A Home Inspector’s Weblog by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

exploring homes and the lives in them around Houston

The Living Dirt

Have you ever heard a gardener ask you how is your dirt doing? We talk about our vegetables, our flowers, shrubs, and trees, but we seem to forget the pleasure of sinking our hands into the ground. As children, we played with it all the time. I see my own toddler coming home covered in dirt from the park, and she and I spend countless hours in the garden, where she rearranges the soil. My son did the same when he was younger. Our standards as adults do not encourage this behavior, but maybe we should find ways back into the dirt.

Many years ago, I read a book about dirt. The book is still hiding somewhere in the house. It was written by a scientist who studies soils, and he wanted the average reader to understand his profession. Two things have really stuck with me from that work: 1) he was proud to call soil dirt; and 2) he made a great argument to make his reader see that the soil was alive. I think that gardeners should be more actively thinking about their soil, and by treating it as a living thing, we produce a better environment for a plants to flourish.

We eat to sustain ourselves, and our dirt needs the same consideration. I see people watering the leaves of their plants, but this does not place the water where it is needed. The roots need spaces to explore to fix the plant to the earth, and catch the water from its pockets there. By letting the ground hold this liquid, the plants will have access to it on other days. If we overeat, we can experience health problems. Balance in our diets and a soils is needed. Plants find the nutrients they need in the dirt, but they may need some stored for future use. By gently applying our fertilizers into the soil, we make this nutrient available to all. The best food, the most delicious, is that second helping of compost. By working the soil, we exercise it, so it can stay fit. Allowing air into the ground helps it to breathe.

We use clothes to protect ourselves from the elements, and mulch provides this cover for the garden bed. A couple of inches across provides the best layer. Once we have seen to these needs, we can focus on the internal organs. Did you know that you have bacteria living inside you? They help with the digestion. Soil needs healthy bacteria and creatures like earthworms and ants to process the nutrients in it for the health of your plants. Finding ways to assist these beneficials, while keeping the harmful creatures at bay, just like fighting those colds, can make your garden grow.

Treat your dirt as a dear friend, who will help you with your plants.


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