Article #5: Dirt Cheap? Nonsense! It’s Vital to Garden
“As common as dirt!” “Dirt Cheap!” How many times have you heard those phrases? How many times have you watched an angry baseball manager bestow the ultimate humiliation upon a resolute umpire by kicking dust on his shoes?
In plain fact, the popular public image of dirt-dust-earth-mud-soil remains largely negative. In sharp contrast, all who have had more than a passing interest in planting and nurturing trees, shrubs, and food plants—centuries of professional farmers tilling millions of rolling rural acres and urban pot-bound house plant enthusiasts alike—have learned to place a high value on that vital, life-supporting medium, soil.
“Common?” Far from it! It can be as variable and complex as life itself. “Cheap?” Hardly! Placed in the proper perspective of materials most necessary to survival on this planet, soil becomes precious. Precious, yet misunderstood.
Soil is living and constantly changing material. It acts as a medium to hold the raw materials which trees and plants take up into their leaves and convert into food for their use through a process called photosynthesis. To function best, a soil should be made up of 45 percent mineral particles from disintegrated rock such as basalt, granite, sandstone or limestone; 5 percent humus from decaying organic matter; 25 percent water; 25 percent air; and a sprinkling of microscopic plant and animal life.
In general, basalt and granite-derived soils are shallow and tend not to be as rich as soils from sandstone and limestone parentage.
Sandstone-based soils are light, porous, have good aeration and are of medium fertility. Soils from limestone are high in clay, therefore heavy, usually poor in water and air content but can be fertile enough for trees. Most essential elements are present in large amounts in all soil, but the lack of one or more can result in poor tree and plant growth.
The ideal combination of ingredients in the right percentages occurs naturally in only a few fortunate places in the world.
Most people must start with the type and quality of soil that exists where they live. If it needs improvement they must gradually work with it, helping to move it closer to the ideal through the addition of sand, clay, or humus as individual conditions require.
A fairly deep hole dug in the yard, perhaps in preparation for planting a tree or shrub, will reveal soil layers of varying thicknesses. These may be noted as a visible change in color, structure or texture. The uppermost layer, the topsoil, should break up easily in the hand, yet feel slightly moist.
Topsoil does not have to be black in color to be a fertile medium for plants. The color as well as the fertility of a soil derives in part from the parent rock material that formed the soil and in part from the climate and other conditions under which it has been existing for milleniums.
Below the topsoil lies the first layer of subsoil. Often this is a hard ledge of material difficult to spade through. This accumulation of very fine iron particles or clay leached through from the topsoil above is called “hardpan” or “claypan.” The National Arborist Association advises that this concrete-like layer can become impervious to the penetration of air, water, or even tree roots to the next layer of subsoil below, severely hampering normal, healthy tree development.
Heavily traveled areas of yard or garden otherwise having good soil texture may become sufficiently trampled so that the soil’s structure is lost and air and water spaces are not large enough for root penetration. This condition is called “compaction.” Simple cultivation will resolve the problem.
In these days of fast-rising developments and a new home construction a purchaser may be lucky or unlucky in what the developer leaves him for topsoil. It can range from rich to poor to none! In rare cases the topsoil may be completely,skimmed off the property, leaving the unsuspecting but hopeful gardener with a severe problem. Occasionally, the topsil may have been trucked in from a distance and be far richer than the topsoil natural to the immediate area.
All trees and shrubs, however, do not find all types of soil to their liking, though one might assume they would if quoting the, line from Joyce Kilmer’s classic poem “Trees.” “A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed against the earth’s sweet flowing breast…”
But plants definitely do have preferences.
To avoid an unhappy union consult an expert, perhaps a local arborist, whose knowledge of both soil characteristics and individual tree needs will permit him to recommend a variety of trees that will find your particular soil “sweet flowing.”
Reprinted from St. Petersburg Independent, September 17, 1976
- 1. Organic Gardening Is The Counter-Part Of Natural Hygiene
- 2. What Exactly Is Organically-Grown Food?
- 3. Soil Analysis
- 4. Basic Steps To Establish A Successful Garden
- 5. Gardening The Magic Way-With Mulch, Compost, Sea Weed Spray
- 6. Soil Requirements For A Successful Organic Garden
- 7. Approximate Amounts Of Compost, Mulch And Water
- 8. Planting Your Garden
- 9. Insects: Friends And Foes
- 10. The Case Against Commercially-Grown Foods
- 11. Four Methods
- 12. No Space For A Garden?
- 13. Harvest Of Pleasure And Health
- 14. Questions & Answers
- Article #1: Vegetable Preferences
- Article #2: Companion Plants
- Article #3: Nitrogen Fixation By John Tobe
- Article #4: pH Preferences Of Some Plants
- Article #5: Dirt Cheap? Nonsense! It’s Vital to Garden
- Article #6: Soil Test Secret To Success By Gene Austin
- Article #7: Pesticides-They’re Killing Bugs-and the Land By Ronald Kotulak
- Article #8: Pesticides-There Are Workable Alternatives To the Dusts, Sprays, and Oils By Joan Jackson
- Article #9: Containing Inhibits ‘Raiders’ By Gene Austin