Soil is what matters

in 1982 ©Janet AllenIn 1982 when we moved in

When we went house-hunting, we knew gardening was a big part of our lives so we wanted to move to a yard with good soil. Soil matters!

We were probably one of the few people who took a spade with them before deciding whether to buy a house. Fortunately, we found that what was to become our yard had great soil, having been farmland years before our area was developed. (We also got a house that came along with the yard …)

Good soil ©Janet Allen
Good soil in our edible garden

Years later, a woman in one of the clubs that toured our gardens stayed behind after the tour. She said she had grown up in our house and that her father had had it built. She remembered many trips to their farm carrying loads of manure to enrich the soil, so I guess we hit the jackpot.

Even so, if the soil hadn't been quite so good, we could simply have planted native species suited to poorer soil until the soil gradually improved (though something we hadn't heard of at the time), and we especially wanted to start our edible garden, which needs good soil.

Leaving leaves

Fall leaves ©Janet Allen
These leaves will rot in place

I'm always amazed in the spring when I see people so diligently raking up every last bit of dead leaves, twigs, and other bits of nature.

These leaves will all decompose, continually enriching the soil, and in the meantime providing places for birds to hunt for little bugs, to collect bits of nature for nesting materials and so on.

Leaving leaf litter ©Janet AllenLeaving leaf litter where it falls in our front yard under the shrubs

In areas where we've had bushes for years—and therefore years of leaves decomposing under them—the soil gets better and better as the leaves decompose.

And that's what is supposed to happen with all those leaves.

Nature doesn't have garbage trucks that haul old leaves away.

Chickadee getting insects ©Janet Allen
Chickadee getting insects

We had left all the stalks of some of our old dead flowers and other plants over the winter, just letting them eventually decompose.

This chickadee, though, considers them to be a fine grocery store. Here's what he found.

Bare ground ©Janet Allen
I've seen this type of landscaping

Why is bare ground considered necessary or attractive? People work hard to create this look, but I don't understand why.

Leaves out to the curb ©Janet Allen
Seen all around our community

All over our community, people throw out this valuable resource. This makes no sense of any kind! Plants were meant to have the decomposed remains of their own leaves.

Spring ©Janet Allen
Columbines emerging

Just as in the wild, our plants find a way to grow through the cover of leaves.

No more peat moss!

Screened compost ©Janet AllenScreened compost from our backyard compost pile

In the past, we routinely bought many bales of peat moss to add to our garden soil. It was a bit expensive, but we wanted the best soil possible.

We finally learned that peat moss is a non-renewable resource (at least in any human time-scale). This shouldn't have surprised us. Less than three inches of peat moss is created in a century. We were sacrificing ancient peat bogs just to make our own soil a bit better.

Town trucks ©Janet Allen
Town trucks collecting yard waste usually in combination with a payloader to scoop up the leaves

We also learned of the important role of peat moss in sequestering CO2, and that peat moss mining releases its CO2 to the atmosphere, a process that continues after mining is done. A climate disaster.

Since then, we haven't bought any peat moss. We focus instead on using our our garden compost, leaf humus, green manure, and vermicompost—all free, all something we can produce ourselves, and all great for the soil and for our plants.

Before and after mulch mower ©Janet Allen
Before and after mulch mower

And an environmental (and civic) bonus is that all these materials would otherwise go to the landfill.

Or even if they were destined to become part of the municipal mulch pile, it takes lot of large fossil-fuel trucks to do so. All in all, we try to keep everything we produce in our yard staying in our yard.

Rescuing sod

Sod pile ©Janet AllenSod waiting to decompose

We never throw sod away. When we initially dug up parts of the lawn (we didn't know there was an easier way at the time) we didn't know what to do with the sod.

We created a homemade "barrel" and dumped the sod into it until we decided what to do with it.

When we looked at it a year or two later, it was beautiful soil. The grass had decomposed, making the former topsoil even richer.

Sod collected ©Janet AllenTopsoil we collected from the curb

When people install a new fence, edge the lawn etc., they often put piles of sod out to the curb as trash.

We collect it. This is topsoil, not trash! We always can find a place to put this soil after the sod has composted.