Soil Preparation- Getting Our Plots

May 2, 2014

Author: Ian Whittington

Category: General News Stories from the Garden

Student prepping her plot for planting

Student prepping her plot for planting

I’ve been a little lost for the past few years. In 2011 I graduated from Virginia Tech with a BA in International Studies. Because I care about the environment my emphasis was on Environmental Affairs. But during my last semester I realized something; I didn’t want to pursue that field for my career. Since graduating I’ve been working at Barnes and Noble to have a source of income. I don’t make much, but it helps me pay the bills. Living at home has helped me out a lot too. However, I know I can’t stay there forever. I’ve been trying to figure out what I want to do with my life and still haven’t come up with a clear answer. I do know one thing though. I want it to involve food.

I love to eat. At 5” 2’ I’m a small guy, so most people are surprised when they see how much food I can eat in one sitting. It’s my love for food that led me to investigate how food is produced in this country. There’s a lot I could say about it, but the gist is that our food system is broken. In my opinion the root cause for this problem is that we have allowed ourselves to become too removed from how our food is produced. In wanting to help make our food system more sustainable I decided to pursue a masters degree in food studies. So when I stumbled upon the Neighborhood Farm Initiation online I was excited; their Adult Garden Education class was the perfect way to build up my background before I started applying to schools.

Sunny and warm with clouds threatening rain still in the distance, the weather was perfect during our first class last Saturday. Located on green space near the Fort Totten metro stop I luckily already knew how to get there. I volunteer every Thursday morning nearby at Food and Friends, which will make it a lot easier for me to tend to my garden during the week. We started the class by introducing ourselves, stating how good of a gardener we each thought we were and where we came from. There were many different ranges of experience as well as hometowns. Overall the class was very diverse which will hopefully bring a lot of different perspectives into the program.

Obviously this being the first class we didn’t have plants to tend to yet, so fittingly this week’s topic was about soil preparation. A lot of it reminded me of things I learned in elementary school science but forgot years ago, which is fitting since our instructor, Joe Ludes, is an elementary school teacher. Really this is the stuff we should be learning in elementary school anyway. It’s so basic for our existence and yet it’s something many of us know little about. There were many things Joe talked about, from the importance of soil pH to testing soil for nutrient content. But above all he wanted us to remember one thing: add organic material.

When it comes to gardening that makes a lot of sense. You’re taking organic material out, so shouldn’t you put that back in? A lot of people use chemical fertilizers now, which from my personal experience is just bad for the Earth. As a kid I got too excited once sprinkling fertilizer pelts on my lawn and burned the grass.

Again, I burned the grass.

When was the last time too much compost did that?

In retrospect what I was doing was disrespecting the land. Respect is another concept Joe emphasized a lot. So much has had to happen for this gardening class to even take place. Over millions of years organisms evolved relationships that we can exploit today, such as bees pollinating plants for us. Over billions more natural processes have worked to create the soil we dig in. Even in the comparably minuscule human timescale, its taken thousands of years for us to learn how to cultivate the land effectively. How could we not honor something that has taken so much time to develop?

But more than that, showing respect to the art of gardening is also a way to respect ourselves. By the end of this class I will have fresh vegetables to nourish my body. Not only that, I’ll know where they came from. I’ll also know how much work went into growing them because, well, I’ll be the one who did it. It can’t get any healthier than that.

After the lecture we were finally assigned our garden plots. I was lucky. Mine barely had any ground cover, which made it a lot easier to start prepping. I’m currently volunteering at Common Good City Farm every Sunday, so the concept wasn’t too foreign to me. Basically what you have to do is remove all the weeds, loosen the soil, mix in compost, and form your plant beds. It’s not as easy as it sounds, especially for the other students who had weeds in every inch of their plot. But gardening isn’t easy.

I’m both nervous and excited for the next few months. I’m nervous because I haven’t done anything like this before. My mom is already excited about all the vegetables and herbs I plan to bring home, what if I kill everything and have nothing to show? But I’m definitely more excited. What I’m going to learn in this class is a skill I can use for the rest of my life. It’ll connect me with the land and give me insight into just how precious food is. And of course, I’ll have a lot to eat.

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