase our trust in God?

Rest and renewal

What contemporary agricultural practices provide for the land to get rest and renewal?  While the “rest” part may be difficult to understand in modern practice, the renewal part is clear.  I believe that the organic standard of “feed the soil, let the soil feed the plants” comes close to replicating the benefits of the Sabbath year.  Jesus words that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath establishes the principle.  The practice of agricultural Bible-believers to exempt farmers, especially dairy farmers and poultry farmers from the “no work on Sunday” rule is a tacit recognition of this principle.   The agricultural practices seen in the Bible such as those required by the fallowing rule were reflective of climate and soil conditions typical of the Middle East.  Stiff soils and dry climates where there are two crops per year taking off the land, lose fertility faster than in temperate zones where the soil lies dormant from Oct. to April (or is covered with a “green manure” crop of rye, vetch or a combination of plants.

The renewal of permanent mulching is apparent at the garden I worked with.  The red clay ridge had probably been stripped of most of its fertility before the slaves were freed.  With the application of six inches or so per year of leaves, hay, grass and the addition of coffee grounds, what had been “waste” became soil amendment: “fertilizer”, if you please.  (Due to the pressure of companies producing nitrogen fertilizers using fossil fuels, organic gardeners/farmers are not permitted to call these ingredients “fertilizers”.) Over a period of ten or so years, three to six inches or more of organic matter has turned to black soil—the original red mineral portion of soil (subsoil) is still below it.  The soil tests completed (at conventional agricultural laboratories) show that all nutrients are well above optimum for nourishing crops.  A soil scientist told me that if I were a farmer with a soil management plan, I would not be permitted to add even compost to the garden.  So, does this restoration of land (and the rescuing of organic matter from the landfill) equal the Biblical requirement of renewal? If all of creation is good, then the worms, sow bugs and microorganisms that process leaves, grass and coffee grounds into soil are an important part of creation.  When the right conditions are created, these creatures transform raw organic matter into compost or humus which is the plant and animal part of soil (the rest being primarily mineral).  By mixing carbon and nitrogen materials, reducing the particle size and maintaining a good moisture level, worms and the microherd can convert several feet of “yard trimmings” (wastes) into “new earth”.  Is this part of God’s work to bring about a new earth/reverse the degradation of land by erosion and overuse? Extending the idea of shalom to all of creation is a continuation of this understanding.  The good or best of conditions for organic matter processors is the “shalom of the microherd”.  Mulching creates a suitable environment for sow bugs and worms.  Letting the worm created channels for moisture and nutrients function in the intended manner creates soil creations that permit plants to be at their best:  part of the creation God declared was good.

Care for the poor

How do contemporary gardening practices provide for the poor in the way that gleaning from volunteer grain or other plants might provide during the fallow year?  The garden referred to in the previous paragraph raised produce and flowers for a food pantry.  If there was a practice comparable to carbon sequestration/carbon banking which permits those adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere to pay, for instance, forest owners a fee to continue to pump out excess amounts of carbon.  Forests sequester or capture “excess” carbon and give off oxygen.  So, food pantry gardens can be a “bank” for agricultural practices, which do not of themselves provide for the poor.  Since 1995 the Garden Writers of America/GardenComm (a secular organization) have promoted their “plant a row for the hungry” program where the extra rows of produce can be taken to the local food pantry.  Again, this is a way that gardeners can meet the principle of “providing for the poor” while continuing to use the land.  https://gardencomm.org/PAR Can permanent mulch, minimum and organic gardening fulfill the purpose of the Sabbath rest for the land?  If the poor are fed, the land is improved and trust in God for provision is taught and experienced, then one can say that there is some accomplishment of the principles behind fallowing/Jubilee year.

(Whether conventional gardening practices accomplish God’s purpose in giving the fallowing command can be investigated by someone else.)

 

**Two later references (Jeremiah 4:3-4a, Hosea 10:12) to “break up your fallow ground” are sometimes interpreted to mean ‘stop sinning.’  But since God instructed the Hebrews to let ground lie fallow, normal “fallowing practice” would not constitute sin.  Ploughing previously fallow ground would begin the next cycle of creation and renewal.  That seems the most likely focus of Jeremiah and Hosea.

 


 

Ultimate Composting: Our experience with “no-till” gardening

 

Our first attempt at a “no-till” approach to gardening in Virginia came when we arrived for a quick visit to Virginia to complete a purchase agreement on a house in June.  We purchased a sheet of plastic to cover a garden space currently in grass.  When we completed our move in mid-July, we began preparing raised beds to be ready for Fall planting.  Neighbors later told us that the former owners had spent considerable time getting the grass started during a dry period the previous year.  When we expanded the garden, we put down leaves to kill the grass.

At our current residence the grass in the backyard was in good shape.  I worked in a library giving me access to a steady supply of newspapers.  Two convenience stores and a college dining hall produced fifteen to thirty gallons of coffee grounds plus filters per week.  (Some of which was used on another garden.)  Wasteful city residents placed bags of compostables (grass clippings and leaves) at the curb for me to pick up.  (When looking for grass clippings, I watched for clover and dandelions–indicators of no weed spray.)

A fellow worker moved to a farm with a barn housing a quantity of old (5 years plus) hay.  He would drive my pickup with a rack home on Friday and return it Monday full of hay.  (Julia once said we had a yard full of hay and no cow.)  Five or six loads of broken bales of hay with the other organic matter gave us a good start on “ultimate composting”.

All of these ingredients permitted us to enrich the clay ridge we lived on.  The top soil that may have been there was probably gone before the slaves left the area.  Now there are five garden beds of sixty-six feet down to thirty feet of black soil on top of the clay.  The technique we used to improve the soil is similar to what has been called “lasagna” gardening.  The book with this title came out about time we were refining our practice of soil preparation and helped us to systematize our practice.  However, “stew” gardening seemed a better label.  My reasoning?  Mixing the materials as is done in a compost pile helps the microherd.  The microherd have little mouths/teeth and little feet.  Having both nitrogen and carbon mixed together as throughly as possible helps the microherd (bacteria, yeasts and allies) start converting the organic material into soil.  Below is a summary of the procedure which I have used with workshops on this procedure.  We used this procedure with several flower beds and to expand a food pantry garden.  The food pantry garden included patches of wiregrass which provided a constant battle during the 8-10 years of using that patch of ground.

 

________________________

Ultimate Composting a.k.a. “lasagna”/stew gardening or  sheet composting

Why should I sheet compost?

* Enrich the soil in your garden by composting on site

* Superior to bin composting for improving soil

* Save money — purchase less topsoil, humus and peat

* Reduce tax-funded yard waste processing costs

* Protect water quality by increasing the efficiency of water and fertilizer use

What is compost?

* Dark crumbly material like top layer of soil in a forest

* Produced naturally by microbes and compost worms feeding on compost pile materials, including leaves and yard wastes from your own backyard

* A soil amendment that will improve clay or sandy soils

How does composting work?

* Composting is microbe and earthworm management

* ‘Feed’ for compost critters is material rich in carbon–fallen leaves, straw, even newspaper

* Microbes also need a source of nitrogen–green garden trimmings, manure, alfalfa, etc.

What do I need to begin?

* Manure fork or garden fork

* Newspapers soaked in water (if a new garden or if you have lots of weeds)

* Composting materials (dry leaves, garden waste, coffee grounds, peat, straw, hay, other materials)

* May need to add water

How do I begin?

Collect materials including carbon (leaves, wood chips) and nitrogen (grass, coffee grounds, manure)

  • Place 6 or more sheets of wet newspaper overlapped on sod. Cardboard can be used for fall application. (Cardboard is hard to get fully wet and to get to conform to shape of ground so that there are no spaces for weeds/grass to grow around/through.)

Spread up to 1 ft of leaves and grass clippings, shredded, packed down or up to four inches of green wood chips (in dry weather, water each layer.  2 bags leaves to 1 bag grass)

* Mix with nitrogen-rich material:

~1/2 ft or more green garden wastes); OR

~1-2 inches manure; OR

~A scattering of alfalfa meal (rabbit pellets); OR

~a few cups of organic N fertilizer (5-2-2)

[leaves alone will decompose eventually.  I am assuming you want faster breakdown]

* Add a sprinkling of finished/mature compost.

* Water to consistency of wet sponge

*Microbes get full diet quicker if you mix the different materials.

*Some recommend covering the area with porous material–burlap is best–until planting time.  (Google “Interbay” method.)

What stays out?

* Cat litter and dog droppings

* Sick plants

* Pesticide and herbicide treated plants

* Petroleum products

* coal ashes (wood ashes are good)

* Noxious weeds and weed seeds

* Oils, fats, large amounts of dairy products or meat

What about kitchen trimmings?

* Must be covered to avoid smell, insects and attracting animals.

*May introduce seeds—cover with leaves or hay to control sprouting seeds from trimmings

* Contribute valuable micronutrients to the pile

* Reduce organic wastes going to the landfill

* Add any amount on an on-going basis to composting material.

* Dig a hole or trench and put in scraps, cover with at 6″—8″ of leaves, hay, and grass, shredded paper

* Next visit, dig the hole in a different spot or cover with more dry material

 

When may I start planting?

*Best to start sheet composting in summer or fall for the next year.

*You may begin planting immediately–especially plants. Monitor plants to see that the mulch around them does not decompose and let them “high and dry”.

*You will need to put down mature compost or potting soil (soil pockets) to plant small seeds or plants.

For more detail:  https://www.thespruce.com/how-to-make-a-lasagna-garden-2539877

See the book Lasagna Gardening by Lanza (published by Rodale Press)

Also at gardenweb.com there is a lasagna gardening forum.

 

 

 

 

Terminating mother

Having all the sweet potatoes slips I need signals the end of main planting season.  Now I must decide what to do with the “mother” that has produced all the sweet potato slips.

Sweet potatoes are not one of my favorite foods. I grow them because I have read that they are one of the most productive of nutrients per square foot.  Further, they are satisfying to grow:  seeing the rapid sprouting of new slips from the “mother”, watching the running of the vines and then lifting the orange or purple tubers in early October (we are in zone 6 at 1500 feet in western Virginia).  The June 10 late planting date approaches.  The tub of moss and vermiculite that I buried the tubers in proved a good incubator for all the new plants I need.   I have the two dozen or so plants potted for myself, plus more to sell at the local Gift & Thrift of Harrisonburg.

Sweet potato slips may be purchased at the local hardware store and some greenhouses or ordered from a number of sources.  Common varieties available are Beauregard, Centennial, Georgia Jet and Porto Rico.  The Sand Hill Preservation Center carries many more, listing white, purple, yellow, orange, short vine, long season and other types of  sweet potatoes.  I have been growing a split leaf variety of sweet grown and preserved for many years (she didn’t know how many) by Esther Shank, compiler of Mennonite Country-Style Recipes.  I got the sweet potato slips from her when we worked together at the Gift & Thrift store.  To try to identify the Shank heirloom, I have worked through the Sand Hill online catalog and located six split leaf sweets of the right vine length, season length, and with orange skin and flesh.  I can say they are a tasty sweet potato that keeps well.  Not as large as Beauregard, perhaps, but sufficiently productive to keep us in sweet potatoes until May.

Ending the first planting season

Sprouts are still emerging from the sweet.  How do I give thanks for the mother tuber’s productivity of slips but by finishing the job and moving on to the potting?  I had buried the sweet in vermiculite and moss producing good “dirt roots”.  So why, one might ask, is potting necessary?  I have relatively limited space, so I have a form of double cropping.  .  As peas—planted in the middle of my four-foot wide beds—are declining, I push aside the mulch nearer the edges and set in the sweet potato plants.  Planting is usually two weeks later than if I had enough space to plant peas and sweet potatoes in separate beds.  So, the potted sweets have good roots when set in the ground and take off with little stress.  This year we were traveling until March 6, so did not get our peas in the ground early, so there is even more overlap.

Corn’s up, the snap peas are reaching the top of the fence, pole limas show the first signs of “running”, green beans look ready to send out blossoms, first tomatoes are swelling, peppers have blossoms and cabbages are big enough to cut.  It’s the lull before produce starts becoming the “burden” we love.  The heat this week will wilt the lettuce, send the arugula and mustard to flower and turn the spinach bitter.  We will still have Swiss chard, though, and maybe the “summer” lettuce can be shaded and watered enough to show its superiority to store-bought.

This year I don’t have someone else to give the mother to.  Why do I find difficult slicing   the “Original Sweet Potato” in pieces?  Partly because there are still a number of new sprouts showing on the tuber.  Terminating the mother, even more than giving her away, sets the end to the main planting season.  Then, too, I enjoy the starting of plants and of the garden, more than the maintaining.  This “pioneering” inclination of mine is an annoyance to my gardening partner.  She would like to see me equally engaged in the watering, weeding and harvesting aspects of gardening.

Giving thanks to God for the soil, the rain and strength to plant.  Looking forward (with a non-ground hog summer) to a bountiful sweet potato harvest.