Universal Laws and all kinds of other deep topics have been rotating around the Den lately and it is all good. Lots of great comments and conversations happening as well, which it what really brings the articles to life. Today I am not posting anything deep, nothing heavy or long. Instead I decided to take a little rest and type up something simple, something back to the dirt and happening in your own backyard.
I think most of us have heard that corn is a nutrient sucker and steals vital nitrogen from the soil. Therefore if it is not rotated every few years it seriously depletes the soil and the fields are left barren. This is also why corn is one of the most heavily fertilized crops.
On the other side I think we have also all heard that beans, the legume family feed nitrogen into the soil, so they make a good rotation crop with corn. Native Americans understood quite well the dynamic relationship between the three sisters, corn, beans and squash. They all work in unison to create an ideal and harmonious growing season. The corn supports the beans, the beans grow on the corn and fertilize the soil from which the corn feeds and the squash protects by creating a thick groundcover to keep moisture in and the blazing sun and other invasive plants and destructive critters out.
This is all well and good in field, or perhaps your garden, but what of the rest of your yard and clearings? Plants tend to prefer either acidic soil or alkaline soil. If you know which kind of soil you live on, you will have a more successful time choosing the right plants to grow. Sure a lot of people have their soil tested for alkalinity, but you can simply observe who grows there naturally. By observing who grows their naturally and with a little bit of knowledge you can easily determine what kind of soil you live on.
Some very common plants can tell us if the soil is alkaline or acidic, low fertility or high fertility, boggy or compact, and they span from all of North America clear on over to Europe and many other global locations. They are the dandelion family, dock family, plantain family (no not the banana plantains), nettle family, horsetail family (no not the hairy thing on a horse’s backside), clover family, goldenrod family, aster family, thistle family, mullein, lamb’s-quarter, gravel root, daisy family, yarrow, comfrey, mugwort and crabgrass.
If the soil is real wet and poorly drained you will see plants such as gravel root, cattails, horsetails, mallows and rushes growing profusely. These plants love wet feet and mud!
Acidic soils tend to support plants such as daisies, nettles, docks, horsetail, bracken fern, sensitive fern, Virginia creeper vines, blueberry bushes, raspberries and blackberries, goldenrod and asters.
Alkaline soils support less on average. Wild mustard, wild turnip and lamb’s-quarter grow very well in alkaline habitats.
When you see the tall mullein stalks and lots of thickly growing mugwort you can be sure the soil is very poor with few nutrients present.
On the other hand if lots of nettle, lamb’s-quarter, purslane and dandelion, comfrey and yarrow grow, you can be sure the soil is rich in nutrients. Nitrogen, iron, potassium, phosphates and phosphorus are nutrients that plants like dandelion, comfrey, yarrow, nettles and yarrow love to feed on and they will not grow well where those nutrients are not present.
Hard-pack soils tend to support things like crabgrass, bindweed and plantain.
If you see lots of lupine, thistles, dandelion, comfrey, yarrow, horsetail, clovers and vetches you can be sure the soil contains lots of nitrogen because all of those plants fix nitrogen into the soil, just like legumes.
Paying attention to what grows naturally in the soil can help you figure out what plants might grow well there that you would introduce. The ecosystem speaks if only people would listen and come to understand.