I love to smell the earth in my gardens. On a spring day, a good planting day, I like to scoop both hands into the soil I tend, lift it up to my face and inhale its fragrance. Rich, fertile soil smells of the forest floor, teeming with health and life – with beneficial microbes, bacteria, fungii, earthworms, and humus. Organically rich earth is heady, almost magical. It’s the Merlin of soil.
And it’s the backbone of organics, where you don’t fertilize the plant, you feed the soil. (More on this in the “Why Organics?” entry). You feed the good earth with organic matter: leaves, grass clippings, straw, rotted hay, kitchen wastes, dead weeds, manure, whatever you have or can find.
More than 200 years ago, in 1793, a Virginia woman named Martha Randolph wrote to her father in Washington, D. C., complaining of insect damage in their gardens. Her father’s advice was this:
“We will try this winter to cover our gardens with a heavy coating of manure. When the earth is rich, it bids defiance to droughts, yields in adundance, and of the highest quality. I suspect the insects which have harassed you have been encouraged by the feebleness of your plants, and that results from the lean state of your soil.”
The father was Thomas Jefferson, who, among other things, was one of the foremost horticulturists in American history.