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Book Review: Feed the Soil
By John Jeavons, Executive Director, Ecology Action

Feed the Soil book coverKenya is in an ongoing drought, causing food prices to skyrocket; 20% of Spain is desertified, and 75% is considered dry or semi-arid and at high risk for desertification ( europe/soil-to-sand-spain-s-growing-threat-ofdesertification/ 1535951); it was so hot in Athens (118◦F) this summer that they closed to Acropolis to protect tourists; massive Canadian wildfires turned the sky in New York City orange with smoke. Things are abnormally dry, and getting drier. It is understood that the Earth is becoming increasingly desertified and water is scarce in many places. One of the ways we can help slow desertification and reduce water use in agriculture is to improve the soil, and an important part of improving the soil is increasing nitrogen levels so healthy plants can grow.

In his excellent and comprehensive book, Feed the Soil (Organic Agriculture Research Institute, 1982 —don't let the date put you off, the information is still completely valid today), Edwin McLeod teaches you how to improve soil fertility through natural methods, and describes a number of crops, including legumes, that can do reasonably well in droughty areas, fixing nitrogen the the soil through a symbiotic relationship with soil microbes. The book advocates the "green manure" method of tilling the plants under after they mature to build soil, but with GROW BIOINTENSIVE, these legumes are rendered even more efficient, because they are cut when they begin to flower, so the nitrogen fixed in the root nodules is kept in the soil, and not used by the plant to create seeds, and the biomass of the cuttings can be used to make compost.

Some excellent nitrogen-fixing varieties for limited water situations are listed in the book by climate category: Many Climates, Cool Climate, Cool and Dry Climate, Hot Climate, and Hot and Dry Climate. I found the Jack Bean (Canavalia ensivorma) pp.113-114 and the Moth Bean (Phaseolus aconitifolius) pp. 146-147 of particular interest, and the detailed descriptions of all the crops are comprehensive and help the reader gain a good understanding of the nature of each crop and conditions under which they grow. Good reading for gardening on a hot planet!

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