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February 24, 2014

Kate's Korner - March 2014

Hello all! I’m Kate Wilkins, the new AmeriCorps VISTA and your all-around garden aide!  I’m very excited to be part of Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services' team and watch the Demonstration Garden bloom and bear fruit this upcoming year. My primary goal is to share all my knowledge of gardening and healthy cooking with the community and to have fun!

I want Kate’s Korner to be an exploration and celebration of all things related to food and the environment. These concepts are connected: without a healthy environment there would be no food and without food a living organism could not survive in an environment. The Demonstration Garden is ripe with examples of the relationship between these two things and perhaps the best example would be – the soil!

I know what you’re thinking – what’s so great about dirt? I first need to tell you that there is a difference between dirt and soil. I once had a friend who became incredibly angry when anyone referred to the ground as “dirt”.  He would cry, “but it’s so much more than that!” and it’s true, “soil” is the combination of the air, minerals, water and living organisms that accumulate into layers and are squeezed over time by various occurrences (like us walking!). When you dig up the soil, you produce a pile of dirt – it is no longer soil because it has lost its history. Now it is just an unidentifiable pile with no home. All of the soil’s relationships with water, minerals and air have been changed or removed.  Here’s another way to think about it, soil is what you find under your feet and dirt is what you find under your fingers.

So is soil really alive? How alive? The answer is yes, the soil is very alive! Most people have grabbed a handful of soil and seen lots of tiny bugs and mysterious strands and that’s just the stuff you can see! There are billions of bacteria, fungi and microscopic insects. A teaspoon of soil alone has anywhere from 100 million to one billion bacteria in it. How many teaspoons of soil do you think are in an empty field?

A lot of these bacteria and tiny bugs are helpful to plants. They move nutrients and minerals to the roots and help the plant survive and be healthy. When bigger bugs like worms wriggle through the soil they create channels that allow air to flow down to plant roots. You always want worms in your garden – that means your soil is healthy! You can make your soil a nicer home for worms by adding compost, which is basically supercharged nutrients that attracts lots of bugs and lots of water.

Next time you’re outside look down at the soil, maybe grab a handful and see what interesting bugs and particles you can find. Just remember when you throw your handful down, you just made dirt!

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