Northern Nevada gardening and landscaping: Don’t call it dirt, it’s alive! | Carson City Nevada News

Dirt is something that comes out of a vacuum. Can you imagine growing plants in it? In England, dirt refers to feces, as in dog feces. The soil, on the other hand, is a collection of the decaying bodies of plants and animals – many of them microscopic; of salts, chemicals and minerals; of sand, silt and clay particles; of organic matter; and from a staggering number of living organisms such as fungi, worms, insects, and more.

The best soil is laden with humus, that magical component that releases nutrients for plants to absorb. Soil filled with humus holds water better and also creates a porous medium for air exchange and root growth. It is a rich deep color and smells like heaven to a gardener.

For a plant to thrive, it needs fertile soil, not dirt. This is not achieved by adding chemical fertilizers. This is achieved by feeding the soil. How do you feed a soil? My great-aunt would bury a fish’s head and its inedible parts under her lilac bush.

My godmother sprinkled her coffee grounds around her peonies. All of their plants bore large beautiful flowers. My friend Laura composts her horse manure, garden waste and kitchen waste and often turns the mixture over before spreading it out in her vegetable and flower gardens.

Your chickens spin the mix and look for edible treasures from the garden. Your products are productive and tasty. Cory of the Greenhouse Project takes great care of his worm baskets and applies the resulting castings to nourish the soil and therefore the plants. Many gardeners use a mulching mower to chop up grass clippings, which keeps them on the ground and feeds the soil for healthy grass.

What they do is provide the necessary inputs for the microorganisms. These creatures form the soil biota, which releases minerals from the soil particles with its special secretions. They then collect the loose nutrients and store them. They also recycle plant material, which improves soil quality and improves air and water penetration.

As a gardener, you can feed your soil by digging compost in it, maybe that you made yourself. You can also put organic mulches such as straw, newspaper shreds, or clippings on the ground. You can grow nitrogen-fixing plants as green manure crops such as clover, peas, vetch and beans. Or, instead of these plants, grow a green manure such as annual rye, buckwheat or barley to loosen and nourish the soil. Check out

– JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator Emerita at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at

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