Should You be Concerned About Soil Health? Here’s Why I am…

Many of my family and friends, myself included, were raised on farms or acreages with large vegetable gardens, and have continued the tradition. Sounds great, right?!

The unfortunate truth, however, is that most of these gardens are surrounded by expansive lawns sprayed heavily with herbicides and fertilized regularly with commercial fertilizer. Not to mention all the surrounding farmland which is heavily sprayed with all kinds of chemicals.

The gardens themselves are rototilled religiously at least once or twice per year. Sometimes they are planted in rows two or more feet apart to allow for rototilling between rows throughout the summer as well.

I’m by no means an expert but I realize there are many individuals who haven’t yet heard the terms “regenerative agriculture” or “no-till gardening”. I want to educate as many of those fine folks as I can, and encourage each of us to do our part in taking care of our soil so we can grow healthy food for healthy people.

Bonus: gardening alongside our children gets them excited about eating the vegetables they grow, too! (Even if they didn’t enjoy them before!). Not to mention the health benefits of the actual gardening.

Our Background

First off, know that it is possible to change minds and opinions! My husband is a prime example that minds can be changed regarding the best way to care for a yard. When we were first married and in our first house together, he was one of those who sprayed the lawn heavily and fertilized regularly. We had the perfect green, weed-free front lawn, the envy of the neighbourhood.

We were rather disturbed when some new folks moved in next door and let the dandelions go wild. Then we were dumbfounded when the owner took a big bin out to her front lawn and knelt on hands and knees for hours, digging those dandelions out, over and over again. “Just spray it once and you’re done!” we thought.

(In hindsight, I realize she was likely using the edible root for making teas or such. AND was far ahead of us in realizing the negative impacts of herbicides).

Like I said, we’ve come a long way, and now hubby is totally on board with no spraying and no fertilizing (at least with synthetic fertilizers). Occasionally when we go for a walk around the neighborhood and he smells chemicals wafting in the air, he is displeased about it (and I feel so, so proud of him for it:)). (Full disclosure: he still appreciates a perfectly green, manicured lawn ;)).

So what changed?

Nothing specific happened to change my mind. I don’t have an exact “aha!” moment that I can elaborate on. But over the past few years, I’ve learned more about the subject and have grown to realize how absolutely vital soil health is to our personal health and the health of our planet.

I’ve learned a great deal about glyphosates and their “real global contamination” in many scientific studies. The correlation between increasing glyphosate use and the increase of certain diseases, such as celiac disease, is uncanny.

I’ve had a health crisis myself and have had to drastically change my diet and lifestyle in order to feel my best. My issues were largely resolved following these changes. Choosing organic produce was a high priority. Naturally, I became more passionate about growing my own food in the best possible way to maximize nutrient density. This led to my discovery of regenerative agriculture and soil health!

New Acreage

Fast forward a few years. We purchased some land- a horse pasture, really- and made the decision to build a new house. It was an adventure, a test of our patience, but in February 2020 we finally moved in.

After staring blankly many times at the overwhelming emptiness of our yard, we eventually realized we needed help. We hired a landscape designer to create an aesthetically pleasing but environmentally friendly landscape design for our new acreage.

Much of it will be planted with native trees, grasses, and flowers. Largely choosing drought tolerant plants, we do have plans to integrate water collection as well.

To bridge the gap between being totally wild and native (hubby isn’t quite there yet), we did integrate a bit of green in our landscape design in the form of a microclover lawn. No traditional, thirsty, perfectly manicured lawn for us!

Also around the house we will have some tidy, more traditional flowerbeds, albeit with mainly native perennials and shrubs.

Our goals for this year? We will continue to mow much of the grass that currently grows on our land (which was formerly a horse pasture) because the weeds are out of control. As well, we will seed our swale with native grasses and flowers, which hopefully eventually we will expand over the next years to cover much of our property!

Soil Health

We have poor soil in some areas here. So poor, in fact, that when when the foundation for our house was dug and the soil was tested, our builder texted us something like this: “The soil is so bad that we can’t build on it. Can you meet today to discuss our options?”

You can imagine the absolute panic and dismay we felt in that moment! It turned out there were options though, and we ended up having to pay about $30 000 extra for screw pilings.

Anyway, that’s a little off topic here…but the point is, our soil has little structure, is very loose, and likely doesn’t hold much water in some areas of our yard. I’ve discovered that in other areas, such as where our garden will be located, are hard as rock!

So I will have my work cut out to build some good garden soil full of organic matter and nutrients and the little creatures that make soil healthy. I plan to source some good topsoil and compost to layer on the existing soil where my garden will be situated. I’ll keep you posted on our progress!

In conclusion

Let’s start a revolution! I want to encourage all friends and neighbours out there, however big or small their gardens, to educate themselves on the topic of soil health and how essential it is for our personal health (how can healthy food be grown in dead soil?) and the health of our planet.

Some educational books on the topic that I’ve read and can recommend are “Cows Save the Planet” by Judith D. Schwartz, and “Teaming with Microbes” by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis.

Happy Gardening!