Alan Chadwick a Gardener of Souls

Lecture by Alan Chadwick in Saratoga, May 16, 1972


Lecture 3, Part 3.12

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

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Contents of this Segment:

Questions from the audience: Fava beans in compost vs as green manure; Nasturtiums on the compost vs stratifications in soil; Moisture content in compost pile; Horse manure; Poison oak; Alan's age; Prospects for his involvement in a garden project in Saratoga; Wood ash; Need for patience.



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Villa Montalvo Lecture Series

Saratoga, California, 1972, Lecture 3,

Fertilization, Part 12



Q:  Mr. Chadwick, you talked about two different types of things: about using green materials in compost piles to be composted and put into the garden, and you also have specific examples about taking green matter and putting it directly into the garden, where I assume it will compost. What is going on, will you describe one over the other, are they both used together?

A: Are you discussing the formation of the heap, principally? Let me say this quickly. The ancient Greeks used a method of growing a crop of Fava bean, or Clover, or any of the bacterial-rooted plants, plowing it in, sowing the same crop, plowing it in, and then sowing a cereal. That is agriculture. It is by no means the culture. The culture is to use your bacterial root in the ground, by cutting off at ground level, using the whole of the green matter on the compost heap, returning the compost heap to the ground in de-fermentation. The other matter is an agricultural matter where you are dealing with vast area of land, probably with machinery, or with horse-machinery, where you cannot comply with this owing to lack of labor. Does that answer your question?


Q: You talked about the dahlias on the nasturtium compost. Now was that previously composted greens?

A: This was an experiment of which I was bringing in line. Normally speaking I would recommend you to use the Nasturtium as a quick compost heap on its own, and to use it as compost. The reason I spoke of growing the Dahlias on it was an experiment. And I did, in this case, use the Nasturtium in the trenches. And I did find that it actually decomposed in three weeks.


Q: Did you put some dirt over that, or a sprinkling of soil, over the nasturtium or…

A: Soil. Certainly. Definitely always, stratifications. I hoped to have dealt tonight with the stratification of intensive beds. We will touch on it next week if we can. Yes, always stratifications on that. The hot bed is built upon green matter, such as Nasturtium, ad lib, fresh manure, with a little soil between the two, and then starts the whole stratification of the bed. That is merely a fermentation matter of making gases. Clear?


Q: Is the amount of moisture in a compost heap just a question of experience?

A: Yes, yes. Entirely a matter of experience. You want it moist, you don’t want it sogging, and you don’t want it dry. A general overhead watering, fine watering like a rain is the ideal answer.

Q: Once per week, or…

A:  It depends entirely on the weather, depends on the position that you are, and it also depends upon the compost heap. It also depends what you make the compost heap of. Some things need a lot of water, some need hardly any. It also depends on the enormous amount of fermenting swill that you are going to throw upon it.


Q: If you only really have access to horse manure… The use of it as mulch…

A: In the winter yes, in the summer, no. It will burn. Horse manure has more inclination to burn than any other. Goat has least.


Q: Is that fresh manure…

A: Generally speaking, fresh. Fresh-ish. Say, two to three months. It will burn.


Q:  …Poison oak…

A: Ask Mr. Chadwick to come in with a pickaxe and a fork, and to throw it up and let it dry out, and turn into compost over two years... Well, what other answer? I mean you live in America. You have this thing where Satan spits, and this thing grows. You’ve got, you’ve got to put an end to it. I... There are ways. Pfeiffer recommends the hormone. I simply won’t think in line with it. I think it’s monstrous. This is an individual matter. There comes the huge argument of what is the difference between a vegetarian and a meatarian, and then a cannibal. And, it’s very individual. But the way in which I’ve always got rid of it, and suffered as a result of it, is definitely to dig it up, throw it up into the air, and it will perish. It perishes very quickly, and so do you. Oh, please, may I just break one minute? You do understand that there are very definitely some excellent preventatives from getting the poison. The American Indian did a thing that most young ladies wouldn’t do today. They covered themselves with white clay before they started the day. When they came back home they washed it off, and they didn’t get Poison Oak. The other one, of course, is the use of Artemisia, or Wormwood. And the other one is a thing called Zotox, which you can actually put on. Or, if you cover yourself well with soap, a good soap, before you work. Don’t think you will escape by covering yourself with clothes, because you will get it much worse.


Q: I have heard something about preventing poison oak…

A: Yes, so have I.


Q: I don’t know if it was of any use.

A: No use to me. But then some people are abominable.


Q:  I’ve got two questions: Are you going to do a garden in Saratoga, and how old are you?

A: I beg to ask, everybody here, may I please ask the gentleman a question? Have you ceased beating your wife?
Well, I’m somewhere near sixty-five, just about, that is. That Saratoga is very obviously caught fire and is having a garden, God knows is true, and going to be true forever. And I give my promise that I am going to do everything that is capable for me in assisting it, supporting it, and driving it to be a furious furnace. Does that answer your question?


Q: Mr. Chadwick, how important are fresh grass clippings for the compost?

A: A fresh what? Grass clippings. Oh, just as important as anything else, in fact, very vital, especially if there’s clover in it, but whether there is clover in it or not. You’ve probably put grass cuttings on a heap, and either observed it the next morning, or two mornings later, or put your hand in it and realized that it is decombusting immediately. The temperature’s risen. It’s herbage. It’s invaluable herbage. Is it not this that goes into a cow and comes out as milk, and cheese, and butter, and then manure? Invaluable. I almost don’t sense your question.

I don’t either now!


Q: How about ashes from the fireplace?

A: Yes, of course. You see, ash is a scarcity, wood-ash. Therefore all ash is better than no ash. What you must realize is that the virility of what is left, with all the rough... I mean you should never eat... you should never drink carrot juice, you should always eat a carrot. Do you understand, in a sense, what I’m saying? You should not eat pills of numerous things. You should eat the matter, because this is nature’s approach to it, and it’s correct. Therefore, the wood ash, gently burned, is the great cultural answer. But if you can’t get that, get any wood ash you can. I mean, go round to your neighbors, with your bucket always, and empty their fires before they know what they’re doing. Agreed?


Q: How can you get that… if you cannot burn anymore here?

A: I can’t help thinking that you’ve got the mayor on your side. And if you’ve got the mayor on your side, you’ll have to have the fire-marshal on your side. Well, yes, you’re absolutely right, and one can’t argue against this. At the same time, there must be a leniency of good common sense enter the scene at some time. And that is that you do get torrential rains at times. And when you get a torrential rain, if you become good gardeners, with beautiful produce, I’m sure somebody is going to allow you to burn at that time, and that’s the ideal time to burn. Do you agree?


Q: Yes, I would think at least once a year…

A: Yes, but, I think you will find that this, you know, this will come up. You must understand. Biodynamics is as ancient as the hills, but it’s having a re-vision into an absurd era of artificiality. And it takes time to bring these things about. It takes time to charge an arid piece of soil into a lush growth. Don’t be impatient. Pray to God that it will…




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