Cliff started raising food in his largely gravel and cobble garden loosely framed in by boards and sawdust. The first thing he did was remove the boards and haul out all the pill-bug infested sawdust. Then, inspired by Eliot Coleman, he started improving his soil and creating rows in the garden. . Cliff believes in his broadfork to add air to the soil in the spring.

Over twenty years ago he started adding manure, straw and leaves and has built his topsoil from barely an inch to over 24 inches. In the beginning he started to pile up the rocks he removed from the soil. This rock pile is now a home to slug-eating garter snakes. The newspaper and straw added between the rows make the perfect habitat for the big black beetles that feast on soil-born pests and insects.

On an interesting side note, when Cliff stopped mowing the lawn in his orchard, he noticed more blooms in his field and fewer pests in his greenhouse. He is guessing this is because the insect-attractive habitat around his orchard provides a home for beneficial insects that are eating or parasitizing the insects in his greenhouse. Seriously this reminds me of the work shown in the recent documentary The Biggest Little Farm. Cliff is obviously at the cutting edge of gardens everywhere.

Note: Cliff is a private gardener, not a garden writer or speaker but his work is so impressive I wanted to share it as soon as I saw him pull his impressive potatoes last fall. If, like Cliff, you have something amazing to share let me know. Cliff is a climate activist who uses solar power to run his electric car and has eliminated fossil fuels from his land and home. The food grown on his land is shared with his community via regular deliveries to the food bank. He is an inspiration to me!

Guest: Cliff Stainsby

Episode 4 – Transforming Soil: From gravel to garden with leaves and manure

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