Most of all one discovers that the soil does not stay the same,
but, like anything alive, is always changing and telling its own story.
Soil is the substance of transformation.
– Carol Williams
I have been focusing on soil recently..the foundation of our garden. I decided it was important to know more about what is essentially the most important part of the garden. OK I should have studied soil first not last, but really I am not a sequential learner. Never have been, and when it comes to exploring and creating I jump right in and discover and learn as needed. So now I need to know more about soil especially if I am going to be more organic in my gardening. When I was using chemical fertilizers I just relied on them to boost the bloom never realizing I was essentially killing my garden.
So I searched for a good book to help me and ran across Teaming with Microbes-The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis. This is the 2010 Revised Edition. Not sure what they have revised in the book since I did not read the original version, but the emphasis is on organic which suits my purposes just fine.
The overall theme of the book is, “If you are going to be a good gardener, then you have to understand what is going on in your soil.” Makes perfect sense, but for those with little time this may present a problem since digesting this book will take some time. The first thing I learned (and I haven’t even gotten a third through the book) is that your soil is alive. Now I paid attention in biology class, but we never learned about all the tiny organisms that live and work in the soil. “If you are going to be a good gardener, then you have to understand what is going on in your soil.” The next revelation is that chemicals kill these organisms or “beneficials of the soil” as they are called, and reestablishing the proper biology of your soil is critical. They talk more about this in the second half of the book.
The main idea of the first half is understanding the Soil Food Web. It is fascinating as you explore how soil actually produces nutrients, and that healthy soil controls diseases so you won’t need so many chemicals. They also encourage you to do your own soil composition test which was very interesting given I had just read about such a home test from Hanni at her Sweet Bean Gardening’s blog. She has created The Great Soil Experiment Meme. After all it is important to know the makeup of your soil so you know how to amend it.
Soil is essentially made up of three parts:
- Sand-small in size; particles from weathered rocks
- Silt-smaller than sand, but similar in that it is made from weathered rocks; it is the consistency of flour
- Clay-smallest particles from chemical action on silicate-bearing rocks; absorbs and holds lots of water as well as silicon, magnesium, iron and aluminum; forms as a compound that is slippery in consistency. (sorry for the science but we have lots of clay and I found it interesting).
The ideal soil is loam which has equal parts of all three. Good soil is 30-50% sand, 30-50% silt and 20% clay with 10% organic matter. So of course I thought I would test my soil and participate in Hanni’s meme. Our soil is made of that awful heavy clay soil you could make pottery from. Since I have amended many areas of the garden, I thought let’s see what we have. I tested the meadow which has a small top coating of peat moss; the veggie garden which is a mix of soil with compost, sand and peat moss; and the soil in the back of the garden where we get standing water (it is clay underneath, but lots of amendments of sand and peat moss on top).
Needed are a glass jar, 1 part soil, 2 parts water and some salt or tablespoon of water softener (as the book directs; which is essentially sodium or salt). Mix and let settle. So here is what I found…sand settles first, followed by silt and clay with organic material floating to the top.
The results show an excellent mix for the veggie garden (almost a loam); a decent mix for the back garden, but because of the underlying clay we will have to either further amend (doubtful) or create a rain garden. The meadow is some sand and silt with large clumps of clay. It is the natural habitat for the native wildflowers planted there, and the early spring bulbs can tolerate it as well so I will only amend a bit when I seed it further.
So what does all this soil testing mean…well it means I have to read the second half of the book to get a better understanding of how to change the soil to help things grow more efficiently. Of course that will be a later post.
Like the soil, I have found myself recently examining just below the surface of my life to what lies there. What is the foundation of our life; what lurks beneath the surface that we are willing to look at. It is not what we are doing, but who we are; the stuff that is so much deeper that I am examining. There are days I find I just go through the motions; tired, bored, lifeless. I know this is when I need a break from my routine; time to reconnect with the earth. With the change in the weather I can now do that in the garden.
And like my soil, I need to keep a better balance to nourish my mind, body and emotional needs. To feed the soul as it were. I find I can do that best by meditating in the garden. Do you ever find yourself weeding and before you know it you have moved along seemingly not even realizing you were moving. You find yourself mesmerized looking at the bugs as they work around the soil and plants. I find this is a kind of meditation where my mind wanders and ideas flow. I come up with some of my best ideas (garden and life lessons) during this meditative state. I am transfixed and transformed in my garden as I continue to work the soil; my foundation.
So as I learn more about soil and how to best work with it and amend it, I will post some further information and observations (part 2). I have a feeling as the garden foundation is changing for the better so too will my life…for in my garden, as the garden goes, so goes my life!
…. if I wanted to have a happy garden, I must ally myself with my soil; study and help it to the utmost, untiringly. …. Always, the soil must come first.
– Marion Cran, If I Were Beginning Again