Dad walked in the house the other afternoon, looked down and said “Happiness is having dirty knees.”
When I had stopped laughing, I knew he was right. For him,and so many other gardeners out there, happiness is about getting down in the dirt and making things grow. And as an organic gardener, his goal in life is to leave behind great soil. Here on Stonycroft, out life revolves around the weather, and the condition of our dirt. We make compost, we add lime, we sprinkle ashes… it’s all about the dirt.
So what makes good dirt? Organic materials, which are rotted bits of leaves, worm poop, and much more. Sand, silt, and other mineral components lend structure. But increasingly we are understanding that the living parts of dirt, the mycorrhizal growths, the microbes, and insects, are crucial to the plants growing in that soil. I recommend the article at Mother Earth news for an overview look at what makes a fertile soil. For and even more in-depth look, check out Teaming with Microbes by Lowenfels and Lewis. It is truly fascinating, all the things that are going on under our very noses in the garden.
One of the things that we did recently was to conduct a simple soil test in the greenhouse. This was to determine the soil texture. We took a quart jar and filled it with soil and water to determine the amount of sand, silt and clay, and the organic material in the dirt. The right kind of soil structure is crucial to supporting a healthy garden. We have a nice mix of sand, some silt, and organic materials (which you can see floating in the picture). If we needed, we could have added sand, or organic materials. Loam, the ideal garden soil, is an equal mixture of sand, silt, and clay.