That the United Nations has declared 2015 the International Year of Soil has been a good prompt for me to go out and -- um, have you got the windows closed? – actually learn something about the soil.
This is a bit awkward to admit, but as someone who's been farming, if modestly, (occasionally immodestly, when it's warm) for the past twenty years, I know virtually nothing about the substance on which I rely for a substantial portion of my income.
Of course, like anyone who works the land, I've come to know when the soil is tired or burgeoning, healthy or depleted, but this is an instinctual thing, developed inevitably from years of having the soil between my hands, knowing how it should feel, seeing how it absorbs water, observing what weeds are present, which vegetables are doing well or poorly. But I know I am blind to whatever miracles transpire between the time I throw an orange peel on the compost pile and the time it turns into black, friable, sweet-smelling earth.
Erin's been of use in upping my soil-knowledge since she has a degree in the topic, but much of that has involved the physical properties of soils. My suspicion is that the real miracles, as usual, are all down to the micro-organisms. We rely on them to digest our food, after all, the first and most essential process that allows us to live. It would hardly be a surprise to understand that we're completely dependent on them to do the hard work of returning whatever is left over from living organisms back into the constituents that plants can take up in order to start the biological energy cycle all over again. The more I think about it in fact, higher organisms seem to be nothing more than a sort of fluff that bacteria, fungi, and other microscopic actors have generated on earth in the course of going about they're business, a matter of some good fortune for the likes of us.
So, as we eat through this coming season's largesse together I'll try and relay, occasionally, whatever bits of information I've gleaned about that dark, mysterious realm from which our meals ultimately originate.