Thursday, January 20, 2011

I'm not allowed to call it dirt anymore

Master Gardener class, week 2-- soil.

So I've been making fun and calling it "dirt" just to watch Twitter go crazy. But really, it's fascinating, and I knew a lot more about it than I thought I did. It's amazing the information you just learn as you live and listen.

I knew it was going to be a good day when the presenter asked us to come up with a definition for soil. I proposed "It's the top of the ground, made up of minerals and organic matter. About half of it is holes, filed with air and water. Lots of things live in it." But my table mates wanted to talk percentages and chemistry and organisms.

Turned out my definition was pretty much spot on. Here's her agronomy book definition: "A dynamic natural body on the surface of the earth in which plants grow, composed of minerals, organic materials and open space plus living forms or soil biota- (vegetation, microbial, insect, ground dwelling animals, etc)."

Sometimes you need to remember that while it's soil, it's also just dirt, and not to get too above yourself.

I think my favorite thing about hearing a lecture on soil science was the concept of "horizons" or layers in the soil. I like the idea of a horizon you can't see--it's such a garden-y concept; gardeners are always planning for unknowable outcomes. That we're doing it in an unseen medium just seems so appropriate. It's especially fascinating that city soil has no horizons; again it's a bit of a metaphor for an urban landscape, where the horizon is the houses across the street.

Where the botany lecture was a lot of new words for things that already have perfectly useful names, the soil lecture was the much more valuable naming of concepts that I more or less understand, but had no words for: texture, horizons, crust, plow pan, wilting point, holding capacity. I had a lot of "oh-that's what that is. I know about that!" moments. The most hilarious piece of advice offered: if it's muddy, don't water. Do people really need to be told this?

No recipe today! I'm making this lasagna, more or less, from summer vegetables out of the freezer and fridge! I say "more or less" because it seldoms comes out the same way twice.

Update: MyFolia discussion here.

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