1 0T h e S o i l
the nature of soil
to understAnd soil better,
let’s start with the popular parable “StoneSoup.” This is a simple tale o soldiersreturning rom the Napoleonic Wars. Asthey passed through a poor peasant villagethey were able to get a meal by telling theinhabitants they would eed them stonesoup. Ater placing a stone in a large kettleo water over a re, and claiming thatwas sucient or the meal to come, theyproceeded to hint that maybe a pinch o parsley, some carrots, a ew potatoes andsuch would make the stone soup taste just that much better. Little by little, theinitially reluctant villagers volunteeredto donate one or another o the suggested“extra” ingredients. The result was a delicious communal meal enjoyed by all.
WhAt soil is MAde of
building fertile soil
is a little likemaking stone soup, because every soilstarted out as stone or rock. Whether thesoil particles in your backyard are now thesize o sand (the largest) or silt (smaller)or clay (the smallest), or, as is usually thecase, a mixture o the three, they wereall originally, and still are, rock. Overpassing millennia the rocks have beenslowly reduced to their present particlesize through the eects o reezing andthawing, the erosive action o wind andwater, and the grinding o glaciers. Thetype o rock the particles originally camerom infuences their eventual size anddetermines their mineral content.Those particles by themselves won’tdo much or the garden, but add thesecond key ingredient in soil—water—andthe process begins. Not too much water,as with a real soup, but just enough tokeep the rock particles consistently moist.Excessive water keeps air rom being able to enter the small spaces betweenthe particles, and it’s important or airto enter. Air is the third key ingredientin soil. With those three—rock particles,water, and air—soil ormation is o andrunning. For the earliest living organismson our planet, that was enough, or theywere able to survive by extracting mineralnutrients rom rock. But as they died anddecomposed, their remains began to add a ourth key ingredient: organic matter. And that’s the living earth under youreet. It is tempting to reer to soil as having our
components. But just as withmaking soup, even a ew additions, whencombined, become something greaterthan their sum, a complex blend o favors.Luckily, you can enjoy that soup withoutknowing what chemical reactions make itsmell and taste so good.The same goes or soil. As long asyou concentrate on adding more o thatessential ourth ingredient, organic matter,to the stone, water, and air you startedwith, you can create a ertile soil withouteven knowing how it happens. The wholerange o benets you get rom the organicmatter in the soil is only just beginning tobe understood and ully appreciated byagricultural science. But we do know thati we ampliy organic matter, plants willthrive. This is true or recent additionso organic matter, such as the roots o the lettuce you just picked, which were
Building fertile soilis a littlelik e making stone soup,because everysoil startedout as stoneor rock.