This weekend Kim talked us about the development of Stirley Community Farm over the past three years. So much has happened already that it would fair make your head spin. And there’s still so much to do, including many more kilometres of fencing, a job which seems to be the farm’s equivalent of painting the Forth Bridge. But woven through this story of infinite fencing was also the richness of Kim’s understanding about geography, horticulture, wildlife, farming and education.
My favourite thing that Kim talks about is the micro organisms in our soil. The top ten centimetres of soil are where all the interesting stuff happens. This is where the micro organisms are busy turning organic matter into nutrients, so we need to treat our top ten centimetres kindly. Delicate plant roots need to get their sustenance from the soil, but this needs to be in a state that their fine roots can absorb. So these tiny organisms in the soil quietly continue the good work of our friends the worms to create nutrients, and my lovely beetroot wouldn’t grow without them. I never tire of hearing about the micro organisms.
Kim told us that in nature it’s often the boundaries between different things that are the most important places for sustaining life, the boundary between the air and the soil being just one example. She encouraged us to think about the edges of a pond and how much happens there. Wiggly edged ponds are important for encouraging both plants and wildlife, as they increase the area in which the interesting stuff can happen. It made me think of our infinite coastline, the length of which increases with every rock that you measure around.
She laughed remembering a square pond from her childhood, and I smiled thinking about the square pond in my family’s garden, a shape enforced by the surrounding pathways. It was originally a square of earth in which a huge rose tree was growing quite happily until the 1987 storm. My mum cried when we couldn’t save it. It was one of those times when a complete change seemed somehow more bearable, so the space became a little pond instead. I’ve been reminded of this lately by the sad flattening of our willow tree in the recent storm, and by my conversations with Janet about drawing and painting. I’d sketched our rose tree in paint not long before we lost it, and this record has become precious. Yet another reason to sharpen my pencils at least.
Kim also told us about hedgerows and the amazing array of life to be found there – again, wiggly hedges, with lots of places for things to grow and hide, are much better.
Interesting things happen at the margins. Thinking about this, I feel less anxious about being mostly on the edge of things, not quite fitting in. Through my work I’ve learnt that teetering on the boundary isn’t such a bad place to be. Being part of different environments and knowing the value of connecting them is part of the richness of my life, whilst being apart from the people who really understand this leaves me much the poorer.
I know those micro organisms might not be as obvious as a five foot fence, but they’re doing something essential there at the edge of the air and earth.
Sometimes boundaries just need to be blurred.