Lecture by Alan Chadwick in Saratoga, May 16, 1972
Lecture 3, Part 3.7
An Introduction to Alan Chadwick's Lectures and a Glossary of Terms
The full text of this lecture segment
Contents of this Segment:
Alan Chadwick describes the use of Wood ash; Building the burn pile; Trace elements; Vermiculite; Worms; Deep rooted plants; Humus, moisture, and fertility.
Villa Montalvo Lecture Series
Saratoga, California, 1972, Lecture 3,
Fertilization, Part 7
Wood ash: And here is a subject on which I could talk the whole night because this was the thing where Steiner took me right through it and taught me something that he didn’t actually teach anybody else. As you know, wood ashes are full of what is known chemically as potassium, potash. All your tree stumps, your pernicious weeds, like convolvulus, bindweed, all those matters, stuff that you absolutely can’t do anything with, you know, that delicious strap-grass, those terrible kind of things that you can’t really compost at all. It would take ten years to do anything with.
If you wait till the wet weather, pile it all up in a huge pile—get a burning permit, of course, this is a problem with California—then, when everything is very wet and it’s pouring with rain, have a nice little bundle of dry stuff and shove it in the middle of this heap. Light it, and get a good fire burning. Then have an enormous amount of wet rubbish of any sort, paper, wet paper, strap-grass roots, all ready. And smother the entire pile with this dripping wet stuff. And out it all seems to go.
In actual fact what happens is that it will slowly, very, very slowly smoulder inside. Now, if you get a cartload of tree-stumps and wood, and set light to it, what happens? There’s a terrific fire, flames roar up, smoke goes up, and the fire engines come. And after a day, there’s a little pile of ashes, and the wind comes, and most of that’s gone.
What has happened? Well, it’s perfectly obvious what has happened. It’s the same with everything. The whole lot has gone up in the air as gases. And of course it’s your neighbors, your distant neighbors, who’ve got it all. When it rains, it all comes down, and you don’t get any. And they don’t say, “Thank you.” So, if you stop that nonsense, and keep the whole of this pile in, you would find after two weeks, that suddenly, there’s a black surface. It’s burned through, and you’ve got a pile as big as this, of carbons, charcoals, and wood ashes. And now, these must be collected as the embers go out, into bins, and be kept dry. Any old barn, any old coverage, but bins which won’t catch fire, of course. If you put it into wooden boxes don’t blame me.
Now, here you have the most vital, organic fertilizer that there is. It should always be used only on the surface. At no time must you plant a plant into this wood ash. Just like live lime, when you apply water to this in a bed, it will go “ssshhhhh”, and it will boil, it is so energetic and vital. You see, this thing is the very essence of all the gasses that were in all that matter. And it’s the very essence of. However, for flavor, and for lushness, no other fertilization comes near it. Placed in tomatoes, in a lettuce bed, in spinach, in peas, you will get flavor and exuberance of growth, completely normal, and top excellence. You cannot, in fact, grow perfect tomatoes without using wood ash. It will produce wonderful flavor.
Also, an interesting matter, that particularly in California, and not in Europe… In Europe fruit trees coming into full bearing, that is at three, five, eight, ten years, require more and more and more nitrogen. In the climate of California they require more and more and more potassium. Therefore, the application of wood ash is invaluable in the orchards to produce good fruit growth as the years go on. And you cannot have enough of it.
Trace elements, ferrous matters, and so on: I am inclined to suggest to you, on long, long experimentation and discovery and observation, that there is a great deal over-emphasised and over-estimated on trace elements. Certain soils, such as Hawaii, suddenly will be missing some element completely, and a test and an addition would make a great difference. But normally speaking, this is not so. And after the coffee break, when I will deal with composting at large, we will explain why this matter is entirely balanced in the organic procedure. Should we then break for coffee now, and then proceed mostly with composting after?
There are still a few additions to the list of fertilizers, in fact there are many, but the few that I would like to touch on, please: Turf loam we discussed last time, and turf loam must be looked upon as fertilization. Sharp sand with mineral is another necessity to have for lightening soil, and for seed sowing, and for pricking-out. And the use of this thing called vermiculite, which is a mineral, a rock mineral, which holds moisture, and is excellent for striking in with sand, or placing in soil which is heavy, or bringing about a good soil condition.
Then, before the word humus, one must mention the enormous one of fertilization: worms. Worms are the most important matter in the ground for cultivation and fertilization. That with proper organic materials, particularly compost, good manure, the worms will come of themselves. They do not have to be imported from anywhere or bought; they will create by the million, and you won’t be able to stop them.
And that you must adjust your cultivation not to destroy them. In other words you must remove your compost and stuff with forks rather than spades. And that you must dig in line with the methods of cultivation that I endeavored to speak of in the first meeting. Not to chop them up unnecessarily. That the operation of deep-rooted plants brings about the operation of worms into the sub-soils and the deeper sub-soils where normally no cultivation would go and no fertilization would take place. Worms do this for us, and will always do it, if you grow properly and carefully. Wherever you use chemical pesticide or chemical fertilization, you will eradicate the worm immediately.
Humus: Humus is the big word that connects fertilization and fertility.
Moisture: The adequate moisture is the marriage between fertility and arid. It is that which makes the plant able to drink and to breathe the warm gases of the fertilization, and brings about fertility. Moisture. Therefore, accent, the way, the method, the time of your irrigation, is the all-important marriage of fertilization and fertility. You can have all the fertilizers in the soil imaginable, and if you have not got your proper watering system in cooperation, you will not have fertility.