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The Wood-Wide Web

From our latest newsletter:

In the last few years there has been a fundamental shift in how scientists view the way the plant kingdom works.

Take trees, for example. The old view was that woodland trees grow tall because they compete for light – and the strongest win. That view has been questioned. Researchers like Suzanne Simard have shown the level of co-operation, not only between species (she demonstrated how paper birch trees support douglas fir) but also between kingdoms. The fungi underground allow themselves to be used as a food bank. They store surplus nourishment for the trees in the good times and give it back in leaner periods. They also provide minerals which the trees can’t access for themselves, and they act as a woodland communication system. The world in a woodland has been shown to be a distributed network, with hubs (the ‘mother’ trees) and links.

This is the diagram Suzanne Simard used in her TED talk. The darkest circles are the ‘hub’ trees, the paler ones younger trees. It looks like a diagram of the internet. It has been called the wood-wide web.

That was the preamble to my ponder. My ponder is – if that is happening in woodland, what is going on in my house and garden? How can I best work with this intelligent, caring, interconnected world?

One immediate response from us was to think differently about potplants. For a single plant in a pot, life must be like solitary confinement. So, nowadays we put more than one plant in a pot, or we make sure that their leaves are touching other plants nearby. And we brush the leaves as we walk past them.

A lot of good gardening practice makes sense in the context of the wood-wide web. If you take something out, put something back, whether it is a bit of compost or a sprinkling of fish, blood and bone. Minimum-interference gardening practices like ‘no-dig’and permaculture are in tune with this view. The biodynamic approach sees the entire piece of land as a single entity, an ‘organism’. That also makes sense. And of course, our view is that the bronze tools help. Copper is a connector. Like the fungi in the forest floor, it links things up. It’s in our wiring. In our bodies, copper is to do with energy transfer. So at the very least, bronze tools should be less disruptive in the garden.

1 thought on “The Wood-Wide Web

  1. Having started working on an under-fed vegetable garden five years ago, I tried variousways to improve the soil structure and ecology.

    No dig sees an annualimprovement in soil structure which is best observed whenplanting potatoes or transplanting vegetable plants frompots. As I try to create a hole the exact size of the pot,I use my Implementations trowel to create that hole. Eachyear, I get more and more sites seeing a perfect conicalsoil mould emerging from my no dig beds, showing organisedstructure and well bound soil. I also noticed a few moreworms just from practicing no dig. My Implementations hoeand rake see regular spring outings creating a goodsurface tilth on my no dig beds.

    The other great advantage of nodig is water retention.We can have a dry spring andcarrots, parsnips, potatoes, beetroot will all do fine. I water less and less and usually only on biodynamically appropriate days.

    To improve soil, firstly I tried treating the soil direct with rock dust. This I realised was expensive, so I turned to using the rock dust in small amounts in compost bins and when sowing seeds in modules/trays.

    I also learned that plants grew better adding small amounts of fungi and bacteria to potting composts, so I now see this as another way to add healthy ecology back to the soil. All the compost bins get the unused spare seedlings and soil full of bacteria and fungi.

    In 2017, I made the best compost ever and truly learned from 2014-2019 how beneficial such compost is. Elimination of losses when transplanting, plants growing away faster after transplantation, healthier plants overall and harvests at ever shorter time points.

    The things I put in my best compost heaps included:

    1. Horse manure + straw.

    2. Leaf litter from a wood mixed with grass cuttings.

    3. Cardboard and newspapers.

    4. Comfrey cuttings.

    5. Spent vegetable haulms and other plant material pulled up around the garden in general.

    6. Small branches/shoots pruned from trees in summer.

    7. Hedgerow trimmings.

    The leaf litter ensures healthy ecology as small amounts of soil are always contained therein. Comfrey supplies minerals.

    To create 2.5 cubic metres in a season is a challenge but it can be done if you recycle everything from the garden and make a few trips to a stables and to a local wood. Quite frankly, neighbours put enough out too, so recycling that would top up any shortfalls.

    It makes you wonder whether creating a common compost site for a street would be feasible. Depends how many gardeners and how many happy to just supply waste, I guess.

    The last two years I focussed on feeding insects by planting perennial flowers: 2019 the wallflower, cornflower, borage, california poppy, sweet alyssum and the like have flowered prodigiously and the insects have fed voraciously. To date I have just lost two Brussels Sprout plants to slug/insects.

    Biodynamics is to me like the icing on the cake. Horn manure spraying definitely helps to promote ecology and treating diseased fruit trees can be restorative. I have not yet tried using horn silica. I sow on the right biodynamic days and also try to sow at moonrise. It might be a luxury but it definitely produces great plants. Using my Implementations Nunki weeder to stimulate soil around growing vegetables on the right biodynamic days also seems to be effective.

    What can be said without doubt is that five years is the maximum it takes to turn fairly dead soil into a highly fertile vegetable garden, if you do not have access to huge manure supplies up front. By which I mean you start as a novice, learn the hard way and improve year on year.

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