March 27 – April 9, 2017
Mt. Washington — I am pulled outdoors by the fiery force of spring light combined with the electrifying clarity of the atmosphere, surely the result of the increasingly broad arc the sun traces in Earth’s brilliant blue canopy these early spring days. All the while I’m awakening to my evolving awareness of and respect for soil, the earth, the dirt that is at the core of my experience of gardening, hiking, living! It’s all about the little animals and micro-organisms that conduct their lives in the garden soil and in the nearby compost heap, the surrounding forest, wetland and pond. Although I have always stewarded the soil, my eyes have not been fully open. How much more to look forward to when the snow blanket recedes from the land and the ice sheet melts away from the pond.
I came across the following quote that speaks for me and regret having misplaced the source: “Soil is alive. In fact, in one tablespoon of healthy soil, there are more micro-organisms than there are people on this planet. A highly functional, thriving soil has the capacity to store carbon, absorb water like a sponge and support a thriving landscape. For years we have viewed soil through its physical and chemical properties, yet now we are beginning to realize the crucial role of biology in soil function and health.”
The summer of 2016 was the first time in my 25 years of making my home on the Taconic Plateau that I witnessed dry streambeds, shrunken ponds and even the rich top layer of my deep garden beds become dust. When we steward the life in the soil we are also taking care of our watershed. Soil rich in organic matter holds water and so plants don’t require watering. In the absence of periodic rain showers, normally, the only watering necessary is for seedbeds. Last summer, rainwater collected from roofs and household gray water was called into service to boost young plants, too (see my recent column).
Here’s the latest on the drought from the Drought Monitor: “A late-winter storm brought widespread rain and snow to the region at the beginning of the period, further alleviating drought intensity and coverage. Precipitation tallied 1 to 3 inches (liquid equivalent) from northeastern Pennsylvania into southern and central Maine, resulting in widespread 1-category reductions of drought intensity and coverage. However, although conditions have been favorably wet over the past 90 days, lingering Moderate and Severe Drought areas (D1 and D2) have reported below-normal precipitation over the same time frame. Furthermore, these same locales are still exhibiting pronounced long-term deficits, with 12-month precipitation averaging 60 to 80 percent of normal. While stream flows have rebounded, slower-to-recover groundwater levels remained much lower than average. Despite the recent rain and snow — which alleviated the short-term (“S”) component of the drought — long-term drought (“L” on the map) remained in areas where significant long-term deficits persisted.”
In short, conditions in our locale have improved from the level of Severe Drought to Moderate Drought. Water conservation and rainwater harvesting are indicated, as always.
Opportunity to Participate
Save the Date August 11 – August 13, Hampshire College, Amherst
Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) Summer Conference
“NOFA’s summer conference is the community learning hub of the NOFA universe. We learn, we play, and we enjoy a weekend of skill building, inspiration and entertainment. It is our opportunity to get together and inspire one another during a family friendly weekend with people living the same lifestyle, holding the same vision and working respectively in many ways toward the same goals.” https://nofasummerconference.org/
Sources and Resources
Life in the Soil, A Guide for Naturalist and Gardeners by James B. Nardi: https://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/L/bo5378396.html
Family friendly video “Life in the Soil:” https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=yfp-t&p=Life+in+the+soil#id=3&vid=92d626130c6d1c4f746c8c233e898536&action=click
Family friendly video “Life in the Soil:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qas9tPQKd8w
A master gardener’s treatise: https://www.leereich.com/2016/09/unpermaculture.html
Preparing a garden bed with Lee Reich: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCRZvK2rJYI