The Value of the Earth

My backyard is a jungle. A Vinca minor and Vinca major jungle. All these periwinkles create a pedestrian hazard where if you shuffle your feet just slightly you will likely lodge your toe under the grounded vines and potentially fall on a prickly rose vine, because I have those too—though “vine” may be a misnomer for a rooted torso that grew vertically, tipped over, and grew more roots from its tip.

Over the last year I slowly have altered the state of my yard. Mostly I do this for the sake of getting some fresh air and a little exercise, but as stated in a previous post, I have also become a fan of slowly murdering vegetables.

Vinca selection
Perpetrators: the narrower leafs are Vinca minor, or common periwinkle, and the bloom with the more heart-shaped leafs is Vinca major, often called big leaf periwinkle.

Alas, most of the Amur honeysuckles have fallen and burned save for the ones on the property line protecting me from the gaze of my uphill neighbors and me from them. Now all I have to prune are the vinca and they remain a menace. As I remove them I feel guilty for exposing the soil underneath. Will the soil erode before native plants can establish? Perhaps as I rake to expose the vinca I should leave a detritus layer to protect the soil. Considering the earth in my backyard has a clay texture, perhaps I shouldn’t have to worry about erosion.

I don’t think many in the world appreciate all the ecological roles and chemical complexity that soils are. When we think of microbiology we think of pathogens and laboratories, not biological activity entwined in the rhizosphere—the soil realm around botanical roots. Often the cleanest fresh water sources had to filter through soil first. Soil is not so much dirt as it is the reason we can grow crops capable of nourishing us, as nutrient poor soil equals nutrient poor wheat and corn.

Some farmers plant cover crops in between cash crop seasons. This protects the soil from erosion, retains more water, and attracts beneficial insects. (Photo courtesy of Colorado Farm Bureau)

On the subject of agriculture, I can’t quote this because the only source that worded this in such a way was A Complete Idiot’s Guide to Geography and not available for quick internet reference, but around 12 percent of the Earth’s continental surface is arable. How is it that low? After ruling out places that are too hot, too cold, too wet and too dry, we also have to remove the percent of arable land that is under concrete. We ingenious humans built impermeable covering where we could grow food. Lot of forethought there.

Science aside, so much of culture evolved with soil. Even though 1-2% of the North American population (compromising my American and Canadian sources, respectfully) eke out a living farming, we had thousands of years worth of humans learning how to utilize the soil to produce food, fiber and fuel. When we talk about working hard we say variants of the expression “getting your hands dirty,” and “let’s get down to it.” Both imply the age-old form of work: planting a seed in the earth.

Vinca coverage
While you may see only a few blooms, the vinca coated most of my yard last spring.

While I ponder about soil while I remodel the backyard, the International Union of Soil Sciences inaugurated World Soil Day in 2002 and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations called for the International Year of Soils 2015. With this in mind I shall not only ponder but write about soil sciences on multiple occasions this year—yeah, themes! Soil science is a class among many that I wish I took while in college, so all this culminates a major self-education endeavor. Anyone who reads will be victims of awareness.

Happy New Year!


2 thoughts on “The Value of the Earth

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