As always, when I do a review, I am going to give you my honest opinion of every book, tool, and product that I do. Reviews do no good if they are not real. I recently reached out to a homesteading Facebook group in search of a couple books about building good, healthy soil. Man, did they deliver! The first book is Dirt to Soil by Gabe Brown.
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Why I Read It
I absolutely love all things soil and biology. We are also working with Georgia clay in our gardens which is causing a far amount of issues with it. The soil in our big garden is very compacted in the areas that we haven’t covered it. We’ve had a ton of issues with the soil this summer between soil and water run off, compaction, and stunted plants.
So my goal was to spend this winter learning as much as humanly possible about soil. My first question is why is my soil not great. The second was what can I do to fix it. So off I went in search of a book that could answer those questions but also the more technical questions about the biology of soil.
I already knew we had clay soil, but…
I didn’t realize that I could “fix” it so quickly! I thought it would take years and years to properly build up my soil. I had considered that we were going to have to bring in a lot of inputs to get the soil back to a place where it was healthy.
But after hearing a ton of horror stories about toxic compost, I am really leery of bringing in soil or compost from outside sources.
I already knew that we could use the animals to work with us to bring our 8.5 acres back to life. But I wasn’t sure how to do it exactly. I knew that we could rotate the pigs through areas to root the soil and break it up. Doing this would allow organic matter to get into the soil. We could also seed the areas that they had worked and pray that we could keep the chickens and goats out of the seeds.
But nothing we were doing actually worked. We really struggled to hone in on the finer points of building soil.
While the book doesn’t offer clear, concise, step by step instructions on HOW to build soil, Gabe DOES give his 5 soil principles as well as a very thorough recounting of what he did. He even goes in depth about how he has made his farm profitable. Giving a little bit more interest and insight on how to make a homestead or farm profitable.
Where To Purchase
I purchased my copy from Amazon because it’s what’s easiest for me. However, I found it at Barnes and Noble for close to the same price. Sadly, we don’t have bookstores that are local to us, so Amazon tends to be where I get the majority of my books.
How The Book Reads
I love the style of the writing in this book. It’s very conversational and Gabe walks through how he got started on his farm. As the book moves through, he not only tells you how he did it, but gives the basic foundation for what you can do.
There is an amazing compilation of science, experience, and options for you to try as well. But the foundation stays the same. Follow these principles, experiment, and watch your soil grow.
One of the things I didn’t like was the constant “you can do it too”. Now, I understand completely that the book is not necessarily meant for the small homesteader. It ABSOLUTELY applies to us, but I am already interested in regenerative farming and hearing again and again that it can work for us was slightly annoying. Not enough to discredit what he was saying but enough for it to be redundant.
My Take Away’s From Dirt to Soil
There are 4 main points that I took away from Dirt to Soil, though they aren’t in any specific order.
I knew the importance of cover crops, but couldn’t wrap my head around exactly how to do it. Do I plant things I can harvest? What if I still need that space? Which crops do I plant? Isn’t the soil still going to be bare in the winter when the plants die back? Won’t I have to remove the cover crops when I plant for spring/summer? Gabe answered most of these questions in his book.
There is a lot of satisfaction when tilling because you can see that beautiful soil (or clay in my case) break up and see the bed take shape. Except, I always struggled because I knew earthworms are GREAT for a garden, but I was rending them into pieces every time I tilled. So how do I create beds that don’t require tilling but keeps the soil healthy and beneficial critters happy? Simple answer? Stop tilling, start using cover crops, limited to no inputs.
Building Soil Is…. Easy?
I figured this out when I started using our animal bedding as compost. Within a few months of using the animal bedding, I noticed that had actual soil in my beds. Now, I had added top soil to my beds when we created the kitchen garden. But I found actual soil when I started planting for fall!
Use The Animals
We have been using the pigs and the chickens to work the soil and it’s been working pretty well. But one of the things we have been “struggling” with is that we let the goats and chickens free range. We had not truly been practicing rotational grazing. Sure, we rotated the chicken tractors through the gardens but we never really did much with them or the goats.
My Garden Process After Reading Dirt to Soil
My garden process now is actually quite simple: animal bedding to compost over time, a couple inches of compost or top soil, plants, then mulch. When the bed is done producing, we cut all the plants down and lay them to the side. If we are “done” with that bed for a season, we add a cover crop then put the plants we cut and put them over top as mulch.
Once the cover crop has been established, we let the goats go through and eat down an area. Then we put the pigs through, and finally the chickens. This process has been amazing because the goats cut down and tamp down the crop. The pigs tamp it down more, and eat closer to the ground. Finally, the chickens come through and peck through the poop and spread it. They also eat all the bugs and parasites. This has GREATLY dropped our need for dewormers.
The following season, when we are ready to plant, we chop and drop the cover crop. Usually, we will use the cover crop as mulching until it fully composts down.
This process has been working well for us and I’m excited to see what happens in this summer when we plant the big garden!
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