Economic Multipliers (38)

Do you know what these are?

They help CREATE wealth in systems.

Knowing how to produce food is an economic multiplier but you need to understand soil first.


I’ve always attributed the greatest percentage of my inability to grow food (I’m VERY good at getting weeds to grow (See P.S.)) to my general lack of interest in taking the time (due to many other projects) and the heavily compacted clayey soil on the property.

Most people do not know that you can produce your own soil: You must look upon it as a 2-5 year project with continual maintenance if you want good continual growth.

Good soil just basically means that it is a good medium for growth for the plants which you are growing. (If you’ve got a good background in science and chemistry or are just basically good at reading directions, you can even grow plants in water: hydroponic gardening).

You want the soil to be able to retain moisture (so the roots have it available), have the nutrients (like nitrogen) that are critical for growth, have an appropriate pH for the plants you choose to grow, and LACK any heavy metals or toxins which could be taken up by any edible portions of the plants.

Wisconsin, the state I reside in, historically had very rich soil because of all of the forests which were cleared for farmland. The organic matter that built up over the years provided a rich base for plant growth. The agricultural, lumber and paper industries were the state’s first strong economic bases. Trees provided lumber for construction, fuel for heating and the paper industry with needed ‘pulp.’ Cleared land became farmland and space for homes and businesses.

Many parts of the state still have large tracts of heavily wooded land but that is mainly because of the wisdom of past generations who set them aside for national and state forests and parks. Current and future generations will always have ongoing debates regarding the best way to ‘manage’ these areas because every generation sees ‘harvesting’ existing resources as a way to create quick (but not necessarily long-term sustainable) wealth.

Any and all activity usually changes the soil: Soil becomes depleted when it is too ‘exposed’ and too ‘overused.'

When soil is not protected from the forces of wind and runoff, the best organic matter can be blown away or run away. When soil is constantly used to produce crops which are ‘taken away,’ energy and nutrients that once existed in the soil (now bound up in the crops) are also taken away.

Poor soil leads to poor crops.

Poor crops lead to poor food production.

Many farmers and gardeners today harvest leaves, lawn clippings and other organic matter solely for ‘rebuilding’ the base of nutrients in soil. They consider it the equivalent of replacing the soil nutrients and soil base that built up on 100 year old forest floors.

Shredded leaves are particularly effective in helping retain soil moisture and lawn clippings are particularly effective for helping rebuild the nitrogen base. Most people compost these materials first.

Some people ‘harvest’ pine needles and pine products (to help make their soil more acidic). Others just plant acidic soil loving plants on the south side of pine trees if the area gets enough sun.

Some people create compost bins and add worms (make sure you have a good year round temperature for your bin) because they know that worms (which expel worm castings – the equivalent of a human’s trip to the bathroom) know how to create soil. If your soil lacks worms, it probably also lacks a good base of organic matter for good plant growth.

Nutrients can also be added in using cow manure and other animal droppings: Farmers in Wisconsin have always (to my knowledge) helped revitalize the soil with manure and animal bedding like straw (which usually contains manure). When you deal with any animal waste, you want to make sure you apply it at a time when it can be properly worked into the soil (versus running off into streams – a source of water pollution) and at a time when it will not adversely affect the quality of your crop (i.e. you wouldn’t spread fresh manure on to-be-harvested lettuce).

The application of any kind of manure (animal waste) to a plant bed can add ‘unwanted flavor’ but also bacteria and viruses. Nature has ways to break down the toxicity of almost all bacteria and viruses but usually requires ‘conditions:’ time, sunlight, oxygen, etc. If you add manure, just pay attention to how, when and where, understanding how your local ‘conditions’ can help work for you when you apply it.

Sewage treatment plants also can be a source of processed waste (organic material that should NOT contain things like E. coli bacteria) but any community would want to make sure that they didn’t have any problems with toxic metals (most often, if they are to be found, found in the added industrial wastes). Fortunately today, many companies realize that they don’t want toxic metals in their waste streams because many of those metals and toxic products have other industrial uses. Likewise, polluting the water they drink, the land they live on or the air they breathe doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the short-term or the long-term.

The ONE SINGLE THING that you might not think about if you do decide to ‘build your own base of soil’ is is the QUALITY of all the ingredients.

As examples:

    • Raspberry plants can be wiped out by a too near application of weed killer. Hence, if you ‘harvest’ clippings that contain any product that could kill what you are trying to grow, know you’re not going to get very far.

    • If you add newspapers to a ‘worm bin,’ you want the ink to be biodegradable and preferably know that any peelings, shells, etc. are free of any ‘unwanted’ residue (or … from my perspective, this will take care of most concerns that could crop up since most people have no way to know whether there is residue on peelings … ‘bake’ peelings and shells in the sun for 1-2 days before adding them to your bin).

    • Plants have soil preferences. If you want to grow a particular type of plant, you find out what those preferences are and build your soil base accordingly. You might add pine needles and wood chips to one soil base and composted grass, leaves and a bit of lime to another.

    • Seeds may not fully decompose in compost and you might end up adding more than you bargained for to your soil. Some people strip compost of its nutrients by creating ‘compost tea’ … they sidestep possible seed issues but also lose the full value of the compost.

Now appreciate that when you have neighbors who are organic gardeners who ‘harvest’ and shred leaves in the fall and have even gone out harvesting pine needles to build up their soil beds, it’s easy to assess whether you yourself have got the ‘gardening bug.’ And, if you decide to ‘harvest’ from your neighbors, the safest bets are the ones who still have a lot of weeds in their lawns or yards. It’s highly likely that they haven’t recently applied anything that would wreak havoc on any of your plants. They might also enjoy having you cut their lawn or rake their leaves or pull out some of their 'weeds.'

There are lots of ways to do things. There’s a lot of information online and through libraries. And know that for my gardening endeavors this year, I’ve been using purchased (and even pre-fertilized) soil (I call this ‘cheating’ but for some things it can make perfect sense – like when a non-gardener believes that they should include some pieces on economic multipliers related to food production).

If you ever get the gardening or farming ‘bug,'

Happy Harvesting!


P.S. When I pull out or clip plants in the yard, I rarely know their names. They are considered ‘weeds.’ But I also know that a person much more knowledgeable than I might see ‘tea leaves,’ edible roots and flowers, herbal medicines and many other things. As an example: Dandelions in most neighborhoods are considered a nuisance but dandelion greens are edible and even drinkable in tea (since leaves are best harvested at a certain time in the growing cycle for most plants (as a general rule of thumb, imagine teenage to middle age leaves), check on the best time to harvest them if a lot grow in your yard).