As you can see from the picture, I tried the experiment on page 36 to see what my garden soil consisted of. I didn’t have a tablespoon of water softener to add, but since I used soft water, I figured that would be okay. My soil seemed to settle into two layers and on top was some organic matter, then fairly clear water, and then some floaters (more organic matter) up by the lid (trying to get out?). I used soil from my raised bed vegetable gardens, where I’ve added lots of compost over the years. I think I would see much different layering if I dug up where the lawn is, since that soil has not been amended.
And as I read about what else you can do to find out what your soil food web is really made of (Chapter 13), I made a mental note that this should be science fair project for my nephew who is 11 years old. I think he’ll be ready for that in a year or so, and I’ll get a free analysis of my soil if I help him.
After reading the book, I’ve decided I am doing some things that are pro-soil food web, but I do have some practices to change. Can I make those changes?
One of the practices the authors say to discontinue is roto-tilling. Fortunately, I actually did stop roto-tilling in my vegetable garden about 7 years ago, when I converted to raised beds. Every spring, as I plant each bed I turn over the soil in just that bed and rake it smooth. Now, apparently I should just lightly hoe up the bed and then plant. Hey, that’s less work, and that’s always a good thing. And I still get to use a hoe!
I did take a “soil science” class in college, but learned quite a bit more reading Teaming With Microbes. I don’t know if it is the passage of time making me forget what I had learned before, or the advancement of soil science providing more to learn, but I kept thinking “why didn’t they teach us this in soil science class”? I’m not saying they didn’t, I’m saying I don’t remember it if they did. I think they must have taught us “classic soil science”.
In the class, we did learn about clay, silt, and sand and how to rub soil between our thumb and index finger to try to determine soil texture.
We also saw where the prairie meets the timberland. They took us on a field trip to look at soil. Yes, that seems odd and my friends laughed back then about someone taking such a class, so you can laugh now, it is okay. I’m a gardener, I can take it. I don’t know exactly where we went, but it wasn’t too far from Lafayette, Indiana. We got off the bus and the professor had us turn to the east and look at the tree line, then turn around and look west to see nothing but grasses all the way to the horizon. Then he proudly proclaimed that we were standing right where the timberland gave way to the prairie.
We also learned to remember “See Hopkins café might good” to remember that the elements needed for plant growth are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, potassium, iodine, nitrogen, sulfur, calcium, iron, and magnesium (CHOPKINSCaFeMg). I don’t know if that is THE list of THE only elements required for plant growth, but it was what they had us remember.
The biggest difference between my long-ago soil science class and this book? In the class, I think they primarily taught us about soil structure, but not so much about what lives in the soil. And what lives in the soil makes a difference. So I am happy to have expanded my knowledge of the soil food web and will recommend this book to any gardener who wants to better understand the soil in the garden, and probably more importantly, understand what LIVES in that soil and how to care for it.
If you have also written a post about the book, or compost or soil in general, please comment with a link so I can be sure to add you to the club post, which will likely go out Wednesday, January 31. So far, I have 8 posts, but will take as many as want to participate. No limits in the blogosphere, plenty of room for all!)