Preparation of a naked soil strip, Inauguration of a naked soil strip
The Soft Protest Digest was invited at the end of August 2020 to take part in the performance festival SETU held in the village de Ergué-Gabéric, in the french Cornwalls. It is in this specific context that the collective came to prepare a naked strip of soil and to inaugurate it before the visitors of the festival.
Preparation of a naked soil strip
Commonly found encircling the fields of Northern European farms, “strips of naked soil” can still be considered a rather contemporary farming technic. Though relatively novel, this technic of clearing a thin strip of land from its weeds and compacting its soil has however proven to be actively fostering biodiversity and pollination. Indeed, many insects do not build nests from scratch (such as hives for instance) but rather rely on digging tunnels in the ground to turn into burrows. These burrows ultimately become reproduction chambers and allow number of species to multiply and later pollinate the area, often at a much efficient rate than of more common species. May bare soil be fertile ground for numerous species, the collective primarily focused its attention on “solitary bees”, as a way to echo their former research project “Spore & Pollen”, which aimed its attention at the celebrated “honey bee”.
Eager to evaluate the potential of the practice, the collective thus decided to introduce the technic to the residents of the region. To be granted the permission as well as to prepare and monitor the efficiency of the strip, Nickie, Robin and Jérémie first decided to meet a nearby cider producer named Christhian Toullec, owner of the Cidrerie Mélénig. Growing various varieties of apples in his orchard, Christhian produces his own organic apple juices, ciders, pommeaus, and lambics and is awarded with numerous gold medals while also being protected by the EU label AOP Cornouailles. With a great sense of hospitality, Christhian took us for a stroll around his farm, laying out the whys and the hows of his practice as well as how he made sure that the biodiversity of his orchard was preserved. This conversation was recorded and published in a podcast.
Following this conversation, the collective shared its desire to dig a naked soil strip in Christhian's farm. He kindly accepted and the first strip was dug. To this day, Christian sends us regular updates on the evolution of the strip.
As mentioned above, the naked soil strip technic calls for a compacting of the bare soil —which allows insects to build sturdier tunnels. Commonly done with tractors, simply rolling their wheels on the strip, the collective however decided to translate this essential stage into a performative ritual. In order for it to accurately reflect the local culture, we got in contact with dancer Yuna Postic, member of the Cercle Ar Vro Mélénig, the traditional dance association of Élliant, a village adjoining Christhian's farm and the festival grounds. Passionate and a strong advocate for her regional heritage, Yuna taught us about the history and the various forms of dances used by locals to carry out agricultural tasks in the past. This conversation was recorded and published in a podcast. The conversation led Yuna to mention the “Plinn”, a simple step formerly used to compact the soil of farms and stables to assure of the stability of their foundations. Being a volunteer teacher, it did not require any convincing for Yuna to teach us these few steps, which Nickie would later come to teach the visitors of the festival.
A second naked soil strip was ultimately dug on the festival grounds, in a field usually used as grazing land for horses. As for the first strip, this second one was dug in accordance with the farmer owning the land. Interested in the project, she offered to later install a fence around the strip to protect it from her animals and to also monitor the evolution of the strip in time.
20 meters long, the strip was prepared by the collective on the first day of the festival before the eyes of the passing visitors. In parallel to its preparation, carried out by Nickie and Jérémie; Robin had laid down a long strip of white fabric on the nearby bushes. This prop would ultimately serve as a means to talk with the public of the various pollinators present in the area who would, by chance, land on the white canvas.
Now prepared, the naked soil strip was to be inaugurated.
Inauguration of a naked soil strip
The inauguration of the strip was divided in 3 steps:
- The inauguration speech (see text right below)
- The dance  (~6min).
Nickie invited all the visitors our the performance to learn with her the steps of the “Plinn”, a traditional dance from the area, often used to level the ground of farmyards. Soon after, following one another from start to end, the dancers came to repeat the steps of the dance slowly, carefully, silently across the strip. By doing so, they stamped and prepared the soil for pollinators to dig their winter burrows in: insects such as the ‘Sultzer purseweb spider’, or the ‘solitary bee’ who are more than effective (as opposed to the common bee) in pollinating the land.
- Serving of the “Solitary bee bread”
This recipe consisted of a crumpet made out of spelt sourdough, cooked on a bed of caramelized toasted buckwheat seeds. It was served with dandelion salted butter and pommeau syrup. The visitors were invited to butter their crumpet and add syrup themselves as you would for any 4 o'clock snack
The inauguration speech
“A long strip of soil, fifty centimeters wide, is stripped of the plants which used to cover it, thanks to simple tools and hands. In this field, this fallow, this pasture, this meadow or this garden, someone steps forward until it reaches the first half of the naked soil strip, letting seeds of melliferous plants fall from its pockets along the way. Soon after, following one another from start to end, dancers come to repeat the steps of the Plinn dance, slowly, carefully, silently across the newly sown strip. By doing so, the dancers stamp and prepare the strip of soil which will host the guests of the upcoming winter: the discrete beings who thrive in bare soils. We sometimes can find their burrows scattered across the grounds exposed to the warmth of the sun. She or he who has drawn this strip of naked soil on her or his land or garden, is well aware of it: by offering hospitality to these invertebrate diggers, she increases the odds of a successful harvest, of seeing her garden liven up, and the preservation of her beloved landscapes. By being of service to all, non-humans and humans, service is given to oneself.
Solitary bees, wether they belong to the Osmia or Andrenidae family, won’t miss their chance: a bare soil, liberated from mankind’s urge for productivity, is ideal ground for digging their burrows in. After mating, the fluffy females will reach the end of the tunnel and lay a ball of pollen and nectar called bee bread; then an egg; then a wall made of soil or chewed leaves; a ball of bee bread; an egg; a wall; and so on until they’ll reach the doorway of their nest. During winter, these few eggs now confined in the warm soil will transform into pupaes, then in adults, thanks to the feed carefully provided by their mothers. Then, stepping out of their burrows at the beginning of spring, the bees will, at last, taste the fresh nectar of the melliferous flowers formerly sown on the half strip of naked soil. By foraging, from one flower to another, the solitary bees will contribute to the pollination and reproduction of surroundings plants and trees, with a much greater yield that of the well-known honey bee. She or he who will have made room for solitary bees will be astonished by the politeness of these flying hosts, as they will contribute, thanks to their number and diversity, to intensify the biodiversity of local pollinators. To that end, the yield of a single crop could, on average, increase by 20%. If we consider honey bees for the delicacies their hives produce, let us not forget their solitary cousines who also are part of the ecosystems of Brittany. The world’s biomass of insects is currently loosing annually, on average, 2.5% of its total. This number is akin to the impact of the Spanish flue, repeated every year, on the insect population. This decline is not exclusive to honey bees, it is a crisis which impacts all pollinators, from flies to butterflies. Though without them, humans wouldn’t be able to produce two third of the plants they cultivate. We also bet on the potential of this strip of naked soil to foster the settlement of hosts, less directly of use to us. Among the animals that can be found in the soils of Brittany, we hope to see the Sultzer purseweb spider, a small mygalomorph spider living in a burrow, ambushed in its silk sock. A more humid soil could help see appear the swamp cricket who hides in cracks in the soil when it doesn’t sing. We could also see the Gryllotalpa, who is more shy: this rare insect, half between a mole and a cricket, sings from the tunnels from which it spends most of its time hidden.
The farmer, through the surface of its agricultural land, is obviously more able to improve the resilience of these animals. Many of these farmers are indeed doing so thanks to the help of the European Union and regional institutions. But for those of you, who may be modest gardeners as we are, know that nothing prevents you from preparing a strip of naked soil to host the solitary bee, as a gesture of gratefulness for their service. This is the second strip we’ve set in the area: the first one was dug in a field of the Melenig cider farm, where Christian Toullec produces cider, apple juice, pommeau and lambic. We would be delighted to see new strips of naked soil pop up in surroundings farms and nearby gardens, and why not further away, so that we can monitor their evolution in time.”
Take a sneak peek
- 🎞 Behind the scenes of the project Behind the scenes of the project (~4min)
- 🎞 Preparation and Inauguration of a naked soil strip A documentation of the performance (~6min)
- 🔊 “Supporting the reproduction of pollinators through a garden dance” — Podcast (~40 min) 🇫🇷
(with cider producer Christhian Toullec and traditional dance teacher Yuna Postic)
- La cidrerie Melenig
- A sort of “apple wine” made from apple juice and apple liquor
- Apple liquor
- The podcast is published in French and was also transcribed in English. Both versions are available on the corresponding page
- Filmed by ©Manon Riet
- Filmed by ©Manon Riet