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   Mar 04

Happy Soil

Wouldn’t it be great if we could just dig a hole in the soil, drop in the plant and walk away; leaving everything else to nature? For two hundred thousand years, our hunter gatherer ancestors had that relationship with plants. The expression “If you get hungry just pick up something to eat along the way,” dates to that period.

Plantae had the system down pat. They produced pretty flowers and delicious food to attract animalia who pollinated the seed, picked the food and dispersed the seeds of future generations across their migratory paths. Then, Early European Modern Humans (formerly known as Cro-Magnons) decided to stop gathering and became farmers. What a mistake!

For 1.7 Billion years plantae, fungi and micro-organisms converted the lifeless sand silt and clay into a nutrient rich water retaining soil capable of supporting plant growth. In just a little over ten thousand years we managed to mess it up. “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,” recognize that expression?

Fungi and bacteria play an important role in helping plants (and humans) thrive and reproduce during the growing season; they are the core of a healthy immune system. 30,000 to 1, that is the ratio of good micro-organisms to bad; 1 trillion, the number of these little buggers in a teaspoon of garden soil; and a whole mess, the number of microbes in your yard.

These microbes are pathfinders, dissolving minerals and marking the way for roots. They are the defense shield protecting the plant from detrimental bacteria and viruses. In return, the plants provide these micro-organisms with the surplus photosynthesized sugar stored in their roots.

One level up are tiny insects that breakdown decomposed organic matter into microbe sized bites, and above them are worms and bugs who breakdown the leaves and twigs into tiny insect sized bites. In reality, our yard is a giant compost bin. That pile over in the corner out of sight is just a sad reproduction of what nature has been doing for a long, long time.

The soil temperature will soon be fifty degrees and these microbes will be awake and hungry. The best thing we can do is feed them. Peat moss, manures, compost, the leaves and grass clippings you have been piling up on the other side of the stone wall; all of this “Debris” is a microbial buffet. You can never add too much organic material to your soil. Ask the people cutting your neighbor’s lawn and chipping trees. If your Town operates a composting facility go fill up some buckets.

If you take care of the soil, the soil will take care of you. Black Mold, Powdery Mildew, even Blight will be nothing worse than a minor irritant if you keep the microbes happy. Viruses invented stealth technology, cloaking themselves inside plant friendly cells. A healthy plant’s immune system easily recognizes the disguise and repels the attack.

 Less watering, less weeding, less chemicals ending in the letters CIDE; it almost makes you willing to forgive that Cro-Magnon who gave up the hunter gatherer life.

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2 Comments

  1. Maureen says:

    Oh, what a treat to read this entry! With the snow still on the ground, we almost forget that Spring WILL come again (like the sun that came up this morning … again!) and it’s time to get my tools sharpened, as the land is calling us out, if only in muted tones. Happy Spring!

  2. HI Pete, I got your name from Mary Nohelty of the Historic Society. She informs me that you like to grow old crops/plants. At the francis wyman house we would like to grow flax and possible make some linen string with it. We will be having an open house this saturday May 11 from 1pm-4pm if you are able to stop by and chat that would be great. If not, perhaps June 8th, also a Saturday and on that date we will have a flax to linen demonstration at the same time, 1pm-4pm. It looks like from your post we should start with good soil if we want to grow flax.

    E-mail me if you have any questions.Look forward to meeting you -Pam

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