Do you remember when birds used to flock around the back of the plough? Ploughing meant a guaranteed supply of worms and other edibles, so birds swooped and swooshed towards their food behind the moving tractors.

Anyone at the Ploughing this year will know that this is now a rare occurrence indeed. Increasingly, we know more of the importance of soil, of microbiota and of the complicated world beneath our feet. And yet, the more we know, the more we know that there is an awful lot more to know.

We also know that soil is being lost, and is losing its essential character through intensive practices, from mineral fertilisation and the icide family (pest, herb, fungicides), to compaction and ploughing itself.

And while Irish soils are of good standing internationally, due to the amount of permanent grassland on the island, soil remains a precious resource, hard to build but easy to lose.

Organic farmers have a special reliance on good soil as they cannot reply on various inputs available to conventional farmers. To this end, an upcoming course in Cloughjordan’s ecovillage (where I live) should be of special interest.

Zack Wright is delivering a two-day course on stewarding the soil — essentially how to manage beneficial organisms in and for your soil. This course will introduce the learner to the Soil Food Web, building a thermophilic (hot) compost pile, making compost tea, and using a microscope to analyse soil life.

Zach Wright is based in the American mid-west, and is rarely in Ireland. He is one of only three soil life consultants to have been certified by Dr Elaine Ingham.

Wright is the former director of the Living Soil Compost Lab, which specialised in biological soil assessments, aerobic compost tea and high quality, compost products sold in the US and UK.

The course, usually over €400, costs just €170, and is being organised by a Youghal man Dave Beecher. Beecher has just returned from working on a farm in west Wales, Caerhys in Pembrokeshire, where he built the kind of compost pile which is developed as part of this course.

Part of the course will involve building a compost pile using Dr Elaine Ingham’s aerobic thermal composting method. This involves building a pile from materials found on-site.

The recipe will be developed and assessed; then the pile will be built, based on the specifics of materials and site needs.

Proper monitoring and care of the pile will be explained. Each participant should be able to build a thermal compost pile on any scale based on any scale based on the ingredients that are available. Also, each participant will receive monitoring data templates and other documents to aid their own composting efforts.

The introduction to aerobic compost tea and compost extract brewing will combine include practical demonstrations on the difference between Tea and Extract. Participants will learn how and when to appropriately use each. Different soil and crop beneficial brewing techniques will also be discussed.

The introduction to soil microscopy part of the course will show participants each of the microorganisms in the soil, what they mean for the soil and how they benefit the crop.

Course participants will quickly learn how to assessing the main organisms of the soil using even small microscopes. If time and more importantly temperature allows, the compost pile will be turned: proper turning technique will also be showcased.

The location itself is noteworthy too — WeCreate is the Ecovillage’s fablab and is a hi-tech but accessible enterprise centre, with 3D printing, C and C machine, computer labs and co-working spaces.

And who knows, maybe the birds will swoop and swoosh some more behind your tractor after doing it.

To book a place ring Dave Beecher on 089 4514015 or email him on davebeecher79@gmail.com.


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