“To be a successful farmer one must first know the nature of the soil.” -Xenophon (430-354 BC); historian, soldier, philosopher.
“The nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself.” -Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945); president.
“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.” -Wendell Berry (1934- ); writer, activist, academic and farmer.
“If I wanted to have a happy garden, I must ally myself with my soil; study and help it to the utmost, untiringly. Always, the soil must come first.” -Marion Cran (1879-1942); first female gardening radio broadcaster, author.
“The thin layer of soil covering the earth’s surface represents the difference between survival and extinction for most terrestrial life.” -John W. Doran (1945- ); University of Nebraska agronomy professor, author.
“Soil is the last necessary thing. With air and water, a person can live 30 days; add but a comely pile of dirt and life expectancy expands a thousand times.” -Justin Isherwood (1946- ); fifth-generation Wisconsin farmer, author.
“You can’t chemical your way out of soil infertility” – Joel Salatin (1957- ); holistic organic farmer, author, lecturer.
“If you think organic food is expensive, have you priced cancer lately?” -Joel Salatin.
“Each soil has had its own history. Like a river, a mountain, a forest, or any natural thing, its present condition is due to the influences of many things and events of the past.” – Charles Kellogg (1868-1949); Vaudeville performer, naturalist.
“We abuse [soil] because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see [soil] as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” -Aldo Leopold (1887-1948); author, scientist, ecologist, forester, environmentalist, University of Wisconsin agricultural economics professor.
Are you short on garden space, but have a long list of plants you want to grow? Try a trellis!
Growing your garden vertically saves space, making your garden more efficient and reduces the risk of disease. So what can you grow vertical? Cucumbers, peas, squash, pole beans, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and other melons!
Can all varieties of these plants grow up? No-- you need to make sure you have vining varieties of some and that the melons you trellis are the smaller varieties.
Also did you know that some plants prefer a natural trellis over a metal one? It’s true! Cucumbers, peas, and melons grab onto natural supports better than metal ones. So think wood, bamboo stakes, twine, and tree branches when constructing your trellis for those items. Or if you have a metal trellis you can add twine to it to help your plants grab on. Need ideas? Check out our Pinterest page for some great trellis ideas.
Did you know there are different types of soil? Obviously, there are sands and clays and potting mixes and top soils, etc. There are also different brands that sell soil in garden-supply stores. But there are actual named series of soils. Soil, in one place, can have overall properties that make it unique to soil from other areas. Some soil is good for growing cotton, some soil is good for specific trees, some soil is good for root crops, etc.
Now here's something you can 'wow' them with at your next cocktail party: Michigan actually has an official state soil! It’s called Kalkaska sand.
In the 1970s, scientists began sifting through (ha!) over 400 different types of Michigan soil in order to come up with the one that best represents our state. Some of the things they considered: Widespread presence (Kalkaska sand covers over a million acres across both the upper and lower peninsulas), whether it supports a common state crop (trees grow well in Kalkaska; lumber is a state industry), and even physical appearance (it’s a beautiful reddish brown).
After many years of deliberation, they concluded that Kalkaska sand won out over the other candidates, and in 1991, over 150 conservationists, environmentalists and government leaders gathered in Kalkaska County to dedicate the newly-designated state soil.
A little bit about our state soil: Kalkaska sand is a multi-layer soil composed of humus, light sand, dark sand, and yellowish sand. As you dig down into the Kalkaska soil, distinctive layers can range from very dark to yellowish-brown and are commonly 2 to 4 feet deep. Kalkaska sand is a well-drained soil and can very effectively filter water. This makes it a valuable asset in forestry. It’s also the reason lakes and rivers located in areas of the state where Kalkaska sand is abundant are so darn clean.
While it’s not found in west Michigan south of Manistee, nor is it very good for lawns and gardens, it just goes to show that soil is so unique and diverse– and important– that states and scientists will go out of their way to actually recognize and celebrate it. We should too! It’s fragile and critical to our food and water supply.
Don't just call it “dirt.” It’s soil-- and if we don’t have healthy soil, there’s no hope for us to be healthy either.
Seed catalogs start to arrive in our mailbox in January and when they do, I snuggle up and read them like the latest romance novel. I love planning my garden! This year our kids at the Good Sweet Earth homestead got to put their two cents in about what we should grow. The list is long!
We will have our staples: carrots, lettuces, radishes, green beans, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes (slicing and cherry), jalapenos, and green peppers. I don’t think we have ever had a garden without those ten.
The kids requested pumpkins again this year so we decided to do mini pumpkins and jack o’ lantern pumpkins. They also wanted apple trees (the sourest we could find, please!), watermelons, and cantaloupe.
I wanted to add to our early crops with arugula, snap peas, pak choi, and spinach.
For summer I added eggplant and a few herbs (basil, parsley, chives, and cilantro). And as usual we will also grow onions and potatoes. Check back this summer for pictures of our garden!
What’s in your garden this year? Let us know in the comments below!
Steve & Corey Veldheer are organic yard & garden specialists in west Michigan.