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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Day for Dirt

"If a healthy soil is full of death, it is also full of life:  worms, fungi, microorganisms of all kinds ...  Given only the health of the soil, nothing that dies is dead for very long."
-  Wendell Berry, 
The Unsettling of America, 1977

Yet another beautiful day in the garden!  Today marks the end of our little chilly streak over the last few days and we expect a solid week of sun and temperatures in the low 80s.    Already we can see little rows of cucumbers, squash, radishes, and many other little baby leaves popping out of the ground and with this heat if we keep them well watered we should start to see some real greening of the beds!

Today’s lesson focused on the soil.  We talked about the grain sizes of sand, silt, and clay, how different soils come to be the way they are, and what that means for the soil.  We also spoke of death and decay.  This is actually one of my favorite topics when speaking about gardening as these concepts have so many negative connotations associated with them.  I enjoy re-framing things generally seen as frightening and disgusting into the magical natural steps in the bio-cycle.  After all, without death and decay, we would have no organic matter in our soil.  No organic matter, no water retention, no nutrients, and no vital living soil.  Soil is the nexus of life and death.  The ultimate recycler, where the death of one organism provides the life-giving energy and nutrients for millions of other organisms.    

For a bit of hands-on experience, we put our students to work getting their hands dirty pulling up nut sedge.  I must admit, I admire the tenacity of that plant.  No matter how many times we knock it back, it just keeps creeping back in the beds! 

Finally we played a review game to drill the lesson home.  As we tried to play, silk caterpillars descended onto the students from the oaks, causing reactions ranging from mild interest to absolute disgust, disrupting the class.  Overall though, the game went off well; the class remembered the vast majority of the lesson, and we were treated to some classic humor. 
“What are pores?”
“Homeless people!”

Kids say the darndest things, don’t they?  Unfortunately, you don’t have to be all that poor to be homeless in St Petersburg, but I kept my class-analysis out of the lesson for the time being. The important lesson for the day was one of the living Earth who we step on carelessly every day without bothering to give her a second thought or the gratitude she deserves. 
"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,
If I Where Beginning Again

Keep your hands dirty!

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