Despite studying natural sciences at university and absorbing all that Darwinian, evidence-based rationality, I like to think I am still an open minded man. When Raphs, one of our longest standing and more cosmically attuned members of staff suggested focusing positive energy on the artichokes using cups of aluminium filings and a copper wire I gave it a go (still awaiting results). I have sprayed my onions with liquid seaweed (seemed to work) and my cauliflowers with garlic extract (definitely didn’t) without any concrete evidence of efficacy. One winter I even tried to wade my way through the endless, unfathomable sentences of Rudolf Steiner (the father of biodynamic agriculture) in an attempt to get my head around why I should fill a cow horn with excrement and bury it for six months before diluting the contents and spraying them on my crops in the spring. I have not yet let the bloke from the pub, who claims to have invented perpetual motion, retune our tractor engines but I have bought him a drink; who knows, he might be a genius.
Over lunch today, John, our solid, sensible, Arsenal-supporting farm manager, told me he was spraying the drought-stricken celeriac with compost tea fermented from the worm casts. Reading through the bumph, it seems it will improve yield, root development, disease resistance, colour and even eating quality; a true elixir in the best tradition of a catch-all cure. My dull, reductionist training immediately asks; how will it achieve these remarkable results? By inoculating the soil with beneficial microorganisms it would seem. It sounds like total tosh to me but we will give it a go. As an agnostic in need of evidence, I have suggested a control area be marked off for comparison.
Organic farmers are wholly dependent on the health of their soil. That soil is such a rich and complex ecosystem; a myriad of relationships between hundreds of thousands of different plants, bacteria, fungi and invertebrates as well as water, temperature and the soil minerals themselves. Science has barely begun to understand this complex underworld so it would be arrogant and foolhardy to write off anything that works just because we don’t understand how or why. To deny the inexplicable would be to imply there is nothing new to learn. That would be dull.