Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Soul of Soil

I’m here at a co-op house that I usually stay in when I’m in the Boston area and I was looking for something to read.  A novel perhaps?  But I couldn’t find any novels I wanted to read on the co-ops bookshelves.  I was finally settling down with a book on “libertarian paternalism”, when I happened to spot The Soul of Soil on an out of the way shelf.

There it was.  Soil chemistry.  Soil biology.  Compost!  I love this stuff.

I’ve written about soil stuff before (see particularly The Story of Soil, 3/13/10, and Soil Science, 7/20/13) but it’s always good finding and reading more.  This book is especially good because it takes a systemic viewpoint.   It talks about organic agriculture, and regenerative agriculture, and even permaculture, but mostly the authors (Grace Gershuny & Joseph Smillie) claim the title ‘ecological agriculture’ for what they do.

The only thing that bothers me is that they sometimes seem to not understand some basic biology.  For example, the authors appear to need to describe everything as either an animal or a plant.  They actually describe fungi as plants that “do not contain chlorophyll”.  This is a system of classification that hasn’t been used in biology since the 1970s.  But their knowledge of chemistry and the various soil critter seems sound and they even point out that the most common variety of earthworm in North America came with the Europeans and “turned out to be better adapted to cultivated conditions than its native predecessor.”

As far as I’m concerned, I can’t read too much about the soil.  I think that taking care of the soil is key to taking care of ourselves, especially when it comes to growing food or any form of plant life.  The authors use the quote: “Feed the soil, not the plant,” and go on to say “soil organisms will provide a balanced diet to crops.”  I’m willing to forgive a lot to anyone who cares this much about the soil a little mistake or two.  (Plus, this is a really fun book to read--at least if you like soil.)

Quote of the Day: “...to understand soil is to be aware of how everything affects and is affected by it.  We are all part of the soil ecosystem.” - Grace Gershuny & Joseph Smillie

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