How often do you think about the top layer of Earth? I must confess, that until recently, not very much. About 6 years ago, raccoons destroyed our lawn by digging potholes while foraging for their evening meal. In frustration, we tore out our lawn and put in several raised gardens. When we harvested our first crops, we were amazed at the taste, color, and flavor of our food. We were experiencing “live foods” and loving it! While growing our own foods, we discovered that soils do make a difference. Our backyard is mainly black adobe clay. Clay likes to absorb water, but is not a good growing soil for many foods. We noticed that our raised gardens filled with our home-grown compost and chicken manure were becoming filled with red worms. This is a good sign according to the gardening websites we visit. Soil is actually a living organism. Yes, it is full of bacteria, decaying matter, minerals, and animal life. At the same time we built our raised gardens, we began seriously composting most of our vegetable scraps, plant trimmings, and chicken manure. Our backyard has been transformed into an ecological paradise. In springtime, it is amazing to observe varieties of migrating birds visiting, multiple colors of butterflies fluttering by, and the blooming garden readying to produce delicious foods. Instead of using pesticides, we have animal life coming daily to pluck the worms off the underside of leaves, chickens foraging for bugs, and other nocturnal animals visiting to clean up our garden of harmful insects. The soil in our yard is slowly being transformed into living topsoil. We try to grow our food seasonally as seeds certainly do have their designated seasons for sprouting and growing. Our yard does have micro-climates where parts receive more sunlight throughout the year and we can trick plants to believe it is another season. We can actually grow tomatoes and peppers all year in this area. Our yard is not very large, but we grow a lot of food and have learned a great deal! We currently grow (or have grown): bell peppers, jalapenos, Anaheim chiles, sweet potatoes, chives, sage, rosemary, basil, thyme, Swiss chard, spinach, lettuce, cabbage, leaks, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, onions, garlic, pumpkins, butternut squash, carrots, corn, pinto beans, yellow squash, zucchini, watermelon, strawberries, bananas, oranges, white peaches, Arkansas black apples (hasn’t produced yet), pineapple, blueberries, beets, celery, kale, asparagus, snap peas, and green beans. If you currently don’t grow anything, even if you don’t have much space, we encourage you to try it. Even a small pot on the patio can grow some lettuce, tomatoes, or herbs. When I was teaching, I had a small strip of dirt (2 feet x 7 feet) in front of my classroom. We grew lettuce, cucumbers (in a pot), and jalapenos. It didn’t take much effort either. The experience was enjoyable for the class. The students took the produce home. They learned about the cycle of seeds, plant growth, the difference between vegetables and fruits, that plants need good soil, sunlight, water to grow, and enjoying eating fresh produce. Growing a garden is satisfying. One of my favorite farmers, Joel Salatin, wrote in one of his books that his dad taught him to always leave things better than when you found them. I like to apply that to our little garden in our back yard. The earth in our yard is getting better and we are helping in a small way to improve our world (terra).
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