Book Review – Building Soil: A Down-to-Earth Approach: Natural Solutions for Better Gardens and Yards
Building Soil: A Down-to-Earth Approach: Natural Solutions for Better Gardens and Yards
By Elizabeth Murphy
Cool Springs Press
Paperback, 200 pages
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Although soil is important, it is the one subject I find difficult to read. With my gardening books, my eyes tend to glaze over the technical terms in the soil chapter, forcing me to skip over to the interesting vegetables and cool herbs. Yet the more I garden, the more I see the need to improve my soil and how essential soil health is to a successful harvest.
Fortunately, Elizabeth Murphy has taken the pain out of reading and learning about soil. For her, soil is a “love affair” that has led her to working on organic farms, in a soils laboratory, and as an agricultural extension agent.
Murphy has a solid understanding of the subject and begins with a broad, holistic view of how the soil is alive and needs what all living organisms need: food, shelter, air and water. Through numerous photos, sidebars, diagrams, and charts in this 200-page book, she demonstrates that feeding the soil (that is, feeding the living organisms in the soil) improves the soil, thus producing healthy plants.
All seven chapters in the book provide unique and interesting information designed to help you develop the kind of soil that will support a better garden or yard.
The first chapter provides criteria for healthy soil, while the second chapter explains how to create such healthy soil from the holistic view of providing the living soil what it needs, while recognizing the importance of sustainability and organic matter.
Chapter three explains nutrients and soil testing, and chapter four describes different types of soil amendments, from compost to cover crops and green manures. The information presented in these chapters feeds directly into chapter five, which details a step-by-step method for identifying what one’s soil needs, the current status of the soil, and what can be done to remediate or fill in the gaps, both short-term (and here is where she explains the different types of fertilizers) and long-term (adding organic matter). Using the holistic approach of “whole soil fertilizer,” Murphy views fertilizers as supplements to fill in the gaps while building the soil with organic matter.
Chapter six discusses different types of soil “cover” (mulch), weeds, and water, while chapter seven describes how to start a new garden bed and tilling. My favorite is the “soil grower’s yearly calendar” chart of what to do in each season to maintain and/or build the soil health.
Additional resources are provided at the end of the book.
In spite of my usual aversion to reading about soils, I enjoyed reading this book. Murphy’s view of soil as a living organism makes the topic much more interesting and understandable, and her techniques are bound to lead to a healthier garden – both for the plants and the people who tend them. Definitely a 5-shovel read.
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