Treasuring Topsoil

I have a clump of dirt on my sideboard but I’m not washing it off.  It’s a handful of the topsoil we just had delivered to our land for the septic system drain field and garden beds, and it’s my prized possession.

I feel like I dodged a major guilt bullet by finding a good source of topsoil. (see my post The Dirt on Our New Topsoil

The soil now mounded on our land was removed by the Nature Conservancy in their efforts to restore a stream bed to its pristine pre-settlement condition.  To do that, they trucked out tons of earth eroded from the formerly rich hill tops on either side.

The man who delivered it took the time to show me what a Nature Conservancy worker had shared with him.  They were instructed to dig down to a certain line in the soil where the deep, rich brown color got even darker.  Below that line is the original, presettlement soil.  I brought home that piece.  I want to put it in a glass jar on the mantle.

Much topsoil that we home owners purchase comes from farmers’ fields.  Why would farmers scrape off their black gold and sell it for pennies?  That irreplacable  soil formed over eons from the disintegration of rock.  Ages of freezing, thawing, wetting and drying were needed.  Soil organisms joined the task.  Countless rainfalls percolated through it pushing dissolved substances through the layers.  And the result is good dirt, the stuff we depend on for our food.

Farm soil gets ripped away from the place where it formed when farmland is turned into subdivisions.  Human settlement usually occured where the soil was good for obvious reasons.  Then as villages expand to towns, cities and surrounding sprawl, it spreads over and destroys more and more of what made the site desirable in the first place.

So, in a way, it’s good that there is topsoil for sale.  At least it is being reused in some way.

Take a moment to get to know your your soil.

Pick it up in you hand.  Run it through your fingers.  Cornell University breaks it down like this:

A sandy soil feels gritty and falls apart easily if formed into a ball when moist.

A loamy soil feels somewhat gritty, yet is easy to work; it has relatively even amounts of sand, silt, and clay; if formed into a ball when moist, it holds its shape, yet still breaks apart easily when squeezed.

A silty soil breaks apart easily and has a floury appearance when dry. When moist, silty soils have a slick feel and form no ribbon when pinched between fingers and thumb.

A clayey soil forms large, hard clods and cracks form on the surface. Clayey soils feel sticky and are bendable when moist. A ribbon can be formed when moist by pinching soil between fingers and thumb. A longer ribbon formed before it breaks indicates a higher amount of clay.

The dirt under our fingernails may be the most valuable thing we own.

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