Alan Chadwick a Gardener of Souls

Lecture by Alan Chadwick in Saratoga, May 9, 1972


Lecture 2, Part 2.2

An Introduction to Alan Chadwick's Lectures and a Glossary of Terms

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Contents of this Segment:

Turf loam; Leaf mold; Carnations; Tomatoes; Sieves; Watering and sowing the corners and edges of flats and beds; Cover seed lightly; Soil sterilization; Weeds; Herbicides.


Full Text of this Lecture:



Villa Montalvo Lecture Series

Saratoga, California, 1972, Lecture 2,

Propagation, Part 2


And that is placed in a mound and is then labeled the year in which it was stacked. And so you get a relay of these stacks, year after year, whereby they decay and turn into turf loam. After one solid year it is completely usable, and all seeds should have become decadent. After two years, it is fool-proof.  And after three years, it should have been used. However, this is one of the great bases of potting and sowing soils. And this is an annual procedure. If you don’t grow it for that procedure, you can go and pinch it somewhere.

So that constitutes those three mixtures. And don’t forget that your leaf mold that you put through the sieve: preferably oak, second beech, third any deciduous. Evergreens aren’t in this matter. Now that is a variation on a theme. Remember that “a third, a third, a third” has a very distinct variation depending on what you are growing. For instance, if you are raising carnation seeds, the carnation is an origin of the dianthus which grows on a calcium bed of receding maritime area and prefers all calcium mineral soil rather than compost soils. It has a root formation that prefers a firm calcium soil. Just as roses and strawberries love to have a clay subsoil and a heavy soil to grow in and are not fond, indeed, of the ordinary compost and leaf mold soil.

So, understand that at all times that one speaks in these regular variations, that nothing is static. You must not take anything totally for granted. You must always view the character of the plants that you are growing, and play to it. The tomato will appreciate the leaf bottom for the box, but next to that will love, more than anything, a layer of egg shell. For the simple reason that the tomato is an enormous enjoyer of calcium, but not of lime, meaning chalk.

So, that is a variation on a theme, but the basis is always a leaf bed. And that leaf bed, understand, is that when you go to an oak tree, for instance—and you would go in the Spring—Fall leaves have begun to rot, but they are still leaves. And so you should collect those and put them in a pile, in a bin, an open bin. Never close your soils nor ever put them in bins which are not breathe-able. Don’t put them into metal bins or these plastic bins. When I say bin, I’m really talking about a wooden open box. So put those leaves into that wooden open box, and then collect some of the leaf mold which is now two years, which is underneath. And that is the one that you will sieve for the “a third, a third, a third.” So that you have a leaf bed underneath, and then the sifted leaf in your “a third, a third, a third” mixture.

Now you must sift… You should have two sieves in your work-shed: one fine, and one medium. You must understand, do you not, that all life is into death into life. That the sticks, the leaves and the dust of last year are the seed bed for all seed raising the next year. And that nature has a way of making this an open bed of fine matter for the seeds to grow in. And this is the principle that one is following.

When that soil is sifted together you should now fill your box and sow your seed carefully. Always remember, when you are sowing seed, if it is out-of-doors, you much watch for wind. For the wind will blow most of your seeds, scattering it in all directions. And note: anybody can sow the middle of a box, and only a professional knows to sow the corners and the edges. So, sow your corners and your edges and then sow your middle and you’ll find it’s done anyway. That applies to watering as well. When you water a bed… Everybody waters the middle, and the poor corners and edges get left out. Go for the corners and edges, and the middle will look after itself.

Most seed should be covered its own depth. Cover with fine, sifted soil, and dust it lightly. And the higher that you drop this covering, the more even will it be. If you are not an expert at covering and seed sowing, practice with some sand on a tray first. And use some rice or something quite coarse as the seed, and then try covering it with some sand, and you’ll very soon get the knack of spreading seed in the way it should be sown.

Now this first sowing of seed in this method says that you may sow your seed very thickly indeed. And the reason for this is one that you can do a test and find out. If plants… If you sow twenty seeds in a seed box, and one with two-hundred seeds in a seed box, it is a very interesting matter. That it is rather like children: they love to be together, and the breathing of the one helps the breathing of the other. And you will find that the two-hundred will always grow far better than the twenty. They don’t like to be isolated; they cry and are unhappy.

And now enters the scene, very quickly, of weeds. You will say, “Oh, but you haven’t attended to the matter of steaming the soil.” Well, don’t. The recommendation of this system is: Do not ever sterilize. When you sterilize soil you, of course, kill what we were talking about last week: fertility. Fertility is not just soil, it is a live matter. It’s embryonic, and if you sterilize soil you sterilize culture. Don’t do it; there’s no need. And the reason that one says there’s no need, is this: What did we say about garden plants and weeds?

All weeds have an enormous quantity of vitality than garden plants. It’s the origin juices, more strength, more vitality. And because they are origin, they invariably hatch or germinate a day or two before the cultured plants. And what happens? You sow these seed boxes without sterilization, and you go in and you think, “Let me see now, in another three days they should be up. Oh my goodness, there’s a whole host of all sorts of seed germinating.”  And many of them you can recognize as thistles and all sorts of oddities. And two days later, all your adorable cultures germinate. And already there’s quite a forest growing. And your cultured plants, very obviously—because you can do all of these tests for yourself—they all kind of look at each other and they say, “Jemima, Henry, just look at those things.” And all these things growing vociferously and breathing like mad and very healthy. And, of course, they say to each other, “Jemima hurry. Look, we must catch up. Look.” And they all start to try and grow, and catch up to the weeds, of course, as plants do. And after a few days when this race has gone on, and your cultured plants are really beginning to grow quite fast, that is the time to weed. And what a fantastic compost these young tender weeds make! The very essence of compost soil.

I’m going to refer, at the end of the talk, about the unutterable lunacy of herbicides, of weed killers. I suggest to you, to the world in its madness today: Grow every weed that you can possibly grow. Because weeds are the manufacturer of beautiful fertile soil. And anybody who is going to kill weeds with poisons is an insane idiot. I mean every word of it. And I must add to that, if I may, that any box that has on it “weed killer,” is a lie. It means, “plant killer.” And although many plants don’t die, they are just so sick that they’d be much happier if they did.




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