The Dish on Dirt

| 1/5/2015 9:29:00 AM

Renee-Lucie BenoitI was spoiled as a child. I grew up in the middle of the most glorious soil region of practically anywhere on this planet. After the great ice sheets receded during the last ice age, they left the amazing Midwestern soil that is still mostly there. It was in danger of going south with the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico before it was mostly saved by changed practices of contour plowing, waterways and cover crops. I suppose people from Iowa get a bit of a swelled head about their soil. I just took it for granted. When I moved to California, I got a rude awakening. I wasn’t prepared for it in the least little bit. In the neighborhood I moved into, the builders had bulldozed off what little topsoil there was to make way for housing foundations. What was left was hard pan clay.

For the next 22 years, and even to this day, I am on a continuous quest to understand that which lies beneath our feet and from which our food grows. It’s been an interesting journey. It hasn’t always been easy. A lot of trial. And more than a modicum of error. Now I am a soil connoisseur. I love dirt. Just not on my floors. But make no mistake. I am not a card carrying expert. I’ve just paid attention to what was presented me and I learned a few things.

If you happen to be blessed with fertile soil, you’re lucky. When I was a kid practically all you had to do was throw seeds in the ground, wait for the rains to come and things grew like gangbusters. I remember only once was I outgunned by the beetles that overran my Brussels sprouts.

Out here in California, I am outgunned on every single level. But I don’t give up. My husband says, “Where there’s a Renee there’s a way.” My first challenge was not being able to double dig for my life. It took about two seconds to figure out what was going on. The aforementioned clay. Then came the years of trying to amend on a budget. It’s slow going, folks, when you don’t have rototiller, tractor or the budget to buy compost or gypsum.

For those of you embarking on your first gardening efforts, let me tell you a bit about soil (forgive the pun) from the ground up.

What kind of soil do you have? Look into this before going out and spending a lot on seeds and sets.

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