Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Book Review: Personality Tests for Your Soil by Anna Hess

One of Anna’s most valuable skills as a writer is taking the information in long-winded and highly technical textbooks and distilling the most interesting and useful parts into concise, practical advice for non-scientists. This eBook, Personality Tests for Your Soil (Volume 1 in her Ultimate Guide to Soil series),  is yet another outstanding exhibit of exactly that. For example, did you know that the base of your soil’s personality was set in place thousands or even millions of years ago? Maybe it’s just us, but it blows our minds to think that the types of rocks that formed when the earth’s crust was solidifying, or that were ground up when the glaciers receded, impact how our garden is growing today. (At least, it blows Jake's mind.  Katie is often times more interested in keeping Jake from transferring that dirt into the house at a slightly-higher-than-glacial rate.)

It turns out soil has a personality.  If you can convince your dirt to be easygoing and gregarious, and yet have some hoarder tendencies, it will grow good vegetables for you.

We loved this book, but before you buy it, you should know this: if your garden soil isn’t producing like it should, you can probably remedy the problem by adding organic matter. It’s like a Snickers bar when your soil is hungry, and you can probably figure that out with a few minutes of internet searching. But if you want to know HOW to add that organic matter, Anna’s got you covered (although some of her other books have more details. And if adding organic matter doesn’t work, e.g., if you happen to have an extreme underlying mineral imbalance, Anna tells you in this book how to confirm that with a professional soil test, and she promises to tell you how to remineralize your soil in Volume 3 of this series.)

If you also want to get to know your soil better, which we hope you do, Anna tells you in this volume how to interpret what your overwintered broccoli stalks, your carrots, your soil color, and your earthworms are telling you about your soil. (The worms are probably the most articulate in that sense, with their number, size, and architectural designs all telling you something.) She also gives a number of tests to help you find out your soil type, including the online Web Soil Survey. The brief tutorial on the Web Soil Survey is especially helpful for the very useful, but not-very-user-friendly web app. (Although urbanites, with their highly-disturbed soils, might not get as much value from the Web Soil Survey as more rural folks. For example, our canning jar test looked just like Anna’s—about 7% clay—but the soil survey said we should have about 30% clay in our Nunn-Urban complex. Fortunately, we realized from reading this book that we should trust the canning jar test more!)

We learned that many gardeners assume they have clayey soil when it's actually improperly-curated silt.

Overall, this book is a fascinating and quick read, and a very useful reference guide. We love it when an eBook tells us how to harness geology, biology, environmental chemistry, and materials science to help grow food, and even though we received a free copy in exchange for an honest review, we would have gladly paid the price of admission for the information Anna has crystallized in this eBook.

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