Making Soil from Dirt

In March, I decided to turn a small piece of my landlord’s backyard into a garden and sitting area for my family. It held no use, and was an empty space with a very old chicken coop that could not be restored. With – a LOT – of love, help from family and friends, I turned this place into a little sanctuary that we have been enjoying for a few months.

There has been a lot of trial and error, and the gophers and slugs are playing a strong role. I decided to work with them instead of against them, and decided not to plant vegetables in this area (after all of them were eaten), and instead planted rosemary and lavender (among others) knowing slugs do not particularly enjoy those plants.

After a few months, however, I noticed that on the right side, my plants were not growing like the left side. I knew they were getting more sun, but that wasn’t a big enough factor in their lack of growth. Again, lots of trial and error here, I finally discovered I was working with dirt, and not soil.

If you have watched the documentary Kiss the Ground, or read Kristin Ohlson’s book, The Soil Will Save Us you will at least have an idea of regenerative agriculture and carbon sequestration. I highly recommend watching and/or reading the book (for now that is another post altogether). So, if there was a structure sitting above the ground for 30 plus years, that soil below did not receive sun, nor water, and nothing was able to grow. Plants need carbon and nitrogen from the air. There were no microbes making soil. Over time, it all turned into dirt.

This is when I decided that I needed to help the dirt to make soil. Of course planting the rosemary and the lavender helps, but the plants are struggling because they are sitting in dirt without nutrients. So, sitting up at night, worrying about how I could fix this issue (under a budget and as organically as possible), I instantly thought about all those leaves that fall from the trees in my yard. The next morning I gathered as many fallen leaves as I could from the trees in my yard and spread them on top of the dirt.

Fallen leaves get a bad rap in manicured gardens. They look messy and create of feeling of neglect. I guess this doesn’t matter to me because my purpose was not to have a manicured garden but one that is thriving with pollinators, food, and medicine. This process of dirt to soil is not instant. We may even move out before the soil becomes rich with life. It seems the best option for me. We’ll just have to see how it turns out.

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