changing the world in our own backyard

The humus revolution has begun — you can be part of it

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"Mud is the most poetical thing in the world."

- Reginald Horace Blyth


HUMUS, the black gold of the earth

(published May 2018)

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HUMUS, the black gold of the earth is a book about the most precious substance on our planet. The official scientific name for this stuff is ‘soil organic matter’. Some scientists have defined humus as ‘the very dead’; they see it as the ‘end product of decomposed organic materials’. By contrast, other soil scientists recognise that humus is not only ‘very alive’ but it is ‘the primary basis for all life on Earth’.  

According to a UN report from 2015, at current rates of soil loss, the world has 60 years of harvests left. And the British Soil Association warns that we lose about 30 football pitches worth of soil every minute. At such a pace, our soils are degenerating much faster than they can regenerate themselves.

With the extinction of soils, the survival of all living creatures is in danger including plants, animals and humans. To help our soils regenerate themselves we must understand humus, the mother substance that gives life to the topsoil; and this ‘substance’ can only be understood properly when viewed as a living organism.

This perspective is not new. It has been suggested by some visionary soil scientists, microbiologists, ecologists and farmers for over a century, but it hasn’t quite sunken in yet. Several humus-pioneers have warned again and again that a major soil crisis is inevitable, unless we collaborate with nature and support the renewal of the humus-layer. But it looks as if they weren’t taken seriously.

Now these prophecies have come true. In many parts of the world the humus-layers are disappearing and our soils are starving. In other words, soils are an endangered species. The current soil crisis affects not only urban gardeners, biodynamic farmers, permaculture designers, eco-activists and ‘organic consumers’. It affects every single one of us. International associations, national organisations and local initiatives are encouraging us with the message that ‘regeneration is possible’; and fortunately more and more people at the grassroots level are listening too.

Saving the soil mother from dying out is now up to us. If we want to survive and leave a viable habitat for our children and grandchildren on this planet, then we must reconnect with life at its roots. HUMUS, the black gold of the earth rekindles the human instinct of cooperation. It is a reminder of the primeval kinship between humus and humanity. Moreover, this is a book for anyone looking for inspiration to grow a piece of paradise in their own backyard.

Photo: Hitoshi Suzuki