We got the results of our soil analysis: our garden patch is low in calcium, phosphorous, potassium, nitrogen, and has choke sodium. The salt inhibits the soil's absorption of nutrients like iron and helps throw off the whole underground mineral balance.
OK. I get it. The land has been ignored and evaporated upon for years, blistering under the Kona sun and packed hard by hooves of maurading cows. Nutrients drain out and salt builds up. To grow nutritionally balanced food, gardeners need to add depleted minerals to the soil and rebalance the 'aina the way natural way; with organic materials that decay and invite rampant microbial activity. Everything from nature gets recycled in nature - ash, bones, feathers, leaves, shells, hair - that's how all the different minerals get in the soil in the first place. We can now replecate these organic materials in tidy forms and sell them.
Problem. I barely get this scientific soil stuff. How do I translate these basic garden concepts to children in ways we/they can understand? And without going and buying the prescribed poundage of granulated minerals in bags, produced somewhere on the mainland, transported across the sea on a boat, sold for more than we can afford, and then hand sprinkled on soil like brown rain? Do uniform brown granuals mean anything to the minds of youth?
My answer was to come up with feel-able, hold-able, all-natural mineral representations of the nutrients we are missing in the garden. It may take longer and be a harder route, but it will be free, sustainable, natural, and done by the empowered hands of patient children.
Students learned how to make soil potion with a variety of organic materials that will feed our microbes a more balanced diet, so we, in turn, can have more balanced soil and healthy harvests.
We started with a bucket of water, set out overnight so chlorine can evaporate. "Why Ms. Krista?" at least one student in every class asked. "Well, what does chlorine in a pool do?" "Kills bugs." "So what will the chlorine do to the good microbes we are trying to create in our potion?" "Kill them." "Exactly." "Oh."
Next we added a few tablespoons of spoiled milk. "EEWWWWW!! Ms. Krista, that's gross." "Well, why does your auntie or dad tell you to drink milk?" "Cause it's got calcium." "What does our soil need?" "Calcium!!" "What do you do with spoiled milk at home?" "Pour it down the sink." "Me too. Until last week. Is it more pono to pour milk down the sink or feed the microbes in your soil or compost?" "Feed the microbes!!"
Third came egg shells, cracked up and cooked down in my oven at home. "Gross!" "Rad!" "More importantly," I say, "another source of calcium and iron."
Fourth was molassas. "What's molassas?" "Oh that smells like ginerbread cookies." I told them, "Molassas is a product of sugar cane. It's pre-sugar. Let's read the label. Look - calcium, potassium, iron, and no sodium." Many children swiped a finger across the stream of molassas for a tiny taste with varied results, but I was stoked that so many willing fingers shot out and went away unfazed.
Last came compost. "It's all brown now!!" "There's bugs in there!!" they, without fail, exclaimed. "That's right," I explained. "And what happens when your family comes over? When family you haven't seen in a while comes to visit?" "We eat!" "We have parties!" "That's right," I imagined out loud, and microbes do too. The microbes that are now in this compost tea are going to meet up with thier microbe family in the garden and eat and party. What will that do to our soil?!!" "Add nutrients," One-Child-In-Every-Group observed.
Gardeners took turns stiring our soil brew. We hauled the bucket to the garden and used small pots to scoop water in gentle spouts on soil, not plants. We were feeding the soil, not the plants.
To top it all off, gardeners sipped lemongrass/chocolate mint tea. Soil and human may differ in tea tastes, but our nutritional needs are essentially the same. Soil tea taught me (and hopefully each student), that what is good for the soil is good for me.
Krista Joan says:
My mission is to teach, train, and testify in resistance to the white supremacy of my ancestors. My personal choices are political, powerful, and practical. Let's trash waste.