mini ecosystem

The Soils

This is the text of a little mini-zine that I’m working on. I plan to include some illustrations/ a poster as well as a little recommended reading list.

Soil, Earth and Humus hold a deep, intimate meaning for me that is hard to describe. Awe, hope, meaning, a sense of joy, a vastness and mystery similar to that of space or the abyssal ocean.

Soils sustain all plant & animal life on earth and are themselves teeming, darkly vibrant, full of life.

All that once lived will live again through the steady transformative actions of these intricate webs of grains of sand, particles of silt and clay, water, fungal networks, microbial communes, worms and other invertebrates. With time, in eons, even plastics will degrade. The soil is patient.

Resilient and resourceful alchemists, fungi and bacteria produce a stunning array of enzymes & acids with which to break down almost any molecules. They and the mosses and lichens and pioneer plants create soil from bare rock.

Fungal networks, intricate webs of one cell thin strands called hyphae, weave and burrow through the earth, connecting with plant roots, receiving photosynthesised sugars and offering water, vital minerals and protection against pathogens to trees, grasses and other plants. These mycorrhizae connect plants of different species, enabling them to exchange nutrients and information, nursing saplings or struggling plants.

In this mini-zine I can barely scratch the surface of the rich and multi-layered communities of soil organisms, the amoebas, algae and other single-celled life, tiny wormlike nematodes, springtails, waterbears, mites, pillbugs, millipedes, earthworms, snails & slugs, insects and their brood, spiders and centipedes, moles and shrews… breaking down shed leaves, old roots and wood, feeding on each other and on excrements; building humus and a nourishing habitat for seedlings and plant roots, the larger ones important prey for birds, for badgers, hedgehogs and wild boars.

In the soil, death and life are inextricably entwined, one becoming the other almost imperceptibly.


Never sterile, soils and the life within them know no dirt, no waste. Healthy soil communities can degrade and bind toxins, aerobically digest dead things so they won’t putrefy, and hold, store and cleanse water.

I want to call them clean and pure, yet those words are ill-fitting, do not quite encompass the richness of it. And still, all that passes through them will be groomed, will be rotted clean; a wordless quality of dark, decaying purity; a tenderness and grace.


It seems to me that boundaries are fleeting. Plants have endophytic fungi living within their tissues, animals including humans have vast arrays of beneficial microbes in our guts, on our skins without which we could not live. Fungal mycelium weaves through the earth, around and into rocks and roots, with symbiotic bacteria on each uncounted hyphal tip. Who is to say where one ends and the other begins?

Many consider humans to be at the ‘top of the food chain’. This has never made sense to me. Interwoven circles and webs stream to no endpoint and know no hierarchies, hold no one thing superior to others.

The beings of the soil support all other earth life in almost selfless ways, creating ever richer, ever deeper humus in which to digest, almost selflessly, the dead.

To them, we too must seem selfless.

wishuponawish  asked:

Hi, this may be a silly question, but I've never heard the term Guild used in terms of plantings before. Going by a scroll through your Guild tag, would describing it as "a small, polyculture garden for a specific purpose" be an accurate description? (As I saw an edible guild, and a guild for bees in the tag.) Cheers :)

Guild” is a permaculture term for small polyculture groupings of plants, trees, insects, or animals that create a self-sustaining mini-ecosystem, as they would in nature.

In the case of the most recent one I posted, the onions keep pests off of the strawberries and apple, for example. The leaf shapes and levels of root penetration are all different, so the plants can grow together without competing for the same soil and solar resources. There are a tonne of small interactions that allow the plants in the guild to thrive together.

In nature, and oak tree (for example) has fungi that grow on the roots (like elfin saddles), and can also have hemiparasitic plants that grow in the canopy (like mistletoe). There are insects, like gall wasps, that live their whole lives on an oak, and plants that thrive in the acidic soil under oak leaf fall. Birds love the lateral branching, and squirrels eat the acorns. That is a guild.


If this answer was helpful, consider tossing a few bucks towards my education.

The Numerous Benefits of Earthships

At the New School Auditorium on November 1st, 2014, Michael Reynolds, the founder and creator of EarthShips, gave a full-day lecture on the foundational principles of EarthShip Biotecture, which is self-described as radically sustainable buildings.

He went through the infrastructure, systems and impact that make up an EarthShip including construction methods and materials, heating and cooling systems, water harvesting and reuse system, sewage system, food growing system, and energy system.

An EarthShip costs the same as a conventional well built home, which is about $225/SF. However, it only has a $150/yr utility bill. This low utility bill comes from the building’s ability to act as a mini-ecosystem harvesting all renewable, on-site, natural phenomenon for its energy, water, heating and cooling, hence the EarthShip’s being called “Biotecture.” Not only does the EarthShip provide an extremely low impact on resource use for utilities, it also uses primarily recycled materials and dirt for its construction. This causes the carbon-footprint of the building itself to be remarkably low as it requires very little newly made materials that require mining, processing and transport before it gets to the job-site.

EarthShips are located all over the world through a standard model of the building. This standard shape comes from the building being thought of as a machine—the shape of the building itself allows its ecological processes to function.

A more adventurous building is one that’s proposed within New York City’s Lower East Side. It consists of a tall platform with an EarthShip atop it, reachable via a street-side elevator.

Keep reading

My Evolving Relationship With Nature

Each morning I wake up to the sun glowing through my window and this provides instant positivity to the start of my day. I look around my room and see a variety of plants on my window sill, and a variety of invertebrates and fish swimming in my own little mini ecosystem. For me, nature is such an important aspect of my life in that it provides mental clarity and calmness, and overall optimism towards life. I enjoy exploring nature such as viewing, smelling, touching and just being within a natural environment.

Currently I experience nature for my own personal enjoyment, and as well for my jobs. My family cottage is located up North, near Sudbury, and each summer I look forward to visiting in order to experience the beauty and stillness of the northern wilderness. Taking a paddle boat ride out to the creek to locate and observe various bugs, turtles, and birds is one of the many things I enjoy about my cottage. Below is me holding a tiny salamander I found in between a piece of wood. I love to pick up animals and insects or even watch them from afar in their natural ecosystem.

Little salamander friend

Hiking and observing how trees, plants, fungi, animals and the climate all interact with one another is one of my current passions; probably good I am in the ecology major then. This summer I visited a friend and was fortunate to experience a hike through a part of Algonquin Park. It started to rain but the tree canopy was so thick we were essentially covered. Towards the end of our 12km hike there was a waterfall running down the slope cutting through the thick forest floor. It was one of the most beautiful things I have seen on a hike before. Below is a photo of me by the waterfall, not wearing shoes you may notice. I walked without shoes mostly because I got a blister but also because you feel this deep rooted connection with the environment and a sense of grounding. I recommend trying it if you haven’t!

Waterfall in the middle of a forest

For the last few years I have worked with various PhD students in the greenhouse, lab, or field, on their experiments. Working first hand with plants is great because I love to gain knowledge on these plants and how they respond to certain treatments. I particularly love the field work because I get to be outside! I have another job watering plants in a greenhouse. I love to learn the different names of the plants and see their different leaf colors and shapes. 

Working with Amaranthus Polmeri in the greenhouse

I think throughout my life I have always had this close relationship with nature. As a child I explored the forests near our house with my siblings and grew up barefoot at the cottage. This has contributed to the evolution of my love and passion for the outdoors and the desire to protect ecosystems. Coming to university and pursuing a degree in environmental science has made my relationship and connection to nature stronger and it continues to develop with each lecture I attend!