Notes from Windward: #67


Combinations of Sustainability

Becca talks about the connections going around her

     Since Iíve been here itís been really interesting to learn about the various combinations of plants and animals that Windward uses to work together with nature to easily and organically enhance the productivity of the soil. One of these arrangements, known as a guild, is the triad that many native Americans relied on, corn, beans, and squash. The beans benefit because theyíre able to grow up the cornstalk to get more sunlight, while the cornstalk roots in return provide food for the nitrogen fixing bacteria in the beans. This process of having nitrogen-fixing bacteria convert nitrogen from the air to a plant soluble form serves as a natural fertilizer for the squash and corn. Meanwhile, the squash leaves provide a dense mulch which slows down weed growth and keeps the soil moist, lowering the amount of water thatís necessary to sustain the system.

     Another system that Windward uses is growing potatoes and garlic together in a time-shifting scenario. Both grow well together in a small space, and the potatoes provide a natural insecticide to discourage insects from attacking the garlic. Many of the plants including the potatoes and the garlic are grown in a raised earth beds made out of recycled tires. The soil inside the bed is made up of soil from the sheepís pasture, so that the manure and urine from the sheep are used to fertilize the crop.

Potatoes growing in among the garlic

     Growing crops using the raised earth bed made out of a tire has several advantages over planting directly in the ground. First of all, the soil inside the bed is already loosened allowing the roots to dig down further than they probably would normally. Additionally, the black tire heats up the soil morn than it would if it was just planted in the ground allowing the plant further security during a cold night or unexpected frost. Furthermore the tire creates a cistern like area for water to collect. Mulching this with straw further insures that the soil will be able to retain water longer by slowing down the evaporation process.

     The goal in all of Windward systems is to create interactive systems that enhance each other and close ecological loops. Instead of the industrial model of using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers to create gain in the short term at the cost of reduced soil fertility in the long run, Windwardís model is to use waste in one area as food for another. For instance the rabbit cages are situated over composting soil with earthworms in it and other organisms in it, so the waste from the rabbit is incorporated into a rich compost to provide nutrition for plants. By designing a system effectively, most of the work can be done by non-human plants and animals at our benefit.

     Whatever the problem, there are always alternatives to the industrial model. For instance, to combat the problem of an overabundance in non-beneficial insects, Windward uses ducks and guinea hens to control the population. The ducks additionally have webbed feet which doesnít damage the plants as the ducks scamper after some insect.

     In addition, the water conserving technique of using spare leftover hay as mulch along with the soaker hoses which are buried under them insures that even in a climate that is water scarce in certain parts of the year, food can still be made. This will become especially important in coming years as water tables worldwide keep dropping and industry calls for increasing water uses.

A soaker hose supports an Apple Guild of beans and squash

     The industrial model to produce our food which humans have come to rely on creates huge ecological problems, but humans still need to eat. Windward aims to show ways in which this can be done in ways where human impact on the land actually improves the soil and land in each progressive year.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 67