|Soil, Itís Not Just Dirt!|
The seed displays are up and gardening season has begun. So what’s behind working with that pit of mud that’s now your garden? Let’s start with “Soil, it’s not just dirt!”
There’s really nothing much new about this concept; it’s just that most of us haven’t quite got it yet. No wonder. Farmers and gardeners were once taught that soil is just dirt-- broken down rock whose minerals and characteristics reflect the parent gneiss or schist or shale.
In the mid 1900’s, soil scientists began learning that the life-giving qualities of soil also lay in the non-dirt part of soil. Grower guidance shifted away from solely treating soil to protecting soil. Some find it hard to take these findings to their logical conclusions.
For example, some farmers routinely till cropland each year. Especially important to Vermonters, tilling helps to extend the growing season by permitting the soil to warm up earlier. Old-time farmers were taught that this tilling would also cycle nutrients throughout the soil and loosen it up for plant roots to grow faster and stronger.
But for nearly 50 years, soil scientists have been teaching us that tilling can be one of the worst things you can do to soil. No, “no-till’ is not communist propaganda. (I wonder, in fact why more gardening experts the world over haven’t already adopted this ‘old’ news?)
What’s bad about tilling?
There are more soil bugs, bacteria and fungi in a cup of healthy soil than there are people on earth. And they’re certainly not just pests. Sure, a few of them may nibble your Silver Queen. But if you concentrate on protecting your soil, you will encourage an entire army of critters that will help your plants take up nutrients and even defend them from the bad guys! No, really!
There are, of course, issues, such as planting tiny carrot seeds in un-worked soil. Micro-tilling is the answer. Cultivate just the first inch or so and only where you’ll tuck seeds. The surrounding soil can then help the row soil recover.
But let’s say you just bought a new tiller. Welcome to the dilemma that faces our farmers. Their seeding, fertilizing, weeding, and harvesting equipment are all designed for the till system. To make the move to no-till, farmers must invest thousands of dollars in new equipment. Though growing green plants may be the most natural thing in the world, it is sometimes hard to stay consistently in the black while doing so.
|Last Updated ( Tuesday, 08 April 2008 )|
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