Alan Chadwick a Gardener of Souls

Lecture by Alan Chadwick in Saratoga, May 16, 1972


Lecture 3, Part 3.14

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

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Continue to Lecture 4, Part 4.1

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Contents of this Segment:

More questions from the audience: When to use the compost; Fertilizations for shrubs; Never feed trees or shrubs as they go into dormancy; Irrigation as a vehicle for taking nutrients down deep; Fertilization of Camellias; Soil texture; Overhead watering vs watering to the roots; Spring rains; Transplanting vs direct seeding; Clean tools; roots on the compost.



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Villa Montalvo Lecture Series

Saratoga, California, 1972, Lecture 3,

Fertilization, Part 14



A: (cont.) ...You slide it, again, onto the subsoil. Do you understand what I’m talking about? So, you can either turn the whole bed, or slide it so that it remains. So that if you’ve got a lettuce bed all prepared, you can almost, literally, replant lettuce into it. Do you understand? This is a huge explanation. You must understand, all this is technical, and that talking about it is really very obscene; it shouldn’t be done. Does that properly, reasonably answer your question?


Q: Then when, and how do you use the compost?

A: I endeavored to touch on that briefly. Again, it’s a huge subject. You use the compost when it is at the height of decomposition, when it is making warm, moist gases. Plunge into the middle of it, and if you feel nice and comfortable, it’s excellent. But you will find, that when you open it up with a fork, all the worms are operating halfway down, and right to the bottom. You will know that this decomposition is beautifully taking place. You will see that it is all becoming decadent. And, you will find that the moment that you use it in the bed, it bursts into life with seed, with growth: And this is fertility. Do you understand what I am getting at?

If you want it as a bed soil for a flower bed, if you want it for potting soil, then it must have become more loamy. But the right time to use it in your ground, and working it in... And you must use it in your bed at the depth, according to whether you’re having deep rooteds or shallow rooteds. If you’re growing Heracliums, such as Parsnips, you want to work your bone meal in deepest, and your manure with your compost, middle areas, and your wood ash near the surface for stratification, or working in. Do you understand? If it’s a lettuce bed, the whole of your manure, your wood ash, and your compost wants to go right on top, and plant the lettuce, slap into it. With soil. Do you understand? Answered?


Q: How do you use it in mature beds, where you’ve got mature shrubs and shallow rooted shrubs and things, and you can’t get in there?

A: With shrubs you understand that you could use bone meal, that you would never, hardly, use wood ash, and that of course, you would never use manures. Practically never. So you use compost. You use it in the dormancy period, and you use it as you do with all trees, roots, and roses... shrubs, using it on the extremity of the root areas to produce the roots into it. It will cause the shrub to grow madly in hunting and coming to it, as it will be aware immediately you put it there.

And that you must always realize this matter: You must never feed your shrub or your rose or your tree when it is actually going into dormancy. It is the time when you must not put food values around it. It is going to make a false growth, and it is going to be destroyed by winter. Do you understand? So you must apply this at the justified moment. But that it should not be, as you would say quite rightly, you can’t dig all the roots of a shrubbery up. But you can know the characteristic of your shrub and its root proposition, and apply the compost around.

And remember that what I said about watering, irrigation matters. You can apply this compost quite near the surface, and by waterings, take it gradually down. And don’t forget that in the application of all of your fertilizations, you must bear in mind the methods that you use in your garden or your farm, of watering. And that they should be applied so that they are gradually taken down, as the roots grow down. Do you understand? Do not occupy the old-fashioned method of working all your fertilizations in deep, and saying “I’m going to get my roots down.” The new method, the French method of Intensive, is keeping your growth in the aereation department. Clear? Does it answer?


Q: What about camellias..?

A: Camellias... Be very careful. You may use hoof-and-horn and bone meal with great care on extremities only. And the whole of what you might call fertilization, for Camellias, is of course, beautiful leaf molds. You may use compost if it is entirely green matters, well decomposed.


Q: How do you get it in, do you... [ ]…?

A: No. You should do it very largely with a system of mulching. Camellias are fibrous-rooted, extend far like Rhododendrons do, in a great mat. And you can either place in the extremity of the roots, again, to induce out, or, where the plant is actually concerned, where you want it around the shrubs somewhat, use it at the surface and scarify it in. Working it in with a light fork. Never, of course, use a spade in a shrubbery or tree area. In fact, always avoid. Remember always that your spade is a destructor, and your fork is a harrower.


Q: How big a tree pruning can you put in the compost pile?

A: How many what? Oh, I see. Well this must, this must... You see, it’s a huge subject that... You see, one would talk for two nights about compost heaps. You must make separate compost heaps. And again, you may use any amount of really large prunings as a  basic basis for a compost heap. Now, when you come to use that compost heap, what you will find is that it’s all set down and fallen into these boughs which have not totally decayed. Use the top of the compost altogether, but the part where the stuff has not decayed, use it for the basis of your next compost heap. And by that time it will have decayed again, fully decayed. Do you see what I’m getting at?


Q: What about these boughs in there, do you cut them up?

A: There is no need whatever. In fact, better not to chop up.

Q: Do you use them whole?

A: With cooking all vegetables, never cut them up. They bleed. You keep the qualities and the juices inside.


Q: What about a compost shredder?

A: I did speak of this. You may use one if you like. I say it's much more advantageous to have texture. If you’ve got a very fine, sandy soil, you want the texture. If you’ve got a heavy soil, you want the texture. There are very few soils where you don’t want texture, and texture is going to bring you capillary. Chopped up matter is not going to induce capillary. The only place where you want fine soil in the garden is on the half-inch on the surface. There you need it to get your capillary.


Q: What do you consider the best form of watering?

A: You’re on a huge subject. It is an enormous subject, and I can’t cover it with an answer. When you are producing flowers for cutting, when you are producing vegetables for eating, you should overhead water whilst they are in youthful growth. The moment that they are coming into flower, or into fruition as a lettuce hearting or a cauliflower blooming, forming, budding up, you must immediately cease overhead water. You will be doing damaging, and you will induce the plant to do exactly what it wants to do: rush into age and decrepancy of seed. It wants to bloom, to get it over, to go and seed. We think it’s all bloom it’s after. Of course it’s not after bloom at all; it’s after going to seed, and after going into death, and after going into life again. It’s the whole cycle, do you understand?

So, your watering is a whole procedure of never being the same thing. You understand what spring rains are? The clouds are quite different in the spring equinox to they are any other time. They come low, and they are voluminous, with huge blue gaps in between. The rain falls, and all the little plants, they say, “Oh, lovely.” And out comes the sun, and they’re all warmed, and they’re all growing, and in no time, they’re all saying “Oh, my God, it’s dry, I’m drying up, I don’t know what to do. It’s, oh, it’s getting so hot!” When along comes another big nimbus, and down it all comes. And it’s warmed by the beautiful, warm air, and the water’s all warm. And they say “Oh, lovely.” And they all drink again.” And then they begin to dry up and they want another. And along comes another cloud. Do you see what I’m getting at?


Q: It seems to me, I don’t know whether it’s my imagination or not, that zucchini seeds and tomato seeds that volunteer, that volunteer from a previous year’s compost, seem to be more vigorous than the seed that was planted that same year as first planted.

A: Correct. I completely endorse what you are saying. The best tomatoes you will ever grow will be a nice tomato thrown in the bonfire, in the wood ash, or on the compost heap, but preferably, the bonfire, you know, the wood ash heap.

Q: [Inaudible]

A: Oh, I assure you not. Again, you must always remember one thing, that transplanting is an operation of man, it doesn’t happen very much in nature. Therefore, there’s no question, that whenever it’s possible to produce a plant in the ground, it’s generally better. But it is nevertheless assessed, that all lettuce, that certain plants like the Brassicas- the Cauliflower and the Cabbage, will, because of culture, because of the knowledge of the plant’s relationship to man’s handling, be better for being planted out. But this is the habit of culture. If you understand what I am getting at. It’s the manipulation of the garden being aware of man’s labor in it.


Q: You said, I think about the first lecture, about seeds that haven’t been hybridized, etc. Would you be kind enough to bring us a list of sources next time?

A: Oh yes. Yes, indeed. Yes, ma’am I will. Yes, I will.


Q: Any other questions?

A: Oh, no, can’t be. Oh, one more.


Q: I was wondering what to do… [ ] …when you talked about the flowers…

A: Correct. Slice it off with a sharp spade. Keep all your tools clean and sharp.


Q: Do you leave the roots on when you… [ ]?

A: Always preferable, except sometimes with cabbage, cauliflower, some of the Brassicas. They should go on the compost, they’re too crude. And again, sometimes certain root forms will start to grow again. And this you don’t want. But all the bacterial rooteds should be dug in, of course.


Q: [Inaudible]

A: With snow pea, yes. Don’t imagine that it applies to everything. Nothing applies to everything always.





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