S1E2 - Soil: With and Without Soil

Soil Basics

Soil is one of the keys to growing great plants.  Sure they need water and light, but without soil most plants would die.  In the Bible man was made of the dust of the Earth.  We are composed 100% of material that came from a plant or something that ate a plant … and those plants came from soil.  They pulled nutrients and water from the soil along with CO2 from the air.  Combine that with light for photosynthesis and you get plants!

For as long as mankind has been growing plants we have known the importance of the soil.  As far back as 450 BC the Greek historian Xenophon, a student of Socrates, was writing about the merits of using weeds that are tilled under to help make soil more fertile.  Skip ahead 500 years and you have the Romans using lime to adjust the pH of their soils and planting clover and alfalfa to help enrich the soil.  Oddly enough, using cover crops and focusing on no till permaculture techniques is something that is considered a bit of cutting edge crop science today.

So what exactly is soil?  Soil is a mixture of about 50% solids, of which 45% is mineral (rocks, sand, silt, and clay) and about 5% is organic matter.  The other 50% is voids about half of which is water and the other half air.  These voids are really important because they allow for the transportation of water and nutrients to roots.  Compaction, a common problem in worked soils can hurt healthy root growth.

The processes that form soil are quite complex.  You have erosion of the parent bedrock by wind and water, the addition of organic matter by plants and animals, and time.  Over vast periods of time, the soils in an area will change and develop layers. 

Key Terms

Amendments - anything added to the soil to improve its quality.  This might be lime to adjust the pH, organic matter like leaves, or other ingredients like granulated fertilizers.

Humus - the scientific name for the organic component of soil.  It is the result of the decomposition of leaves, grass clippings, and compost.

Garden Soil Testing

Testing your garden's soil is important.  If you live in West Virginia, you can get your soil tested for free through WVU's soil testing lab. 

Growing Media

Here at Bob’s Market we use tons of potting mix and seed starting mix per week during our production season.  To get a consistent mix we basically use an assembly line to add the raw ingredients to the mix.  They drop onto a conveyor belt one ingredient at a time forming layers that then get mixed by a rototiller on steroids at the end of the line.  Then the finished soil goes up an inclined conveyor belt and travels along the ceiling through a connector from our soil mixing room into our transplanting facility.  There the soil gets diverted into hoppers for each production line.  Finally it drops into flats, pots, or other containers in the flat fillers before travelling to the rest of the line where seedlings will either be transplanted by hand or by one of our robots.  Finally, the planted flats go through a watering tunnel, get loaded onto carts and get sent to the greenhouse to finish growing.

Troy Buechel

Horticulture Specialist

Eastern and Mid Atlantic US

Troy Buechel has been with Premier Tech Horticulture’s team since 1995. He is dedicated to offering growers alternatives, new ideas, support and solutions that suit their ever-evolving requirements and needs. His areas of specialty are floriculture and plant nutrition.

Troy Bucehel head shot.jpg

About Peat Moss

95 percent of the sphagnum peat moss available in the United States comes from the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association. This organization emphasizes sustainable harvesting practices and restoration efforts. Canada has 111 million hectares (about the size of Washington, Oregon, and California) of peatlands, but only 17 thousand hectares (comparable to the city of Portland) is actively harvested. Of the 70 million tons of sphagnum peat naturally created every year in Canada, only 1.3 million tons are harvested.

After harvesting, fields are reseeded with live, shredded sphagnum. The wetlands are restored back to a functional state and allowed to grow naturally. They won't look the same for another thousand years, but the commitment to restore the peatlands' properties assures that the habitat is not lost.

Garden Wisdom

A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.

-Ancient Greek Proverb