Soil is the basis of all life. Without it, we would all be gone. In years past, people had a real connection with their soil. They were constantly improving it with anything they could get their hands on. They knew where the soil was good, where it was a little too wet, and where nothing really wanted to grow. They knew that their lives depended on the land and what they could get out of it. Starvation was a very real thing and still is for many.
I did a talk with my son’s fifth grade class on soil. They were learning about the different parts of soil: loam, sand, clay etc. It was so much fun and the kids were so excited. We talked about cow and horse poop (manure) and worm poop (castings). What 10 year old doesn’t like to talk about poop? We talked about manure and the decay that created more life. They were also excited to talk about the fruits and vegetables grown in the soil. It was wonderful to see how excited they were to talk to me. Wouldn’t it be great if our kids could be taught about growing food in school with hands on activities and gardens? Some schools do, but it would be great if it were a priority for all.
Today, the average person has lost any real connection with soil. Even agriculture has lost it’s connection. We’ve lost so much soil as a result of overworking the land, not feeding it and using toxic chemicals. So much of our food is grown in nutritionally bankrupt soil with chemicals prescribed to feed the plants and kill the bugs and weeds. That just leaves us with dust. Nothing is being added to the soil. It’s kind of scary, actually.
As gardeners, our goals are quite different. Most of us are looking to have rich, loamy soil that is full of nutrients and teeming with life. So, how do we get that soil when our backyard is full of sandy, dead soil? Do you just give up and order loam? Well, you certainly can, but I can give you a better way.
Good soil is built from decay. If you look at the forest floor, you’ll see things rotting everywhere. You’ll also see absolutely wonderful soil. One way to get this great decay, is from compost. We’ve all heard of compost, but may be a little mystified by the process. It’s really not rocket science. All you need is a spot in your yard, my compost bins are right off the back of my deck. You want them in a spot that is easily accessible, but also aesthetically pleasing. At my house, that’s the back. I have a tiny, unused backyard and a huge front and side yard. You want it easily accessible so that you will use it. If you have to hike to get there, you’re less likely to feed the compost.
What goes into compost? Just about anything. Vegetable scraps, garden waste, grass clippings, shredded paper, leaves, dryer lint ,or even hair, just to name a few. The worms will come and eat all these wonderful things. Bacteria will arrive and break down the contents to speed the process. Some things you don’t want are fat, meat, bones and dog or cat feces (you could even do these with the right compost system, but we’re keeping it simple here.) In order to have your pile heat up quickly and decay, experts will tell you to layer green things, like veggies and grass, with brown things like leaves and paper. In a perfect world that would be great. In my world, I just don’t have all those things at the same time. The thing is, it still works. You still get compost, even without the proper ratio of brown to green, it just may take a little longer.
Piles are diverse. There are compost tumblers that you can buy to hide the compost and possibly speed up the process. You can build a bin with wood or wire. Mine is a wire box that opens up to turn it. My neighbors dig a hole right in the garden and make a bin from fencing that they form into a circle.
You don’t even need a structure. It can just be a pile in a corner somewhere.
My absolute favorite composters are producers as well. I have hens that turn quite a bit of our waste into eggs and manure. They’re a lot of fun as well.
There are many other ways to build soil, but we’ll talk about those in future posts. For now, look into your own compost pile. A great side effect is the reduction in waste going to the landfill. Please feel free to ask those question or tell us about what you do to build your soil.
Submitted by Heather Smith.