From Steven Stoll’s Larding the Lean Earth

Even more graphically, tilth described the feel of a prepared surface, the depth of it over the top of a boot, the way it fell away from the leading edge – the crumb. Fragrant and deep, with the consistency of butter or stiff dough, tilth defies description as dirt.

Whether they accept the charge or not, plow-people become the caretakers of soils. They become the roots and the sod and sometimes even the rain. They become the holders of the fertile layer not only because they depend on it but because they can destroy it. Here is a contract with nature that has not always been honored: rip the earth but be there to stop the bleeding.

The most important crop any farmer – any gardener – grows is the soil under her feet. The success of that one crop determines the success of all her other crops, and even more important, the land’s success for generations after.

But growing soil is a frustratingly slow process. Stoll notes that in one particular district a 1930s survey found only 1/16th of an inch of topsoil after 50 years of abandonment.

I’m not (yet) that patient. I need flowers, herbs and vegetables to keep me motivated. To speed things up we compost everything we can: kitchen scraps, leaves, grass and shrub clippings. I don’t understand why people gather up and ship off the very leaves and grass clippings that would keep their trees and grass – their soil – healthy.

Even that isn’t enough, though, so I buy composted manure and topsoil… but then I wonder where the topsoil was taken from, and if it will be replenished. So I tell myself this is only temporary – once I have good soil I will stop importing it. And I try to believe it, for now.