Healthy Soils for Sustainable Gardens
Editor Niall Dunne
Review by Kerry Lake, MG '13
“A sustainable garden is one that grows, thrives, looks beautiful, and supports a diverse community of flora and fauna—all without depleting the earth’s natural resources. A truly sustainable garden enriches and helps restore the biosphere. Good soil care is a central component of the sustainable garden. ” Niall Dunne in Healthy Soils for Sustainable Gardens
This small guide to healthy soils is a collaboration of 14 soil scientists and professors, gardening consultants and authors, garden curators, arborists, horticulturists, and engineers from across North America. Their interests and expertise have all converged into the idea that the goal for gardeners should be, as the title suggests, Healthy Soils for Sustainable Gardens. Nine chapters follow a fascinating introduction, to give us all the information we will ever need to provide the best environment for our plants in which to anchor their roots.
Our knowledge of healthy soils has grown from the physical and chemical properties (texture, structure, pH, mineral content, etc.) to include the ecology of the soil. In other words, the ecosystem that provides a habitat from microscopic fungi and bacteria, to earthworms and millipedes. We now know that the key to long-term fertility and viability of our soil is dependent on this soil ecology.
This hands-on guide explains the unique characteristics we want in our garden soil and how we can build our soil’s fertility with organic and sustainable methods. As we become increasingly aware of the depletion of the Earth’s resources, we should do our part in conserving these resources. The idea that we can create fertile and sustainable soil for our gardens and farms has great appeal to more and more of us.
This handbook provides the basics of sustainable soil care. Chapters focus on the physical, biological, and chemical properties of soil and how they determine soil health. There is a wonderful chapter on getting to know the soil of our own gardens, and how to determine the unique characteristics that our own soil has.
My favorite chapter is the Soil Care Strategies and its guide to resource-wise gardening. The author of this chapter explains that our goal should be to mimic nature through creating a closed-loop system, by recycling and using organic waste from reliable sources (preferably local) to recruit the organisms of the soil food web to build our soils along with the appropriate mulch.
There is a section on Gardening in Challenging Conditions for those who have problem soils such as compaction, sand or clay, contamination, wet or shallow soils. Strategies for overcoming these shortfalls are included. The emphasis is always on gardening sustainably, even in difficult circumstances.