A few months ago, I was invited to give a presentation at Deakin University by the awesome team from the Deakin Community Garden (DCG). The DCG team also invited me late last year to talk about the importance of healthy soil, composting and its relevance in the fight against climate change. In the Impact section of our website you can find a variety of videos that explain these challenges and opportunities.
This time however, the theme of the presentation was Soil Nurseries: The Next Frontier. My intention was to present the soil, its potential and beauty from a different angle. First, it is important to remember that the soil is a living organism, not dissimilar to plants, babies or even stars. In the same way in which we are able to conceive plant nurseries, human nurseries and star nurseries, we can also start seeing “composting areas” and gardens in general as “soil nurseries”. Secondly, I wanted to encourage the audience to see the soil and its magic with the same level of awe as we see the skies and the stars. Therefore, I started my presentation with Leonardo da Vinci’s quote:
We commenced this exploration by looking at several star nurseries in our universe, such as Chandra Stellar Nursery, the Trifid Nebula, and the Tarantula Nebula. This reminded us that the top 5 most common elements in the universe are hydrogen, helium, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen. Helium is rarely present in the Earth being created only by radioactive decay of radioactive elements such as uranium, therefore, in terrestrial terms, I left the list with hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen only.
My point was to illustrate that these exact elements are also the building blocks of healthy soil and compost: water (H20), carbon, nitrogen and aeration (oxygen), plus a multitude of microorganisms and other minerals.
When you see the stars and the sky it is important to remember that the soil underfoot is made of the same elements, only in different amounts. The beauty of the macro cosmos is the same as the beauty of the micro cosmos, with the advantage that the micro cosmos is actually within our reach every day.
Now, to be fair, and to bring the element helium back into the conversation, we need to remember that our sun (as all the stars) is made of hydrogen and helium and it is thanks to the nuclear fusion of helium atoms into hydrogen that the sun generates its heat. As amazing as this is, I needed to inform the audience that the sun is less energetic than a compost pile on cubic meter per cubic meter comparison! After several eyebrows lifted around the room severely questioning the health of my mind, I proceeded to explain that “the power output of the core of the Sun is about 276.5 watts per cubic metre — that's almost three of the old 100W light bulbs. On a power/volume basis, it's a lot less than your body emits (about 100 W) and around the same as a compost pile” (Karl S. Kruszelnicki, Dr. Karl, Great Moments in Science, 2017). I strongly encourage you to read the full explanation by following this link.
Nevertheless, my point was not to shame our local star since it does an incredible job! but to encourage the audience to see the fact that soil and compost are as amazing as nebulas and stars with the difference that you can have all that magic happening right here, in your gardens.
The presentation ended by encouraging everybody to see our composting areas and gardens as what they truly are: soil nurseries. Because as the good old saying goes:
Hopefully by doing this we will be able to prove Mr. da Vinci wrong (only about 500 years later) and remember to appreciate both the cosmos and the soil. After all, our universe may be but a small lump of hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen in someone else’s galactic size composting pile!