…And Unto Dust…!
In Genesis III:19 it states that we are formed of the very dust of the earth. In the metaphysical sense it means we have a material and temporal being , as well as a spiritual one. However, in quite a literal sense it also means that we are created of the very earth on which we live. We therefore have an affinity for the earth, that is, the soil. As stated many times in Catholic Rural Solutions, it is no fluke that the Bible is set in an agricultural setting, for it is here that man can best understand the nature of both the material world and its dependence on the Providence of God. It is also quite clear that Our Lord Jesus Christ came at a period of human history that was agricultural and this timing was intentional. For it is through God’s natural creation and our cooperation with it, from a temporal perspective, that we can best see and understand God. An agricultural environment is the most conducive setting for not only the growth of Faith, but also for the growth of our love of God.
The reader should understand that I am no tree-hugging, earthshoe-wearing, environmentally-crunchy, wacko Greenie! In fact, I’m exactly the opposite in that I believe that the earth and all it contains are here at the service of and for the use of mankind. That said, this does not mean that we can abuse whatever material possessions we own, because everything we have is a gift from God and therefore must be used for the good of our salvation. This is why we are constantly admonished by our pastors not to be overly concerned with the material possessions of this world, but only so far as they are used to our salvific end …eternity with God in heaven.
From the agricultural viewpoint, we are, therefore, called to be stewards of earth, because we are merely using this gift in this sequence of time. We are obliged to preserve it, not only for future generations, but, ultimately and more importantly because it belongs, not to us, but to God; and like the parable of the steward and the talents we will be accountable for it.
In this vein, a discussion of the soil, its consistency and nutrients are warranted. Proper soil nutrition is not just important for the success of our gardens and crops but also for the preservation and stewardship of this fundamental resource. While previous posts have addressed soil amendments and nutrition, the basic composition of our particular garden soil is necessary to understanding what, if any, amendments are needed for our little patch of earth. It is also essential that we develop a profile of our gardens so that we know its strengths and weaknesses. Just as we know a loved one by his profile in our minds, we must also intimately know our soil profile to succeed in our gardens and crops.
Soil is essentially composed of sand, silt and clay in varying proportions. Loam is the relatively even composition of these components at roughly 40-40-20%. Loam is the ideal because it contains more nutrients and humus than sandy soils, has better infiltration and drainage than silty soils, and is easier to till than clay soils. Loam is considered ideal for gardening and agricultural uses because it retains nutrients well and retains water while still allowing the water to flow freely. Good tilth is a term referring to soil that has the proper structure and nutrients to grow healthy crops. Soil in good tilth is loamy, nutrient-rich soil that can also be said to be friable, (that s the ability of a solid substance to be reduced to smaller pieces with little effort), because optimal soil has a mixture of sand, clay and organic matter that prevents severe compaction.
While we are captive to the state or region in which we grow our plants, there is usually some steps we can take to mitigate the soils we are captive to, at least to some degree. The first thing we need to do is to determine our particular soil composition and this is easily done at home by the gardener himself. Using a quart size jar take two cups of soil remove debris like roots, stems, branches, and large rocks. Mark the jar where the soil level settles in the jar. Then add water to within one inch of the top. Add a teaspoon of dish detergent, this will help to brake up clods and other aggregates. Cover and shake the concoction vigorously for about ten minutes making sure that clods are completely reduced to components. Now put the jar down, generally in a window with light passing through the mix will make it easier to see the separations. After two minutes look carefully at the sediments forming in the turbid water. This first layer is the “sand” portion and is the first and easiest to settle out.
After marking the glass at the level of the sand layer of sediment allow the mix to stand
another two hours or so. Whatever settles in these two hours is the “silt” portion of the soil constituents. Silt is finer than sand so it will settle our much slower because it is finer and lighter. Now make a mark at the layer of the silt level.
Remaining in suspension in the jar is now the “clay” portion of the mix and some bits and pieces of organic matter you might have missed when removing roots, etc. This clay can take a long time to settle our from days to several weeks. However, if the solution settles out within twelve hours you have a relatively course clay and this indicates that the soil will be easier to work, meaning good tilth and friability. You could wait the entire time for the solution to settle out and become clear but for practicality you will get a good indication by waiting the twelve to twenty-four hours for settlement before marking the clay level on the jar.
From this point on it is just a mathematical calculation of the measurement of the various layers you marked in the preceding paragraph for each component to determine your soil component percentages. This is easily accomplished at home and is essentially what a professional soil lab does in a more scientific venue.
From this calculation you can roughly determine the component mixture of you soil and what might be done to make some improvements, such as the addition of more compost, or sand depending on your particular result.
This is the fundamental analysis to any soil amendments you may make in future. You should have a professional analysis done by your State Ag or university to fine tune any deficiencies. (see http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Catholic_Rural_Solutions/message/689;
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Richard of Danbury, D.S.G.