SUNDAY WEB: What's in Your Soil? Organic Home Gardening Starts with Good Dirt

By Pierce, Kathleen | Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME), April 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

SUNDAY WEB: What's in Your Soil? Organic Home Gardening Starts with Good Dirt


Pierce, Kathleen, Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME)


ORONO, Maine --There was a silver lining in the Wall Street crash of 2008. People woke up to the treasure of their own backyard.

"We had a big spike that year," Bruce Hoskins, an assistant scientist who tests soil at the University of Maine's Analytical Laboratory, said. "When people feel insecure, they want to grow their own garden."

And the first place to start is right under foot.

"The whole local food movement is built on soil health. It's a huge deal," said Hoskins, who conducts tests on soil sent in from gardeners, farmers and institutions across Maine, countrywide and abroad. He tests for microbial activity, pH levels, chemicals and nutrients. The turnaround can be as fast as one week.

As more people become self-sufficient, more are taking their soil in for a check up.

"A fundamental piece about farming or gardening is to know your soil," Susan Erich, director of UMaine's School of Food and Agriculture, said. "If it's wet or flooded it can't change, but sand can be good for certain crops. There is a whole range of soils that can be cropped productively."

And there are many avenues to get there.

Jeff Fisher of Bumbleroot Organic Farm in Buxton knew that before he could grow succulent, organic peppers to make chefs in Portland swoon, he needed good soil.

"We were working with soil that had not been farmed in some time," Fisher, who works 2 acres behind an old farmhouse with his partners, said.

Armed with facts from Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, he placed a call to soil healer Tony Ramsey of Living Acres in New Sharon. Things slowly took shape. "It can take a few months to get pH levels right," Fisher said, and years to build up soil balance.

In a greenhouse, the farmer uses the compost company's Light Mix for seedlings. "It's all we've ever used. We couldn't do it without it," Fisher said. "That's where everything starts."

But before Bumbleroot Organic's veggies graced menus at Tao Yuan in Brunswick and Evo in Portland, he shipped a soil sample up to Orono. …

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