One of the secrets to a happier life as a gardener is to embrace your soil.
As gardeners, we don’t always get to choose our soil. We end up with whatever soil, dirt if you prefer, that nature and/or a land developer has left us. And in that soil, we try to grow the plants we love.
We like to talk about the soil we have, almost as much as the weather.
“Oh, the clay I have to deal with.”
“You should see the rocks I find when I dig.”
“It’s like a swamp it drains so poorly.”
“It’s like concrete when it’s dry.”
“I think my soil is really just gravel.”
“Someone stole my top soil!”
Does any gardener have soil that they are proud of, that they embrace, that they brag about to their friends? Why do we seem to always lament the soil we have?
I’m pretty pleased with my soil, overall. It’s not perfect, but I’ve learned to work with it, to embrace it, to proudly wear it on my hands and under my fingernails at times.
Here are five ways to embrace your soil, whatever it is.
Know your soil type and find out what grows well in it.
There are many resources to find out about your soil type. You can start by looking at the general soil type for your state because most states have designated official soil types. My state’s official soil type is “Miami” and there are nearly 800,000 acres of this soil type in the Indiana. It’s a good bet that my soil type is “Miami” or something close to it. It’s a good soil, generally, fertile and productive.
You can also contact your local cooperative extension service to find out about options for having your soil tested. As part of that process, they can tell what kind of soil you have, generally.
Learn about soil and the life it holds, to understand how much more it is than the dirt that you bring inside on your hands and knees.
When I was in college, I took a course in soil science, but I think it was mostly the study of pedology, which is about soils and soil formation. Now I’m more interested in edaphology, which is the study of the influence of soil on living things, especially plants. I recommend two books for your consideration.
First there’s Teaming with Microbes: A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis. This was an early selection of the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club.
Another interesting book is Life in the Soil: A Guide for Naturalists and Gardeners by James B. Nardi.
If you thought soil was just inert matter, these two books will convince you otherwise!
Take care for your soil.
There are lots of things you can do to care for your soil, and none of them are that complicated. Add organic matter whenever you can, the cheapest being compost you make in your very own garden. Tread lightly and avoid digging when the ground is wet. This can mess with the soil’s structure for a season or more. And some people now recommend you till up the soil as little as possible to avoid disturbing the soil food web, if you even till at all.
Protect your soil. Watch contractors and others doing work around your garden.
A mis-informed contractor can ruin your soil before you realize it. Whenever you have someone digging around your garden, for a foundation, drive, pool, etc., make sure they don’t dump all the subsoil on top of your topsoil. Likewise, if you are fortunate enough to build your own home, watch during the construction process to make sure concrete, rocks, and other construction debris doesn’t get buried where you plan to have a garden. In fact, a good contractor will remove all construction debris from the site and never bury it there.
And if the contractor mentions that he needs to bring in “fill dirt” to put where you plan to have a garden, ask him what he means by “fill dirt”, and then offer to pay for top soil instead. It makes all the difference in the world.
Embrace your soil!
Don’t forget to also…