It may be stretching horticultural possibilities to grow your potatoes in Martian soil with added biology compliments of your own bowel evacuations. However the fact that a botanist and his larger-than-life accomplishments were the focus of an Oscar-winning feature film must somehow indicate that the technology here is starting to chime a popular chord. Are botany and biology finally getting up there with quantum mechanics and video-game graphics as fashionable subjects? They should do, because quite frankly the future of civilisation, as we will come to know it, will ultimately come to depend upon just how much enthusiasm the human race shows for these topics. Enthusing a generation to explore the biology of the soil will hopefully follow the uptake of space and marine science as trendy subjects. Hard to think that we probably know less about what’s going on in a clod of mud stuck to a shoe, than we do about the ocean floor or the surface of the moon.
Today I had my own little Matt Damon moment as I hooked up my solar irrigation to the Garden Tower and the planetary winds howled outside my little experimental tented greenhouse. (Some days we seem to share the same wind profile here on the south coast as the tip of Everest).
The early 2016 English Spring is not the most forgiving climate if your ambitions centre on growing tomatoes. Harsh but better than Mars. The process of working alongside natural forces using other natural forces modified by human ingenuity to grow food is quite engaging, and strangely satisfying considering the quantity of resources targeted at a few plants! Still cheaper than producing the same result on Mars however, but the natural technology is not far from the same level when all considered, although at least my gravity was earthly and stable.
My fascination with the Garden Tower centres around it’s use of the soil-food-web as the central method for producing a happy
environment for plants. My background in agriculture has taught me that if you want to manipulate nature to produce stuff for everyone’s benefit, the first rule is to check for happiness. Unhappy livestock does not thrive, nor do unhappy plants. Just like most organisms on planet earth including husbands, wives, pigs, chickens, pot-plants, insects or bacteria, a harsh environment produces unhappy organisms and poor results. The core idea, literally, in the Garden Tower is the promotion of a happy soil-food-web. Keeping that balance in the Tower is remarkably easy, simply because the natural chain of events is incredibly resilient. The complexity of interrelationships between the millions of micro-organisms is largely governed by the activity of the earthworms, and keeping them happy is not complicated.
When supplying fertility unnaturally – by chemical means for example – adding the right amount is very hit and miss, mostly miss. The excess becomes a pollutant which is out of sight and out of mind until it ends up causing an algal bloom in the local river. With a biological system the plants themselves develop symbiotic relationships with the microbes that supply their nutrients and regulate the type and quantities of nutrient they need. Excesses become self regulating or are exported from the system in more planet friendly form, or simply eaten.
A healthy system with happy microbes and happy plants. How all this works in fine detail is as yet a mostly unexplored science. Maybe it needs a bit more feature film exposure.