The Heart of Clay
By Dennis Klocek
It has been said that by working the soil it is possible to do in a few years what would take nature thousands of years to accomplish.
Intensive soil cultivation and the addition of proper soil amendments can aggregate sandy soil to give it more crumb or open heavy lime marls to give them more porosity. In both instances, when the proper soil consistency is maintained, the soil is said to have ‘heart’.
Among soils, only alluvial clay loams have this ‘heart’ naturally. Clay is the heart of ‘heart’ in the soil. But, as it is with everything in nature, there can be too much of a good thing. Too much clay can produce a dense sour soil in which water stagnates in puddles, plants rot from the roots, and growth is slow and uncertain, especially during cool seasons. Heavy clay heats up slowly and if it ever dries out, it takes a concerted effort to penetrate it with water since when dry, clay tends to shed water rather than absorb it.
All things being equal, however, clay has a great potential to establish heart in the soil since it is absorptive, plastic and chemically dynamic when trying to overcome soil deficiencies.
A gardener has a bit of an advantage over a farmer if the clay soil is truly impervious. A farmer deals with clay in selecting rotations of plants that can pulverize the soil and break up the clods. In the west, where alkalinity also works against soil porosity, gypsum is often added because its sulfer content connected to the calcium (lime) brings the pH closer to neutral. This encourages heart in clay. Through proper plant rotations, the application of rock powders, compost and very careful tillage, a farmer can turn clay into soil in a number of years.
In a garden however, it is possible to greatly accelerate this process by employing homeopathy and an intensive tillage system.
Clay soil worked in this way can turn from dense fire clay (kaolin) to porous garden loam in a year and half of systematic work.
Suppose we wish to plant fall cabbages in a clay bed in which nothing will grow. Starting in fall or mid winter (if you can get to your soil) use a spade to dig up the topmost layer. Slice the clods with the spade as you apply powdered gypsum and a 1″ layer of peat moss. Let the rain work this in until the spring. At the first turning try to incorporate any weeds that might be growing on the surface into the clods as you chop them up with the spade. The gypsum will help them rot and some worms will be attracted to the area.
During the winter collect eggshells and then pulverize the shells until you have a few ounces of them. Running them through a corona hand powered grain mill makes a coarse powder. Take 5 tablespoons of this powder and triturate this for another hour. Then once again, take one teaspoon of the fine powder and add it to 5 tablespoons of coarse powder and triturate it for another hour. This is a process for potentizing eggshell to a 3x. It is possible to also add one tablespoon of basalt powder to each trituration cycle (1x –2x 3x) and potentize the egg and rock powder simultaneously. Take the 3x fine powder and add it to a five gallon bucket of cow manure. Coarse eggshell powder and basalt powder can also be added to the triturated powder and the manure. Mix the powders and the manure for 20 minutes (Honey added to the cow manure makes the mixing go much easier. In this way you can mix in a bucket). Bury a small nail keg or clay vessel in the ground. Place most of the manure in the keg, which is open at the bottom and top. Make holes in the manure mass and place the BD preps in the holes. Place the rest of the manure in the barrel, make holes in the mass again, and pour in the valerian preparation. Let this ferment until it loses its manure smell. The trituration of the eggshell and rock powder aids the fermentation and helps the next step of the process when the barrel compost is stirred in water so that it can be used as a soil drench for incorporating plant materials into the clay in spring.
Also during the winter, take 50 lb fresh or 20 lb powdered or granulated kelp and one half bale of either shredded alfalfa or a half a bag of alfalfa feed pellets in a 50 gallon barrel. Try to use rainwater or spring or creek water for this ferment. To shred alfalfa, get a 120 lb bale of alfalfa and cut it lengthwise into 3″ twigs with a chainsaw. In the spring when the kelp has become rotten and the alfalfa has liquefied, put a gallon of this tea into a wheelbarrow full of shredded alfalfa. Put a few big stones on the alfalfa to weigh it down and fill the wheelbarrow with water. Let this ‘sauerkraut’ ferment overnight. In the morning the kelp and fermented alfalfa will have formed a beautiful clear brown tea in the wheelbarrow.
Also in the evening, in another 5 gallon bucket, put 2 cups of the straight kelp/alfalfa juice and a walnut-sized lump of the barrel compost to also ferment overnight. In the morning add 2 pints of the wheelbarrow tea to the concentrated juice and barrel compost mixture. Stir for a few minutes. Foam and bubbles should appear as you break the vortex to create chaos. Add another 2 pints of the dilute tea and stir again. Repeat this procedure for 20 minutes, always adding the dilute mixture to the concentrate and then stirring.
This procedure in alchemy or homeopathy is a process known as forming and ‘essence’. The idea is to try to lift the vibration of the materials by a rhythmic expansion. This is what we want the clay to do. We want it to open up. We have started by opening up the egg and basalt through trituration. We then open up the kelp/alfalfa by first fermenting them in water to form a concentrate. We then dilute this and open the concentrate in the wheelbarrow where we steep an essence from the original plant. This steeping is known alchemically as a marriage. We have married an essence back to the plant to extract a fine essence. We then take the barrel compost and open it up into a dilutent that is also opening up. The forming of the foam of bubbles by the viscous nature of the kelp creates infinite spherical surfaces in the liquid, further opening it to allow the water to absorb the forces released as the manure/eggshell/basalt mixture is rhythmically diluted.
By adding the dilutent to the stirring mixture, we are adding a further rhythmic potentization layer into the time structure of the mixing. We want all elements of the procedure to be harmoniously expanding. A system like this is much more potentizing than simply stirring a substance for 20 minutes in tap water. The goal, again, is to have all elements rhythmically expanding simultaneously.
The potentized liquid is then put into a sprayer and the tillage can begin.
Open the bed all over with a spade and slice open the clods. With a fork dig a trench at one end of the bed. Line the trench with the soaked alfalfa from the wheelbarrow. Sprinkle in peat moss (about 1/2″). Add 2″ of compost. Spray the mixture and the soil all over the trench with the contents of the sprayer. Fork in about 3″ of soil. Repeat so that each trench has two layers of soaked alfalfa. You may also want to add some oyster shell lime to offset the acid from the peat and the rotting process. Work the whole bed, double digging, layering and spraying. This sounds intensive and it is, but it works miracles in clay soil.
At midsummer, just as the cabbage seedlings are being pricked out, mix up another soil drench and spray and incorporate another inch or so of compost into the top four inches of the bed. At all times keep the soil covered with a mulch of hay so that the clay is kept moist and cool. The worms will come into the bed and grow robust and powerful on a diet of alfalfa. As they move along the tunnels left by the rotting alfalfa stems, the heart of the soil will start to pulsate. Springtails by the thousands will be seen in every forkful of soil. We regularly find night crawlers in the thickness of rope and 5″ long moving through beds treated in this way.
It is truly miraculous to see large, firm sweet cabbage heads growing in a place where the year before only sourdock and nutgrass would grow.
The key to bringing out the best in the clay is rhythms of substances that are being induced to expand in ordered sequences. When these rhythmically expanding substances are introduced into the clay, it responds in a rhythmic way by dynamically uniting the lime pose and silica pole.
When this rhythmic play is present in an open clay soil the true heart of the soil is beating to the rhythms of the forces flowing through the Earth.
Dennis Klocek, MFA, is co-founder of the Coros Institute and a faculty member at Rudolf Steiner College. He is the author of nine books, including the newly released Colors of the Soul; Esoteric Physiology and also Sacred Agriculture: The Alchemy of Biodynamics. Dennis is also an international lecturer.