Here is a curious fact. It has taken a World War to revive and strengthen the human love of the soil.
Throughout the ages, we find that work on and with the soil has meant fertility, health, prosperity; but as soon as man began to exploit it for gain, or neglect it from sloth, fertility ceased, the life departed from the earth, soil erosion followed, and vast tracts of land were invaded by sand and dust, with the result that once fertile country was turned into desert and dust bowl, and the process still goes on.
Nature is slow to retaliate, but terribly sure. The lesson may be learnt on every continent, either as the result of neglect in the long past, or from the concentrated and constant exploitation of a century. The first, neglect, is typified by the deserts of North Africa -- once the granary of Rome -- and by the derelict lands in Palestine, and Transjordania, once 'the land flowing with milk and honey'. The second, exploitation, is shown by the dust bowls of America -- here was virgin soil, rich in natural humus; the utmost was extracted from the land, no living matter was returned, and consequently the life went out of the soil and it returned to dust. The results are being faced at last, and taken to heart with courageous enterprise and a stirring of national conscience. In New Zealand deep anxiety is expressed, because of the exploitation of land by the use of chemical fertilizers and of widespread deforestation. In Australia great tracts are suffering from drought, soil erosion, diminishing fertility from the same causes. From East Africa come accounts of virgin land exploited, doped with chemicals, till it becomes useless, then left derelict for a repetition of the same procedure a little farther on.
If we turn from the large to the small, we find the majority of small-holders and gardeners are up against the same difficulties. They cannot get natural humus, i.e. farmyard manure. They try chemicals -- manure from a bag. It has all the right chemical ingredients, but no life, no inherent power of growth; has anyone ever heard of a mineral growing? The result after a few seasons is a steady decrease of fertility and increase of pests and disease. Mercifully, the compost heap is now being recognized as 'the heart of the garden'. This is a change of attitude of the past three years, and one which will surely save the situation, if the practice of using this compost becomes universal. In the midst of this world-wide sickness of soil, there are areas of fertility, and some in most unpromising natural conditions.
Primarily there are the Hunzas of Northern India; their valley home is an oasis of fertility, thanks to superhuman works whose origin must be in the far-off ages. Rock terraces hold the soil on arid hill sides; a system of irrigation, and -- most important -- the systematic and traditional making and use of compost, have produced a race of human beings, healthy, happy and wise. Then in China, amid poverty and difficulty, the use and detailed care of the compost heaps form a definite part of community life. This has enabled the Chinese to extract the utmost from the same soil for thousands of years and still keep it alive and fertile.
At last there is a dawning realization throughout the civilized world of the importance, the urgency of this problem of soil-fertility. To-day, a growing body of people understand that the soil is a living thing and must be rightly fed. It is such common sense! All we eat comes from the soil, and derives its feeding qualities from the life in the soil. Meat, butter, milk, represent the vitality of the plants eaten by domestic animals. Vegetables and fruit give their vitality directly to us, but if they grow in unnourished soil, devitalized soil, they have no vitality to give.
The slow process of an almost universal malnutrition has started; it goes from soil to vegetation, from vegetation to human being. The result is a vast increase in malnutrition diseases -- cancer amongst them; an increase in spite of modern amenities and the development of scientific knowledge, but knowledge that appears to be directed towards cure rather than prevention. The increase of bad health is not confined to man, it is shared by domestic animals, and by the vegetable kingdom. Every year brings the tale of new pests, new diseases, and new remedies -- and insecticides. There must be a common cause for the universal symptoms, and the common cause of all that is -- is the soil. If the soil is ill, all living beings suffer. The remedy must start there. Already proofs are available to show how a vast improvement in health has been brought about by feeding of the soil with organic composts, instead of doping the plants with synthetic manures. Evidence as to this has reached me again and again from Q.R. Compost users; and on a wider scale, the experience of schools and the well-known experiment of the Peckham Health Centre uphold the statement.
It is after all just common sense; common sense has been called 'heavenly wisdom', and a lack of it may lead to a world-wide tragedy, if steps are not taken to save the life of the soil.
I believe it is the force of public opinion that will tip the scales. There is much to overcome; vast vested interests; refusal to face facts; indifference and ignorance of urban populations; laziness and conservatism amongst the country folk; and the tentacles of a hundred years of synthetic manurcs.
An agricultural expert, who came to see the Q.R. Compost, and who was both friendly and appreciative, said to me, as he left: 'You know, Miss Bruce, we agricultural experts have all been grounded and brought up on the principles of chemical fertilizers and you can't expect us to change quickly'. That is true; but the change is coming and the increase of practical experience and personal knowledge will help to bring it about.
In 1939 I was discussing the title of a prospective book with the owner of a well-known nursery garden. I suggested 'Compost'. He just said: 'No, nine people out of ten wouldn't know what you meant'. He was right! Shortly afterwards, I was speaking at a garden féte on 'Compost'. An amateur gardener was asked why had he not attended as the talk was about gardens. His reply was: 'Gardens! I thought it was "jam-making"!'
Now the word is a commonplace; the value of compost is generally acknowledged in print and by authority, and, what is more, there is a widespread vocal revolt against 'manure from a bag'. The growing interest taken by doctors, hospitals, health centres, schools and other communities, shows how the wind blows, and the recent debate in the House of Lords, on 2nd February 1944, is a good omen for the future.
Above and beyond all these developments, is the practical demonstration, to be carried out by the Haughley Research Trust. This plan, started in 1940, embraces a long-term agricultural experiment under expert supervision, and in due course with complete scientific equipment and laboratories. The minimum duration of the experiment is to be ten years.
The Farm is to be divided into three sections:
1st. To be manured entirely by compost of mixed vegetable and animal origin.
2nd. The second to be manured with chemical fertilizers and organic residues of vegetable origin only.
3rd. To be manured with farmyard manure and/or compost, plus chemical fertilizers.
The plan aims at identical crop rotation, so that in any year the same crop grown in the three different sections shall be in the fields of the same soil type. It includes the taking and segregation of seed from each section, and the breeding of stock animals in triplicate, so that there will be three groups of stock animals nurtured on crops grown in the three different mediums, and finally the supreme test; that of bringing the animals into direct contact with diseased animals (imported from outside) suffering from infectious diseases, to test the degree of resistance to infection brought about by the three different methods of nurture.
The fulfilment of the whole programme is dependent on the ability of the Trust to secure adequate financial backing. The direction is in the hands of a Trust. The Custodian Trustees are the East Suffolk County Council. The actual management is in the hands of six Trustees, of whom two are representatives of the County Council. (Pamphlets dealing with the Haughley Research Trust may be had from the Hon. Secretary, Haughley Research Trust, County Hall, Ipswich, Suffolk.) It is a farsighted and courageous undertaking, deserving the fullest public support. Lady Eve Balfour (author of The Living Soil) is the resident farm manager. Her book (The Living Soil, by E.B. Balfour, Faber and Faber) should be, and is being widely read. In fact, its reception is yet another sign of the growing volume of public interest in this all-vital question.
There are, many methods of making compost and I believe there is room for all of them. There are millions of different gardens and different circumstances: if one method proves unsuitable, another may fit perfectly.
The three best-known biological systems, as quoted by F.H. Billington in Compost (Compost, by F.H. Billington, Faber and Faber) are:
- The Bio-dynamic method (Rudolf Steiner).
- The Indore method (Sir Albert Howard).
- The Quick-Return compost method.
All three produce good compost.
The Bio-dynamic system is interesting but complicated, and out of reach of the great majority, by reason of its restrictions.
For large farms and estates where there is plenty of livestock and labour, the Indore method is paramount. It is backed by the great knowledge and experience of its founder, Sir Albert Howard. But it presents difficulties to the small gardener without labour for turning, or livestock for manure.
This book tells the story of the 'Quick-Return Compost' (Q.R.) for short!
It possesses three main advantages:
- The compost needs no turning.
- The vegetable matter disintegrates in an amazingly short time. Even after ten years' experience, I get the thrill of a miracle, every time I open a new heap, four to eight weeks after treatment, and find brown soil, rich in humus, instead of green vegetable matter.
- The 'herbal activator' can be made by anyone who can find the right plants. The formula is given in full detail.
If it is impossible to find the herbs, the activator can be bought for a few pence, a flat rate of sixpence per heap. It is sent out in multiples of two (see Appendix 4).
This is not primarily a money-making concern. It was launched in the hope of helping to give back life to the soil, and thus eventually of abolishing disease in plant, animal, and man.
This is a hope which can only be successfully fulfilled by the co-operation and personal effort of all who hold in trust a portion -- however small -- of God's earth.
2. The Story of Quick-Return Compost
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