C’mon, folks, let’s dish a little dirt

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By Cheryl Steenerson

I love science and all its “ologies,” especially meteorology, archaeology, entomology, geology and pedology, the study of dirt.
So, I thought I’d combine all of the above this week, because we make an impact on all of them, right here in our own back yards.
So let’s dish a little dirt.
Did you know that your soil has its own fingerprint? Pick up a handful of dirt and you can find an entire history of what has happened there and when. Not only does it tell you what’s gone on before, it can tell you what it needs now, in order for you to do what you want, grow a garden.
It tells you these things because it absorbs everything, through the air, wind, water and from every animal (including us) that trods upon it. Why do you think dogs can track? We leave a footprint and it becomes a fingerprint. Pretty cool, huh?
What we call dirt is simply a combination of things that have been deposited and then changed through a host of different means.
Large areas have different varieties, if you will. Some varieties are sandy, some loam, some clay. Different ingredients make the different types. Think of soil like bread, now think of all the types of breads available.
Dirt really is that different, so it makes it all that more important that you get it tested regularly if you want to make your gardening experience a whole lot easier. Soil tests can tell you exactly what you need, to have practically perfect soil, for what you want to grow.
Soil samples should be taken in the fall or spring from different sections of your garden and mixed together.  Take the sample dirt from a depth of 6 to 8 inches in each location and place in a quart sized plastic baggie. Take it to the county Extension Office and wait. It takes about two weeks to get a result back.
The recommendation sheet you receive will give the amounts of lime and fertilizer needed to make your soil fertile for the things you grow there. It will also give the amounts of trace minerals found in your soil. The trace minerals are important because they allow the plants to use the major nutrients.
Since I’m throwing metaphors around like snake shot, let me continue by likening a garden to a baby. You’ve got to feed that baby a healthy formula for it to grow up big and strong, and fight disease and pests successfully.
OK, so occasionally you have to give the baby some medicine. To our vegetable and flower gardens, that’s the herbicides and pesticides, whether natural or not. We also give them vitamins to keep them healthy, but in the garden we call them fertilizers and soil amendments.
We only have about five months to birth, grow and harvest all the fruits of that soil, so good nutrition throughout is really important. Keeping the competition (weeds) at bay is just as important, along with the right amounts of sun and water. It really is an amazingly fast process.
Even more incredible, all of our work, everything we do, is being recorded for history. I think that’s awesome. Our very own footprints will leave their fingerprints. A hundred years from now someone can tell what we did in our garden. My only question to you is, will someone be able to survive living off of the land you leave behind?
We are writing our own legacy right now and leaving the evidence behind. Bet you didn’t think of that when you were breaking your back weeding the garden, did you. Now, get out there, be kind to the earth and make a little history. The clock is ticking.
Happy growing.

Cheryl Steenerson is a gardening columnist for The Anderson News.