I have been writing this column for nearly two years now and I have yet to cover what defines “soil therapy.” In my first article way back when, I mentioned that we can nurture our soul by the simple practice of working the soil in our garden, literally taking the time to smell the roses and nurturing the soil that feeds the roses and so much more.
Recently, I came across an article by Daphne Miller, MD, a San Francisco family physician and author of two books about farming and our own health. Dr. Miller said:
“Thinking of a healthy body as an extension of a healthy farm, and vice versa, is a paradigm shift for many of us. But when we consider that all of our cells get their building blocks from plants and soil then, suddenly, it all makes sense. In fact, it is not too much of a stretch to say: We are soil.”
If you consider that the natural organisms in the soil contribute so much to how a plant produces flowers, vegetables, and feed for other animals that eventually end up on our plate, soil therapy is so important to our own well-being.
Currently, I am finishing up the Master Gardener program with Clemson University Extension. One of the most important facts I have learned in the program is how healthy soil is a living, dynamic substance. Soil is sand, silt, clay, air, water, minerals, and organic matter crawling with earthworms, moles, snails, slugs, grubs (oh my!), ants, fungi, good bacteria, and so much more. All of these little creatures create a giant ecosystem just inches below our feet. They each play a role in the nutrient value of the peppers, tomatoes, and squash we all eat. It’s also why grass-fed beef is so much better than grain-fed beef.
How do we create healthy soil? Compost. You can buy bags of mushroom compost or have bulk compost delivered from a random commercial company, but you run the risk of introducing pathogens because the compost may not be fully mature. The solution? Create your own compost to spread throughout your garden. If you have the space, any sunny location is usable. The compost pile requires aeration (periodic turning), moisture, and sunlight (to help keep it warm), and the microbes will the do rest.
You can also turn to technology for a quicker turnaround and a bigger hit to your checkbook. Developed by the Whirlpool Corporation’s innovation lab, the $1,000-plus Zera Food Recycler is a freestanding kitchen appliance designed to stand next to your kitchen counter ready for your food scraps. Instead of food waste that usually ends up in the landfill, they claim that Zera could help families reduce their production of an average of 400 pounds of food waste annually. (www.zera.com).
With healthy soils, we get healthier foods, and healthier people.
It’s not too late to get your home farming on! A few ideas to get the best out of the small spaces around your home or apartment balcony:
Tomatoes: Tomatoes are one of my favorite things to grow, because they are so easy. A “patio” variety (determinate) puts all of their fruit out within a short period. The flavor is off the charts compared to those bought at the supermarket. A 12-inch-wide or larger pot is ideal. You can also grow them upside down, which will give you a little more yield for your space, and won’t require caging or staking like growing tomatoes upright will.
Peppers: Like tomatoes, peppers (hot peppers or bell peppers) will flourish happily in containers, provided you give them enough space. They may need to be staked. Peppers, like tomatoes, prefer full sun.
Herbs: Herbs grow in relatively little space and are a great way to get a lot of bang for your buck. My favorite is basil, but mint, thyme, oregano, and parsley all grow well in containers and have a small footprint. Google “drying herbs in the microwave” to preserve them for the winter months. You can also make “ice cubes” of them as well with the blender, a few drops of water and placing in the freezer. Sage and rosemary are also good container growers, and will last through our winters quite well.
Cucumbers and zucchini: I am actually trying both of these in containers this year. You will need a space for their vines to climb on (a railing or trellis) and prune back the vine when it starts getting past a few feet long.
Citrus trees (dwarf varieties): Growing your own citrus is delicious, and it smells so good. You can try key limes, Meyer lemons, blood orange, or grafted trees that produce many different varieties on one trunk. Dwarf citrus trees require special care. A 1- or 2-year-old tree needs:
- Minimum of a 12-inch or 5-gallon pot
- A rich organic soil
- 8+ hours of sunlight
- A root collar above the soil line,
- A routine watering schedule (One or two times a week of deep watering)
Citrus feed heavily on nitrogen. A fertilizer with 2-1-1 ratio is best. Look for a “miracid soil acidifier” – it has a 3-1-1 ratio and works well. Buy a quality brand and apply according to the directions.
Bring them indoors when temperatures approach freezing. They do not tolerate temperature of less than 32 degrees for more than two to three hours.
BECOME A MASTER GARDENER
The Clemson University Cooperative Extension is looking for you! Do you have a few hours to spare once a week for four months beginning in October? Want to learn about home horticulture and be the envy of all your gardening friends? If being a source of gardening knowledge and expertise to friends and family sounds exciting, then this is the perfect opportunity.
For information about the next in-person course, which begins this fall, call the Greenville County Cooperative Extension office at 864-232-4431 and ask for Jordan Franklin.
Will Morin is an avid gardener and food enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @DrinkNEats.